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Pessimism

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to be wondered at or else transmuted into excremental waste, or forms and patterns or flux or relations of partially withdrawn simples- but it is anything but the world of nappies and knife crime and heart attacks and sunday afternoons, all of which philosophy cannibalises- material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,

lurching out

 of the mist.

Levi’s latest post on consciousness is melancholy in its weighting towards a lost past. It is as if he has something specific in mind, and yet it is as if that specificity readily loosens itself to dissolve into the generality of… vagueness, a general sense…noia or ennui- that delicate and pristine longing for longing itself.

‘We always fail to be our past’, write Levi, as though there were some particular moment he had in mind, although the mood of this statement worries us with a more abstract implication; we always fail and so there is no particular moment, but each moment and therefore any moment. We are an imperceptible sliding away from ourselves. Inch by inch we disappear in our own intimacy, our own familiarity, our own… too up closeness.

The past weighs on us. It pulls us back. “Who I am?” morphs into the traitorous “who have I been?” and blots out the light of “who might I be?”. Indeed this tripartite partitioning of time endlessly repeats itself no matter what clever theories we hold and no matter what our sciences might tell us. Here we are in a vanishing present that is pulled apart by the downward plummet of the past and the urgent escape velocity of the future. We are leaden with the past. The mistakes we have made and the sins we have been unable to forgive ourselves. So much of our projections for the future are little more than attempts to redeem the ruins of our own past. Why do I keep reading philosophy? Why keep writing? It would be a lie to pretend that it had nothing to do with being captured by a projection of tomorrow that belongs to my yesterday.

I think of Stirner: “because of I was a fool yesterday does not mean I must be a fool today”. But of course it does. I cannot escape the fool I was yesterday. Even if it is true that as a subject I am unable to live anywhere but in an eternal present I am still weighted and marked. I still orbit the same invisible cosmic scars in my own dismal cosmology. I may change my mind but I cannot choose to change it: it will change as today’s chain of yesterday’s decides it until the chain gets lost, swallowed whole by some past that belongs neither to me nor to my species.

Consciousness is non-identical. It does not coincide with itself. It is torn. We can say that consciousness, viewed from the “inside”, is nothing more than this being-torn, this incapacity to ever become a unified and singular coherence. This is why wisdom and the goal of life in so many great philosophical systems has been a vision of integrity, atraxia, apathia, a cessation of the will-to-life or enlightenment. It is the desire to fall back into the quiescence of the inorganic and primary unconscious matter of atoms or flux or emptiness.

Consciousness is what prevents us from coinciding not only with ourselves but with the natural world that we are nonetheless apart of. We are not other than this natural world and yet we feel ourselves to be so. We and this awful consciousness that divides us from ourselves are nothing but a specific organization of matter- a biological confluence that has been laid down in the material-information patterning of genes we inherited through that long blind and fundamentally directionless, purposeless, idiotic process of evolution.

We could say that consciousness is an accident but it is more accurate to say that it is merely there, completely uselessly like some light switch in an old house that doesn’t seem to be wired up to anything. It’s just there. We are just there. We stand out and feel the distance from that not-us we name “the environment”.

Consciousness is thus the point of non-identification of the body with the world; it is the sight of this original rupture that does not exist anywhere except in the neuro-survival tool-kit that generates it. The body and the world minus consciousness might be in a perfect state of feedback, in a genuine eternal present of the time enjoyed by philosopher’s cow out standing in philosopher’s fields.

The brain tries to model the world to maximize its effectiveness and consciousness appears as the result: it just is this model of the world that it itself is not. Here the existentialism of Sartre blends into the neurophilosophy of Metzinger, who would conclude that ‘consciousness is the presence of a world’- where that world is understood as will-less and as neurocognitive  representation.

And there is worse to come. Though it is true that

We are caught in our signifiers, in what we have said.  Yet we somehow can’t be them.

there is much worse to be said. If consciousness is an integrated set of symptoms arising from neural processes of representation aiming at nothing more than the efficacious action of an organism with a short shelf life, then we can expect it to degrade sooner than we’d like. Of course for Levi this is expressed in the regret that he will never be as dazzling as he was (never write like that again) and I share that sense, although having achieved much less- another symptom, the need to map and track achievements against the others.

The worse that is to come which is worse still than a simple cessation of consciousness is the neurodegenerative dissolution of its underpinnings. The gaps and the elisions open up. We escape our signifier and our past. We escape the capacity for signification. The chain of signifiers and the whole refinery where the links are smelted is degraded beyond a memory where memory is lost. Though through the decline we might hold on. We can still feel the failures and shifts. We can sense the gaps. We might know something is wrong but not know what.

The final horror of consciousness is its erosion in smooth and unnoticed unspooling or in the abrupt tremors of vascular explosions. We forget. We fall out of the “prison-house of language” into a new and more dreadful silent abattoir where every face is a stranger who leers out to threaten us. We forget what it is to eat. This isn’t just the disappearance of consciousness in the closure of the divorce it itself instituted into the order of experience. It is the erosion of experience. The erosion of everything human.

In some cases it is a peaceful process but in most it is an anxiety ridden descent into a cruel and jarring world of abjection and absolute disorientation. An animality of sheer and permanent terror. And in this state, shuttered away from the others who cannot bear to view us, to change our soiled bedclothes and spoon feed us our mashed food, those same others keep us alive with the cruel expectation of dignity.

Consciousness is a device for registering need, desire, want; it is a machine that records pain and tracks sorrow; it binds us tight to a past we can’t reclaim and a future we rarely really want or are capable of living up to.

It is a torture device, from beginning to end: From the first shrill shriek of need emanating from the neonate to the last wheeze or cough or cry. It is an assault in being given and it is a deprivation when it is taken away without our acquiescence.

In reblogging Levi’s post, Dirk has asked whether we can ever grasp what Levi beautifully calls the “perpetual disadequation” of our being the kind of being who knows the kind of being it is not, and if we cannot whether it matters.

Of course the only answer is that it does not and cannot matter to anyone or anything but the thing that fails to grasp itself. In generating the sense of mattering or not mattering the consciousness that asks the question of whether or not it matters stares blank and blindly down at itself, trying to catch itself as it jumps over its own shadow, a transparency attempting to make itself opaque and continuously failing, necessarily failing.

For whom does it matter if it matters? For the thing that cannot tell whether or not it matters; the thing that can only dimly registered the dull discomfort of not knowing whether or not it matters and to whom it could or would matter to begin with.

If “the human phenomena” is composed of nothing but “densely coiled” spirals of illusion- as horror writer Thomas Ligotti has suggested- then the question is asked by a moment of this recussive spiralling of illusion: the voice heard by a schizophrenic stops for a moment to ask whether it is a voice in the head of schizophrenic, and in a voice only it can here.

I will end as Levi began- with a couple of favourite quotations, and thus by leaning on a past that is not mine and which I could never even hope to emulate, supposing hope were a currency to trade in and that emulation was anything but betrayal.

Consciousness is much more than the thorn, it is the dagger in the flesh. 

  • EM Cioran. 

In ancient China, before it was used as a number zero was treated and signified by an empty space. With this in mind, perhaps the identification of zero with consciousness should be read as more of as wish- Zero as the dream escape.