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Torpedoing of metaphysics

Reality and its doubles. An essay on illusion

TRO: Rosset takes a hard line against the whole idea of ​​duplication between what we see and what "really" is behind it. This is escapism and reluctance to see what we have right in front of us, he believes.

Clément Rosset (1939–2018) was a French philosopher who did not allow himself to be swayed by structuralism, phenomenology or other contemporary dominant directions. Most of his production consists of 30 smaller books where he addresses a specific problem and illustrates this with examples from the history of literature and ideas. Reality and its doubles from 1976 is the most important of these.

Rosset is based on the strange, but common, phenomenon that we humans imagine something other than what we actually see right in front of us. Faced with an unpleasant fact, we choose to imagine that something else actually happened. And as Rosset points out: This does not mean that we suffer from any delusion; we have actually seen what is the case, we just choose to believe something else.

Metaphysical tradition

Such a doubling, Rosset believes, underlies the entire metaphysical tradition from Plato to the present day. There our own world is considered banal and meaningless, it first gets relevance and meaning from another world that "doubles" it, "or more precisely: a world like our own is just one imitation av »(53). Putting the immediate aside and referring it to another world that holds the key to its meaning and reality is thus the main concern of metaphysics.

When you do not have papers to refer to, it is futile to shout that you are yourself.

According to Platonism, truth is associated with the parable of the cave. Our reality is the upside of the real world, its shadow, its doubles. And all the events of this world are just imitations of real events: They are secondary versions of a truth whose original version is elsewhere, in the other world. This is the doctrine of remembrance: nothing is discovered, everything is rediscovered.

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What happens immediately is somehow suspected of being either a version of oneself or the substitute for another world. That way, it's the term itself immediate which does not inspire confidence. One does not trust the immediate, simply because one doubts that the actual is immediate. The immediate pretends to be primary, but is it not really secondary?


The Double

What bothers the subject more than an imminent death is first and foremost its unreality. From the 1800th century onwards, the double motif has become very common in literature. The fear of the double (which by the way is almost always male) is the fear that it is the double that is the real one, and oneself only a shadow of it. The worst is of course if one self is the double. In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson", the unique person says after being stabbed by his double (the narrator): "You have won and I have faced me, but from now on you too are dead – dead to the world, heaven and every hope. ”

Other people's personality divisions, as we know them from literature and film, can trigger a very basic concern: If the other person you thought you knew did not turn out to be the real other, then this can apply to myself as well. How do I know I'm not a copy, a shadow?

A curse

In literary romance, one is obsessed with doubles, but here the concern is strangely opposite: here the loss of the double is not a liberation, but a curse. If you lose the double, you have not regained your freedom, but are lost. Instead of working to get rid of his own image, the romantic hero will put his whole soul into it, and he lives only as long as the reflection guarantees his visibility. If the image of him disappears, he himself disappears.

Rosset has an interesting answer to these concerns: "We would have made this anxious person aware that he does not find the image of himself he is looking for, in any mirror, or any credible duplicate, but instead in the public documents that establish his identity »(111). The Greek sophists believed that only the institution, and not some kind of hypothetical nature, was able to give shape to what Plato and Aristotle understood by "substance": the individual must either be social or not be – it is society and its conventions that enable individuality. Humans exist only "on paper." When you do not have papers to refer to, it is futile to shout that you are yourself.

Attempts to avoid one's fate are always ineffective, because reality is always right, Rosset says. For example, the one who tries to lay down a habit or a trait, by his efforts, will make what he is trying to hide, even more visible. Attempts to avoid one's fate become precisely one's destiny.

Kjetil Korslund
Historian of ideas and regular critic in Ny Tid.

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