Badiou: Down with Death!

Alain Badiou

Let’s start from the notion of nihilism. What does it mean? Nihilism is a figuration, a diagnostic on the state of the world and of thought, which established itself in the nineteenth century (we could argue that in a certain sense the first nihilist philosophy was Schopenhauer’s) on the ruins of the old religious and class convictions – as if nihilism had come along to name the void in which the collective symbolisation found itself.

So we could say that nihilism is the negative subjectivation of finitude; it is fundamentally the organised or anarchic (either is possible) consciousness that because we die, nothing is important. The most classic figure of nihilism is the statement that everything is devalued, de-symbolised and untenable in the face of death. It is an equalisation of the totality of everything that could be valued, faced with the radical ontological finitude that death represents. This question of the relation between nihilism and values is, as you know, a central question in Nietzsche’s philosophy, which takes up this theme of nihilism in order to make a very important diagnostic and critical use of it.

In reality, the statement ‘because we die, nothing is important’ can remain a theological one. Indeed, we could say ‘Nothing is important, except God, except eternal salvation, except the other life…’; and we would then be embarking on something that is not nihilism, but the vocation for martyrdom or even placing hope in death itself, given that death is the only door to the infinite, and thus the only door to the value that matters, the supreme value. So we ought to say that full, complete nihilism is the nihilism that not only considers death proof of the inevitable devaluation of differences, but which completes this judgement with the death of God himself. So we can speak of complete nihilism only when the death of man is paired with the death of God. It was evidently in this sense that Dostoyevsky made one of his characters say that ‘if God is dead, then everything is permitted’. This is a nihilist statement in the sense that if God is dead, then nothing allows us to claim an inequality among different values. Judgement is itself of no interest, now that death is constituted doubly, both by the empirical death of men and the historical death of the gods.

In reality, this nihilism probably organises a complicated historical disposition – one that is still unfinished even today – which necessarily constructs what I will call a false contradiction, a contradiction that represents the two possible subjective variants of established nihilism.

The first position is a sceptical, atheist nihilism, which is in fact the most widespread ideology bearing it in the contemporary world. ‘Yes, it’s good to doubt…’ – and this is an absolutely fallacious interpretation of Descartes, when we know that what interested him was to prove the existence of God and to remain in doubt for the least length of time possible. It has become a sort of inheritance, with a long history – including in France – and one that results in the view that, fundamentally, the lightly sceptical reign of reasonable opinions combined with a smiling atheism is an acceptable subjective state, even if it does not seem very vigorous or exciting. It is a nihilist configuration, but it is what we might call a ‘non-tragic’ nihilism – the established, peaceable nihilism. The other position, on the contrary, is the frenzied desire for the resurrection of God – after all, the gods make quite a habit of reviving; they have always shown that their greatness is to mount a challenge to death itself.

This is absolutely what we have before us today, including at the level of average opinion: on the one hand, the will to preserve something of sceptical nihilism, of smiling atheism and the way of life that corresponds to it, and then, on the other hand, an attempt at the impossible resurrection of the dead God. This contradiction is, I think, a false contradiction, a contradiction that organises nihilism itself as a primordial renunciation of judgement and in particular as a renouncement of the category of truth. This contradiction – as is always the case with the great contradictions – today has a tragic and a comic form (though it is sometimes a sinister comedy). The tragic form is the extraordinary violent clash – which is always over oil fields (it is an oil-nihilism) – between sophisticated barbarism and what we might call archaic barbarism, killing either with the electronic drone or the butcher’s cleaver. In this latter case you are forced to invest something of your own person, whereas with the drone you can stay in your armchair and command the murder 3,000 kilometres away, before telling the President who signed the murder-order how it went. It is the tragic form because it is, all the same, haunted by death, murder, and occupation; and it is all the more tragic because it is not possible to see any way out of it, to see how it would be possible to give meaning to any kind of way out of this clash, precisely because it is a clash between two positions that are each in a certain sense untenable.

