The Rebel, Pt. 3

This will be the second to last post in this series, as I hope to do one focusing Camus’s conception of art — perhaps in comparison with Adorno’s, which he definitively contradicts in his notion of art as rectifying.

Personal Feelings

My preceding posts stayed on the level of abstraction, something which one might construe as a mishandling of a book which condemns abstraction as the inhuman evil of a vile totalitarian sphere which subordinates “the good” under a universal reign of terror, a state in which there is no mercy nor affirmation, nothing which is not worthy to perish in the light of some new ideal — a reign of “absolute negation”, as he puts it. Camus good is solidarity — the union of friendship and loyalty, those candle flames in the dark of a cruel world, which will, if he is to be believed, never be fully rectified and which will never — no matter how it improves — become a utopia.#

I believe he is correct in his firm assertion of the eternity of some form of misery, though we rectify all we can through our art and our technology, but his world — though he changes the terms — is nothing but the world of mediocrity, of effectless courage, of a poetic pretense which makes life bearable for us who suffer in the ghettos of the spirit (and that, curiously enough, is not to be found in actual ghettos): a weak form of religion, a metaphysical assertion of an ethics — though limited to the human sphere — which is absolute in its relativity, or relation, to us. He laments the atrocities which a concept of a infinitely malleable nature in man produce, praises moderation and humility, defines rebellion as an egalitarian sentimen predicated on man’s shared nature which goes beyond itself should it violate the right to life of even those who deny the same right in them. Take the mediocrity of liberal politics and sprinkle it with Parisian style and you have The Rebel. How I want to believe the feelings it evokes in me — the sense of solidarity, of absolute moral principles (such as the moral equivalence of all lives), of a conventionality dressed in wolves clothing, rectifying the world in giving it the sense it lacks in itself — but how can I? Equally, how can I not?

I am at a crossroads with this book, a forking path which is more than a choice of critical stance on a work of philosophy — a philosophy which still retains the naive conceptual permeability of ideal and history, agent and structure, makes one think of simpler times when concepts of God, good, and evil still held a gravity — but is more the decision about the nature of my projection into the future: do I choose to accept this life, the limitations of human thought and sanity, affirm the megerest of philosophical figurations for their actionability and their comforting sense of community or do I press the horizon ever onward, attempting to eek out from my frayed mind constructs beyond personality, beyond known errors and into the risk of new ones? Do I choose his condemned All or Nothing? Truth or insanity? (Or, truth and insanity — as it often enough goes.) Do I choose the concepts of good and evil, which Camus so defends as based upon the ethical nature of the human being — an unexplainable and absurd nature as it may be? Do I ground myself in something or jump into what is only madness for those who become lost within it (but a tempting darkness, a beckoning leap beyond such a small world as ours)?

What is it in man which rebels against his condition and affirms the rectitude of what should be against what is? This is the question Camus asks; but, equally, I ask: what is it that drives man beyond the concepts of the previous generation, ever further from any stability, any comforting truth or static factor? What is the draw of that endless motion — which is analogous to the endlessly vivisecting and complexifying philosophical current — that Camus so condemns in Fascism and in state communism? Why does part of me balk at his thought as simplistic, as weak and sentimental — childish — while still the part of me that is a child, that grandiloquent believer, finds it so dear to his heart? I don’t believe I am ready to take a stance on this work, don’t think I’m ready to cast off into stormy seas in search of a new nature, nor am I ready to commit to this one which persists despite its constant failing and it’s continuing irrelevance. (I too am moderate in some regards, or attempt to be.)

Camus stands, on my current horizon, as the most reasonable figuration of what I can understand as valid — reasonable in the conventional sense — but he is not daring, does not excite me, only fills me with a sense of safety, of stepping back from a ledge. I understand how Johnny could declare Camus a life saver, for I could see myself saved, could see myself a believer in yet another absurdity which is precisely acceptable for recognizing itself as such, but… will I allow myself that luxury? What draws me to suffering, to a complete annihilation of what I currently am — accomplished in stages though it may be?

General Philosophical Quibbles , and The Negation of The Universal

Camus philosophizes as man — an individual embodied even in philosophizing — yet we increasingly come to the disembodied in philosophy, to a pure immanence of mind to its objects, if not literally, in the removal of the subject qua human and its replacement with subject as instrument whose data must be parsed. Can such a philosophy survive except wherein philosophy is closest to fiction? Camus is not “a coordinator of things said”, a la Merleau-Ponty, but judger of things valued, a heart which bleeds and beats with compassion for the world, a declaimer of murder, of injustice, of an undefined crime, and a vague right of man that exist only by its assertion. He defies the merging of value with a science, the human with its objects — attempts to keep that separation which is man’s moderate refusal, his conditioned acceptance, from what merely is or what absolutely should be at the expense of all else. Sartre is the proclaimer of hard truths — at least as he sees them — and of a misery which cannot be resolved, while Camus speaks too of irresolvable contradiction but also man’s ability to find meaning through a mutual recognition of shared dignity within those eternal riddles. There is meaning possible — even where it is rejected in the name of one concept or another — but that meaning is never necessary,  always chosen and always fragile. Existentialism recognizes absolutely that man must create his own meaning, but Camus is holding on to a nature which would be able to source that meaning and source it universally. Declaring human nature only choice, only a nihilation of the past and a projection toward the future in conjunction with a meager facticity is still in some sense a universal, but it is a universal empty of content, the universal recognized as only an emptiness to be filled, of the ethical sphere — the sphere of a chosen becoming —  as only a choice and never a necessity. Camus comes close to convincing me in some more substantial nature, something which is not so open to choice but which has implications for the justice and dignity of “man” and which declares that conceptual man follows — at least partially — from natural man.

