Act the First: “When the false becomes true, truth itself is but a mirage. When nothingness becomes reality, reality in turn falls into nothingness.”

(The inscriptions at either side of the entrance to the “Kingdom of Dreams and Immense Illusion” in the Dream of the Red Chamber)

 

Western civilization is living on credit. It thought it could last forever, and get off without paying the outstanding debt it owes for its lies.  But now it’s suffocating under their crushing dead weight. Thus, before entering into more substantial considerations, we have to start by clearing the air, and unburdening this world of a few of its illusions.  For example: the fact is that modernity has never existed.  We’re not going to linger over indisputable facts. That the term “modernity” now just evokes a bored irony, no matter the progressivist senility accompanying it, and that it has finally appeared as what it always was -- just a verbal fetish that the superstition of shitheads and simple spirits, ever since the supposed “Renaissance,” have decorated the progressive rise of commodity relations to a state of social hegemony with, in favor of interests we understand only all too well -- hardly merits any critical explanation.  This is just another vulgar brutish use of labels, whose elucidation we’ll leave to the priests of tomorrow’s historicism.  We’ve got far more serious things to deal with.  In fact, in the same way as commodity relations never really existed as such, i.e., as commodity relations, but only as relations between men mutilated into relations between things, everything that is said to be, believed to be, or held up as being “modern” has never really existed as modern. The essence of the economy, that transparent pseudonym with which commodity modernity always tries to pass itself off as eternally obvious, has nothing economic about it; and in fact, its foundation, which is also its program, can be expressed in these rude terms: it is THE NEGATION OF METAPHYSICS -- that is, the negation of that the transcendence of which is for humanity the effective cause of immanence; to put it in other words, it is the negation of that which makes sense of the world, of the imperceptible appearing within the perceptible. This fine project is wholly contained within the aberrant but effective illusion that a complete separation between the physical and the metaphysical is possible - a fallacy which most often takes form as the underlying reality behind the physical reality, setting itself up as the model for all objectivity, and logically commanding a myriad of local ruptures, between life and meaning, dreams and reason, individual and society, means and ends, artist and bourgeois, intellectual work and physical labor, bosses and workers, etc. - which are not, by and large, any less absurd - with all these concepts becoming abstract and losing all their content outside of their living interaction with their opposites.  Now, since such a separation is really impossible, that is, humanly impossible, and since the liquidation of humanity has so far failed, nothing modern has ever existed as such. What is modern is not real, what is real is not modern. Thus there is indeed a realization of this program, but as it perfects itself at present we also see that it is just the opposite of what it thought it was, in a word: the complete de-realization of the world. And the whole extent of the visible now carries within it – with its vacillating character - the brutal proof that the realized negation of metaphysics is in the end but the realization of a metaphysics of negation. The functionalism and materialism inherent to commodity modernity have produced a void everywhere, but this void corresponds to the primordial metaphysical experience: where there is no longer any response that goes beyond mere being-there, which would permit a position within the latter to be taken, anxiety surges forth, and the metaphysical character of the world blossoms in plain sight for everyone. Never has the sentiment of foreignness been so pregnant as it is in the face of the abstract productions of a world that had intended to bury it under the immense, unquestionable opulence of its accumulated commodities. Places, clothes, words and architecture, faces, acts, gazes and loves are nothing anymore but the terrible masks invented by one and the same absence to put on in order to approach us.  Nothingness has visibly taken up residence in the intimate depths of things and beings, and the smooth surface of spectacular appearances is cracking everywhere as a result of its growth. The physical sensation of its proximity is no longer the ultimate experience reserved for a few mystical circles.  On the contrary it is the only sensation left to us by the capitalist world, the only sensation still intact, and indeed increased tenfold, as all the others are slated to disappear.  It also happens to have been precisely the one it had explicitly proposed to eliminate.  All the products of this society- whether the hollow conceptuality of the Young-Girl, contemporary urbanism, or techno- are things that the spirit has gone out of, things that have outlived all their meaning and all their reason for being. These are all just interchangeable symbols that replace each other moving about on one plane; it’s not that these symbols signify nothing, as the kindly morons of postmodernism like to think – indeed they signify Nothingness itself.  All the things of this world live on in a perceptible state of exile. They are the victims of a faint and constant loss of being. Indeed, this modernity, which claims to be free of mystery and thought it had liquidated metaphysics, has instead realized it. It has produced a décor comprised purely of phenomena, of pure beings-there that are nothing beyond the simple fact that they are there, in their empty positivity, and which ceaselessly push humanity to feel “the marvel of marvels: that being-there is” (Heidegger, What is Metaphysics?). In this ultramodern hall of ice, marble, and steel we’ve wandered into, a slight relaxation of our cerebral constriction suffices for us to be brutally confronted with seeing all that exists slip away and be inverted into a simultaneously oppressive and floating presence where nothing remains. Thus we get the experience of Total Otherness even in the most common of circumstances, even in newly renovated bakeries. Before us is spread a world that can no longer hold our gaze, a world that can no longer look us in the eye.  Anxiety is on guard duty at every street corner.  Now this disastrous experience, wherein we are violently expelled from all that exists, is the experience of transcendence and of the irremediable negativity contained in us. In that experience is the whole of the asphyxiating “reality” that all the great machinery of social deception works to make us take for granted, that suddenly and in so cowardly a way collapses, into the vast chasm of its nullity. This experience is the birth of metaphysics, where metaphysics appears precisely as metaphysics, where the world appears as the world.  But the metaphysics that arises again there is not the same metaphysics that people had hunted down and banished, because it returns as the truth and negation of what had defeated the old metaphysics: as a conquering force, as critical Metaphysics.  Because the project of capitalist modernity is nothing, its realization is but the spreading desertification of everything that exists.  And we are here to ravage that desert.

