07 October 2006

Resolve

For me the question is always one of how to keep myself writing, thinking, and engaging. Upon encountering this picture last week, I found my desire flagging. Now you're welcome to think me absurd that I would be so disturbed to discover that such a picture was aired three times in this way during the O'Reilly segment in question and that when the correction was finally made they simply erased the caption bar altogether, not listing any party affiliation. You would be right, I am absurd. You see, I'm a victim of my own desire, of my own fantasies. This was one of Epictetus' key points. If, Epictetus said, I find myself frustrated when I visit the public baths and am splashed, robbed, and unsettled by screaming children, then this is because I believe I have the power to change or control these things. However, if I have the desire to go to the public baths and say to myself "when you go to the public pools you are robbed, splashed, and unsettled by screaming children; I do not will these things but these are the things that accompany my will", then I will find that I have peace of mind as I will know what is within my power and what is without and will not believe myself to have the power to change that which I cannot change. I am not a wise man.

It's difficult to explain why a picture like this disturbs or bothers me so much. After all, there's so much more that one could worry about, so why should something like this have such a profound effect on me? I worry about these other things as well, but this stuck out to me, it made me double over, it made me toss and turn, as it seemed to condense so many things about the world at once and seemed to strike right at the very heart of how I understand what I do and my engagement with the world around me. There are times when the world fills me so full of weariness, when it makes me so exhausted, when I feel as if I'm going mad from it all. Truth matters to me, and I have the fundamental fantasy that it matters to everyone else as well. That's what bothers me so much, I think. I'm the victim of my own desire. I take it that those preparing this segment knew the truth, they knew that Foley is a Republican, not a Democrat. Yet they still chose to run this particular format because it was to their advantage.

So what's the deal? I've been through Nietzsche. I've been through the postmoderns. I've weathered the storms of believing in the world. But at a fundamental, unconscious, phantasmic level, I cannot rid myself of the belief that there is truth and that truth triumphs. That is, I am unable to rid myself of the unconscious belief that persuasion is possible and that discourse aims at truth. Apalled by this screenshot, I posted it here, sent it to a couple of friends, and sent it to my father and mother. The next day I called my father and asked if he'd seen what I sent him. Now my father is a classic fiscal conservative. He's not a rightwing nut, he's not a value voter, he simply believes in smaller government. Or that's what I think when I'm being charitable. Well the moment I asked him this, he immediately launches into a tirade about Gerry Studds and Barney Frank, going on and on about how Democrats have done the same things, and how everyone lies. I immediately said that this is not what I was asking about, but rather that I was asking about how remarkable it is that a news organization could be so blatently deceitful, so blatently manipulative. Troubled by this discussion, I called my mother the next day, and jokingly said "when did Dad get the neurological operation to have the transmitter implanted", as he was saying precisely the same things that I had been reading on Free Republic and Redstate, and the conservative news shows I watch, leading me to wonder if there isn't some collective hive mind out there. And she responded by saying to me that in the decades that they've been married, she's refused to argue with him about anything as he takes a joy in being contrarian and playing devil's advocate just for the enjoyment of it.

This is what I'm unable to get my mind around. There you have it, my own little Oedipus. Make fun of me of you like, go to hell. Yes, I know that there's no small amount of narcissism here. I know that I'm guilty of the very things that make my head throb and my brain feel as if it's going to split. But I'm horrified by the person that would engage in discourse for reasons other than getting at truth and right. There you have it. I'm throwing all my theory cred down the drain. I'm horrified by a news organization that would know the truth, and still manipulate the truth in communicating it to others for their own power. I'm horrified by those who are not consistent in their principles, who would hide their brothers or friends whom they know to have committed the worse acts imaginable because they are their brothers or friends. I'm horrified by those who would put nation above principle. I'm horrified by academics and theorists who are either so attached to a particular figure that their unable to entertain any criticism whatsoever; or I'm horrified by those in the world of theory who are so intent on winning that they're willing to disavow all textual evidence to the contrary, all sound argumentation to the contrary, simply to win their point.

