a note on forced choice/love of fate

i think these notions of nietzsche and zizek both mean to move beyond the dichotomy of more or less complete free will, on the one hand, and predetermination on the other.  instead of this either/or, zizek and nietzsche wish to suggest that there is a way of feeling both that my choice is highly conditioned by forces beyond my control and that i am free to affirm it or disavow it.  the point revolves around a distinction between two ways of thinking about free will:  1)  as a quasi god-like power to sovereign self-determination, or 2) as the relatively marginal freedom to affirm or disavow the fate determined by circumstances beyond my control.  i think nietzsche and zizek agree that #1 is an illusion, albeit an illusion that’s hard to avoid, since voluntarily rejecting it implicitly affirms it no less than overtly affirming it does.  hence the only way to shake loose the illusion of free will #1 is by recognizing contingencies of fate which are beyond our control but also strongly influence who we are.  nietzsche’s sections on  intellectual conscience and physics are about being honest with ourselves about the radical complexity of the world, of the causal conditions impinging on our choices from all sides (think of the sublimity of reality post below:  how could one pretend to master one’s reality when it’s so complex?).  the only freedom that we have any real chance of exercising is the freedom to affirm or disavow the fate we find ourselves confronted with.  the chance to exercise this freedom #2 only arises when we acknowledge what is always the case anyway, which is that the illusory freedom #1 hides all those predetermining conditions of our behavior; hence the importance of disappointment, or for nietzsche illness, brief habits, perspectivism, style, etc.  but although freedom #2 may seem like a marginal power in comparison with #1, exercising it makes a huge and real, effective difference (whereas the power of #1 was always only illusory anyway):  to make your fate the object enthusiastic relishing rather than resentment or denial is to transform it utterly.  so much modern art starting with the romantics is about changing the world not by force of will but by effecting this subtle shift in attitude or perspective upon a world too complex to allow for unproblematic belief in free will.

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14 Responses to a note on forced choice/love of fate

  1. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    “So much modern art starting with the romantics is about changing the world not by force of will but by effecting this subtle shift in attitude or perspective upon a world too complex to allow for unproblematic belief in free will.”

    This is a very Christian perspective interestingly. The idea that you affect change by subtle example– not forced revolution: “My brothers, lets us love one another.” (recalling Kierkegaard and the scriptures too obviously). Christ also added to the command “Love one another”– that “by this all men will know you are my disciples.” I should point out that this love is a /command/– not a forced circumstance of fate beyond our control as Zizek defines love…

  2. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Isn’t that just another way of saying they relish the incomprehensibility of the sublime?

    • Arin Vaillancourt says:

      Why does the sublime need constant relishing though? For me the whole point of something being sublime is that it cannot be described, but experienced, and these poets are really doing us a disservice by trying constantly to capture something that cannot be caught. I see it a lot like the poem Lamia, if we continue to try to represent the sublime, we might end up taking away what was so beautiful and incomprehenisble about it. All of this theory is essentially saying the same thing, but I believe words are placing distance between us and our reality. Speaking and writing are ineffective means for subliminity to exist in because the experience gets trapped and reduced in the translation. You can choose to see their constant failure as a celebration of incomprehensibility, but I see it as an excuse to only celebrate failure.

      • boearle says:

        it seems to me that the proposition that since we can’t say anything adequate about the sublime we therefore should say nothing is just as theoretical and arguably even more dogmatic and authoritarian than any of the theories of sublimity we’ve read.

        the latter tend to share three basic premises:

        1. we are subject to experiences of love and fear that exceed our ability to describe and account for;
        2. such experiences give us a certain sense of truth and of what makes life worth living; but
        3. they also concomitantly reveal certain limits of language and reason to address the experience of love and fear of death, etc.

        So you can totally take the position that one should therefore say nothing about our desire for love and fear of death, but you cannot deny that to do so is implicitly to say something about them, to take a theoretical position on how we should act towards them.

        This suggests what many of the poets and theorists we’ve read have suggested, namely that although we cannot definitely discursively capture our experience of love and death, we also cannot avoid speaking of them; we do it compulsively (even if only to tell each other not to do it) because these are the experiences that move us the most. So our best chance of being honest with ourselves and each other, and of finding some solace in representing and sharing our plight, is to accept both the necessity of speaking of such experiences and the impossibility of doing so adequately.

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Arin I have to say I completely sympathise with the place you’re coming from. I violently reject the tendency to over analyse the sublime, ourselves, and art and I’m totally off-balance when it comes to all this theoretical stuff, so my general attitude is one of skepticism and my general reaction is defensiveness.

        On the one hand I cannot help thinking that much of this theoretical stuff is just reinventing the wheel–and making a new improved wheel that is MUCH more complicated than in needs to be, and therefore prone to breakdown (in my opinion).

