Theater of Cruelty

The adrenaline rush and the electrified human being

The intense life. A modern obsession
Forfatter: Tristan Garcia
Forlag: Suhrkamp (Tyskland)
MODERNITY / The selfish pursuit of new extremes and the experience of the present has become a worrying symptom of a modern world in serious strays. An anxiety for the break and the space?


A Danish men's magazine recently pointed out that one can expect to live on average for 27.000 days. The countdown is underway, and you should like to have it all with you for as long as the party lasts. Therefore, the magazine had decided to help readers on their way by putting together a list of 35 things to try before putting on the clogs. The list offers a number of ultimate experiences such as driving a Ferrari, firing a monthly salary in Las Vegas, parachuting, swimming with sharks – and having sex with a girl from every continent.

It might be interesting to see a similar list for women. But as the list now stands, it is striking that it all seems to be about the adrenaline rush. None of the points are about security, or about having done anything good for world peace, humanity or the environment. Something as banal as wishing for a streak of happy grandchildren seems out of the question at all. It's about the ego and the personal experience, here and now, which can certainly be borderline, but afterwards just left as an empty shell.

The French philosopher Tristan Garcia sees this as one of the great problems of the time. We have come to live in a society driven by an insatiable and constantly growing longing for intensity, and he has described this in a book. It is deeply academic in its approach, and one must hold on well while reading, but it is very much worth the effort. It came out a few years ago in French, and now it is available in German translation, which only underscores the circulation the book deserves.

Al Margen (Argentina) -Riscarica. See Libex.Eu

The electricity

Tristan Garcia gives us a useful historical perspective. In his explanation, humanity underwent a paradigm shift with the invention of electricity. One of the key figures is Georg Matthias Bose, who in the 1740s turned his experiments with static electricity into entertainment for the better salon bourgeoisie of Leipzig. A young and attractive woman was placed on a stool or other insulating material, and above her hung a rotating ball that charged her with static electricity. Then a man from the audience was invited to give her a kiss, and because the man was grounded, they both received a moderate electric shock.

The restlessness, the lack of history and the selfish pursuit of increasingly extreme experiences have led us to a serious slant.

Of course, there was an important scientific content in Bose's work, but the power of fascination in his experiments was enormous. Electricity stood as an invisible and mysterious energy, and it was known as one of the forces of nature. It was well known that it was electric forces that came into play during the thunderstorm, but it was something distant and intangible – unlike when the discharges took place in the human body and in front of the eyes of a gaping audience. They triggered what we in modern social media know as OMG reactions.

Bungee jumping and extreme sports

Garcia uses the term «the electrified human». More wants more, and once the power was unleashed, it escalated. The intense human being arose, and from there the thread leads in a straight line up to the present day.

The intensive human being does not expect any life after death, and there is no respect for tradition and repetition. In his first novels, the French author Michel Houellebecq describes the fear of the pause or the void, which has become the epitome of the intense human being. You can also see it in Alvin Toffler, who in his classic Future Shock (1970) described a society where all basic needs are met, creating a need for «mental satisfaction», as he put it. We know it from the so-called experience economy, whose main function is to give the intensive people wild experiences, completely like the spectators of Bose's parade numbers in Leipzig. You just no longer get a kick out of seeing two people get electric shocks when they kiss each other – there must be others, and wilder buns on the soup, and it has, among other things, become bungee jumping and extreme sports.

All of this has had serious moral and ethical consequences for our society, and this development has reached a climax in these years, which is part of the book's warning to us. The restlessness, the lack of history and the selfish pursuit of increasingly extreme experiences have led us to a serious slant. Telecommunications have been democratized, which of course can be seen as a good thing, but it has also made the intensity a mass phenomenon that constantly seeks to surpass itself. Everyone is in the race, and we see this unfolding in the event of a breach of norms, and in political life a quest for the extremes.

Trump is the epitome of the electrified human being.

Throughout history, there is no shortage of expressions of extremism, but it has not been seen before in the form we see today. When Tristan Garcia wrote the book, Donald Trump was still relatively new to the White House, but the developments of the intervening period have almost made the text prophetic. When reading the pages, it's hard not to see Trump as the epitome of the electrified human being. As an unpredictable primordial force, he moves from one to the other, without respect for tradition and ordinary perseverance, and apparently the instant self-satisfaction and the adrenaline rush are the main motive. Complete as the parachutist who performs his deed for no other purpose than to experience the free fall here and now.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

You may also like