I'm horrified by the narcissism and vanity that I see all about me, or how theoretical choices are so often made on the basis of what we find appealing, on the basis of what strokes our egos or how we'd like to see ourselves, rather than what is sound. So often, today, it seems that theoretical decisions are made on the basis of vanity (a theory provides a nice mirror for how we would like to see ourselves in contrast to our genuine life... I've had enough Nietzschean ubermenschen in analysis whose lives and practice differ from fundamentally from their thought to know this all too well), aesthetics (the theory is a pleasant fairytail that makes the world pretty), and the competitive mad dash of publishing that requires us to take the most radical position simply to advance ourselves. For instance, I'm horrified by the anarcho-desiring machines who have never listened to another person in the midsts of a suicidal crisis, who have never listened to the mad fantasies that inhabit human minds and torment them, who have never listened to the countless ways in which people torment themselves or are tormented by their past or are tormented by compromising their desire, who would presume to reject lack and negation and neurosis because it isn't based on "affirmation"... All in the name of being heros in their own minds, all the while borne of a dissatisfaction with their jobs, with a lack of recognition, with their marriage, or their sex life. Yes, I'm horrified by these bourgeois, Sunday warriors of theory, who have never had a genuine responsibility to another human being, who have never been called at three in the morning by someone with a loaded gun, rambling about their father and their wife, who have never heard the dark, dark secrets of the human heart and the passions that torment it-- passions unspeakable in any ordinary romantic relationship, friendship, novel, or social relation --and who have never had a genuine responsibility to these secrets, and who would be holier than thou warriors of the affirmative. And I'm horrified at my own narcissism of being horrified by these things.

I am sickened by vanity and narcissism and machismo and the desire to be radical, and I am sickened by tribalism that effects everything from the world of theory that should know better, to family relations and national relations. And I grow so weary from all of these things, feeling my resolve waver. How is it possible to talk with someone who is talking merely to reinforce their own vain conception of themselves or their power or their group or their attachment? Who knew that my unconscious was so Habermasian? And in this exhaustion and this despair, in this disgust with vanity, irrationalism, tribalism, and my own narcissism, I find myself feeling the desire to screw it all, to turn off my television, to disconnect the internet, to quit my job, to cease listening to the torments of patients, and simply plow a nice garden behind my house, with some vegetables and herbs and lots of beautiful flowers, pretending that the world doesn't exist. If discourse is impossible, if vanity, narcissism, fantasy, tribal attachment, and the masculine desire to be top dog always gets in the way, then what is the point of writing and talking at all?

12 Comments:

Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

"For instance, I'm horrified by the anarcho-desiring machines who have never listened to another person in the midsts of a suicidal crisis, who have never listened to the mad fantasies that inhabit human minds and torment them, who have never listened to the countless ways in which people torment themselves or are tormented by their past or are tormented by compromising their desire, ..."

Well, here's a cheap shot...

And as always seems to be the case, it is aimed amidst a diatribe against "cheap shots"...

( is that a law of nature? of the psyche?)

The way this sort of comment functions is that those who have opinions different from your own have really not earned the right to have those opinions... the opinions are the result of not having interacted with the world, of not having enough experience, etc., of not having 'gravitas' or some such nonsense which would fructify the solidify the opinion and transform it thusly into the opinion of one's own.

There is the parental tone in this.

Perhaps a parent can take this tack with a child, ( I don't think so, but maybe, and if so, I think that it should be used very,very carefully and infrequently.)

If this tone is used when one adult addresses another, it is bull shit and needs to be called.

As I thought about this statement, it slowly dawned upon me that I had, for one period of my life, dealt extensively with people contemplating suicide. I remembered those incidents... I hadn't thought of them in years.

Having had those experiences, do my thoughts become more valid, more worthy of consideration? I never made that claim, and I never will. If there is someone else who never had such experiences, I do not on that basis trash what they have to say, either.

