Perhaps the only way out of these impasses is what, in his unpublished “secret” writings, Denis Diderot elaborated under the title of the “materialist’s credo.” In ”Entretien d’un Philosophe avec la marechale de —” he concluded: “Après tout, le plus court est de se conduire comme si le vieillard existait… même quand on n’y croit pas.” (After all, the most straightforward way is to behave as if the old guy exists … even if one doesn’t believe it.) This may appear to amount to the same as Pascal’s wager with regard to rituals: even if you do not believe in them, act as if you believe. However, Diderot’s point is exactly the opposite one: the only way to be truly moral is to act morally without regard to God’s existence. In other words, Diderot directly inverts Pascal’s wager (the advice to place your bet on the existence of God): “En un mot que la plupart ont tout a perdre et rien a gagner a nier un Dieu renumerateur et vengeur.” (In a word, it is that the majority of those who deny a remunerating and revenging God have all to lose and nothing to gain.)” In his denial of the remunerative and vengeful God, the atheist either loses everything (if he is wrong, he will be damned forever) or gains nothing (if he is right, there is no God, so nothing happens). It is this attitude which expresses true confidence in one’s belief and makes one do good deeds without regard to divine reward or “as if the old guy exists” — this old guy is, of course, God-the-Father, which recalls Lacan’s formula Ie pere au pire — father or worse. It is at this level that one should oppose Pascal and Diderot: while Pascal bets on God-the-Father, Diderot enjoins us to parier sur Ie pire, to put one’s wager on the worse. In true ethics, one acts from the position of the inexistence of the big Other, assuming the abyss of the act deprived of any guarantee or support.
Authentic belief is to be opposed to the reliance on (or reference to) a(nother) subject supposed to believe: in an authentic act of belief, I myself fully assume my belief and thus have no need for any figure of the Other to guarantee that belief; to paraphrase Lacan, an authentic belief ne s’authorise que de lui-meme. In this precise sense, authentic belief not only does not presuppose any big Other (is not a belief in a big Other), but, on the contrary, presupposes the destitution of the big Other, the full acceptance of its inexistence.
Zizek, Less Than Nothing, p. 118
Pouvez-vous bien avancer qu’une goutte d’urine soit une infinité de monades, et que chacune d’elles ait les idées, quoique obscures, de l’univers entier, et cela parce que, selon vous, tout est plein, parce que dans le plein tout est lié, parce que tout étant lié ensemble, et une monade ayant nécessairement des idées, elle ne peut avoir une perception qui ne tienne à tout ce qui est dans le monde?
hee hee, even yr piss, that’s all them monads too, an each peck of piss, that peck is thinking about the whole universe, an yr piss is connected to everything an touching everything, an so everything in the world has got piss on it?
Voltaire, from the Éléments de la philosophie de Newton, 1738
I spent the last two years reading Schopenhauer and Hegel and Heidegger and who could have imagined it would be a loathsome little practice, sucking my attention into little formal games and formless dirges. I don’t mind the cruel sense of humor that came with it, but I feel restricted to only small, sickly pleasures.
Ugh. Time to stop. An old new year’s resolution then, cribbed. To set the standard for the coming period.
4 And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:
6 But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
7 And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.
8 And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.
9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.
10 Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.
11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12 I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.
13 And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
14 And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.
15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.
16 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.
17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.
18 And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
19 And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.
20 Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them.
21 And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.
O you profound teachers of simplicity, should it not also be possible to find the moment when one is speaking? No, only by being silent does one find the moment. When one speaks, if one says merely a single word, one misses the moment—the moment is only in silence. Because a person cannot keep silent, it rarely happens that he really comes to understand when the moment is and to use the moment properly. He cannot be silent and wait, which perhaps explains why the moment never comes for him at all. He cannot be silent, which perhaps explains why he was not aware of the moment when it did come for him. Although pregnant with its rich meaning, the moment does not have any message sent in advance to announce its coming; it comes too swiftly for that when it comes, and there is not a moment’s time beforehand. Nor does the moment, no matter how significant it is in itself, come with noise or with shouting. No, it comes softly, with a lighter step than the lightest footfall of any creature, since it comes with the light step of the sudden; it comes stealthily—therefore one must be absolutely silent if one is to be aware that “now it is here.” At the next moment it is gone, and for that reason one must have been absolutely silent if one is to succeed in making use of it. Yet everything depends on the moment. Indeed, the misfortune in the lives of the great majority of human beings is this, that they were never aware of the moment, that in their lives the eternal and the temporal are exclusively separated. And why? Because they could not be silent.
