nihilism

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Wed May 13, 2020 4:24 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

In moral philosophy, nihilism is seen as the denial that morality exists. As Donald A Crosby argues in The Specter of the Absurd (1988), moral nihilism can be seen as a consequence of epistemological nihilism.


Here things get tricky for me.

Until we are able to grasp an understanding of existence itself [which may not even be possible] what does it mean to speak of nihilism epistemologically? After all, in regard to what we either can or cannot know about the totality of reality itself how are we are not always back to this:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

Instead, my own understanding of "moral nihilism" revolves around the distinction I make between objective knowledge derived from interactions in the either/or world and subjective/subjunctive claims of knowledge in the is/ought world. The gap between knowledge that we seem able to demonstrate as applicable to all of us and opinions embedded in our reaction to human interactions in which conflicts occur regarding behaviors deemed to be either right or wrong. The part I root in dasein.

If there exist no grounds for making objective claims about knowledge and truth, then there exist no grounds for making objective claims about right and wrong. In other words, what we take to be morality is a matter of what is believed to be right – whether that belief is relative to each historical period, to each culture or to each individual – rather than a matter of what is right.


But: As long as there are things in which objective claims of knowledge appear to be exchanged and then sustained year after year after year, where exactly is the line to be drawn between truth and opinion in regard to conflicting goods?

And each of us here is basically in the same leaky boat that has capsized philosophers going back now thousands of year. Boats filled with holes that are unable to be plugged with arguments that settle once and for all what really is the right and the wrong thing to do.

Here instead of there. Now instead of then.

Except of course in any particular philosopher's head.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Mon May 18, 2020 5:03 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

The 18th-century moral philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised the danger of grounding morality on God or on happiness as leading to moral skepticism. The belief in God can motivate people to act morally, but only as a means to the end of ending up in heaven rather than hell. The pursuit of happiness can motivate people to act morally, but we can’t be certain in advance what action will result in making people happy.


First, of course, if a God, the God does in fact exist, then whether your behaviors are ends in themselves or merely a means to immortality and salvation, what difference does it make if on Judgment Day there is an objective font from which to make that crucial distinction? If you behave virtuously on this side of the grave, is God really going to send you to Hell because your virtue was not motivated by/for the right reasons? Besides, one suspects that human motivation here is almost always going to be a complex intertwining of means and ends. You choose morality because you are obligated to, but also because doing the right thing creates and then sustains human interactions able to be construed subjunctively as the best of all possible worlds.

And if you are able to think yourself into believing that your happiness aligns perfectly with virtue how hard is it to conclude further that this a necessary interaction? After all, there are so many rationalizations available to you in order to embody further still the perfect combination of psychological defense mechanisms.

So, in response, Kant argued for a reason-based morality instead. According to him, if a universal foundation is what morality needs, then we should simply make decisions in accordance with the logic of universalisability.


Where to begin! For example, when the reasons that liberals give for choosing progressive behaviors come into fierce conflict with the reasons that conservatives give for choosing their own rendition of that.

And out on the radical left and the radical right end of the political spectrum, reasons also come into conflict. Karl Marx meet Ayn Rand.

And then there's the "fractured and fragmented" assessments of folks like me.

By determining what we are trying to achieve in any action, and by turning that intention into a law that all rational beings must obey, we can use reason to determine if it is logically possible for the intended action to be universalised. Logic – rather than God or desire – can therefore tell us if any intended action is right (universalisable) or wrong (not universalisable).


If this truly were the case would not every Kantian around the globe today be able to synchronize their own moral and political agendas so as to be as one in regard to the most reasonable behaviors that virtuous men and women are obligated to choose?

For example, in this day and age, is it more logical to continue social distancing policies or to open up the economy? Is it more rational to mandate that all citizens be vaccinated against this infection or to make it strictly voluntary?

And, besides, this logic is still no less backed up by a transcending font. The Kantian equivalent of God.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Tue May 26, 2020 5:50 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

There are, however, several problems with trying to base morality on reason. One such problem, as pointed out by Jacques Lacan in ‘Kant with Sade’ (1989), is that using universalisability as the criterion of right and wrong can let clever people (such as the Marquis de Sade) justify some seemingly horrific actions if they can manage to show that those actions can actually pass Kant’s logic test.


