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Prophecy and Abstraction in a Passionless Age

The fol­low­ing is a re-worked ver­sion of my paper Ani­mal Meta­physicum: Prophecy and Abstrac­tion in a Pas­sion­less Age, which I recently pre­sented in a panel dis­cus­sion on “Nar­ra­tive and Social Move­ments.” A cou­ple of peo­ple asked me to post the updated ver­sion on this blog, so here it is– com­ments and ques­tions are wel­comed! Thanks, A



Abstrac­tion and ambivalence

With another apoc­a­lypse scare behind us and one just around the cor­ner, the end of the world is ram­pant in 21st cen­tury dia­logue and thought: one can hardly get through a con­ver­sa­tion with­out the sub­ject of rap­ture being broached or a joke being made about the noth­ing that became of Harold Camping’s prophe­cies. Since the turn of the cen­tury, such the­o­ries in eschatology—the study of the end of the world—have been lumped by increas­ingly many skep­tics into a class with celebrity gos­sip: the majority’s pecu­liar fas­ci­na­tion with which cul­mi­nat­ing in a dis­trac­tion no less annoy­ing than Char­lie Sheen. None of this is sur­pris­ing: it fol­lows, in that the last decade and a half has been, escha­to­log­i­cally speak­ing, excep­tion­ally dense; and more­over because the pri­mary dates in ques­tion (Y2K, 12–21–12) have a basis beyond us: in the abstractly loom­ing realm of world-historical con­scious­ness. Which is to say: our gen­er­a­tion is one that just hap­pened to pres­ence at a par­tic­u­larly (pre-)fetishized moment in history.

Add to apoc­a­lyp­tic cat­a­stro­phiza­tion the antic­i­pa­tion of tem­po­ral reform pace the World Wide Web, and you’ve got a “cul­ture of sus­pense” that can com­pete with any “cul­ture of fear,” as far as fore­bod­ing titles are con­cerned. Our sit­u­a­tion is dou­bly fas­ci­nat­ing in that it rep­re­sents a double-negation: first, a non-consent: we did not do any­thing to gar­ner this his­tor­i­cal uniqueness—all that was the work of our long-deceased ances­tors: the Mayans, the first com­puter pro­gram­mers, etc.; and all our con­tri­bu­tions thereto– the books, con­ver­sa­tions, blog posts, atmos­pheric super­sti­tion– rep­re­sent a some­thing that is, again, illu­sory—specula. Such is what ren­ders us, if any­thing does, a “sin­gu­lar­ity”— the series of non-events into which we as a gen­er­a­tion were thrown, and for which we stand. From remote servers we purge our dis-ease—concealed by a vague lone­li­ness which is in turn con­cealed by the sta­tic chat­ter of one’s social net­work of choice—in a plethora of reac­tionary blog com­ments and sta­tus updates, none of which address, but merely vaguely rep­re­sent, the source of the dis­con­cert­ing e-motion. The reac­tionary user, like the reac­tionary addict, is using her reac­tion to cathar­ti­cally vent the emo­tion or ten­sion from which she habit­u­ally dis­so­ci­ates: the pri­mary one being angst (fear of nothingness.)

Pri­mor­dial angst, meta­phys­i­cal griev­ance, our irrec­on­cil­able rela­tion to oth­er­ness, noth­ing­ness, death: just so many names for the impe­tus pre­ced­ing every trag­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant and/or super­fi­cially comedic human action. That our age is divested of its tragic sense and there­fore also unable to rec­og­nize the com­i­cal is reflected in the fact that we don’t act on either impulse. Most are con­tent to half-seriously will their death-by-worldwide-destruction, by half-believing or entertaining-into-being the thought of the apoc­a­lypse. And if not the apoc­a­lypse, then an apoc­a­lypse of a no-less co(s)mic order: nihilism, post­mod­ernism, the death of god, the death of art. This death wish could not be any less of a joke: lack­ing any con­crete actions to val­i­date or ver­ify its legit­i­macy, we desire (if desire can be flip­pant) annihilation–but we can­not actu­al­ize this desire, can­not bring it to fruition, in the same way that we can “want to kill Char­lie Sheen,” to blow up the media, etc. etc. but can­not moti­vate more than a snarky Face­book com­ment for the cause.

