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Category Archives: Nihilism
Posted: February 24, 2017 at 6:12 pm
Theres something endearing about a band of rust-belt punks (from Allenstown, Pennsylvania) fronted by a sometime insurance claims adjuster (name of Matt Korvette) whose stated aim is to bludgeon the listener with dull, monotonous droning rock music that just sucks the energy out of you. Like life, then!
Pissed Jeans fifth album catalogues Korvettes frustration at mainstream moeurs in the time-honoured Black Flag mode, only with a binding theme of masculine sexual despondency and a sound a bit like mud with shards of glass in it.
The opener, Waiting On My Horrible Warning, is a test of faith, but the ensuing The Bar Is Low casts an almost Houellebecqian eye on the 21st-century douchebag.
Elsewhere Korvette examines the despondent allure of the Ignorecam there are men whose peculiar fetish is to pay women to ignore them, did you know? while Im a Man, narrated by author Lindsay Hunter, is an everyday horror story of office predator (Lick that envelope Fill that stapler.)
Beneath the nihilism and cynicism and bile, one suspects Pissed Jeans are the last decent men in America.
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Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:03 am
Like many others, I was grieved to learn of Michael Novaks passing. Though I had never met him nor corresponded with him, I did feel in a very real way that he had been my teacher. My classroom with him had been his Templeton Prize address, Awakening From Nihilism. I was five years old in August 1994 when Novak delivered it, but his wisdom has not faded with time. Reading the address as a college student in the late 2000s, I found its prophetic witness every bit as true to the world I lived in as if it had been delivered that day.
What I found in Awakening From Nihilism was (at last) a coherent, fully-formed case for truth. In my evangelical education, every teacher I learned from cared about and loved truth, but few could explain why truth mattered to freedom. My evangelical teachers stressed, rightly, that without regard for the truth, Christ and his kingdom were inaccessible. But for many of my peers, the pursuit of truth wasand isdiametrically opposed to the pursuit of freedom. Truth is often received as a frozen, cerebral word; love, justice, and authenticity, by contrast, are the words of the artist and humanist. Even those in my life who knew that truth mattered seemed resigned to this mentality, appealing to truth over and against freedom in the name of religious obligation, not human flourishing.
In his lecture, Michael Novak destroyed this false dichotomy. He destroyed it with history, deftly observing that the horrors of the twentieth century were the fault not of theocrats (as the New Atheists repeatedly insist) but of relativists. Murderous authoritarianism, Novak said, assaulted the truth long before it assaulted the people. The gas chamber and the gulag were indeed monuments to a superstition, but not the superstition the postmodernists claimed.
What those learned who suffered in prison in our timewhat Dostoevsky learned in prison in the Tsars timeis that we human beings do not own the truth. Truth is not merely subjective, not something we make up, or choose, or cut to todays fashions or the morrows pragmatismwe obey the truth. We do not have the truth, truth owns us, truth possesses us. Truth is far larger and deeper than we are. Truth leads us where it will. It is not ours for mastering.
And yet, even in prison, truth is a master before whom a free man stands erect. In obeying the evidence of truth, no human being is humiliatedrather, he is in that way alone ennobled. In obeying truth, we find the way of liberty marked out as a lamp unto our feet. In obeying truth, a man becomes aware of participating in something greater than himself, which measures his inadequacies and weaknesses.
If in truth we find human dignity, then the reverse is also true: Where truth is cast aside, so also is human dignity. This is the paradox missed by the architects and missionaries of the sexual revolution. But not for much longer. Though vulgar relativism found a friend in moralistic therapeutic deism, the assault of the sexual revolution on both body and soul is becoming less obscured. Pornography consumes young men and spits them out, weak and withdrawn. Abortion, long laden with politically correct euphemisms like safe, legal, and rare, is taking off that mask, as Planned Parenthood contractors sift through human anatomy and murmur, Its a boy. Radical gender ideology is sexualizing even elementary school spaces, while cultural elites cheer the surgical self-mutilation of teens. This is tyranny, not freedom.
Nor is it still relativism. The authoritarians of whom Novak spoke exchanged the truth for a lie, and then mandated the lie. Isnt this precisely what we see in our supposedly tolerant age? Threatening freedom of conscience in the name of sexual freedom may seem to be a contradiction that any sane person would catch. But, as Novak reminded us, freedom is mere pretense for those who reject the claims of truth. Relativism was always meant to be deposed by New Morality. Relativism says, Hath God really said? New Morality says, I am god and I hath said. Those who advocated for a moral revolution against truth have no right to be shocked at the thuggish absolutism of New Moralists. Novak warned them: To surrender the claim of truth upon humans is to surrender the earth to thugsthugs, whether they run nations and prison camps, or school boards and circuit courts.
