“We think that in this the human being extends, more or less consciously, the spontaneous effort, common to life, of fighting against that which forms the obstacle to her maintenance and development taken as norms.” Canguilhem, On the Normal and the Pathological, PUF 1966, p. 102 (in my own translation, original below)
Canguilhem marks an important split in philosophy in attacking the ‘objective’ notions of health and disease that come with the dominance the empirical/mathematical method of the exact sciences. As a teacher of Foucault he made a first but decisive step against a last push of the exact sciences to explain away the most human of experiences: that of feeling not quite right. Decisive but not final because to this day the positivistic look, on the back of our neoliberal society and value system, dominates to the point of mocking those who speak from disability studies, cultural studies and feminism. It is not, though, this debate which I’m here interested in. I take it for granted that the truth here as elsewhere mostly lies somewhere in the middle. The truth I want to try to speak here is against that which, I believe, is still a common dogma in both traditions: that of survival as an inevitable and enduring norm inherent in life.
Longevity is, I submit, a global pandemic threatening all life, and specifically human life, as it misunderstands and devalues life to something that is to be had instead of lived. The outcome of the normality of survival is pathological: more life, but less worth living. The quote has all of that so let’s turn to it.
“A race of such men of ressentiment is bound to become eventually cleverer than any noble race (..)” F. Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals.
It went well for a while until – after some sleepless nights and doubts that weren’t picked up by others – it went steeply downhill. Deeply downhill. It was 5 AM and, as self-defense, my self was attacking me, I started writing to create the illusion I was talking to someone else. I always try to stay connected to the external world because if that connection fails I fall back on an internal world that is just noise; a ringing inside my ears, a brain buzzing with the effort of making sense where sense cannot be found. I get my rhythm from that external world and that keeps up the inspiration from my inner world. Without rhythm I fall back on a grimness that only wants its own end. I try – here comes the resentment – to convince others to respect my need for rhythm. They want to even if they find it a rather obsessive/oppressive streak in me. They’d call it pride, an internal conviction that things would be better of they were simply my way. And they kind of would be because when I am in flow I am a brute force of nature, a noble and commanding spirit sensitive to even the slightest disturbance of my rhythm. There is then no internal and external anymore – every dissonance is a scream directly picked up by my brain; something I lie awake of. It is beyond me how people have the nerve to disturb the rhythm I invent. They destroy my world and, failing the energy to destroy them, the only thing left is to destroy myself.
This is a piece about the connection between pride and resentment and where Nietzsche got it wrong when separating them and got it right when not separating them. It’s a piece on the pride I take in trying to deal with the power of my resentment.
“Free at last!”, he thought and was taken to a waiting room where he sat, waiting, for half an hour. To be precise: 36 minutes and 52 seconds. He did not know whether that timing was irony or fate or both. Nobody told him. He did not ask. It was all new to him. It was a once in a lifetime thing. On the hour a shadow grew on the semi-transparent door whose milky appearance was being watched by five pairs of eager eyes. They had dropped in at irregular intervals and they had not said a word. Nor had he. Eyes had crossed from time to awkward time. Eyes had then been averted swiftly to stare at the milky door hoping to be free again from this torture of captivity.
The consultant’s door swung open and she said merrily: “I’m Hyacinth and I will be your coach. Thank the Ministry of Innovation.”, the way she said it included the capitalization. The Ministry was to be thanked so we murmured “tandeministrovation” – and she looked at us the way one looks at naughty children who still have a lot to learn. And we had, and only a limited time to learn it in, so “Come, come,” she said, “we have a lot of work to get through today.” We went meekly and took the places assigned to our names in the typical ministerial cleanroom, a spacious co-working place designed to stimulate creativity. I felt a little drab. “Chins up!”, she said, pointing to a whiteboard wall, “Here’s our plan for the rest of the day.”
Diagnosed at 48 I am one of those whom people find it hard to accept as autistic. I find it hard to accept the pressure to feel somehow happy about it. That pressure comes under the form of “now you know, you can better learn to live with it”. At the end of The Bridge season 4, the therapist tells Saga Norèn to finally do “what she wants” now she’s liberated from the doubt and guilt that marked her struggle in life. This is disastrous advise in my opinion, and more disastrous still in the case of autism, and this post tries to say why. It’s a post that runs counter to a certain feeling in autistic circles that you can embrace it and find success in life. It’s not a happy post as I refuse to be recovered by a modern fashion to see everything in the light of success. I believe that is autistic as well and maybe I’ll be able to start to explain why.
“With many the question of life’s worth is answered by a temperamental optimism that makes them incapable of believing that anything seriously evil can exist.”
So says William James in his essay “Is life worth living?”. He identifies a deafness for the craving for death by those who self-evidently want to live. Those those have the floor and I do not know how to express my wish of death without being met by distress or comfort. And I do not know which of these two is worst. Both are just shields against what reasons I would like to express for being this way, a way I have always been.
The discussion, then, never starts and therefore never ends. That in itself is unbearable – not having an ear means not being able to develop the language in which to speak about it. So, with James: “Let us search the lonely depths (..) together and see what answers in the last folds and recesses of things our question may find.”
Heidegger says: “Already the ‘thinking of death’ is publicly considered as the cowards fear.”
I die a thousand deaths each and every day.
They creep up on me like shivers up my crooked spine.
Make me catch my breath into my chronically shrunken lungs.
Slowly swell my prostate as if I was hit – hard – in the fucking groin.
Makes my mind spin into feeling (oh so!) special.
At the end of a life I feel like I am on top of the world,
before it all comes a-crushing crashing down. I melt – down –
to being dead inside. Life springs from that, I mean: for now at least.
‘Bummer!’ being booming business nowadays, I just go for “Mens insana in Corpore non sano.” Is it so strange to want death or is it just a part of life I happen to know better than most? The idea that dying is a once-in-a-lifetime thing at the end of life is entirely strange to me. Which makes me strange but maybe not a stranger to you.
Permit me an accusation in the form of a confession.
I (knocks): Hey, Death, you there?
Dr. Death: Yeah, who there?
DrD: Ah, you again. What now?
I: Well I wanted to talk some about this notion of self-preservation. People seem to think it crucial stuff.
DrD: Philosophers you mean? My experience is people rarely think at all, maybe I just get them when they’re all thought out.
I: Yeah, well, philosophers I suppose. But don’t they supposedly voice what people think?
DrD: They suppose that they think like other people think. My experience falsifies that.
I: Ah, O-kay, I see. so maybe self-preservation is not such a common thought after all? Continue reading