Camus writes:

The profound conflict of this century is perhaps not so much between the German ideologies of history and Christian political concepts, which in a certain way are accomplices, as between German dreams and Mediterranean traditions, between the violence of eternal adolescence and virile strength, between nostalgia, rendered more acute by knowledge and by books and courage reinforced and enlightened by the experience of life—in other words, between history and nature.

In other words, he sees the conflict between history — as the becoming of man which denies his nature in the process of accomplishing that nature — and between a nature which is an essential being expressed through but always existent in history. While he references Hegel as the philosopher of becoming, of an eternal not yet (even if Hegel believed history accomplished during the reign of Napoleon), Sartre, in his concept of consciousness as a nothingness which can never truly be, is equally a philosopher of eternal becoming and equally implicated in this conflict.@ Adolescence, in Camus figuration, is the time of becoming, but adulthood, that is when one has being, a stable point from which to view history and modify that history from somewhere, if not outside, at a distance. In adulthood, becoming is mitigated, subordinated to good already existent, to “the grandeur of life”, or at least must vye with that already existent good. This is the position of someone who dwells in the existent good, who is not overcome by misery, who, though he is close enough to see misery, is far enough to deny that it has totally permeated life and that such a life of misery is not worth living. I too am in that position, but I understand those who can find nowhere outside of misery, can understand the absolute nihilism of one who in fact has nothing, not even a nature — and is not the visceral sense of being progressively destroyed by the society we live in? (It is a constant battle to feel I have anything analogous to the nature Camus speaks of, to feel any solidarity with some common source of man.)

While Camus sees the degradation of human dignity in the denial of the human for a constant praxis of ‘becoming-what-one-isn’t’, perhaps that sense of dignity he feels is missing in those who choose such a praxis; perhaps the struggle for what they aren’t is all they have left. There is sometimes dignity in recognizing that separation does exist, that there are monstrous circumstances that create beings outside the universal, outside of any intelligibility, and while we may seek to mitigate the spread of their negation, we must also recognize that our moderation — our intelligibility — was made possible by a system which produced their absolute negation. There is good and evil, and then there is that which has been created without such categories, which has never known the dignity and universality such categories entail — let us not condemn them, but mourn for them, fight them when we must, but with sadness in our hearts. They are not our brothers, our sisters, or our fellow human beings except in the sense of could have been so — and that isn’t their fault, nor completely ours.% (Man is something one is made into — man is defined by his culture and his contextualization as such — and not all are so lucky, or unlucky, depending on your stance, to have been made so.) Perhaps the time of the human has ended, perhaps there is something — not “better” than man, unfortunately — but beyond him coming, something which is not universal, which negates universality in the roar of an implacable individual suffering. To recognize that there is a inhuman humanity, a living death, so to speak, is — though unrecognized in this case — to declare that man can be other than he is, that man is something one becomes and something one can become other than.  In defining a position which negates universality and creates separation, one declares that there is a position outside universality and that it is a position that one can occupy; i.e., in defending man against the Un-man, one is recognizing the Un-man’s existence.

Camus’s Horseshoe Theory

Camus advocates the middle way through irrationality and rationality: neither operating in complete rationality — which would allow mUrDer — nor complete irrationality — which would make his “civilization” impossible.* He writes:

[T]he desire for unity not only demands that everything should be rational. It also wishes that the irrational should not be sacrificed. One cannot say that nothing has any meaning, because in doing so one affirms a value sanctified by an opinion; nor that everything has a meaning, because the word everything has no meaning for us. The irrational imposes limits on the rational, which, in its turn, gives it its moderation. Something has a meaning, finally, which we must obtain from meaninglessness.

This obtaining meaning from meaninglessness but still operating rationally upon it is what Camus is advocating (and something I often enough advocate). The irrational source of value is, for him, the rebellion through which man declares his dignity against that which would deny it, but in being an assertion as man rather than as an individual — as Stirner’s unique one (a notion which Camus critiques) — this assertion is normative, makes the claim for all men, even for that man who is perpetrating the infringement which gives rise to the assertion of dignity. From this “fact”, Camus asserts that revolutionary murder is unjust because it contradicts the normative foundation of rebellion; in murdering an oppressor, you deny the common human dignity which you share with the oppressor and which inspired you to stand up for that dignity initially. The only way through rebellion is moderation and a normative claim which would eliminate “silence between men” — or so Camus thinks.

As for Murder which a revolutionary might find necessary, Camus grants that this may be a moral action only if the rebel consents to die afterwards himself. If the rebel asserts the equality of all men, on taking life, he must die — this is Camus’ poetic logic — and it does have a sort of primitive appeal. To live by the sword is often enough to die by the sword, but not from equity or from some innate symmetry — rather, from the nature of enmity and war, from a conflict which culminates only in one force giving up its claim to domination, or, in the case of some revolutionary struggles, the claim for recognition all together. Camus writes:

From the moment that he strikes, the rebel cuts the world in two. He rebelled in the name of the identity of man with man and he sacrifices this identity by consecrating the difference in blood. His only existence, in the midst of suffering and oppression, was contained in this identity.

