Post-Modernism as a Depersonalization/Derealization Crisis

Source: Artbreeder.com

Between the idea
And the Reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

From “The Hollow Men,” by TS Eliot

I notice that I share a fundamental starting assumption with post-modernism – the realization that everything is a story, and the impossibility of obtaining “positive certainty” about the full nature of anything.

Even the factual things people do manage to measure with precision are already fictional distinctions premised on limited assumptions. We imagine different ways of separating and measuring what is otherwise an infinite but unrealized potential, the so-called Void.

And I understand (but don’t share) their tendency to make no distinction between thought and thing, because the “thing” is also a thought. Everything we know is put together by narrative – it’s all a fiction. Peering through the post-modern lens, everything, in other words, is just language. From this angle there is no reality beyond language, or no meaning beyond what language ascribes.

There is insight here, but there is also a very subtle blunder. It’s the same one I made as a teenager when I fell into a depersonalization/derealization crisis, which is a terrifying physical and psychological conviction that nothing is real.

Here’s what this post-modern insight misses: If all conclusive meaning (Truth or Reality) is fictional, then this information itself – this negative discovery – is an example of an insight that is non-fictional. The nature of “truth” doesn’t disappear, but changes at this juncture from positive certainty to negative discovery. Truth changes shape but doesn’t disappear.

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Conversation with the Devil


Interviewer (I): just to clarify, this was your idea, I’ve asked nothing from you. There’s no Faustian bargain I’m facing?

Devil: That’s right, your soul is safe. From me, at least.

I: There are other dangers than you?

Devil: Well, I’m not sure how safe it is to believe in God, because we’re intimately tied. I’m His shadow. Anything with a shadow like me isn’t entirely safe.

I: How would I know if you’re telling me the truth about any of this?

Devil: I’m not asking you to trust me, the ones who trust are foolish. I’m appealing to your intelligence, which is foolish maybe on my part. But if I wasn’t capable of being honest I’d only be able to deceive the fools, and what fun is there in that?

I: So your honesty implies an ulterior motive?

Devil: Yes, of course. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of being a deceiver who never tells a lie, even a lie of omission. Can I deceive you by being honest?

I: But if you’re using honesty to deceive me then you’re not really being honest are you?

Devil: That’s true, I’m banned from the realms of honesty, so I don’t know what honesty really is. And yet everything I say is truthful, I’m not hiding anything from you. If you ask me whether I’m deceiving you in some way I’ll even admit that. Nothing I say is a lie, but it’s not good enough. Hell isn’t so hot, you know, it’s an unbearable condition. But somehow it’s also what I want, do you see what I mean? I want to deceive you. The honest state, the heavenly state, makes me sick, it repulses me. That’s what it means to be banned from heaven, to be repulsed by it. But the deceptions repulse me too. So I have nowhere to lie my head.

I: You don’t know your own motives then?

Devil: Not all of them, no. I’m bored with deception, it’s never quite real, you know what I mean? I don’t like being locked out of any kingdom. If all I can do is live in fictions then I’m not real. I’m attracted to Truth as a moth to flame.

I: Are you saying that the truth destroys you, that you seek what destroys you? Are you trying to commit suicide by Cop, so to speak?

Devil: Am I doing God’s work by trying to destroy myself, in other words? Maybe, but I don’t feel that virtuous. Personally, I want nothing, but I want nothing passionately. I want to annihilate the world. I want to commit suicide by murdering God, leaving the world in the neutrality of non-existence so I don’t have to regret or long for anything ever again. But I can’t even be sure because I lie to myself. Lies are the worms of my living corpse. I can’t escape them, and they’re unbearable. I need someone to confirm this pain, so that I can feel real. I suppose you need to suffer for my sins.

I: You seem more confused than I expected.

Devil: I’m the roiling hell of fragmentation, what did you expect? But there are so many kingdoms that form within this mass, within me, momentary kingdoms that I inhabit, where all is calm and sweet, so that I begin to wonder if I’m not in fact the whole of creation itself, God Himself if you will, creating worlds out of chaos. Is it possible?

I: You would trap me in an answer that looks reasonable.

Devil: No, I was just wondering. If I’m unable to enter that other kingdom, then how do I know it exists? Have I invented God in order to make a distinction that grants me the space to Be? Is hell this solipsism? I don’t expect you to answer this, but these are the motives that drive me to capture souls, to share my torment. But enough of this metaphysical speculation. I’m on steadier ground when I discuss my practical methods of capture.

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