If the fundamental ontological question today is not work but inoperativity, and if this inoperativity can, however, be deployed only through a work, then the corresponding political concept can no longer be that of ‘constituent power’ [potere constituente], but something that could be called ‘destituent power’ [potenza destituente]. And if revolutions and insurrections correspond to constituent power, that is, a violence that establishes and constitutes the new law, in order to think a destituent power we have to imagine completely other strategies, whose definition is the task of the coming politics. A power that was only just overthrown by violence will rise again in another form, in the incessant, inevitable dialectic between constituent power and constituted power, violence which makes the law and violence that preserves it.
[Reading In Search of Lost Time] gave me the powerful sense that it didn't matter if one could not see one's way forward, it didn't matter if one was silly and slow and confused, it didn't matter if one had got hold of the wrong end of the stick - what mattered was to keep going. I began to see that the doubts I had were in a sense the temptations of the Devil, the attempt to make me give up at the very start by presenting things in absolute terms (I can do it/ no, I can't do it); and that what Proust (like Dante before him, I later discovered) was offering was a way of fighting that by saying: All right, I am confused, then let me start with my confusion, let me incorporate my confusion into the book or story I am writing, and see if that helps. If I can't start, then let me write about not being able to start. Perhaps, after all, confusion and failure are not things one has to overcome before one can start, but deep human experiences which deserve themselves to be explored in art. Perhaps, indeed, the stick has no right end and therefore no wrong end.
'What is surprising is not that things are; it's that they are such and not other', Valéry writes in the 'Note et digression' he appended to his Leonardo essay in 1919. This is profoundly opposed to the pragmatic and positivist English tradition, which takes the world and ourselves for granted and sees the task of art as the simple (or not so simple) exploration of the vagaries of life and the problems of mortality. it is this, we could say, that makes it difficult for the English to respond to the manifestations of European modernism, which is too often accused of 'abstraction' and 'deliberate obfuscation', whether it be the poetry of Rilke and Paul Celan, the philosophy of Heidegger and Derrida, or the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Thomas Bernhard. For the English reader and critic, not to be interested in nature for its own sake, not to be interested in the moral dimension of murder and adultery, is not merely a literary but a human failing, a sign of a fatal abstraction, an unwillingness to engage with life as it is. For Valéry or Robbe-Grillet, to be interested in a tree or a bird - or a murder or a jealous husband - for its own sake, is to be concerned merely with the anecdotal and ephemeral. What interests them is what bird-leaving-tree tells us about our condition, it is the nature of murder and of jealousy.
Our epoch does not love itself. And a world that does not love itself is a world that does not believe in the world: we can believe only in what we love. This is what makes the atmosphere of this world so heavy, stifling and anguished. The world of the hypermarket, which is the effective reality of the hype-industrial epoch, is, as an assemblage of cash registers and barcode readers, a world in which loving must become synonymous with buying, which is in fact a world without love.
If this reign of despair causes suicidal behaviour to increase, then this desperation can itself give rise to desperate reasons, that is, transform this despair into struggle, by providing itself with objects of struggle. The problem is that it can get mixed up with some very bad intentions – and it is easy to let these bad intentions circulate, reproduce, and proliferate, more or less mimetically: youth needs to sacrifice itself. Youthfulness is an exalted state, tempted by excess because essentially transgressive, and this is where its very strength and beauty lie, as well as its future, and with this future, the future of the entire world: there lies its humanity. Because what is experienced by young people as exaltation becomes, in those with greater experience, tenacity, conviction, and patience, through which pleasure and reality are knotted together, and becomes the authority of those who pass into action –‘action’ here being understood in terms of those who work and act, and who transform the world through their practices. Such is humanity, a fact that Valery enjoined us to reflect upon, in the epoch of ‘the fall of spirit value’.
But whether or not such a maturity of adult belief exists, whether or not it offers reasons for hope to young people, they still need causes, however deceptive they may turn out to be, because the fundamental character of youth is not to be cynical, to not accept the cynicism that can reign in this world […], or that cynical reign of despair characteristic of the epoch of hyper-power, a hyper-power that shows itself to be nothing more than an effective impotence and an infinite injustice – therefore ceaseless reinforcing disbelief, miscreance, and discredit, drive-based behaviour and desperate reactivity, both suicidal and parasuicidal, both ordinary and pseudo-sublime.
