A collection of aphorisms, fragments, and observations on philosophy and pessimism.
Composed of aphorisms, fragments, and observations both philosophical and personal, Eugene Thacker’s Infinite Resignation traces the contours of pessimism, caught as it is between a philosophical position and a bad attitude. By turns melancholic, misanthropic, and tinged with gallows humor, Thacker’s writing tenuously hovers over that point at which the thought of futility becomes the futility of thought.
Eugene Thacker is an American philosopher, poet and author. He is Professor of Media Studies at The New School in New York City. His writing is often associated with the philosophy of nihilism and pessimism. Thacker's books include In the Dust of This Planet and Infinite Resignation.
There is a niche within philosophy of pessimists and misanthropes. Its celebrities all seem to be depressed white western males. Most of them lived solitary lives, tainted by religion, and surrounded by, when not participating in, suicide. Their books are filled with aphorisms and fragments rather than measured thought. So is this one. Every thought is precious, it seems.
The first 250 pages of Eugene Thacker’s Infinite Resignation are the stereotypical pessimist’s publication. It is clearly inspired by Schopenhauer, the patron saint of pessimism. It gets less and less reader-friendly as it goes on. And it is entirely horizontal. It does not build into anything. You find yourself trying to figure out why Thatcher has put them in this particular order, not why he prints them at all. Because there is no answer to that. The flatness means you can open the book to any page without having missed anything. It is a collection, not an investigation or analysis. It reads like an Oscar Wilde notebook – experimenting with clever, hopefully immortal epigrams. Unfortunately, it seems to be lot of single words put in juxtaposition counterintuitively, without explanation, or verbs. They are instantly forgettable and forgotten, and you move on.
There are some minor gems worth mentioning: -The pessimist is a well-informed optimist -Two kinds of pessimism: The end is near and Will this never end? -There are no solvable problems except in mathematics -Good luck is bad luck because nothing lasts. Bad luck is bad luck because it’s worse than what came before. -For pessimists, sleep is a form of training. -Pessimist slogans: Drop all causes! or Not To Be! -In writing I feel a strange euphoria… there are so many ways to say nothing.
The second (and last) chapter is a 150 page collection of Thacker’s pessimist heroes, in profiles of a few pages. They do not readily link to the previous chapter, and the point of the whole exercise is elusive. The unstated irony is that while Thacker mentions the ugly hubris of Man in the universe, this whole book is an act of hubris putting forth pessimism as if it were God’s Design. Pessimists revile life, are annoyed at all evidence of it, and spend their lives wondering if they should end it (or beating themselves up over why they don’t). It doesn’t lend itself to happy times or fortuitous outcomes for its proponents. Or as Thacker himself put it at the outset: “The problem is that when pessimism enters philosophical discussion, it is almost never helpful. In fact, it makes things worse.“
The only thing worse than human culture is human nature.
It may appear odd but I really enjoyed this hybrid book, a collision of Thacker's aphoristic thoughts on pessimism and a stillborn attempt to construct a taxonomy on pessimism as a philosophical/literary school. My domestic holidays are prone to depression and a certainly jaded perspective. Suddenly alone for hours a day--well rested and caffeinated--has led to many a spectacle. I am wary. My savvy has been relieved by a warm week where I have walked incessantly and been afforded the opportunity to read almost 900 pages in two days. Do I wrestle still with questions about nihilism? Of course. I worry that living my life helping the vulnerable is futile. My decision to do such leaves my wife and I in different straits than a more normative vocational track.
Contrary to what many think, pessimists sleep not because they are depressed, but because for them sleep is a form of training.
Thacker may be a philosopher concerned with Heidegger and the unsettling. He has written a great deal on Lovecraft being symbol of this dread, this estrangement. I am not sure what I think of the author based on this one sprawling collection of notes, really one of gasps and grunts. The meat of the text regards Nietzsche, Pessoa, Schopenhauer and selected others. This appears a tenuous demarcation, but in matters of despair and self-harm, who is to be an absolute?
“We are the species that has sacrificed breath for speech.”
“The allure of having beliefs outstrips having to live with them.”
“Knowledge exists in inverse proportion to meaning.”
