This is a problem that ultimately reduces to one of scale, and how we can deal with the infinite expansion or contraction of scale (cosmos, culture, individual, cells, atoms — ) without giving primacy to one scale and seeing the others as beholden to that privileged center. Similarly it depends on understanding the structure of our narratives as the chief neurological process through which we come to know both the self and the world; and much as that knowing might seem irrelevant to the macro- scale that emphasizes flows, mesh-works, and all other physical processes that likely span lifetimes as we may take a single breath, even or possibly especially within emergent systems the parts are interwoven with the system, not apart from it, as input or output, but embedded in it. As it. And if we continue to see myth as “collective narrative,” then maybe the first glimmer of this integration of inner and outer, narrative and material, mythos and logos, might occur…
From the perspective of the underclass, material reality is bleak. You’re a survivor of blind evolution, stranded on a muddy rock under the harsh glare of a nuclear sun. Beyond that is an infinite universe of inert matter, dust and devastating radiation that is neither for nor against you, but simply unaware of your existence. There is no God. There is no heaven, or eternal reward. There is only another shift in the factory, or the call centre, or McDonald’s — if you’re lucky. At its determinist extreme, materialist philosophy enforces a strikingly rigid and oppressive social hierarchy.
Faced with your own inferiority in this hierarchy, why wouldn’t you plunge into fantasy? Invest your hopes in the teleporter caprices of reality TV, where faux victory in The X Factor or The Apprentice can raise you to the neon-lit stratosphere of celebrity. Light up a spliff and switch on your Xbox. Lose yourself in the colourful pages of comic books. Fulfil your dreams of being beautiful, wealthy, heroic — the centre of a universe built just for you! — and ignore the world beyond your bedsit, in which you are underpaid, unloved and anonymous. But all the while these escapist fantasies are fed by an industry that seeks merely to commodify our dreams and then sell them back to us, stripped of meaning, emptied of the true potential of human imagination. We remain in jail, only dreaming of freedom.
Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. Originality is difficult to encourage but easy to thwart.
It is because of our underlying human unity that we are able to resonate together with the possibilities of radical change.
It is because of our underlying unity with animals and the rest of the living planet that we feel a responsibility to use our human individuality for “the happiness of all species”, to allow ourselves to become nature defending itself, to accept a role as antibodies in the planetary immune system fighting off the cancerous growth that would destroy us all.
And it is because of our underlying unity with the cosmos as a whole that we can find the inner strength, the bedrock of supra-individual consciousness, with which to live and communicate the hope that can set us free.
Is this how it ends? Does it end with everyone knowing something is deeply wrong, with everyone seeing something is wrong– except bureaucrats and administrators –deeply wrong, yet being completely powerless to do something about it or change course? Does it end with everyone doped up with reality television, the latest outrage of the moment, and a deep unease, yet no one speaking up about it? Does it end with every speech act immediately getting neutralized, such that it produces little more than a ripple in the pond? Does it end with all of us standing around pointing out that it’s all wrong, that it’s a mess, and congratulating each other while going with safe choices and pragmatic realism while the water heats up?
I feel it is time to clear the air; the smoke of post-modernism still seems to linger. It is time we come to terms with what Post-Modernism means, what it meant, what it is.
First, I think it’s appropriate to begin w/ a quote from Hegel, as Debord himself does, albeit a different selection, one from Hegel’s Jena lectures 1805-6:
The human being is this Night, this empty nothing which contains everything in its simplicity–a wealth of infinitely many representations, images, none of which occur to it directly and none of which are not present…We see this Night when we look a human being in the eye, looking into a Night which turns terrifying. [For from his eyes] the night of the world hangs out toward us.
Why begin this way? What does Hegel’s anthropological metaphysics have to do with Debord’s punchy book? I think in large part it is Hegel’s treatment of identity and non-identity that Debord finds useful, and how they play into processes of identity-formation. For Hegel, the human being (nor the “Spirit” which encompasses humans individually and collectively)…
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However, rather than concentrate on realized things or achieved political events, which has been the focus of much of the twentieth century’s and, especially, the international left’s political thinking, I build on scholarship that emphasizes everyday transformations in the ways people produce, reproduce, consume, and hence compost their material worlds. In particular, I focus on what these processes of decomposition and renewal may tell us about the everyday practices through which not only people but entire ecologies—trees, soils, plants, seeds, insects, chickens, microbes, and farmers—strive to collectively change the conditions of their lives. They do so not by transcending these conditions, but rather by sinking into them, slowly turning them over, aerating, and breathing in new life that also potentiates different possibilities for and relations to death.