The Gap at the End of the World

In an excerpt from LARB Quarterly no. 41, “Truth,” Cynthia Cruz seeks truth in melancholia, Hegel, and capitalist civilization’s possible futures.

The Gap at the End of the World

This is a preview of the LARB Quarterly, no. 41: TruthBecome a member to get this issue plus the next four issues of the LARB Quarterly.



A BLACK HORSE falling in darkness to the ground. Three hunters standing at the edge of a hillside in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Hunters in the Snow. Two planets, one lit from the side, the other a pinprick of red light in the distance, moving toward, and then alongside, the first.

The prologue to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) consists of this series of disconnected images. The eight-minute procession opens with a close-up of Justine, the film’s protagonist, played by Kirsten Dunst. The camera remains on Justine’s unmoving face. As a result, she appears fixed in time. Or, rather, she appears to be stuck in a time outside time. The moment within which she is suspended, the close-up image of her face, unlike the other images, does not occur later in the film. As explained later in this essay, this is because Justine’s state is one of subjective destitution, a state that cannot be doubled. Justine exists neither in the past, the present, nor the future. In other words, there appears to be a glitch in the temporal. Displaced, Justine exists within a gap outside time and space. This world between worlds is the psychic space Justine inhabits.

The film’s opening, this series of images presented without connective tissue, has the structure of a dream. Among the images in the prologue is one in which Justine appears in a billowing white wedding gown, attempting to make her way through a clearing in the woods. Though her body is in movement, she seems to be held in abeyance.

In The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud describes dreams as a series of condensations and displacements whereby the unconscious mind disguises that which would be unfathomable to the conscious mind in images and ideas that the conscious mind can better absorb. Ideas and feelings that remain forbidden to the conscious mind are displaced with images from which they did not originate. The dream, in other words, is not, as Freud tells us, a “faithful translation or a point-for-point projection of the dream-thoughts, but a highly incomplete and fragmentary version of them.” The images that appear in our dreams are strange amalgamations disguising what we are unable to comprehend. Or, otherwise stated: At night while we are dreaming, we are returned to a state of madness.

This is also what Hegel tells us in The Philosophy of Spirit when he says that madness is latent within all. (Hegel’s text, Die Philosophie des Geistes, is translated as Philosophy of Mind, though the “Geist” in the title means “mind” and “spirit.” Because Hegel refers to this entity as “spirit,” I will be using the term “spirit” rather than “mind” throughout the essay.) We return to this state when we dream, for instance, and when we become ill with fever. Hegel describes this interior abyss, this abstract “I,” existing within each of us, as the Night of the World. Night, for Hegel, indicates the world prior to symbolization. When we enter the world, language exists already. We thus enter an already constructed language. But before we enter language, we exist in this Night, this void. This abstract interior, this form of nothingness, is the space we return to when we dream.

This dreamworld we enter, this phantasmagoric Night, is akin to what Hegel describes as “Durchträumen,” or dreaming through. This state is where soul—the spirit still mired in nature—exists in infinite flow. Capitalism perverts this state, which results in a static system of infinite flow without change. This unchanging flow stands in contrast to Hegel’s system, which instead presents a process of liberation.


Due to the ubiquity of capitalism’s structure of infinite reproduction, attempts at locating an exit have been unsuccessful. Capitalism’s structure of infinite flow and reproductivity has its origins in the Enlightenment, where the concept of the virus first appeared. Hegel, in Phenomenology of Spirit, describes the virus of the Enlightenment as multiplying and proliferating, making endless copies of itself. Capitalism, with its origins in the Enlightenment, reproduces many of its characteristics including its viral qualities. A parasite, capitalism takes on the qualities of what it is positioned in opposition to. Because capitalism contaminates all aspects of its world, including our minds—we think and dream, for example, in capitalism—there is no outside to capitalism. Thus, it is difficult, if not impossible, to locate a space between one’s beliefs and desires, and the beliefs and desires of capitalism that one has internalized. Without the ability to locate this crucial space, subjects remain unable to locate capitalism’s structure while at the same time finding themselves drawn into it. How, then, to exit an ever-replicating, all-pervasive system?

