Dead Thinking /fragment

There is an absolutely obvious, normal step, almost a command, a silent requirement to do what we should do in order to secure and improve our life. We want to succeed, to achieve something in this world. Our thinking, perceiving, behaving are shaped by a belief in (the improvement of our) life which guides us in our daily activities, in our moral and political attitudes. An alive thinking is consolidated on and on and this alive, healthy thinking constantly forms us as healthy, functional humans. And as humans we want that a healthy, alive world takes shape around our healthy habits.

William James witnessed how healthy thinking became a new religion or at least a new background for old religions in the middle of the 19th century when the advance of liberalism brought about “a victory of healthy-mindedness” over the morbidity of the old ‘hell-fire theology’. Healthy-mindedness believes in universal evolution, ‘general meliorism’, progress, and appreciates “the conquering efficacy of courage, hope, trust”. Healthy-mindedness fosters an optimistic “muscular attitude”, similar to the one implicit in ‘Don’t Worry Movement’ which has a motto that one is encouraged to repeat to oneself often: ‘youth, health, vigor!’. But healthy-mindedness brings also contempt: for doubt, fear, worry, and “all nervously precautionary states of mind”. For a healthy mind “the attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly”. It is impossible to maintain this healthy-mindedness without “zealously emphasizing the brighter and minimizing the darker aspects of the objective sphere of things at the same time . . . we divert our attention from disease and death as much as we can; and the slaughter-houses and indecencies without end on which our life is founded are huddled out of sight and never mentioned.”

Healthy thinking avoids morbidity and tries to be optimistic but this doesn’t matter too much, the morbidity is in the world itself – we may abandon morbidity but morbidity is not abandoning us.


Light for Levinas is the condition for meaning, for thinking but also the condition for property, which “constitutes the world”: “through the light the world is given and apprehended. . .The miracle of light is the essence of thought: due to the light an object, while coming from without, is already ours in the horizon which precedes it.” Light is about registering information, about the known and knowable, it is the foundation of healthy and alive thinking. But something unsettling is camouflaged in light itself. A strange night can sometimes be felt in the most ordinary moments of plain healthy thinking, “different forms of night” can occur right in the daytime. “Illuminated objects can appear to us as if in twilight shapes. Like the unreal, inverted city we find after an exhausting trip, things and beings strike us as though they no longer are composing a world, and were swimming in the chaos of their existence.” Not only is light always encompassed by darkness but darkness lingers there, even in the most beautiful moments, in the most delightful sunny landscapes. We all know it and maybe feel it sometimes when we are ‘weak’: “something dark, something abysmal always finds its way into the bland beauty of such pictures, something that usually holds itself in abeyance, some entwining presence that we always know is there.”

If nothing else, time will dismantle our defenses and we will become weak and permeable to this darkness that is not just a rare and special ingredient of daylight but is the reality behind the superficial spectacle of light. Not only does night come again and again but it is there all the time. Or in Cioran words: “At first, we think we advance toward the light; then, wearied by an aimless march, we lose our way: the earth, less and less secure, no longer supports us; it opens under our feet. Vainly we should try to follow a path toward a sunlit goal; the shadows mount within and below us.” In this context the source of “all of life’s evils” is our “will to exist at once imperceptible and shameless” – a too optimistic conception of life which doesn’t account for the fact that “life is what decomposes at every moment; it is a monotonous loss of light, an insipid dissolution in the darkness, without scepters, without halos.” A minimum optimism can be maintained for a while, with great costs of energy, but slowly the effort needed to maintain the hope of life cannot be sustained anymore. From this point of view the obsession with life looks like a strange disease. We have to do amazing cognitive acrobatics to be able to maintain for a while our normal ‘irreality’, our petit healthy thinking. It is a great effort to keep holding it in this way, why not just let go?

Light is a deception, what appears is always below potential, below expectations. If you enter a dark place and turn the lights on, there is a moment, usually imperceptible, of deception (and relief): everything is so much less than what it could be. The promise of darkness is always betrayed when light invades. But darkness is usually a deception as well. For Cioran darkness can be “quite as mediocre as the light”. Probably because “night itself is never dark enough to keep us from being reflected in it.” Usually we implicitly add imaginary light and sight to every darkness, constantly forcing a light-continuity into it, automatically filling darkness with what we know, projecting our world into it. For Bataille the world of objects persists in ‘simple night’ because of an attention that functions by ‘way of words’. But there is a darkness that is not the absence of light but ‘absorption into the outside’ by way of a heart that has dilated and is no longer an organ but an ‘entire sensibility’.

The question is then how to escape the luminous prison, so sharply described by Clarice Lispector: “I can understand only what happens to me, but only what I understand happens?" A possible answer comes from John of the Cross: “to come to be what you are not you must go by a way in which you are not." The problem is that the only way in which you know how to go is the way in which you are. All what you are capable of comes from what you know. And the way in which you are is the result of going on known ways. Practically, this is a prison that you cannot leave and for which there is no knowledge about how to escape it because you and all the knowledge that you (can) have are the prison. You are always on known roads to known lands, there is no outside, no darkness – everywhere and everything is too much you.

In a strange YouTube tutorial a man on an empty beach teaches the viewers how to arrive to a shadow-body showing repeatedly how: “my consciousness tells my mind to tell my body to move his hand, and the hand moves the shadow”. By showing how his shadow follows the body he demonstrates that the shadow obeys his consciousness. Dead Thinking ‘teaches’ us an opposite type of approach: to start from the shadows and let them affect the body, mind, consciousness – instead of increasing control of consciousness over the shadows, allow the thinking and feeling to come from the shadows.

Published in Bezna 5, Fractija and Unsorcery