Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Circulus Vitiosus Diabolus: On Temporality and Nihilism in Sátántangó

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Circulus Vitiosus Diabolus: On Temporality and Nihilism in Sátántangó

Article excerpt

"A non-religious repetition, neither mournful nor nostalgic, a return not desired. Wouldn't the disaster be, then, the repetition - the affirmation - of the singularity of the extreme? The disaster or the unverifiable, the improper."

- Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

"That we were frightened, when you died, no, that your stern death broke in upon us, darkly wrenching the till-then from the ever-since: this concerns us; setting it all in order is the task we have continually before us."

- Rilke, "Requiem for a Friend"

"Should we die, the mechanics of life would go on without us, and that is what people feel most terribly disturbed by [...,] though it is only the very fact that it goes on that enables us properly to understand that there is no mechanism." - Krasznahorkai, War & War

Hölderlin assumed, or one of his consoling thoughts was that every ferment and every dissolution must lead "either to annihilation or to a new organization of things." Since he didn't consider total annihilation possible, he affirmed that future ages "must return out of our corruption and decay. I believe," he avowed, "in a coming revolution in the way we think, feel, and imagine, which will make the world as we have known it till now grow red with shame."1 If the cosmos itself will not be annihilated, in the nuclear epoch, in the century of dark matter and dark energy, the exponential probability of the annihilation of humanity as a species seems inevitable. It should be sobering that there are infinitely more beetles than humans on the earth, a conspicuous indication that the planet is clearly not ours, despite our apparent ability to master it. In the interim, as we await our inevitable extinction, and this is our serious game, we struggle to overcome corruption and decay, or to emerge from the uncanny shadow of a nihilism that continues to echo throughout time as it threatens to engulf or consume us like Saturn devouring his children. Whether envisioning the rendition by Goya or Rubens, the image of the devouring god may be the defining one of the 21st century: era of sacrifice, cannibalism, and madness. Era of cruelty, mercilessness, and the corruption of power. In the midst of this, we strive to organize things anew; we strive to return out of the preceding age's corruption and decay and to transfigure thinking, feeling, and imagining, as Hölderlin hoped to do. His drama on Empedocles warns us though of exceeding our measure. Few heed the signal. If it is imperative to conceive of new ways of existing or new praxes of life, such developments are slow and painstaking, like recovering from a life-threatening malady. Even in the midst of significant transformations, even in the midst of revolutions, whether political, religious, or artistic one is still often ruled by old values, for they have been inscribed in the body over millennia. It is only through patient and persistent work that we can alter our constitution, but often we are violently thrust into the new and the effects of such shocking ingresses into it deceive us into believing that the changes we have undergone are permanent and lasting, but old values continue to reverberate and surface at the most surprising moments.

If we believe or profess to be modern, that is, more advanced, more developed, or more enlightened, and technological innovation compels if not tricks us into thinking such, those innovations are phantasms; they create the pernicious illusion of progress, of some teleological development, and conceal the fact that we are still quite primitive, still as savage as the giants of the Old Testament, still devourers of children. Refined, perhaps, elegant, indeed, but still Saturnine, still melancholic - that is, cannibals. And the messiahs speak of hope and change as if such things were but instant oatmeal. Add water, if you have it, and presto! However, real transformations are slow, and the tempo of the metamorphosis may not even be lento, but an extended grave. …

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