Quentin Meillassoux’s ‘Spectral Dilemma’

The following incredible quote is from Quentin Meillassoux’s ‘Spectral Dilemma’, which is available online here, as part of Collapse vol.IV.

Is it possible, after a twentieth century whose history was dominated by odious deaths, to live a non-morbid relation with the departed, for the most part unknown to us, and yet still too close for our lives not to be secretly gnawed away at by them? At first glance, we seem to find ourselves constrained to respond in the negative. For this essential mourning seems impossible to envisage if it is referred to the general alternative of which the relation to the departed seems to admit. This alternative can be stated, summarily, in very simple terms: either God exists, or he doesn’t. Or more generally: either a merciful spirit, transcending humanity, is at work in the world and its beyond, bringing justice for the departed; or such a transcendent principle is absent. Now, it becomes rapidly apparent that neither of these two options – let’s call them for convenience religious or atheistic, however innumerable the ways in which they can be configured – allows the requisite mourning to take place.

A fragment of a dream

I woke up at around 3:30am this morning having been woken up by the strangest of dreams. I only remember this bit from right before I woke up, but I thought it was worth sharing.

I was in some kind of public place, like a big circus or a festival, and I had at least one other friend with me (their identity didn’t seem important in this part of the dream, so I have forgotten it). We came upon a small theatre doing some strange and confronting theatre. Sitting down, it was clear that there was some kind of message behind what was going on. I had gone to bed after reading Laurie Penny’s review of Naomi Wolf’s new book Vagina, which probably provides some context. There was a real “Pussy Riot” vibe to the show.

But the performances weren’t on stage, instead three women came and interacted with the audience members (who were seated) in a kind of three-on-one way. They were unmistakeable, as they had altered their bodies somehow – whether it was costume or makeup I’m not sure, but the overall affect was one of shock and horror.

The three young women (don’t ask me how I knew they were youngish, it was a dream) came up to me and I have to describe their appearance to give you the full effect. They had skin like a combination of burn victim meets lizard meets harpy, in places pebbled and slack like a goanna’s, in others with the painfully marbled texture of a horrific burn. One of the three had altered her appearance even further, but pulling some of the loose pebbly skin into clumps, and tying elastics or something around the bunches, giving an effect of having spikes of flesh covering her hands and arms.

They had clearly made these changes to their appearance deliberately – which was the point of the show and the confrontation. They approached me with a clearly hostile and defensive attitude (also part of it) and said things like “Well what do you think?” They also made everyone they confronted like this touch them. Most I think recoiled in something like horror – why would you do soemthing like this to yourself? Was the (un?)spoken reaction from most in the crowd when they were approached. No one was made comfortable, quite the opposite.

I’m not sure if they asked me explicitly or not, but the response they seemed to be expecting from most people was some kind of comment on their appearance, about which I was at a bit of a loss for words. I stammered a bit as I tried to compose something relevant to say, but then I decided that I didn’t actually need to say anything about them and so I just held my tongue. This was apparently surprising to them (and to myself I think, too!) because (and this bit was my subconsciousness’ interpretation of it) by staying silent and not passing judgment I was suppressing my white-male privilege. Why should I comment on her appearance? There is so much weight of fucked up patriarchal history around lamenting the ruin of ‘beauty’ in young women, without actually caring for the person themselves. Often what is being mourned is the loss of the abstract ‘beautiful object’.

Anyway that was my dream, and there seemed to be some kind of strange, confronting, feminist message in it.

I woke up, and it was an unexpectedly warm night.