Lucid Living

Laughing in the Face of Sleep

To say I'm a little under the gun would be an understatement. That's not the kind of hyperbole I'm in to. I have this lofty notion of seeing the end of this tunnel of work, but I'm pretty sure it will spit me right out into next term. I suppose I should at least pretend there is the possibility of some kind of reprieve, to think otherwise would be folly.

Somebody said last night that they hated Nietzsche, in the way that one hates a bad movie or steamed broccoli. This is of course a valid opinion, in the truest meaning of the word, and there would be nothing to talk about if it was, as suggested, a matter of taste. Taste is a funny word. By applying it to culture we somehow tend to elevate it from its root, obscuring its original meaning in order to leverage its connotative currency, its well established patterns of meaning. What is implicit in the use of the word taste for things you don't eat, is that they are assessed on this basic primordial level alone, that their worth is strictly determined by sensual mechanics.

Sensuality, by which I mean all affects of the senses, lies at the heart of opinion. This is why knowledge and opinion differ. An opinion is a disposition of the mind brought about by the senses, what modern thought famously held to be the only kind of disposition our mind can have. Knowledge is that disposition that comes about through the destruction of opinion, through its criticism and examination. The one does not always lead to the other, but the former is always the starting point. We experience the world through our senses, but seldom seem to do much more than that.

So, of course, since all communication consists of making pictures with words, it is perfectly understandable for someone to chew the gristle of Nietzsche for a while and find that it is not to their liking. The problem arises when such a distaste is conflated with thought, when it passes for something worth talking about. People rarely discuss their raw likes and dislikes in any setting, at least not for the sole sake of expressing their tastes. Even in an environment such as speed-dating, you catalogue your tastes in such a way as to assess compatibility, not simply because you think it makes for riveting conversation. Social media is changing this.

You'd be hard pressed to find anything quite like it when it comes to celebrating the inane. Never before has so much energy been put into the constant expression of taste, the projection of raw sense impressions into the vacuum of the internet. Everyone has heard the tired complaint of the Facebook friends who post what they happen to be eating. What often seems to go unstated is that almost all of the content of something like Facebook really just consists of more complex iterations of "Jimmy is microwaving a burrito." Taste can be intricate and sophisticated, but it doesn't stop being taste. Even a relatively intelligent person's Twitter page will make them seem like a waste of space; luckily, we've yet to contend with the spectre of internet overpopulation.

To be blunt, the first and only time that anyone should really care about your tastes are when you're expressing them all over the walls from a highchair.

This is why it doesn't matter if you "don't like" Nietzsche:

Nietzsche says something Plato doesn't, and says it most forcefully by proving it. Where Plato tells us of the utter futility of political projects, it is Nietzsche who highlights the futility of personal ones as well. There can be no successful personal project because we are incapable of total projection. We cannot leap to another stepping stone without bringing some of the dust from the first. To merge art and action, which is the essence of a project, means to completely detach oneself from all outside influence, which can only lead to self-annihilation. Barring this, there can be no project of the self, only a muddling through.

While this might seem like a bit of a rough transition from one subject to another, a jolting segue, there's a connection between the two. It's only inevitable that a certain element of the population will react to social media in a negative fashion, that they will turn inwards with a yearning for purpose just as their contemporaries yearn for attention. The danger is the seductive allure of the project, the extreme aesthetic, the desire to remake oneself in order to exist meaningfully. It won't end well. But so long as we only talk about the things we like, we'll end up learning a lot of lessons the hard way.