ignorant comments on nihilistic elements in esoteric culure

[Image by Marcelo Bodese, found and stolen from the 2nd feature of this great post; the violent pessisimism of this image is exactly what I want to show some opposition to in this post]

There is something strange about elements of the Western psyche that finds only horror, terror, indifference and nihilism in the universe. Luckily this phenomenon is quite accurately attached itself as a cliche only to white, isolated men. Some thoughts on this phenomenon and common outlook (which I have somehow magically identified as definitely a real, legitimate trend, simply by thinking of it? wow!) were spurred on by reading this interview with Jute Gyte by my favourite music (and all things somewhat esoteric) site, The Quietus (nihilistic even in its name!). The most consistent cultural and philosophical of his influence is definitely that of the dark; Nietzsche, Ligotti, Lovecraft. His musical influences clearly of a similar abstract-horror and abrasion; his album Old Ways sounds like the cruelest elements of Burzum’s Filosofem, if it were recorded in a dystopian death camp. His music is something I can enjoy in only very particular moods and mindsets, and usually still as something more akin to an academic listening exercise (shame I understand absolutely none of it on a theoretical level) than a visceral, totalising emotional experience; but it does the trick. Anyway, reading his interview and thinking about some of the figures and work he mentioned, made me reflect upon the strange cults and communities of creative-nihilistic excess that haunt certain ideas and dominate their aesthetic configurations and the majority of their referential gesturings in books, films, interviews and other media; yet for seemingly no reason. I’ll highlight two examples in particular, and attempt to explain why the people who hold to these ideas/concepts do so more from an aesthetic-emotional condition rather than revealing the inner depths and realities of the ideas they are espousing. (I shall briefly talk about ideas of no-self, and nihilism in the face of a determined/indifferent universe)

First; the notion of no-self is quite frequently (although not universally) promoted in terms of fear, horror and leads to a passive acceptance of nihilism, when ever expressed culturally. As Gyte expresses in the linked interview, the ideas of no-self represented by Thomas Metzinger (essentialy one of scientific reductionism)  might enable a high degree of pessimism akin to that of a final, destabilising Copernican revolution in which finally the human subject is toppled from its throne into the determined-chaos of the physical cosmos. Yet their seems little reason to embrace outlook of antagonism towards the individual and human spirit; the self may exist only on some largely arbitrary physical level, built up through psychological continuity, or in no way beyond the performances of the self (as the post-structuralist corpus from Nietzsche to Foucault to Butler contend), but why is this in anyway a terrifying concept for some people? The work of the sadly recently passed Derek Parfitt, in his seminal and influential work Reasons and Persons, (with his great intellectual forefather Hume, paving the way) provides a critical yet ardent account of the no-self theory but is similarly capable of developing important and extensive ethical theory on this basis (particularly on our responsibility for future generations.) Similarly, Parfitt’s Eastern philosophical companion, Buddhism, has established a somewhat harrowing (for the Western religious mind) account of the non-self throughout its historical, spiritual lineage; in the Buddha’s own Snake sutta, the works of Nagarjuna, and also in Vasubhandu’s works, notions of non-self are far richer and diverse than in their western counter-parts. Yet neither the cultural image of Buddhism nor the dry, dustiness of analytic Philosophy promote a fear of the non-self which is violent, nihilistic and self-destrucitve. It is more so simply a peculiar, specific cultural and aesthetic binding to the non-self as a concept to invoke terror and horror (to explain why it appeals to introverted, white men is beyond me; apart from its obvious intensity as something to feature in artistic expression, the reason why it seems to appear from similar sources eludes me.) than one necessitated from adopting a certain philosophical position.

Vasubandhu – 5th century Buddhist scholar

Secondly, the idea of a universe which is completely indifferent, and thus hostile, towards humanity (always specifically embodied in the terror felt by the individual, never the collective? odd, but revealing.) and in which we hold no privileged position or existence, is similarly adopted in terms of great nihilism on a cultural level. Obviously Nietzsche is omnipresent in all expressions of this idea (although I’d argue Heraclitus, the Weeping Philosopher, seemingly held similar sentiments), as Jute Gyte repeatedly refers to in his interview. Most other cultural and aesthetic expressions of this idea have similar derision and hatred in response to the lowered status of humanity (although figures like Camus seem to present the positive face of accepting our dethronement, in works like his Myth of Syphus); in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, most explicitly in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and perhaps even recently, with immense Kierkegaardian anxiety, in Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence. But why does this sense of indifference from the universe necessarily entail an all encompassing pessimism about being? Why does the eternal, unbridgeable beyond-ness of our surroundings ensure we must exist in hostility with them? Again, I think its more of a socio-cultural expression than anything inherent with the philosophical notion itself; the loss of religious faith and certainty does not cast humanity into the flames rather re-positions it next to the heat of the fire. Perhaps the great emotional pull in my incomplete, incoherent understanding of Object-Oriented Ontology is its outlining of an equalized universe of Being; all objects withdraw from their totality of relations and cannot be exhausted by either theory or praxis, and the promise of a flat ontology grounds the human object in a more peaceful world of shared being; the responsibility of revealling the being and generating the existence of objects around us no longer necessary. The loss of some unifying, leading transcendent force can be overcome, arguably, on a reconfiguration of the individual in the terms of the political (what that means, I am not sure); we do not have to revert to quite stale secular, politically passive and scientistic Humanism to generate new ways of being.

Thanks Jute Gyte, stay dark.




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