attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: happiness

This post originally appeared as a response to Steven Hickman at noirrealism.

On this pure semiopath that : this is, once again, played out in Virilio as a kind of prophetic theory-fiction around his idea of cocooning. Houellebecq’s novel is the future (the future without futurity) that emerges out of Virilio’s ideas. In this regard it is interesting that the (awful) cinema version The possibility of an island is not the story of this film but tries to mash together elements of Atomised and Lanzarote in order to present a kind of inverted image of technognostic/Singularity ecstatic thought, hope, utopia. With both men I share the fear that PoI might sketch a possible future, not a literal one but one that is already emergent, already with us, in the production of what you are calling the “semiopath” but which I have always (and incorrectly) thought of as a post-traumatic subject…increasingly I prefer to think of it as the dis-embodied subject.

In that respect, if there is a tradition of taking a psycopathy and rendering it as the metaphorical lens for the age, then I think I could suggest that these men are tracing out the contours of this disembodiment… schizophrenia begins with disembodiment, but undoubtedly the most obvious (and lethal) form of the disorder is anorexia nervosa. It is the eating disorders that are the psychiatric metaphor for our age, just as they are among the most widespread symptoms of our perversely post-scarcity, post-affluent society. One can even think of Houellebecq’s ideas on the sexual economy that followed sexual liberation (I think he speechifies on this in Whatever but it may be Platform) and how the anorexic symptomology relates directly to this deregulation of bodies, pleasures and desires.

Funnily enough, I was reading The Map and the Territory while on a clinical placement with a CBT therapist in an eating disorders unit (a job I would love, btw) and could see the return of the organic at the end of that novel as an acute correlate to so many of those women’s (I didn’t work with any men) disavowal of their own bodies. The complexified auto-affection that comes undone through intensification; the rigidity of thought; the alexythimia and hedonic dysphoria; the obsessiveness of the mundane; the possible rejection or inability to cope with adulthood, majority, reason; the use of psychostimulants. I will need to return to these theme, central to my way of thinking about and orienting my clinical practice. Ballard may have left psychiatry, and in ‘To Stay Alive’ Houellebecq may only have seen in it a tool of survival (indeed, an institutionalisation of coping mechanisms), both of these men have equal right to claim to understand the psychopathology of our age…as much as any contemporary Freud or Kreaplin might.


The civil war is good for you

In those places where peace, hygiene and leisure ravage, psychoses also multiply. I come from a country which, while never learning to know the meaning of happiness, has also never produced a single psychoanalyst. 

-E.M. Cioran. 

An uncertain happiness

‘No happiness? No. Know happiness’. – Samuel Beckett.

The pessimist is not against happiness, she is not against tranquility, she is not against truth. The pessimist is against the stupid happiness, the chemical tranquility, the vulgar truths of Certainty.

Certainty is the greatest Vice of a particular temperament that resolutely divorces itself from thought. The pessimist is all for the things the happy optimist is for, provided that the happy optimist can be made to realise that all and every part of existence, regardless of its status or kingdom, is fleeting, provisional, and tending towards collapse and self-falsification.

If an ethic of eudaimonia is possible it must be one that realises that whatever flourishes does so in order to wither and decay. At any rate, all human flourishing is born out of a distinct disavowal of mortality. Death itself is a blossoming, a vibrant explosion of material wonders; decomposition a mereological magic trick to rival the originary explosion of matter out of the nothing that presceded it.

For the pessimist, every-one and every-thing is united in the cosmological perspective. Cosmopolitics is a politics founded on the equal zero-being of all constructing-collapsing substances.

On the dignity of every-thing

The sun shines on us as it must to the condemned
on the bright bastard day of executions. We walk steadily
although without purpose, merely moving so as not to stop,
deciding now for inner-tubes and now for ice-creams before
veering down the back streets behind the Old Mills (passing
the offices of a former lover and the building full of psychotics
that we tried to understand a year ago under this same burning sun,
a furious violent thing that one day will swallow the crust of this Earth
returning it to the silence that Life continues to slander
with every inconsequential word and howl and scratch of falling leaves
or blade of grass).

We walk in to the recycling place where the free party never happened,
the free party that had an entry fee and which later D. broke into
having drunkenly jumped a fence in transgression of every twitch of
a pretended Reason.

And in there I found a world made only of debris, a kingdom of abandoned things,
a country resplendent with cookers with broken hob rings, a pageantry exploding
with nautical maps of strange small islands, and became lost inside those canyons
of a mocked ancient tenor that smelled of yellowing paper and tables, chairs
and all the collected artefacts that prove that Man has climbed out
from his Primordiality. A graveyard of dead things that cling viciously to life.

