Active Passivity I

‘How does one actively do the passivity thing?’ asks the narrator of Tiziano Scarpa’s Kamikaze d’Occidente. One attempt might be that of the fireman of Guccini’s locomotive. You set up the situation; the technology does the rest: ‘Remind your soul to listen and obey … you will face decisive situations … be patient … things get easier without your intervention … ‘ (Mohammed Atta, document written just before 11 September 2001; ‘things get easier…’ comes from another translation)

Or to turn that around entirely, ‘Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.’ The emptying out of the self; the ‘imaginary institutions’ of whatever greater (but absent) entity instantiated, made carniferous through not entirely elective prosopopœia. These walls may not have ears, but they certainly do have tongues.

Or as Hegel said (or at least Engels summarising Hegel, later quoted by Plekhanov), ‘Freedom is the recognition of necessity.’ And Necessity, the Law, is dark or occluded only insofar as it is insufficiently understood, the container that’s to be breached, the potential for destruction, from within. This is subjectivity conceived in Avicenna’s terms, as ontological Russian dolls. Not the ground beneath one’s feet (elephants all the way down) but successive ceilings, the impositions stemming from others’ objectification, against which subjectivity has to push. Until some terminus ad quem is eventually reached, be it God, Historical Necessity, the biggest dead whale in Lombardy (Cf Aldo Nove). Or whatever. And Pie in the Sky When We Die.

Joe Hill offers ‘pie in the sky when we die’, whence the phrase. But right now we have to ‘work and pray [and] live on hay’, which is a nicely acerbic sneer at the tension running through so many parts of Christianity (as a religion of achievement) between the modally present, optative and aspectual (‘God be with you’) and the temporal, deontic and modally future (‘Heaven shall await you’: God postponed).

Guccini’s God is Dead draws a somewhat similar contrast, this time between a world in which:

‘on the kerbsides God is dead
in the cars picked up on instalments God is dead
in the myths of summer God is dead’

and ‘a new world’ which is in the making, precisely because:

‘in terms of what we believe in God has risen
in terms of what we wish for God has risen
in the world we wish for
God has risen’

but also in which the Resurrection precedes, as it were, the Revolution rather as velleity precedes conation before the arm can be raised. Or in this case the whole of the body from the not yet emptied tomb.

And there may be still other ways into this notion of active passivity, always presuming it exists, one of which might be to think not about inaction versus action but instead about how presence relates to pretence, of presence without pretence, and about absence. From outside each ontological boundary (ie looking in) content is an image, a representation: its reality is subordinate, diminished. Whereas ‘there could be another way, of making of it only presence, only absence.’ (This is Antonio Moresco.) So ‘to hell with representation! This is the time for presence. Fewer metaphors, fewer mediations. Meaning things directly. Making literal sense.’ (Tiziano Scarpa)

And if meaning now becomes key, is meaning itself then simply a series of jugs or boxes in which to capture the world? This is ontological containment, meaning conceived of as though it were mastery over the world. Or is it a set of tails which one haplessly attempts to pin upon the donkey flux of sensation, which is what the world, as we experience it, comprises? This is nominalism, whose two ontological realms, somewhat estranged, comprise Reality on the one hand and the Naming of Reality on the other, rather as essentialism (which treats of what is true and thus unchanging against a flux of names) and nominalism (not quite vice versa, but nearly) are themselves estranged. Or is it rather a suit of clothes with which to cover up the nakedness of being? Maybe. Because Nature abhors undressed emperors above all things and therefore so should we? Or because Tinkerbell exists precisely through our belief?

But I don’t, in saying that, wish to make fun of what is simulation semantics at a personal level, social constructivism at the interpersonal. The creation of meaning, the production of some sort of glow of value, maybe if only a glimmer even, is a much more important and complex thing than its pricing through re-production, through the quotidian exchanges of all our busy social lives.

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