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on eros & anger
My beloved friend Gabriel recently recommended I read Byung-Chul Han’s The Agony of Eros. We had been talking about Love, as we do. Why talk about anything else? Why avoid it, especially in a time like this?
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In fact, I did end up reading the book in one sitting, with what struck me most being the chapter The Politics of Eros. In particular, this breakdown of the slow death of our thumotic impulses:
“Eros gudes the soul, according to Plato. It holds sway over all its parts: pleasure based desire (epithumia), spiritedness or courage (thumos), and reason (logos). Each spiritual component has its own mode of enjoyment and interprets the beautiful in its own ways. Today, it seems that desire (epithumia) dominates the soul’s experience of pleasure. For this reason, actions are rarely thumos driven. Rage is thumotic; it radically breaks with convention and inaugurates a new state of affairs.”
On rage, I could write a whole book. My temper is infamous — at times virtuous, in defense of others, and justified. In others, it is ugly, petulant, exaggerated, and bigger than me. Those who pay attention to astrology will not be surprised to discover that my chart ruler is Mars, the planet that cuts, burns, and severs.
Chul Han goes on to write, “but now it [rage] is increasingy yielding to annoyance, or dissastisfaction, which lacks the negativity of rupture and instead allows circumstances to persist.”
Indeed. Rage, even subdued American rage, is the most prevalent emotion of all, seeping in everywhere. It is so common that it needs to be watered down and fragmented into manageable emotions. More importantly, anger is never portrayed as desirous. Yet there is beauty in the thumotic, in tenacity. However, that beauty is dangerous, in that it inspires exactly what Han mentions: a new state of affairs, or if you’d like a different word, revolution. In contrast, anything that allows the circumstances to persist supports the status quo. Epithumic desire is safe and able to be coddled by and under a capitalist system, so it is encouraged and fostered culturally and societally.
Anger is relentlessly demonized and individualized to the point where we have the societal topography we have now, one of mass shootings, individuals taking the fall for systems of abuse and corruption, one where scapegoating is the norm. The collective anger is moralistic, dogmatic, heavily depoliticized, neutered, and easily bored. As a result, narcissist rage is the only one allowed to thrive, and it is bloodthirsty and tunnel-visioned.
Our collective attempts at a thumotic experience have too many cultural narcissistic holes in which to fall and get lost. By that, of course, I primarily mean Twitter. We get together to bash on celebrities or politicians in the least productive ways possible, with irony and individualistic pursuits mixed in. Still, we rarely, if ever, combine our culminating rage into something substantial and organized enough to sustain itself.
This is partly due to growing cultural paranoia, which I wrote about recently. We cannot trust each other, which is the ideal psychological setting to prevent solid organization. The more we allow anger to become, or rather, to remain a ‘taboo’ or ‘negative’ emotion, the further away we move from hope for revolution and freedom from the capitalist chokehold. Recognizing the commonality of our anger would inevitably bring clarity to the questions of class. It would redefine the world and our desire for a different one.
It is no wonder we are so angry in a society that is so firmly rooted in shame. Therapy remains largely inaccessible to many, not only financially, but due to a rightful mistrust of a system whose ultimate goal is to make you more productive. Even in anger-specific counseling, the goal is always personal, the root is always individual, and the exploration of the true origins of rage, of collective rage, is never acknowledged.
So you learn to breathe, count down from ten, or re-route your thoughts. You take up boxing lessons. You journal. You individualize your anger. The quest for “self-improvement” is never ending, absolutely in line with capitalist agendas, requires you to spend money, and exhausts you personally and emotionally to the point where the greater good fades out at the end of the day when you’re crawling into bed, heavy with yourself and your own hell.
My relationship with rage has always led me to certain conclusions and observations. One is that if it provokes the truth, we need more of it. The problem comes from it remaining trapped in closed interpersonal circuits, unable to break free and become productive with the freedom of a different context. As a result, we don’t know what to do with anger and, by extension, ourselves.
We have seen our desires shift over the past few years into a neurotic obsession with safe spaces and relatability to the point of absolute narcissistic envelopment. We can’t see beyond ourselves, and any attempts to do so are met as an affront. We cling to the capitalist delusion that Love can exist under such duress that it can Be even as we deny ourselves our most primal emotions. We move further and further away from each other each time we choose to vilify anger or any emotion that pulls us out of our comfort zone or threatens to initiate a new way of being, feeling, thinking, and acting. We assure ourselves a place in a continued hell of anxious rumination and paranoia when we refuse to let anger open the door to newness
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