Working Yourself To Death

One way to read Clausewitz (and perhaps Hegel) is to consider the possibility of living forms, or corporate entities such as states, to be truly Wild, to be literally Wild(er)ness. Organisms, or free beauties, according to this view, are not conservative entities designed to preserve and regenerate themselves. Just the opposite of this, living beings rather are always oriented toward a goal of Radical Expenditure. This urge toward extravagance is what makes organisms autonomous ends unto themselves, liberates them from the entirely predictable regularity of being mere machines. LIFE, from the very beginning, is oriented toward DEATH, destined to discharge itself as completely as possible, to burn itself out; and as a matter of fact it is at this historical moment that the concept of EXTINCTION first rises to prominence, in both the Sciences and the Arts. Animals do not reveal their deepest inner essence while at rest but rather they become fully actualized when in a state of total mobilization, in which all their organs are gathered up, working together and straining to the breaking point. A horse is only truly a horse when it is running at full tilt; it brings itself fully into being in the very act of galloping itself to death. And a lion is only truly a lion when it is wholly involving in slaughtering and devouring its prey. This is no longer a Kantian philosophy of conservative forebearance and gradual accumulation, but instead a fully liberated view of life as radical overinvestment and the ecstasy of bankruptcy.

Unlike mere Animals, however, Humans are creatures of the Spirit. We live not in a natural so much as a fundamentally ritualistic state (comprised of contracts, exchanges, initiations, enactments, duels, etc.), a wholly artificial world of social forms that functions as a higher-order reality, or Second Nature. It is true that humans, like animals, can only reach their destiny, achieve and express their true essence, in moments of radical expenditure and (self-)destruction. But this can never happen so long as men remain mere atomized individuals. Mankind’s destiny can only be attained in the form of a collectivity. This requires a moment of complete transformation in which each individual human free agent (the pride of the Enlightenment) sacrifices his immediate interests and desire, his self-certainty and self-consciousness, and then regains them at a higher level, the of the Individual. This is the Hegelian Aufhegung, the cancellation of the particular and it’s (mediated) recovery in the form of the Universal.

Each individual, to be a citizen, must sacrifice his individual being and have it returned to have as an endowment from the State. In doing this the individual gains a higher Freedom by becoming an instrument or organ of an Autonomous Agency. His enlistment and mobilization within this colossal universal Individual, makes him a living part of a Super-Organism, which just like a wild animal, only achieves and expresses its truest essence when straining itself to the breaking point. The clash of States (which Clausewitz declares to be nothing but an enormous Duel) should unfold like a sublime, terrifying encounter between two titanic wild animals. But with this difference, whereas animals fight to devour the body of the other, humans, and well as the States compromised of them, fight not to consumer the body of the other but rather to consume the Will. For Clausewitz, Primitive people are not yet fully Human because they have not yet learned to destroy one another, as well as themselves, in such an effective form. They remain “un-Enlightened” because they have not yet learned to marshall together all the technologies necessary to release the total energy of the Collectivity.

In a way, then, for Clausewitz (and perhaps Hegel), The Animal and the Human, the utterly Savage and High Civilization, are not mutually opposed but oddly mirror each other. The more Human we become, oddly, the more we begin to appear as wild Animals. And the “Barbarism” of Modern Warfare is in fact the greatest sign that we have finally become Historical. Whereas it is primitive nomads, or whoever lives an entirely settled existence, who remain quite literally pre-Historic. Trapped in a middle ground which is neither fully Animal nor fully Human, such people remain unable to liberate themselves from the finitude of individual embodiment through acts of ecstatic expenditure.

Thus we see two possible models of Civilization, and two aesthetic correlatives, the Enlightenment’s cultivation of Self-Control, and the Romantic cult of becoming Other, of Self-Annihilation. As I send in class, this moment in History appears to me to be the birthplace of the Modern Artist, as AUTEUR

Theodore Gericault
(1791- 1824)

Mad Fascination with Probability and Chance

The Woman with Gambling Mania

The Unbridling of Wild Energy

Horse Attacked by Lion

Commanding The Situation, Dominating Lower Instincts

An Officer of The Imperial Horse Guards Charging

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