In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel describes the Enlightenment, or pure insight, as a virus that takes on the substance of its combatant. Though invisible, the virus is ubiquitous, and all overpowering, “It is,” Hegel tells us, “a pervading infection and is not noticeable beforehand as being opposed to the indifferent element into which it insinuates itself; it thus cannot be warded off.” And indeed, spirit becomes infected with the virus, itself becoming infectious, contagious, spreading the virus of pure insight until it has “seized the very marrow of spiritual life, namely, consciousness in its concept, or its pure essence itself.”

Capitalism’s structure appropriates and distorts Hegel’s system of spirit. Even in its miniature form of the commodity, capitalism mimics spirit. Describing the empty form within which an object appears prior to its transformation into a commodity, political economist Riccardo Bellofiore writes, “The value of a commodity, before it actually being sold [sic], is a ‘ghost.’ It is merely ideal money, which can only turn into real money with the metamorphosis of the commodity into the universal equivalent—a ‘chrysalis.’” This occurs, for example, in capitalism’s ability to conceal the use value of commodities beneath exchange value. Spirit, in contrast, does not cover over contradiction, allowing a gap to remain instead. Though capitalism, like spirit, is also a form of reproduction that introduces contradiction, capitalism, unlike spirit, covers over contradictions. Though contradictions exist, they are disavowed. What we have, then, are contradictions that act as if they are not contradictions or, contradictions that are not “aufgehoben.” Capitalism’s avoidance of contradiction is a form of perversion that absorbs and alters things. Thus, capitalism is reduced to a system of endlessly reproducing the same, unable to create anything novel.

Despite spirit’s viruslike qualities—appearing as an empty form gaining content through the annihilation of its other—spirit produces a new, changed, copy of itself. As opposed to capitalism’s infinite flow of reproductivity, spirit’s process is one of repeated contradiction, of negating “every fixed determination.” In Philosophy of Spirit, Hegel describes spirit’s journey as the liberation struggle (“Befreiungskampf”) through which spirit emancipates itself, becomes its self. This three-stage process consists of, first, dreaming through (“Durchträumen”), where spirit is “in immediate, undifferentiated unity with its objectivity”; second, madness (“Verrücktheit”), where spirit is confronted with a particularity it is unable to assimilate into its interior; and, finally, habit, where spirit masters this moment of conflict, resulting in a form of ambivalent mastery. Spirit is nothing but its resistance to spirit: by opposing the obstacle of this estrangement—its self as other as limit—spirit ceaselessly pushes itself beyond its limits, changing its nature. This self-othering, or “Sichanderswerden,” is crucial. Spirit’s liberation occurs through the process of these annihilations, or negations, of its self, the result of which is the production of its true being. These negations are a form of death through which sprit passes. Spirit would die were it not to pass through death.

Having annihilated its self, spirit is nothingness without form or structure. Now that spirit has annihilated spirit, in order to work with this emptiness, this nothingness needs stabilization. By positing a limit between its self and nature, by creating this division, spirit creates a means to stabilize this nothingness. This marking of a limit defines subjectivity: spirit becomes what it is by determining what it is not.


Melancholia is divided into two parts, each centered on one of the film’s two female protagonists, sisters Justine and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). In the first half, Justine arrives at her wedding party with her groom (Alexander Skarsgård), whom she has just married. But rather than go inside the mansion to greet the guests who have been awaiting their arrival, Justine runs off to the stable to see her horse. This act is the first in a series of attempts at breaking away from the external world that will follow, culminating in her final withdrawal when she succumbs to melancholia. The second half of the film opens with Claire on the telephone, coaxing Justine to leave her apartment and meet the cab waiting to bring her to Claire’s home. The conversation is one-sided—we see and hear only Claire and must discern what Justine is or is not saying. Justine’s resistance appears to us, in other words, through its negation. The arduousness she experiences in her attempt to reach the cab is made clear only by Claire’s continued insistence and encouragement on the telephone. When Justine arrives at Claire’s home, the same mansion where her wedding party took place, she retreats immediately to bed.

The film’s doubling most obviously plays out in the difference between the two sisters. At the same time, this dichotomy can be understood as a mirroring of Justine’s two selves: her true being versus the mask she is forced to wear. Reduced by others to her external characteristics—for the first half of the film she is constantly pronounced by her significant others as beautiful and happy (or unhappy)—Justine withdraws when she is no longer able to perform this false self. The film’s doubling is further reproduced throughout the film in, for instance, her father’s (John Hurt) “Bettys” (his two “wives”), and Jack’s (Stellan Skarsgård) double role as Justine’s employer and best man.

Another doubling occurs with Jack’s nephew, Tim (Brady Corbet), and Justine’s groom, Michael. Jack bribes Tim with the promise of a job if he can coerce Justine to provide a tagline for an image of three women in underclothing, splayed on the floor that Jack projects on the wall during his wedding toast. As Tim hunts Justine down with the photograph, he mirrors Michael’s actions in a later scene when Michael hands Justine a photograph of an apple orchard. The photo depicts land Michael has purchased for Justine as a wedding gift. Though Justine feigns interest, promising Michael she’ll carry the photo with her wherever she goes, she leaves it behind when she exits the room. In both instances, Justine is being hunted down for a tagline, an accurate appraisal, or naming, of an image depicting capital. This strange, doubled hunt is an attempt at an act of exchange wherein, in order to be placed within the symbolic system—wife, art director—Justine must exchange an image—three thin models in a photo shoot, or a plot of land—into language. She is, in other words, one among the other forms of commodities. This is made explicit by the material aspect of the proposal: Tim and Michael each place their photos upon Justine’s body. Strangely, what Justine appears to be called to name is the magical aspect of exchange value trapped within the objects in the images. She is being asked to put into words that which animates the objects represented in the images, that which is invisible and, in a material sense, does not exist.

Capital and exchange are ubiquitous throughout the film, not only in the opulence of the hosts’ mansion and the wedding excesses. What is ubiquitous is exchange: from Justine’s groom’s exchange of land for Justine’s hand in marriage to Justine’s brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), who spends much of his time at the wedding griping about how much money he has spent on it, asking Justine whether she is aware how much the wedding has cost him. When she tells him she hopes his investment is worth it, he replies that it depends on whether or not she is happy. Indeed, the word investment is described by cultural theorist Joseph Vogl as a basic capitalist function that “transfers financial resources in order to reproduce relations of social dependency and structures of obligation.” Here, the film accurately names these transactions as her fiancé’s purchase of land, her employer’s offer of a promotion, and her brother-in-law’s financial investments, which are all attempts to bind social relationships through debt.

Justine’s retreat into melancholia can be understood as self-preservation. Her marriage will transform her into a wife, endowing her with, as philosopher Eric Santner puts it, a new social status and role within the symbolic universe. In other words, her wedding marks a “crisis of investiture,defining an excess, or too-muchness, brought about by a subject’s confinement to a particular symbolic position. Lacan tells us that melancholia results from this too-muchness, which he calls “jouissance.” Santner describes this transmission as a charge that enters the body that one is unable to metabolize, the result of which is a psychotic break. This charge manifests in a weight one experiences in the body or, as Santner writes, in the flesh.

In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Claire holds Justine’s long, thin body before a bathtub in an attempt to guide her sister into the bath. Although Justine’s body is thin, she appears to be weighed down. This weight is the physical manifestation of melancholia in the body, the weight or debt Santner refers to when describing the substance that enters the body through investiture. This substance enters, Santner writes, “like a strange alien presence—an imminent heterogeneity—into [the body] of the people.” This “strange alien presence” Santner describes can be seen as the globs and pools of gelatinous matter Marx attributes to the spectral quality of value, that which has a mesmerizing effect, propelling subjects to it while simultaneously altering their very nature.