And logic would seem to be inherently tricky given the gap between its use in the either/or world and in the is/ought world. For example, the rules of language made applicable to a description of a prison execution vs. the rules of language made applicable to a discussion of whether capital punishment is, in fact, rationally, "cruel and unusual punishment".

Then the further leap extrapolating virtue from rationality. If executions are inherently rational, must they then be inherently moral?

And -- rationally -- should this be made a universal truth regarding all executions or given any number of mitigating and/or aggravating sets of circumstances should rationality be assessed only one execution at a time?

Another problem, as pointed out by John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism (1861), is that humans are rational, but rationality is not all that we have, and so following Kantian morality forces us to live like uncaring robots rather than like people.


In other words, the subjunctive "I". That aspect of my "self" in the brain intertwined with complex emotional and psychological states intertwined further in subconscious and unconscious reactions to the world around us intertwined further still in even more deep seated instinctual drives.

Then the parts rooted in ever evolving and changing historical, cultural and experiential memes?

Is it any wonder then that the biological evolution of matter into the self-conscious mind allowed for objectivism? The capacity of "I", as of now, to just inexplicably "flick a switch" and make all of these convoluted complexities just disappear?

Then the only question is the extent to which it is all nature given a wholly determined universe.

Yet another problem, as pointed out by Nietzsche, is that reason might not be what Kant claimed it to be, as it is quite possible that reason is no firmer a foundation than is God or happiness. In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche argued that reason is not something absolute and universal but rather something that has evolved over time into part of human life. In much the same way that mice in a lab experiment can be taught to be rational, so too have we learned to become rational thanks to centuries of moral, religious and political ‘experiments’ in training people to be rational. Reason should not be seen therefore as a firm foundation for morality since its own foundations can be called into question.


Here, in my view, in regard to meaning in our lives, folks like Nietzsche are just alluding to this:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

The part I take back to the gap between what we think we know about the "human condition" and all there is to know going back to that elusive understanding of existence itself. Where does Kant fit in there?

There is what various philosophers have taught us to think about reason, there is what we have taught ourselves to think about it and there is how that is profoundly, problematically intertwined with "I" as an existential contraption rooted in dasein.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Sun May 31, 2020 7:13 pm

Symbolism, Meaning & Nihilism in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Mark Conard reveals the metaphysical truths lurking under the rug in Tarantino’s cult classic.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an odd film. It’s a seemingly complete narrative which has been chopped into vignettes and rearranged like a puzzle. It’s a gangster film in which not a single policeman is to be found. It’s a montage of bizarre characters, from a black mobster with a mysterious bandage on the back of his bald head, to hillbilly sexual perverts; from henchmen dressed in black suits whose conversations concern what fast food items are called in Europe to a mob problem-solver who attends dinner parties early in the morning dressed in a full tuxedo. So, what is the film about? In general, we can say that the film is about American nihilism.


Whatever it is one describes Pulp Fiction to be, it is clearly populated by characters that live far, far, far beyond the parameters of what most consider to be a moral universe. Basically these folks are sociopaths. All they ever seem to be concerned with is in satisfying the next itch -- for drugs, for money, for sex. It is ever and always me, myself and I. The only hierarchy that seems to exist at all revolves around might makes right.

And, from my point of view, this is the most dangerous manifestation of nihilism. Why? Because, with people like these, the reasoning mind is "for all practical purposes" defunct. And forget about appealing to human decency. Plus, you can't exactly shame or embarrass or humiliate them into doing the right thing. At least with nihilists who wrap their motivation and intention around an ideological or political agenda -- anarchists, say -- you can appeal to them with some measure of intelligence and coherent thinking.

But not with these grotesque postmodern caricatures. You get out of their way or you do what they tell you. After all, for them everything revolves solely around not getting caught. By the law. Or by those actually able to exact consequences.

The author then provides a three part summation of the movie plot and his take on the main characters.

