Tuesday, 8 March 2011


1.  The Emptiness of ‘My’
2.  Taking Ownership of Shame
3.  ‘My’ Will

1. The Emptiness of ‘My’

The world is full of ‘my’ which is not ‘mine’.  My Book, My Computer, My Documents, My Lord, MySpace, (Where’s) My Stuff, etc.  Everyone knows this ‘my’ is an everyman – an anybody.  Yet one says it with so much fervour of possession.  Wittgenstein kept returning to the question of ‘my pain’.  He concluded that it is impossible to know whose pain it is even if someone calls it his.  Is this because pain is generic or is it the ‘my’?  If you cannot be sure if your pain is yours, of what can you be sure?  My happiness?  Happiness is often illusory, based on false premises.  Adorno says in “Minima Moralia”, anyone who says, “I am happy” is lying. (72)  He or she can only say “I was happy”.  When one is ‘in happiness’ one is not aware of being happy or unhappy – one just is.  When someone says “I am happy” –he is trying to force happiness magically into his world.  He gives birth to himself out of happiness – auto-parturition – to be able to see how he is in his happiness.  An impossible exteriority.
He thus ‘sins’ against happiness, which can never be coerced nor possessed, and whose advent and departure are both slow and abrupt.  Happiness is like truth in its elusiveness – one cannot have it, only be in it.  Does that mean that unhappiness is like falsehood?  And that when one says “I am unhappy” one is also lying?  Or is unhappiness as the state of no longer being in happiness, expelled from all protective happiness shells, reflecting upon this state of expulsion (banishment), as much or more ‘in truth’ than happiness?  Unhappiness is the general, happiness the particular of truth? 

Are then your chimera your own – or do they belong to the age from which you have only borrowed them? Solely from the principle of the conservation of energy – why should any chimera exist merely for the benefit of a singular deluded ‘nullity’?  A chimera collectivizes as much if not more than truth – just as a community is a chimera of being-with or being-in-common.

Whatever it is – ‘my’ denotes ownership, the key term of our mercantile times.  Ownership should be the most tangible relation one could conceive.  But it is not.  Not to act or to be but to have – to be able to say ‘my’ establishes one’s firm roots in the soil of the real.  But precisely this ‘my’ is a nobody, a figment of grammar.  ‘My’ is a form of ‘linguistic alienation’, of identity shredded by grammar – the emptiness of the grammatical body corresponds in some ways to the emptiness of the body it designates.

In the colloquial manner of today – when everything, to make it simple, is couched in the first person – ‘my’ is an absence, a void to be filled by a transaction, an exchange of money for goods.  The transaction creates the ‘my’.  ‘My’ is a reflex and adjunct of possession of an object for which money has been paid.  If someone gives you the object as a gift then you may also say it is ‘mine’ but the relationship of ‘my’ to that object is more tenuous.  The giver might want it back.  You have no rights of ownership as you may have if you have bought your ‘my’.  A gift is always a favour which is riddled with traps of another sort.  Perhaps by accepting the gift, the giver has ‘bought’ you – so that he can now say ‘my’ when referring to you.  This is merely a transaction of a second degree.  Your ‘my’ has been bought, rather than you buying a ‘my’ hegemony over an object.  Mon pauvre (garcon).

Such are the complicated workings of community or communitas as discussed by Roberto Esposito.  The obligations of community often leave you little choice in matters of gift-giving and gift-receiving unless the negative principle of immunitas exempts you from this bondage of the ‘law of the gift’.  The Mafia is based on these sorts of patronage laws – the offer you can’t refuse.  The community is a permanent lack like the ‘my’ itself – the absence of the gift one may never keep which keeps giving itself.
“This is why, if the members of a community are characterized by an obligation of gift-giving thanks to the law of the gift and of the care to be exercised toward the other, immunity implies the exemption from or derogation of such a condition of gift-giving.  He is immune who is safe from obligations or dangers that concern everyone else, from the moment that giving something in and of itself implies a diminishment of one’s own goods and in the ultimate analysis of oneself.” (Interview with Roberto Esposito, T. Campbell in diacritics/summer 2006, pp. 50-51)

Given the phantom nature of ‘my’ - of possession in general – expropriation is not a very solid political aim.  Ownership of the means of production is as empty as no ownership of the means of production.  The ever-fluctuating emptiness of ‘my’ is a virtue (in the sense of power) of capitalism.  Does ‘our’ have more substance than  ‘my’?

2.  Taking Ownership of Shame

One should become like Stendhal and look social debacles straight in the eye.  Admit to shame and one’s own false ambition.  Only in such moments does one sense one’s own superiority, to have committed these gruesome social offences and beyond that to implicate the entire society in one’s own loss of face.  How hard it is to confess, one had wanted to make an unforgettable impression upon persons one holds in contempt – at least occasionally or temporarily.  Why this is so – is ineffable.  When these persons, objects of your disdain, (glad to have belonged to your cohors amicorum, commensales, to the friends of your table in better days) for their part, openly demonstrate their loathing, scorn, vapidly amuse themselves at your cost for all to see – that is when social shame has reached total ripeness.  Shame is not a wound, no blood flows.  Shame paralyzes, makes you feel cold and hot at the same time, goes away slowly like the numbness from a dental injection, leaves an aching point.