Essentially, this misses the fact that the act of rebellion is inspired by an initial split preexisting. The rebel rebels against that which is separate from himself and imposes itself externally. His separation from those who oppress him is not merely metaphysical — neither do I think revolutions are driven by metaphysics — but material, juridical, and systemic. It’s all very well to talk about the abstract equality of all men, about its inviolability, but oppression — while it may be manifested in abstract beliefs — is not a matter of metaphysics, but of bodies and peoples. Camus himself advocates for localizing rebellion, in autonomous groups of interests being the grounds for struggle, yet he still believes that rebellion should be predicated on universality. The sole right of the universal over individual struggle, this is precisely a method of excluding all those who haven’t been assimilated into the mental structures of “civilization”. Camus prefigures the aporias of contemporary moderate thought and enlightenment liberalism — or liberalism predicated on enlightenment premises.  Ah, “to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, refuse to be a god”— what a sentiment! But, there will always be those who find it acceptable to play god — revolutionaries and conservatives alike — and they would rejoice at the timidity of others, of their refusing to play god, when god is being played regardless. No man can completely determine others, but there is the sphere of culture — and of cultural war — in which agents vye for the determination of common morality and prejudice, vye for control over the law and the production of ideas and the control of platforms, and this war is “beyond good and evil” — not that actions within it can’t be judged as good or evil.& Camus, in seeking to predicate a “universal limit” to rebellion, even in the name of some originary, common experience — which is of dubious existence — is playing god.$ Any concept which applies to all men, seeks to assert a human nature and its necessary implications, is an assertion within the sphere of divinity, in the sphere of the absolute, no matter how relatively qualified.  The human universality of moderates is essentially immoderate in its projection of an immoderate scope of application — in daring to declare itself universal.

Continue reading “The Rebel, Pt. 3”


A Scream Hijacks Meaning

babbling silence…
Capitalize on your wails —
No suffering for free.

tell me a story
in between what two bookends —
there will be nothing after;
nothing after ten minutes in the back of your car,
foggy windows, eyes glazing,
already anyone.
lick the ear hole and drink my worms like rotting pasta in an abandoned fridge.
tell me a story about us — then
burn it up for 10 seconds of euphoria.

tell me about your three isms
and alight your identity at the end like a firecracker;
gouge my eyes with an aesthetic thrifted from decomposing icons —
let’s rub ourselves against these ruins,
so free from anything but a kamikaze spiral.

tell me you want to die four ways and in six metaphors and in eight places;
keep living anyway.
piss in the shower and fuck a bartender;
take three Xanax and swipe right three times on men whose names blur together like their faces.
(call a women darling — if that’s your thing — give her what you can’t give yourself, get married and live a sitcom of pretend love and dried and flaccid isomorphisms of a wedding night that happened and happened and happened)
buy a coat from forever 21 and be forever 16;
murder me with banality — dissect my eyeballs and take yourself from the viscera.
Go to AA and get addicted to sobriety, cry with gratitude on TV, run a lifestyle blog, go to church, drink exotic herbal teas with supposed healing properties, appreciate tradition, praise the gaps between stars, snort cocaine, babble into wordpress about nihilism and waste waste waste in a landfill the whole world wide.

insert all the slurs you know into a rocket aimed at the moon: scream hatred at the bark of trees until it shrivels like the unlucky fig beneath The Holy Christ’s chastising ire.
smile self righteously about what you know that others don’t,
have political opinions,
vote in even the midterms,
talk about birth control, as if everything wasn’t already impotent,
already dead at every crowning,
and get fucked endlessly — or i mean, “get fucked”, all of you, please.

tell me a story
as mine is ending
tell me a story
hold my hand on a hospital loading bay; take the hand with you wrapped in tissue paper,
bury it in your garden next to a rose bush,
and forget me seasonally — tell me a story about life after my seven minutes in heaven.

Adorno, Writing, and Localization

What is there to say, what simplicity is there to write — what understanding is there to milk from the world? In striving for complexity as someone simple, one produces simplicity complexly, which is mere unnecessary obscuration. The most popular blogging topic is to obsess about blogging; the most popular writing topic, to obsess about writing. We have purpose in these pursuits, hopes in the extraneous things we do on the side, hope for greatness, for transcendence of of our everyday — whatever the case may be. We want a role, something to give us a purpose which is not alienated from who we believe we are, who we thought we could be when the whole world told us to dream.

To dream one instant, to dream with hope and unquestioned faith — to bend to necessity the next, becoming the possible rather than the hoped for — then once again to dream, except without hope, with only the dream itself, forever apart from realization, being only the consolation in a world in which there is no space for the before of our enmeshment.

I used to dream of other worlds, to hope to create some fantasy which would carry me away from here, from this doldrum of alienation, from things which I could only bow to but never participate in — whether in ritual or in art — but now, all narratives seem equally laughable, equally irrelevant to the space within which these narratives occur.

I work under the assumption of an outside — though that outside is only simulated — and under that assumption, I exist. If the truth is what is, I exist only by denying that truth for what could be true — for what I wish was.

 * * *

Adorno writes of art as psychological sublimation thusly in his Aesthetic Theory:

They [artworks] are exhausted in the psychical performance of gaining mastery over instinctual renunciation and, ultimately, in the achievement of conformity. The  psychologism of aesthetic interpretation easily agrees with the philistine view of the artwork as harmoniously quieting antagonisms, a dream image of a better life, unconcerned with the misery from which this image is wrested.”

By sublimation is meant the fulfilment of what is impossible in reality through art — art as a means of wish fulfillment (see the primary process in psychoanalysis). Adorno argues against this use of art as consolation, as a means to dissociate from the misery present in one’s environment, instead advocating for a art of mimesis — or imitation of what is the case objectively — to show the misery that is present in the world, to merge fully with that misery rather than denying it through art. Art as wish fulfillment and art as the revelation of what is the case in its de-subjectivized immanence don’t seem necessarily to exclude each other, but I find that the former function begins to repulse me more with each day. Though, It must be noted that, even if art is qualified by its stance towards conditions actually existing, it doesn’t thereby lose the aspect of escape; Adorno writes:

“Formerly, even the traditional attitude to the artwork, if it was to be absolutely relevant to the work, was that of admiration that the work exist as they do in themselves and not for the sake of the observer. What opened up to, and overpowered, the beholder was their truth, which as in works of Kafka’s type, [outweigh] any other element. They were not a higher order of amusement. The relation to art was not that of its physical devouring; on the contrary, the beholder disappeared into the material.”

So, the viewer disappears as a subject, as something in relation to the conditions represented by the artwork and thus becomes those conditions — escaping misery in coming to know from inside its conditions. This is supported by Adorno’s reference to Kafka, who, precisely through his artistic transposition of alienation, allows one to go beyond one’s singularity in alienation; or, it is through art about alienation that alienation becomes objective, comes to be represented in an object which can be culturally referenced. Fleeing misery, fleeing the unfreedom and inhumanity of what we exist in, seems the surest way to never change that which gives rise to that misery; or, in other words, nothing will change if we live in denial of the world as it is through our use of fantasy. (More, there will never come to be anything to change, no known object, only that vague malaise which haunts.)

Art serves an objectivizing function — as Adorno supposes — in objectivizing the subjective, in making subjective states referenceable entities. By hiding our misery, our depression, and our alienation, we individualize what is collectively instantiated — we privatize the emotional ails which always form in relation to the milieu within which we exist. Writing misery, while it may be condemned by those who seek personal happiness at any cost, by those who would seek to deny even that which within themselves is dark — even as they deny the darkness in others —, is the only way we can be united in that misery, can deprivatize what is, in its essence, collective — even if it must always be individually experienced.

 * * *

What I find more interesting than enforcing and meditating on my identity as a writer is why exactly I feel so strongly drawn to that identity, why I feel the desire for an audience, and what function — besides my own self esteem and coping — my writing actually serves. What hole am I attempting to fill with the practice, and is this practice even the best fit for that hole? There is something unnerving about the cult of the writer, about the mythos of intelligence, about the pedestal we put others on and desire — in our wildest dreams — to be on ourselves. Personally, what I desire through writing is not an identity, but an expansion of myself in linguistic community with others, the merging of myself, my thought, and the unthought embodiment my thought is metonymy for with the same of others. I want to touch the world and be touched by it; to engage creatively, not just with the display of my own mental processes or wishes, but with the very formation of the world which forms me. The great art which has been lost is not any complexity in technique or profundity of subject matter, but the art which is the formation, in congress with others, of life itself.

I think of the amount of effort even the simplest of understandings and slightest communions require, and I can’t help but wonder if, in pursuit of the singular existence of one’s thought apart from the world — as a privatized writing practice might entail —, one sacrifices the opportunity for such understandings and such communions. Perhaps, the way we do literary and philosophical creation in present society — at least where I exist — is precisely what prevents intellectual community. Through having the ultimate aim of philosophizing or narrating be idolization through the media and capital through the market, we destroy the community functions that philosophical speculation and storytelling once served. What one writes always forms in view of who one is writing for, and if I am writing for “the whole world”, that often comes to the same thing as writing for no one and saying nothing which is revelatory in the real. Perhaps, we would do better to localize our focus, to write books for our county, for a circle of friends — to create narratives which concern, not the entire world, but our entire world. There are many ways that a communication — even in long form — is superior to a platform, which always precludes communication through its *ehm* form.

This is not to say that global narratives and philosophies don’t have value but perhaps to say that the function which they serve has enough potential agents to fulfill it. There is an immense amount of ungrounded fantasy and of high-flying theory, but what is lacking depth is not the heavens — not in that which is apart from the everyday — nor in any grand teleology of humankind, but in the depth of our individual relationships and local situations. Talent — and I am not categorically saying I have it — by no means necessitates application to global problems nor to grand and historically universal, intellectual products; it can just as easily, and perhaps more fruitfully, be applied to the communities within which one exists and the relationships one sustains. We once has local deities and mythologies, customs and vernacular, and perhaps — with our analogies to myth: philosophy, and to magic: science, and to custom: narrative — we would do well to likewise invest our localities, to stop looking to the “best” for our entertainments, for our concepts, and for our politics, but to start creating those things ourselves — to take up the creation of our own selves and our own worlds.

