Piercing the Fascist Sublime 

Photograph by Elliot Sperber

It was just a few weeks ago that the goat of a 9 year-old girl in California was violently seized by cops in order to slaughter it, to teach her a lesson about contracts, or fairs, or customs, honor, and traditions. Of course, the true lesson was about this social order, and its intrinsic cruelties. And though some contend that the cruelty is the point, as the saying goes, the cruelty is only half of the point. The point is preventing a social order, one whose cruelty is inseparable from its traditions, from developing, and learning, and growing into something new. The experience with her goat, the exposure to the sadistic enforcement of violent norms, will this wind up radicalizing, as they say, that little kid?

And what does that even mean, to radicalize? To bring down to the radix, the root? That should be a good thing, right? But the root of what? Of where we are? And where exactly are we anyway? No matter how powerful our telescopes, or how powerful our microscopes, we can’t provide an answer to this question. The answer (which isn’t really an answer, because ultimately we don’t know) is: we can’t know.

It’s a mystery. To declare otherwise is an act of faith, nothing more than dogma. It’s impossible to know, so we must be skeptical. (Only if we’re skeptical can we perceive the spectacle.) The unbounded, the apeiron, the ein sof, the infinite, whichever term you choose, the absolute, it’s a mystery. We’re blind to it. Our ears are shut — deaf, or deafened, to the music of the spheres that Pythagoras claimed to hear (Music of the spheres/Or the ringing of his ears?/O Pythagoras). Was it objective or subjective, that which was translated by Heraclitus into a word, the word? A simultaneously more specific yet more abstract thing than music: the logos. But what is logos? Does it refer to any distinct thing? An entity? Or is it mere assertion?

Relatedly, the word logos, if we’re to believe Heidegger, originally meant an assertion. And, on a more general level than language, an assertion is a coming into existence. Is it heard, or otherwise apprehended? Is this logos the Real? The ever-fluctuating multiverse? And, if so, does this logos have a logic? Is logic the knowledge or understanding of the logos? Some slender grasping or understanding of the ultimate mystery?

And where does this lead us? Well, if it is a genuine apprehension of what we can mytho-poetically describe as the divine, it ought to lead us away from the sublime (the sublime being the panic-inducing, sublime terror of the absolute mystery). Yes, it leads us away — though just a step away (so, also, just a step back). One can’t veer too far from this mystery without losing all perspective. This is where we are (this place, the Topos). A step away from utter confusion.

The word utter, by the way, is related to logos as well. Not only is it speech, though of a tentative type (a tentative or spontaneous speaking). In this respect an utterance may not be as well-developed an expression of the logos as logic, but there’s more to it: utter is related to outer. And outer isn’t just the external — and, significantly, the public — but as an outermost level it marks a limit, a differentiation, and, crucially, a consciousness.

So the sublime — the terror of the mystery — can paralyze us. But can also reflect off of us, causing us to reflect (to bend back/to step away…). One can stay or one can leave. But if one steps away from the sublime, one liberates oneself from its terror only to the degree that one maintains a posture of care in relation to the mystery. Carelessness amounts to alienation from the logos, and potentially subject to immediate domination by confusion.

That is, one can take a step from the sublime, toward the understanding of the logos, the logical position recognizing that one must respect, though not necessarily fear, the mystery of being, or one is absorbed by the terror and awe of the sublime — the religious mind, aka the anesthetic (pace Marx).

And it is from this perspective that one can submit the terrorizing sublime to critique, and step respectfully (aka carefully) from its dogmatic assertions into the discoverable unknown. One can move carefully, with care for the other, or one can eschew this. One can take care of the other, of one’s neighbors, or neglect and exploit the other, a sentiment expressed succinctly by Mussolini’s fascist slogan “me ne frego,” “I don’t care” — a slogan whose spirit (or lack thereof) is present in Melania Trump’s jacket, and among those who share the sentiment.

So, we don’t know where we are. Logic, the distancing from the sublime toward a clearer apprehension of logos, would suggest we behave carefully, that we move with care. Not with fear, terrorized, under the spell of the sublime, but a step away from this.

And, as such, we should take care — of ourselves and others, all others. Beyond the legalistic duty of care, this duty tocare stems from an understanding of (that is, not a standing under but an inter-standing, a standing with) the logos (the mystery recognized as mystery). This understanding springs from doubt, as opposed to faith (a faith which leads to belief in the dogmas of pastors, those mutilating shepherds).

As opposed to this anesthetic, the rejection of the humble recognition of the impenetrability of mystery in favor of faith, the aesthetic demands an active, radical carefulness and caring, which translates politically into an active, radical sharing—the radical sharing of the earth. Because all we really know is that we’re all together.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber