Tag Archives: violence

Persistence (from ‘Against Violence’)

      1. Persisting

In the ideology of activity, the phraseology of the postponed, misunderstood fury, the necessity of activity is elevated to a virtue and every form of passivity is degraded to a vice. With this, thought is denied its contemplative character, for contemplation is yielding to the violence of reality. A power is demanded of philosophy that it does not have and could not have without denying its own inspiration. That power would be the consequence with which it would assert itself practically. But the only way thought is directly in touch with practicality, is the annoyance. It is preferable to chose technique as mediation over fury. Thought has to be expressed with faith in the word, even though it is considered as ‘nothing but’ the ‘phonetic shadow of the deed’, an indication with which Trotsky, as is a long Marxist custom, reverses an old way of thinking. For Plotinus calls the practicality in which active people flee because they’re too weak for contemplation ‘a shadow of contemplation and reason’. [6] But thought should not venture into the infinity of this contradiction. For the time being the word is its product, the term of its activity. Thought can not add to that the deed as its product, nor can it oppose the deed. It can not directly persist as a deed, because in its powerlessness it cannot command the respite. Even designing a Utopian framework is of a dangerous arbitrariness, when it inspires deeds and that inspiration does not have technical means. The continuity in a goal-means-diagram, in which the means are an appeal to the activity and the goal an appeal to passivity, contemplation, can be guarded by thought, but not guaranteed.

Violence is also an occurrence that becomes a suffering by blind persistence. When persisting makes the practical consequence into an absolute by denying passivity, it can only become a furious perseverance and therefore violence. As a temporary bridging of passivity by activity, persistence always has to maintain a large resilience so that it will not result in a meaningless jump over the void. As a partial and temporary suspension of lust it can not become its complete denial or poisoning. From a goal-means-diagram point of view that holds that the means are never totally and solely means, but can also be the lust object of passive yielding or a suffering. Violence then is an activity that makes something into solely means, and persisting is a meaningless, dispassionate and hurried passing by of everything that lies between the start and goal. Like activity and passivity are indivisible, but together form life and thought, so goal and means, making good use and selfless enjoyment, are never clearly divided and the path of life can never be determined by any form of ‘persisting’ without it leading to morbidity and self-destruction.

The cult of activity, use and persisting creates suspicions towards the lingering lust and makes it as much an impossibility as yielding to suffering. This way lust and perseverance become opposite valuation principles that in their hypothesized form poison ethical life, and therefore all of life. For where persisting turns against lust and contemplation out of principle, it can only justify itself in a phraseology of perseverance and the deed itself, and it can only double its disastrous effects in a circle of insanity, in which it would irrevocably end up. For like lust and sorrow are a product of contact with reality and affirm that contact, so persisting as a suspense of lust and denial of sorrow is an alienation. Here, impotence reaches its definitive absurdity.

persistence III-3840

Translator’s note: on October 19th, 1956, Cornelis Verhoeven received his doctorate after successfully defending his thesis ‘Symbolism of the foot’. He normally wouldn’t celebrate his birthday (unless forced to), but this day he did.

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Violence as inspiration

In honor of the 56th birthday of his doctorate on october 19th 1956, here is a translation of the first chapter of his work on violence, ‘Against violence’.

Violence as inspiration

Thinking about violence is a form of suffering and rebellion at the same time. It is superior and submissive. It is inspired by this impossible situation; it takes place in there completely. That means a twofold restriction to this thinking.

Firstly I cannot think about violence in a political way, in the sense that I would believe that through my thoughts certain decisions in the world politics would change immediately or even within the foreseeable future. Even if the desire for immediate change is the source of my inspiration, I remain aware of my complete powerlessness. Who believes that they can change the world directly with their thoughts, is guilty of a naivety that places them outside of reality and dooms their thoughts to infertility or degenerates them into hoarse cries. Of course we can say we’re against war and violence; it can be our fiery conviction that war is superfluous and should be abolished; that all doesn’t automatically make it a fruitful thought. We must suffer the reality and be aware of the fairly complete powerlessness of the individual. Whoever disregards that, does not realize that especially that powerlessness is a part of the massive problem of violence, which is ramified throughout all of existence. Violence by definition is what is stronger than I am myself and therefore what I have to endure. It can never be drawn into the circle of political manageability without residue. Whoever allocates to his thoughts and words a power they don’t have, especially from the not having that inspired them, places himself outside of the matter and underestimates violence. He acts as somebody who went to the beach and started blowing, believing that this would give wind to the sails of a ship he saw in the distance, whose course he doesn’t know and who have switched to diesel a long time ago. Or worse: he’s trying to lift something he’s sitting on himself and is busy destroying himself. Thought cannot be denied some influence on political happenings, but that influence materializes in the first place slowly and in the second place through means not handled by thought. Thought itself cannot take over this agogic job. Therefore we are not talking about politics.

In the second place I can’t think about violence without defiance. It’s not an occurrence about which I only wonder; for that i’m too involved with it as a victim. For that it also takes place too far out of the reach of my influence and it confronts me too harshly with my own miserable powerlessness. The error, one I could make here which would again place me outside of the question, consists of this, that I would want to limit my influence on violence to the terrain where that influence can be asserted directly and controllably. For this i’d have to artificially split myself from the bigger whole in which violence occurs, consult with myself and say: the only violence that I can fight is the violence that I exercise myself. I could then try to, as the popular thinking goes, change the world by changing myself. But that is just as big a mistake. Peace in the heart and all those beautiful ethical things barely have anything to do with violence in the world. Peace in all hearts, if we can quickly make this naïve sum, is not yet peace on earth. The flight to the individual, ethical, complemented by the conditional sum that expands it to all people, ignores the problem just as much, be it in an seemingly more noble way. Violence is not a problem of individual character, it is an occurrence connected to collectivity. Therefore we are not talking about inner peace.

Then what’s left to think of and discuss? Precisely the problem of violence or maybe even: mystery of violence. The elusiveness of the problem is part of the problem itself.

This complexity does not come from a hesitating attitude, in which violence is really already accepted and that should simply be shook off to conquer violence; it is not an attempt from the side of thought to justify or prolong a problem that’s become dear, but it is the nature of the problem itself, seen by the eyes of someone who doesn’t want nor could be a political agitator or fiery moralist, but who, in the face of the totality of violence, can’t do anything but think: who therefore is aware of his powerlessness. Violence is only a philosophical problem in as much as any thought regarding this problem is aware of its own problematic nature. It is in the first place for a thinking person an annoyance, that he can’t act against violence, but can only think. And this annoyance is precisely what inspires thought. The thinker would rather with a powerful gesture make an end to this misery or find a way to retreat in himself and there, in his inner culture, abolish violence, but he sees himself placed in front of an impossibility and even the absurdity of both those attitudes. He suffers and rebels at the same time.

Violence is a philosophical primal problem. The annoyance about violence is one of the many shapes that wonder, the beginning and principle of thought, can take. And like wonder cannot be abolished by thought, the annoyance also cannot be abolished. Against a reality that it can’t make its own thought sees itself to its annoyance placed in a dialectic of a bad discord. It cannot end itself, also not by moving to deeds; it is a prisoner of its own infinity. The best thing that can come from this situation, if the self-powered ending of violence is ruled out, would be a new reflection on thought itself and its powerless infinity; in no other way can the infinity of the dialectic be ended, once it has begun its interaction of violence and annoyance, or being and thinking.

With this the problem of violence for the time being is stated as a problem for thought.The way in which this given is detailed philosophically could lead to a separate study. I won’t do so here and only point it out to show, that violence in this point of view is not a political problem and not an ethical task, or at least not a given that is directly ripe for a political or ethical approach, but sooner a mysterious given in human existence, which ask more for contemplation and clarification than for strong action. For precisely strong action is one of the most common forms of violence. Violence is that which should be liquidated and liquidating is: to make clear and fluid, to surrender to its own powerlessness. In all its subtle and complicated morphology violence lies like a dark stain in our existence, collectively, individually and especially in the obscure transition areas between them. And it wouldn’t be violence, wouldn’t be ascendency, if that stain was merely put there by us and could be removed at our discretion. That’s why it is good to contemplate one’s powerlessness before speaking too strongly about violence. If it is woven into our existence, it cannot be eliminated without drastically changing our existence. And it is precisely violence which changes our existence drastically every time. One form of violence would then make the other superfluous. With this the evil infinity of violence is given. It inevitably is a way of existence, before it is an activity we might disapprove of or not, and as a way of existence it is a subject of wonder, annoyance and contemplation, three different words for powerlessness.

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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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Against violence II

“Violence is a philosophical primal problem. The annoyance about violence is one of the many shapes that wonder, the beginning and principle of thought, can take. And like wonder cannot be abolished by thought, the annoyance also cannot be abolished. Against a reality that it can’t make its own thought sees itself to its annoyance placed in a dialectic of a bad discord. It cannot end itself, also not by moving to deeds; it is a prisoner of its own infinity. The best thing that can come from this situation, if the self-powered ending of violence is ruled out, would be a new reflection on thought itself and its powerless infinity; in no other way can the infinity of the dialectic be ended, once it has begun its interaction of violence and annoyance, or being and thinking.”

-from violence as inspiration in ‘Against violence’

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Against violence I

“Facing a compact occurrence such as violence some modesty is appropriate. For all types of pretense already are forms of violence, while thinking about violence has as its ultimate goal or ideal not so much to know what exactly it is, but more to contribute to its liquidation. Wonder has already taken the shape of annoyance before it started. A philosophy of violence is the opposite of a way of thinking that would justify violence. The conviction that violence is is superfluous and thoughtless makes for a necessary preconception. That necessity must be explicit: we don’t speak ‘about’, but ‘against’ violence.”

-from the introduction of ‘Against violence’

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Interview Cornelis Verhoeven 1979

There’s a bit of a backstory to this interview; not only had the interviewer never heard of Verhoeven, this was also during a difficult time in Verhoeven’s life. He was getting divorced, and there was some backlash to winning the most prestigious literary price in the Netherlands -the critics were rather nasty. This combination temporarily left him without ideas to write about, but he didn’t think that was a reason to be deaf to the ideas of others, so also to keep busy he translated Seneca’s letters -the handwritings of which he shows in the video.

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25 propositions on violence

1. “Violence is the problem to the solution it pretends to be.” (Friedrich Hacker)

2. The way violence is discussed, reflects its character.

3. It is in the nature of violence to create a language that ignores logic the same way it itself ignores reality.

4. The glorification of violence is part of it.

5. A means is characterized by the predictability of its consequences before its use. Using means presupposes control of the situation. Only in retrospect can the consequences of violence be measured. It is not programmable and therefore not a means.

6. If violence is not a means, it cannot be called ‘the only means’ or ‘the ultimate means’.

7. The distinction between a ‘surpressing’ and a ‘liberating’ form of violence is related to violence as a means and is thus without meaning because violence is not a means.

8. If the use of means is called ‘activity’, violence cannot be called an activity any more than it can be used: it is endured, also by the one practicing it.

9. Inasfar as violence is an action, it ought to be called more an ‘action of expression’ than an ‘action to a goal’.

10. Violence is not an expression of dominance, but of impotence.

11. Violence happens to a person in equal proportion to the measure he thinks he uses it.

12. Nonviolence is not a lack of means, and also not solely passivity, but the use of the restricted means that the situation offers.

13. If violence is not a means, there is no point in talking about it ethically and does the whole ethics about violence consist of determining that it is not a means.

14. Theologists who bless violence overestimate their power. Violence withdraws itself from blessing and rejection.

15. A theological blessing of violence is comparable to saying that in case of emergency gasoline can be used to extinguish a fire.

16. As controlling means technique is nonviolence.

17. Inasfar as agression makes use of technique, its intend is to not become a victim of its own violence.

18. A gun is an instrument to remain out of the line of fire.

19. Technique ends the moment when violence begins.

20. The explosion of a bomb does not have a technical character as its effects are not calcuable or justifiable.

21. In the culture of violence an instantly visible result, no matter of which nature, is preferred to the respite of a desired result.

22. Technique is reasonable and a means by the respite of the result; violence is unreasonable by the rejection of every respite.

23. Violence shows its absurdity in this, that it itself sacrifices and obliterates the goal, for which it employed itself.

24. Violence is the denial of every passivity.

25. What by repitition appears to be the effect of an action, must, after a while, also be considered as its goal.


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