The second half of the film depicts the time leading up to the world’s end, which will occur when a planet named Melancholia collides with Earth. When Justine learns of the possibility of Melancholia’s collision, and thus the imminent end of the world, she wakes from her stupor. Why does Justine experience relief upon this realization? In her melancholia, Justine is withdrawn into her interior, without knowing what she grieves. Once she finds out about the impending cataclysm, she becomes able to see what it is she has lost. As philosopher Alenka Zupančič explains, the end of the world has the ability to outline what until then has remained obscured:

We can lose it all; but the idea of the whole (of an all that can be lost) only appears through a negation; it only constitutes a whole in the perspective of being potentially lost. In other words, there is no (existing) totality, no “whole of the world,” which could be eventually (actually) lost in an atomic apocalypse; it is, paradoxically, only the perspective of this very (potential) loss which constitutes it, or makes it appear, as such a totality or whole.

“The true choice,” Zupančič writes, “is between ‘losing it all’ and creating what we are about to lose (even if we lose it all in the process): only this could eventually save us, in a profound sense.” Justine does not mourn the destruction of Earth; rather, she becomes able to mourn the loss of a possible future when she realizes the world in actuality is coming to an end. As Zupančič puts it: “The problem is that apocalypse is not so much the end of the world as it is itself first and foremost the revelation of a new world.

Until she discovers the imminence of the world’s end, Justine exists inside a state of suspension. She is stuck in pure being. Hegel describes this state, writing, “Thus, for instance, ‘man-in-himself’ is the child, whose task is not to remain in this abstract and undeveloped [state of being] ‘in-itself,’ but to become for-himself what he is initially only in-himself, namely, a free and rational essence.” Who she is has yet to be uncovered. She is undead: neither truly alive, nor dead, she exists, rather, in the space between. As with madness, there is a good and a bad undeadness. Undead can describe the zombie state of subjects trapped in capitalism, forced to sell their labor for survival. On the other hand, Santner, in his writing of W. G. Sebald about melancholy, describes undeadness as “the space between real and symbolic death,” referencing Walter Benjamin’s description of undeadness as “petrified unrest.” This latter form of undeadness is a space between, a suspension, one of waiting to become, whereas in the former, the undead is one who is trapped in a form of death while still physically alive.


A subject becomes what it is by determining what it is not. Each time a subject posits something, it falls back into the void of its abstract interior—what Hegel calls the Night of the World, back into momentary madness. Hegel describes the moment spirit recognizes its limitation as a split when it can either recoil back into its interior abyss of madness or move through its limit, an act Hegel describes as an act of madness (Verrücktheit). Madness occurs both in spirit’s retreat into its interior abstraction and in its moving through its limit. In other words, madness inhabits passage. Thus, in order to change, a subject must necessarily move through madness. This is why Hegel claims that madness is a latent possibility within all. One can also fall back into madness as a result of what Hegel describes as a “stroke of great misfortune, by a derangement of someone’s individual world, or by the violent upheaval and coming-out-of-joint of the universal state of the world.” Providing the French Revolution as an example, where he writes, “many people became insane by the collapse of almost all civic relationships,” Hegel links madness to revolution. Because this disarray undoes the structures that were hitherto considered the edifices of reality, this moment presents a radical opening.

Hegel posits habit as a means to treat madness. And yet habit, though it produces freedom from madness, can itself become habit in the form of oblivion. Habit is the repeated practice of an act that, though it initially appears unnatural, becomes second nature through repetition. Because it provides stability, habit is necessary for both a subject’s interior cohesion and for social cohesion. Thus, habit produces freedom. And yet, once a behavior becomes habit, one loses awareness of it, the result of which is unfreedom because one is only free when cognizant of what one is doing. As Alain Badiou tells us in Theory of the Subject, what is repeated remains hidden. Through repetition, we forget the difference. Due to repetition, capitalism becomes habit, or second nature, invisibilizing itself. This forgetting is critical, as Hegel tells us: “[E]very individual is a world of determinations over whose unity we have power; and when we forget, we no longer have power.” And yet capitalism’s compulsive structure of repetition produces forgetting.

