Friendly Nothing

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.

Kaleidoscopic Perception

The kaleidoscope is a bicentenary invention due to the Scottish optics researcher David Brewster, who in 1816 wrote the first kaleidoscopic treatise, nearly two hundred pages dedicated to the polarisation of light and the ideal number of coloured glass fragments necessary for the best variety of structures: twenty-four! It wasn’t until a few decades later that the scientific object became a children’s toy, and an adult metaphor. A kaleidoscopic reality, according to the Greek root which speaks of beauty and forms, is a harmony composed of disparate elements, a succession of unified varieties that can take on several aspects depending on the angle of the experience and the moment of the observation.

Artists also have been fascinated by kaleidoscopes, those googles of the imagination, including Picasso and his Cubist friends, who wanted to unveil the essence of the geometric fragmentation of the world and our ordering gaze. The poet Aragon, in Le Paysan de Paris, wrote with the haughtiness of the dreamer: “When I think of what you are thinking, all of you […], the sky as a crown, my upside down kaleidoscope, shipwrecks in your pocket, a little meadow between your teeth, the whole universe, the vast universe… ” The poet’s kaleidoscopic vision designates an opening to the richness of reality and of its possibilities. It is a metonymy for the creative profusion of the cosmos, of which poetry is a pure (too pure?) echo. In a fiercely analytical and gray world, we clench our teeth with an aftertaste of bitter meadow in our mouths.

In Creative Evolution, the philosopher Bergson relates the kaleidoscope to our consciousness of the world. For Bergson, we do not see the world as it is, because the invisible is too rich and metamorphic: we perceive a reduced and biased composition, an image that we mistake for reality. Walter Benjamin spoke of our social reality as a montage of images, like in a movie, and this also reveals the, if not arbitrary, at least contingent or singular character of any montage, as in cinema direction. An artist lives in a regenerative and regular shaking of the kaleidoscope, in the in-between of assemblages, a current of lava that can intensify or burn the lives of those who approach it.

The playful nature of the kaleidoscope is a clue: chance is a component of the creative experience that weaves our existences, our pockets full of joy or our fatal shipwrecks. In our approach to reality, we tend to accept perceptual reshuffles imprinted by others, for example the media, and all structures that reproduce on a large scale the norms that govern us. We adapt by forgetting to shake the real to reorder the colours and shapes. We get attached to our habits and sometimes prefer to suffer in a familiar environment rather than to venture out into new horizons. Few of us have fun giving a kaleidoscopic, hazardous and risky shake up to our world, to generate new ideas, new points of view, new perceptions, new territories. A dangerous and vital game. A game that is nothing without thought and action, because the colored constellations are not values ​​or ideas, they only suggest them intuitively to our interpretation. The labour of giving meaning to diversity takes longer than a new arrangement of optical forms. We cannot live of metaphors alone.

The creative shaking of the kaleidoscope is not a roll of the dice, it is a persevering openness to the flow of possibility that runs between two realistic illusions. Charles Fourier is perhaps the French thinker who came closest to a kaleidoscopic political proposition: according to him there are more than eight hundred different types of human beings, or characters, contrary to what the monotonous psychologist propaganda tells us, one that would like to see us cry and laugh at the same things, all united in a soporific emotional consensus driven by Hollywood screenwriters. For Fourier, the philosopher-poet, there are butterfly passions (desire for renewal), composite passions (desire for unification), and cabalistic passions (desire for competition), among others.

The world would undoubtedly be richer if we combined our intellectual and emotional differences in an attempt to compose society as a living kaleidoscope rather than as a panoptic prison where everyone watches the same reflections. Contemporary loneliness comes from the fact that we are educated in the possibility of being all different and then re-educated in the need to be all alike.

How to Understand Hegel in Just One Paragraph

I would argue that the paragraph below from Hegel’s lessons on the Philosophy of History contains his entire philosophy concentrated in just a few (dense) sentences.

§ 84

If we consider Spirit in this aspect — regarding its changes not merely as rejuvenescent transitions, i.e., returns to the same form, but rather as manipulations of itself, by which it multiplies the material for future endeavours — we see it exerting itself in a variety of modes and directions; developing its powers and gratifying its desires in a variety which is inexhaustible; because every one of its creations, in which it has already found gratification, meets it anew as material, and is a new stimulus to plastic activity. The abstract conception of mere change gives place to the thought of Spirit manifesting, developing, and perfecting its powers in every direction which its manifold nature can follow. What powers it inherently possesses we learn from the variety of products and formations which it originates. In this pleasurable activity, it has to do only with itself. As involved with the conditions of mere nature — internal and external — it will indeed meet in these not only opposition and hindrance, but will often see its endeavours thereby fail; often sink under the complications in which it is entangled either by Nature or by itself. But in such case it perishes in fulfilling its own destiny and proper function, and even thus exhibits the spectacle of self-demonstration as spiritual activity.