How arrogant to think the clockwork things could never dream.
Don’t they also, moment to moment, struggle against the universe’s decomposition,
its inevitable and seductive entropic decaying? Suddenly all I can see is a prison-ship
dropped anchor in a concrete sea. I want to liberate all these dishwashers,
all these exercise bikes; I want to declare the Rights of Complex and Simple Things.

But we leave that place (I have bought a novel and D. a monitor). We walk back the way we came.
The sun is still benign- pre-cancerous, only hinting coquettishly at its waiting malignancy.
We read and eat in it’s heat, a shadow of the cold to come that nevertheless radiates
majesty and convinces us- all everyone else in that beer garden- that Life is an inevitability,
that it stands firm and unquestionable.

At the hight of summer the profoundest precariousness recedes
just as in a lover’s bed vulnerabilities find themselves as immaculate glories.
Death can’t live in these places, we whisper.

And I pass the rest of the afternoon lying in bed with L. We fuck with violence
and tenderness. And exhausted we hold each other. We smoke our cigarettes.
Say it simply. We let our eyes believe they are only for looking at each other,
we pass beyond day and night. She holds me inside her after I have come. I don’t want
to move. I have turned to a vibrantly living stone, a monument to every love that
has passed through the world dreaming of its own immortality.

And in this bed all of my vulnerabilities find themselves as immaculate glories,
And we dispense with the vulgarity of language’s shaky constructions.
We communicate by touch and taste and sweating, our pores radiating poetry, spinning
delicate webs across the surface of one another. I kiss her mouth hard, and I find
it impossible to believe in dying.

My body sings by aching, teaching me that its limits haven’t ever really been reached.
The Earth is turning away from the sun now, and in the park the sunbathers have put on their
sweaters, the children head for home. I feel the life of everything around me.
I almost envy the ecstatic visions of manias, the certainties of psychoses. But this gentle
lull, this quiet moment before the falling of some axe where things are as they appear,
in this recesses of the world’s terrible agony: I am proud and happy that I am part of this,
that I am part of this Life, that all this Living will disappear too, and that,

For a brief time, there were these things, that I was one thing among the others,
deserving and desiring no more than is reserved for the smallest among them. As I close,
I am getting ready to see her again, her body and her face…and it strikes me like
a heart attack that that is enough.

I am living and I am dying, and it doesn’t matter too much, and it won’t last long,
and I am smiling, unable to do anything else in the early evening light of Spring.

A pessimist psychology

Reading Thomas Ligotti I came across the existential psychological approach called Terror Management Theory. It immediately appeals to me and echoes much of the content of my thinking, some of which appears on this blog. TMT seems to form the pessimist’s contribution to the psych-disciplines, a voice that is often excluded from those disciplines. Whilst the theorists state that fear of death (thanatophobia) is the our prime motivation in living I would prefer to think in a more modest tenor of a kind of ‘thanatamnesiac’ project. I’ve written about this elsewhere on this blog as the basis of human civilisation (without previously having felt the need to coin an arsey word for it). Here I’ll simply quote the opening of an essay by Jeff Greenburg:

Humans live by existential illusions. These fictions about existence help us cope with the

Big Five existential concerns: death, identity, meaning, social connections, and freedom

(Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Koole, & Solomon, 2010). They allow us to feel like we are

significant and enduring beings in a meaningful world, even though science tells us we are just

material organisms with a brief lifespan in an indifferent universe and members of a species that

sooner or later will likely become extinct. Death is inevitable. Our identities and meanings are

cultural constructions that don’t amount to a hill of beans in the context of billions of years of

time and the vast enormity of space. Our most cherished relationships are inherently limited; we

can never know the inner life of another person or reliably expect someone else to put our

interests above their own. We strive for freedom while we are all imprisoned by our cultural

upbringing and largely dependent on following others’ rules for survival. If we have too much

freedom, it causes us anxiety and stress and we often don’t know what to do with it.

Lately I have been feeling very good. I’ve met a wonderful, interesting and beautiful woman. I’ve been really enjoying spending time getting to know her and her son. I state this here simply to emphasise that there is no necessity in thinking that pessimism is coextensive with the negative passions (depression or sorrow being the most common association). Pessimism as an intellectual orientation or tenor ought not be conflated with a deflated mood. It seems to me, right now, that it is even possible to be a happy pessimist.

a happy death

And when a morbid affection of the nerves, or a derangement of the digestive organs, plays into the hands of an innate tendency to gloom, this tendency may reach such a height that permanent discomfort produces a weariness of life. So arises an inclination to suicide, which even the most trivial unpleasantness may actually bring about; nay, when the tendency attains its worst form, it may be occasioned by nothing in particular, but a man may resolve to put an end to his existence, simply because he is permanently unhappy, and then coolly and firmly carry out his determination; as may be seen by the way in which the sufferer, when placed under supervision, as he usually is, eagerly waits to seize the first unguarded moment, when, without a shudder, without a struggle or recoil, he may use the now natural and welcome means of effecting his release.