Indeed, due to its plasticity, its ability to adapt itself to everything, capitalism itself becomes habit. If habit is the practice of repeating an act that becomes nothing over time, then capitalist habit is habit that, sublimated into capitalism, makes, through the act of repetition, everything the same. As a result, difference vanishes. Consequently, capitalism’s structure of infinite repetition without contradiction, or contradiction that is covered over, produces a gigantic forgetting machine. With nothing to help orient us, no interruption of error, we are drawn into its infinite flow without recourse. The very mechanism that ought to provide a remedy for madness becomes itself a form of madness. As with undeadness, there are also good and bad forms of madness. In the case of the former, madness is movement, intrinsic to change. And yet madness can also result in a kind of stuckness where, as discussed above, one is trapped within infinite movement and repetition without any possibility for novelty.

Madness, for Hegel, is “an essential stage in the development of the soul,” inherent to both the body and spirit of all humans. Indeed, it is, as he writes, a “privilege of folly and madness” (Mensch hat Vorrecht der Narrheit und des Wahnsinns). Here, Hegel’s use of the term “Vorrecht” suggests that humans have not merely the right (-recht) to go mad but the vor-, or pre-right to go mad, a right that comes before a right. If madness is a Vorrecht, it is a privilege, a special right that one is granted. Thus, madness is a right that one is unable to claim. Latent within us, madness remains a possibility that we can neither choose nor not choose, that we can neither plan for nor plan to evade. Madness is a paradox, as Lacan tells us: “The mad person is the only free human being.” And the mad subject does not have a choice: “Not just anyone can go mad.”


Subjective destitution, like madness, exists latently within all, and like madness, because it annihilates all hitherto habits and beliefs, such destitution results in radical freedom. Lacan’s concept of subjective destitution, or what Lacan also calls “désêtre,” or “unbeing,” marks the termination of analysis where fantasy, what had hitherto served to obscure reality, finally falls away, releasing a subject to the freedom of unbeing. Akin to Hegel’s absolute knowing, this state is described by Lacan as one of “absolute disarray,” where a subject is reduced to its “purest” and “emptiest,” and is confronted with the fragility of its own life, which is also to say, its death. Like madness, subjective destitution also results in a state of disarray, of absolute disorientation. This space between what we are no longer and who we are yet to be is akin to spirit’s beginnings when spirit is pure being, immediate, or “natural spirit.” As Hegel writes, “this pure being is the pure abstraction, and hence it is the absolutely negative, which when taken immediately, is equally nothing.” Each of us exists in this state before we enter the cut of language, and then, again, each time we acquire a new habit. A moment of madness and disorientation, it is one where we are returned to our original nothingness. Like subjective destitution, madness provides a cut in the seamlessness of capitalist reality, or, as psychologist Néstor Braunstein writes, citing Lacan: “Madness is a separation, an interruption of the social link. It is in this sense that even if one cannot choose madness, a madman is the ‘last free man,’ who has been freed from the restrictions imposed by shared conventions.”

For Lacan, the end of analysis results in subjective destitution, the state where fantasy—the ideas one has imagined about one’s self and the stories connected to such ideas, all the ideas and stories one comes up with to explain how one is exceptional, so much worse or better than others, and so forth—are worked through and removed. As a result, the subject stands before the abyss—because they are now without their previous protection of fantasy, which functioned as a means of obscuring reality—in a state of sheer anxiety. Inherent to Lacan’s articulation of subjective destitution, the analysand is rendered to a state of “Hilflosigkeit” (helplessness) akin to infanthood and yet infanthood without a mother. Hence Badiou, in his analysis of Mallarmé, describes such a state as “this anxiety of the void [that] cannot be cured with any trace of the setting sun.” It is in this space that we transition from one state of being to the other, where, as Žižek writes,

we overcome mortality and enter undeadness: not life after death but death in life, not dis-alienation but extreme self-abolishing alienation—we leave behind the very standard by means of which we measure alienation, the notion of a normal warm daily life, of our full immersion in the safe and stable world of customs.

