The drive towards philosophy is autistic and has the profile of an addiction.
The need for consistency and to have things things hang together in some kind of systematic or even elegant way- all wrapped up in the pretence of wanting to “see” how they hang together, as if this autism lacked any violence. And once exposed, once you’ve tasted the cognitive heroin of philosophical speculation,it becomes impossible to quit the habit.
Reading is the process of preparing the hit and writing or conversation is the joint effort at shooting up: to enter the delirium where the quotidian world is left behind. It might be transformed into a world to be wondered at or else transmuted into excremental waste, or forms and patterns or flux or relations of partially withdrawn simples- but it is anything but the world of nappies and knife crime and heart attacks and sunday afternoons, all of which philosophy cannibalises- material for its sublimational metabolism.
Even if one is a poor philosopher, an amateur, a failure- perhaps you have only a poor level of education or you are just not as clever as people once thought you were, and people around you still seem to think you are or might or could be or perhaps you are impatient or inattentive in your readings, or you cannot sit with a thought without several others intruding and pulling you into their vortex of chaotic disorientation, or you write without care, under the pressure of a manic need to get it out right now right now right now- even this philosopher, who is not a philosopher, is compelled onwards by an autism and an addictive necessity.
In the great and the poor thinkers I suspect the autism differs in strength and degree but not in kind. Between Kant’s architectonic systemising and the sloppy negation of everything by the high school nihilist- who has never been granted the respect she deserves- there is no difference of type. Instead there is a difference of training and aptitude and crucially of the intensity of the addiction.
Even with the Deleuzian answer to the question “what is philosophy?” we see this violence.
It is creation in the machinic assembling of concepts that do not represent the world but intervene in it and perform upon it a constitutive function as a further expression of immanence. Here thought reaches the height of its drunkenness on its own potencies. It may be true from the subjective side of things- from the side of things where cognition doesn’t make 1:1 representational mappings of the world but instead produces pragmatic hand holds in the craggy cliff face of the earth so that we little biological machines can navigate our way to survival and to a vanishing ideal of health in the most efficacious manner we can achieve.
But I sense that the Deleuzian answer doesn’t like this Darwinian claim that still remains too modest. Rather cognition becomes Thought becomes Philosophy; the hominid neuropsychological tool-kit becomes a disembodied potency of production of production that can conjure concepts and thus worlds out of its own cognitive Prometheanism.
If that seems unfair to you then I suppose I’ve blundered.
I’m an addict without good junk, and a neurotic autist without community or guides, wandering through the passages of thinking, barely able to grasp a hand into the crevices that serve as rugged grips.
All addictions imply a violence, and austism- whatever is said else is said of it- always implies an incapacity to cope with the world of the neurotypical majority.
If you were happy with the consensus hallucination you wouldn’t worry about whether or not this or that were real or justifiable or internally consistent.
I asked a friend: why are you a socialist? And he replied: I like nice things and I think other people should have them too because they’re nice and that feels good.
He said it in those words.
I like the thing because it feels good. It feels good because it feels good.
This much is self-grounding and thus has no ground in thought. It is pure biology. It is neurochemical. You could call it simple theory. Or you could call it the ability to get on with things.
To speak with the simplicity of child: a dream of the death of philosophy.
I am one of those poor philosophers who are not philosophers at all but stumbling idiots lucky enough to have contact with enough of the real things to feel somehow connected to their world. I share their autism.
I have the addiction but for one reason or another it has not had the chance to flourish. Perhaps I’m lucky or perhaps with my reduced capacities I encounter the frustration that is seen in those neurodivergent types who cannot or will not speak. I lack the clarity of philosophical vocabulary.
But I don’t want to dwell on myself- I’m merely sick of the denials of self from those who write. The shame or the disgust with being a person- not this or that person but just one of those things that mistakenly believes it is a personal at all.
I agree with nietzsche that philosophy might come down to physiology and psychology. Aren’t the denials of this just more attempts to safe guard ourselves against the disgust at being this soft machine? This body that tries and eventually fails to cope with being in the world.
Ultimately it all comes down to coping.
How much do you need help with coping? What resources do you call on? There are those who are thrown back almost entirely on thought.
This is their primary or even sole way of getting through the day. Oh dear.
