On the Everyday, Energy, and Transcendence

The day has a way of exhausting me. Traffic and asshole drivers, miscommunication and miscues with co-workers and lovers alike, noise — so much noise! —, dyspepsia, the humiliations of public bathrooms, Tinder notifications: the day is run through with no's and parries and hesitations, all this ducking, weaving, and kvetching. It sucks the life from us. I'd say it sucks the life from me but I see it on the streets and trains, in the drawn faces of everyone around me: life sucks the life from all of us.

We can think about life as a matter, as it were, of energy— which is how I read Nietzsche and why I finally understand Bataille. We are engines that demand consumption and production. All these words! All these outfits! All these shoes and meals and TV shows and dating profiles! These all demand energy without returning much, if any, energy.  Sure, a new purchase provides a temporary thrill of accumulation. But this passes, the consumerist energy exchange finally disadvantageous for the living, breathing, desiring human body — all expenditure without return. Eventually, the energy ceases and we die, often at an excruciatingly slow pace.

There are different ways to respond to this environmental disaster, this relentless expenditure of energy. I find I often turn off, deflecting the harangues of the day with distraction. The day takes on a muted hue as I enter some kind of fog — which is a funny way to put it as the fog of San Francisco often knocks me out of my daze, bringing me to attention with its weight, its melancholia, its visual beauty — to suddenly see the sky drape the land, drifting according to an internal logic that is clearly modulated by the earth!— anyway, I often find myself in this other kind of fog, a cognitive-existential fog, a distraction of profound banality, a hum of no particular regard.

But it has the advantage of involving a minimal energy expenditure. I suddenly don't really care about the tugs and demands of my time and being, the hassles of relationships, traffic, work, apps, the horrors of the world at large. All that passes me by, more or less. It's my version of Nietzsche's Russian fatalism:  

Against all this the cultural worker has only one great remedy: I call it Russian fatalism, that fatalism without revolt which is exemplified by a Russian soldier who, finding a campaign too strenuous, finally lies down in the snow. No longer to accept anything at all, no longer to take anything, no longer to absorb anything — to cease reacting altogether. This fatalism is not always merely the courage to die; it can also preserve life under the most perilous conditions by reducing the metabolism, slowing it down, as a kind of will to hibernate. Carrying this logic a few steps further, we arrive at the fakir who sleeps for weeks in a grave. 

The day-to-day of my white middle class but somehow broke world begs for the distraction readily come by thanks to Netflix, the interweb, HBO. Malaise, then, as a way to stand towards the everyday without becoming totally depleted: fatalism as survival.

But malaise becomes a living death, zombieism. It minimizes expenditure but it also minimizes accumulation. So I see why people look to the infinite universe for energy. They crave transcendence,  a shedding of all this — the inconveniences and humiliations of body and words and other people — and enter a seething world of infinite, eternal bliss. So many different philosophies, theories, and models beckon us, invite us to recognize this world as transient and irrelevant, a different and better order of things just past our line of sight. If you're gonna skip the here and now, it might as well be transcendence and not HBO.

But this is transcendence as the Great No to life itself. It's a certain suicidal will or worse, a will to nothingness. No doubt, there is something beautiful and enticing in such a promise. I get it. It's a more enticing promise than HBO. But it feels wrong to me. It doesn't sit well with me. It's premised on ressentiment, on a certain distaste for life — a distaste with which I empathize, mind you. 

Amidst this all, however, are those experiences I've had since I was young, those incredible moments in which the quotidian all-too-human demands fade and give way to a cosmic seething, the glorious hum of stars and sky and ocean, the cry of a Yes that exceeds all those Nos. This is not transcendence per se; it is a call to the seething now. When I sit at the beach and behold the sky, the cosmic swirling, I am infused with a newfound vitality. The cosmos offers energy without asking for much, if anything, in return. The trees and plants all find abundance in the sun and air. I can, too.

Transcendence, then, for me is a practical and material enterprise: it is a way to access enormous, indeed infinite, energy. It's a problem of matter and physics, not truths and hierarchies. To me, the infinite lurks everywhere, in everything, as the very condition of matter. The sky, stars, and clouds — the sun and wind and sprawl — provide the most ready energy source. But this seething exists everywhere. It is not out there per se. It's not matter of overcoming the body and everyday. It's a practical matter of being fueled up.

My metaphysics enjoys a non-hierarchical architecture. The infinite is every which way, integrated into every moment of the universe as an energy source, a life source, a way to accumulate energy without expenditure.

I suppose transcendence might be the wrong word, the wrong trajectory, the wrong architecture. Perhaps I'm talking about something else all together, a movement into and with the world, riding its waves of infinite seething as the way to be alive.


Alexis said...

"Perhaps I'm talking about something else all together, a movement into and with the world, riding its waves of infinite seething as the way to be alive." That is so well said. I love the whole post

Daniel Coffeen said...

Thanks, as always, Alexis. (Rereading this, I seem to enjoy the word 'seething.' It's a good word, even if I overuse it.)