Nothingness: Jean-Paul Sartre brought it back into fashion in the post-World War II period with his book L’Être et le Néant. It must be said that reality seemed quite absurd at the time. The idea of a nihilistic humanity, enamored with emptiness to the point of extermination, seemed to be demonstrated by two insanely devastating international conflicts.
But Sartre’s Nothingness is not nihilistic in its intention. Nothing is the twin brother of Being and they form the double face of an existential Janus. What we call the Creal is close to what Sartre called nothingness, or to the fruitful vacuity of the Buddhists, linked to what the Japanese call nehan, divine salvation, or what Max Stirner called the creative nothing, at the source of the self, before any determination.
Consider our human experience. At first glance, we are afraid of nothingness like a child is afraid of the dark. The philosopher Aristotle once said: “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and indeed it seems like the earth is a space saturated with swarming entities; we are all made of microbes. It seems that the human mind too is “nihilophobic”, unable to confront the Nothing and to hold fast to it until it perceives the continued creation of the virtual.
But on closer examination, nothingness attracts us too, because precisely, often our daily bustle is just a restless void: we may spend some time on trivial tasks which, if we eliminated them, would not change much, or rather would improve our well-being. The banality of emptiness is not only the result of inactivity but also the product of insignificance, of the anecdotal, of all kinds of addictions that we develop out of divertissement.
Or perhaps we fear the power of life. We are afraid of the consequences of our personal power. We spend much time making ourselves believe that we are powerless because too much real power would be terrifying. We feel that deep in the unknown there is a well of potentialities just waiting to be activated, but what about the responsibility of activating nothingness and doing something with it? What if it went wrong?
Many spend their lives feeling guilty about what they haven’t done yet. Since inactivity is frowned upon in our overproducing societies, we always seem very busy and forget to cultivate the mental minimalism that would not only make us healthier, but also, ultimately would be beneficial to the planet. As the poet Robert Browning wrote in 1855, “less is more”. When you accept not to try everything – and again – and have the strength to let certain aspects of your life undevelopped, you can focus on the essentials and cultivate your style in action. What you refrain from doing keeps you on course. What you do anyway, because it makes sense, you will do it better and with more intent and solemnity.
Accepting creative vacuity as a friend is also giving up that old human dream of controlling and owning everything. To face the abundant void without greed is to accept our own power to say sometimes yes and often no. In the end, we remain like ants in the face of infinite possibility. No artist can tell the full profusion of the Creal.
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