The Rebel, Pt. 2

While the introduction was relatively short and could be summarized almost in full, from here on out, we will be a little more diasporic with our engagement — picking particular themes out of the chapter concerned to meditate upon. It must also be noted that Camus uses “he” to designate his rebel, a stylistic choice I might choose to modify if it were my work but which I maintain for congruence.

First, some general remarks: Camus, in giving rebellion a primacy in “absurdist experience”, seeks to delineate rules for political and general action. The jump from a state of complacency to a state of rebellion is precisely that from a state of passive engagement with the world to a state of active assertion of the self against the world, but in asserting this self, one finds — in Camus account — that one has this very assertion in common with others, rebels against a state of affairs oppressive to more than just the self. Camus says: “From the moment the rebel finds his voice — even though he says nothing but “no” he begins to desire and judge”, or in other words, he begins to be the rebel. What rebellion is is the taking up of the prerogative to judge and assert oneself over and against the powers that judge and control the self rebelling. In every act of rebellion, there is implied an authority, and in their being an authority, there is a group formed under that authority; e.g., the category of youth as locus of rebellion could be seen as an outgrowth of a class awareness of parental authority — one can see how this example might be transposed to apply to other areas.

Every condition of subjugation, when consciously affirmed, is a complicity with the authority subjugating — an enslavement of the self via the agency of another. (This is not an uncoerced complicity, lest I be accused of blaming the oppressed for their own oppression, but if one believes in choice absolutely — of the freedom of human action apart from their circumstances — a coerced choice is still chosen. The more strongly attached someone is to some ‘earthly good’ which could be used as means of coercion, the more strongly they tend to object to the notion of an absolute choice. Humankind has always been free to deny their own interest and to sacrifice themselves for whatever it might happen to be; for more on this theme, I would recommend The Dominant Idea, by Voltairine De Cleyre, available here.) While Camus may be generally right when he says the following, “The very moment the slave refuses to obey the humiliating orders of his master, he simultaneously rejects the condition of slavery. The act of rebellion carries him far beyond the point he had reached by simply refusing. He exceeds the bounds that he fixed for his antagonist, and now demands to be treated as an equal”, he misses, in my view, the nonexistence of slavery before the act of rebellion.1 In the unquestioned attitude of obedience, one has nothing to compare slavery to, no freedom which would designate that slavery as itself; only through acts of rebellion — only through a testing of the bounds imposed upon one — does one come to an awareness of the bonds in the first place. What I do find insightful in the above quote is the recognition that all rebellion is an assertion of equality in that it seeks to determine the conditions of the self through an assertion about — and a vye for determination of — the rights of the one subjugating the self. In being able to determine what an authority can and cannot impose on the self, the self asserts its equality to that authority — its right to legislate for itself in the domain of authority proper.

There is, however, something I take issue with in this particular account of rebellion: the assumption of a rebellion against a one sided determination of the rights of authority  the only species of rebellion; i.e. the notion that rebellion against a lack of representation is the only type of rebellion. Rebellion is assumed only in the context of vying legislative powers and not in the sense of a pure revolt against legislation proper, against the universalization and embodiment of ethical power in any one agency (a monopolization of the “ought”).2Camus maintains himself within the sphere of the political — in the sphere of State thought — even when discussing rebellion. In the context within which it was written, I understand this limitation, but from a theoretical perspective, I believe it is an oversight.

Our next point will be the theme of Martyrdom in the first chapter; Camus writes:

The rebel himself wants to be “all”—to identify himself completely with this good of which he has suddenly become aware and by which he wants to be personally recognized and acknowledged—or “nothing”; in other words, to be completely destroyed by the force that dominates.

If we compare this account of the rebel with account of absolute negation offered in the introduction, we must be struck by their similarity — or at least I am — and we must also ask, then, does not the rebel subordinate human life, his own life, to some other external good, even if the good of some abstract category he himself qualifies under, viz. the human? If it is as Camus says and “the affirmation implicit in every act of rebellion is extended to something that transcends the individual”, we must ask what precisely is this rebellion against — certainly not authority itself, certainly not heteronomous imposition, for in making is his rebellion in the name of something other than himself, he is implicitly affirming the principle of authority there through. What Camus’ rebel is against is a certain permutation of authority, a certain universal and external imposition, not authority or the universal as such. In this figuration of the rebel’s willingness to die for that which he asserts through his rebellion, he is precisely an absolute nihilist in the sense that, for him, there is something more valuable than life, something worth negating his own life in absence of.

Now, for a human nature based on the fact of rebellion — cringe — as exemplified here:

“Analysis of rebellion leads at least to the suspicion that, contrary to the postulates of contemporary thought, a human nature does exist, as the Greeks believed. Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving?”