Describing this state, Lacan writes: “That really is what is at issue, at the end of analysis, a twilight, an imaginary decline of the world, and even an experience at the limit of depersonalization. That is when the contingent falls away—the accidental, the trauma, the hitches of history—And it is being which then comes to be constituted.”

Twilight describes, also, the space precipitating a subject’s descent into psychosis. As Lacan writes of Daniel Paul Schreber, who recorded his own psychosis in memoir, “First there were several months of prepsychotic incubation in which the subject was in a state of profound confusion. This is the period in which the phenomena of the twilight of the world occur, which are characteristic of the beginning of a delusional period.” The result of this excess of investiture, this jouissance, is the fall into the nothingness of the void. This encounter with the other’s investiture results in anxiety that we can understand as a moment of subjective destitution.

For Lacan, anxiety is the suspension between where the subject no longer knows where they are and a future where they will never be able to find themselves. It is the state of having no ground, because one does not know where one stands. This is, in other words, the momentary madness, the radical disorientation, that Hegel describes—the very moment one stands before the abyss, before they differentiate. This moment of overwhelming jouissance is one of displacement. A double displacement, as it were. Displacement, like madness, undeadness, and habit, can be good or bad. When spirit engages in self-negation, replacing its self with a new, changed, version of itself, we have a good displacement. But when language is perverted through capitalism, resulting in a language delimited by exchange, we have a bad displacement. Hegel describes madness as an overwhelming amount of feeling that one is unable to properly assimilate into their interior system. As a result, the subject finds itself in this contradiction. In this state of madness, or Verrücktheit—a word that means both madness and displacement—the subject is displaced, falling back into their interior abstraction.

“What erupts into awareness in moments of anxiety,” philosopher Joan Copjec tells us in her essay “May ’68, the Emotional Month,” “is not something that was formerly repressed (since affect never is), but the disjunction that defines displacement, which suddenly impresses itself as a gap or break in perception.” In such junctures, one finds one’s self at an edge, before the void. And in such a situation, one either remains at this impossible edge, in a state of helplessness, or one quickly covers this over with action. This is illuminated beautifully when, in Melancholia, the sisters learn of the impending world’s end: while Claire panics, grabbing her young son, and attempting to flee the mansion on a golf cart, Justine remains calm, accepting the arrival of the final darkness.

In melancholia, one is in the void. In contrast, with subjective destitution, one stands at the edge of the abyss. This edge is a state of anxiety, the terror one encounters when facing the nothing that is not an absence but the presence of something that remains unknown, or, as Lacan articulates, the lack of lack. Copjec tells us:

The final aim of psychoanalysis, it turns out, is the production of shame. That which Lacan himself describes as unmentionable, even improper to speech as such, is mentioned (and mentioned only) on the threshold of the seminar’s close. The seamy underside of psychoanalysis, the backside towards which all the twists and turns have led, is finally shame: that affect whose very mention brings a blush to the face.

Shame literally renders the subject to a state of nothingness because it renders them emptied of speech, that which, according to Lacan, marks the subject as subject.


Shame, Copjec tells us, “is not a failed flight from being, but a flight into being.”