Behold the infor­ma­tion age: its infi­nite scope: its uncon­quer­able con­tent: its mea­ger sub­stance: the mer­ci­ful link finally break­ing. Behold tele-lethargy: the fatigue of end­less pos­si­bil­ity and zero time con­straints, cour­tesy the Real Time of the inter­net. Noth­ing is real; every­thing is per­mit­ted. The fatigue of cyber-social oblig­a­tion. The attention-devastating, significance-leveling onslaught of friend requests, arti­cles, forums. Is wait­ing for the link to break dif­fer­ent than wait­ing for the world to end? Lord, to whom shall we go?

The 21st cen­tury psy­che shrinks away from con­fronta­tion, oth­er­ness, afraid to appear con­cretely in the world, where the post­mod­ern cli­mate and atmos­pheric ambiva­lence eats like acid at rad­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­ity, the pas­sion­ate indi­vid­ual. If in a grand entrance of bold col­ors and sounds it should appear before cul­ture, in gleam­ing con­trast to cul­ture, real pas­sion is shot down like an exotic beast fly­ing over a starv­ing, or in any case col­or­blind, vil­lage. Soci­ety will con­sume it, using its fer­tile organs to nour­ish its own fam­ished ones, and so to fuel its prime and sole pas­sion: its dis­dain for that Other who would actu­al­ize sociality’s great­est fear: that of its own neg­a­tiv­ity. The more vibrant this other’s appear­ance, the more acutely it con­trasts soci­ety, the greater the latter’s dis­dain for him—for the most pow­er­ful coun­ter­ar­gu­ment is the argu­ment embod­ied and embold­ened: espe­cially for the dis­em­bod­ied ego.

Abstrac­tion and social his­tory (Moscovici and Nietzsche)

Peri­ods in his­tory, and his­tory as a whole, can be thought as an abstract rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the peo­ple and events that have existed, pres­enced, in time. Social rep­re­sen­ta­tion, on Moscovici’s account, is the col­lec­tive elab­o­ra­tion of “a social object by the com­mu­nity for the pur­pose of behav­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing.” (Moscovici, 1961) It is the tacit law or sys­tem of laws by which con­tem­po­rary soci­ety is run, here and now, hic et nunc. Social rep­re­sen­ta­tion is more­over the homog­e­niza­tion and ossi­fi­ca­tion of cul­ture wherein indi­vid­u­als func­tion as a stand­ing reserve—an inex­haustible stock of bod­ies whose value lies in their capac­ity to stand in for a given “social object.” Social objects are defined by Moscovici as

….val­ues, ideas and prac­tices with a two-fold func­tion; first, to estab­lish an order which will enable indi­vid­u­als to ori­en­tate them­selves in their mate­r­ial and social world and to mas­ter it; sec­ondly, to enable com­mu­ni­ca­tion to take place amongst mem­bers of a com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing them with a code for social exchange and a code for nam­ing and clas­si­fy­ing unam­bigu­ously the var­i­ous aspects of their world and their indi­vid­ual and group his­tory. (Moscovici, 1973)

The social struc­tures and codes that on the one hand enable social prac­tice and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, on the other result in social het­eron­omy, e.g., the enforced stan­dard­iza­tion and con­ven­tion­al­iza­tion of indi­vid­uals. For exam­ple, that the poetic does not char­ac­ter­ize the “val­ues, ideas and prac­tices” of 21st cen­tury Amer­ica means that to com­mu­ni­cate poet­i­cally within social struc­tures, such as dis­course, is to not be heard. To be heard is to employ, embody, elab­o­rate com­mu­nica­tive norms to major­ity stan­dards, which for the poet in 21st cen­tury Amer­ica means entrance into a het­eronomous rela­tion­ship with soci­ety, i.e., self-alienation.