In an irresistible but low hanging quip, I must say, if Camus is shooting for absurdity, in this formulation, he has surely reached it. I am having a hard time even engaging with the infantilism exhibited by this remark — “Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving”, as if rebellion is a rational conduct at all! As if permance is a predicate of almost anything people see fit to squabble over! This argument for a universal being is one of the weakest I have yet had the pleasure of reading, but it is, at the very least, somewhat unique — rebellion, religiously figured as a revolt against universal order, used as an argument precisely for a universal nature (as exemplified by “human nature”): that is one for the books, so to speak. Even granting permanence to some aspect of the rebel’s nature, there isn’t any evidence there through for the similarity of this permanent aspect of his nature with that of every other human being. Granted, by his definition, rebellion is a revolt predicated on a universal right, but I believe one could see the normative claims of rebellion more as a function of a culture which has learned an absolute universality is necessary to legitimate any action whatsoever, rather than as evidence for a universality inherent to the human as such. Why does Camus assume that rebellion is a reasonable comportment, and why does one’s nature have to be a “human nature” to be worth asserting against and into the world?

Further than just rebellion being the defining agent of human community, Camus also posits, later in the same chapter, suffering as another such collectivizing experience:

“In absurdist experience, suffering is individual. But from the moment when a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience. Therefore the first progressive step for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to realize that this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that human reality, in its entirety, suffers from the distance which separates it from the rest of the universe.”

There is undoubtedly something to be said for the ability of suffering to produce compassion — a major premise of buddhist thought — but in declaring suffering a collective phenomenon, one misses what is particular in it, that which is irreducibly individual in every experience of suffering (that irreducible individuality being precisely what the absurd is). Under Camus figuration, rebellion would be, qua its role as a collectivizing phenomenon, opposed to the absurd and a negation of the realization that the absurd is.  The intuition — or belief in — shared suffering is just as liable to deconstruction as is any other universal intuition, the deconstruction of which gave rise to the absurd in the first place. If rebellion is predicated on the unreflective projection of a universal right into action — and a reflective affirmation of the propositional content of that action — then rebellion is just as much a universal, just as much doomed to the fate of all other universals, as anything which previously fended off absurdity and which absurdism denies.  It is by no means given that all human reality — or realities experienced by humans — are plagued with the degree of separation that absurdism asserts, and just as Rebellion collectivizes a suffering, irrationally and in unreflective action, so too can particular joys categorically common — or common under a set of concepts — give rise to a collective consciousness.  Camus seems on the verge of recognizing this in his account of the rebel as a liminal figure, caught between rejecting the sacred — which is akin to rejecting the rectitude of things as they are — and accepting it:

“The rebel is a man who is on the point of accepting or rejecting the sacred and determined on laying claim to a human situation in which all the answers are human—in other words, formulated in reasonable terms. From this moment every question, every word, is an act of rebellion while in the sacred world every word is an act of grace.”

While this is me interpolating heavily, we could say that the rebel chooses a universality based on suffering — on what is wrong with the world — and stakes himself on an unconditional opposition to that suffering through a bid at establishing himself in the universality of the world through declaring himself, his own rights, already universal. Conversely, those who choose the sacred, affirm the the world as it is — deny their own rights in opposition to how things already are — and see every possibility of self assertion, every possible action, as something which is granted by the grace of the already existing, which is always divine and in the right against the individual. Under this conception, the sacred is a sort of unconditional affirmation of the way things are — “God works in mysterious ways” — and a likewise unconditional gratitude for whatever good there happens to be.  As a wager against present conditions and an unconditional attempt at changing those conditions, rebellion is opposed to the sacred in its projection of injustice onto the universal categories currently operative; or, in other words, in denying the righteousness of what exists, one denies its divinity. 3 For Camus, as implicated by the following quote, man cannot exist without asserting himself over and against what already is — or cannot come to a full realization of what he is and what possibilities he sustains — but in order that rebellion not fail in its promise of a new universal, a universal which is without the faults of that which is attemptedly negated in rebellion, it must always be collective, a “noble” recognition of a shared suffering and a shared struggle against that suffering predicated on a universal right:

In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limit it discovers in itself—a limit where minds meet and, in meeting, begin to exist. Rebellious thought, therefore, cannot dispense with memory: it is a perpetual state of tension. In studying its actions and its results, we shall have to say, each time, whether it remains faithful to its first noble promise or if, through indolence or folly, it forgets its original purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny or servitude.

While I agree that this is the healthiest form of rebellion and the essence of collective struggle, I don’t think it adequately captures the nuance of rebellion itself, which can be particular and against any universalization, not just a particular configuration of oppressive authority, nor do I think that rebellion — even politically manifested — can be said to have a purpose in many cases, especially in the diversity in individual motivations for participating in a collective movement.4One cannot maintain the collectivity which a civil society is without all rebellions being normative rebellions, for if they were other than that, they would rather be schisms than rebellions, the formation of new social bodies rather than the reformation of a social body already existing.