“The only thing worse than human culture is human nature.”
“I no longer want to hear about how your revolution failed. Again.”
“I support the cause — I just don’t believe in it.”
“Language falters where contempt flourishes.”
Eugene Thacker was already a favorite of mine after encountering his Horror of Philosophy series, but this book quickly eclipsed that trilogy with its skeptical, despondent, intransigent deployment of pessimism — that most pretentious yet universal branch of philosophy — not as a lens through which to glimpse truth but as a way of thinking through our own irrelevance and hubris. In recent years, I’ve become enamored with the aphorism as a form resistant to the explicative mode we encounter so often, a form which makes no concession to elucidation or significance, what Thacker calls “a voluptuous immobility”. And many of these aphorisms are just as striking as those of Nietzsche, Kafka, Adorno, Cioran, etc. The first section of this book is a veritable jewel of listless reflection, to be returned to on many tenebrous nights clouded by my own misanthropy and insignificance.
The second section is a hagiography of pessimism, comprising particular moments in the lives of the great thinkers of dissatisfaction. The usual suspects make an appearance — Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Cioran, Nietzsche — but it was the figures I was unfamiliar with (Nicholas Chamfort, Philipp Mainländer) and those I don’t normally associate with pessimism (Pascal, Montaigne) which I enjoyed the most. Inevitably, this latter section pales in comparison to the dolorous reflections comprising the book’s first half, but the glimpses it provides of the existence lived by these philosophers of misery is refreshingly unmoored to pretensions of providing a comprehensive or objective historical portraiture. Like us, the “Great Men” of philosophical pessimism are represented as finite, crippled beings desperately shouting their own significance into an indifferent cosmos.
For all those whose lives are a constant reminder of their ephemeral and meaningless nature and who are dissatisfied with both existence and nonexistence, in place of any “self-help” books which offer only sublation, I sullenly offer this wonderful text.
Twenty pages into that book, I told myself: "Screw that guy and his milquetoast Goth schtick."
But I kept reading. I stepped outside myself and tuned out my devouring, self-satisfying need for entertainment and enlightenment. Pessimism informed one of my favorite television shows in recent years (True Detective), so I was hellbent on understanding.
I found out two things: 1) It's a very intimate book. Screw me for judging it according to what I personally wanted out of it and 2) Infinite Resignation is an admission of defeat. A personal and a philosophical one. That any thought system, however smart and intricate, cannot survive the test of cold, hard reality. That the headless chaos of the world makes any attempt at philosophy futile.
Branding myself as an existentialist for years now, Infinite Resignation prompted me into a quite intense reflexion. Being an existentialist is like being happy in prison, really. You got my attention, Eugene Thacker. You're an interesting guy.
The truly pessimistic thing would be to not write, let alone publish, a book at all. However, what we have here - a voluptuous book of fragments, an abundance of negation - must be the next worst thing.
"Things should be good, I tell myself, but they’re, well, not-so-good. Nothing seems to make sense – and it should (shouldn’t it ?). Granted, things weren’t exactly perfect before, but now they’re definitely worse (…or so it seems). And this on top of the simplest of things: having to live a life."
"Two kinds of pessimism: “The end is near” and “Will this never end ?”"
"Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” has one theme: human beings drowning each other in their humanity. For six hundred pages."
"On Reading Dostoevsky. Everyone is guilty. Especially the innocent."
"Dostoevsky. The trick to reading his novels is that the characters in them are less interesting than their misfortunes. It’s taken me a while to appreciate this. So many plans, so many schemes, so many mishaps along the way…"
"Good luck is bad luck because nothing lasts. Bad luck is bad luck because it’s worse than what came before."
"Through the act of writing, pessimism resigns itself to the speculative debris of clear and coherent ideas – philosophy as driftwood."
"Whatever I’m thinking seems pretentious and naive. Whatever I feel seems cliché and scripted. Whatever I see around me seems a tireless pantomime of tedious significance. Tragedy turns to farce, and life-affirming life becomes grotesque, filling me with revulsion. To be aware of all this is to experience estrangement to such a degree that it almost becomes tranquility."