As for its comic form, we see this in the fact that newspapers can devote front-page headlines to the length of schoolgirls’ skirts, as if this were the news of the day. This will go down in history as ‘the skirt wars’… It is not wholly the same as the other nihilism, but in reality it expresses the same contradiction, because sceptical and nihilist atheism is also a whole universe of representations of femininity, of the relation to femininity, etc – and the impossibility of resurrecting the dead God also bears on this point. So this quarrel is the comic form of war.

We could ask what the two sides of this contradiction have in common. What they have in common is, ultimately, finitude. This is clear in the sceptical and atheist form of nihilism, for which it isn’t judgement that matters, but the free play of opinions. As for the figure of the impossible resurrection of the dead God, we know well enough that you can only get to God by manifesting and martyrising your finitude; so this is always a matter of the humiliation of finitude in front of the greatness of the infinite, which transcends and is external to it.

So in both cases it is the power of finitude that is convoked as the ground or territory of the opposition; and it is convoked in its quadruple operating form: that is, of identity, repetition, necessity and God himself. These four terms are, indeed, present at the heart of the contradiction that I am talking about.

Identity, because it is evidently an identitarian war. A ‘war of civilisations’, a war of religions, a war between the West and what is not the West, a war between democracy and tyranny: it has countless names, but it does indeed manifest itself as an identitarian war. Repetition, because in a certain sense it is a scene that has already been rehearsed, particularly in the representation of a conflict between the West and the Orient. Here we can mobilise the crusades, or, in the inverse sense, the expansion of the Muslim religion under the Ottoman Empire, or again in the other sense, colonialism and the Christians imposing their authority over Muslim peoples – in either case, it is a historically constituted scene being repeated. Necessity, because there is the necessity to deploy modernity conceived as the irreducible enemy of tradition. This is the question of symbolisation, of value, which is posed as the need for modernity to be able to develop without the hindrances, the reticence and the objections of tradition. So ultimately we can clearly see that God is the dividing line between, on the one hand, scepticism – which includes the necessity or authorisation of blasphemy – and, on the other hand, the attempt to resuscitate the dead God, which instead speaks to respect for the contents of the faith.

The common term in this conflict is the exacerbation of the power of finitude. What I want to note here is that identity, repetition, necessity and God are in fact concentrated in the theme of death. The thought of finitude is essentially a deadly and mortifying [mortifère et mortifiant] one. Death is the implicit or explicit recapitulation of the four terms.

Firstly, identity. In the logic of finitude, we only know who someone is when he is dead. Death is the seal that allows us to say what someone is – otherwise you still do not know what he is capable of. This is a theme that you will find in Greek tragedy. It is death that comes to seal the destiny of individuals’ identities but also of peoples’ identities: we know of the eighteenth-century fascination for the fall of the Roman empire, which was the point where it was possible to grasp and to consider what the identity of the Roman empire had truly been, in its own being. There is a rather terrifying phrase of Sartre’s on this point, that ‘to be dead is to be prey to the living’. Death is effectively the moment when you can no longer argue back or plead your cause against the verdict that the living choose to pass on you.

Repetition. Death is what makes every individual substitutable for any other. ‘Death is the great equaliser’ – a theme that we find extending everywhere across all religions. At the moment of death you stop being a king or a toiler; you will die, and faced with this terrifying threat of death and the last Judgement, anyone will be substitutable for any other. Death is the means by which humanity indefinitely repeats its constitutive finitude. That’s the meaning of the meditation pursued inEcclesiastes: ‘Nothing new under the sun’. That is, that everything is heading toward death, without death itself changing anything. [Which then brings us to] the magnificent metaphor ‘All the streams flow into the sea, and the sea is never full’. This community-in-death is also an annihilation of time, absolutely cancelling out time’s creative capacity: ‘What are a hundred or a thousand years, when they can be wiped out in an instant?’ (Bossuet).

Necessity. Death is the only thing that we are certain of. Everything else is aleatory and variable – ultimately, the pure necessity of human life is crystallised in death. Malraux has Stalin saying (and it’s been questioned that he did), doubtless on a day when he was feeling melancholic, that ‘Ultimately, it’s death that wins’… even if you are a Stalin. This is Stalinist nihilism.

And then God, evidently. God has always been connected to death. God is the promise of immortality, indeed, immortality in itself. God is the name of non-death.

You see that death is the motif that recapitulates the instances of finitude, also because it is convoked as the ultimate argument every time that we suppose, or invoke, the possibility of humanity’s immanent, effective access to some truth of an infinite power – we always say ‘in the last analysis, man is a mortal animal’. From this point of view, I always admired the canonical example you learn in school of what a logical argument is: ‘All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, so Socrates is mortal’. Connected together in this example is a triple relation between (1) necessity – that is, syllogism, as the logical form of necessity, (2) the pretention to wisdom or greatness as embodied in Socrates, and (3) the knot between the two, death. This pedagogical syllogism is a toxic vehicle of finitude. That it is why it is given to everyone as a principle of logical wisdom.

Now it would be interesting to ask what the absolute modern form of that is. I think that it’s not at all a matter of insisting on the value of death, giving it an important place, but rather a case of covering up its finitude. That means calmly setting this finitude at a distance, relegating it to lost corners, if possible, with the idea that, in any case, we already live a long time… Fundamentally, the idea is that death can ultimately be covered up by a carpet of commodities. Consumerist mobility, the possibility of humanity always having another go within its reach, the serial ‘another’ of the commodity (another object, another journey…) is in reality what covers up the categories of death, at the same time as being the same as it. If we think about it, commodity consumerism is also, ultimately, the repetition, the identity of objects etc. So it is death in its consumable form. I always have this feeling that when we buy an object, no matter what it is, particularly the most useless objects – that is, the most amusing ones – it is like in the Middle Ages when people used to buy indulgences. It is buying a little guarantee against the vileness of death, a little slice of anti-death fetish. The image I have of that in my mind is that after having little by little been covered up by these commodities, and then finally disappearing behind them, we are dead: and that is where the true reality, the truly immortal reality, triumphs – the immortality of the market. That is the great comfort – life is covered up by little parcels of indulgences, such that this covering ends up displacing death simply because it is identical to death.

In reality, I think that the great element of modernity is to have generalised slow death, that is, the avoidance – as much as possible – of catastrophic death. That is why our societies find it very hard to deal with catastrophes. There must not be catastrophes: this is pathological. Tragic, unexpected death is unacceptable. Suddenly, death has arrived – but what is it doing here? What is the government doing? The plane to Thailand is meant for relaxation, not for smashing into the ground and killing you. We are forced to feel this as a terrible drama. Why? Ultimately we have much less chance of being killed in the plane than walking down the steps; this is not at the level of general statistics, but because it is a death out in the open, a death that does not fit into the law of modern death, which means dying very slowly, and, if possible, almost without noticing.

The thesis underlying all this, it must be said, is that death is the constitutive principle of humanity as such. The dereliction of man as ‘the being for which there is death’ – the problem being to deal with the extreme anguish that this conviction provokes. The contemporary philosopher who thought this through most deeply was Heidegger. Indeed, he said that from the point of view of man’s immanent end, he is ultimately ‘a being toward death’, and he mounted a fundamentally important meditation on finitude on this basis. I’ll read you an extract from Being and Time [all quotes used here are from Joan Stambaugh’s English translation]:

Ending does not necessarily mean fulfilling oneself. It thus becomes more urgent to ask in what sense, if any, death must be grasped as the ending of Da-sein […] Initially ending means stopping, and it means this in senses that are ontologically different. The rain stops. It is no longer objectively present. The road stops. This ending does not cause the road to disappear, but this stopping rather determines the road as this objectively present one.

Here Heidegger is distinguishing – and here I’ll return to the terms I used before, between the finite as passive stopping and the finite as an operation. The rain stops: it has disappeared, it has stopped passively. Whereas if the road stops, it is because it is its own end, it has led us somewhere which is its end, an end that constitutes the road as a direction, a track, leading from one point to another. In this case, the end closes off the possibility of operation.

