Hermetico-Promethean Postnihilism



To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of one’s own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: How can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

My interest in science in general and neuroscience in particular derives from this understanding of philosophical activity as a dialectical process in nature. For me science is not an object of philosophy but a condition of it. Presumably you can already hear Badiou’s voice here, and rightly so I must say. Badiou had once said that “philosophy is the conceptual organisation of eternity in time.” What, then, is dialectic? Dialectic is simply “the unity of opposites,” as Fredric Jameson defines it in his Valences of the Dialectic. Everything has within itself nothing and inversely. The self and the other are always already reconciled, but in order to actualise this unity philosophy splits the one in such a way as to sustain the process of its reconciliation within itself. The one is not, it all begins with two and continues ad infinitum. Of course a designation such as Hermetico-Promethean post-nihilism is paradoxical, but this being paradoxial is itself creative of the space out of which something not only new but also good, or less worse than that which is or could be, can emerge. That said, a positively altered future itself only ever emerges from a split introduced in-between the past and the present, the good and the bad…


Now, I see nothing bad in interrupting the process of negativity, but needless to say one cannot achieve this by affirming it. One still needs negativity to interrupt negativity. It is in this sense that nihilism turned against itself becomes a condition of progressive philosophy. If science is making a huge progress while the whole planet is rapidly dying, what’s the point of that progress in science? It becomes a meaningless activity for its own sake. Without a future there can be no science either, but it is only by way of putting science into good uses that we can have a future. And when I say we I mean we humans, we animals and we the plants. Paradoxical though as it may sound, robots are of no concern to me, but enhancement technologies such as neuroplasticity softwares are…

I take whatever rings true to me in accordance with my intention. Intending something is not necessarilly willing without consciousness. One may be driven to anything at all, including willing nothingness as Nietzsche has taught us, adding that “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Although Nietzsche’s proclamation may be valid for some, it is not necessarily valid for all. To say again now what I’ve already said some other time, I’m still up for consciously desiring good life. That said, I reckon it’s not even worth mentioning that will, drive and desire are not the same thing. As for the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, we must return to Hegel as always. There are indeed many illusions in this life, some for life yet some others not, some necessary while some irrelevant. Not that I am one, and yet it’s not for nothing that Hegel had once said, “the great man of his time is he who expresses the will and the meaning of that time, and then brings it to completion; he acts according to the inner spirit and essence of his time, which he realizes.” This, I think, is still true and ever will be, if we are to have a future worthy of the name, that is…


Cinema and Fetishism, or, The Commercial Value of Shit

Even shit has a commercial value, depending of course, on whose shit it is. While in the case of human shit you have to pay to get rid of it, in the case of animal shit it is said to be a very efficient and sufficient fertilizer for one who has learned to use it, rather than seeing it as something worthless because it cannot be eaten. “Inversely, it is this very terror that is projected on to the spectacle of the mother’s body, and invites the reading of an absence where anatomy sees a different conformation.”[1]

Since even the instincts are produced by the superpanoptic projection-introjection mechanism in which the subject finds himself/herself, giving free rein to the unconscious to express itself only produces projections of the evil within onto the without. For Freud the death drive is the effect of a striving for infinity, nothingness, and death. I would say it is also the cause of it.

Commodity fetishism is equal to will to nothingness in that it is the desire for the inorganic objects to stand in for nothingness, the Real of the subject’s desire. Capitalism replaces the use value of the objects with two-dimensional commercial value, so the subject desires to be desired, and he/she can only do that by adapting to the two dimensional sphere of commodity fetishism; by becoming a fetish object himself. If we recall Marcuse complaining that the one-dimensional is absorbing the two-dimensional  and also keep in mind that Marcuse’s two-dimensional culture has become the pre-dominant culture of today, we can see why the solution is to say, “I don’t see myself as you see me,” to the big Other in whatever form it appears in our lives.

In our opinion fetishism only occurs in sadism in a secondary and distorted sense. It is divested of its essential relation to disavowal and suspense and passes into the totally different context of negativity and negation, where it becomes an agent in the sadistic process of condensation.[2]

So the death drive produces new objects of desire by splitting the already existing objects. The subject as death drive, by splitting the symbolic, opens up spaces for the emergence of new objects of desire to stand in for nothingness and death.

The good object has moved to the side of knowledge and the cinema becomes a bad object (a dual displacement which makes it easy for ‘science’ to stand back). The cinema is ‘persecuted’, but this persistence is also a reparation (the knowing posture is both aggressive and depressive), reparation of a specific kind, peculiar to the semiologist: the restoration to the theoretical body of what has been taken from the institution, from the code which is being ‘studied.’[3]

Writing about cinema is essentially a criticism of the symbolic order, for both writing and cinematic production are themselves symbolic social activities. Since cinema exploits the life drive by satisfying the desire for something covering nothing, writing about cinema is essentially governed by the death drive which tries to expose the nothingness behind the symbolic. That which a film veils is nothing other than nothing; and exposing this nothingness behind the film introduces a split between the subject and the signifier. When looked at like that psychotherapy becomes critical of the existing social order, for by criticizing the film the critic heals the film industry hence having a healing effect on the spectator.

It is clear that fetishism, in the cinema as elsewhere, is closely linked to the good object. The function of the fetish is to restore the latter, threatened in its ‘goodness’ (in Melanie Klein’s sense) by the terrifying discovery of the lack. Thanks to the fetish, which covers the wound and itself becomes erotogenic, the object as a whole can become desirable again without excessive fear.[4]

According to Metz cinema is a fetish object. Films stand in for an object that is absent. The reflection of images on the screen veil the nothingness behind them without which they would not have been seen. “The fetish is the cinema in its physical state. A fetish is always material: insofar as one can make up for it by the power of the symbolic alone one is precisely no longer a fetishist.”[5]

Cinema produces unattainable objects of desire. By filling in a gap they render the nothingness more unattainable. They give the impression that there is something they are hiding and that way they produce the desire for nothingness. Cinema’s power of exploiting the will to nothingness, however, is the only tool one has at hand to criticize the cinematic apparatus as a form of ideology.

Sublimation of the objects of desire takes place through cinema and television. The more they are rendered unattainable the more sublime they become. What cinema does is to create the illusion of presence. Cinema shows an absent object through presenting an object to substitute for the nothingness. So it is the presence of an absence that we see on the screen. To enjoy cinema the subject has to know that what he/she is watching is only a presence covering an absence, that it is that which stands in for the Real of the subject’s desire. So Metz can say, “the fetish is the cinema in its physical sense.”[6] Looked at that way fetish is that which is produced to stand in for the Real object of desire, which is nothingness, and is therefore produced to satisfy the will to nothingness.

Cinematic narrative doesn’t show events in their real sequence. There are cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes. All those, cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes are openings to an external reality; they give the impression that there is something external to that which is actually being shown. The spectator is made to believe that there is something he/she doesn’t know as to what’s really going on in the film. This curiosity for that which is unknown inherent in every human is that which cinema exploits. By making the spectator simultaneously believe and not-believe what he/she is seeing on the screen, cinema creates an ambiguous relationship with itself and the spectator.

 By leaving gaps within the narrative, cinema invites projective identification. The spectator projects what he has inside him onto the absence within the filmic text. He fills those gaps with his internal partial objects and imposes a unity and continuity on the split narrative of the film.

The death drive involves splitting and introjection. The subject as death drive splits given unities and continuities. It is impossible for a spectator governed by the death drive to identify with the characters in the film. On the contrary, he desires nothing, identifies with nothing, without which he knows there can be no meaning. Rather than filling in the gaps within the narrative death drive puts them into the spotlight, it shows that those gaps are interior to the narrative itself. The incompleteness of the narrative is the condition of possibility for its meaning.

We can differentiate these two different types of spectatorship, one governed by the life drive and the other by the death drive, as associationism and dissociationsim.

In associationism the subject immerses himself/herself in the medium of the imaginary and identifies with the characters in the movie. In dissociationsim the subject introduces new splits between the internal and the external objects and hence renders identification impossible for himself/herself.

The life drive is the will to become one with the world, it is the force behind mimicry and associationsim. It is wrong to associate the death drive with mimicry and associationism. The subject as death drive dissociates and splits given unities and continuities. In horror movies the absence of the knowledge of truth for the spectator, that is, not being given the role of the omniscient eye, the spectator becomes curious and to understand what’s really going on in the movie he/she identifies with the characters. In the face of the abundance of gaps to be filled in the process of watching the film the life drive grows less and less strong for doing all the job throughout the watching process, while the death drive is oppressed and because of this very oppression it grows more and more strong. Eventually the life drive collapses and the death drive overflows the auditorium.

cropped-artwork_images_185199_333751_hiroshi-sugimoto.jpgAlthough it is itself a product of the death drive, horror film exploits the life drive, that is, the spectator’s will to form unities, bind the action, desire to get rid of all gaps and inconsistencies within the narrative. The death drive negates negation and reaches the highest possible degree of affirmation. Thanatos wills nothing, whereas Eros wills nothingness. We can see that the Thanatos case is the reverse of what Nietzsche says, “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Eros wants to want nothing; and strives to form such unities that everything will fit in its place; the system will lack nothing, so Eros will want nothing. Thanatos introduces splits, and tries to reach the nothingness behind the symbolic. Thanatos wants nothing rather than nothingness. He wants nothing to show the nothingness in the midst of everything, that there is nothing behind all that there is.

While Eros wants to lack nothing, wants the lack of lack, Thanatos affirms life as it is and wants lack, wants something to lack, wants that lack to remain after all is said and done, so that he can desire the nothingness which that lack presents. Thanatos doesn’t want something to replace nothing, but rather wants the lack in everything. By negating negation the death drive affirms life as it is, that is, in its incompleteness, and with nothingness and death in its midst.

[1]Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982), 69

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, trans. Jean McNeil (New York: Zone, 1989), 32

[3] Metz, 80

[4] Metz, 75

[5] Metz, 75

[6] Metz, 75