survival, sickness, and materials

We often speak about survival here, and I am working up a response to a piece in Salvage on the figure of “the survivor”. What constantly gets missed in these discussion, and I want to come back to this in the future, is that the polyphony of voices that speak the name “survivor” in reference to themselves. There are many kinds of survivors and many kinds of survivals. The kind of survivalism that the post-nihilist tendency would support could never be one of constriction and reduction, even as it must operate in a deflated and reductionist image of humanity. In this post I simply wanted to draw on the situationist Raoul Vaneigem to point to what our survivalism is not and cannot be:

The individual of survival is inhabited by pleasure-anxiety, by unfulfillment: a mutilated person. Where is one to find oneself in the endless self-loss into which everything draws one? They are wanderers in a labyrinth with no centre, a maze full of mazes. Theirs is a world of equivalents. Should one kill oneself? Killing oneself, though, implies some sense of resistance: one must possess a value that one can destroy. Where there is nothing, the destructive actions themselves crumble to nothing. You cannot hurl a void into a void. “If only a rock would fall and kill me,” wrote Kierkegaard, “at least that would be an expedient.” I doubt if there is anyone today who has not been touched by the horror of a thought such as that. Inertia is the surest killer, t he inertia of people who settle for senility at eighteen, plunging eight hours a day into degrading work and feeding on ideologies. Beneath the miserable tinsel of the spectacle there are only gaunt figures yearning for, yet dreading, Kierkegaard’s “expedient,” so that they might never again have to desire what they dread and dread what they desire. [Revolution of Everyday Life, “Survival Sickness”].

As we implicate much of the folk-political left in a generalized victimization we have to bear in mind the multiple sense of the survivor. It may be that the nomination is indelibly tied to this image of “survival sickness”. But then we have yet to articulate concepts of health and sickness liberated from the old dichotomies that rested on a doxical normative rigidity.

The survivor may well Rick Grimes and it may well be the scavenger on the shit heap; but the survivor is also the psychiatric patient who refuses submission to an iatrogenic regime, and it is those who have been sexually assaulted and refused to be utterly destroyed. The survivor is undoubtedly tied to the idea of resilience and it is this active sense of the survivor that reveals an active sense latent in resiliency.

For all our ideological critique and for all our dismissals, the baseline of resilience isjust this capacity to not be destroyed. And resilience is necessary even if it is not sufficient. Of course the idea of the partisan and the militant is much more exciting and dynamic and laced masculinity, all of which demands a degree of resilience. Ultimately the survivor is a resilient material, and sickness is not the same as death.

Every resistant material is a resilient material. To maximize our synthetic freedoms we must be able to withstand and refuse to be destroyed.

At the same time the passion for life emerges as a biological need, the reverse side of the passion for destroying and letting oneself be destroyed. “So long as we have not managed to abolish any of the causes of human despair we have no right to try and abolish the means whereby people attempt to get rid of despair.” The fact is that people possess both the means to eliminate the causes of despair and the power to mobilize these means in order to rid themselves of it. No one has the right to ignore the fact that the sway of conditioning accustoms them to survive on one hundredth of their potential for life. So general is survival sickness that the slightest concentration of lived experience could not fail to unite the largest number of people in a common will to live. The negation of despair would of necessity become the construction of a new life [“Survival Sickness”].

I don’t know about the foaming at the mouth for the will to life. I am likewise uninspired by romantic calls for a new life. It is undoubtedly true that this one could be better, and that in making concrete improvements upon it we could improve our mode of coping. As long as we are biological organisms, and even as long as we are material entities, we will always also be survival mechanisms. Whether one is a pessimist or the most outrageous optimist who lived there is no doubt that we can escape from the demands of survival in an indifferently malign cosmos. Any politics aiming beyond an abject survivalism marked by “passive passivity” must nevertheless begin from the depressive realist assessment of the future. This is no more and no less what it means to be a materialist.

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