October 07, 2006 9:35 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

A cheap shot at who, Yusef? First, I do think there's a lot of machismo and vanity in theory, or that theory is often chosen for the wrong reasons. In the case of many enthusiasts of Deleuze and Guattari, I think this comes out above all in the way critiques of psychoanalysis are used by those who have absolutely no experience with psychoanalysis or clinical treatment. I think that's the worst kind of presumptiousness and arrogance; I also think it's rather counter to what Deleuze and Guattari themselves argue. Guattari did, after all, remain a member of Lacan's school his entire life, and a careful reading of AO reveals that their remarks about Lacan are nearly always positive. I've seen this function in tremendously destructive ways over the years. The moment anything remotely connected to lack or an Oedipal structure comes up, that person is immediately renounced. Thus, for instance, if a person came along going on and on about their childhood, that person would be chastised for thinking in Oedipal terms, even though these are the terms that emerge in their discourse. So because a sort of transcendent system of value has been introduced into thought (Oedipus versus Schizo) a paradoxical sort of policing of thought and discourse emerges that terrorizes those trying to speak. Now given that the person doing the denouncing has no clinical experience but is simply working from a theoretical construct, and given that they haven't sat there and listened to the person's discourse in question, I can only conclude that their affirmation of affirmation and rejection of any discussion of lack (a mistaken reading of D&G btw), can only be based on vanity or a desire to see oneself as full, without lack, independent, and so on.

You write: "The way this sort of comment functions is that those who have opinions different from your own have really not earned the right to have those opinions... the opinions are the result of not having interacted with the world, of not having enough experience, etc., of not having 'gravitas' or some such nonsense which would fructify the solidify the opinion and transform it thusly into the opinion of one's own."

Well you're right, I don't respect opinions in and of themselves, nor do I think opinions ought to be respected in and of themselves. I'm a philosopher, and as a philosopher I'm interested in true opinions, not just any opinions. I don't know that I know of any true-opinions beyond the realm of mathematics to date, but I do no that I don't simply accept the value of opinions at face value. *What I do respect are well argued claims, or claims that can be supported by some sort of reasoning and demonstration.* A carpenter would not respect my claims about carpentry, nor should she, as I have little or no experience with carpentry. I would not go to you for medical advice should I have cancer-- you're not a physician are you? --as this would perhaps make me ill. I have little or no respect for the opinions that a literary theorist, political theorist, or philosopher has regarding matters of clinical practice and phenomena because they have little or no experience in these matters. However, if confronted with a Kleinian or a cognitive-behavioral therapist, or a "family therapy" therapists, or a psychiatrist these are opinions that I'm obligated to take seriously as they have dealt with patients. Here I'm obligated to try to argue my case as to why I see these clinical orientations as mistaken, showing how they either ignore clinical phenomena, misidentity certain clinical phenomena, or misinterpret certain clinical phenomena. Further, I can see why someone who has actually fought in revolutions would get impatient with an upper middle class graduate student or a university academic who lectures them on the nature of politics and revolution, should that grad student or that academic *not listen* to what the person who has had their feet on the ground has to teach them.

Moreover, if I'm discussing Hegel with someone who's only read his essay "Who Thinks Abstractly?":
http://www.marxists.org/reference/
archive/hegel/works/se/abstract.htm
Whereas I've read the Phenomenology, the Greater Logic, the Encyclopaedia, the Lectures on Aesthetics, the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, the Philosophy of Right, and the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, I'm less inclined to take their position seriously... Especially if that person is extremely stubborn and dismissive. For instance, years ago I recall interacting with a Deleuzian who had only read Dialogues with Claire Parnet and L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze. This was back in the heyday of the Spoon-collective Deleuze and Guattari list. This person had formed a certain conception of Deleuze and Guattari based on these two books and based on the *titles* of other books, that entailed imitating Artaud. Whenever confronted with someone else discussing some aspect of Deleuze and Guattari that didn't fit in their *model*, they would vigorously reject it, denouncing it as a molar, Oedipalization, seeing all argumentation and reason as Oedipal (as if there can't be a schizophrenic flight of reason, as if Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza weren't already such flights relative to the State of their own time), ignoring any textual evidence to the contrary, any arguments to the contrary. I have little patience for that sort of crap. So yes, I do think experience matters, and I do not buy into the ideology of "everyone is entitled to their own opinion and every opinion is a beautiful, marvellous thing".