The genius of Niet­zsche was that he real­ized the individual’s fate of being-represented, astound­ingly does not defeat the pur­pose of self-creation or the value of sub­jec­tiv­ity; on the con­trary, it affirms that pur­pose and that value. Nietzsche’s phi­los­o­phy was an affir­ma­tion of life and a cel­e­bra­tion of sub­jec­tiv­ity: even where the lat­ter is bought at the cost of social sur­vival. The most that you can do to secure your rep­re­sen­ta­tion is to present your­self in the way you hope to be re–pre­sented as con­sis­tently as possible—but in so doing com­pro­mise your authen­tic­ity via a second-rate/reductive pre­sen­ta­tion of your truth. Thus the ques­t for social rep­re­sen­ta­tion is a dead end in the realest sense of the phrase. You kill your truth by bow­ing to its objec­tive sta­tus, to how it is inter­preted by a non-existent, all-knowing “They.” The same is true for the gen­er­a­tion as is for the indi­vid­ual: a gen­er­a­tion that fix­ates on its posthu­mous image com­pro­mises its exis­tence, lit­er­ally dying to its own false idol: the illu­sion of its read­abil­ity, and/or the illu­sion of a per­fect, all-knowing reader.

Accord­ing to Niezsche’s doc­trine of amor fati (love of fate) the indi­vid­ual should not only accept this social demise as the fate of his indi­vid­u­al­ity, but will it—because it is his real­ity. But social sur­vival was never Nietzsche’s main con­cern, social death being for him incom­men­su­rable with the suf­fer­ing of het­eron­omy. Great health is to look back at one’s past and say: “Thus I willed it.” (Niet­zsche, 2006)—to have writ­ten one’s life nar­ra­tive, to have lib­er­ated one’s iden­tity, to have cre­ated one­self. More­over, it is to har­bor no resent­ment for the ephemer­al­ity of one’s sub­jec­tive pur­pose and worth; hence Niet­zsche aligns sick­ness with Schopenhauer’s pes­simistic view that all exer­tions of will are ulti­mately, and thus essen­tially, futile. Niet­zsche would agree that indi­vid­ual actions, and even indi­vid­ual exis­tences, are ulti­mately futile—if by ulti­mate futil­ity we mean lack of eter­nal pur­pose and value. For Niet­zsche, like Schopen­hauer, all con­crete man­i­fes­ta­tions of the indi­vid­ual will, along with the pur­pose and val­ues they rep­re­sent, will be swal­lowed up by the waves of social his­tory. But for Niet­zsche, to say that such striv­ings of the indi­vid­ual are essen­tially is to accept social his­tory as the “absolutely real” where in fact it is an abstract concept.

Indi­vid­u­als are “ulti­mately” re-presented by the period and soci­ety in which they live(ed), an abstrac­tion that can­not retain their sub­jec­tive pres­ence. This fate is unavoid­able. For as long as soci­ety exists, there will be his­tory; and as long as there is his­tory, indi­vid­u­als and con­crete actions will be washed out or bleed together in the spin cycle of his­tori­cism. But rep­re­sen­ta­tion itself occurs both within and out­side the social-historical: I rep­re­sent myself to oth­ers sub­jec­tively through my writ­ing, my con­tem­po­raries rep­re­sent me anew to oth­ers through their com­men­tary and cri­tique; and I rep­re­sent myself to myself through pro­jec­tion when I deci­pher in their words and actions how oth­ers per­ceive me. As I do this, my being man­i­fests as both pres­ence and absence in con­crete real­ity, both within and out­side the social-historical: I am, in the words of Der­rida, a sign that will never be read, and that will at some point be never again seen. Hence I write for the finite not infi­nite, par­tic­u­lar not uni­ver­sal, imper­fect other. I write in the present-imperfect.

