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First pages of an essay published in SubStance #126, Vol. 40, no. 3, 2011, translated by Roxanne Lapidus.

 

“What characterizes the comical is the infinite satisfaction, the sense of security one experiences in feeling oneself to be above one’s own contradiction, rather than seeing in it a cruel and unhappy situation.”

—Hegel, Aesthetics

In his approach to the comic, Hegel identifies the sense of security one experiences in feeling oneself “above.” Thanks to this position of looking down from above, all the contradictions of the world are revealed as inconsistencies, as ridiculous pretensions; everything that is patently false collapses. But all the value of the world as it is—of the world as it is thought and produced—nevertheless remains, preserved in its broad strokes, its order and its organization. Here’s the comic scenario:

…imagine it’s the laughter of the world’s populations in the face of the devastation of the planet, ecological disasters and the destruction of individual and public liberties; imagine this epidemic of laughter spreading from one person to another, by contiguity. But add to this inevitable contact (transmitted via text messages, cell phones, the mass media, coffee shop discussions, involuntary behavior, appearances on the street, ways of looking) the refusal of any contact, an aspiration to remain absolutely “above”: integrally separated, protected from anything that might remotely resemble the common lot, the shared fate, living in community.

It would be dangerously premature to consider this nightmarish contradiction as comical. Our planet is in fact subject to two processes that seem contradictory: 1) an epidemic-like communication of phenomena that form a kind of ontological continuity, a contagious mixture; and 2) an immunization of the Self (individual and collective) against otherness and against anything that could alter this Self. Everything touches everything else and is not touched. Laughable? Not really. Anguish-inducing? If deficient in psychotropes. We need to seek the roots, the origins—psychological, ontological, and political—of such a situation. Let’s consider the genealogy of the globalized planet: what knowledges, what relations to Self, what desires are at work in the production of the world? Everything seems motivated by a fundamental drive, the urge to remain what Derrida would call “indemne”—untouched or unscathed. The satanic urge to remain untouched, which is neither the life drive nor the death drive, promises and pronounces the worst fate: even when you are touched, you aren’t. You are intact; you will always be intact, no matter what happens. And more to the point, nothing can happen to you.

(…)

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