Hence ending as stopping can mean either to change into the absence of objective presence or, however, to be objectively present only when the end comes. The latter kind of ending can again be determinative for an unfinished thing objectively present, as a road under construction breaks off, or it may rather constitute the “finishedness” of something objectively present – the painting is finished with the last stroke of the brush.

So here we immediately have the metaphor of work, in the fact that the last stroke of the brush is the thing that brings us to its finished glory, whereas if the road stops because it hasn’t been built yet, then that is a transitory and passive stopping.

Even ending in the sense of disappearing can still be modified according to the kind of being of the being. The rain is at an end, that is, disappeared. The bread is at an end, that is, used up, no longer available as something at hand.

To put it another way, the bread is used up, but it has fulfilled the role it was made for.

None of these modes of ending are able to characterize death appropriately as the end of Da-sein. If dying were understood as being-at-an-end in the sense of an ending of the kind discussed, Da-sein would be posited as something objectively present or at hand. In death, Da-sein is neither fulfilled nor does it simply disappear; it has not become finished or completely available as something at hand.

To put it another way: in death, Dasein is not like the road, the rain, the table or the bread we ate.

Rather, just as Da-sein constantly already is its not-yet as long as it is, it also alreadyis its end. The ending that we have in view when we speak of death does not signify a being-at-an-end of Da-sein, but rather a being toward the end of this being. Death is a way to be that Da-sein takes over as soon as it is. “As soon as a human being is born, he is old enough to die right away”.

Heidegger’s description of death essentially consists of saying that, in man’s case, finitude is radically immanent. Death is not something external, indicating a passive finitude or a finitude achieved by human life: rather, human life is commanded or oriented toward death, from within; Dasein is ‘toward death’ from the beginning. To put that another way, the thing proper to man is that the question of death, of finitude, is internal to his existence and to his definition, and not the result of fulfilment or stopping, which are but empirical appearances. For human life, the end is at the beginning. It is an ineluctable component of the prospect of life in itself.

I think that here we have got to the densest and most complete form of an organic relation between human existence and finitude. In my view this is the most radical thesis concerning the assumption of finitude, because it is a thesis that makes finitude immanent in an absolute way. Ultimately it makes death play the same role that the absolute plays in Hegel’s thinking (as he ultimately concluded that if we manage to attain the absolute, that is because the absolute is with us from the beginning). If we take Heidegger’s texts seriously, they tell us that death is also the absolute of human life, that is, at the same time its beginning, its origin and its fate.

I want to defend another thesis concerning death, a thesis that, conversely, upholds the absolute exteriority of death – a thesis that makes death radically non-immanent. If you want the complete details, see Logiques des mondes, Book III, Section 4, a chapter entitled ‘L’existence et la mort’, where you will find the whole context that I can only give a brief sketch of here.

The idea I want to defend – and it’s a simple one, truth be told – is that death is something that happens to you; it is not the immanent unfolding of some linear programme. Even if we say that human life cannot go beyond a hundred and twenty years, for biological, genetic etc. reasons, death as death is always something that happens to you. One great thinker on death is La Palice. A truth we get from La Palice is that ‘a quarter an hour before his death, he was still alive’. That isn’t at all absurd or naïve. It means that ‘a quarter an hour before death’ he wasn’t what Heidegger sees as ‘a quarter hour before death’ – he wasn’t ‘a-being-toward-death’ ever since his birth. ‘A quarter of an hour before his death’ he was alive, and death happens to him. And I would maintain that death always comes from the outside. Spinoza said something excellent on that score: ‘Nothing can be destroyed except by an external cause’. Yes, I’ll take that. Spinoza gives a long proof of that, but I won’t give it too. This means that death is in a position of radical exteriority: we would not even say that a human reality, a Dasein, is mortal. Because ‘mortal’ means to say that it contains the virtuality of death in an immanent fashion. In truth, all that is is generically immortal, and then death intervenes.

