Praise for the Negative

Eylem Abalıoğlu
8 minutes

What a cheesy title. Who’s gonna read this? If no one reads it, I will.

I am not promising you a fun and animated life here. I just wanted to leave the subjects that I think, read and write about every moment somewhere in the void. I also shared it because of my belief that the act of creation can only be a collective act. There are no answers here, there are questions. I am not wise enough to claim that I know the answer to anything. Every day I ask questions, I am ashamed of what I don’t know, I am ashamed of what I do know like the rest of us.

No, I’m not going to talk about difficult conditions whipping you up or anything like that. But we need to make sure that the things that happen to us – whatever they are – are essential infrastructures of being human. Let me explain why this is so: Let’s imagine a body that is sick. What does it do to heal, first it damages that cell, injures it and then it regenerates and is cured. Let’s imagine a building that is dilapidated. What does it do to be repaired, it is first demolished and then rebuilt. Life is like that. Without damage there is no recovery, without destruction there is no construction. There is no need for improvement or better conditions. There is averaging, there is guaranteeing, there is defensive protection, there is protectionism, there is closure, there is… Maybe this is what Foucault meant by the practices of closure; every structure that closes is embedded in itself, creates its own rules and creates its own normal. Everything outside this enclosed space is a-normal. Incidentally, by the way, the prefix “-a” in Greek gives the word a negative meaning; apolitical, apriori, atheist, etc. So we are back to negativity. By pronouncing “A”, we started exclusion and negativity from the first letter of the alphabet. How is this going to work?

Positives, come closer, let me tell you something: Slowly let go of that four-count breath you just took. You know, mere positivity rots you from the inside. It’s not me, it’s the modern-day philosopher Byung-Chul Han. What else does he say?

“In modern times, Love (we might as well call it life) is domesticated in the process of positivizing all spheres of life, transforming it into a risk-free and danger-free consumption formula, free of excess and madness. All negativity and negative emotions are avoided. Suffering and passion are withdrawn in favor of pleasant emotions and stimulation that does not lead to an outcome. The desire of the ‘Other’ yields to the comfort of the ‘Same’. The comforting and ultimately self-indulgent immanence of the ‘Same’ is sought. Today’s love is devoid of all transcendence and transgression. It is the life of a slave. Such a person prefers slavery to the threat of death. The purely positive is lifeless. Negativity is essential for vitality. Something is alive as long as it contains contradiction, as long as it has the power to contain and resist contradiction.”[1]

It is this state of harboring negativity that leads us to the real truth. Because the truth at the end of this process will show us not only what is pleasant and good, but also unsolvable dilemmas, irreversible losses, great disappointments, unbearable physical and spiritual pain. Seeing this painting so naked reaches our deepest primal fears as a consequence of being human and symbolically brings us face to face with death. This brush with death feeds the life impulse in parallel (because here, too, opposites encompass each other) and fuels our irrepressible sense of curiosity that pushes us to enjoy life more, to have more extreme experiences, to become one with nature.

Let’s think about it: Has being afraid of death ever done you any good? In an environment where ninety-nine percent of your survival skills in everyday life depend on others and the establishment, your “survival kit” is gathering dust in that chest in the attic, right? Then you got so bored, so bored that no matter what you did, no matter what the latest vacuum cleaner you used, the dust on that instinct would not lift. You’ve created artificial dangers for yourself, you’ve competed against yourself with simulations, with crazy daily exercises, you’ve beaten yourself up, you’ve hit walls, but you still couldn’t see the finish line, right? It’s a pity. You thought that you could build the whole picture by having only the puzzle pieces when you had no knowledge of the whole. In the words of dear Barış Uygur, you entered a movie in the theater in the middle and left without seeing the ending, and you thought you understood the movie. [2] No, none of us understood anything, that’s the truth. So how did we all become such happiness fetishists, positive thinkers and dream chasers? Was there really a dream, or did we make it up because the daily routine of life was unbearable? Making it up is not bad. Fiction, the world of “as if” imagination, promises us a reality greater than life itself, but that is not the point now. The topic is “Our bodies are used to seeing everything in twos”. From this point of view, we are all drunk.

We know that existence depends on the principle of opposition. In nature, everything exists with its opposite: Death-life, predator-prey, agent-victim, boundary-limitlessness, body-mind, man-god, being-absence, moderation-transcendence, god-human, darkness-light, night-day, invisible-visible, constant-changing, strong-weak, pure-mixed, sure-suspicious…

Let us stop for a moment and think what our lives would be like without death. Isn’t it the idea of finitude that leads us to transcendental thoughts? Or let’s imagine ourselves as a being without bodies, with only minds. We couldn’t, could we? But is there a hunt without a hunter? So what, opposites don’t always have to be mutually exclusive. I even see and increase: The only condition for my existence is to have an opponent. So is there any point in fearing the opposite, excluding it? No.

If we look at the ancient Greek tradition, we see that even aletheia, the word that represents truth, does not exclude its opposite, lethe, but rather needs it. For those who are hearing these concepts for the first time, let us explain a little: In Ancient Greece, lethe is a river that flows in the underworld of Hades, and it is believed that the shadows, the souls of the dead, who drink from the water of this river, forget everything about their past mortal lives on earth. Letheliterally means: forgetfulness, silence, darkness and condemnation. On the other hand, aletheia, the expression of truth (again, notice the “a” at the beginning), contains the word (logos), remembrance, illumination and praise. (Additionally, why are remembering and speech in the same pool? We need “speech” and “language” to remember, don’t we? Let’s put that as a footnote here and save it for another article). Now with our very rational minds we think that these two are opposites, one positive and one negative. Our minds, used to atomic physics, always think this way, hoff! The truth is that without the lethe part there is no aletheia, there cannot be aletheia. Because darkness is needed for light to be light. When the muses speak of the truth, they also speak of forgetting the causes, sorrow and comfort. Under the influence of their charms and the sense of pleasure they provoke, mortal man escapes from everyday life as a time of misery and trouble. The state of lack (negativity) is not isolated from being. On the contrary, it demarcates the truth and shapes the shadow that is inseparable from it. These two contradictory forces are not in opposition, on the contrary, they are oriented towards each other. The positive tends towards the negative, which in a way “denies” it, but it cannot protect itself in the absence of negativity. In this way, truth forms a structure that balances itself only through the tension of opposing forces.[3]

So what I’m trying to say in a nutshell is that as we try to run away from the negative, it will come after us like a dog chasing us. Let’s pause. Let’s have the courage to see what happens if we don’t run. Maybe if we face it, we will realize that it is not so terrible and we will embrace the positive more. If we take the metaphor here as life and death, we have to accept that living by avoiding death is not a very meaningful life. It is not for nothing that adrenaline junkies such as rock climbers and skydivers, who tackle the most impenetrable mountains without ropes, are always in danger of death. Because they actually bless life every moment with the glorious death they face. Perhaps the most effective way to unleash a force is to nurture the opposite force. In this timid age, perhaps we can think of blessing life and giving it its due without excluding the reality of death.

"Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“You can only see the stars when it’s dark enough.”

Stay in good conversation.

[1] The Agony of Eros, Byung-Chul Han (Trans. Şeyda Öztürk), Metis Publishing, First Edition, Istanbul 2019

[2] Akıl Fikir Ofisi, Barış Uygur, Uykusuz Magazine

[3] Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece, Marcel Detienne (Trans. Adem Beyaz), Pinhan Publications, First Edition, Istanbul, 2012

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