Something in The Way

There is something in the way that prevents me from reaching a wider philosophical enlightenment, and beyond what I thought was just a stage of melancholic existence; much desired (and much-needed), it feels like the inevitable next step that is forever delayed.

For some years now my belief is that the ‘something in the way’ is capital. I claim it is beyond doubt that It has an invisible, yet over-determining presence in every one of life’s equations, and thus cannot be subtracted from any given equation. Anybody who thinks this claim is wildly exaggerated should pause and try to think of any given moment in our lives that is free of conflict with its demands, or is motivated by its demands, or both.

For this reason, the philosophical approach(es), of ‘oneness’ (or ‘wholeness’), the spiritualist pleasure in seeing ourselves as part of everything else (largely associated with traditional Eastern and Native American thought), remain very nice ideas but distant and intangible, and my philosophy is bound to partisan chains. yet, I do not mean partisan in the usual sense of ‘I am against this person/group/class, etc’. Although my philosophy is naturally in conflict with interests with an investment the dominant power structure (whether delusional or real investments), it is a condition of being partisan that is directed against a something (the intangible something of capital), rather than a specific person/group/class who, after all, are also subjected to the same real of capital, whether they have it great, riding high, jet-setting across the globe, or are enduring the most brutal exploitation.

The use here of a Nirvana song title (not The Beatles!) for this blog title isn’t a random act, if you see a major factor in the front-man Kurt Cobain’s self-destruction as a philosophical deadlock which was caused by the existential-assault of late capitalism’s ability to turn any sublime artistic endeavour of his into a money-spinning turn (almost seemingly achieved faster than the artist endeavour was achieved); propelling him to stardorm whilst compromising and fucking over his very existence.

Mark Fisher, in Capitalism Realism (2009), argued that Kurt Cobain/Nirvana arrived too late, that he (Nirvana) fitted well the integrity, genuine liberatory spirit of the counter-cultural pop music of the 60’s and 70’s. But by the time Nirvana arrived, the future such a counterculture demanded had been canceled out (or, at least hijacked by other forces); “the high existential angst of Nirvana belongs to an older moment”, leaving Cobain to “objectless rage”, leading tragically to inflected rage and eventually to self-destruction.

“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew that he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realizing it is a cliche”.Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (2009)

But this so-called ‘end of history’ (Francis Fukuyama) shoreline that Nirvana washed up on, like a rare thing thought to no longer exist, well, maybe it did at least bear some resemblance to he realised desires of counterculture from the previous decades? I think it makes sense to say that a lot of what has constituted life, in an era generally referred to as postmodern, had at least the objective appearance of the realisation of the ideals sought-after by the counter-cultural/progressive forces prior to this age (at least in the countries designated ‘Western). Yet, inspite of this resemblance, the subjective experience of this era has had a consistent dread, and depression, that wouldn’t go away, due to the ever-faster-swimming ‘something in the way’ of capital – an invisible evil spirit that couldn’t be exorcised. And perhaps this ‘something in the way’ ruined a space in time when it could have actually worked out?

I do not think the quality of life (for most people) can be improved until this ‘something in the way’ is rooted out. For this the reason I remain highly critical of the advice (sometimes given when you’ve not even asked for it) that change can only come from within. I am always suspicious of this, especially as it can often come across as self-gratifying smugness, as if the advice-giver had found a key that allows them exist with gravity-less-ease, untouched by the ‘blockages-to-Being’ that, for me, constitute more than less of our (21st century) waking lives. My cognitive mapping cannot move beyond there being a ‘blockage-to-Being’ that remains external, and, more so, that this external thing is continuously bearing down heavier, making less rather than more possible.

Maybe my cognitive mapping has a damaged receptor, maybe it is ‘entirely subjective’. But for me this is too easy, I have always felt my subjective mapping to have been constituted by the objective situation. I feel that Slavoj Žižek is making the same point in his book The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012) about the disparate yet totally connected sparks of revolt around the world in 2014. Using Marx’s point that the “‘objective’ determinations of reality are at the same time ‘subjective’ thought-determinations (of the subject caught up in this reality)… Žižek says “…the limits of our thoughts, its deadlocks, contradictions, are at the same time the antagonisms of objective social reality itself…”. Žižek often criticises the use of traditional Eastern philosophical practices within contemporary capitalist culture (meditation practices for example), for the way they allow disavowal from the objective reality we exist, and participate in. For me, this simply doubles-up my conviction that such practices, that are closely tied with the advice to “just be”, at best don’t begin to challenge this ‘something in the way’, and at worst advice me to ignore the social reality which constitutes this unshifting feeling.

Maybe we have run out of time to realise the aforementioned ideal, free of this ‘evil spirit, an era that the postmodern could have been? What, with the damage done since then; the necessary carnage dealt by a system that necessitates a culture of hasty resource consumption, resulting in climate scientists confirming a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius is unstoppable now, that it is really about damage limitation now, by trying to work towards making the planet as inhabitable for humans as possible. But to carry on with this something that is hastening all this, whilst compounding an immiserating existential deadlock – well, if I believe anybody is under a massive delusion if they feel they have an investment in such a world. And I think a meditational philosophical approach (to “just be”) to relieve many from this immiserating existential deadlock is practicing denial. Such a philosophy, isn’t the problem (by itself I have no problem with it, nor do I criticise though who do practice it for what it is) but if it is used to advocate forgetting about the problem, it is really no good right now.

About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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