I'm not sure where you're getting the paternalistic thing, so I'll take that as a remark about the nature of your own transference, or as an indication that you somehow took this as a message directed at you. The diary was about my weariness and exhaustion with dishonesty, vanity, narcissism, arrogance, stubbornness, tribalism, and machismo. It was about how to maintain one's desire in a world where ego, including my own, so easily gets in the way, how masculine parade intervenes in what should be matters of reason and truth, and where dialogue and persuasion so often fail and seem impossible. And throughout the diary I express exhaustion with my own narcissism and vanity first and foremost.

October 07, 2006 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Levi (and Yusef),

There's a contextual difficulty here. Levi writes:

The diary was about my weariness and exhaustion with dishonesty, vanity, narcissism, arrogance, stubbornness, tribalism, and machismo. It was about how to maintain one's desire in a world where ego, including my own, so easily gets in the way...

Yes, but it is an ONLINE, PUBLIC diary - (and I admire your passion!) - so you are seeking some form of reaction. The legitimate ones according to the genre would be shows of sympathy, encouragement, support, respect or help.

Instead, Yusef attacks one of your generalizations, thus violating the context, although he is really opening a public discussion (read globally).

Levi's frustration is understandable (even if Levi has previously praised irritation among others in the shape of Yusef).

Without hero-worshipping Deleuze this is what he warned against in his distinction between opinions and concepts.

I just thought the following quote would be relevant here, my two learned friends;

The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated? And when they are stated, it is no longer a matter of discussing but rather one of creating concepts for the undiscussible problem posed.

Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous…

Those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.

All these debaters and commentators are inspired by ressentiment. They speak only of themselves when they set empty generalizations against one another.

Philosophy has a horror of discussions. It always has something else to do. Debate is unbearable to it, but not because it is too sure of itself. On the contrary, it is its uncertainties that take it down other, more solitary paths.


(D&G: What Is Philosophy, p. 28f.)

Thank you both for your inspiration. I always look forward to posts on your blogs.

All the best,

Orla Schantz

October 07, 2006 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this post.

I recognize this tone of reaching one's limit; of reaching something that you think might drive you insane. I don't mind the Fox idiots getting up to their usual lies, though. I'm much more cynical. Of course they don't care about truth. It bugs me, but it doesn't send me into hysterics.

No, what sends me into hysterics is trying to fathom the logic by which a grown man decides to mow down ten little girls, and in general, why are these kind of public killers always men? What is going on in the male psyche that when things aren't going well for them, they feel ENTITLED to kill others? The psychology of the mass killer/suicide bothers me to no end.

But doubtless, the reason it does is because it particularly resonates within my own history. You wouldn't go nuts like this if it didn't touch upon some very deep personal issue for you.

October 07, 2006 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"A cheap shot at who, Yusef?"

Mojo: " You think the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea, sonny boy?"

Mofo: " ABSOLUTELY! A VERY, VERY BAD IDEA...ONE of the WORST DECISIONS IN US HISTORY!"

Mojo: " Let me ask you this: have you ever been in the armed services?"

Mofo: " Nope."

Mojo: " Have you ever fought overseas? "

Mofo: " Nope."

Mojo: " Have you ever been wounded in combat?"

Mofo: " Nope."

Mojo: Have you ever sent men into harm's way?"

Mofo: " Nope."

Mojo: " Well, listen here, sonny boy, you pissant, you don't know a single thing about what you are talking about."

Mofo: " Hold on..."

Mojo: " No, you hold on. I was thirty years in the military; I've been in the trenches, I've taken on hostile fire, I've got these shrapnel wounds, I've fought for this country, and I've sacrificed. These freedoms you take for granted? I personally fought for them."

Mojo: ( continuing ): " Freedom isn't free. It has to be paid for. Someone has to pay for it. That's what we're doing now...paying for freedom. Maybe some day you'll understand that. Maybe you'll have learned the right. Until then, shut the F*&X up. We're fighting for freedom over there, and you who know nothing of fighting for freedom are completely speaking out of place... You literally don't know what you are talking about."

Mofo: " Oh."