Joan of Arc is the exemplary figure for this “flight into being.” She is also the exemplary figure for the unity of subjective destitution and madness. Abandoning her family, home, and community to follow a voice no one but she can hear, Joan of Arc abandons her self—negating all determinations that make her who she is (daughter, sister, peasant, worker)—to become this enigmatic something who, at the same time, is nothing. She abandons everything for a community that does not (yet) exist. In her act of becoming nothing, Joan of Arc becomes everything. Describing Joan of Arc’s act of self-negation, Badiou writes, “A patriot without a nation, a populist without an insurrection, a Catholic without the Church, a woman without man: this is how Joan traverses appearances and subtracts herself from all predicates.” The space she enters is the space between two deaths, the same space in which Antigone exists. In Joan of Arc’s act, she enters the space where one sees the death of one’s life, the limit that, as Lacan tells us, “touches the end of what he is and what he is not.” Neither dead nor living, standing back from her own death, Antigone exclaims, “My life died long ago.” This space is the space that radiates, resulting in what Lacan calls the “blindness effect.”

This site where subjective destitution and madness converge results in an antagonism that makes visible what had previously remained invisible. The passionate annihilation of negative or abstract freedom, one that results either in suicidal or homicidal violence, can instead be utilized for self-annihilation that is not suicide, or rather, not a material suicide, but a suicide of the subject’s individuality. This death provides an illumination, as political scientist Saroj Giri writes in Crisis and Critique: “So there is what lies beneath—immobility, death—but this death is what creates. Death gives rise to space and life.” This act is akin to the process of self-purification Badiou describes as “force” in Theory of the Subject, where he writes that “an individual only arrives at his or her singular force within the given circumstances by entering into conflict with the network of inert habits to which these circumstances previously confined him or her.” This death of the self, of course, aligns with spirit’s self-annihilation in its process of becoming. As previously discussed, it is in the moment that spirit has engaged in this act of self-negation when it is no longer what it was and is not yet what it will be, that it is plunged again into its abstract being, back into the abyss of madness.

As Žižek has said about madness, “The way to overcome the topsy-turvy world is not to return to normality but to embrace the turvy without topsy.” In his directive that we embrace the “turvy” rather than the “topsy,” Žižek connects subjective destitution with madness. At the same time, by invoking Marx’s critical analysis of capital’s “enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world,” he connects madness and subjective destitution with emancipation. This return to the “zero level” where a subject identifies with their own destitution is where they are “free from all thoughts of self-interest,” without a need for escape because they have already escaped. This state is reflected in Melancholia when, in contrast with Claire’s mindless frenzy in her attempt to save herself along with her fantasy of what the world is, Justine remains calm. It is a position that, in turn, is antagonistic. This site where madness and subjective destitution converge is an exit from capitalist oblivion because, in its radical undoing, this unity, or force, finds what is otherwise hidden.

Because capitalism contaminates all aspects of its world, including our minds—we think, for example, and dream in capitalism—there is no outside to capitalism. Fredric Jameson’s comment that the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism speaks to the deficit in imagination that has been brought about vis-à-vis capitalism. Indeed, there is concretely, since 1989, no outside to capitalism, and, because capitalism contaminates everything, there is also no way to imagine outside of capitalist imagining. In fact, with capitalism, imagination—forgetfulness of the past, of who one is, and of the very structure one is living in—is what obscures. Indeed, the very existence of capitalism and its ideology is similarly rendered invisible. Imagination plays an important role in this trick. People imagine that they are free, that they have choice; the lack of evidence otherwise coheres with imagination, binding the two. It changes their subjecthood, their comprehension of who and what they are. The negation of what is not, brought about by the appearance of what is—the ability to see and register the shadow of what could be in the appearance of what is—brings to light a world that as of yet does not exist, a world that lies dormant, awaiting our creation. Such a world cannot be constructed from the world we have now nor from the thinking that emerges from the world as we know it. Instead, we must create something entirely new from that which does not yet exist.

LARB Contributor

Cynthia Cruz earned a BA in English literature at Mills College, an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, an MFA in art writing from the School of Visual Arts, and an MA in German language and literature from Rutgers University. She is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. Hotel Oblivion (2022), her most recent collection of poems, was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the European Graduate School, where her research focuses on Hegel.


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