The lev­el­ing force of the vir­tual (Kierkegaard)

The social object of 20th cen­tury Amer­ica was undoubt­edly tech­nol­ogy. The social object of the 21st cen­tury remains tech­nol­ogy, but our focus is trans­fixed by one par­tic­u­lar aspect of tech­nol­ogy: the vir­tual. Vir­tu­al­ity proper is a prop­erty of things not actu­al­ized; tra­di­tion­ally con­ceived, where real­ity is that which is, vir­tu­al­ity is that which seems to be. Under Deleuze’s con­cep­tion, 21st Cen­tury America’s social object would be “novelty”—the not-yet/could-be of the real-becoming. (Deleuze, 1966) But the social object can never become prop­erly “real” because soci­ety is itself an abstrac­tion. And part of what con­sti­tutes the social object of the vir­tual is, as insin­u­ated at the begin­ning of this essay, the series of non-events (prophe­cies) into which we as a gen­er­a­tion were thrown, and for which we stand. What ren­ders us dis­tin­guish­able is the abstract nature of sub­jec­tiv­ity therein: the way in which indi­vid­u­als today choose to rep­re­sent them­selves againt the abstract back­drop of social history.

Kierkegaard dis­tin­guishes between two his­tor­i­cally fun­da­men­tal trends in self-representation of indi­vid­u­als in his work The Present Age. The cli­mate of an era is deter­mined, for Kierkegaard, by the atti­tude and behav­ior that pre­dom­i­nates among indi­vid­u­als. That cli­mate will be one of pas­sion, seri­ous­ness, or some­thing in between:

A pas­sion­ate tumul­tuous age will over­throw every­thing, pull every­thing down…Our age is essen­tially one of under­stand­ing and reflec­tion, with­out pas­sion, momen­tar­ily burst­ing into enthu­si­asm, and shrewdly relaps­ing into repose…. Nowa­days not even a sui­cide kills him­self in des­per­a­tion. Before tak­ing the step he delib­er­ates so long and so care­fully that he lit­er­ally chokes with thought. It is even ques­tion­able whether he ought to be called a sui­cide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with delib­er­a­tion but from delib­er­a­tion. (Kierkegaard, 1962)

To the pas­sion­ate age Kierkegaard attrib­utes orig­i­nal­ity, indi­vid­u­al­ity, as one wherein indi­vid­u­als super­sede the col­lec­tive both in their sub­jec­tive rela­tion to it and in terms of the events that define the age. In an age of reflec­tion, pas­sion and orig­i­nal­ity sink with the indi­vid­ual into the mire of the “social-real”—which is to say, into the norms, con­ven­tions, and ide­ol­ogy that com­prise the “social object.” Where the social object super­sedes the indi­vid­ual, the “cul­tural cli­mate” is lack­ing in the pas­sion that man­i­fests through orig­i­nal acts of will. The super­s­es­sion of the pub­lic over the indi­vid­ual, a process which Kierkegaard terms “lev­el­ing,” occurs simul­ta­ne­ously with an atmos­pheric shift from con­crete sen­su­al­ity to con­cep­tu­al­ity: “The indi­vid­ual no longer belongs to God, to him­self, to his beloved, to his art or to his sci­ence, he is con­scious of belong­ing in all things to an abstrac­tion to which he is sub­jected by reflection…the work of reflec­tion in the hands of an abstract power.” (Kierkegaard, 1962)

Our age, I’ll sug­gest, is marked simul­ta­ne­ously by the lev­el­ing of indi­vid­u­als under the abstrac­tions of soci­ety and the vir­tu­al­, and by a reflec­tive cli­mate that man­i­fests not in intro­spec­tion but in a pas­sive spec­u­la­tion that reaches max­i­mal absur­dity in the End Of The World Men­tal­ity (EOW) dis­cussed above. On Kierkegaard’s account, the EOW phe­nom­e­non would be the upshot of a con­tem­pla­tive cul­ture that has bored itself into a lethar­gic state of trance, and must com­pul­sively purge its pent up ten­sions through peri­odic cathar­tic explosion—the after­math of which gets lev­eled almost instan­ta­neously: as in the case of Y2K. Our age is one that rides the antic­i­pa­tory waves of spec­u­la­tion, and does so half-heartedly—not so much believ­ing in as hop­ing for a legit­i­mate mir­a­cle or dis­as­ter to either kill us or star­tle us from sleep.

