Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed. But what can attribution achieve in this instance? The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism. The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice. When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic. Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.
It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard. But what do we find now that the curtain has…
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Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed. But what can attribution achieve in this instance? The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism. The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice. When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic. Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.
It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard. But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame? A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion. Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours. True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events. To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely). But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.
As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship. It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying. About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone. All ideology is narrative. Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity. Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world. All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).
What follows is my review of the past twelve months. It is necessarily my own perspective. A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman). Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith. Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.). Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog. Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry. There follows a full bibliography and an appendix. Ma gavte la nata.
Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016
We escape too rarely from the grip of dualism. Dualism is a hell of which heaven is a part. We have forever been confronted by an agonising reality, the vicissitudes of a good and evil that are strictly interchangeable. A reality organised and patched up for centuries by a worldwide culture in which imbecility trumps intelligence and universalising thought mulls interminably over platitudes: le mort saisit le vif; after the rain comes the sunshine; everything becomes wearisome, everything breaks; six of one and half a dozen of the other; the wheel of fortune revolves around a void. Each of us is driven to the edge of a swamp where there is no choice but to plunge in and drift in a state of nausea for a lifetime before drowning.
Despite the spectacle of everyday horror sustained by the media’s lies, are we not on the point of reconnecting with the evolutionary process due to overwhelm our present state of survival, which is a social jungle where the laws of predation hold sway and make our existence ever more unliveable?
The fact that Bosch was, historically speaking, a premature Renaissance man also marks him out as the alchemist of an ongoing mutation. He belongs to the tradition of those who, by peering deeply and without indulgence into themselves, have obstinately advanced the excavation of our desperately inhuman history. The dream of a society where life triumphs over the contempt visited on us by the rule of the commodity is not an illusory restoration of some golden age, but instead the way out of the nightmare that chokes us ever more tightly each day. Bosch’s contribution is to have held up a looking-glass to our anguish as well as to our irrepressible will to live. A looking-glass that we must pass through if we are to make our way beyond the realities it reflects.
A Thousand Erotic Games
Raoul Vaneigem writes about Hieronymus Bosch in the London Review of Books
The decline and fall of totalitarian regimes has pointed up the underlying totalitarianism of ideologies that only yesterday were able to buttress their credibility with vocabularies of emancipation. With the crumbling of the old dichotomy between Eastern bureaucratic despotism and Western democratic bureaucracy, one thing has become perfectly clear: all ideologies are totalitarian. Cut off from the very life they are supposed to represent in the spectacle, they invariably take over a repressive power that has been in place for thousands of years: the power of heaven over earth, of the spirit over the body, of lucrative labor over creative pleasure.
Arising from a philosophy in rebellion against theology’s hermetic and pervasive vision of the world, ideologies were assured victory in their relentless undermining of the religious edifice when the agrarian mode of production gave way to industrial capitalism. The French Revolution rendered obsolete the long-held conviction that God was the arbiter of well-being and misfortune. Paradoxically, however, though they smashed the yoke of the Church and the priests, ideologies preserved the essence of religion over everyday existence by exercising control that; as secular as it might claim to be, perpetuated traditional Judeo-Christian forms of behavior: guilt, self-hatred, fear of pleasure, the hope for a future heaven on earth, and, above all, the contempt for the body and for the earth that gives our upside-down world its intolerable reality.
The present-day collapse of mass ideologies – of nationalism, liberalism , socialism, fascism , communism – encourages the increasingly widespread turning away from the political sphere per se. This reaction also reflects the confusion of people ill-prepared for independence and poorly schooled in the art of deciding their own fate. The inability of the most diverse governments to resolve the present economic crisis has produced contradictory and fluctuating tendencies: on the one hand, a regression toward the archaisms of religion; on the other, a new consciousness, that of the individual who banks on the will to live in order to rebuild the environment so horribly abused by traditional rulers.
So brutal has the exploitation of nature been that its resources – the very nature of its profitability – are threatened with exhaustion; there is thus no choice but to develop ecological markets in order to get the economy out of its present morass. People have already been aroused, then hoodwinked, by the imperatives of consumption at any cost. There is a good chance that people moved by real desire will easily discern tenderness and creativity among the dividends of this “renaturalization,” and that, for the sake of their own happiness, they will treat this process as an incitement to transcend the venal co-optation of life.
It is not, however, inconceivable that the religious spirit, weary of Churches but not of itself, may find a niche in ecology; that Gaia may be conscripted to lend a semblance of life to those mortal relics of God that still dictate so many actions governed by fear, submission, dependency and repression alternating with temporary release.
It is worth recalling, therefore, that religion has never been anything but the relational mode employed by the State as a replacement for the former osmosis between human and earthly nature. More than any other religious cult Catholicism and its dissenting offshoots have maintained their power through constant ecclesiastical control, using the spatial grid of parishes and the calendar’s ritual marking off of time to track down indifference or resistance to the inculcation of the faith.
By labeling as heresy all views of which it disapproved the Church successfully passed its orthodoxy off as a unique scale for weighing the true meanings of words, beings and things. It nevertheless felt inadequate and disarmed in the face of certain attitudes that it deemed “meaningless and demented.” With some unease the Inquisition attached the words “free spirit” and “madness” to men and women who renounced all spiritual and temporal authority, seeking no more than to live in accordance with their own desires.
As this book attempts to show, the partisans of the Free Spirit were divided on one fundamental issue. Driven by their will to follow nature, some identified with God and the ordinariness of his tyranny, using force, violence, constraint and seduction to secure the right to gratify their whims and passions. Others refused to countenance such a union between a despotic God and a denatured nature, a union whose exploitation found perfect expression in the myth of a divinity at once pitiful and pitiless. Instead they saw the refinement of their desires and the quest for a ubiquitous and sovereign amorous pleasure as a way for replacing the spiritualized animal and its labor of adaptation with an authentic human species capable of creating the conditions favorable to its own harmonious development.
Historians for the most part have ignored or misapprehended the struggle waged through the ages against religion’s impregnation of consciousness and behavior. The disappearance of dictatorships calls for an end to further tolerance of religion’s arrogant attempt to regulate the thoughts and actions of human beings by an infantilizing subjection that is no longer acceptable even in raising children.
Emerging from beneath the rubble of lies and fraud the present is beginning to re-experience some plain truths of the distant past. The Middle Ages were no more Christian than the late Eastern bloc was communist. The heaviest burdens imposed by barbarism have never completely smothered the ever-present yearning for true humanity.
That the commitment to life which is increasingly evident today should once have dared manifest itself in the sinister light of the burning stake is a lesson that, I venture to hope, will not be lost in the United States, where the gulf between technological modernity and an archaic agrarian mentality still nourishes the spirit of Calvinism and the morbid teachings of the Bible.
Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith