Ben Woodard on Pessimism and Pragmatism

Ben Woodard at the leading edge of the post-nihilst turn:

“[P]essimism can provide a certain form of useful clarity (not unlike Justine’s comportment in von Trier’s Melancholia). We must pass through darkness, yet there are stages of darkness; some we cannot pass through and some that we must explore with a cold epistemological scalpel to test the limits of our travels. Or, to put it another way, the difference between the philosopher mortician and the philosopher king, as Morehouse poses it, is that the former knows she is rotting. Morehouse points to Justine’s statement that the Earth is evil in von Trier’s Melancholia but I would point out that she quickly revises her statement and says that “life is evil.” The dreary end of my book is an attempt to set a heavy affective weight on a certain utopianism. The result, I believe, is not fatalism or defeatism in the local future (if not far, far future) designations, but a form of pragmatism…

The crux of the matter, I believe, is how to avoid the Charybdis of philosophy being that which helps us feel like we are being political or make us and our lives meaningful as well as the Scylla of critique which leaves us in a state of inaction. That is, there is an assumption that political action requires heaping meaning upon ourselves and yet such meaning can easily bury political actions in self-aggrandizement. What may very well be viewed as a cold-hearted pragmatic view is the only one that I see as being politically viable in terms of maintaining the best and broadest capacity for life on the planet.” [source]

Ben Woodard is a PhD student in Theory and Criticism at Western University, Canada. His doctoral research is on the relation of speculative physics to models of thought in the work of FWJ von Schelling. Read his book On an Ungrounded Earth.


5 responses to “Ben Woodard on Pessimism and Pragmatism

  1. Downloaded Woodard’s book so long ago and still to read it. Still, this kind of thought is why I’m writing so much on mental health on libcom at the moment. The pessimism & the darkness that our nihilism entails renders the concepts of alienation into psychopathology, just as Bifo argues, and so this is one of the important sites of intervention. The psychobomb is a precarious static-explosion that passes across the neurotic-psychotic nexus such that these conditions and their management is an issue of which pragmatism, what political action? Of course, these conditions of being are intimately related to the temporality of catastrophe and the problem of coping-with-catastrophe, where that problematic is united with more immediate concerns regarding biophysical survival and subjective production, uniting the nihilistic horizon with the political. Increasingly I’m seeing the work done on libcom- the more theoretical of which I’ll collate here- is one of the applications of the post nihilist turn as praxis.

    • been following your good works there, would be interesting to see more in the development of employable tactics, also might be worth looking into the masses of people suffering from chronic pain and from the related medications.

      • The chronic pain stuff is definitely a direction I’d like to go in, especially as it relates to substance misuse and dependency. As far as employable tactics go, I’ve been talking to a few people about a kind of mental health hub akin to Mad In America where that kind of thing would be the focus.

      • cool, let me know if you need a hand, I once turned a dual-diagnosis group into a lab/workshop for folks to trade tactics/experiments including their failures as well as successes, they loved it but the hospital’s administrators not so much as the group members started demanding more of their situations…

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