Tuesday, 6 December 2016

what's the point?

Some contexts support the question 'but what's the point?'

Perhaps you go to work only to earn money - you don't much like your job - and then you're told 'Well, you can come in today, but there's no money to pay you.' The question finds ready application here.

Instrumental activity - activity done to some independently specifiable end - always has 'a point'. That's the point of it.

Other contexts don't support the question. You are singing in the shower. Now, what's the point of doing that? (No good answer.)

My point isn't that there's no point; but rather that here we have neither point nor pointlessness.

Or: we might say here 'there's no point to it', but the point I want to make, here, is that the absence of point here is different from the kind of pointlessness which aptly marks other actions. Thus the absence of point here could be called 'ontological' rather than 'ontical'. We meet here with an activity with respect to which point is not aptly sought, rather than with an activity which could rightly be said to fail to achieve something - fail to attain a goal which, were the action at all aptly suited to meeting it, would have given said action a point.

To be sure if someone forced the question on us then we'd most likely find a way to force it to make some or other kind of sense. We might answer 'Well, I was expressing my joy!' Or 'It's my private singing time!' Or 'Duh, it sounds better in here!'.

Suffice it to say that these aren't answers to the same question - the question as individuated by its meaning rather than the words it contains - as asked in the instrumental context. These answers force the question into the shape more naturally filled out by 'Why do you do that there?' or 'What appeals to you about singing in the shower?' or 'What were you expressing in there?'

Depression pretends to us that our life is an instrumental context. It then pretends that we do well to mobilise the question whenever and wherever. Indiscriminately.

'But really, what's the point of any of this?' it asks.

I suspect that depression is able to deploy this conjuring trick because it rests on a prior alienation of a subject from her life. No longer a living bundle of praxis, I look on at my life from the outside. It seems to me, now, that I can always ask why I should engage with this or that. It seems to this disengaged, alienated onlooker, now, that meaning must obtain antecedently to or as the independently specifiable telos of action.

Or I look at the future and wonder why I should go there. What reason do I have for thinking it holds something for me? In fact can't I think of several reasons to doubt that it has much on offer?

So depression tries to lure us into a conversation to be had solely on its terms. We're invited to see all our activity under the rubric of pointfulness or pointlessness, and then to endlessly debate (God, how boring) whether there is or isn't some or other point to doing anything we or others might actually do.

Well: nice one, depression! But you can't fool us so easily these days. We've learned how to fend off scepticism about meaning and knowledge without falling into the trap of answering it (which already concedes far too much). We've learned how to question the presumptuousness of this question-subliming impulse. (Subliming: ripping a concept out of its intelligibility-conferring context and blithely wanging it about überhaupt.) We've learned about the illusory nature of much sceptical doubt. We've appreciated just how very narcissistic it is to arrogate to one's own noddle - rather than to the life already underway - the provision of the requisite intelligibility-conferring context.

Many junctures of living are, I suggest, neither pointless nor pointful. So there's often no point asking 'what's the point?'

Now, how about asking some other questions? The one's that depression has squeezed out. Questions like:
How can I live today in a way which I can feel proud of?
What can I do by way of today making something more beautiful than otherwise?
How can I make someone happy?
How can I further something I value?
What would a courageous approach to this day look like?
How can I body forth as a confident bundle of autochthonous energy, rolling forth into its milieu in such a way that it allows itself to become something, someone, instantiate rather than merely track meaning, create liveliness, create art, write in an idiom which deprecates justification, glow?
Such questions don't resolve the driver of the underlying alienation, but they do at least disrupt its compounding through sceptical, depressive rumination.