"Low-grade, chronic pain for weeks, months. I’m trying to listen to my body, but I don’t know what language it’s speaking."
"Cioran once noted that the function of the eyes is not to see but to weep."
"Schopenhauer’s paradox: that one lives, in spite of the fact that life is not worth living. Nietzsche’s paradox: the best one can hope for is the worst. Cioran’s paradox: existence has no meaning, and this is meaningful. Pessoa’s paradox: that everything amounts to nothing, and that this itself is something."
"Everything – our very existence – is just for show."
"When someone casually asks me “How are you doing ?”, I sometimes find myself hesitating, as if caught in a micro-catatonia. The question is both petty and cosmic at the same time. Then I remember: just say “Fine.”"
"“Happiness” is the feeling you have just before something goes wrong."
"The pessimist grieves for everything in general and nothing in particular."
"The Schopenhauer Guide to Life. The question isn’t whether you will suffer, the question is whether your suffering will have meaning. So I tell myself."
"A writer never finishes a book – they abandon it."
Since less than 20% of the book is actually useful/interesting/insightful I'll rate it two stars (begins at one). here are the issues :
- completely incomprehensible, meaningless descriptions of sceneries (example : "Meandering slabs of diatomic shale weave their way across the moss-ridden trellises of our lematticed anatomies")
- a total incomprehension of what an aphorism is : it's supposed to be short to lead to thought, not short to be pretentious and "cool". Here's the formula : take two opposite words. Link them. Boom : "Wholesomeness of vaccum. Vaccum of wholesomeness." Look at me, I'm dark and deep now. An aphorism is supposed to mean something in the first place to trigger thinking. (counterexample : "to have arrived at estrangement..." (p.233)
- Emo passages (and trust me, I know pessimism well enough not to confuse the two). Awkwardness as a result. ("I've been a misanthrope since before I was born", p.234)
- pretentious language (stop using my language (french) when there are perfect translations)
- misinterpreted quotes from "pessimist" authors (Nietzsche, Kafka, Dostoevsky for instance), read through Thacker's opinions, sometimes on completely other subjects. A displayed will to be on the same level, whereas he's objectively not.
- a will to raise paradoxes so obvious and forcé that it falls flat.
I know that some of these issues are due to the expression of the suffering of the pessimist in order to get rid of it. But this doesn't excuse any of it. There was a need to write it, but no need to read it, therefore no need to publish it.
To take it from his book : "A dark surface can give the illusion of depth." (p.225)
This reads almost like notes for several books instead of a one cohesive one: the aphorism are pithy and, indeed, pessimistic, but not early as clear as the aphorists that Thacker lists in his hagiographies of pessimism. Furthermore, some of them are clever at the first read but not particularly insightful after a few, which is someone one wants from darker aphorists. I kept wondering, despite liking Thacker's more systemic (or maybe, complete), works, why I wasn't just reading Schopenhauer, Cioran, Leopardi, Lichtenberg, or Nietzsche directly. The hagiographies are interesting, although they are wildly varied in-completeness and insight.
The first half of this work incorporates pessimistic proverbs and aphorisms original from Thacker and borrowed from sundry literary, religious, and philosophical sources throughout time. It's a morose and depressing melange, enjoyable in small measures for fellow pessimists and para-misanthropists, but its lack of narrative direction dissolves interest rather quickly. The real strength of the book is the second half which sketches out the lives and work of a dozen "Patron Saints of Pessimism," mostly existential philosophers (reflecting Thacker's scholarly expertise) mixed in with some literary and religious figures. These profoundly written summaries are engaging and often humorous, and importantly they highlight how pessimism, despair, anxiety, and depression serve as necessary elements in the aggregate of any truly authentic approach to individual living and to the shaping of societies.
This book has two parts: the first devoted to Thacker's own comments on pessimism and the shortcomings and inherent failures of devising a philosophy of pessimism; the second devoted to "The Patron Saints of Pessimism" (at the section is titled)—a series of brief, bio/critical essays on Schopenhauer (of course—the Jesus Christ of misery), Nietzsche, Lichtenberg, Kierkegaard, Pascal, etc. In short, pessimism is an outlook allowing for precise pinpointing of uncertainties in others' arguments, proposals, assumptions, etc. Pessimism is not, however, a method for producing a systematic philosophy upon which one can build, e.g., a method for living.
