attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: humanity


I took my seat in the Crematorium and listened to the priest talking about life eternal, resurrection, redemption; the whole tawdry list. I listened to the crying of my family. Shifting in my chair, an arm placed on my father’s back so as to offer some semblance of comfort. I looked at the box. Inside the box (pine?) there was a body. Not lifeless but no longer the form of life known to those who were gathered. Now just the impersonal process of things. And I felt nothing. The only thought in my head: there was a man and now there is no man.

During the church service (he was a public figure and so it was well attended) this thought repeated insistently beneath the hymns and the sermons, the tribute and the droning prayers of unified and appropriate voices. The thought settled in during a rendition of Blake’s Jerusalem (an irony that the man we were remembering, his picture beside the altar, at one time owned a dark satanic mill). I realised the foolishness of the thought: no man is a man. He is a nothing trying to be a man, an absence given the task (by whom?) of filling the shape of a man.

Later there was a lot of wine and eating. Everything went on unchanged. The Earth rotated, circling the sun, fixed on its temporary course and ignorant of the days when everything is cold and dark.


Electric phenomenology

All manner of speculative systems of thought proliferate; I remain entrenched in humanity. Is there something existential to these musings, in the inability to gain a theoretical distance from the affectivity that daily recedes to leave me splashing pointlessly in the shallows? One can’t escape what one is- except by an elective or accidental death. A dark and electronic phenomenology is still a phenomenology.

Dominic Fox: ‘Nature sucks’

The end of a short post ‘Nature Sucks’ at Poetix

At what point does the ubiquity and intensity of suffering in the natural world render meaningless the individual effort to reduce the suffering of this or that suffering creature? Perhaps at no point: kindness remains a virtue, no matter how bad things are or how much worse they may get. But it does render one kind of meaning unavailable, and that is the redemptive meaning that the rhetoric of “animal liberation” gives to the task of extricating non-human animals from the grasp of human power, need and appetite. Life on earth without us would not be a paradise, in any sense that we could recognise according to our own preferences for comfort and security over terror and pain. The departure of humanity would, in fact, leave the world devoid of its only remotely ethically attractive feature: the propensity of human beings to try to make parts of it nicer, for each other and for such non-human animals as they elect to care about.

– Dominic Fox, author of Militant Dysphoria


Doing research for an essay on counselling I come across a text online called Anthropathology. Immediately the name of this book appeals to me and I start reading the googlebooks preview. Immediately I can taste the word and let it colour me. It’s refreshing to read a counsellor writing about counselling who is aware that their is something fundamentally wrong with humanity. For a while I have wondered if my thinking was still caught in an antihumanism or if I had managed to successfully navigate my way towards a more benign posthumanism. On reading this word I know where I stand. The metaphor I inhabit is diagnostic; neither for or against a pathology, aware that a thought that can only detect deficit is one that remains stunted in the shallows, afraid of drowning in the rapids of nuance and the depths of humanity’s amazing capacity, in most instances, to resist the temptation of the overripe fruit of suicide.

I haven’t yet read the book, only a few skimmed pages. Yet I have a presentiment of what it might contain. Man will be painted as hideous, deformed, small. Man will also be painted as beautiful, the owner of a profound capacity to keep going, to manage, to cope, even to convince himself that life is worth living (objectively, it is not). Not only is he the exceptionalist animal that sees himself as the animator of all being through his powers of imagination and reason (correlationism). But he is also the animal that knows it is no better than any other thing in existence, lacking all special status, and celebrates the figures who have told it such.

If narrative gives a form to life, and if we are narrating constantly, we are the strange animal that knows the horror of itself, its world, the social and interpersonal miseries it finds itself born into, engendering and maintaining (with only degrees of intention) and does not enact a tidal wave of suicides en masse, an true genocide of the species, being unable to even look at it’s own illusory reflection.