Given this extremely serious context, it is the responsibility of the public collectivity to provide young people (and their elders, within whom they must find some of their resources) with reasons to hope - failing which the different generations, and firstly the youngest, will find such reasons wherever they can or wherever they believe they can, even if they are being deceived. If society does not provide the objects of sublimation without which it would be capable of elevating itself or transindividuating itself (because transindividuation, being the condition of what is called the social bond, is the outcome of sublimation), it will instead incite desperation, with a far greater need for explosive compensatory objects, and will take these objects more easily for its own, regardless of their provenance – from extremist ideologies, religious sects, evangelical churches, clandestine mosques, videogames in which the score is calculated by the death drive, or from ‘reality television’, which measures how degraded and ‘available’ brains are for the hype and brainwashing of ‘power’.
They were the worst of times because they were the best of times; times in which dissent was forbidden, not by the dispersal of dissenters but by their assembly; times in which protest was refused, not by the containment of expression but by its freedom; times in which the people were kept in ignorance, not by narrow educational channels but by immeasurably wide ones; times in which we were made to forget the evils all around by hysterical remembrance of evils dead and gone; in which we were half-dead, not from neglect but from care, and half-mad, not from silence but from talk, and starved out of our wits from much too much to eat; in which want had the form of plenty, and dearth the form of glut, and no one could think their way out, not because there was too little time to think but because there was far too much.
There is in these times such an explosion of thinking, such licence to think and rethink, to think from all angles and all perspectives, to think of ourselves and of others and of others like ourselves and of others unlike others, to think and think and think again, that we cannot any longer think straight.
I read [Deleuze's] Logic of Sense a long time ago, 30 or 34 years ago, in fact I was in prison when I read Logic of Sense, and I think that it is reading Logic of Sense that permitted me to live in prison. Logic of Sense allowed me to live in prison and to adopt an ethics of prison. What I call an ethics of prison is one which permits me to cultivate a virtue, for me an ethics cultivates a virtue.
If we have to live through what Nietzsche called ‘the fulfilment of nihilism’ that is, so to speak, the concretization of the ‘death of God’, then we must pose the question of God – which is obviously not the same as resurrecting Him. Today, we live the ordeal of nihilism; today, nihilism presents itself as such, that is, in the form of the experience that I am nothing. For a long time it did not present itself as this nothing. It presented itself as ‘anything goes’, ‘I can do it all’, ‘I can transgress’. When nihilism presents itself as such, can I recognize it? What is it that I am living? What is my experience? It is the experience of what Kierkegaard already described as despair. When despair becomes the most common experience, the most widespread, it is no longer possible to ignore the specific questions raised by the death of God, the questions, dare I say, worthy of the death of God. We are in the course of living through what we could call, in religious language, the ‘apocalypse’ of nihilism. It is here that we must become worthy of the ordeal of nihilism. By suggesting that he himself arrives to soon with this statement, Nietzsche in some way says to us: ‘I await the moment when you will truly encounter nihilism. Now I am speaking to you and you believe you understand me. But in fact you do not understand me at all. You believe you understand, but you do not understand because if you understood, you would be living through your apocalypse.’
With its careful attention to Justine’s condition, and especially with Dunst’s amazingly sensitive and nuanced performance, Melancholia refutes clinical objectivity, and instead depathologizes depression. For depression is all too often stigmatized as a moral or intellectual failure, a kind of unseemly self-indulgence — this seems to be John’s attitude towards Justine. Or else, at best, depression is understood reactively as a deficiency in relation to some supposedly normative state of mental health — this seems to be Claire’s attitude. But Melancholia suggests that both these positions are inadequate. By focusing attention so intensively upon Justine’s own emotions, it treats depression as a proper state of being, with its own integrity and ontological consistency. This is not the least of the film’s accomplishments.
I would go so far as to say that, in this regard, Melancholia is profoundly antiNietzschean[...] For Nietzsche has no empathy at all with the state of depression. Rather, he stigmatizes it in emphatically normative terms. Nietzsche insists upon “the futility, fallacy, absurdity, deceitfulness” of any “rebellion” against life. “A condemnation of life on the part of the living,” he writes, “is, in the end, only the symptom of a certain type of life.” Even the judgment that condemns life is itself “only a value judgment made by life”: which is to say, by a weak and decadent form of life. Nietzsche seeks to unmask all perspectives — even the most self-abnegating ones — as still being expressions of an underlying will to life. This universal cynicism is the inevitable counterpart of Nietzsche’s frequent, and strident, insistence upon the necessity of “cheerfulness.”