This book is divided into two distinct sections, which I'll review separately.
"On Pessimism" is fun reading for when you're fed up with the world, or when you're ready to feel amused at someone else's thorough disgust. It fits well with predecessors like Schopenhauer and Cioran, all of whom are overtly cited throughout as inspirations. The philosophical aphorisms are largely solid, but what doesn't work as well are the literary fragments. Adding some variety to the writing is a good idea in theory, but Thacker's tone is too "goth teen journal" to take seriously. That didn't hurt the work as a whole for me as much as the excessive length, though. For a book that likes to talk about the joys of relentlessly paring down thoughts and the seeming pointlessness of saying anything, it also just drones on and on well past the point at which it would have made sense to stop.
"The Patron Saints of Pessimism" doesn't suffer from the problems listed above, but it also doesn't have many flashes of brilliance. It's just a series of interesting, informal biographical sketches - no more, no less. Coming this far into the book, however, it did serve as a welcome change of pace.
The start is a bit bland with completely muddled up aphorisms making no sense whatsoever. Eventually One gets hold of the writing (Aphorisms are still jumbled without any clear pattern but one gets used to the writing). Only if the book would have been organized under several heading and sub-headings it would have been a blessing for the reader but on the other hand, would be ill-suited to the particular author. The Book is divided between 2 parts- 1- Several aphorisms/daily observations made by the author himself and some others from other notable figures such as Kierkegaard, Pascal, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Cioran, and many others. 2-Excerpts about the life of towering figures of pessimism(A bit disappointed by the fact that Pessoa was not mentioned at all).
Not a casual book on aphorisms or meant for laymen. I had read some works of Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Pessoa so some of the references made by the author here and there made sense, However others regarding Unamuno, Mainlander, Cioran went straight above the head.
This book contains meditations, aphorisms, and fragments of Thacker's ideas on pessimism. For example: "The logic of pessimism [who knew that such a thing as 'pessimism' would have a logic] moves through three refusals: saying no to the world as it is (or, Schopenhauer's tears); saying yes to the world as it is (or, Nietzsche's laughter); and refusing to say either 'yes' or 'no' (or, Cioran's sleep). Crying, laughing, sleeping--what other responses are adequate to a world that seems so indifferent?"
The second half contains meditations of the figures Thacker chooses to be patron saints of pessimism: Nicolas Chamfort, E.M. Cioran, Joseph Joubert, Søren Kierkegaard, Giacomo Leopardi, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Philipp Mainländer, Michel de Montaigne, Friedrich Nietzsche, Blaise Pascal, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Miguel de Unamuno, the date centered around a turning point with each of the individuals.
I always heard Eugene Thacker but I never investigated who this allusive writer/philosopher was until I found a cheap used copy of his horrors of philosophy volume 1 (whatever that book is called) and I found it interesting, to say the least, so I thought I would investigate what else he wrote and I'm quite happy that I did.
The majority of the book is written on the topic of pessimism with the bulk of it in the form of aphorisms, which I absolutely love philosophy aphorisms. The second half of the book goes over the lives of various "pessimistic" philosophers, which I found to be a good primer for further reading.
Generally, this book could come off as depressing for the milk-toast reader but I find negativity, pessimism, and a hint of nihilism a nice compliment to the suffering of life.
Right up there with the light writings of David Benatar.
The pessimists and misanthropes have won the culture war! Nihilism, irony and fatalism rule the day. For a while, our our celebrities where depressed white males. This book is a collection of their collective unconscious. Just what we needed!
Joking aside, this is basically a dark beach read. A nihilist anti-self help guide for the apocalypse. In many ways, this book is "How Not to Be". Gain some self-awareness and stop sounding like this, if you can. But man, it is it so easy. But really, well-written. "Writing is a show of a pessimists' optimism".
The Patron Saints of Pessimism (Who watch over our suffering) section is also admirable.