I would define death as a mutation of existential status in a given world, which I will try to give you a general schema of. We are all in a world, Heidegger is right on that, we are somewhere, we are localised and our very being contains and retains this localisation. The metaphysical approach I propose is the following: the register of being [l’être] on the one hand, and the register of existence on the other, have to be distinguished. Being belongs to pure multiplicity, under one form or another, whereas existence is always existence in a place. So it is necessary to distinguish, as Heidegger masterfully did, between being and being-there [Da-sein]. Thought on being is one thing (as you know, I maintain that it fuses with the analysis of multiplicities, or mathematics), and thought on existence is another.

Let’s suppose that X and Y exist in the world. They have a being of their own, independent of the fact that they are in this world. But what does ‘existing in a world’ mean for them? It means: being in a state of being differentiated from all the others who are in the same world. The singularity of existence is the possible systemic differentiation between an element of the world and an element of the same world. So somewhere there has to be the possibility of evaluating the difference between the two. So we would say that ‘existing in a world’ is to be taken in a practically infinite web of more or less strong differences with everything that is in the world in question: that’s what constitutes the singularity of our belonging to the world.

We will use the term D(x,y) to denote the difference between X and Y, a relation whose value ‘measures’ the extent to which X and Y are different. The difference D(x,y) has a value that will situate itself between a minimum (µ) and a maximum (M). If it equals M, it is because X and Y are very different, they are as different as could be; if it equals µ, it is because they are almost the same, as similar as they could be. A world, in its basic machinery, is a game of differentiations proper to this determinate world, oscillating between a minimum and a maximum.

So on that basis we can say that for some person, ‘existing in the world’ is the measure of difference between herself and herself. This would be written E(x) = D(x,x). That is a very simple and ordinary idea. Existence is always something qualitative, it is an intensity: there are moments when you feel ‘alienated’, that is, very differentiated from yourself; so D(x,x) has a maximal value. And there are other moments where you feel yourself fully exist, where your existence is intense, you feel close to your true identity; so D(x,x) has a minimal value. Between the two it fluctuates via intermediate values, and X and Y are not absolutely different nor absolutely identical, but ‘averagely’ different.

We can also express it by saying that ‘the existence of a multiple something, relative to a world, is the degree to which in this world the multiple appears identical to itself’ (Logiques des mondes p. 285). This time, this is expressed in the value of the function ‘identity to oneself’ (annotated Id(x.x)): if Id(x,x) has the maximum value (M), that is because this multiple exists absolutely in the world under consideration; and if Id(x,x) has the minimal value (µ) that is because its existence in this world has an extremely weak intensity.

As for death, it is, formally, the sudden, contingent passage – imposed from the outside – from the situation Id(x,x) = p [p being some non-minimal value] to the situation Id(x,x) = µ. That’s why we can always say ‘that is what death is’, when we see death and we absolutely know that is what it is. We know that it’s death because x is still there, but the intensity of his existence is almost entirely eliminated. The fable of the immortal soul does not rely on the distinction between mind and body, but it is rooted within it, that is, in the distinction between being and existence. The idea of immortality is that in this world – the world that prescribed the intensity of an existence proper to this world – x is dead, but that does not mean that he is dead in every world.

Ahmed chose this moment to signal to ‘Mr. Badiou’ that he had to leave the stage instantly. The meditation he had been elaborating, alone on the stage, concluded with the slogan: ‘Down with death!’

See more from Badiou here.

Hermetico-Promethean Postnihilism

 

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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…

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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…

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S.C. Hickman on J.G. Ballard: Icarus and the Dying Fall into Nothingness

“For Bataille, the reason why people see the foot as inferior to the head is their habit of attributing a higher status to the vertical forms of thought. Man should fall on his four legs, otherwise he will never be able to write himself out not only as the writer but also as the written, not only as the seer but also as the seen.” – Cengiz Erdem

J.G. Ballard in the final story of his illustrious career let his protagonist utter the words of a man who was still haunted and defeated by the power of the natural life-death drives: “I escaped, but that expression of triumph on Elaine’s face still puzzles me. Had she seen me pushing against the tower and assumed that I was responsible for its collapse? Was she proud of me for hating her so fiercely, and for at last stirring from my impotence to take my revenge? Perhaps only in her death did we truly come together, and the Tower of Pisa served a purpose for which it had waited for so many centuries.” [1]