3.  ‘My’ Will

What does it mean when something is inevitable?

One type of the inevitable is the irrevocable state.  A word said, a contract signed, a gift given cannot be taken back, undone.  The will let loose in the first act continues to exist, indeed extorts its separate existence from the empirical character (Dasein) who considers this will his own.  After any given act of will there are at least two manifestations of that will – the originating party (Dasein) and all the effects of will, which comprise a sub- or supra-Dasein.  The unwilled will ‘effect’ or ‘astral’ Dasein continues to strive detached from its original body – irregardless of any ‘change’ of will at the source or any other new or subsequent acts of will subtracting from the thrust of the first act.  Far from it to shrivel up and die for lack of life spirits (as clinging vines do when cut off from their roots), it is the disembodied will, which can be said to be inevitable.  A career of the detached will and its ultimate tragedy can be studied in Shakespeare’s King Lear.  When you divest yourself of your will, you usually end up being divested of your life by your disembodied will.  Proof of the innate disloyalty of will is the ease with which one’s ‘own’ will can turn on one in allegiance with heretofore hostile forces.  Disloyalty or infidelity is the natural state – like the force of gravity – or clinamen – an act of will is an atom of intentionality propelled by drive, once out in the universe it has no organ of recognition orienting it ‘back’ to its point of departure.  The astral will is lawless, rudderless, utterly promiscuous and stops only when its amoral energy is depleted. 

The changeability of the will demonstrates nothing so much as that one’s will never belonged to one in the first place, it belongs in the true sense to no one, not even to those hostile forces.  It resides in them as accidentally and as perversely as it once did in oneself.

In later writings, Nietzsche seems to have abandoned his automatic references to power or force as will – in favour of an abstract effect of force in time and space.  He develops a theory of “Zeitatomistik” (time-atomism) in a fragment from Spring 1873, in which he defines force as only a “Funktion der Zeit” (function of time).  The force itself lies in the degree of acceleration or retardation.  He tries to resolve age old disputes about movement and Parmenidean static unchanging force in time and space.  Time is seen as time-space where force needs both in order to exist or manifest itself.  Marx’s idea of circulation posits a movement which is neither pure time nor space – as it does not move in the usual sense of covering distance or being actio in distans, and yet it too as a force is a “Funktion der Zeit”, measured in its acceleration and deceleration between “time-points” at varying distances from one another.  The closer the points are to one another the faster and greater the force of circulation.  (see Friedrich Nietzsche, Nachgelassene Fragmente, Frühjahr 1873 26[12] in Kritische Studienausgabe, herausgegeben von Giorigio Colli und Mazzino Montinari, Bd 2227, p. 578)

Sometimes it is very useful not to do anything.  Nietzsche has a curious way of mocking action in “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft” (The Gay Science) despite his idée fixe of the will or the act as will-to-power.  How does that fit together?  This mocking of action is implied by scattered remarks in reference to Boscovich and Nietzsche’s rudimentary “Zeitatomistik” (time-atomism) such as:
“no matter (Boscovich)
no will
no thing in itself
no aim”

(“kein Stoff (Boscovich)
 kein Wille
 kein Ding an Sich
 kein Zweck”
Nietzsche, Sommer-Herbst 1884 26 [302] in Kritische Studienausgabe, herausgegeben von Giorigio Colli und Mazzino Montinari, Bd 2231, p. 231)

They all must be inseparable concepts for Nietzsche – you can’t have one without being obliged to the rest.  A will has a direction – a goal – for Schopenhauer it is the Ding an Sich, and without matter it loses its aspect of being a power to form/shape (gestaltende Kraft).  The act is still part of vita contemplativa – nothing is further from usefulness for society than Nietzsche’s idea of action.  Everything considered by society to be a means (zweckmäßig) with or without ends is despicable for him.  That is the view of the herd, the “struggle for existence”.  Oddly the proponents of this struggle – “der liebe Spencer et hoc genus omne” (“dear Spencer et hoc genus omne”) –reckon the “voluntary donation of urine” amongst expressions of altruism. (Nietzsche, op. cit., 26 [303])

So why do we still speak of ‘my’ will or categorically assert, “I want”?  To use a trite example – a will is a self-piloting bus or streetcar into which groups of individuals enter, although they each regard themselves as the sole occupant or passenger.  Having reached their destination, they exit the will, expecting its journey likewise to be at an end.  But the will’s bus route is endless and timeless, hence the utter hopelessness of trying to possess it.  In reality it is the master of stopping at the station and going on at the same time.  One can avoid the extremities of risk and disaster by never trusting one’s will to do what one wants, never confide in it or only those things one desires publicized in the whole world or about whose disclosure, divulgence or leakage one is perfectly indifferent. 

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