As I said, in general, the film is about American nihilism. More specifically, it is about the transformation of two characters: Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Butch (Bruce Willis). In the beginning of the film, Vincent (John Travolta) has retumed from a stay in Amsterdam, and the content of the conversation between Jules and Vincent concerns what Big Macs and Quarter Pounders are called in Europe, the Fonz on Happy Days, Arnold the Pig on Green Acres, the pop band Flock of Seagulls, Caine from Kung Fu, tv pilots, etc. These kinds of silly references seem upon first glance like a kind of comic relief, set against the violence that we’re witnessing on the screen. But this is no mere comic relief. The point is that this is the way these characters make sense out of their lives: transient, pop cultural symbols and icons. In another time and/or another place people would be connected by something they saw as larger than themselves, most particularly religion, which would provide the sense and meaning that their lives had and which would determine the value of things. This is missing in late 20th Century America, and is thus completely absent from Jules’ and Vincent’s lives. This is why the pop icons abound in the film: these are the reference points by which we understand ourselves and each other, empty and ephemeral as they are. This pop iconography comes to a real head when Vincent and Mia (Uma Thurmon) visit Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where the host is Ed Sullivan, the singer is Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly is the waiter, and amongst the waitresses are Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.


This is something that has always intrigued me. The way our "late-capitalist-postmodern-world" has mass produced literally millions upon millions of citizens who seem obsessed only with 1] pop culture 2] consumption and 3] celebrity.

But: It's almost impossible to link this with nihilism because, well, there it is, everywhere: on TV, in the movies, on records, embedded in virtually every pursuit that the lowest common denominator "masses" are invested in. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic the "party hardy" "youth culture" crowds are shown trekking to the venues that have come to encompass our me, myself and I pop culture.

In fact, even Pulp Fiction itself becomes just another part of it all. It's not like most of those who left the theaters back then were bent on discussing the way in which nihilism was explored and depicted in the film.

Instead, when most conjure up cinematic nihilists in their head, they are more inclined towards the characters portrayed in Reservoir Dogs. Truly scary fucking men.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Sun Jun 07, 2020 7:21 pm

Symbolism, Meaning & Nihilism in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Mark Conard reveals the metaphysical truths lurking under the rug in Tarantino’s cult classic.

The pop cultural symbols are set into stark relief against a certain passage from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 25:17 (actually, largely composed by Tarantino himself):

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."


Here's the actual words from the Bible:

“And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.”

But, really, what's the difference? The whole point of having words of this sort to fall back on is to justify anything -- even killing -- in the name of the Lord. And what could possibly serve as a greater antidote to nihilism than that?

After all, as long as you have something to fall back on other than the crass motives of a sociopathic hoodlum, It allows for some measure of sanctity. Whatever is actually unfolding in the mind of Jules Winnfield at the time of each killing, the viewer can always imagine that he has convinced himself there is in fact righteous intent.

But: we know that this is not the case at all. Why? Because Jules himself, personifying the cold-blooded nihilistic psychopath, spills the beans:

“I’ve been saying that shit for years, and if you heard it – that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant – I just thought it was some cold blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass."

And if this isn't construed by most to be what nihilism is all about, there aren't many other film characters that surpass it. Unless it's Maynard and Zed. Nothing cannot be rationalized when your point of view revolves entirely around "what's in it for me"?

The absence of any kind of foundation for making value judgments, the lack of a larger meaning to their lives, creates a kind of vacuum in their existence which is filled with power. With no other criteria available to them by which to order their lives, they fall into a hierarchy of power, with Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) at the top and themselves as henchmen below.


Not unlike the mentality that pervades street gangs, outlaw biker clubs and organized crime cliques...the infamous 1% hell bent on taking what they want and dispensing with anyone who gets in their way.

Aren't they the nihilists that we most fear? The ones that, in today's world, we are most likely to actually come across. The might makes right factions that can and often do get away with, well, anything that they can. They do unto others whatever suits them. The whole point is in not getting caught. Or, if caught, being able to thump the ones that caught you.

These folks:

Things come to have value in their lives if Marsellus Wallace declares it to be so. What he wants done, they will do. What he wishes becomes valuable for them and thus becomes the guide for their actions at the moment, until the task is completed by whatever means necessary. This is perfectly epitomized by the mysterious briefcase which Jules and Vincent are charged to return to Marsellus. It is mysterious because we never actually see what’s in it, but we do see people’s reactions to its obviously valuable contents. The question invariably arises: what’s in the briefcase?


I always construed the contents as being anything the viewer most fears about characters of this sort. Their own rendition of being in Room 101 with them.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Sun Jun 14, 2020 7:22 pm

Symbolism, Meaning & Nihilism in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Mark Conard reveals the metaphysical truths lurking under the rug in Tarantino’s cult classic.

Again, the characters we come across in Pulp Fiction become particularly ominous for most of us.

On the other hand, they are just like us in having acquired value judgments and in ascribing meaning to the things that are important to them in the course of actually living their lives from day to day. It's just like unlike most of us, these value judgments and this meaning is derived from the fact that for whatever personal reason [rooted in dasein] they have chosen to become sociopaths. And power becomes important here as the font which they can fall back on in determining a hierarchy of behaviors within any particular criminal community. And between "outlaw" communities. It's just that some sociopathic entities have more rules than others. Organized crime families, street gangs, motorcycle clubs. Some actually have elaborate codes of conducts. Others don't.

And then those who more or less operate on their own. And who is to say which are the most dangerous if you happen to come in between them and what they want.

And, for many, they have come to encompass nihilism at its most menacing and treacherous.

I’ve been contrasting nihilism with religion as an objective framework or foundation of values and meaning, because that’s the comparison that Tarantino himself makes in the film. There are other objective systems of ethics, however. We might compare nihilism to Aristotelian ethics, for example. Aristotle says that things have natures or essences and that what is best for a thing is to ‘achieve’ or realize its essence.


From my own frame of mind, however, a font is a font is a font. Whether, as a moral narrative, it is a God or a No God rendition, it's basically providing one with a foundation that, psychologically, one can anchor "I" too. It's just that with God that anchor continues on into the next world.

And, even with Aristotle, it's not what he said or believed, but what he was able to demonstrate as being true for all of us. What is the essential reaction that all rational men and women must have in reacting to the characters in Pulp Fiction? I certainly cannot demonstrate that moral nihilism accounts for their existence, but that is because I predicate this on the mere assumption that we live in a No God world.

And in fact whatever helps a thing fulfill its nature in this way is by definition good. Ducks are aquatic birds. Having webbed feet helps the duck to achieve its essence as a swimmer. Therefore, it’s good for the duck to have webbed feet. Human beings likewise have a nature which consists in a set of capacities, our abilities to do things. There are many things that we can do: play the piano, build things, walk and talk, etc. But the essentially human ability is our capacity for reason, since it is reason which separates us from all other living things. The highest good, or best life, for a human being, then, consists in realizing one’s capacities, most particularly the capacity for reason. This notion of the highest good, along with Aristotle’s conception of the virtues, which are states of character which enable a person to achieve his essence, add up to an objective ethical framework according to which one can weigh and assess the value and meaning of things, as well as weigh and assess the means one might use to procure those things.


Bingo! Another "general description intellectual contraption" that crams concepts like "virtue" and "nature" and "essence" and "reason" and "best life" and "highest good" into a world of words. Right? But when the focus is on a particular set of behaviors in a particular context we come at each other from many different conflicting points along the philosophical, moral and political spectrum. Instead, there is only the historical gap between back then in Ancient Greece and right now in our postmodern technocratic world. But surely Aristotle would construe the world created by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction as anything but what he imagined human interactions at their best might be.

And so, as rational human beings, must we.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:38 pm

It’s Not Nothing: The Nihilism of Seinfeld
Liz Wall

Although Seinfeld has often been called a “show about nothing” due to its wacky take on day to day life, each episode’s unique theme and story suggests otherwise. Far from being a show about nothing, Seinfeld is a show with a purpose. The show talks about topics such as group sex, nudity, masturbation, mental illness, and so many more in such an inappropriate, and often offensive way, not taking these things seriously but allowing the characters, and us, to laugh and poke fun at them. But it doesn’t do this randomly. The show uses some clever tactics to persuade its audience into believing that Seinfeld is not only not a show about nothing, it has a definite argument to make about what it means to mean nothing.


On the other hand, come on, any time nihilism can be reconfigured from its depiction in Pulp Fiction above to a "situation comedy" on network television, how dangerous can it be?

Let's make a joke out of it? That rendition of it?

Sure, why not.

Seinfeld portrays a nihilistic moral point of view. Don’t get me wrong I really like this show, but while the show is really fun and really funny, Seinfeld is essentially manipulating us. The writers and actors behind the show are smarter than we think: they are using rhetoric to manipulate their audience into accepting their nihilistic moral point of view.


Okay, for those here who watched the program, cite some examples of this. Note particular episodes where viewers might walk away convinced that right and wrong were merely social constructs that one can take or leave depending on what you have concluded is in it for me.

Here is the author's example:

Take “The Parking Garage” episode, fantastically written episode in which we see our group of main characters lost for hours in a parking garage trying to find where they parked their car.

This episode reflects a struggle that every person has had; not being able to find your parked car in a sea of sedans. Because this takes something that everyone has experienced to an extreme level, it is engaging to the audience: its absurdity allows it to illustrate the frustrations we feel in such moments.


Nope, that doesn't even come close to the manner in which I construe the world around me from a nihilistic perspective. Instead, it sounds exactly like the sort of thing that "pop culture" would come up with if they aimed to portray human existence as an essentially meaningless sojourn to oblivion.

And another:

Take another episode famous episode: “The Chinese Restaurant.” In this episode, our four main characters walk into a chinese restaurant and are told it will be about five to ten minutes to be seated. It ends up being longer and people who have arrived after them are being seated before them. Once again this is something that seems to always happen. Because these episodes, and many others blend realism with satire, absurdity, and witty dialogue, it engages a broad audience.


That ever happen to you? Brutal!

Some do indeed call Seinfeld "the show about nothing". And nihilism is often associated with it. But it is hardly in the vicinity of what those like me ascribe to a nihilistic frame of mind. Instead it seems to reduce life down to the lowest common denominator human interactions. Plots about almost nothing?

Mainly the episodes seemed to focus in on life's "minutia" moments. The days crawl by with almost nothing truly eventful happening. So the "smallness" of life itself is blown up all out of proportion in a world where people themselves can seem smaller than life itself.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Tue Jun 30, 2020 5:27 pm

Melancholia
Stefan Bolea takes us on a tour of European nihilism.
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=179469&p=2340439&hilit=melancholia+directed#p2340439

“We don’t need an atom bomb at all; the uprooting of human beings is already taking place … It is no longer an Earth on which human beings live today.”
Martin Heidegger, Der Spiegel interview, 1966


Of course here we might be expected to presume this goes beyond such things as the Nazis, the Holocaust, the Second World War or any other actual historical events. This is buried deeper in a world that has basically come to reflect human interactions that revolve increasingly around the idea that "in the absence of God all things are permitted". There is nothing that philosophers can put in His place. So human relationships become increasingly more alienating, estranged, detached from a deeper meaning that allows us to tie everything together into something resembling a teleological foundation.

Even those who have at least managed to accummulate the wherewithal necessary to live princely lives, are no less impaled on all that is down here or out there or up there.

Lars von Trier’s latest movie Melancholia (2011) could be interpreted as a logical consequence of the history of European nihilism, whose most significant proponents were the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche and E.M. Cioran, and poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Maurice Rollinat and Lautréamont. In the film, the Danish director seems to be constructing an argument which not only “questions the value of life” (Nietzsche) but also invites us to change our status from “mortals to moribund beings” (Cioran).


Maybe. Here however the reactions of the characters revolve around the actual reality of extinction. Even if only imagined up on the screen. And it basically ends on an "optimistic" note for the main characters in that they devise a way in which deal with it...through each other.

It is in fact at the beginning of the film when the characters go at each other at the party that the "value of human life" is exposed. Not only in terms of dollars and cents but in the many ways that, in being "human all too human", we make our lives wretched. And, again, this among those who don't have to concern themselves with the at times grueling fact of just subsisting from week to week as wage slaves.

