Here is a fifteen minute video that I shot on Vimeo. Recently, I have been using Vimeo as an educational platform and a way to share my thoughts. This video opens up an aphorism by E.M. Cioran and brings in some other thinkers, as well. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best I could do at the time. I hope you can pull something useful out of it. Please ask questions.
Image via Wikipedia Why are so many people, myself included, connecting to and engaging in online communities? Are “listening to the conversation” and “sharing,” the two main reasons that many of us participate in social media? Perhaps, it’s the spreading of “personal branding” that excites us, gives us the chance to personally manage and influence our online reputation. Or, is it something different? In an essay written in 1964 entitled, “Fame: Hopes and Horrors,” E.M. Cioran writes, “If each of us were to confess his most secret desire, the one that inspires all his plans, all his actions, he would say: ‘I want to be praised.’ No one will make such a confession, for it is less shameful to commit an abomination than to proclaim so pitiable and so humiliating a weakness, looming out of a feeling of solitude and insecurity from which both the fortunate and the rejected suffer with equal intensity (107).” Is Cioran’s way of thinking relevant to today’s flux of social networking sites?
What is it about social networking sites that fuel our desire to engage, to discuss or to network with unknown others? Perhaps, for some, it is the lust for “information,” having to keep abreast of new technological developments and web applications. The rush of being the first person to blog about a new development or news story constantly flows through my Twitter feed. It is impossible to engage in a “real” conversation through the use of micromedia, all one can do is comment or summarize. However, beneath the visual interface of the application, how do we communicate through these tools and how do they serve to influence our sense of self? Before writing this article, I announced through Twitter that I was about to start this article. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time and it provided a sense of connectedness to some larger body of people. What was my purpose, though, in sending that Tweet? How strange to think about how “connected” we all are through the interface of these machines. Perhaps, “deep down” we can relate to Cioran. How wonderful it would have been, had someone thought to write back a short reply, praising my efforts or showing some interest toward the endeavor. No one did. There is a kind of self-pride that flows through the use of these sites, an inflated sense of who we think we are and who we want ourself to be. Nonetheless, having 5,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of “conversation,” only noise.
The wish to be praised seems such a harmless one. The validation that occurs at a live performance or after a great speech fills the performer with a sense of validation and, perhaps, with the lust for more. Why do so many people want to be on TV, even as an extra in a non-speaking role? Is it because the work is easy? Is it because the pay is decent for the amount of work done? It seems that the world of TV gives one the chance to enter into a hyper-version of reality, a reality that feels more real than real. Why does it make people so happy to watch the misfortune of others through the interface of the screen?
In a productive society, the will to be creative, the drive to create and shape things, brings happiness. The sharing of those things with others also brings happiness, but in what ways? Is it the pure giving of the creation to another, a pure selfless act? Or, is it the feeling of pride that one gets when one gives the object to the other person? In Japan, when someone gives a gift, it is common to say something like “This is a boring gift for you.” Although, in native Japanese, the expression doesn’t translate as harshly as when put into English, the meaning is basically the same. The gift is verbally degraded, although it is probably a very nice or thoughtful present. This degrading of oneself is common in this situation. The recipient of the gift should praise the gift and the gift-giver. One only needs to look at the glimmer in the eye of the giver to see the happiness that comes from giving and the happiness that comes from being praised.
Is the way out of this flux, simply to turn off the computer and disconnect from the applications? Does this need to be praised surface in all other areas of our life? Is this our lot in life? If so…
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Let us commit the crime of dissection. We shall proceed to cut a Cioranian fragment open, exposing the innards and watching them ripen. The theme: time, the frame: “The Brown Bunny”.
“I accumulate the past, constantly making out of it and casting into it the present, without giving it a chance to exhaust its own duration. To live is to suffer the sorcery of the possible; but when I see in the possible itself the past that is to come, then everything turns into potential bygones, and there is no longer any present, any future. What I discern in each moment is its exhaustion, its death-rattle, and not the transition to the next moment. I generate dead time, wallowing in the asphyxia of becoming (Cioran 173-174).”