1: While I use the figure of speech “missing something” here, it could very well be that Camus just chose to omit nuance for the sake of clarity and effect, something I am clearly incapable of doing. In general, I tend to dislike the attribution of an omission to the fault of the author, as the complete articulation of a conception — especially a concept of any breadth of application — can fill many volumes and many more hours. Whether or not Camus missed something, I just added something, or I merely explored some implications of his concept is all up to the individual judge. The critical tone is heavy today, for whatever reason — perhaps, because the work in question is so rhetorically powerful, it takes a great deal vitriol to not simply agree and to be able to engage with it at all.
2: A project of pure revolt as figured in Bædan #1, a queer anarchist journal: “Halting the ceaseless pursuit of a better world for the Child, our project centers itself on immediate fulfillment, joy, conflict, vengeance, conspiracy and pleasure. Rather than politics, we engage in social war. Without demands, we expropriate what we desire. Instead of representation, we rely on autonomous self organization. We do not protest, we attack.” This is an example of an anti-political project, one which denies the universal authority — the government — to which it is opposed, as well as any static, collective identity of even those who participate in the project. A further figuration of the anti-political — and hence pure revolt — is given by John Moore here: “For the ecdysiast, the decision to dress or stay naked depends purely upon individual desire,but anyway a peripheral concern. The key issue remains the sloughing of dead tissue, the character armour, internalized authority, the Leviathanic integument — and hence to the elimination of the entire control complex. Ecdysis thus becomes part of the wider psychosocial biodegradation process. Individually and collectively, people who reject the identities and postures assigned to them by the control force, begin to emerge in the positive anarchy or chaos which predates the creation.” (Ecdysiast here means only one who seeks to destroy internalized authority structures in themself — “kill the cop in your head”, as they say.) The emphasis here is not on collectivity or a shared suffering, but on the liberation of the individual and their subjugation in collective structures. I felt obligated to include these perspectives, not only because they relate, but also because I believe they provide a valuable line of inquest which might lead out of the political dilemma that collective politics face — and ideology based on universal categories more generally. Though, I do think one has to be careful with the extremity of some of these idea’s implications.
3: The mediation of the spirit of rebellion — or, more, revolution — and the sacred could be said to be exactly what Hegel was attempting with a philosophy of progress, each step in said progress, while being righteous, also holding within itself impetus to change. Under this philosophy, one can still affirm the sacred character of what is without thereby affirming its conservation as desirable — one can still engage critically with what in its nature calls for critique without, at least spiritually, denying its rectitude: an interesting work around, one which I’ve not formed a solid opinion on as of yet.
4: I mean here that, while a collective movement may have an explicit creed, that creed doesn’t usually reflect the motivations of those who participate in that movement. Take, for example, liberal arts education: while there is the old scholastic rhetoric that circulates — “the formation of well rounded individuals” etc. — many people who go through these programs do so for economic reasons, rather than any notion of self development, or under the coercion of or blind adherence to social norms. One can follow this line of reasoning for any collective institutions — can imagine a plethora of individual uses these institutions could serve.

Camus, The Rebel, Pt. 1 : Introduction

Over the next couple days, I will be doing a series of blog post about The Rebel by Camus. I was inspired to take on this task after watching a documentary about the conflict between Camus and Sartre, inspired initially by the work under discussion. Already a fan of Sartre, I decided to check out his rival, for I always find the intellectual enemies of great thinkers are usually great thinkers themselves, no matter the latter’s opinion of the former. Just the introduction was sufficient — I wholly, even from so small of an exposure, believe Camus to be a genius, if not philosophically, than in his recognition of the extra-philosophical function of philosophy.  He writes in the introduction:

“Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and they have a perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be used for any purpose—even for transforming murderers into judges.”

The utilization of rationality to excuse that which springs forth from the passion of an extra-rational subject is a personal peeve of mine and something which Camus here demonstrates a firm grasp of. Written in the context of the Soviet abuse of ideology to justify horrendous atrocities — not to long after a similar utilization of ideology by the Nazis (“massacres justified by philanthropy [Soviet] or by a taste for the superhuman [Nazi]”) — Camus warns us of “crimes of logic”, which, in his view, are not as acceptable as crimes of passion that make no pretense to rectitude.

He compares the tyranny of the middle ages — “slaves dragged behind chariots” etc. — and the tyranny of now, the former being unabashedly what it is, an abuse of power, while the latter “dons the apparel of innocence”, justifying its use of force philosophically. The use of abstract logic to justify the forceful exclusion and, in this case, extermination of other perspectives and ways of life is an insidious feature of many of the political movements of the 20th century — on the left and on the right — and Camus here seeks to flesh out the moral acceptability of this use of logic.

Starting from his “absurdist position”, which he asserts holds life as the only inherent good, he seeks then to prove that murder is then, when based on logic, wholly against this one inherent good. There being no other good but the good of life itself in absurdism — at least not as self evident — murder (and suicide) are exactly what is excluded by absurdism; or, as he puts it:

From the moment that life is recognized as good, it becomes good for all men. Murder cannot be made coherent when suicide is not considered coherent. A mind imbued with the idea of the absurd will undoubtedly accept fatalistic murder; but it would never accept calculated murder. In terms of the encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe, murder and suicide are one and the same thing, and must be accepted or rejected together.

He then goes on to differentiate absurdism from “absolute nihilism” by claiming that, in contraposition to absurdism, nihilism denies the value of life, giving rise to — or ethically legitimating — logical murder. While I understand the point, I do think it is poorly stated and given to the overblown phrasing of philosophy not torn from its mores in other genres of writing — though that is precisely where Camus has his appeal for me. For a system of philosophy to legitimate murder, it must legitimate that murder on the grounds of something — some value held above the life of the individual(s) murdered — and so I don’t think the phrasing “absolute nihilism” is correct for the systems of thought which legitimate logical murder. However, Camus would not be able to deliver such an engaging account of the issues without some of the philosophical imperfections which are, concurrently, stylistic perfections. An “absolute negation” must result in the complete destruction of everything, or that must be its aim, but the orders of logical murder don’t negate merely for absolute destruction, but to create something which they value more than life upon the ruins of that which they have absolutely negated. (A point Camus makes about the stance of the rebel further on.) To not value human life is not to not value anything; his absolute negation may very well be “…a single system,the system of a misguided intelligence that prefers, to the suffering imposed by a limited situation, the dark victory in which heaven and earth are annihilated”, but it is a system which would see a new heaven and earth established, even if, holding that, they would see the demise of the existing heaven and earth anyway.

Unfortunately, he goes on to invalidate the conclusion he makes above about absurdism — that it values life — and asserts its absolute incoherence, that “it does not provide us with values which will enable us to decide whether murder is legitimate or not”, even going on to designate the absurd as primarily an emotional climate that, while it gives rise to evaluative statements, is not itself a value. In his words: “Absurdism […] leaves us in a blind alley.” Absurdism being excluded as a source of values, he can only conceive of rebellion as a source of value and rational articulation.

Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition. But its blind impulse is to demand order in the midst of chaos, and unity in the very heart of the ephemeral. It protests, it demands, it insists that the outrage be brought to an end, and that what has up to now been built upon shifting sands should henceforth be founded on rock. Its preoccupation is to transform. But to transform is to act, and to act will be, tomorrow, to kill, and it still does not know whether murder is legitimate. Rebellion engenders exactly the actions it is asked to legitimate. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that rebellion find its reasons within itself, since it cannot find them elsewhere. It must consent to examine itself in order to learn how to act.

I would argue that rebellion as described above, in some of its features, is almost identical to a formulation of fascism — or identical with the impetus which grows into fascism in the feature of wanting to impose stability on an unstable and chaotic world. He seeks to discover whether or not this rebellion against the inherent chaos and injustice in the world — in reference to any conception of justice held — “must end in universal murder”, or whether it might maintain some concept of justice (“reasonable culpability”, as he puts it.)

I’m almost certain that he will address the majority of my criticisms in this first post within the following the following chapters, which I am looking forward to reading, so I hope any rhetorical reader who has already finished this book might be graceful with my initial critical attitude. I find it interesting to see the paths a given piece evokes in my own thinking and how well those paths align with the actual direction the author ends up taking the text, hence why I attempt an exploration of the ideas before the author himself has finished exploring them.

“I desire you obligation; love your abnegation; revel in your self effacement!” Thus spake the one I loved, and thus my heart wilted and loved no longer.
“My limitation is the condition for our union; my separation from another the measure of my love for you? Is that so? It is not! Singularly and beyond the world — beyond all others within it and within me — my heart beats always with a shade of you!” But, the tribal heart understood me not, loved me not — except me as mask, as totem, as parody of myself, as isomorphism of my past.
“Sacrifice — pay what I require, or pay you me — these be your only options.” Held out was a locket, an amulet of expectation, but I took it not, could not take it.
𝐴𝑛𝑑 𝑠𝑜 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑝 𝑖𝑛 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑚𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑛𝑒𝑒𝑑, 𝑑𝑟𝑜𝑤𝑛 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑜𝑤𝑛 𝑓𝑟𝑒𝑒𝑑𝑜𝑚 — “𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑠𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢; 𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑠𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢!” — 𝑤𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑝𝑦 𝑎𝑡 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑓𝑎𝑖𝑙𝑢𝑟𝑒, 𝑟𝑒𝑗𝑜𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑎𝑡 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑖𝑛 ℎ𝑎𝑣𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑢𝑠. 𝐹𝑒𝑒𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑒𝑙 𝑔𝑙𝑖𝑛𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑘𝑛𝑖𝑓𝑒, 𝑓𝑒𝑒𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑛𝑜 𝑓𝑎𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛, 𝑓𝑒𝑒𝑙 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑟𝑒𝑗𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑡𝑜 𝑟𝑒𝑗𝑒𝑐𝑡. 𝑂𝑢𝑟 𝑙𝑜𝑣𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝑒𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛, 𝑜𝑢𝑟 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝑡𝑟𝑜𝑛𝑔ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑑: 𝑑𝑖𝑒 𝑎𝑚𝑜𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑠 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑔𝑜 𝑎𝑠 𝑦𝑜𝑢.

4/10/19 11:30 PM

There is the problem where one does not know how to balance between one’s own interests and the more pragmatic tasks assigned one by one’s context, and then there is the problem—less easy to remediate—which is the total disinvestment of all outside one’s interests by a too total engagement with those interests, not on the level of time nor even attention in a conscious sense, but in the sense of a disposition which tends towards extremities in one’s lived experience of the value of things—not being torn between a less and a more of value, but between a nullity and a total investment.

There are heights in any pursuit, goals which, in order to even conceive of, require the sacrifice of every other pursuit, and I dare say that anyone who has ever been passionate about any practice has seen glimpses of such lofty possibilities beyond their horizons, has been tempted to pay what they require. But, we cannot—can we? We would be fools to sacrifice the diversity of life for such obsessions… yet some of us tend towards those obsessions, towards such sacrifices, whether we will to make them or not.

In the absence of all else, one produces the image of everything from oneself, creates the world which one has sacrificed—but how empty a world which contains only one, no matter that ones splitting into multitudes.