The public is a huge nothing (Kierkegaard)

In order for leveling really to occur, first it is necessary to bring a phantom into existence, a spirit of leveling, a huge abstraction, an all-embracing something that is nothing, an illusion–the phantom of the public. . . . The public is the real Leveling-Master, rather than the leveler itself, for leveling is done by something, and the public is a huge nothing.

The public is an idea, which would never have occurred to people in ancient times, for the people themselves en masse in corpora took steps in any active situation, and bore responsibility for each individual among them, and each individual had to personally, without fail, present himself and submit his decision immediately to approval or disapproval. When first a clever society makes concrete reality into nothing, then the Media creates that abstraction, “the public,” which is filled with unreal individuals, who are never united nor can they ever unite simultaneously in a single situation or organization, yet still stick together as a whole. The public is a body, more numerous than the people which compose it, but this body can never be shown, indeed it can never have only a single representation, because it is an abstraction. Yet this public becomes larger, the more the times become passionless and reflective and destroy concrete reality; this whole, the public, soon embraces everything. . . .

The public is not a people, it is not a generation, it is not a simultaneity, it is not a community, it is not a society, it is not an association, it is not those particular men over there, because all these exist because they are concrete and real; however, no single individual who belongs to the public has any real commitment; some times during the day he belongs to the public, namely, in those times in which he is nothing; in those times that he is a particular person, he does not belong to the public. Consisting of such individuals, who as individuals are nothing, the public becomes a huge something, a nothing, an abstract desert and emptiness, which is everything and nothing. . . .

The Media is an abstraction (because a newspaper is not concrete and only in an abstract sense can be considered an individual), which in association with the passionlessness and reflection of the times creates that abstract phantom, the public, which is the actual leveler. . . . More and more individuals will, because of their indolent bloodlessness, aspire to become nothing, in order to become the public, this abstract whole, which forms in this ridiculous manner: the public comes into existence because all its participants become third parties. This lazy mass, which understands nothing and does nothing, this public gallery seeks some distraction, and soon gives itself over to the idea that everything which someone does, or achieves, has been done to provide the public something to gossip about. . . . The public has a dog for its amusement. That dog is the Media. If there is someone better than the public, someone who distinguishes himself, the public sets the dog on him and all the amusement begins. This biting dog tears up his coat-tails, and takes all sort of vulgar liberties with his leg–until the public bores of it all and calls the dog off. That is how the public levels.

From Soren Kierkegaard’s essay “The Present Age.”

I read the passage first in Dwight Macdonald’s essay “Masscult and Midcult” — it’s the final section of Macdonald’s essay, followed simply by “This is the essence of what I have tried to say.” (The translation in Macdonald’s essay is a bit different than the one I’ve cited/linked to here, which is by Alexander Dru).

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Kierkegaard is an ugly hunchback loser

kierkegaardKate Beaton is the best.

 

A Riff on Lars Iyer’s Novel Exodus

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I. Trilogy

Exodus is the third entry in a trilogy that Lars Iyer began with Spurious and Dogma.

What happens in Exodus?

Not much (but also maybe everything—like all sorts of philosophical investigations and intellectual adventure and despair and potential revolution and symbolic death, etc.).

If you’ve read Spurious and Dogma you’d expect this.

There is a quest though in Exodus, a quest that feels more visceral, more real, cuts closer to the bone than in the first two entries.

What is this quest?

Do our heroes W. and Lars vanquish despair? Figure out Kafka?

Do they save humanity (or at least the humanities department)?

Do they finally cast the One Ring into Mount Doom?

(They go on a lecture tour).

II. Quest

What is the connection between Kierkegaard and capitalism?: that’s our question, W. says. What does Kierkegaard tell us about the despair of capitalism?

And

‘The true and only virtue is to hate ourselves’, W. says, reading from his notebook.

And, perhaps more specifically

Of course, they’re going to close all humanities courses in British universities, W. says . . . They’re simply going to marketise education, W. says. They’re simply going to turn the university over to the free market. They’re going to submit philosophy to the forces of capitalism . . .