Vincent Gallo’s film “The Brown Bunny” takes us on a journey across the USA through the decentered gaze of a motorcycle racer named Bud Clay. Bud suffers the woes of being obsessed, haunted, by a past lover named Daisy. In every woman Bud meets, there is a trace of Daisy. However, Bud also suffers what Cioran calls “the asphyxia of becoming,” that is, for Bud there is no present and no future, only the slimey blur of the projected past. In every woman Bud meets and wants to seduce, he sees a chance to regain the present, but ends up utter desolate in not being able to become apart from his obsession with the past that is Daisy. Near the beginning of the film he meets a younger woman in a gas station and asks her to escape with him to California. She is lured in and they drive to her house so that she can pack. Bud is struggling to regain the present, they kiss, she enters the house while Bud waits in his van and, struck by the Cioran “exhaustion of the moment,” deems futile his efforts and leaves. This inability to escape the vortex of his past continues to haunt him and even at the end of the film in the traumatic sexual act with (what could be the ghost of) Daisy, he finds no recourse. The open road is his only comfort and even then…
Bud suffers the asphyxia of becoming while caught up in the web of a projected past. His vision is clouded by the phantom of Daisy, of his past obsession. Every encounter with another woman, useless. Struggling to regain the present, to have a present and a future bereft of the monsterous past, he nonetheless gives it his best shot, only to be conquered by his own weakness, by the strength of the human condition: time.
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The following is part two of my reading of E.M. Cioran
The simplified formula for the human being is set up by Cioran in the following way, “If God once announced that He was ‘that which is,’ man, on the other hand, might define himself as ‘that which is not.’ And it is precisely this lack, this deficit of existence which, wakening his pride by reaction incites man to defiance or to ferocity (Cioran 41).” This is to say that for Cioran the virtual is woven into the fabric of the Real. The human creature is the creature that exists through imagining and symbolizing rather than through a direct confrontation with reality. Moreover, it is this lack of confronting the real, that defining the human, can be perceived, for Cioran, in our moments of what he has called in other words “lucidity.” That is, we exist through a semblance of reality and rarely if ever through a direct confrontation of reality. However, he points out, that we do have moments of lucidity (moments of experiencing reality), moments that we can trace back to our decision to abandon the tree of life. That is, as he urges us, “Consider his absences, those moments when he slows down or comes to a halt: do we not see in his eyes exasperation or remorse for having spoiled not only his first home but even this exile for which he was so impatient, so greedy (Cioran 42)?” This “slowing down,” for Cioran encompasses our in-between moments, the moments that we, grappling between two points find ourselves, catch ourselves, in the middle, hovering and unsure, face to face with the abysmal Void, with a crack in the virtuality of reality. One can readily see this opening of the Void in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot.”
To be the animal who is caught up in his own image, for Cioran, is an unnatural state of being, a state of being only known to humans. He writes, “A shadow grappling with images, a somnabulist who sees himself walking, who contemplates his movements without discerning either their direction or their cause (Cioran 42).” It is in this recognition and experience of self-reflexivity that we have become human, the creature who is here, but is nonetheless distracted by the virtual image of how we see ourself to be as reflected by those around us (the virtual creature). It is through this indirectness that we confront the world, that we have seperated ourself from the purity of vegetative existence. Moreover, it is no accident that Cioran used the word “shadow,” for the shadow represents the terrifying and haunting, nonetheless blank image of oneself, the image that one cannot get rid of no matter how hard one tries, the blank space between us and the Real.
Despite this, Cioran writes the following: “Transcendence possesses certain curative powers: whatever disguise he assumes, a god signifies a step toward recovery. Even the Devil represents for us a more effective recourse than our own kind (Cioran 43).” That is, to escape from this as mentioned in the Claudio Fragasso film Troll 2, “kingdom of shadows,” one must seek that kernel of Being that is still apart of oneself, that point of Being and not being, that sustains one’s being. Again, for Cioran, to focus on the human, is to focus on that which is has emerged out of an error, out of a lie, therefore one must seek, as a mode of recovery, transcendence in the image of a god, that is, of a force still in direct communion with Being itself. In this way, the human should humble itself to the margin, to the cracks, seeking to regain the Void from which it came, the neglected tree of life. I quote, “Obscured by metamorphosis, by possibility, by the imminent grimace of ourselves, we accumulate unreality and dilate ourselves in the false, for once we know ourselves, once we feel ourselves to be men, we tend to gigantism, we want to seem larger than life (Cioran 44, 45).” To restate, along Cioranian lines, unreality is homologous to the human situation, “the kingdom of shadows.” Moreover, the consequences for living through this myopic falsity is gigantism, imagining oneself to be more than what one really is. Having severed ourself from the tree of life, this, for Cioran is the consequential status of our existence.
E.M. Cioran, in his Supremacy of the Adjective suggests that we are forever bound by our language. This observation generally addresses the human condition, more specifically, those who speak history into existence and color the past with their adjectival descriptions of it.
The world changes in accordance with the words that we use to describe it. This shift in language constitutes our existential experience. To speak of God or “progress” is to speak them into existence in how we speak of them. In penetrating words to their core, unclothing them, we find that the meanings we ascribe them, disappear, decompose. Instead of manifesting meaning, they vanish into meaningless vocables. Culture is that which we have created by dint of the words that we use to symbolize it. Our descriptions of the world at once confine us and shift our understanding and experience of Being.