How to respond to an infinite demand

I have just finished reading Infinitely Demanding by Simon Critchley, a kind of unforeseen bit of reading predicated on a chance find. It seemed to slot in quite nicely to where I’m at and where my interests lie at the moment. Though in the latter part of the book the emphasis moves towards enabling this infinite demand through political action, I think I preferred the first part of the book, where the concept is still in the abstract. That is, the human subject encounters an infinite (ethical) demand with regard to responsibility towards the Other, through a social injustice or whatever. The subject can deal with this demand in a variety of ways. You can either internalise this demand and drive yourself mad, or, more attractively, do something about it. What I liked was Critchley’s discussion of humour as a means of coming to terms with such a demand. I always did have a thing for psycho-analysis. What Freud says is that humor is a mechanism through which the super-ego puts the ego in its place; humour is a means to make us aware of our own absurdity. Moving onto ethics, this can have interesting connotations. For Lacan, this is the self-protective, almost caring side to the super-ego which helps us come to terms with the infinite demand placed on the human subject and our completely ineptness in the face of such a demand. Rather than drive yourself mad, humour helps to reconcile our complete inadequecy, indeed our humanity, with the infinite ethical demand which hangs like a noose around our necks. Not that I suggest making a joke when you really should be getting off your arse and doing something. But rather humour cultivates a self-awareness in the subject which allows us to come to terms with the fact that we cannot fix the world; we can never do enough.

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