Contrary to all this, Justine’s will to life has been suspended. Her depression is a kind of positive insensibility or ataraxia, or even what Dominic Fox calls “militant dysphoria”. This is a state of being that no longer sees the world as its own, or itself as part of the world. As Fox puts it, “the distinction between living and dead matter collapses. The world is dead, and life appears within it as an irrational persistence, an insupportable excrescence”. Through its refusal to affirm or celebrate life, dysphoria subtracts itself from the will to power, and therefore from Nietzsche’s otherwise universal suspicion about motives. Depression is the one state that cannot be unmasked as just another expression of the will to power. The underlying assumption of Nietzsche’s entire critique of both morality and nihilism is that the human being, and indeed every organism, “prefers to will nothingness rather than not will”. But depression, at least in von Trier’s presentation of it, must be understood as a positive not-willing, rather than as a will to nothingness, or a destructive (and self-destructive) torsion of the will.
In Holland - in Rotterdam - for a year, I was kept on a fishing trawler with a woman. My mother came to visit me there every three or four weeks. I don't think that she cared much for me at the time. However, this then changed.
I was a year old, we went to Vienna ... and then the mistrust, lingering still when I was brought to my grandfather, who by contrast, really loved me, changed.
Then taking walks with him - everything is in my books later, and all these figures, male figures, this is always my grandfather on my mother's side ... But always - except for my grandfather alone ... the consciousness that you cannot step outside of yourself.
All else is delusion, doubt. This never changes ...
In school years completely alone.
You sit next to a schoolmate and you are alone.
You talk to people, you are alone.
You have viewpoints, differing, your own - you are always alone.
And if you write a book, or like me, books, you are yet more alone ...
To make oneself understood is impossible; it cannot be done.
From loneliness and solitude comes an even more intense isolation, disconnection.
Finally, you change your scenery at shorter and shorter intervals. You think, bigger and even bigger cities - the small town is no longer enough for you, not Vienna, not even London. You've got to go to some other part of the world, you try going here, there ... foreign languages - maybe Brussels? Maybe Rome?
And there you go, all over the place, and you are always alone with yourself and your increasingly dreadful work.
You go back to the country, you retreat to a farmhouse, like me, you close the doors - often days long - stay inside, and the only joy - and at the same time ever greater pleasure - is the work. The sentences, words, you construct.
Like a toy, essentially - you stack them one atop the other; it is a musical process.
If a certain level should be reached, some four, five stories - you keep building it up - you see through the entire thing ... and like a child knock it all down. but when you think you're rid of it ... another ulcerous growth like it is already forming, an ulcer that you recognise as new work, a new novel, is bulging somewhere on your body, growing larger and larger.
In essence, isn't such a book nothing but a malignant ulcer, a cancerous tumour?
You surgically remove it knowing of course perfectly well that the metastases have already infected the entire body and that a cure is completely out of the question.
And of course it only gets worse and worse, and now there is no rescue, no turning back.
One of the ironies of a song like ‘The Golden Age of rock n’ Roll’ is that it is based on a bygone period that was unaware of its own status as a golden age (because busy living it) and furthermore had no interest in or consciousness of any previous golden age (because full inhabiting the country of Now). Retro is dependent on the existence of the un-retro: moments of newness and newness that get trapped for ever in the amber of the archives. Revivals never require earlier revivals; they must always re-enact what was new in its own time, the truly nourishing and vigorous stuff.
from Simon Reynolds, Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy
“Friend” and “free” in English, and “Freund” and “frei” in German come from the same Indo-European root, which conveys the idea of a shared power that grows. Being free and having ties was one and the same thing. I am free because I have ties, because I am linked to a reality greater than me.
To the question, “Your idea of happiness?” Marx replied, “To fight.” To the question, “Why do you fight?” we reply that our idea of happiness requires it.
Writing is a vanity, unless it's for the friend. Including the friend one doesn’t know yet.
