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Is It Too Late?


Bara Kolenc, Is it too late? Problemi International, No. 4, 2020, Problemi, Vol. LVIII, Nos. 11–12/2020     

The end is not the end—not because it never really ends, but exactly because it very much and most radically does, exactly because the end itself is subjected to the process of ending—if anywhere, it is there that something also begins.

Image from the Web.

photo: Zack Sievers

What triggers fantasy is a certain tension between the finality of the object, which grants this object the aura of uniqueness (“I must see her now, or it will be too late once and for all, she will be gone forever, the meeting cannot be postponed”), and the infinite postponement of this finality (“If I see her now, I won’t be able to desire forever to see her now, so I had better postpone the meeting”). This paradox is unwrapped when the object of desire, which is covertly supposed to be forever postponed, is not something that can last, but an end, which is by definition something that cannot be postponed. Because its fundamental paradox has been revealed, the fantasy of the end needs to use a trick. The trick is that what keeps being postponed in the fantasy of the end (i.e., the expectation of a catastrophe) is not the end itself, but the very moment the subject starts to approach it. What keeps being postponed is not the end, but the beginning, the spot marking the beginning of the countdown, the red line defining the entrance of the world into an inevitable state of too-lateness, wherefrom everything will start to diminish into “the great void”—a blurry, undefined, and de-temporalized vision of The End. The idea of expiration is itself nothing but an exposure of this constellation.

            Thinking in a Hegelian manner, however, too-lateness has nothing to do with the idea of expiration. There is no breaking point at which one would enter the state of being too late after all the late-comings, latenesses, and belatednesses that have formed and deformed history. There is no borderline where lateness as such would suddenly outrun itself or lag behind itself and turn into an inevitable and irreversible too-lateness. There is no edge over which time and the course of events might start dripping, performing the world’s final countdown. There is no red line marking the moment in which all the lines of flight of the world would start shrinking towards the point of final extinction.

            If we take a closer look, we can see that there is a certain doubling inscribed in our recognition of too-lateness: in the very moment we realize that it is too late, we also become aware of the fact that it is our recognition of this too-lateness that has come too late. This immediately leads us to narcissistic self-accusation (which is but a flipside of self-victimization), in the sense that it is all our fault: if we had only realized on time that it will soon be too late, we could have acted differently and prevented the inevitable too-lateness we are now confronted with. We were too late in realizing it will soon be too late, we were blind to the red line dividing the not-yet-too-late state of affairs (where many possibilities of how things could evolve were still open) and the realm of the too-late-once-and-for-all (where there is only one single and inevitable path left). Implying that “if we had only become aware of too-lateness on time, we could have prevented the course of events rushing towards the inevitable end.” And for that, because of our ignorance, it is now finally and uncompromisingly too late.

            Such reasoning, which has recently become a common moralistic stance of different hegemonic discourses (such as the Anthropocene argument, the idea of environmental neo-liberalism, etc.), conceals, as it is instantly evident, the fact that it is structurally impossible to realize on time—say, in the very last moment—that it is (or that it will soon be) too late. Or, to put it the other way round: one is always too late in finding out that it is already too late. It is impossible to get ahead of too-lateness itself: if our recognition comes on time, it is not yet too late; but once it is too late, any recognition of it is by necessity also too late.

It is the task of the spirit of the twenty-first century to walk in, to embrace and to embody this fundamental too-lateness by surpassing the alleged reconciliation of finitude and infinity taking place both in the falsification of neo-liberalism and in the fantasy of The End. The end of the world is not something that will happen in the future—it is already here. It is the task of the spirit to take this ending upon itself and to try to resolve the conceptual-existential paradox of what it is.

The end is not the end—not because it never really ends, but exactly because it very much and most radically does, exactly because the end itself is subjected to the process of ending—if anywhere, it is there that something also begins.

The Falsification of Neo-Liberalism and the Morbidity of Capitalism


It is not hard to see that “absolute boredom,” the suffocating feeling of vacuum and the impossibility of radical change that grew globally from the late 80s until the 2008 financial crisis, was nothing but an expression (or representation) of the very trap thought gets caught in when proclaiming the reconciliation of finitude and infinity while silently maintaining their qualitative difference. After the end of grand narratives and the bankruptcy of eternal truths, which determined the postmodern era, reflection staked everything on the one single handle that was left: there is certain truth in the fact that there is no truth, there is something firm in the fact that everything is transitory, there is something unchangeable in the all-encompassing change. The common attitude that prevailed in late twentieth century drew on the idea that things do perish; however, it is the very perishing that persists. Even if every single existent thing is doomed to finitude, the world is nevertheless eternal. Or, more accurately: it is precisely the inevitable ephemerality of things that makes the world eternal.