 Enthroned on its rickety stilts in the middle of the mounting catastrophes, commodity domination no longer feels at home in the singular state of things that it itself nonetheless produced, every detail of which contradicts it more. And by domination we mean specifically the symbolically mediated relation of complicity between the dominators and the dominated; so for us there is a little doubt that “the torturer and the tortured are one, that the former is fooling himself believing he’s not himself tortured, and the latter believing he’s not participating in the crime”: go sit at the back of the class, Bourdieu! To convince ourselves of this, we can merely take a close look at the steps taken by our contemporaries, who are reminiscent of a band of deserters running after themselves, spurred on by their own metaphysical disquiet. It’s a full time job now for Blooms to get themselves out of the fundamental experience of nothingness, which destroys all simple faith in this world. The mockery of things threatens to overwhelm his consciousness at any given moment.  To not know the forgetting of Being, the retreat of which closes in on us in every metropolitan slum, every vagina, and every gas station, now requires a daily ingestion of almost lethal doses of Prozac, news, and Viagra. But all these temporary fixes don’t suppress the anxiety, they just mask it, and banish it to an obscurity that only spurs on its silent growth. And in the end, in order to sell their lies and disease, women’s magazines all the same end up having to convince their readers that “the truth is good for your health,” cosmetics multinationals are decide to put things like “metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology” on their packaging, TF1 sets up the “quest for meaning”, as a profitable principle for its upcoming programming, and Starck, that enlightened counterfeiter, gives La Redoute information about its competitors a few years in advance by putting together for it a “catalogue of non-products for use by non-consumers.”  It’s hard to imagine how so totally at a loss domination must have been internally to get to such a state. In these conditions, critical thought must stop waiting for a mass revolutionary subject to constitute itself to show how imminent social upheaval is. It must rather learn to see this in the formidable explosion of the social demand for entertainment/distraction in recent times. That kind of a phenomenon is a sign that the pressure of essential questions which were for so long left unanswered, so profitably, has crossed the line into the intolerable. Because, if people distract themselves so furiously, it must be that they’re getting their minds off something, and this something must be becoming an very obsessing presence. “If man were happy, he would be all the happier the less distracted/entertained he was.” (Pascal).

 

Let’s suppose that the object that spreads such a significant terror everywhere, which people can deny the effective action of only so long as it is unnamed, is Critical Metaphysics- and this is a definition, perhaps the clearest and most comprehensible one we’ll give ourselves. The harmless sociologists are naturally not gifted with the proper endowments to comprehend what this is about, no more than is that handful of poor aesthetes, who in vain indignation denounce the misery of the times from the lofty heights of their profession as writers, and who see its mere consumption as its consummation. We would never dream to protest against the extent of the disaster, but its meaning. The generalized fear of getting old, the charming anorexia of women, the official takeover of all life, the sexual apocalypse, the industrial management of entertainment, the triumph of the Young-Girl, the appearance of unprecedented and monstrous pathologies, the paranoid isolation of egos, the explosion of acts of gratuitous violence, the fanatical and universal affirmation of a supermarket hedonism, make an elegant litany for paroxysts of all kinds. The trained eye sees nothing in all this to lend credit to some eternal victory of the commodity and its empire of confusion; rather it sees the intensity of the generalized state of patient expectation, a messianic waiting for the catastrophe, for the moment of truth which will finally put an end to the unreality of a world of lies. On this point as on many others, it is not superfluous to be Sabbatean.

 