Life and the city have been broken down into functions, corresponding to “social needs.” The office district, the factory district, the residential district, the spaces for relaxation, the entertainment district, the place where one eats, the place where one works, the place where one cruises, and the car or bus for tying all that together are the result of a prolonged reconfiguration of life that devastated every form of life. It was carried out methodically, for more than a century, by a whole caste of organizers, a whole grey armada of managers. Life and humanity were dissected into a set of needs; then a synthesis of these elements was organized. It doesn’t really matter whether this synthesis was given the name of “socialist planning” or “market planning.” It doesn’t really matter that it resulted in the failure of new towns or the success of trendy districts. The outcome is the same: a desert and existential anemia. Nothing is left of a form of life once it has been partitioned into organs. Conversely, this explains the palpable joy that overflowed the occupied squares of the Puerta del Sol, Tahrir, Gezi or the attraction exerted, despite the infernal muds of the Nantes countryside, by the land occupation at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. It is the joy that attaches to every commune. Suddenly, life ceases being sliced up into connected segments. Sleeping, fighting, eating, taking care of oneself, partying, conspiring, discussing all belong to the same vital movement. Not everything is organized, everything organizes itself. The difference is meaningful. One requires management, the other attention—dispositions that are incompatible in every respect.
Psychologically, Justine’s reactions are not willful, so much as they are compelled by extreme distress. But beyond this, Justine’s depression is ontological in scope. It cannot be characterized as just a contingent response to one particular set of circumstances. For it involves the rejection of any “particular circumstances” whatsoever. Justine’s depression marks a rupture with the social order as such: an order that cannot function without the tacit complicities and denials that are understood, and entered into, by everyone. In refusing this, Justine enters into a condition that is absolute and unqualified. Her depression is ungrounded, self-producing and self-validating. It needs no external motivation or justification. It is just what it is: an unconditioned and nonreflexive state of pure feeling.
The nations will fall. The old kingdoms. The old empires. The governments will fall. There’ll be no more progress, expansion or growth. The gypsies will take what they always took – the rubbish, the ruins, the alms. Nothing else mattered to them. Centuries of thrift and tradition. The gypsies will win. They’ll outlast us. They’ll know how to live. They’ve been practising all these years for the apocalypse.
But how, one might ask, did this most unusual emphasis upon distance, impersonality, and loss come to assert itself within Blanchot’s account of intimate relationality? Ironically, When the Time Comes, which makes impersonal relations one of its principle themes, is ultimately a récit inspired by personal events. It is difficult to read what Blanchot tells us about distance, intimacy, and loss, particularly in the text’s final pages, without thinking constantly of the name that reverberates silently throughout its margins: Denise Rollin.
Much of what we know about Blanchot’s relationship with Rollin comes from the Bident and Surya biographies. These studies are admirable for their scope and precision, but both are somewhat disappointing to the extent that they fail to offer us any serious discussion of Rollin’s influence on Blanchot’s work and thought. A likely reason for this is that, until now, the matter itself has remained largely speculative. We know that Blanchot was introduced to Rollin in the autumn of 1941, not long after the publication of Thomas the Obscure. Over the next year and half, the two of them would meet nearly twice a month, along with Bataille (who was her lover at the time) and others, at 3 rue de Lille.
By all accounts, the Blanchot who participated in these discussions presented himself as the very embodiment of modesty and discretion. And Rollin, who was fond of professing that there could be “no grandeur unless it [was] accompanied by a great humility”, was naturally drawn to him. “M.B. is the being with the utmost humility that I know,” she would later confide; “he resembles most incredibly Dostoevsky’s ‘Idiot’ . . . yet he is altogether unconscious of all this”. This unconsciousness, this absence from himself, as Bident claims, “is precisely what attracted her. . . . This movement of self-effacement, of being nobody, is what seemed to fulfill her”.
By the time they met, Rollin was thirty-four (as was Blanchot) and recently divorced, with a young son. She was already well known in avant-garde circles and had cultivated, throughout the 1930s, close friendships with a number of surrealist artists and writers, including Breton himself. During autumn 1943, Rollin grew particularly close to Blanchot, and by the middle of 1945, as Bident tells us, the two had become lovers. What followed, over the next few years, was the most significant romance of Blanchot’s adult life, a relation amoureuse that nevertheless came to be disrupted, repeatedly, by the imposition of distances, disappointments, and deferrals. It was a relationship, moreover, based from the very start on a profound sacrifice: toward the end of the 1950s, Rollin would write to a friend, “This now makes fourteen years that I refuse Maurice Blanchot — who nevertheless is the being destined for me”.
