On Bad Faith and melancholia: amor fati and mauvaise foi

“We can understand the emotion that if one looks for a meaning. The emotion is a disruption, it is driving, driving under the worst possible deal with a stressful situation, it is somehow not adapted mismatch. The crisis of tears of the candidate (or candidate) harassed by a relentless examiner is welcome to end an unsustainable situation, we do not talk of U.S. GDP or the death of Louis XVI to somebody one which is collapsed on the table, shaken by sobs. It remains the examiner executioner to store questions and get his Kleenex. Unless too, unable to handle the situation, no one pulls a tantrum! And when the stakes are even worse when, for example’I see coming toward me a wild beast, my legs give way under me, my heart beats more slowly, I faded, I fall, I faint.´”-Jean-Paul Sartre



One of the things that “left” melancholia reminds me of is Christian or Jewish Gnostic melancholia, and both seem to be rooted in an abstracted form of “depression.” To say this is sort of obvious, but this melancholia is not the same as “depression.” To say this is a secularized form of social and apocalyptic angst would be a cliched, yet melancholia often stems from looking at the “totality of production” seeing how it is produced and becoming overwhelmed by its seeming completeness. Add to that some depression, and the entire world can become something one is against.

Yet, this “I know what I am against, but I am for nothing” is not mere nihilism. It is an abnegation of aesthetic value. It is the removal of qualia. Furthermore, it can lead to a particularly severe type of bad faith. I realize that Sartre has fallen out of favor, and for many particularly smart reasons, but his conceptions of bad faith help me understand what is going on.

In absence of realizing that one has freedom to enact what one is, and then in lacking knowing what one is for, one enacts a set of moralities to appease the emotional lack of autonomy.  One adopts the set of values prearranged, often without realizing it.  The secular world remains its religious traces even after it has abandoned the religious epistemology and metaphysics that made such a view appear to be coherent.  This often gets naturalized, and while some of the sentiments are “evolutionary”–many seem much more rooted in a particular milieu.

Our radical freedom is not the freedom to be beyond ourselves: our self conditioned by our biological world, our class structure, our labor, our environment.   We are a host of things we control and don’t control, existing within a complex of modes of production and social relationships, and still limited by natural incidents of our birth.  As Marx’s noted in Gothakritik, we are not all created equal in our physical being, so such talk is merely formal–if not outright dishonest.  The freedom is the freedom to choose and change our relationships and modes of production:  we are changed by our labor and environment, we are even produced by it, but we have the radical freedom to change that.

This means that melancholia can lead to particular forms of bad faith–not just nihilism as is often presumed.  In this, a dose of Nietzsche and a dash of Althusser is actually helpful more than Sartre, we must self-overcome as is interpolated upon us.   It is not that we are dealing with an unmediated being–there is no human individual without the contrast of the social body which both defines the individual and can prompt the individual to take agency against. In other words, we have freedom to figure out what can be in the limits of what we are.  Instead of imposing identities and outside moral codes upon us to as if we could be something beyond what we are.

This does means, however, being aware of the sources on one’s identity and working to separate that from ideological commitments, goals, pleasures–i.e. values.  This means striving to belong to a community that shares many of those goals, and praising what is good.   In pure negativity, it is actually easy for tactic assumptions of the culture to impose things on us, and for that we must take individual responsibility.


One thought on “On Bad Faith and melancholia: amor fati and mauvaise foi

  1. Pingback: On Bad Faith and melancholia: amor fati and mauvaise foi | dialecticusblog

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