From the perspective we’ve taken, the resolute plunge of the masses into immanence, and their uninterrupted flight into insignificance- all things that could make us lose hope for the human race- cease to appear as positive phenomena containing their truth within themselves, and come to be seen as purely negative movements, accompanying our forced exile from of the sphere of meaning, wholly colonized by the Spectacle, from all the figures and forms in which one is permitted to appear, and which expropriate from us the meaning of our acts, and our acts themselves. But this escape is no longer enough, and it must sell off in individual packages the void left by Critical Metaphysics. The New Age, for example, corresponds to its infinitesimal dilution and the burlesque travesty by which commodity society attempts to immunize itself against it. The fact of generalized separation (between the perceptible and superperceptible as well as between humans), the project of restoring the unity of the world, the insistence on the category of totality, the primacy of the mind, and intimate knowledge of human pain combine themselves there, in a calculated fashion, as a new commodity, as new technologies. Buddhism also belongs to the mass of hygienic spiritualities that domination must put to work to save positivism and individualism in whatever form it can, so as to go on a little longer still in its nihilism. In any case people resort even to taking up the moth-eaten banner of religions, and everyone knows what a useful complement these can be to the reign of all miseries down here on earth - it goes without saying that when a weekly magazine of bigots in sneakers ingenuously worries in covering whether “Will the 21st century be religious?” one must read instead: “Will the 21st century manage to repress Critical Metaphysics?”; all the “new needs” that late capitalism flatters itself that it can satisfy, all the hysterical agitation of its employees, and even the expansion of consumer relations into the whole of human life -- all that good news that it believes it can give itself that its triumph will be a lasting one thus only show the profundity of its failure, of suffering, and of anxiety. And it is this immense suffering that inhabits so many gazes and hardens so many things, that it must always race breathlessly to put to work by degrading into needs the fundamental tension of human beings towards the sovereign realization of their virtualities, a tension that grows in proportion to the distance of their separation from them. But their evasion gets exhausted and its underlying effectiveness quickly wanes. Consumerism can longer manage to wipe away the excess of held-back tears. Thus it must put into place selection apparatuses that are ever more ruinous and drastic, so as to exclude from the gear-works of domination those who were unable to destroy any propensity towards humanity in themselves. No one who effectively participates in this society is supposed to fail to know just what it might cost for them to let their true pain be seen in public. But in spite of these machinations suffering nonetheless continues to grow in the forbidden night of intimacy, where it stubbornly gropes for a way to pour out. And since the Spectacle can’t prevent it to manifest itself forever, it must ever more often give in and allow it to come out, but only while misrepresenting its expression, by assigning one of its empty objects to the world’s mourning, one of those royal mummies it alone holds the secret recipe for the preparation of. But suffering isn’t satisfied with such doppelgangers. And so it waits patiently, almost as if lying in wait, for a brutal interruption in the regular course of the horror, where human beings would own up to themselves with an unlimited relief: “We miss everything unspeakably. We’re dying of nostalgia for Being.” (Bloy, Gladiators and Pig-Keepers).

 

It should now certainly be clear to the reader that we are not in any way the inventors of Critical Metaphysics: all we had to do was open our eyes a bit to see that it is plain on the very surface of our times, sketched out in the hollow imprint it’s left. Critical Metaphysics manifests itself to anyone that decides to live with their eyes open, which only requires a particular stubbornness that people usually just pass off as madness. Because Critical Metaphysics is rage to such degree of accumulation that it becomes a viewpoint.  But such a viewpoint, one that has recovered from all the beguilements of modernity, does not know the world as distinct from itself. It sees that in their typical forms materialism and idealism have had their day, that “the infinite is as indispensable to man as the planet he lives on” (Dostoevski), and that even where people seems to be flourishing in the most satisfied immanence, consciousness is still present, as an inaudible feeling of decay, as bad conscience. The Kojevian hypothesis of an “end of History” where man would remain “alive as an animal in accord with his given Nature and Being,” where “the post-historical animals of the species Homo Sapiens (who [would live] in abundance and total security) [would be] content in virtue of their artistic, playful, and erotic activity, since by definition they [would be content in it],” and where discursive knowledge of the world and the self would disappear, has proved to be the Spectacle’s utopia, but has revealed itself to be unrealizable as such.  There is manifestly no access to the animal condition anywhere for human beings. Naked life is still a form of life for them. The unfortunate “modern man” – we’ll let the oxymoron slide – who had such a virulent need to liberate himself of the burden of freedom, is now starting to perceive that this is impossible, that he cannot renounce his humanity without renouncing life itself, that an animalized man is still not an animal. Everything, at the end of this era, leads one to believe that man can only survive in an environment that has meaning to it. Nothing shows the extent to which the possibilities that mankind contains themselves tend towards mankind’s realization as does the effort our contemporaries put into distracting themselves from them. Even people’s crimes are dictated by their desire to find an outlet for their capacities. Thus, thinking is not a duty of man, but his essential necessity, the non-fulfillment of which is suffering -- that is, a contradiction between his possibilities and his existence. Human beings physically wilt when they negate their metaphysical dimension. At the same time, appears clearly that alienation is not a state that mankind has definitively been plunged into, but the incessant activity that people must engage in to remain alienated. The absence of consciousness is but the continual repression of consciousness. Insignificance still has meaning. The complete forgetting of the metaphysical character of all existence is certainly a catastrophe, but it is a metaphysical catastrophe. And the same affirmation, even though it’s thirty years old, still reigns in the domain of thought. “Contemporary analytic philosophy is out to exorcize such ‘myths’ or metaphysical ‘ghosts’ as Mind, Consciousness, Will, Soul, Self, by dissolving the intent of these concepts into statements on particular identifiable operations, performances, powers, dispositions, propensities, skills, etc.  The result shows, in a strange way, the impotence of the destruction- the ghost continues to haunt.” (Marcuse, One-dimensional Man).  Metaphysics is the specter that has haunted western man over the past five centuries, as he’s been trying to drown himself in immanence and has failed to do so.

changed August 26, 2010