        But on the other hand I think that there is something in all of it that requires our sympathy. Much of this theory and poetry, which tries to grasp at the sublime and explain it, is really the work of people who are trying very hard to understand the world and themselves– they’re lost, kind of. Art– and theory I think– are the medium through which they are attempting to find some connection to the world and understand their place in it.

        Perhaps we find it superfluous because we’re quite comfortable with our beliefs or our understanding of the world– with ourselves, so we feel defensive about the idea of something or someone explaining to us who we are and how we work. It feels kind of indecent doesn’t it? Almost intrusive…Mystery has great value– I’m totally with you on that.

        But I think it’s important to meet these authors where they’re at and try to take the theory with a grain of salt whilst still honestly trying to understand it. Not everyone feels quite so content with themselves and the world as I (we?) do. “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”– and all that.

        To me the sublime is nothing more or less than our experience of great desire–a chasm which separates us from something/ someone, or everyone/everything. Bridging that gap through creativity is what we do as humans. The thing about the moderns (I think) is that they have lost their faith so they no longer understand why we feel compelled to bridge that gap. In fact they no longer recognise it as a gap at all most of the time, and see it as a thing in itself. But when the experience comes out of nowhere it commands us to attend to it in a way that we cannot just ignore or be neutral about. We can’t not look down.

        Anyway I will leave off since I’m probably not helping, but I just wanted you to know I hear you. The sublime does not need constant relishing and I believe the continual error of the Romantics was to think that it /could/ be. And yet the experience of the sublime is so compelling that it cannot just be left alone either. The very nature of the sublime is that it compels us to look, to attend. The moderns (obviously not you) are quite troubled about why and I think we need to be fair to that even if we don’t share the same feelings of distress.

  3. i came across an amazing documentary called “Alice Dancing Under the Gallows” about the older holocaust survivor who willbe 107 years old this novermber; here is the trailer, and here are two quotes that i found relevant for this class:

    “Sometime it happens that I am thankful to have been there, because this gave me a “i am richer than other people”; my reaction on life is quite another one. All complain “this is terrible”… its not terrible.”

    Friend: “it was magic to hear this music in that kind of surrounding, which you don’t realize until it’s over, so you come sort of back to earth and see where you are, and how much it was a moral support…”

  4. Has anyone read “Of Human Bondage?” I came across some qutoes i had copied from the book a while back and thought I would also post them here:

    “Phillip thought that in throwing over the desire for happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realized it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain.They came in, both of them, as all other details of his life came in,to the elaboration of the design.He seemed for an instant, to stand above the accidents of his existence, and he feld that they could not affect him again as they had done before. Whatever happened to him now would be more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached, he would rejoice in its completion. It would be a work of art, and it would be none the less beautiful because he alone knew of its existence, and with his death, it would all at once cease to be.”

    “Phillip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than unending labour, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just accepted in the same spirit as one accepts the changing of the seasons. Fury seized him because it all seemed useless. He chould not reconcile himself to the belief that life had no meaning, and yet, everything he say, all his thoughts, added to the force of his conviction. But thought fury seized him, it was a joyful fury: life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and he faced it with a strange sense of power.”

  5. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    Rhiannon, it seems that the site is not letting me post a direct reply to your post so I’m going to say it here. I like your explanation, I’ll have to let it sit a while in my head to let it settle but I’m not saying your thoughts aren’t valid. I agree that part of the sublime is that it commands our attention, but even that is subjective to a certain degree. My ideas are getting lost in theory and frustration so excuse me for all this negativity and illogical thinking. I think I’m just trying to point out something and I feel like no one wants to listen, but thank you for understanding where I am trying to come from! 😀 It makes me happy that someone at least gets it.

    @boearle I’m confused, did you just call me an dogmatic authoritarian?

  6. boearle says:

    i think we get into trouble when we don’t engage the details of an argument but instead cast generalized aspersions. the point i try to make above is that the claim that the sublime is something to be experienced but not theorized is itself a theoretical claim. this is not simply to say it’s wrong; it’s to suggest on the contrary that one stands to learn something useful by showing some tolerance of and interest in how and why people pursue the impossible task of theorizing the sublime.

    • Arin Vaillancourt says:

      That’s evading the question.

      • boearle says:

        i haven’t called you anything arin! i tried to point out what seemed to me important implications of what you’ve said. i’m sorry you object to theorizing the sublime but engl 491 is an honors seminar in literary theory and the topic i chose for my version of 491, as my title indicates, is the sublime. my job is to help my students see how and why the sublime has been theorized in certain ways and help them formulate arguments of their own on this topic. the aim of my comments to you has been to suggest that you might have more in common with the writers you critique than you realize. but again it’s very hard to communicate and very easy for things to get polarized and/or personal when we fail to enter into the details of others’ arguments but instead impugn them categorically.

  7. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Yes exactly –I hope that’s what I got across.

  8. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    Just clarifying.

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