The planet Melancholia is on a collision course with the Earth. This film’s terrifying apocalypse is completely original, focusing not on the biological or physical destruction of our planet and species as do more trivial productions such as Independence Day or 2012. Instead it emphasizes the psychological distress of two particular Earth-dwellers, the severely melancholic Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).


Here, in my view, nihilism revolves around oblivion itself. Everyone on Earth is about to be extinguished for all of eternity by the planet Melancholia. But only each of us one by one have to deal with our own extinction. The characters here do not appear to have a belief in God, immortality and salvation. But in a real extinction event those that do will still have that to fall back on, right?

There's simply no getting around the fact that nihilism itself can be extinguished [on either side of the grave] if one is able to take that existential leap to religion. In their head. And that need be all it is. At least right up to the end. Then for many Pascal's wager kicks in. They are either gone forever but oblivious to it, or, in fact, their soul carries on in Paradise.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Tue Jul 07, 2020 4:58 pm

Melancholia
Stefan Bolea takes us on a tour of European nihilism.

If the alliance between love and death, and the subsequent destruction of the principle of love, are the atmospheric message of von Trier’s intro, the nihilistic motto of the whole film would be: “The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it” (Justine).


Clearly this is not the only message that one might derive from viewing the film. It certainly wasn't my reaction.

For example, this assessment revolves more around mental illness. Depression in particular: https://www.indiewire.com/2011/11/revie ... ia-255083/

Also, consider that those who do become aware of the collision are but a tiny demographic faction of the human race. There are countless others -- both God and No God folks -- who might react in any number of different ways. Instead, the assumption [mine] is that this is one possible interpretation attributed to the director.

At the same time, I have myself always been more fascinated in probing nihilism on this side of the grave. The fact that the focus here is more on coming to grips with oblivion, extinction is hardly the manner in which most human beings concern themselves with meaning in their lives. The 70/80 odd years that most of us are around have far more to do with the nearly 30,000 days we have to fill up in the course of living our lives. What if meaning here is essentially just as existential contraption?

This attitude is reminiscent of gnosticism, seen as a forerunner of modern nihilism by scholars such as Hans Jonas and Ion Petru Culianu. Its first principle was that the world of matter (or the Earth) is evil, and that humankind is the damaged creation of an evil divine power. The nihilism proposed in the 20th century by various writers, such as Cioran, Marinetti and Gottfried Benn, draws the similarly disturbing conclusion that because of our inherent defects, human beings must be destroyed – adapting one of the four noble truths of Buddhism, that suffering must be annihilated by nirvana (which means ‘snuffed out’).


This sort of thing revolves around the assumption that in living our lives from day to day we are ever and always preoccupied with meaning and purpose in our lives. Yet, for many of us, challenging the idea that teleologically there is no underlying existential foundation does not make all the things that we choose to do any less satisfying and fulfilling. Does preoccupying oneself with "inherent human defect" make the food we eat taste less delicious, the music we listen to less sublime, the relationships we pursue less rewarding, the careers we sustain less worthwhile.

Here I often come back to that which Woody Allen often comes back to in the face of all the things take make human existence so difficult and painful:

Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um... Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh... Like what... okay... um... For me, uh... ooh... I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh... um... and Willie Mays... and um... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues... um... Swedish movies, naturally... Sentimental Education by Flaubert... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... um... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh... the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face...

Lars von Trier illustrates a similar destructiveness, in both his earlier Antichrist (describing the apocalypse of a relationship) and in Melancholia, in depicting the noche oscura (‘the dark night of the soul’ – St. John of the Cross) of a human being (Justine) together with the universal night of St. Bartholomew (the death of the world). As we shall see, the personalized dark night of the soul may be even more significant than the dark night of the world.


Try even to imagine all the different reactions there are from all the different people reading his words. Sure, if your philosophy is bleak and the circumstances you endure from day to day are just as bleak [with no end in sight], you might be sync with this interpretation of Melancholia.

On the other hand, how about your own?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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