Sexistential Crisis // I. Camus. The Myth of Sissyphus; or, L’Être Étrange
This post marks the beginning of a series on Sexistential Crisis – taking as ‘focal exemplars’ sequentially: Camus, Fanon, de Beauvoir and Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Hegel. These are not intended as close, technical engagements with the philosophical writings of these figures – rather, meandering and tangential reflections, (almost) freely associated in relation to each…
And why begin with Camus? Perhaps, primarily to offer here at the outset a critique of the fetishization of individual exemplars whence this series gains its structure. Though each surname formally denotes membership in a familial set (whether by birth or, for a smaller number, by marriage or other state-sanctioned kinship), each has, through the acts of one particular bearer, come to denote in internationally coherent shorthand that particular bearer alone (where, alternatively, Albert, Franz, Simone, Jean-Paul, Søren, Friedrich, and Georg might meet with less success). Though the immediate genealogies continued (recognizing De Beauvoir and Sartre each through adoptions, a sole and childless nephew of Kierkegaard, and permitting exception of Nietzsche), these individuals persist. Despite such meritorious exemplarism, I cannot imagine that such a status is especially accompanied by a sense of solipsism (not least due to their synecdoche in relation to a familial heritage). I cannot imagine the solipsism of these exemplars any more than I can imagine a solipsistic Sisyphus…
…suffering eternally (with a bit more dynamism than one restrained in crucifixion might exhibit) – for whom does Sisyphus persist? And why should Sisyphus (unlike one slouching toward Golgotha) not share this burden with an analogous Simon of Cyrene (whether in interdependent solidarity or merely as voluntold by Roman overseers)? Impossible! Whether a monstrous boulder behind which one must trudge or the negligible jot or tittle of some pet rock which one might simply pocket on one’s way, this burden is none other than its bearer’s ‘I.’ The grandiose musculature accrued has proven rather misleading; one supposes an epic heroism rather than a heretic egoism – the barrier of narcissistic masochism before which Josef K. (to some, no doubt, a martyr) stands transfixed in paralyzing ambivalence.
Among the many other shapes this burden might take, one quite prominent has been termed ‘God.’ I don’t mean to suggest that any and all -theisms comparably risk such a position; particularly, I intend those where one supposes oneself created in the image of this God (imago Dei, comfortably left in the singular) – and, unfailingly, in His image. The inexorable idiomatic recourse of languages developed alongside the dominance of such a tradition is difficult to understate. In a relatively hyperbolic example, I was recently reminded of this as the president of an international philosophical body gave the closing speech for an event widely attended by representatives from across the globe. There in the heart of Beijing, this individual offered praise to the catering staff of this event – ‘truly, such accommodations…it’s been like the loaves and fishes…’ How might the Chinese translators have best paraphrased this rather unusual anecdote, particularly considering a language not developed alongside such a univocal deity? “…谢谢!”
I do not mean to attack a strawman; 画鬼最易. However, I am struck by Kristeva’s encounter with this chasm of coherence in (the rather divisive) About Chinese Women (Des Chinoises, Des femmes). While I am not so confident as Kristeva of the ordering of chicken-egg in the matter considered, this passage seems to lucidly articulate the predicament I aim to address:
“Monotheistic unity is sustained by a radical separation of the sexes: indeed, it is this very separation which is its prerequisite. For without this gap between the sexes, without this localization of the polymorphic, orgasmic body, desiring and laughing, in the other sex, it would have been impossible, in the symbolic realm, to isolate the principle of One Law – the One, Sublimating, Transcendent Guarantor of the ideal interests of the community. In the sphere of reproductive relations, at that time inseparably linked to relations of production, it would have been impossible to ensure the propagation of the species simply by turning it into the highest premium of pleasure.”
I would like to suggest that this transcendent One be called ‘Egod’ and the subjective identification with the narrative ‘I’ thereby thrown into relief ‘Igod.’ This Egod emerges as transcendent and radically Other insofar as it is frag-mented (cognitively held apart) from this simultaneously emergent interiority of ‘I’ – the former, the pure form of a priori intuition for the latter, the transcendental imagination (more or less). From this ground, any number of oppositions may be drawn – for example, that woman’s is a ‘corporeal knowledge’ (silently inscribing the mind/soul-body dualism which such an qualitative distinction presupposes). Of course, polarities arise throughout Chinese thought as well – Yin and Yang might serve as paradigm here. However, rather than holding the two as taxonomically discrete and essentially unrelated, we find the two giving rise to (‘birthing’) one-another, mutually elucidating – interpenetrative and interdependent – this contingent origination of contrast not presupposing either of the contrasted. It is the contrasting itself which reveals a diverse reality – a tree does not make sound when falling in the woods without a listener if by sound we mean the dynamic coming-into-relation of auditory organ and percussive acoustical force…
Much might be gained here in our understanding of sex/gender; for more specific example, consider two passages from the Han dynasty era The Canon of the Immaculate Girl:
(1) “The reason for the decline of men is only that they all abuse the ways of female-male element intercourse. Now woman’s superiority to man (in this respect) is like water’s extinguishing fire”
(2) “If you wish to know its [the cooperative mutuality of desire in ideal intercourse] ways, they are in settling the life force, tranquilizing the mind, and harmonizing the will…The female and male elements respond only through being moved reciprocally.”
I do not by any means suppose these passages to suggest a fundamental gender-fluidity or androgynous ideal in early Chinese thought; in keeping with this theme of mutual elucidation, Roger Ames and David L. Hall (Thinking From the Han, pp. 79-100) utilize the extensive – and distinctive – masculine prejudice in Chinese culture as a comparative counterpoint in relation to which we may better understand the forms of sexism both in China and in ‘Western cultures.’ I would add here (considering the nexus of queerness, sexuality, exemplarism, and genealogy at which I write) that much promise lies in a comparative study of pronounced intolerance toward ‘male’ (Yang) homosexuals not equally extended toward ‘female’ (Yin) homosexuals as emerged in relation to the similar (mis)understandings of ancient Judaic and Chinese cultures concerning a supposed finitude of male reproductive capacity without any comparable limitation for female reproductive capacity.
In this frenzy of ideas, I’ve fallen on unstable footing, and my boulder has decisively made its way to that (with Aristotle) inevitable ‘natural place’ (i.e., rock bottom). I do not censor this train of thought, hoping to assure that I do not suppose myself to write from some privileged vantage apart from this boulder-pushing; each mark of punctuation merely signals caesura in my pushing of this cursor across the mountainous sentence, signals return to the valley of silence. Zeus has damned us here and laughs at every blasphemy we can conjure…that I am attempting rhetorical flourish in this narrative of tragic banality is simply another sublimation – the sublimation which Freud recognized to be inevitably accompanied by civilized Discontent. Sisyphus is infantilized in this now-apparent game of Fort!—Da!, Zeus revealed as merely an echo of Ananke, compelling Narcissus ever upward in dissatisfaction at her own words…
Isn’t this cycle a bit like karma, which (whether supposed ‘good’ or ‘bad’) invariably binds one in dukkha (suffering)? There is no outside-necessity, nor entrance to it – the I is only this liminal barrier. This ‘I’ antagonizes every resistance to normativity, haunts one who would be Queerer than god…for one might have achieved this, were god neither so void of particularity nor so unconditional in desire as to pervade all without priority: Tat Tvam Asi, this too am I…and, at that ecstatic limit, I am. I have continued in this circuit, with an unfaltering increase in voracity, consuming a substance which only inundates with hunger.
I ramble too long – more pressing questions demand our attention – why, for example, we continue to wear clothing during our Zoom exchanges (where, without concern for health or sanitation, it would seem the shadow of our moralistic modesty arises, uncannily resembles the duplicity of our supposed ‘public and private selfs’…).
Suffice it to say:
—in revision of my earlier assertion that Sisyphus suffers eternally: no. Sisyphus experiences pain eternally, but does not suffer (I do imagine this to be akin to happiness) – suffering representing only one of a number of alternatives facing one confronted with pain’s inevitability.
—in broader provisional conclusion: I do not suggest an ideal of castrating the I’s dot, nor advocate (in any naïve sense) acephalous forgetfulness of our inexorable state. Only, I aim to emphasize and to reduce the tension whereby the subject is held apart (and this tension is singular, indifferent to ‘lexical’ and ‘functional’ categories), cut off by that action whereby its secondary relation is posited to its objects.
I defer any finality in anticipating the coming post(s), in which I’ll turn to more extensively consider the relation of language and desire…
Sexistential Crisis is a queer survey of the ‘existential canon’s’ sordid relation with sex/uality, excreted by transgendental idealist, Rev. Cpl. Austin D. Burke (they/them)