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The legacy of resistentialism in Anglophone culture, and most of all in Anglophone philosophy, is so pervasive and deep that it is easy to forget this movement’s relatively recent origins. It was only in 1879 that Friedrich Theodor Vischer published his landmark novel, Auch Einer [One More], in which he described in passing what was then the new philosophical theory of die Tücke des Objekts [“the spite of the object”]. According to this hitherto counterintuitive variation on panpsychism, the entire physical world, what we conventionally call “reality”, is in the end only a congelation of spite, or, more precisely, of spite towards us. Thus at one point Vischer’s protagonist describes “the general tendentiousness, indeed animosity of the object, of the so-called body, which until now physics has spiritlessly identified with names like ‘the law of gravity’, ‘statics’, and the like, while it is much rather to be derived from the inhabitation of malevolent spirits.”
In the so-called “resistentialist digression” within the novel, the principal focus is on those interactions between human beings and their physical artifacts that so often go awry: the accidental hammering of a thumb that grips a nail, the paperweight that’s dropped on an innocent and unexpecting toe. But this was already enough for the seed of the theory to take root, and within the next decade a slough of philosophical explorations appeared, first in German and then soon enough in English, examining the role of the principle of Tücke in all of humanity’s points of contact with the external world. No doubt the most influential of these was Bernd Noether’s 1894 work, Warum haßt uns die Welt? [Why Does the World Hate Us?], which the author begins with a famous follow-up question that would gradually filter into popular culture and would serve as the name of at least two silent films of the Weimar era: “What did we ever do to it?”
Noether notes, unassailably, that it is not just hammers and paperweights, but indeed passive and entirely immobile surfaces such as walls and the very ground beneath us, that threaten in their stubborn immobility to harm us or even kill us should we make one false move in their proximity. And because we are earth-bound creatures we are more or less always in their proximity, always threatened with swift execution for the crime of tripping over our shoelaces and hitting our heads — a crime with no victim but ourselves. Yet in the context of the physical universe as a whole, this terrestrial life still remains, shockingly, the best there is. For once we leave these surfaces there is only the infinite cold of outer space, punctuated by the infinite heat of the sun and stars, both of which settings would obliterate us in an instant. And even a technology as simple as teletransportation —which has been fully understood since the 1960s— cannot be used, other than for a few limited purposes, since the slightest miscalculation of the coordinates of a traveller’s destination may end up causing his body to reappear half in open air, but half in some solid and unforgiving chunk of matter, thus annihilating him from the waist down, or the neck up, or, as happened in the gruesome case of “the Omaha Kid” in 1967, split right down the middle of his bilaterally symmetrical body-plan.
Resistentialism hung in the air as a cultural malaise throughout the early twentieth century, but it was not until April, 1928, with the epoch-making discovery by Conz and Wajsfisz in the physical laboratories of the University of Göttingen, that the still-half-jocular theory gained its scientific confirmation and was elevated to a straightforward account of the deepest nature of our world. As is widely reported (though some dissenting voices have long claimed this is apocryphal), it was enough for Wajsfisz to observe the tail-like trace in his cloud-chamber of the sought-after mison particle (from the Greek μῖσος, “hatred”) for him to be reduced, by the time Conz returned from the washroom, to the condition of a blubbering baby.
The duo is given joint credit for this paradigm-shifting discovery, yet it is only Wajsfisz who gave his life for it. As far as can be determined, the Polish scientist never spoke again, was institutionalized in early 1931, and died from the consequences of an ill-advised course of insulin-coma therapy within the same year. Since 1928, as far as is known only two other people —“Patient A” and “Patient B”— have directly observed a mison-trace, which itself is of course only an indirect observation of the mison particle, but already potent enough to have disastrous consequences. By the 1950s the “Galileo Protocols” were put in place to regulate mison research, and to keep it safe by adding several additional layers of indirectness between the observer and the “thing itself”. As every school-child knows, these protocols earned their name from the methods the eponymous Italian astronomer devised centuries earlier for “observing” sunspots without in fact observing them, by allowing the patterns of the solar surface to make an impression on a sheet of paper.
Adepts of popular science will know that in the latter half of the twentieth century the preeminent theoretical question of particle physics was that of the mison particle’s opposite, the “philon”, which remains entirely hypothetical to this day, but which is widely held to be necessary in order to “make the math work”. A Nobel Prize may be waiting for the researcher who makes this discovery in the near future. Or perhaps the “love particle”, as it is widely known, will in the end “go the way of phlogiston”, as the media-friendly American cosmologist Ron “Bub” Willis put it in his bestselling 1983 book, Where’s the Love?!
But whatever the ultimate fate of the hate particle’s “good twin” (Willis 1983, p. 248), there is no question but that the cultural impact of the mison has rippled far beyond the boundaries of physics itself, and has shaped the way our society thinks broadly about the nature of reality and our place in it. This is perhaps above all the case in academic philosophy, where “misology” emerged as a distinct branch of inquiry by the 1930s. This branch would soon enough give rise to the prevailing school of thought in the English-speaking world, in the years following the great meteor-strike of 1938 that depopulated much of Germany and Central Europe —as if to demonstrate the brute, undeniable truth of resistentialism—, and compelled many of that region’s surviving university professors to seek refuge in the United States.
These scholars had come with a highly formalized approach to misology —or to “misological resistentialism” as it is more properly known—, which often clashed with the looser “paigniological” style (from the Greek παίγνιον, “toy”, “plaything”) of homegrown American philosophy as it had developed from the early nineteenth century. But by the 1950s the misological program completed its ascent, and within another generation the range of questions it found worth asking, and the methods by which it pursued these questions, would simply be taken for granted. Philosophy, in the post-meteor era, had by and large become the study of hatred. (Ironically, “misology” in this sense replaced an earlier meaning of the term, which had designated not the rational study of hatred, but rather the hatred of reason itself.)
As is the case in any era of “normal science”, it is surprisingly easy for those working under the umbrella of its suppositions and exclusions to forget the wide diversity of approaches in earlier eras. We know, yet somehow do not fully appreciate, that until the 1890s the overwhelmingly most accepted philosophical doctrine was the one preferred by the school of “lexism”, which held, roughly speaking, that reality is mantained in existence through the sequential iteration of the names of the things of this world. Like smirking youths who laugh at the pious churchgoing of their grandparents, we make light of the long and venerable tradition that found it meaningful to post a “world-crier” (praeco mundi) on a tower in each city and town of any significant size, who bellowed out all the names of things, in alphabetical order, from dawn to dusk each day, so that the world might go on.
Few today know more than just a few factoids about this complex tradition, as that the first world-crier, a youth named Giacomo with a “whispy russet moustache”, was posted at the top of the Torre dell’Orologio in Padua in 1433, or that the first crying of the world in a non-Latin language occurred in Protestant Wittenberg in 1689 (crier unknown). Many today are at least somewhat more interested in the earliest attempts at replacing human criers by recorded voices, which, perhaps not uncoincidentally, occurred in Hamburg in 1894, on a so-called “Praecophone” device, at nearly the precise moment Noether, in nearby Altona, was composing the book that would make “resistentialism” a household word.
By the 1930s, as most of us know, each municipality, at least in Europe and North America (with a few echoes also in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America) was equipped with a world-crying radio station. In the United States this was generally at the lower end of the AM frequencies, and by the 1950s almost nobody bothered to turn the dial down that far. In the mid-1960s some cities attempted to make the shift to FM, and world-crying radio enjoyed a brief bump of interest. But the world’s last station, WRLD 88.9 FM in Saratoga Springs, New York, would close its doors already by March, 1977, and the event barely even made the local news. One clip still circulating on YouTube shows the station manager, a certain Vincent Kocunik, speaking to WNYT, Channel 13 in Albany. “We’re entering uncharted territory here,” Kocunik says. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. For all I know the world will cease to exist when we go off the air tonight at midnight.” This earned a small laugh from the hosts.
I know I’m going to be ridiculed for this, and I risk making myself even more marginal than I already am, but honestly it seems to me that lexism is not such a crazy theory if you stop and think about it. People today often ask with cocky self-assurance: if in fact it were words and not hate from which the world was built, then how could the world have existed before the Torre dell’Orologio was constructed, and how could it have continued to exist after WRLD 88.9 was shut down? But of course up until 1433, and ever since 1977, there have been plenty of people talking too, if in a less official capacity, and for all we know it was their talking, and indeed it is our talking now, that keeps things moving. And as for what is often called “deep history”, the long period before human speech evolved, perhaps there was something —something that in our abased age we have trouble detecting— that was, so to speak, “doing the talking”? No classical lexist would ever deny this possibility, and the idea that that tradition held the world to come out of nothing at the precise moment Giacomo mounted the tower and cried Abacus! is a pure fabrication, mockingly attributed to lexism by fools who do not want to take it seriously, and so invent excuses to ensure they won’t have to.
Let me marginalize myself even further. When it comes right down to it, what does it even mean to say that the world is “built out of hate”? All we really know is that Emil Wajsfisz was admitted to an insane-asylum in 1931. Not to sound like an oblong-earth theorist, but everything beyond this singular event could really use a bit more documentation.
And even if there are misons, the overwhelming majority of scientific experts also readily agree, or at least most of them do, that philons too will be added soon enough to our world’s most basic “list of ingredients”. But if the world turns out to be an equal mixture of love and hate, is that not something we have known all along, and that we reconfirm, like the rising and setting of the sun, each day anew in our speech?
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