There is something wonderful about humanity. I can’t decide if I am in love with it or if I despise it to the core. Probably it doesn’t much matter. Pessimism is no trait for a counsellor to dwell with. A blank neutrality, an addict’s compulsive attachment to living, the defusion of self from act, act from thought, no revulsion but perhaps a perverse admiration for humanity’s essential monstrosity. There is something exceptional about this species; it can’t go on, it goes on.

I am in love with our lies, our confirmation biases, our delusions and illusions that propel us out of bed in the morning, never mind to the quest to discover God particles with giant atom beams in sprawling underground bases (a school boy’s scifi fantasies come true). I am in love with how it is we persist, even those of us most damaged- even those of us the most banal. The man who works behind his desk for 20 years- data in, data out- and contemplates hanging himself but instead goes on holiday once a year, every year…or simply stays indoors for a week, not bothering to escape at all. I won’t say I regard him as an idiot or as a hero, he is probably neither… it’s enough that he is, despite every reason not to be, to ensure that he isn’t, and that for most of his adult life he will be only seconds away from the means to end it all, to go dark and let the inputs and outputs finally rest in perfect equilibrium, but that he will not do it, will not notice it, will not even let it cross his mind. He doesn’t imagine he will be happy…but there he is, getting dressed, drinking coffee, hoping to God that his wage slip includes a rise in line with VAT, making plans to fall in love one day…ignoring the inevitability of nonexistence.

I am in love with at least some part of our sickness.

Having done a quick amazon search I see the book is priced well out of my means for a single text, coming in around £70 at the lower end of the price scale. I will likely never read it. It’s a shame and yet, probably best not have any more fire for my own confirmation biases. A little frustrated I’m logging off and going to watch a film.

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.

a painting

A life is a vitality proper not to any individual but to ‘pure immanence,’ or that protean swarm that is not actual though it is real:
– Jane Bennett, Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things

Absorbed by a digital image of the canvas, I can’t tear away an particular uncertainty. A scene by some water; a river, a bridge, houses in the background, a full and bursting bush in the fore. Everything is luminous with ripe colour, almost manic in an abundant sense of life. With it all also a serenity that an agitate mind must employ opiates to know, either this or that strange exhaustion that follows nights of mutated chronotypical existing. I here the lyrics of a song: I’m going upstairs now to turn my mind off. A street viewed from the perpendicular, as if I- I assume I would be alone- were viewing it before the final approach, having stopped on some parallel bridge to take in the view and breath an air so clean and crisp that my lungs would shriek at such an alien exposure.

Yet there are no people in this scene. No lovers on the bridge and no retired agricultural workers hanging from their balconies. There are not even hanging baskets on the stucco walls. No one lives here. It is a beautiful and desolate scene. I am reminded of a lost friend, once thought of as a comrade when such aspirations could be retained.

There is only the uncertainty; is it something in the image, the artist or something in the one who observes it? An empty faith that this image conjures up a vague nostalgia. It represents the vibrant existence, the vitality and confidence, of organic and synthetic life . It is a vibrancy lost to consciousness, one that no human being could experience for more than a fading moment. It lacks the shadow and the ash of reality and therefore fails any criteria of realism. I doubt the artist cares or sought such a vulgar way of seeing.

It is a seduction and a tease, an invitation and a closure or denial; here is the urgent life you so desire and which is foreclosed to you after the advent of knowledge, after contact with the truth. It is the life we dream for ourselves in fresh spring mornings spent in parks or in a new lover’s beds. It is the lost. The impossible.

This painting is a wish; ephemeral as all our hopes, and just as distant. Simulataneously, I have no doubt it is also the poor human apperception of a wonderful nonhuman joy. The writer and the artist share this in common; the impossible project of standing outside their own mind. Here is an ecology of divorce and connection, an intimacy that is still separated by the intractable layers of humanity. As I sit here looking into it, unable to populate it with more figures who might live like me- not wanting to complicate it with such fragile systems– I realise why I cannot look away. I am afraid. The superfluity of things, all things, myself included, is overwhelming, petrifying and brutal.