It is rarely assumed that not wanting to live; or finding one’s life – or as it is usually generalized in such states of mind, finding life itself – unbearable may, in certain circumstances, be the sane option, the utterly realistic view.

Adam Phillips (via)


~ by Benoît on July 15, 2010.

5 Responses to “Sane”

  1. But I think the most basic aspect of existentialism and psychoanalysis is that they DO treat death as a radical absurdity against which it is justified to be adjusted self-destructively, melancholically, anxiously, etc. to life That’s in Nietzsche and countless others, and by the time people like Tillich and Rollo May think about Freud’s death drive, they come right out and say that it is insane to be well-adjusted to life.

    I think the really traumatic possibility that psychological philosophy hasn’t faced is that death is not the demolisher we’ve relied on it to be, that some dualism is true and we do survive death in some rational form. The possibility of immortality has only been dealt with in the most pedantic and mythic ways by theology. Especially when I hear about the still remote, yet nevertheless conceivable, possibility that we can at some point extend our life spans virtually without limit through relatively simple biological implements, I wonder how all the great existentialists would have to reposition themselves without the presumption that death is a certitude. Kant and Kierkegaard, I think, come closest to facing the trauma when they argue that rationality and faith CHARGE US with the burden of immortality–that it’s the evasion of this burden and not some higher wisdom of death that makes us maladjusted to life. Sure, there’s also the cosmological extinction of our galaxy to face, but hasn’t it really been a crutch to avoid really taking the risks of transhumanism?

    It’s a situation that’s been personally castrating for me: I tend to look to philosophy to ground my deepest feelings of alienation, thrownness and madness in life. But when I really press my introspection, I find that the honest response from philosophy is simply to call me a coward.

    • The wording of your first paragraph suggests you’re unaware Phillips is a psychoanalyst working to retrieve the vertiginous element of analysis’ discoveries. Unless you’re saying this is old news as far as analysis is concerned, but Phillips is trying to reach a broader, less educated audience.

      I agree that mortality has been taken granted as an essential condition of life generally when we’re more than aware that there are organisms which are more or less immortal (and some that age backwards!). So it isn’t life that’s lamented, but only the specific condition of being a certain kind of high-consumptive organism. Here you suggest the survival of death “in some rational form”. I’m unsure (unread as I am in Kant or Kierkegaard) of how to understand “rational form” but I am a little more familiar with the other possibility of cybernetic augmentation you point to. Science fiction and horror literature has pondered this possibility already, ahead of current philosophy, and always seems to conclude that such immortality (cybernetic or supernatural [read:vampires]) inexorably exhausts its value in self-destructive boredom, a death wish. But all of this very clearly presumes the centrality of death rather than a genuine consideration of immortality.

  2. Yes, I was unaware of Phillps’ work, which makes my allusion to psychoanalysis redundant–but is Phillips reviving the more commanding elements of “Kant avec Sade,” or is it just more existentialism?

    I think we certainly have a lot of prediction that immortality would not be a good thing–even in the earliest roots of ancient philosophy–but I meant to suggest, as you say, that the centrality of death in these claims is at least a psychological cop-out.

    But to have more context on Phillips, under what “conditions” does he say that finding life unbearable is sane? Why can’t he simply say that finding life bearable is unreflective or insane?

    Spinoza–I didn’t really grasp it when I last posted–did have this intense metaphysical system where no negativity, and therefore no common conception of death, exists. Unfortunately, it was also entirely mechanistic, so we had no real personal burdens to face; we were just to have an adequate understanding of the way things must be from our limited vantage points. Deleuze runs with and sophisticates this, but his metaphysics were always too vertiginous for me to keep up with.

    Do you know of other deliberations with immortality in philosophy? I’m sure my initial caricature of the matter was oversimplified.

  3. Thanks!

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