This was the light I had waited for. Truth was not opposed to human flourishing and happiness. In fact, only truth can foment it. To escape from truth is, as Francis Schaeffer wrote, to escape from reason itself, and into the waiting arms of strongmen.
Is there hope? Yes indeed. The title of Novaks address is important: Awakening From Nihilism. Awakening is possible. It is possible because virtue is not the creation of ideologues or the exclusive property of the state. Rather, virtue is real, objective, and available to all, because it is grounded in God. The free society is moral, or not at all, Novak said, and our hope for a moral and self-restrained culture is based not on humanistic self-worship, but on God himself: The human person alone is shaped to the image of God. This God loves humans with a love most powerful. It is this God who draws us, erect and free, toward Himself, this God Who, in Dantes words, is the Love that moves the sun and all the stars.
We can awake from nihilism because there is ever and always One who is never asleep. The promise of autonomous self-creation through the casting aside of truth is a lullaby, but the hope of forgiveness and resurrection and new creation is the morning dawn. For those of us who want our generation to wake up from nihilism, we must do more than grab the sleepers. We must shout, over the slumber, Awake, O sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.
Samuel D. James serves as communications specialist to the Office of the President at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
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Posted: at 1:09 am
In her After Writing, Catherine Pickstock argues that the Cartesian Cogito is grounded in a Cartesian ontology, which is in turn related to a Cartesian politics. According to Descartes’ Regulae, she says, being is defined as that which is clear and distinct, available to absolute and certain intuitions, and perfectly known and incapable of being doubted.’ Existence becomes a simple’ or common notion, which, along with unity’ and duration,’ is univocally common to both corporeal things and to spirits. These distinct and clearly-known objects can be mapped in a comprehensive mathesis, modelled on the abstract and timeless certainty of arithmetic and geometry (623).
This is the background to Descartes’s claim that material reality is extensio, an homogenous quantity divided into degrees of motion and mechanical causes, and fully grasped in its givenness.’ Qualities like color – inevitable indistinct and hazy – are reduced to abstract spatial quantities (63). Gone in this ontology is any conception (whether Platonic or Christian or some combination of the two) of a depth to material reality, an ungraspable spiritual reality that is beyond our grasp. Descartes drains extension or corporeality itself of all its force and power. Immanentizing reality, or materializing reality, paradoxically end up with the erasure of matter and reality. The secular given’ of the universal method is purely formal, articulated only in abstract structures which do not coincide with any actual embodied reality. But what is an immanentized ideal except the nihil, something which vanishes the moment it is posited? (67). Nihilism is a deviation from Cartesian ontology but inherent in it.
Pickstock recognizes here a primitive gesture of purification. Once the thinking thing thinks anything in particular, it is no longer graspable and simple, no longer certain. It gets lost in the uncertainties of actual thought. In its purity the Cartesian subject is modeled on the Cartesian city, a planned urban space with clear lines dividing inside from outside. Descartes commends the ideal of Sparta, since it was devised by a single man and hence all tended to the same end (quoted 58).
Sparta’s military is set up for the defense of its own absolute interior, and is also a fitting sign of a metaphysics that, as Derrida realized, was the preservation of interiority, of reason as monadic self-presence, and of the city as a pristine enclosure which must resort to the expulsion of the impure. For in the case of the Cartesian city, the impure is represented as that which bears the traces of time, multiplicity, and difference, in the form of the emergent structures of ancient cities, organic legal systems, and philosophical and pedagogical traditions. To such instances of impurity, Descartes response with a violent gesture of demolition (59).
The Cartesian subject is a Spartan: He reasons best in solitude, according to a method that clears out anything impure that might contaminate his quest for certainty. The Spartan philosopher rejects the diverse books compounded and amassed little by little from the opinions of many different persons.’ He relies instead on the simple reasoning which a man of good sense naturally makes. He thus reaches a pure knowledge, purified of history and the complications of language (60).
Whether or not Pickstock has Descartes right I cannot say. But she does show the inner connection between the self-enclosed, self-identical subject and the postmodern nihil-subject. And she implies that the former leads to the latter because of a stoicheic decision of purification that ends up clearing away the contaminants of time, history, language and relation that make the subject a subject in the first place.
