Many systems of thought have sought to extract meaning from life itself. The very fact that life could have ‘meaning,’ or that it is worth saying that it might have meaning, presupposes that there is a chance it may have no meaning (as if there could ever be a point by which we would be able to determine that it is discursively impossible to extract more meaning from life), which then presupposes that ‘nothingness,’ or perhaps, the non activity of matter is the likely original ‘intent’ of the universe. It is also a mistake to apply a word like ‘mistake’ to the inception of matter, the universe or life itself, since this word is often used by secular parties wishing to combat the theistic view that an anthropomorphic personality is responsible for a sole creative act. The grammar of the word ‘mistake’ in their argument still assigns an anthropomorphic nature and a sense of responsibility to the order of things which could only be a ‘mistake’ if some other ‘preferable,’ ‘more likely’ or ‘natural’ set of contingencies had already been revealed to us. Those who hold the scientific/materialistic mindset are just as ludicrous for identifying a lack of meaning in the order of things as those whom they mock for identifying meaning in them.
It has never been enough, however, for secular or religious parties to identify meaning within the small, contingent realm in which their ideas find themselves at home. The existential crisis is always renewed, whether aesthetically or through a rephrasing of the original question through the perspective of different values. Even if he believes it, the Christian might wonder why his sins were in need of remission in the first place. The Muslim might wonder why an absent Muhammad is so adamant about acquiring the driest land in the world. The Marxist might wonder if a true utopia is ever truly possible through the constant manipulation of woolly nature. The fascist may have trouble locating true human sovereignty once economic factors begin to betray the power in which he invests. All of these parties require a large, totalizing belief in order to perpetuate the set of circumstances which protect those espousing these views—it’s cyclical.
The existential crisis, in its crudest form (and funny enough, in its most popular form) is the one that removes all value but the value of the individual. Since one’s individual moral values have already been thrown out in the declared ‘lack of meaning’ of all other values, the individual is left only with sensation itself as a guiding light (everyone’s sensation is different but it is supposed that everyone has them—the only totalizing factor that the individual is allowed when all other value is taken from them). For one experiencing this loss of value concerning all other descriptions of life, he must create his own meaning—his own project. It cannot be a totalizing one since it does not necessarily come from the ‘outside.’ Since the personal meaning comes from ‘within,’ it must regard all other totalizing values that, at one time, were considered ‘transcendent,’ such as ‘unabliable rights’ and ‘liberty’ as those which one may only fight for so long as it is guaranteed that the real investment is a completely personal one.
While the surrealists and the existentialists have some differences, they are related in their violent, totalizing attitudes toward all other totalizing attitudes. Even that which might well be considered a ‘law of nature’ is deliberately leapt over (if not blatantly ignored) in order for the achievement of a revolutionary action on a small, everyday scale. Breton’s group could enjoy the cafes and all the luxuries that come in small doses during allotted leisure times in a consumerist society because their protest, no matter the size or the degree of violence of their actions, were not aimed with any finality at specific entities (even though specific entities did often suffer their violence). Their actions were made up of a set of subversive rituals that could not exist without the rituals of the realm into which they were thrown. It was necessary for them to move through society like a cold, unexpected water, walking on the same streets, using their money the same way. Their revolution was truly the revolution of the everyday, beating Vaneigem by thirty odd years.
French intellectual groups in the twentieth century kept hooking onto these totalizations of individual freedom that were sometimes all too similar in execution even if their mechanisms for arriving at their ways of life were different. They certainly couldn’t have all been under the delusion that their groups would last forever or that generations of newcomers would somehow be inaugurated and replace each member. But they did all hope for revolution of some kind, and revolution itself is the hope that the aberration will come to be the rule.
Thought experiments can be very stimulating ways of committing oneself to revolutions of the every day without becoming too invested in an ideology to the point where one’s intellect has been compromised. They’re usually less costly as thought experiments don’t ask for money in exchange for eternal happiness or momentary pleasure.
The totalizing thought experiments have already taken place. As I said before, Carlo Michelstaedter’s living with the constant collapse of the next moment and nearness of death in mind is not so original, as it is the anxious formula of all existentially concerned minds. Perhaps it would be preferable, rather, to consider a series of temporary projects in order to extract meaning from different phases of life, rather than trying to create totalizing meanings that alienate all sensations that might be considered aberrant or not in keeping with one party’s contingent goals.