Dis­im­pas­sioned man’s meta­phys­i­cal need (Schopenhauer)

Passion—whether moral, artis­tic, roman­tic or spiritual—is specif­i­cally a man­i­fes­ta­tion  meta­phys­i­cal need in psche, prior to that sense’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. As the imme­di­ate expe­ri­ence or pre­con­cep­tual aware­ness of one’s mor­tal­ity, hence of pro­found plea­sure and suf­fer­ing, pas­sion is lost on the intel­lect and even impeded by it: the intel­lect impedes one’s pri­mor­dial meta­phys­i­cal aware­ness. This aware­ness is always present, but when estranged by the dis­so­cia­tive psy­che (ego), it too dis­so­ci­ates and con­forms to the social-historical com­mu­nica­tive mode: dis­im­pas­sioned spec­u­la­tion, indif­fer­ence, abstract rea­son­ing. The body politic, the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, begins con­sum­ing its selves for nourishment—starting with its excess and mov­ing onto the most vital of organs. First we devour mate­ri­al­ity, infor­ma­tion, cer­e­mony, art—until we’ve exhausted these resources (or exhausted our atten­tion spans and mem­ory stores) and then move on to the Other, our most sacred because most essen­tially irre­ducible coun­ter­part: for sex­ual plea­sure or emotional/intellectual stim­u­la­tion, until these trans­ac­tions too become pas­sion­less, the other becomes object, and psy­che dis­as­so­ci­ates to an even more vio­lent extreme.

Ego­ism thus replaces “reflec­tion” in Kierkegaard’s sense, and the repressed sub­jec­tiv­ity seeks expres­sion in the most intel­lec­tu­ally unpalat­able modes to date: a seri­ous to the point of comedic nihilism, the dis­im­pas­sioned death wish, an ambigu­ous fas­ci­na­tion that con­flates the dis­fig­ure­ment of a celebrity’s image with the apoc­a­lypse, the cyber date or break up, the end of the world men­tal­ity. Thus absur­dity per­vades today as the upshot of our hav­ing exhausted, of our believ­ing our­selves to have exhausted, the forms and frame­works for meta­phys­i­cal expres­sion and inquiry, e.g., phi­los­o­phy, spir­i­tu­al­ity, art.

Schopen­hauer notes how the metaphysical/philosophical/spiritual inten­sity of an age is reflected in the con­crete gusto of its history-making: “That whole period of a thou­sand years is indeed one of con­stant mas­sacre and mur­der, now on the bat­tle­field, now on the scaf­fold, now in the streets—all over meta­phys­i­cal ques­tions!” (Schopen­hauer, 1886) The other var­i­ous modes and degrees of meta­phys­i­cal expres­sion, to which we could add Kierkegaard’s dis­pas­sion­ate reflec­tion, he enu­mer­ates in his essay On Man’s Need for Metaphysics:

Tem­ples and churches, pago­das and mosques, in all coun­tries and ages, in their splen­dor and spa­cious­ness, tes­tify to man’s need for meta­physics, a need strong and inerad­i­ca­ble, which fol­lows close on the phys­i­cal. The man of a satir­i­cal frame of mind could of course add that this need for meta­physics a mod­est fel­low could con­tent with mea­ger fare. Some­times it lets itself be sat­is­fied with clumsy fables and absurd fairy-tales….Yet it will appear that, in the early ages of the present sur­face of the earth, things were dif­fer­ent, and those who stood con­sid­er­ably nearer to the begin­ning of the human race and to the orig­i­nal source of organic nature than do we, also pos­sessed both greater energy of the intu­itive fac­ulty of knowl­edge, and a more direct com­pre­hen­sion of the inner essence of nature, and were thus in a posi­tion to sat­isfy the need for meta­physics in a more estimable man­ner…. (Schopen­hauer, 1886)