Eugene Thacker is an interesting writer and philosopher, someone who I have followed for years so this book arrived as no surprise. Even though it is a collection of aphorisms and then summations, it still provides those of us with a more negative persuasion with words of comfort, and some new ideas to chew on. I did like where the first part got a bit more reflective, the second third contained more brief bios on philosophers of the pessimistic persuasion - that helped support the first part but also seemed a bit like abbreviations for an intro class. That said it could shape an interesting textbook.
In the pessimist tradition of aphorisms/fragments with no traditional structure, plot, or happy ending, comes Thacker's celebration of all things pessimism, Infinite Resignation.
Of course, like nearly all books, not everything written is great or profound, and you can pass by some aphorisms/fragments very quickly. However, there are plenty that resonate and that I wrote down in my own notebook for future reference. I actually found the book - like most writing with a pessimistic leaning - uplifting, as pessimism contains much more humour, is much kinder and tolerant towards people who are stressed, feeling down, or who have stuffed up, than optimism. Highly recommended
Eugene Thacker's latest book is a collection of fragments, aphorisms, personal observations, and short essays on philosophy of pessimism. Thacker's gallows humor really cuts deep here. Infinite Resignation is far more accessible and direct than Thacker's Horror of Philosophy trilogy. It's also just a bit redundant if you've read those books.
The lasting value of Infinite Resignation comes from its synthesis of many dense or obscure or hard-to-find texts in this understandably arcane area of thinking. This makes it a good reference point for further explorations in the realm of pessimistic thinking.
I'm not sure whether I think this would be stronger if it was shorter? I liked the biographies a lot, but the aphorisms at a certain point kept hitting the same points so hard that it was hard not to wish he'd been a bit more selective. Like, organize them by point and maybe try and pick the best 4-5 from each. Although maybe effect wouldn't be as strong if he didn't keep hammering away at each. In any case, I clearly viscerally experience the world differently than Thacker does, for better or for worse, but I still appreciate several of his points. Not the only correct perspective on things, but a perspective I think it's foolish to ignore or to pretend isn't part of the whole thing.
An excellent collection of aphorisms and brief biographical sketches of the great pessimists.
Largely, the aphorisms or brief sentences were hit and miss, but that is due to the impossibly high bar established by better thinkers and writers. Don Paterson is a much better source of aphorisms in English, for example.
The real jewel of this book comes in the latter half when Thacker tries to analyze the great pessimists. This was enough to convince me to start reading the rest of Thacker's books.
While writing on pessimism can often be dense and dramatically woeful, this book was kind of fun. Aphorisms and clever quips abound. Although they are not really bone shattering, I definitely dog-eared a number of pages. The second section provides a good primer on a lot of significant figures in this realm and includes a number of ridiculous/hilarious anecdotes.
If you're looking for heavy lifting this probably isn't it, but if you want a few bad ideas with your morning coffee this certainly does the trick.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
My favorite so far of Thacker’s dives into pessimism, and probably the most successful despite (or because of) its fragmentary nature. The first half is personal, taking as much of the form of journal entries as essays; the second contains thumbnail sketches of noted pessimist thinkers which also function as a reading list.
I found it a thoroughly satisfying and engaging read, inasmuch as any volume of philosophy could be. Vive la misanthrope...
After finishing, not sure if I want to slit my wrists or pursue life with unbridled passion. I like Thacker's observations and aphorisms, but the book wasn't what I thought it was going to be. It's (mostly) a book of snippets of his thoughts on pessimism at any given time. That said, his summaries of Kiergegaard, Pascal, Montaigne, Nietzche were entertaining.
Although the first half of the book, devoted to ideas of philosophical pessimism was overly long - so many seemingly repeated ideas - it redeemed itself repeatedly with shots of brilliant laugh-out-loud dark humor. The second half, comprised of mini-biographies of great 'pessimist' philosophers, was straightforward providing background and insight, but again, accompanied with a sharp wit.
Interesting first part with Thacker's own aphorisms and insights. Saints of pessimism mostly is a filler for consumers of biographies. I for one do not really care for the lives of philosophers but it was interesting to stumble across certain new books to read inspires by this Saints of pessimism chapter. Other than that it had no merrit for me but maybe this was Thacker's goal al along.