Refusing the philosophical recourse to a constituent subject does not amount to acting as if the subject did not exist, making an abstraction of it on behalf of a pure objectivity. This refusal has the aim of eliciting the processes that are peculiar to an experience in which the subject and the object “are formed and transformed” in relation to and in terms of one another. The discourses of mental illness, delinquency, or sexuality say what the subject is only in a certain, quite particular game of truth; but these games are not imposed on the subject from the outside according to a necessary causality or structural determination. They open up a field of experience in which the subject and the object are both constituted only under certain simultaneous conditions, but in which they are constantly modified in relation to each other, and so they modify this field of experience itself.
But it just occurs to me: is it really worthwhile to tell the story of my life?
No, decidedly it is not worth while… . My life is in no way different from the lives of a mass of other people. The parental home, the university, service in inferior positions, retirement, a small circle of acquaintances, downright poverty, modest pleasures, humble occupations, moderate desires— tell me, for mercy’s sake, who does not know all that? And I, in particular, shall not tell the story of my life, because I am writing for my own pleasure; and if my past presents even to me nothing very cheerful, nor even very sorrowful, that means that there really can be nothing in it worthy of attention. I had better try to analyse my own character to myself.
What sort of a man am I ? … Some one may remark to me that no one asks about that.— Agreed. But, you see, I am dying,— God is my witness, I am dying,— and really before death the desire to know what sort of a fellow I have been is pardonable, I think.
— From Diary of a Superfluous Man, by Ivan Turgenev
Poison penetrates our limbs, and already rage rushes furiously
Through all our joints; wicked deeds must be piled upon wicked deeds.
Thus we are purified. The only offering for the enraged
Is the affliction of the enemy. It pleases me to scatter him to the winds,
Mangled alive, torn into a thousand pieces,
Made into so many examples of my own sadness,
So that, when the trumpet calls for the resurrection,
He is deprived of flesh.
Intrat venenum membra, jamque omnes furit
Rabies per artus: scelere cumulandum est scelus.
Sic expiamur. Sola furibundo hostia,
Mactatus hostis. Spargere in ventos juvat,
Laceramque vivi, mille tractam partibus,
Totidem doloris speciminibus actam mei,
Ipsi vocantis ad resurgendum tubae,
[T]he fact that all bodies colliding with smaller bodies lose as much of their own motion as they impart to other bodies is a universal law governing all bodies, and follows from Nature’s necessity. Similarly, the fact that a man, in remembering one thing, forthwith calls to mind another l like it, or which he has seen along with it, is a law that necessarily follows from the nature of man. But the fact that men give up, or are compelled to give up, their natural right and bind themselves to live under fixed rules, depends on human will. And although I grant that, in an absolute sense, all things are determined by the universal laws of Nature to exist and to act in a definite and determinate way, I still say that these latter laws depend on human will. My reasons are as follows:
I. Man, insofar as he is part of Nature, constitutes a part of the power of Nature. Thus whatever follows from the necessity of man’s nature- that is, from Nature as we conceive her to be determinately expressed in man’s nature-follows from human power, even though it does so necessarily. Therefore the enacting of these man-made laws may quite legitimately be said to depend on human will, for it depends especially on the power of the human mind in the following respect, that the human mind, insofar as it is concerned with the perception of truth and falsity, can be quite clearly conceived without these man-made laws, whereas it cannot be conceived without Nature’s necessary law, as defined above.
2. We ought to define and explain things through their proximate causes. Generalisations about fate and the interconnection of causes can be of no service to us in forming and ordering our thoughts concerning particular things. Furthermore, we plainly have no knowledge as to the actual co-ordination and interconnection of things - that is, the way in which things are in actual fact ordered and connected -so that for practical purposes it is better, indeed, it is essential, to consider things as contingent. So much for law taken in the absolute sense.
The evil acts at which we are now most indignant rest on the error that he who perpetrates them against us possesses free will, that is to say, that he could have chosen not to cause us this harm. It is this belief in choice that engenders hatred, revengefulness, deceitfulness, all the degrading our imagination undergoes, while we are far less censorious towards an animal because we regard it as unaccountable. To do injury not from the drive to preservation but as requital — is the consequence of a mistaken judgement and therefore likewise innocent. In conditions obtaining before the existence of the state the individual can act harshly and cruelly for the purpose of frightening other creatures: to secure his existence through such fear-inspiring tests of his power.