Today, sati­ated nei­ther by philo­soph­i­cal drudge work nor pop cul­ture, nei­ther reli­gious dog­ma­tism nor the post­mod­ern bubble-gum poem, we’ve resorted to what Schopen­hauer would call the low­est of the low as far as meta­phys­i­cal expres­sion is con­cerned. An age remains caught in its dis­im­pas­sioned reflec­tiv­ity to the extent that its indi­vid­u­als remain psy­chically dis­so­cia­tive and dis­em­bod­ied; and our psy­ches dis­so­ci­ate to the extent that we cau­ter­ize the sen­su­ous sub­jec­tiv­ity that is passion’s ves­sel. The prime exam­ple of this cau­ter­i­za­tion occurs in intel­lec­tual dis­course, i.e., the ivory tower, an arena whose “sav­ing power” so far remains a “vir­tual capac­ity” as con­ceived by Delueze: a latent poten­tial­ity, that which is not, but could be. That sav­ing power is pre­cisely rad­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­ity. In the words of Schopen­hauer: “…the inves­ti­ga­tor must turn his glance inwards….Man car­ries the ulti­mate fun­da­men­tal secrets within him­self, and this fact is acces­si­ble to him in the most imme­di­ate way.” (Schopen­hauer, 1886)

Long lost lev­els of aware­ness (Aaron Asphar)

Aaron Asphar, a con­tem­po­rary philoso­pher and cul­tural critic from the UK, makes a con­vinc­ing argu­ment for the incom­men­su­rable sig­nif­i­cance of sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence to under­stand­ing, which is to say, to the process whereby we attach mean­ing and value to infor­ma­tion or expe­ri­ence. He begins his essay on The Poetic/philosophic in West­ern Lan­guage from the Stand­point of Con­tem­po­rary Neu­ropsy­chol­ogy with a dis­cus­sion of psy­chol­o­gist Vygotsky’s con­cept of “con­crete think­ing” and moves on to a philo­soph­i­cal adap­ta­tion of Vygot­sky in his own account of emotional-sensuous thought:

We start with a sen­su­ous com­plex and shed the moments, and the mean­ing of the lan­guage is not to be found in the delim­i­ta­tions of the moment but the sensuous-emotional unity that they evoke….for exam­ple the Marx­ian notion of cap­i­tal would not be an iso­lated abstract cap­i­tal but that sense of a fluid, self-augmenting ‘blob’ – some­thing sen­su­ously imag­ined, and this is fun­da­men­tally other to the con­cept. It is con­cep­tu­al­ity embod­ied by the body – emo­tion­alised, invested, cathected. I iden­tify the notion of cap­i­tal as money that is used to invest: I under­stand it as a dynamic, fluid and rad­i­cal con­cept and the lat­ter is the poet­i­cally or philo­soph­i­cally enriched con­cept. This side of lan­guage slips pro­foundly through our con­cep­tual nets but it is the only kind of lan­guage that we work with: even the most rei­fied con­cep­tu­al­ity has emo­tion­al­ity: every num­ber has an emo­tional as well as social his­tory for a psyche.

Asphar draws impli­ca­tions from Vygotsky’s the­ory of con­crete think­ing for phi­los­o­phy, empha­siz­ing the tradition’s rigid fix­a­tion on the con­cep­tual to the detri­ment of the emo­tion and sensuous—two reg­is­ters that, beyond gov­ern­ing and enabling the pro­duc­tion of art­works, are respon­si­ble for so much more than we give them credit for: with­out sensual/emotional input, there would not only be no art, there would be no reci­procity between phi­los­o­phy and lived expe­ri­ence, idea and world. Asphar is advanc­ing a model for reform in the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion, which chal­lenges the latter’s priv­i­leg­ing of the con­cep­tual reg­is­ter, and its dis­re­gard for the emo­tional and sensuous:

There is no choice; the bridge between lev­els of aware­ness can only be worked through these lev­els of aware­ness, not all of which are con­cep­tual. Phi­los­o­phy must always let go of the con­cep­tual rail­ings at times, and it is inter­est­ing to see what con­se­quences fol­low this kind of con­cep­tual brav­ery…. If we are dis­cussing the sud­den shifts and inex­plic­a­ble turns in aes­thet­ics, style and sen­si­bil­i­ties, we can gain no more inti­mate an account then from our own emo­tional real­ity. We might sense that our style is dis­so­cia­tive; dri­ven in the day by social anx­i­ety, at home by a desire for com­fort, on nights out by sex­ual need. We might con­nect these aspects up with our social empa­thetic insights and see pat­terns and dynam­ics. Are these ‘grasped’? I would say so, and they are grasped as a total phe­nom­e­non – a fluid dynamic, not con­cep­tu­al­ized, iden­ti­tary frag­ments. (Asphar, 2010)

