Nihilism

Nihilism

Nihilism

Nihilism

Synopsis

Most significant problems of contemporary life have their origins in nihilism and its paradoxical logic, which is simultaneously destructive to and constitutive of society. Yet, in social theory, nihilism is a surprisingly under-researched topic. This book develops a systematic account of nihilism in its four main forms: escapism, radical nihilism, passive nihilism and 'perfect nihilism.' It focuses especially on the disjunctive synthesis between passive nihilism (the negation of the will) and radical nihilism (the will to negation), between the hedonism/disorientation that characterizes the contemporary post-political culture and the emerging forms of despair and violence as a reaction to it. The book deals with nihilism at three levels. First, it addresses the genealogy and consequences of nihilism, which is followed by an excursus through film analysis. Then the book focuses on the 'social,' relating nihilism to capitalism, post-politics and terrorism. Another excursus fleshes out the theoretical argumens by focusing on Houellebecq's fiction. Finally, the possibilities of overcoming nihilism are considered by emphasizing the significance of concepts such as event, agonism and antagonism in this context.

Excerpt

I repeat, moderate your demands, don’t demand all that is ‘great and
beautiful’ of me, and we shall live in peace and harmony, you’ll see.

(Dostoevsky 2004: 647)

This is how the devil speaks toward the end of Brothers Karamazov, announcing the ludicrousness of sublimation, of ‘all that is great and beautiful’, in modern times, and demanding moderation. A banal, normalized devil that no longer speaks the language of evil, a devil without evil. This paradoxical, mediocre devil was the nightmare through which the nineteenth century dreamed of the times to come, a future that promotes passivity, a ‘dampening of the feeling of life, mechanical activity, modest pleasures …’ (Nietzsche 1996: 114). Fast forward two centuries: are we not caught up in the same nightmare, too? Indeed, ours is a society that has turned moderation into an even more straightforward injunction. Hence our obsession with ‘a whole series of products deprived of their malignant properties: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol …’ (Žižek 2002: 10). We should not, in this context, forget the recent breakthrough in ‘gene silencing’ technology: the tearless onion. Thanks to New Zealand’s crop and food research institute, which . . .

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