The irony here of course is that there is no escape, nature and woman will have their way against the maddening hatred of her fiercely bitter and impotent son and ritual mate. Like some broken sexual object, the tower leans across the shadowy lives of husband and wife, revealing not so much the underlying geophysical dilemmas of our terrestrial plight, but of the vanity of all human aspiration to attain geometric verticality against the gravitas of earth’s spinning foam. For all things must fall toward the earth sooner or later. Even transgressors such as Icarus or Ballard’s wife killer. As Nick Land once said “The truth of transgression, at once utterly simple and yet ungraspable, is that evil does not survive to be judged.” [2]…Read More

via Dark Chemistry

The Nietzschean Subject

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

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Nietzsche creates the concept of bad conscience as the generator of illness, which is in turn fed by the illness it generates, giving birth to the man of ressentiment.[1] Nietzsche’s ressentiment is what Melanie Klein calls envy. To be able to see the link between envy/ressentiment and the will to nothingness/the life-death drives, I shall start from the beginning, from the first year of life.[2]

In a world where everything is new for the subject, nothing is symbolic. The subject is born into the symbolic order, and yet there are many other symbolic orders totally different from the one into which it is born. The subject, in a nomadic fashion, moves from one symbolic order and into another. The shift from one and into the other is so sudden that it is almost unrecognisable. In its new symbolic order, the subject is experiencing everything for the first time; just like the child in the first year of life. The child becomes the mediator between an external reality and an internal one. Nothing is good or evil yet. The inner world is composed of part-objects which are fluctuating bits and pieces of imagery, a mass of misery. The child, through its actions, not only subverts the symbolic order but also produces some new reality. There are many questions the infant knows not how to ask as yet. For Melanie Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child through and after which the child learns to make a distinction between the good objects and the bad objects. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position; that is when the child becomes an unhappy consciousness because it learns that the mother’s breast is good and bad at the same time. Lacan’s mirror-stage –a period of Imaginary identifications– is a version of Klein’s manic-depressive position, which consists in a series of Narcissistic illusions and imaginary identifications through which the child learns to act upon the objects surrounding him/her.

The Nietzschean subject is always at the periphery and perpetually in touch with the objects surrounding him. In fact he is not only in touch but also is defined by them. This subject is produced through what it consumes. The subject buys things and those things determine the subject’s identity which is a non-identity. The subject becomes what it consumes, it projects what it has introjected. In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society. This paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.

The relation of a subject to the objects surrounding him/her shows us something about the subject’s relation to death. In a world in which use value as opposed to exchange value is important, the subject gets to know the nature of the objects and death more profoundly. But today use value is itself determined by exchange value. The world today is almost exactly the opposite of a world in which nothing is a substitute for another thing.

With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.

Global capitalism indeed appears to have rendered everyone equal in relation to each other. They all have the equal rights to consume but in no way have all the means to do so. This status of the subject as a mere consumer, objectifies the subject as a subject of consumption. The subject is reduced to a consuming-excreting machine(naturally), or a mechanism of introjection-projection(culturally). That makes everyone substitutable by anyone else; they can take on each other’s roles, act themselves out as they are not, as someone else is. In other words rather than become no-one, no-body, imperceptible, they become something exchangeable and expendable. And yet it is only on the condition of feeling oneself as nothing rather than something, feeling of self as nothingness, can one go beyond one’s symbolic life driven by striving for security and omniscience. The subject should start to see the reduction of self to nothingness as a gain when from the perspective of the already existing symbolic order it is a loss of the difference of everything in relation to a subject or an object. In the absence of this kind of a subject who does not want to become an ordinary symbolic person, herd-instinct dominates all subjects. With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.

Now that Nietzsche’s autobiographical book Ecce Homo has become a symptom, an effect of his previous books, the other within of his oeuvre, in most parts of Europe, but especially in the United States of America and Britain, this book is considered to be a  prescription for the predominant way of “healthy living.” It will almost sound offensive to say that the other within of the past has become the self of the present, the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain:

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1969), 33-6

[2]Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984), 29-32