Friday, 26 September 2008

nihilism in action

As we have seen, the core of Benjamin’s task can be summed up within the decisional character of eternal recurrence, coming down to a choice. On the one hand, we are given passivity: denial; weak, reactive nihilism; the blind affirmation that does not know how to say “no”. On the other, we have activity: affirmation; consummate, active nihilism; affirmation that says no to all blind affirmations in order to say “yes”. The thought of eternal recurrence is such that it cannot be merely thought, it must be acted upon. Zarathustra tells the tale of the shepherd, in whose throat a black serpent has bitten down. Zarathustra struggles futilely to extract the serpent; he tells the shepherd: “its head off! Bite!” (Z, 180). This illustrates two crucial aspects of affirmation. Firstly, it is up to us to take the bite. Technology can create any number of new ways of presentation, which the historian can use to present new images, but it is left to the viewer to grasp it. Secondly, the thought of recurrence, while a thought, must manifest itself as action. Nietzsche discusses the development of nihilism as a psychological state, but it fulfills itself when it leads to action: the passive nihilism of contemplation is transformed via the act of affirmation, which completes nihilism. As such, the thought of eternal return, of nihilism, of affirmation, is not merely a thought; it “is only as that bite.” The same applies to Benjamin’s work: the thought of affirmation is not merely a thought; it manifests itself as action, which as Benjamin tells us, will always be political action.

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