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Posted: at 12:03 am
What happens when kids have the world at their feet, and its weight on their shoulders? Odyssey Theatre Ensemble presents the Los Angeles premiere of Punk Rock, a ferociously funny, complex and unnerving play by Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) that peels back the layers of teen angst for a deeper look at what might make one of them snap. Lisa James directs for a March 25 opening at the Odyssey Theatre.
As seven teens at an English prep school tangle with the pressures of love, sex, bullying and college entrance exams, the confusion, disconnect and latent savagery simmering beneath the surface is revealed. They are intelligent, articulate and accomplished – the cream of the crop turning sour.
“The play’s pulsing, driving rhythm, like the music of the title, is what makes it so exciting” says James. “The characters are incredibly complex. Each one is hateful and cruel, but also loving and kind. Their hormones are raging, so they’re out of control. It’s a cacophony of emotion.”
Punk Rock’s electrifying cast of young newcomers features Jacob B. Gibson, Zachary Grant, Nick Marini, Raven Scott, Kenney Selvey, Story Slaughter and Miranda Wynne.
The creative team includes set designer John Iacovelli; lighting designer Brian Gale; Sound Designer Christopher Moscatiello; costume designer Halei Parker; fight choreographer MATTHEW GLAVE; and dialect coach Anne Burk. Sally Essex-Lopresti and Ron Sossi produce for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
Based on Stephens’ experiences as a teacher and inspired by the 1999 Columbine shooting, Punk Rock premiered at London’s Royal Exchange in 2009, then transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith. The play opened off-Broadway in 2014 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in an MCC Theater production that Ben Brantley of The New York Times called “tender, ferocious and frightening.”
Simon Stephens is an associate artist of the Lyric Hammersmith and The Royal Court Theatre. His many other plays include Carmen Disruption; Heisenberg; Birdland; Blindsided; Three Kingdoms; Wastwater; Seawall; Pornography; Country Music; Christmas; Herons; A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky (co-written with Robert Holman and David Eldridge); an adaptation of Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind; and Motortown. His version of A Doll’s House for the Young Vic transferred to the West End and then New York. His new translation of The Threepenny Opera ran last fall at the National Theatre. His other plays for the NT include Port, Harper Regan and On the Shore of the Wide World, which received the Olivier Award for Best New Play. His stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time received both the Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Best Play.
Director Lisa James is a multi-award winner for her work on Heartstopper (LA Weekly Award), Palladium is Moving (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Lynn Siefert’s Little Egypt, Wendy MacLeod’s The Water Children (LADCC and Garland Awards), Justin Tanner’s Bitter Women (LADCC Award) and The Visible Horse (LADCC and Garland Awards). World premieres include Beth Henley’s Tight Pants, Billy Aaronson’s The News, Justin Tanner’s Oklahomo! and Little Egypt-The Musical (music/lyrics by Gregg Lee Henry) at both the Matrix Theater in L.A. and Acorn Theatre in NYC. She most recently directed the West Coast premiere of Smoke by Kim Davies at Rogue Machine and End Days at the Odyssey Theatre, and is currently developing the new musical That Was Then.
Performances of Punk Rock take place March 25 through May 14 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesday, April 12; Thursday, April 27 and Wednesday, May 3, all at 8 p.m. Tickets are $34 on Saturdays and Sundays; $30 on Fridays; and $25 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with discounted tickets available for students and members of SAG/AFTRA/AEA. There will be three “Tix for $10” performances on Friday, March 31; Friday, April 28; and Wednesday, May 3. Post-performance discussions are scheduled on Wednesday, April 12 and Friday, April 28. The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.
Recommended for mature audiences: graphic language and violence.
Nihilist KMOX Reporter Discusses Existential Horror of February in St. Louis – Riverfront Times (blog)
Posted: February 14, 2017 at 11:09 am
Tired of the bleak February weather? You are not alone. Kevin Killeen feels your pain.
A longtime general assignment and feature reporter for KMOX (1120 AM) radio, Killeen is acutely aware of the hopeless futility of February in St. Louis. In a video recently shared by KMOX (and initially filmed this time last year), Killeen shares his thoughts on the calendar’s shortest month. His outlook really couldn’t get more bleak.
“February is the worst month of the year, but it’s an honest month,” Killeen says at the outset of the video. “It’s a month that doesn’t hold up life any better than it really is. I mean, look around here. These buildings, they look like they don’t even have any lights in them during a work day. Something great happened here, but it’s over with. And that’s the way February is.”
