In praise for our times
You don't need to read Scripture or Homer to realize that the world we live in is fucked. All areas of culture have been infiltrated by a form of life that is nothing else than the anti-thesis of culture. Michel Henry calls this form of life barbarism: life turning against life. Like the Ouroboros snake, life has started devouring itself. For Henry, culture is nothing else than the expression of itself. Without care for anything but itself, life seeks to express its own mystery through all forms of culture. If this expression is direct, powerful, and adequately portrays the mystery that is life, we speak of higher forms of culture. If this expression is weak, but nonetheless present, we speak of lower forms of culture. As such, in great literature there is a greater expression of culture than in an informative documentary on TV. There is also a third option, when outside forces capture the expression of life so that it is turned against itself, and culture is no longer a culture of life, but a culture of death. Life is no longer allowed to express itself because it is life, but only because it expresses other things that have nothing to do with life. Art is no longer valued because it expresses the mystery of life to an intense degree, but because it is socially useful, or created by a minority group. Culture no longer follows the rules of life, but the rules that men have imposed on life. Life no longer expresses itself, but expresses that which chokes it to death. This is a natural impulse, there have always been, and there will always be disgraceful expressions of culture, and those who have not lost the power that resides within have fought these barbaric forms of culture throughout the ages. What is different today, is that these barbaric forms of culture are no longer exceptions, but the norm. Throughout all of society, and throughout all the institutions that are meant to protect its vital impulse, barbarism has pervaded. A look at the universities teaches enough; technologies that try to save the environment are not funded because they save the living earth, but because they fit into a certain way of how government wants to solve the environmental problem. An art student does not get funding because his art is great, but because it pertains to problems that government deems valuable. It is the same everywhere, the values of today replace the values of eternity, and the rules of ideologues replace the rules of life. Up until very recently, it could be said that this barbarism had not spread everywhere. There were safe places; the nightclubs and concert-halls where life was given the opportunity to express itself freely, the bar where the living speak their truth unconcerned for censorship, and the gym where men and women give expression to the human impulse for self-overcoming. These days are gone, life is no longer allowed the life of culture, that is, the life that seeks nothing but its own expression through various forms of culture. Life is no longer allowed to live. Life is only allowed to express itself when requirements are met. Life is only allowed to live when it has been marked by what destroys life in its biological survival. And life is only allowed to live when it has been marked by what destroys life in its free expression, tracked everywhere it goes, no longer allowed to flow as it pleases. Life is only allowed to live when it has received experimental medical treatments, or when the social merit of its being has been represented in a health pass, to be scanned by whoever wants control. It is not only government and big tech that wins; many nightclub owners don't mind seeing your name before you enter their club, and many museums don't mind if you are able to show allegiance to their underlying ideology. Life is judged, before it has been allowed to express itself. This is one interpretation of the shift from disciplinary societies to bio-political societies of control. In the former, life lived, and when this expression went too far or became too violent, it was chained in its expression by the system. In our societies of control however, life will never be cut down or chained in its expression, rather, it will be regulated and controlled to such a degree that it can only express itself in a way that corresponds with how the system wants it to. By way of lies and fear, life has let itself become restricted beyond belief. In this situation, when the free expression of life has been banished from society, what is left to do but go underground? Life expresses itself either way, for it is nothing but this expression. The question is to what degree it can do this freely. We have much to learn from the underground rave scene, these people didn't need the perils of today to realize this fundamental truth; that culture understood as life expressing itself can only reach its highest expressions when it is free from the rules imposed on it by a culture of death. As life lives on, and crawls wherever it is able to carve some space for itself, these underground forms of expression will increase. We are already seeing a revival of finance being done away from centralized command, teaching being done outside of the university's iron grip, and health being practiced away from the pharmaceutical death merchants. The tides of barbarism cannot be stopped, but let them flow, the tide of life runs deeper.