October 08, 2006 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I've not only fought for this country, I've fought and DIED for this country!

October 08, 2006 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

That's a great quote, Orla.

October 08, 2006 10:28 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Yusef, I think this example is specious as it's not clear that decisions of whether or not to go to war are up to those who are in the military. A better parallel would be a discussion between me (I've never served in the military) and someone who's fought in the military, about how to best take a heavily fortified beach. I wouldn't even know where to begin in answering such a question as I wouldn't know the relevant things that need to be taken into account.

I quite agree that specious arguments from experience like the one you post above are sometimes trotted out by those who are uncomfortable with the criticisms being levelled against them. I think the irony of your example is that Bush and his administration took your stance and worked from the premise that experience is not a prerequisite of decision making in military matters, believing that they could successfully execute a war without taking the advice of the Pentagon generals into account (troop levels, the difficulties of occupying a country, etc), and we now find ourselves in a mess as a result.

October 08, 2006 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

What problem is at stake here,Sinthome? (as Deleuze says in Orla's quote from him ?)

"Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated?"

I think there are some very serious ones.

I think the positive content of these internet exchanges is we discover how different we each are... and this COULD BE fertile philosophically.

It'd be idiocy to turn to a carpenter for advice about cancer, but it might also be idiocy to turn to a medical doctor for advice about "the good." It might be idiocy to turn to anyone for advice about the good; I don't think Plato could admit that, though.

October 09, 2006 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Sinthome said...

The problem was stated at the beginning of the post:

"For me the question is always one of how to keep myself writing, thinking, and engaging. Upon encountering this picture last week, I found my desire flagging."

And:

"There are times when the world fills me so full of weariness, when it makes me so exhausted, when I feel as if I'm going mad from it all. Truth matters to me, and I have the fundamental fantasy that it matters to everyone else as well. That's what bothers me so much, I think. I'm the victim of my own desire."

You write: "I think the positive content of these internet exchanges is we discover how different we each are... and this COULD BE fertile philosophically."

Here, I think, we disagree. Discussions with you exhaust me, and I don't find that they are fertile philosophically. The discussion about the virtual and individuation mostly revolved around citing textual evidence from late Deleuze to demonstrate that the concept of the virtual was still operative, and that the issue of individuation was still a central theme (haecceity and the molecular being synonyms). Why anyone with any grounding in the history of philosophy would fail to see that individuation is a key issue for a philosophy of difference is beyond me. You ended that discussion by claiming Deleuze doesn't have an ontology. When confronted with textual evidence to the contrary you grumpily said "well no one understands Deleuze's account of sense" when there's a wide secondary literature of great work on this very topic. It was difficult not to see this as just your ego or desire to be right. At any rate, this sort of textual debate isn't philosophy. It's a pain in the ass having to prove that someone actually said something, inhibiting the work of getting down to the nuts and bolts of what they meant by what they said. And besides, even if this weren't a key issue for Deleuze, what's it to you that *I* am interested in this particular question and see it as significant?

In this discussion you've senselessly attacked the idea that hey, maybe those who have experience in a certain area are worth consulting, for reasons that again baffle me. Yeah, I see it as ridiculous that so many enthusiasts of Deleuze and Guattari spend all this time attacking psychoanalysis when their neither particularly acquainted with psychoanalytic writings, nor have they spent time working with patients. What renders these critiques valid? You finally end this post implicitly suggesting that I'm a Platonist-- because I wrote a post discussing the way in which Deleuze takes on Plato? --and evoking some non sequitor about the good that I never spoke of at any rate.

So yes, my patience is quickly diminishing and I see little that is productive in these discussions. From my standpoint, from the standpoint of the question *I* was posing, what would have been productive would be either a) how to traverse my fundamental fantasy, or b) how to deal with this exhaustion so as to still find affirmation and a way to remain productive in a world I find dark. That problem need not be your own, of course.

October 09, 2006 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Discussions with you exhaust me, and I don't find that they are fertile philosophically."

I may have been mislead by your repeated solicitations for comments from your readers, but trust me, I will be bothering you no further.

October 09, 2006 8:52 AM  
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