The Floozman Discussion
by Bertrand Cayzac
“Tut, tut, tut” goes an artificially modulated voice from above, “that can’t be right. Janatone is looking for a good death, isn’t she? She’s willing to DIE. That’s what you wrote.”
The voice is right, I say to myself, whomever he or she belongs to, looking out for the first time at the high castle overhanging the village. Then, all the sudden, I shout, “You are only cards!”
And reaching to you, reader, behind the veil of wanton fiction as the inn and its innards dissolve in the bohemian mist: “Let the truth be! It’s all about the Death Drive! Don’t fear the reaper! Yeah, reader, the DEATH DRIVE as glimpsed by the good Doctor Sigmund Freud in his genial essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”
“O death, old captain, it is time! Let us weigh anchor!
We tire of this land, o Death! Let us cast off!”
Janatone the old cyborg, for one, heeds Charles Baudelaire’s call. Let’s cast off and, shall I add, hoist the Jolly Roger. We will soon see why.
Beyond the Pleasure Principle is generally held to be a queer, speculative work; and it is, by all standards. It is one according to the author’s own reservations, to begin with.
Still this seminal work might be an equivalent of “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” to our story and to large swathes of Western philosophy. Ecclesiastes and Schopenhauer did warn us, Ecclesiastes holding that “the day of death is better than the day of birth,” while Schopenhauer says that the world boils down to and evaporates with pure will.
Indeed, in Philip K. Dick’s famous alternate history, The Man in the High Castle, the key to the authentic world can be found only in a subversive, forbidden book called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.” This scandalous truth is that the Germans and Japanese have actually lost WW2; the protagonists believe they have won, but their world is unreal: the USA is not a dominion of the Reich, and Hitler does not rule the world. Nor is Martin Heidegger fooled into accepting the ministry of being...
The scandal in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is that, contrary to what we all have been taught to believe, the ultimate goal of life would be... death. Cornered into ever complex forms by some blind necessity, eager to swim the vital currents all the way downstream, the living substance would only endeavor to restore ancient inorganic states, love and need for achievement being barely the results of the elaborate repression of fundamental impulses.
The deuce take it! This is almost radically opposed to Bergson’s views on the élan vital — the vital impetus — as a struggle for freedom. In truth, this thesis is so revolutionary that it pulls the rug from under many a belief, ringing the death bell for many if not all humanistic hopes under the sun. Should Dr. Freud have accepted to venture into metaphysics, he may even have held that being yearns for non-being, “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” as Hamlet ponders at some point.
These circuitous ways to death, faithfully retained by the conservative instincts, would be neither more nor less than the phenomena of life as we now know it. [...] The theoretical significance of the instincts of self-preservation, power and self-assertion shrinks to nothing, seen in this light; they are part-instincts designed to secure the path to death peculiar to the organism and to ward off possibilities of return to the inorganic other than the immanent ones [...] It remains to be added that the organism is resolved to die only in its own way; even these watchmen of life were originally the myrmidons of death.
The above is a partial account of the disruptive, bewildering hypothesis at the core of Freud’s essay, and this is the vortex of the revolution at work in Floozman in Space. True, very few readings have baffled me more than this one, and few have given me such a clear framework to understand my own stories.
More than this: Beyond the Pleasure Principle came with such a shock that it hastened the latent reversal of the whole cosmic plot as can be read in the “Floozman Companion,” an extract of which is inserted at the end of this discussion.
Now here is the situation in Floozman in Space: Janatone and the CosmiGirls were once the sparkling spearheads of space conquest; or, rather, their ancestors were, for I reckon their generation mightn’t be quite up to the task. Eros has been their god all along; the chapter “The Revolutions of Love,” for one, makes it manifest.
Now these heroes just stop thriving and follow the true direction of life, i.e. the way out. Why? What for? And at what cost — bearing in mind that you can be shoved out of an airlock and into space for one zouz and a disclaimer?
And why does Janatone want to die on her native planet, when any black hole would do the trick? Is she serious or is she just concealing a senile, regressive trip?
As stated above, Freud’s answer is that the instincts of self-preservation will “ward off possibilities of return to the inorganic other than the immanent ones,” thus securing the organism’s own peculiar path to death. In this light, repetition is a privileged way to attempt to restore a previous state. This will explain the effort and the journey to the waters of birth. But what sort of death is that? What makes it so desirable?
Anxiety or even despair can’t be ruled out as causes, especially if we take for granted that Janatone has become an accomplished, caring Dasein with a highly existenziell sense of her own power to be. Hasn’t she been heeding the quasi-sacred call of Being ever since her lifelong sojourn on the most jilted asteroids?
Besides, hasn’t she demonstrated a high, correlative degree of moral consciousness in siding with the rebellion? All this means that anxiety, in the Heideggerian sense, is her lot, even though I think there is more to her conversion than a flight from being, however sophisticated it may sound.
From here, a quick investigation show how anxiety could further my awkward, tentative response to the initial question... Er, what was the question by the way? Was it not: Is Bertrand blowing his big red nose in philosophy?
Indeed, in order to link the “being-towards-death” to the “death-drive” which was, in truth, brought to my patchy story by little more than chance alone, Alain Juranville argues that Heidegger does nothing else than unearth the death drive itself, especially when he relates anxiety to the “being-towards-death” as being “essentially anxiety.”
And, purchasing Juranville’s book out of enthusiasm, it’s with great joy that I discover how he was just paving the way for my dear Emmanuel Levinas to blow the discussion open with transcendent perspectives: “Anxiety as being-for-death is also the hope to reach the open water of non-being” (le large du non-être).”
Copyright © 2016 by Bertrand Cayzac