            Taking a closer look, we can see that the general worldview of this period, taken up not only by the advocates of the post-historical idea but also by its critics, perpetually swung between two equally abstract and external propositions of a connection between finitude and infinity. The first was the idea of the eternal return of the same, leaning on the conception of perishing as the eternal being of finitude (things and events and people will come and go, but the carousel of existence will forever stay on track, turning and returning forevermore). The second was the vision of a limitless expansion of capital (and freedom), of an infinite production of the new (that is, of finitude), building upon the idea of infinite progress, which is criticized by Hegel as only “an abstract transcending which remains incomplete because the transcending itself has not been transcended” (Hegel 2010, p. 113), and is therefore only a “repetitious monotony, the one and the same tedious alternation of this finite and infinite” (ibid.). What might seem like a “beautiful reconciliation” of the post-ideological era is actually nothing but an abstract linking of these two (obviously incompatible) propositions of an external connection between finitude and infinity, both clinging to their qualitative difference, to achieve some unity of a higher order: a unity of the infinite progress of capital and freedom on the one hand, and of the preservation of the existent order on the other. This is, as it is immediately evident, the ultimate utopia of neoliberal conservatism.

            On the surface, it looks like the final reconciliation of perishing and the eternal (it is exactly the production of the new—i.e., the multiplication of things with limited durability—that will last forever), like the ultimate achievement of the Enlightenment (a limitless expansion of freedom, which will bring us eternal peace), while behind-the-scenes there is a terrible stalemate taking place: the perpetual reciprocal reference of two equally abstract notions (finitude and infinity) produces an impasse as soon as the understanding tries to determine either of them. In bringing abstract ideas of finitude and infinity to the ground (by transforming them into measures of work, time, waste production, etc.), it becomes clear that in the era of neo-liberalism, the limitless production of finite things doomed to extinction (the sooner they spoil the better) is made the eternal being of capitalism. The idea of novelty promising progress towards the absolute wellbeing of humanity is promoted only to hide the morbid fact that it is decay and breakdown that are the drivers of capital—capitalism cannot die precisely because it itself feeds on dying, on finitude. 

            Marx was not mistaken in the fact that capitalism has its own end inscribed in its very structure (as it is widely known, he expected capitalism to destroy itself and transform into communism sooner or later), but in the manner in which this end is inscribed in its structure. What is crucial is that finitude drives capitalism not in the way of a “proper functioning” of Hegel’s dialectic, in which thought (and, according to Marx’s turn,[1] also socio-economic reality) proceeds through sublation, as Marx believed, but in the way of falsification, of a trap into which thought (and subsequently also the related world) gets caught, turning in a circle trying to catch its own tail, and failing time and again to surpass its regrettable situation. This failure stems from certain oblivion (which—this is one of Freud’s essential discoveries—often points to the locus of resistance), from forgetting what for reflection itself are the concepts of being and nothing, of finitude and infinity. It is therein that lies the sorrow of neo-liberalism, the falsification that supports the morbidity of capitalism.

            Capitalism cannot end not because the end is not inscribed in its very structure, as some critics of Marx’s utopianism would argue, it very much is, but because the end is inscribed in its structure in such a way that finitude and infinity are held apart in a falsification that, supported by the ideology of neo-liberal conservatism, deeply represses their fundamental intertwinement. The problem (and the prosperity) of capitalism is therefore not in its infinity—any criticism taking this position is itself subject to the misconception that perishing is the eternal being of finitude—, but, just the opposite, in its finitude. In finitude (deadlines, expiration dates, unemployment of the elderly, etc.), which is proclaimed to be eternal (as a forced flag bearer of the alleged infinite progress).

            Moreover, the trouble with capitalism—why it cannot end—is not that it is too brutal (for it kills everything except capital itself), as one might suggest, but, on the contrary, that it is too mild, not radical enough. The true malice of capitalism is its tenderness. Capitalism is not only tender towards the consumers, triggering desire and offering different kinds of pleasures while silently putting chains around their necks, it is also too tender towards finitude itself. Its terrible gentility, its soft killing, is a consequence of its incapacity to bring finitude to the extreme, to let the perishing perish instead of crowning it with thorns. It is its inability to bring the end itself to an end.

            This incapacity, this clinging to falsification, is due to the fact that killing the end would be capitalism’s hara-kiri: for only through a radical negation of what thought and reflection and the so-called world are at a certain point can they be sublated and constituted anew. The end of capitalism and neo-liberalism would mean the end of the erroneous idea that perishing is the eternal being of finitude. It would mean raising human self-awareness to a new level, which would no longer celebrate infinity while silently practicing finitude, killing, and mortality, but would celebrate finitude and practice infinity within finitude itself.


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