The tides of life run deeper, precisely because barbarism is always secondary. As life turned against itself, barbarism is grounded in life. It is a perversion, a distortion of a more subterranean process. Barbarism can only exist as an expression of the expressive force that is life. It is to be understood as a weak expression of life itself that turns against this life. Barbarism can only exist by way of life, when it leaves the self-sufficient autarky of itself it expresses itself outwards. And this expression can either carry forward the freedom inherent in life, or it can express itself in a weak manner, in this way torturing and deforming its source: life. As such, all expressions are only the surface phenomena of expression itself, and this expression itself necessarily exists 'underground', that is, under the visible particular expressions.
It has been said by people that a philosophy always expresses the time in which it is created. Leaving alone the shortsighted and moralizing interpretations of this idea, it can be said that in our time the phenomenon of underground expression has become a philosophical problem. In fact, the philosophical problem par excellence, that is, the problem that pertains to the essence of philosophy as it is practiced in our times. The idea that philosophy expresses its time means as much that philosophy expresses that which is repressed in its time, and what is repressed in our time is precisely philosophy itself. Philosophy, understood as that love that seeks nothing but the expression by way of thought of the unending expression that is life. In our time, when culture, understood as the expression of life by way of life (of which philosophy is only one particular expression), has been pushed underground, culture in the higher sense is nothing but the activities of the underground, thematized as a phenomenon. When the world is no longer that space in which living subjectivity can express itself, there remains nothing to do for life but turn back into itself, to go underground. Philosophy is in essence the fight against doxa: the un-thought but presupposed opinions of the majority, of society, of a parasitic culture that is granted its force, not because it is powerful, but because it is shared in the light of day. Philosophy is that force of thought that breaks through from now-here, that subterranean force of thought that shames doxa for its thoughtlessness, its lack of depth. In the name of what? In the name of life, in the name of all that which is suppressed and weakened by the opinions of the world. Philosophy has always fought against suppression. It is not only a question of questioning and breaking doxa. It also a question of survival in face of the violence with which the defenders of state and religion attack thought wherever it pops up. As mentioned, the problem has shifted. Violence is not only exerted after the act of thought is expressed, as was Socrates' blessing. Violence, or rather control, is exerted in such a manner that thought cannot even express itself. For the Greeks, as we read in Aristotle's topics, or we know from the dialogues of Plato, philosophy is in essence tied to doxa. It is the stupidity of the latter that is the ground and precondition for the existence of the former. Shocked by the thoughtlessness of his fellow men, philosophy is ignited in the philosopher. Philosophy is the questioning of doxa, but this presupposes doxa: a specific thoughtless way in which a time asks its questions. Questions which the philosopher unmasks as being stupid, and which he replaces with better questions. So that, hopefully, doxa can slowly be transformed into thought. But what is to do when the violence and control of society rises to such levels that this transformation is made impossible? Socrates could approach his fellow Athenians on the street, or meet with them and talk until the following morning accompanied by a glass of wine. We are not given this privilege. Philosophy is pushed into an echo-chamber in which it can no longer base itself on the refusal of the opinions of the streets. It is pushed into itself.
"Penser, c'est dire non," Alain says. Thinking is first of all saying no to all dogmatism, all prejudice, all opinion. So think, refuse, and remember that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight."(1 Corinthians 3:19). Sub specie aeternitatis, wisdom is not to be found in the world and its changing opinions, but in the eternal ground that this world presupposes. A ground which is never illuminated by the world, but remains forever underground. Are we in this sense privileged? Our situation, outcast and pushed underground, might put us in a privileged condition to access that which makes it all worth it: life, expressed in all its aspects, expressed in thought, art, and work. Life, that ever-flowing stream that nourishes the gravest stupidities and illusions, the greatest horrors, but also the greatest joys, and the truth above all. We no longer have to say no to the world to begin thinking, as thought is outcast from the very beginning. As a clean slate, from which thought does not begin by opposing any particular doxa, but begins in opposition to the world as such in which doxa first makes its appearance. In opposition, that is, from the underground that rises up to fight the light of day. No longer opposed to appearances, but opposed to appearing as such.