17 November 2006

Meaningless Fantasies

Glen, over at Event Mechanics has written a nice diary entitled Parallax of Nihilism, or Nihilism as a Pure Event, dealing with some of the themes I've been discussing with regard to fantasy lately. When Glen writes, "[n]ow the obvious point is that for a nihilist, or most of my generation, or pretty much every teenager, every activity is an idiotic activity", in response to an earlier post where I describe fantasy as an idiotic activity that looks for no reason beyond itself, I confess that I'm a bit disturbed as I didn't realize I had become a part of a generation or had become dated. I suppose this had to happen sometime.

Glen goes on to write,
The entire universe and especially human existence is singular idiotic activity (chaosmos). There is no essential cultural or discursive threshold that differentiates non-idiotic activity from idiotic activity. The question of idiocy is instead precisely one of enthusiasm or the affective associations and qualitative consistency of those associations that implicates us in various assemblages in action. I call idiocy stupidity. As I constantly rant on about here I try to have an intimate relationship with my stupidities.
Here I find myself wondering whether, in psychoanalytic terms, this too couldn't be a certain sort of fantasy. That is, couldn't conceiving the universe in terms of meaninglessness be a way of mastering the universe and all self-Other relations by knowing in advance what those relations are? Moreover, in a universe where everything is meaningless, haven't I profoundly undermined any potential for anxiety by forestalling the possibility that there could be anything meaningful, and by having surrendered any reason to act or do? Or, to put it a bit differently, isn't this the ultimate way of defending against the enigma of the Other's desire, by negating any sort of belief in the Other altogether?

This, I think, can be situated in terms of religious belief. It is sometimes suggested that the religious are weak or soft of mind as they require the reassurance of God to make it through life. However, what if, following Kierkegaard, it is not belief that pacifies anxiety, but rather a lack of belief that pacifies anxiety. While it's certainly true that there's a kind of horror in recognizing that you simply drop out of existence altogether with death, isn't it far more horrifying to imagine, in folk-theological terms, an all-seeing god that knows your every thought and deed, who's will is inscrutable, and who desires for you to live a particular life without telling you precisely what that particular life should be? Isn't this what Kierkegaard is getting at in Fear and Trembling, when he talks about being siezed in one's singularity, knowing that God has called upon you for something, without knowing what that something is? There's a way in which the absence of God is far more reassuring than the presence of God (we don't defend against the Other for nothing), and there's a way in which it's far more reassuring to believe that it's all meaningless, that nothing ultimately matters, that we can make no difference, than it is to believe that there is a bit of meaning, that some things do matter, and that what we do does make a difference. Perhaps the Lacanian prescription would be to be capable of affirming meaning or action, even when all meaning has collapsed. None of this, of course, is to chastise Glen, only to point out that fantasy can be a wily thing.

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Anonymous N. Pepperell said...

The sort of vertigo of nihilism has always seemed to me to rely on a notion that meaning would only be possible in relation to some timeless transcendence - like it goes hand-in-hand with a desire for universality. A reorientation toward more... embedded? ways of trying to know, trying to be meaningful, still capture the sense that we're ultimately all still involved in an activity that doesn't point beyond itself to some transcendent reality that will be a stopping point, will be more "true", etc., but without viewing this as undermining the meaningfulness (to us) of what we're doing and hoping...

Or: there is no "essential cultural or discursive threshold that differentiates non-idiotic activity from idioitic activity" - but there can be a non-essential one: one that lets us know, so to speak, how to recognise that we're being idiotic in our own special, non-essential way... ;-P

I suspect you might have to lose at least some of your discomfort at being part of a generation (or at least part of a time) to pursue this option... ;-P

November 17, 2006 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Levi, I think you are right in pointing out that this nihilistic posturing is basically a defense-mechanism and should be treated as such.

The proper reaction would be just as dogmatic, i.e. the Oscar Wilde quote,

I'm not young enough to know everything

Ups, I'm sliding into the paradigm of age. But seriously, Glen's statement, "The entire universe and especially human existence is singular idiotic activity (chaosmos)." - is Deleuzian without the Deleuzian affirmation of creation.

Orla Schantz

November 17, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

N.P. I think you're right about meaning and transcendence... Why not the immanent production of meaning through our engagement with the world?

"I suspect you might have to lose at least some of your discomfort at being part of a generation (or at least part of a time) to pursue this option... ;-P"

Tell me it ain't so! You mean there's a point at which I'm no longer hip?

November 17, 2006 6:57 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Orla, I don't want to give Glen the impression that I took him to be posturing or that he was the object of these musings about certain forms of nihilism. I liked Glen's post and think there's thinking going on there. I also take it that Glen is trying to think through something central in confronting nihilism head on. I was only trying to underline that even in a universe where God is dead, fantasy can still be operative. I wasn't necessarily suggesting that he's in the grips of such a fantasy.

November 17, 2006 6:58 PM  
Anonymous glen said...

thanks sinthome!

I was trying to confront something in nihilism.

The post was inspired by the post-punk/post-gothic turn in popular music and a few other things, including clinical psychosis.

I still think there is something positive in nihilism -- nihilism in the sense that the meaning of meaning is dissolved -- because it cannot be actualised as such, except for maybe in some sort of extreme religious meditation but I don't know much about that. I argue that nihilism is a pure event in the sense outlined by Deleuze in LoS. Nihilism is virtual, and fully real, but cannot be actualised. Like nonsense, the meaningful sense of meaningless is produced through an immanent circulation. I see this as an existential rock upon which to assemble an existence.

I guess it could be read back through psychoanalysis as the product of an active negation rather than a kind of absolute surrender ('I can't go on...'), but I was trying to retrieve something positive at that epicurean moment when you surrender yourself to the chaosmos. I had in mind something like sujective destitution, or at least this is how I think about the concept, but I don't know much about that stuff. To put it another way, absolute surrender is only a purely virtual gesture because if it occurs there is nothing left to surrender.

Also, i think we are of the same generation! I am not sure why you feel so 'dated'?

lastly, perhaps orla should read the rest of my post that was linked to before judging what is or what is not deleuzian, or if such a judgement is even meaningful (of course it is meaningless because I must be a nihilist...). If I have transgressed, then I apologise, because I wouldn't want to offend a priest of deleuzianisms. (I thought I was treading on zizekian ground, but whatever!) At least deleuze priests are better than the turgid wildly deterritorialising schizopoets.

Oh, very last thing, the linking of your mention of idiocy to stupidity is deliberate as the notion of 'stupidity' is derived from Foucault which I have written about here:


November 17, 2006 10:27 PM  
Anonymous N. Pepperell said...

Well, I've never been hip, so maybe it all just seems less of a loss to me... ;-P

November 18, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Glen, interesting. It sounds like you're talking less about "meaninglessness" than what Deleuze refers to as "nonsense" in _The Logic of Sense_. I would humbly assert that Deleuze is in close dialogue with Lacanian psychoanalysis in these early texts, and that there's more in common with psychoanalysis than you may be giving him credit for. I believe there's a tendency to retroactively read the critique of psychoanalysis with Guattari in his later works back into the earlier works. However, it's also notable that Guattari never left Lacan's school, and that Lacan himself is seldom the direct object of critique in the later works, but rather the object of critique is the followers of Lacan who continue to Oedipalize. I take it that Lacan was the first advocate of "anti-Oedipus".

November 19, 2006 11:35 AM  
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