With the twentieth century only now starting to recede into the distance a little bit, spending a little time working out what one doesn’t believe in somehow seems to be a better use of time than deciding what one does.
For what it’s worth, here’s my five so far:
“It’s easy to be cynical,” people say. Does it follow then that being a nihilist is like falling off a log?
Rejecting all systems of belief or belonging on the basis of their existence, no matter how attractive or unattractive they might be?…
I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty difficult to me.
100% pure negativity has got to be pretty exhausting. How does the average nihilist get up in the morning? Do they have to set fire to the sheets to give themselves an impetus to get out of bed? (On the wrong side, obviously.)
Maybe the true nihilist never sleeps, just so he can pack the maximum amount of swingeing spite into the day.
Those same people who tend to profess a disbelief in everything also say, “do what you want as long as you’re happy”. It’s the ethics of the Knightsbridge Hippie:
Choosing a position in the middle of opposing forces and seeking to balance their flow through the body is the first principle of the physical expression of the doctrine of Taoism: ‘Yang’ approximate to the tendency to disperse, and ‘yin’ to the tendency to gather.
The movements of Taoism’s physical mode of expression—the ancient art of Tai Chi—attempt to describe this circuit of equal and opposite intensities in physical space with as little entropy as possible. Yet, it’s still almost impossible not to regard the Self as the epicentre of the flux.
Bertrand Russell’s view of Taoist precepts was of a system describing, “production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination”. Especially now, in the age of ‘free’ content, producing anything without a specific, fixed place for it assured is to be subject to the same kind of Janus-faced condition:
The maintenance of a dedicated passion and zealous commitment to a piece of work and a blithe indifference to whether or not anyone might ever value experience of it at some time in the near (or distant) future.
As Captain Beefheart so sanguinely said (from his position as a professional musician),
“Music should be free, because from where I got it, I didn’t have to pay for it.”
Writing for Esquire in 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald mentioned the necessity of accommodating two equal and opposite ideas in the head at the same time (appoximate to Keats’ ideas of negative capability), commented on here by Allen Ginsberg in an interview with John Lofton from Harper’s in 1990:
“…the quality of a very great poet like Shakespeare was his ability to contain opposite ideas in the mind without an irritable reaching out after fact and reason. Meaning that that part of the mind which judges, and irritably insists on either black or white, is only a small part of the mind. The larger mind observes the contradiction, and contains those contradictions. The mind that notices that it contradicts itself is bigger than the smaller mind that is taking one side or the other.”
But doesn’t even that place the writer’s Ego at the centre of things?
Paying even scant attention to the media, it’s tempting to think that maybe all that any of us has ever been, or can ever aspire to be, is an acted upon product of economic propensities: Skills, qualifications, career choices; relationships and peers even start to seem like nothing more than signs and signifiers of an upset balance of payments, or the almighty Budget Deficit inscribed in human flesh.
Is there more to life than this, and more importantly, is anyone writing about it, now that Vonnegut, Deleuze, Guattari, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson and J.G. Ballard are all dead?
The Occam’s Razor of Thatcherism/Reaganomics and is that it’s foolhardy to believe in anything other than yourself. But what happens when the individual realises he is no longer his own hero?
A lot of Chuck Palahniuk’s work is about the necessity of finding something larger than the self to believe in, and to hitch the wagon to, (especially ‘Fight Club’). As many contemporary writers and theorists have pointed out at length, the mind has a desire for belonging, if not a desire to be led (the source of and inherent attraction of fascism, and the psychological explanation of religion), but can anyone point me in the direction of any writers that have really addressed the problem of distortion by the writer’s Ego as the point of reference for everything?
Until we get past that, aren’t we all doomed to repeating the same literary mistakes of the last hundred years?
IMAGES: Screen grab from clip of ‘The Big Lebowski’ posted on youtube.com, all others used under CC Creative Commons licence.