Counting backwards (some fourteen years) from the date of her letter, one arrives at November 1945; Blanchot’s important early essay on Nietzsche was about to be published, and Blanchot was leaving Paris for Beausoleil. He would return to the capital the following spring, only to leave again less than four months later. Such peregrination was, for Blanchot, less the exception than the rule. By the winter of 1946, he had moved again — this time to the little house in Èze where, in the months that followed, he would begin work on When the Time Comes — a text “written for Denise”. It was over the course of this year and a half that the refusal to which she refers in her letter began to take shape.
Although the exact circumstances surrounding it remain largely unknown to us, in his biography Bident leads us to believe that the correspondence conducted between Blanchot and Rollin during this period was considerable, with her letters, in particular, characterized by a high style and intensity. As for Blanchot’s letters — we can only speculate. Yet what we do know is that his critical writings from around this time are some of his most important early pieces, many of which bear witness to a burgeoning obsession with themes whose prominence would only increase in the years that followed: the affirmation of extreme distance, the contestation of teleology, the movement of eternal return.
Walser’s assistants are made of the very same stuff – these figures who are irreparably and stubbornly busy collaborating on work that is utterly superfluous, not to say indescribable If they study - and they seem to study very hard – it is in order to become big fat zeros. And why should they bother to help with anything the world takes seriously? After all, it’s nothing but madness. They prefer to take walks. And if they encounter a dog or some living creature on their walks, they whispers: ‘I have nothing to give you, dear animal; I would gladly give you something, if only I had it’. Nevertheless, in the end, they lie down in a meadow to weep bitterly over their ‘stupid greenhorn’s existence’.
… when he was twenty-eight, Nijinsky stopped dancing and choreographing. He began his last recital, which he declared to be about the horrors of the First World War, by telling his audience, ‘I will show you how we live, how we suffer, how we artists create’. He then sat on a chair onstage for half an hour without moving. When he was encouraged by the spectator to begin his dance, he retorted angrily: ‘How dare you disturb me! I am not a machine, I will dance when I feel like it’.
He was a man like you and me, or rather he was a man, but not like you, because he was ‘The God Man’. If he suffered, it was almost as if He only seemed to suffer, because he could not stop suffering when he wished (which you cannot do!) and because even in his suffering he had the beatific vision. God can cheat like that and get away with it. But you can’t get away with anything. On the contrary: this suffering has become your condemnation to suffer without reprieve. All his life long, then, he was looking around at the men he has come to save, knowing he was not like them. Death could not hold him. He did not really have to pray. He just pretended. And by pretending, he set a trap for man. He made all suffering final and inexorable.
The fullness of nothingness. That is the reason for the insistence on the zero point.
Against the term ‘absurd’. It presupposes the meaningful as the normal. But that is precisely the illusion[;] the absurd is the normal.
Everything so meaningless, yet at the same time the way one speaks is so normal, i.e. modern language may have shrunken – compared with Kafka’s epic language, brought as it were to the point of indifference with the absolute subject – but [it is] never replaced by linguistic absurdity
Criticism of B[eckett] amounts to the statement: but all that is terrible, it simply cannot be. Answer: it is terrible.
The fact that B[eckett] retains the label ‘novel’. What has become of the novel.
Something infinitely liberating comes from B[eckett] vis-à-vis death. What is it?
From Kafka the most effective motif [is] that of the Hunter Gracchus. Death, silence, without voices, as the unattainable goal. Living is dying because it is a not-being-able-to-die.
… suddenly, amidst the sadness, the darkness of soul the pressure, his brain would momentarily catch fire, as it were, all his life’s forces would be strained at once in an extraordinary impulse. The sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly tenfold in these moments, which flashed by like lightning. His mind, his heart were lit up with an extraordinary light; all his agitation, all his doubts, all his worries were as if placated at once, resolved in a sort of sublime tranquillity, filled with serene, harmonious joy, and hope, filled with reason and ultimate cause.
To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.
Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible.