Last Words
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165 Last Words I see nothing. It’s because there is nothing, or it’s because I have no eyes, or both, that makes three possibilities to choose from. —Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an open sewer and die. —Mel Brooks Start by expecting the worst! Act as if you did not exist! Act as if you were not free! Act in such a way that you accept the struggle you cannot flee from! Act in such a way that you never forget to imagine the end of all things! Act as if the apocalypse has always already happened! Act as if everything were always already lost! Act as if you were dead! Act as if you were an inexistent woman! These are the astounding slogans of a contemporary provisional morality that can be derived from the history of Western rationalist thought. These are slogans of fatalism, derived from Luther, Descartes, Kant, Schmid, Hegel, and Freud. Just enumerating them produces a strange, comic effect. In fact they may all sound a bit ridiculous. Yet it is precisely their apparent ridiculousness that puts them at the center of the rationalist fatalism for which I made a plea—a fatalism that is necessarily comic and that I therefore want to call comic fatalism. 166 · Last Words In Brecht’s brief, charming piece “Hegelian Dialectic,” which consists of a dialogue between two characters, Ziffel and Kalle, the former makes an ironic plea for Hegel as the “greatest humorist among the philosophers.” He classifies the Science of Logic—crucial cornerstone of Hegel’s entire system—as “one of the greatest humoristic works of world literature” because it is about the “custom of the concepts, these slippery, unstable, irresponsible existences.” Ziffel argues that it is about “how they fight each other . . . and . . . enter so to say in pairs, each is married to its opposite. . . . They can live neither with nor without each other.”1 It is precisely such humor, which Lacan once attributed to Hegel, that is a crucial element of fatalism.2 The coincidence of opposites, freedom born from fatalism, fatalism as precondition of freedom. Why is this comic? Before returning to Hegel, we may start with a nonphilosophical experiment . Open your computer’s browser and search for fatalism. Then look at the images that you have found. They will be mostly funny pictures. This may be either because we cannot take fatalism seriously or simply because fatalism has an inherently comic nature. The reason for this might lie in the recoiling and inverting moves of fatalism: we need to defend divine predestination just to get rid of God in a proper manner , so that God himself admits that he does not exist, as Hegel demonstrates. We need to shift our gaze a bit to see that we should have always already been falling into the abyss, since we were walking on thin air rather than on solid ground, as all the thinkers of fatalism argue. This also means that the apocalypse that fatalism assumes is finally a comic concept. As fatalists, we do not have to fear the worst or at least hope for something else, but we must assume that it has always already taken place. Only by affirming this assumption can we become emancipated from the highly problematic stance on freedom that articulates it as possibility and capacity. We thus have to assume the necessity Last Words · 167 of the impossible. But it is important to point out that the fatalism at stake here is not simply ridiculous but comic—and only by being comic can it provide a precondition of freedom. This is a fatalism without fate, since everything has always already taken place. But, again, why should this be comic? Alenka Zupančič has rightly contended that “there is little doubt that among classical philosophers, Hegel was the one who valued comedy and the comic spirit most highly.”3 Already in 1802–3 he stated, “Tragedy arises when ethical nature cuts its inorganic nature off from itself as fate—in order not to become embroiled in it—and treats it as an opposite; and by acknowledging this fate in the ensuing struggle, it is reconciled with the divine being as the unity of both. Comedy, on the other hand (to develop this image further) will generally come down on the side of fatelessness.” Tragedy is structured around and presents a struggle with fate—a fate that is...