passivity and activity

When I want to go to sleep, I get nowhere with effort and emphasis. Sleep is not something I can emphatically will. The opposite: the more emphasis there is on wanting to sleep, the more sure it is that I’ll get the reverse effect, namely that I’ll remain awake. Emphasis brings the ‘other’ just as much to the foreground as the ‘one’. A law of reverse effect is working here, which is one of the most subtle expressions of the dialectic between powerlessness and violence. This paradoxical effect has to relate to the nature of that which is emphasized, sleeping. Sleep isn’t achieved through an active and willful way. Even some active interfering, for example by taking a powerful sedative, is an acceptance to undergo its effects passively. Passiveness here appears to be no less a realistic attitude towards reality than activity. It isn’t only so with regards to realities that we have to undergo as some kind of fate, but even with a view of a goal we want to achieve. I can only accomplish sleep by not wanting it, at least not with the emphasis that brings wanting into the spheres of activity.

There are goals that can only be achieved by passivity. And these goals are not the least important. What is said here about sleep can also be said about happiness, insight, love and peace, about all which, if only by the scope of their meaning, withdraw themselves from the grasp of self-empowerment. The essentials of life are given to us, beginning with pure existence itself. This insight alone is enough to end the autocracy of activity.

– from Emphasis in ‘Against violence’.

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