In talking about a life, a distinctly human life, we are always neglecting the other side; death. In particular we neglect suicide, the fatal freedom [Szasz, 1999] by which man can resolve to murder himself and so to escape the burden of living. Of course, here Schopenhauer equates suicide with the will to release, to effect escape from materiality and its sufferings, as do most who write on the subject. No one considers in suicide an affirmation except of some absolute affirmation of man’s final freedom. What if suicide where the affirmation of life, its wildest yearnings? Is it possible to imagine a suicide who is motivated not by unhappiness but by happiness, or whatever shadow of it is possible for conscious beings? Could we imagine some addict of life who knows that finally the moment of stauration has come- no matter how many hits he gets the come-down will always be that bit worse than the high, last that much longer, cause him that much more anxiety, fear, panic?

It’s not at all that she would be motivated out of a desire to avoid the come-down but simply that this moment, this crystalline moment, is the distillation of a joy that is so frequently promised and so rarely known. At this highpoint she might conclude that it is time to withdraw her investment, to pull back from the edge of things, and driven only by the calm ecstasy of a true satisfaction decide that this much is enough and no more is necessary. It is better to die now, a smile on her face and a perfect nostalgia completely without sentimentality or distortion.

Sat on this bed, the offensive orange bedspread glaring a too bright light at my face, militant hiphop vaguely harassing my passivity, the possibility of going out for drinks, I’m thinking about not thinking. Neither wanting to go out or stay in. Out there, maybe the chance of women. Despite having met so many, I can’t imagine Schopenhauer’s suicidal. Likewise, I can’t imagine the shape of the happiness that could breed a blissful death.

Interminable things. Systems of fragility. A density of sensation. The reduction of complexity: yes/no. Live/die. I find myself somewhere uncharted in between. The correlationist senses his exclusion from the world, that split of subject and object. I can’t sense anything so dramatic. I am a quiet thing stirring in the cotton, the leaves, the concrete and the plastic tundras, threatening to ineffectively explode in pathetic insurrection.

Everything strikes me as profoundly unlikely, profoundly unnecessary.


Do you think?
– No. I am happy instead.

simple words for simple hurts

what on earth is going on?

A perfect week
Kisses in the night
The kind of sex angels
Fall from heaven just
To sneak a voyeurs repentance at
Mostly in bed
Shed of intellect
Free of culture
And the weight of banality called
Forward motion
Sharing in the sweetest
Stickiest, honeyed inertia

A perfect week made nothing
Because i’m empty
Because there is no adjective left
Inside the sadness of this skin
I have to break her
Because i am broken
Because you have broken me

Because that is my truth now
That where my heart should be
All there I find are remnants of the claws
You used to tear it out

There is no smoke
And there is no fire but in the flesh
Beyond that i can’t make any promise
And she deserves it

I am the wrong thing
Doing the bad thing again
And again
Trying desperately to make good


I am lost and i don’t know what I’m doing
And i hurt
Spurning happiness, stumbling from mess
To tortured mess.

more of this, i beg

Torment, for some men, is a need, an appetite, and an accomplishment.
– Emile M. Cioran

speculating on other minds
i twist circumventing my own reasons,
that domain so well known
once the fire is stopped burning
and the murderer has fled the scene.
struggling with my own contorting
affectivity, magesterially presiding over
these aboriginal aliens with a police
order assembled out of half-illumined
monstrosities, i keep holding on
and asking the same questions
like an autistic child dumbly staring
into the gathered happy faces;
unable or unwilling to let go
even when there seems to be nothing there
to hold but holograms and memories,
corroding representations, ectopic
foetuses in full birthday regalia.
join the party with us. we’re smiling
and we’re laughing and our flesh is
melting in the heart of this interminable
fire, this existence. so much in love
with our little sufferings, we pour the
gasoline while dancing, strike the match
while singing sweetly to the charred
remains of our futures.

fail better

where did they come from
these dark and dangerous things
that want to plant a flag
stake a claim and demand the deeds?
from a history of repair and
of being rebroken?
from a forgetfulness of faith
in the origin of my own actions,
a long lived love affair
with corruption and despairing;
a personal theology, Gnostic,
but placing myself with the fallen
to safeguard from a fear of falling?
or the echoes of the voices
of those who promised worlds and
then departed?
who long can you deforest
before the oxygen is depleted
and possibility chokes?
i’m carrying a battered bag of seed
with me today
and every day that will follow;
watch these sapling bloom,
feeding from the decay of all things past,
holding only lightly to the
one who chooses to share this short time
with me.