The client I see in the addiction crisis centre- she sells her body on the street (no- not all sex work is emancipatory; yes- some sex workers do require rescue: I know because they come asking for it). She sells her body to buy her heroin that she jags right into her veins to get inside that beautiful cloud of unknowing- that synthetic molecular Pleroma of total exit: temporary but absolute exit.
Maybe she misses the vein; maybe the muscle tissue bursts and becomes infected; it swells up, the skin goes red and hot to the touch; inside the heroin she shoots is the seeds of botulism, now festering and growing in her tissue, now spreading through them; now doubling her vision, now sending her delirious, now closing up her throat, now asphyxiating her. There she is, down the side street, in that open basement level that you walk by without looking down as you stroll along to the little independent book shop you like: dead.
Permanent absolute escape.
What is the difference between her and the philosopher? It is perhaps by dint of my own troubled physiology and psychology that I give the following answer:
the philosopher takes less risks, and in turn never experiences the fullness of negativity that her chemical escape protocols administer.
What is philosophy then?
I don’t pretend to be able to answer.
Perhaps all I can say is that I have a suspicion of what it must be, given the status of thought, and given the above considerations.
Or maybe my answer is aesthetic and completely un-philosophical- although, if my suspicions approximate anything like the truth,perhaps all philosophy is the building of an aesthetic in which to live.
A process of cocooning: the construction of cognitive bunkers: a web of ideas to wrap ourselves: an artificial womb to return to.
So I have options on how to answer, having given several already, and leaving them to slide over one another smoothly, or else to collide in the horror of a destructive integration that resembles nothing more than a body in the rejection of donated tissue.
I have said philosophy is autism and addiction and this means it is evidence of a fundamental incapacity to cope with the world.
But it is also for that very reason the mode of failure to cope as the mode of coping. It is the aestheticisation of that failure to cope as coping. It is an affliction that one enjoys and intensifies even as it eviscerates and leads you down to new neuroses and new incapacities. It is a sickness that blossoms a new kind of health- the vitality of a pathological process that the philosopher and the would-be philosopher, and the seekers after truth, try to give themselves to.
It was said that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Instead I suspect that it is the love of this certain kind of sickness; or if we are to grant thought any autonomy at all it is perhaps the narcissism of sickness, the pathology’s own self-regard, for which we, as individuated lumps of matter, are the mere occasion.
A Schopenhauerian flash comes over me as I write that last sentence: the idealism of Will is nothing more than the insight into this inhuman pathology that is parasitic on the human and nonhuman biological set up transformed into a metaphysical principle. Schopenhauer’s ascetic denial of the will to life is little more than the will to this disease trapped within and an expression of the disease.
I am wandering now, getting lost in my improvisational thinking, contradicting myself, inflating where I had set out to deflate, raising up where I had set out to stay with the ruins of dissolution.
There is a type of human who prefers the ruins to the origins; the sickness to the health; or at least who sees in the ruin the most ambiguous moment, and in sickness a kind of weird and horrible truth.
But I am still wandering, muttering- playing at knowing what it is I’m saying, and playing at knowing how to answer the question of philosophy, or of thought. I can only shrug in the end. I can only have my suspicions. I can only have the inadequate formulations of a brain in constant oscillation between forms of darkness- despair and indifference; enthusiasm and desire.
Consciousness is the dagger in the flesh?
Yes- but the maybe the flesh love the dagger for all that, and it pushes the blade deeper into the meat, twisting its serrated edges so as to churn the wound into a jagged mess that won’t close up and will never heal. This is the catastrophic mode of thought. Less philosophia and more catastrophia: the love of the wound and sickness.
I don’t know what philosophy is.
I don’t know what anything is.
I drift and stumble.
I am a drunk in the dark of a badly lit street who sings “come, oh happy dagger” as he grips the needle, it’s spike glinting momentarily in the moonlight, and seeks out other who can’t cope, who refuse to cope.
The healthy have no attraction here:
they do not live in this desolate city with its narrow claustrophobic streets that are lined with burnt out shells of what once were houses beneath a vast and empty sky in which the moon swells and secretes its strange frantic energies while swallowing up every last star.
The suggestion of lycanthropy.
Philosophy is an affliction:
Thought a parasite;
An inhuman something,
of the mist.