“This says it all,” Killeen proclaims. “This has a spring-like or floral pattern on it, but somebody on this February day has abandoned it, with its broken shaft, like a desperate flinging-off of something that’s not true anymore. The expedition is getting desperate people are throwing things aside.”
Projecting his own intense nihilism onto the people walking the streets, Killeen speaks of downtown St. Louis as though it is a prison.
“Look around downtown on a February workday. This looks like a place where people who are being punished are sent,” he says in a voiceover as his cameraman films the desolate streets. “If you notice the way people cross the street in February, it’s different than in the summer. Nobody’s tap-dancing or breaking into a Rodgers & Hammerstein song. It’s their lunch hour and they’re just barely able to get across the street and hunker over a bowl of chili.”
Trapped in the impermeable darkness that is February, Killeen sees no light at the end of the tunnel. In his estimation, nature itself buckles to the relentless tyranny of the dreary month.
“Even the land is tired in February,” he declares. “Most of the birds who can afford it have gone to Florida, and the trees that once cheered us they’re hard to look at this month. It’s as if there is some awful truth out there in the trees. It’s hiding in the branches. Look at them. Something that’s been bothering you for a long time is out there. What is it? You can almost see the shape of it when all the color is gone, when life is stripped down to the starkness of February.”
The impermanence of life itself, and the inevitability of death these are what Killeen sees in the lifeless tree branches.
“To try to hide the bleakness of February, man invented Valentine’s Day and also Mardi Gras,” Killeen reasons. “But then February answered back with another holiday: Ash Wednesday. What other month could host a holiday that’s designed to remind us that we’re all gonna die?”
Are you…. OK, Kevin?
“My father used to have a saying,” he says at the close of the video, “that if you can live through February, you can live another year.”
This video was shot last year and Killeen is still active at his post, meaning he made it through February 2016. Here’s hoping he has the wherewithal to make it through this month his charming style and sense of humor would be greatly missed if he went gently into that good night.
Might we offer a suggestion, though? A psychiatrist, Kevin. And maybe take the month off and head for warmer climates.
It works for the birds.
Posted: at 11:09 am
To the editor: I would like to thank political scientist Jacob T. Levy for articulating the deepest problem with the Trump administration as we have seen it take shape over the last several weeks. The presidents recent interview with Fox News Bill OReilly, in which he brushed off Russian President Vladimir Putins misbehavior by saying the U.S. is not innocent of killing either, was particularly telling. (Hypocrisy isnt the problem. Nihilism is, Opinion, Feb. 8)
Americans generally seem to understand that those we elect to represent and govern us are imperfect humans, no matter the political party. Its good that we are offended by and point out what we believe is hypocrisy and flawed thinking of the other side. At least we are noting the shared principals we believe are being violated.
Trump is dismissive of the very idea that there are principles that are compromised. This is deeply disturbing.
Anne Tryba, La Caada Flintridge
To the editor: Levy cites as an example of Trump administration nihilism White House advisor Kellyanne Conways claim that people dont care about Trumps tax returns, which he refuses to release, because they voted for him.
No, the electoral college voted for him. The majority of actual voters supported Hillary Clinton, and we still care very much about and need to see Trumps tax returns.
Joanne Turner, Eagle Rock
To the editor: Hypocrisy is the fodder that nurtures our politics.
Railing against it is of no avail, nor should it be, leastways not for those of us who view politics as entertainment. It is mirthful, sustaining the status quo. Its absence would be jarring.
Memo to the concerned: Sit back, unclench your teeth and hands and revel in our foolishness, for it was ever thus.
Paul Bloustein, Cincinnati
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Posted: February 13, 2017 at 9:07 am
By Brett Stevens
Manticore Press, 2016
Most people see the world in binary categories. They believe that there is either an inherent moral good that we must all obey, or there are no rules and life is pointless anarchy. Nihilism argues for a middle path: we lack inherent order but are defined by our choices, which means that we must start making smarter choices by understanding the reality in which we live more than the human social reality which we have used to replace it in our minds.
A work of philosophy in the continental tradition, Nihilism examines the human relationship with philosophical doubt through a series of essays designed to stimulate the ancient knowledge within us of what is right and what is real. Searching for a level of thought underneath the brain-destroying methods of politics and economics, the philosophy of nihilism approaches thought at its most basic level and highest degree of abstraction. It escapes the bias of human perspective and instructs our ability to perceive itself, unleashing a new level of critical thinking that side-steps the mental ghetto of modernity and the attendant problems of civilization decline and personal lassitude.