And

Imagine it! Two plastic cups of Plymouth Gin might usher in the reign of peace, W. says.

And

There are no jobs in philosophy — everyone knows that. No jobs in academia!

And etc.

III. The Call to Adventure

This is our last tour, W. says. He feels that strongly. Something’s going to happen. Something’s about to happen. . . Why does he feel such a sense of dread?

IV. The Road of Trials

Gin, Deleuze, Kafka, Kierkegaard, gin, Blade Runner, Guy Debord, postgraduate students, linguistic stupidity, anxiety over what Alan Badiou is doing right this very minute, gin, Gandhi, Marx, the blogosphere (so-called), Bartleby, Moses, God, logical-mathematical stupidity, the Talmud, gin, bodily-kinesthetic stupidity, cheap food, the Thames, Oxford, Rosenzweig, interpersonal stupidity, gin, Bela Tarr, Manchester, Wikipedia, gin, intrapersonal stupidity, Beckett, Gombrowicz, Middlesex, Weil, naturalistic stupidity, Abraham and Isaac, Old Europe, sports science students, moral stupidity, Solomon Maimon, gin, Plato (turning in his grave), public houses, existential stupidity, Kant, a friend from Taiwan, a plenary speaker, sartorial stupidity, gin, Krasznahorkai, blowing a great horn to have the horde come running (like that guy in Anchorman), a Dostoevskian innocence or a Grossmanian selflessness, religious stupidity, Master/Blaster as a metaphor for the mind-brain problem, Canadian laughter in the glittering light (etc.), Essex Postgraduates, gin, gin, gin, job security, painting-and-decorating stupidity, hangovers, posh people eating lunch in the sun, settling for cans of Stella from the trolley, philosophy of walking, gin, romantic stupidity, gin, culinary stupidity, gin, stupidity stupidity.

Revolution!

V. The Magic Flight

Alcohol makes people speak, that’s its greatness, W. says. It makes them religious, political, even as it shows them the impossibility of religion and the impossibility of politics. Drinking carries you through despair, W. says. Through it, and out beyond it, if you are prepared to keep drinking right all through the night.

VI. Apotheosis

W. dreams of the profound slumber from which we would rise reborn, ready for the morning, ready for work. He dreams of the great day that would follow our night of rest, and of the great ideas that would flash above us like diurnal stars.

How is it still alive in him, the belief that he might wake into genius?, W says. How is it that he still believes, despite everything, that he is a man of thought?

VII. Freedom to Live

Thought is the hangman, our hangman, W. says. Thought has its nooses ready just for us.

VIII. Cult Fiction

Judgment, evaluation, criticism: Exodus—the Spurious Trilogy, if that’s what we’ll call it—has reserved its own special place in the world of cult fiction. These novels (if they are in fact novels) perform their own deconstruction. They delineate metacognition. They frustrate. They are simultaneously sad and funny, and even a little bit scary, at least if you earn your bread by academicizin’.

They frustrate. Wait, do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself.

These novels dissect the problems of philosophy against the backdrop of late capitalism, but part of this dissection is also the covering up of the dissection: the fear, the failure, the despair, the doom. (Hence the anesthesia, the gin). So that the novels seem to be a series of references, contours, quirks, loops of dialog, declamations, insults . . . That the novels take their own central subject as the failure to mean, to communicate—and then perform these failures: deferral, delay, intellectual suspense. And that these suspensions replace the furniture and sets of the traditional novel, etc. Maybe I’m failing to mean. I’ve anesthetized myself a bit, I do admit.

I get it. I mean, that’s maybe what I mean, or hope to mean to say about these novels: That meaning is hard, that saying meaning doing thinking is hard; that thinking afteragainstbeyond other thinkers is hard, painful, produces despair, dread, etc. Maybe that’s why I like these novels. Because I think that maybe I get them even as I doubt that I do get them.

IX. An Idea

Publisher Melville House might consider putting all three of these books into one epic volume.

X. A Question

Do the eagles ever show up to fly W. and Lars out of Mordor?