Bataille would once suggest: “As soon as the effort at rational comprehension ends in contradiction, the practice of intellectual scataology requires the excretion of unassimilable elements, which is another way of stating vulgarly that a burst of laughter is the only imaginable and definitively result of philosophy.” Nietzsche would say that philosophy is the “laughter of the gods”. This sense that a love of knowledge leads to the ultimate outcome of nonknowledge and nonbeing, of an inner experience where we, like Socrates, long ago, can sing of strange things on our deathbed.
One can turn from reality, vanish from its dark corridors, hide in the interstices of a pharmaceutical stupor, a brain death of interminable apathy and indifference; or, one can enter the Dionysian ecstasy of this painful truth, accept the horror of things that have no rhyme or reason. Jettison the “sufficient reason” which was always illusion anyway, a sort of defense against the truth. Once we realize there is no reason for things, no god behind the veil that sustains it all, that we are alone in a universe of contingent accidents we’re finally free to just live out our lives without the encumbrance of belief or thought. The hard thing is getting from a to b, from one’s life to that life where such a vision of being is possible. To enter the Impossible is the terror most refuse; yet, it is as simple as realizing all one’s effort to know is itself the problem, not the answer… for what in the end do we seek to “know” if not that strange thing we are?
In many ways what you’ve written there is the definition of post-nihilist praxis as it was originally discussed, and as Michael and I presented it on the Mindful Cyborgs podcast. I just don’t feel convinced by this “we’re finally free” any more. I think its an evasion. If nothing matters then it doesn’t matter that nothing matters. Sure, but that isn’t really a negation of doom at all.. it’s a nice bit of world play to justify turning away from the bleakness of things. But hell, it’s as valid a response as anything.
Post-nihilist praxis is about generating new functional illusions: delusions you can live by. Truth is that is itself a delusion you can live by.
If everything come down to coping then all responses to the problem are identical. Laugh if you like. Cry if you like. Either way you’re just another lunatic jibbering in the endless padded rooms of the cosmos.
The “indifferentism” of Lovecraft is probably the only consistently liveable response there is. And this leads me back to Stoicism, again and again.
Stoicism to me is a cop out: it says, go numb, become totally apathetic and indifferent to one’s pain and the pain of others. Whereas Nietizsche’s affirmative nihilism takes the alternate path of total affirmation of pain in one’s self and others… the Sadean jouissance of existence as monstrous ecstasy as in Bataille.
I’m not sure I recognise that version of stoicism. I think that’s pretty much a caricature. But I guess that’s another conversation entirely.
I mean it is an ascetic system, teaching perfect indifference (apathea) to everything external, for nothing external could be either good or evil. Hence to the Stoics both pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health, were supposed to be equally unimportant. (Pain being only the most obvious part of it if you read the various stoics themselves.)
Whereas the opposite of which Nietzsche was striving for was an affirmation and intensification of the real rather than its indifference.
Hi, was off reading with the little man. We’re reading a book about sharks 🙂
This isn’t strictly true. They see these things as lacking any basis for rational normative evaluation but that doesn’t mean they are equally unimportant. From the perspective of normative value then it is true that pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health are equal- although not equally unimportant as that modifier is too close to an evaluative judgement. These states are “indifferents” but this is a technical term that does not coincide with indifference. The stoics are well aware that we are human and that being human is also being animal, embodied and at a great distance from reason (although this is our greatest capacity- so much so that Epictetus calls it a fragment of Zeus, anticipating the gnostic idea of scintilla).
That these conditions are indifferents means they are in and of themselves neutral. However they are not neutral to us as embodied being or in relation to the cultivation of virtue.
As embodied beings we prefer certain states over other. This preference is automatic and perfectly acceptable. An example of this is given by one of the stoics, although I can’t recall which. In the example some terrible accident takes place, a loud bang is heard- there is an eruption of some kind, an explosion maybe. From the caricatured perspective the stoic should remain unruffled and display a supreme equanimity. But in fact this isn’t what stoic doctrine teaches. The stoics realize we will have a natural startle response. They realize that we will be afraid. Their system would even take in the possibility of traumatic symptoms. All of this would fall directly under the category of things outside of our control and as such we would not be held in bad esteem for giving into them.