Schopen­hauer intu­ited the lim­its of “the con­cept” for phi­los­o­phy as well as for expe­ri­ence: “I have already declared myself opposed to the assump­tion, repeated even by Kant, that it must lie in mere con­cepts. In no knowl­edge can con­cepts be the first thing, for they are always draw from some per­cep­tion.” (Schopen­hauer, 1886) Like­wise, Asphar: “Although we might talk of another form of rel­a­tivism, the appar­ent ‘time­less­ness’ of the philo­soph­i­cal insight or poetic metaphor indi­cates to me a rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity of the exis­ten­tial as against the con­cep­tual insight, and the health of our inter­pre­ta­tion to my mind is the extent to which it makes exis­ten­tial sense to the reader, not loy­alty to the con­cept.” (Asphar, 2010) The exis­ten­tial as para­dox­i­cally “sta­ble” in all real­ity, or when held against the conceptual/representational slip­page of social his­tory: subjectivity/relativity endures.

Ours is an age with­out pas­sion, and an age whose “reflec­tion” is deprived of inward con­tent, if not utterly con­tent–less. Our social object is a false idol: false not because morally reproach­able, but because not-real. What pulls us from our antic­i­pa­tory rut, the blank stare of an unpunc­tu­ated death sen­tence, is the pas­sion of “meta­phys­i­cal need” – the locus of the artist’s eupho­ria, the philosopher’s leap, the moment of poetic sub­li­ma­tion. On the other hand, for the dis­em­bod­ied or dis­so­cia­tive psy­che, meta­phys­i­cal need can man­i­fest in all vari­eties of social het­eron­omy and self-destruction:  reli­gious fanati­cism, dog­ma­tism, addic­tion, code­pen­dency, and on and on. But per­haps what causes psy­che to dis­so­ci­ate is the same philo­soph­i­cal reserve that steered Schopen­hauer away from intu­ition, super­sti­tious of the “clair­voy­ance or ecstasy” of the rad­i­cally sub­jec­tive under­stand­ing. Per­haps it is just this quar­an­ti­ning of “art” from “knowl­edge” and “con­cepts” from “experience”—that is depriv­ing our age of its capac­ity to reflect and act.


Asphar, A. The Poetic/philosophic in West­ern Lan­guage from the Stand­point of Neu­ropsy­chol­ogy. Decem­ber, 2010.

Deleuze, G. (1988). Le Bergson­isme tr. as Bergson­ism. Tom­lin­son, H & Hab­ber­jam, B, Ed. New  York: Zone Books.

Kierkegaard, S. (1962). The Present Age. Ed. Dru, Alexan­der. USA: Harper and Row.

Moscovici, S. (1961). La psy­ch­analyse, son image et son pub­lic. Paris: Presses Uni­ver­si­taires de France.

Moscovici, S. (1973). Fore­word. In C. Her­zlich, Health and ill­ness: a social psy­cho­log­i­cal analy­sis. Lon­don: Aca­d­e­mic Press

Niet­zsche, F. (2006). Thus Spoke Zarathus­tra. “On Reflec­tion.” Del Caro, A & Pip­pin, R, Tr. New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press.

Schopen­hauer, A (1886). The World as Will and Idea, Vol­ume II. Hal­dane, R.B & Kemp, J, Tr.  Lon­don: Trub­ner and Co.


  1. asphara wrote:

    What I love about your philo­soph­i­cal writ­ing which draws on and emerges through the tra­di­tion is the sense of grav­ity and drama that re-invigorates and rad­i­cally re-presents the insights mak­ing them entirely con­tem­po­rary, re-establishing the urgency of the insights — same also of your read­ings of Kant, a real knack and itself an urgently needed skill today. I have been reflect­ing lately on the poverty of West­ern self-understanding so to come back to this is really redemp­tive just now: thank-you and I am reminded once again of the value of re-reading your work from time to time — it the expe­ri­ence never repeats itself. AA xx

    Friday, November 4, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  2. amanda_wordspinning wrote:

    Thanks so much, Aaron!! xx

    Friday, November 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

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