The Age of the Void?

by Andrei Marga
translated from Romanian by Stâncel Theodora-Eva

The expansion of the “cynical reason”- of that consideration of people that rather takes into account the place in administrative hierarchies, than their humanity- is just a sign of late modern society. Another one, at least in Gilles Lipovetzky’s opinion, is the “void”, a void of the person itself. While Peter Sloterdijk (Kritikder zynizchen Vernunft, 1983), describes late modernity in terms of kynismos (the invocation, be it insolent, of the naturalness of relations among people and of life, against social “conventions”) and cynicism (the taking of some contextual administrative hierarchies as the world’s ultimate relations), the much inspired French writer and philosopher depicts the same reality as “a radically new means of socializing and personalizing”. The memorable L’ere du vide. Essai sur l’individualisme contemporain, Gallimard, Paris, 1983, 250 pages) commences by the observation of a “breach” in socializing: this is no longer made in a “disciplinary” way (as it was in the XVII century), nor by means of “collective” mechanisms (as in the XIX century), but by stimulating personal subjectivity through various channels. Thus, it was entered, so to say, in a “flexible society based on information and the stimulation of needs, on sex and on taking into consideration the ‘human factor’, on the cult of the natural, of cordiality and humor” (p.9). Life inside society is no longer felt as an assembly of rules and obligations that tense the consciousness, but rather as an opportunity of display, without restraint and without responsibility of that which the individual believes to satisfy him. Everyone has become, in the mean while, a Narcissus, this being the most distinctive sign of present times. Gilles Lipovetschy speaks about an “anthropological mutation that accomplishes itself before our very eyes and which each and everyone of us perceives in a particular, be it even confusing way. A new stage of individualism is installed: the narcissism designates the apparition an original profile of the individual in report with himself and his body, with someone else, the world and time, from the moment when authoritative “capitalism” yields to a more hedonistic and permissive capitalism. The golden age of individualism – competitive on an economic level, sentimental on a domestic level, revolutionary on a political and artistic level-ends; a pure individualism unfolds, relieved of some social and moral values that coexisted even with the glorious reign of homo oeconomicus, of family, of revolution and art. Emancipated of any transcendental classification, even the private sphere changes its meaning, being delivered itself to the shifting desires of the individuals. If modernity identifies itself with the undertaking spirit, with hopes for the future, it is obvious that the narcissism, through its historical indifference, inaugurates post modernity, the last faze of homo aequalis” (p.56).The individual fallen into the admiration of his drives, interests, images, thoughts , has become the new center of coagulation of the realities in which we live. The center of people’s lives is no longer the almighty God, no longer the sovereign, no longer the current consumerist goods, but simply it is the body, sex, momentary thoughts, and drives taken as such.
Gilles Lipovetsky has managed as no other to capture in concepts and images ( the extended use of literature is exemplary, the author exploiting the exposition, in literature, from Baudelaire and Virginia Woolf to Rimbaud and the surrealism, of the moral and social conformism, together with the accentuation of the “agonistic” side of life, characteristic of the twentieth century) that which is today ( after over two decades from the publishing of the book) even more engrossed: the expansion of the narcissism.
The book L’ere du vide resumes, certainly in new terms, the figure of thought of the subtle “control” of the individual (due to Marcuse and Adorno) by society. “Social training is no longer accomplished through disciplinary constraint, not even through sublimation: this is done by means of auto seduction. Narcissism, the new technology of supple and auto generated control, socializes by de-socializing, puts the individual in accordance with a pulverized social, glorifying the unfold of the pure Ego’s reign.” (p.62) The Ego’s narcissism is not at all equivalent with the affirmation of the Ego (in Freudian sense), but rather its dissolution: “the Ego” (le Moi) looses its reference point, its unity through an excess of attention: le Moi est devenu un “ ensemble flou” ( the Ego has be come a “vague assembly”-n.n.) We notice everywhere the disappearances of the heavy real, meaning the de-materialization, the last faze of de-territorialism that commands post modernity.
T he individual’s sociality does not increase with this dissolution of the Ego into current drives. “It is only in appearance that the individuals become more sociable and more cooperative; behind the screen of hedonism and solicitude, everyone exploits cynically the other people’s feelings and seeks to satisfy his own interest without any concern for future generations”. (p.77) Intense feelings with public unselfish aims cease to exist, and the persons’ identities are blurred. As relationships become more free and emancipated from old constraints, the more rare is the possibility to live an intense relation with someone else.(p.87) It carries in fact to an “individualist cocktail of sense” (p.133), that can certainly stimulate the dissolution of the existent “system”, however, without coagulating a desirable world. Conflicts are disarmed, but crises are produced. “If the consume and hedonism have allowed the dissolution of the radicalism of class conflicts, this was made with the price of generalizing the subjective crisis… the more society humanizes itself, the more is extended the feeling of anonymity; the more indulgence and tolerance exists, the more misses the feeling of self confidence, the more you live the more increases the fear of aging; the less you work, the more you want to work, the more liberated become the moors, the more gains the feeling of the void; the more institutionalized becomes communication, the more lonely feel the individuals by lack of contact; the more grows kindness, the more it is covered by depression. The age of consumerism generates a general and polymorphous de-socialization, invisible and miniaturized; the anomy looses its landmarks, the exclusion…also detaches itself from disciplinary order”. (p.143) Thus it results a world in which the “expansion of indifference” (p.145), the “eradication of transcendence” (p.168), the “disinterest for others” (p.224) are acutely lived, being characteristic for this world.
Gilles Lipovetsky observed over two decades ago, the degradation of the individualism into a hedonistic narcissism, lacking in scruples and devoid of horizon. The temporal distance has not altered the diagnoses that stand on its feet even today, at least in the new democracies. Do we not encounter, at all accidental, trivial understandings of democracy as simple diversification of ideas, of citizenship as indifferent to consequences talk, of liberty as ludic display, of civic conscience as dissolution of institutions? Do we not encounter even “intellectuals” that comprehend the “ludic spirit” as their “life philosophy”? Just that within the new democracies, as it can be seen with the naked eye, has intervened a difference from the situation described in the book L’ere du vide. Essais sur l’individualisme contemporain: the new democracies’ “ludics” demand payment and are, frankly speaking, ready to corrupt anything, so that it is not the indifference that characterizes them but, “too human”, as Nietzsche would put it, “too worldly”, better said, interests. However, Gilles Lipovetsky, signals with good reason the ludic narcissism’s inherent void, in any of its historical hypostasis.

The Age of the Void?

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