On the other hand the stoics also tell us that our opinions, our ideas and our judgements are under our control. We can question this according to the discoveries of cognitive science but for now let’s leave that aside. Granting some charity to the stoics pre-neuroscientific cognitive psychology we could say that we ought to be able to adjust our judgements and therefore our behavioural dispositions/responses in the time following the original incident. The stoic is not totally indifferent then because he realizes that this is completely impossible. Indeed the only example of a sage that the stoic point to tends to be a heavily mythologised existentialist Socrates, and with Epictetus we also get given the example of Diogenes- who certainly wasn’t totally indifferent to externals.
As regards the cultivation of virtue the stoics saw all of this as a process that would take a life time. Indeed, it may not even be achieved. John Sellars, a scholar of stoicism, tends to give the example of a drowning man: we all begin at the ocean floor and the sage is the one with his head above water. It is a regulative ideal that we can be measurably near to or far from but which it is unlikely we will ever identify with totally. Epictetus repeatedly tells us that we fails to live up to his own ideal; or rather he tells this to his students, to people who are paying to come and learn how to be a great philosopher like their famous teacher. And his response? Ach, nope, not me, but Socrates did it. Plato? Oh no- but nearly! Epicurus? Pfffft.
The cultivation of virtue requires that we develop the capacity to make our judgements adequate to the world- to minimize disagreement between what is and what we desire to the point that they fuse. You mentioned amor fati, and its pretty clear that nietzsche takes this doctrine directly from stoic fatalism. If he doesn’t take it from them he has accidentally repeated in it the entire stoic outlook on life. To will only that what happens happen. The stoic would call it assent to fate and would not go so far- it’s true- into declaring a love for every joy but also every misery and every horror and every torture and every harm that has ever been.
Regardless; if the stoic adept is to attempt to get closer to the goal of sagacity then it’s pretty clear he is going to need a material baseline to work from. It would be preferable to the would-be sage to have health, material comfort. The stoics only advise the ability to detach from comfort, and recommend periods of voluntary discomfort and poverty but not renunciation- this was precisely Zeno’s disagreement with Diogenes that led to the foundation of Stoicism in the first place. Likewise they advise that the would-be philosopher can easily prefer pleasure over pain but that he shouldn’t believe that the pursuit of one or the avoidance of other constitutes virtue.
I’m also not convinced that Stoics want rid of pleasant emotions. They talk about joy all over the place. Their term for indifference that you point to- apathea- means “without pathos” or “without suffering” or “without passion”; the first and second ring with the ideal of the avoidance of suffering while the last is an expression of moderation- of not going over board. Of course this means that the Stoics are against madness’s excesses- but they are only so insofar as it constitutes pain.
In his Lectures Musonius is pretty clear on the subject. He states that a philosopher ‘displays love for his fellow human beings, as well as goodness, justice, kindness and concern for his neighbour’. Several of Marcus Aurelius’s meditations are essentially elaborations on this theme. In the 7th Meditation:
“It is a man’s especial privilege to love even those who stumble. And this love follows as soon as you reflect that they are akin to you and that they do wrong involuntarily and through ignorance, and that in a little while they are you will be dead’.
Of course the entire issue of apathea is only a side issue in Stoicism, at least on paper and by the Stoics own self understanding. It might be that they are mistaken about themselves or that they are just lying, but they explicitly state that apathea is merely evidence of rational virtue. To put it another way, apathea is a byproduct of virtuous living but is itself neither constitutive or the goal of Stoicism’s asceticism.
I mean- it’s true that the Stoics are ascetics, there is a reason Schopenhauer mounts praise on them, despite the fact that he thinks their ethics fails to be authentically ethical. He says of it that it is a guide for living rationally and nothing more- and I don’t think the Stoics would disagree.
Whether or not this is attractive I couldn’t say. I mean I am drawn to it and to other forms of asceticism but I wouldn’t counsel anyone to through off their chains and fall in line with Epictetus’ cruel teachings.
Speaking of which- it’s Stoicism week again soon. Sometime in november there will be a guided “live like a Stoic for a week” thing that is assessed via self-report. It was set up by a CBT therapist and has been running for I think 3 years this year. You could always throw off your chains and try it for a week 😉