While many rail against nihilism as the death of culture and religion, the philosophy itself encourages a consequentialist, reality-based outlook that forms the basis for moral choice. Unlike the control-oriented systems of thought that form the basis of contemporary society, nihilism reverts the crux of moral thinking to the relationship between the individual and the effects of that individuals actions in reality. From this, a new range of choice expands, including the decision to affirm religious and moral truth as superior methods of Darwinistic adaptation to the question of human survival, which necessarily includes civilization.
Inspired by transcendentalist thinkers and the ancient traditions of both the West and the Far East, the philosophy of nihilism negates the false intermediate steps imposed on us by degenerated values systems. In the footsteps of philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche, who called for a re-evaluation of all values, nihilism subverts linguistic and social categorical thinking in order to achieve self-discipline of the mind. As part of this pursuit, Nihilism investigates thought from writers as diverse as William S. Burroughs, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Schopenhauer and Immanuel Kant. For those who seek the truth beyond the socially-convenient explanations that humans tell one another, nihilism is a philosophy both for a new age and for all time.
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Posted: February 11, 2017 at 8:06 am
By Stepan Soroka
VANCOUVER February is not the ideal time to tour Western Canada. Freezing temperatures, excessive snowfall and remote mountain passes are enough to deter most musicians from travelling through our part of the world. But Brendan Kelly, frontman of the seminal midwestern punk band The Lawrence Arms, sees this as an advantage, counterintuitive as it may seem. When I go up there people havent had any shows for a while. He says over the pone from his Chicago home. Im not Chuck Ragan or Dallas Green. Im a fairly obscure musician and it allows me to have a crowd of people that are excited and enthusiastic. Im very grateful for that.
Whether you agree or not with Kellys claims of obscurity, his body of work is certainly voluminous and includes six full-lengths with The Lawrence Arms, two albums and an EP with supergroup The Falcon (which features Alkaline Trios Dan Adriano on bass), a full-length with The Wandering Birds, and more. When asked what he enjoys about performing acoustically, as opposed to the above mentioned projects, Kelly replies that an acoustic performance allows him to have a deeper personal connection with the audience. I can reengineer and reimagine the songs in a way that is more emotionally resonant, the singer-songwriter says. He also laments that there is no one else to blame when mistakes are made.
When you succeed it is unbelievably rewarding. But when you fail, there is nowhere to look but in the mirror, Kelly says about solo performances. With a band, you can let the mistakes roll off your back. Mistakes do happen, and sometimes they are beyond the performers control. When asked about his worst performance, Kelly tells me about a Lawrence Arms show where someone dosed his drink and he spent the entire show face-down on the stage while my bandmates tried to work through the set. At a solo show, there would not be much to work through.
While we chat, the conversation invariably turns to the subject of US politics. The debacle occurring in Kellys home country is simply too loud to ignore. Let me put it this way. Kelly begins, when asked if it is possible to have a worse president than the one currently in office. You know how everyone talks about going back in time to kill Hitler as a baby? Nobody went back in time and killed Hitler. Nobody went back in time and killed Donald Trump. So you gotta figure that the babies these time travellers did kill were much worse.
Its this kind of grim but undeniably amusing humour that has given Kelly a voice outside of punk rock, even if the people hearing it have no idea about where it is coming from. Kelly curates a Twitter account called Nihilist Arbys, which he calls a parody of corporate cluelessness. With over 260,000 followers, Kellys fake Arbys account far surpasses the fast food chains actual online following. Started as a dumb joke that he did not expect anyone to pay attention to, Nihilist Arbys recurring themes include drugs (and running out of them), loneliness, and the general futility of everything. I may be more like the fictional narrator than I would like to admit. Kelly adds.
People in music, journalism, the arts we take this dumb shit that we do way more seriously than it is, Kelly says. It is not important at all. What is important is running water. People not being blown up. The soundtrack to all of that is secondary. While it is hard to argue with that, it is safe to say that anyone reading this far values the art that Kelly and musicians in general gift to the rest of the world. Its been eight or nine years since Ive played in Vancouver and Im really looking forward to going back, says Kelly. Anyone who has even the most remote interest in what Ive been up to, please come, because it could be another nine years.
Brendan Kelly plays The Cobalt on Saturday, February 11th with Ben Sir and Chase Brenneman.
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