Palante: Pessimism and Individualism, Pt. II

Palante’s Pessimism

For Palante, individualism and pessimism are mutually inclusive:

“Pessimism supposes a basic individualism. It supposes that interiority of sentiment, that return to the self (almost awlays painful) that is the essence of indivdiualism.”

The pessimist, by his very nature and constitution, lives a solitary existence marked by withdrawal from the illusory optimism and mindless conformism of the herd. Palante’s pessimist wholeheartedly rejects the cult of progress and social development — and finds solace in self-affirming “egotistic isolation.” He represents the “great artists and theoreticians of suffering,” estranged from the masses and the total leveling effects of modern civilization, and becomes an a total end unto himself.

Palante contrasts his species of pessimism with the “abstract metaphysical thesis” of optimisim. Whereas the latter is grounded in the not-yet-existant could be or will be– pessimism is the sensation of “lived life.” Thus, it is a pessimism at odds with that particularly odious brand of optimism so prevalent throughout the Western world at the turn of the century which placed all its faith in a more prosperous future on account of the rational organization of society. Consequently, this pessimism is entirely self-reflective and entrenched within the Self (or in Palante’s words, the “ego”). It is a disdain and contempt for the folly of the hopeful masses.

Accordingly, Palante’s individualism is seemlessly intertwined with a deep-rooted social and misanthropic pessimism. The experience of the true individual, Palante says is the the experience of the struggle of the individual ego against the crowd. In this sense, the pessimistic individual is thus cast against a social ordering that despises the exceptional, that is always seeking to undermine the spirit of “special calibre.” But this struggle for existence is never without its costs — and usually the individual, “imbued with the sentiment of their uniqueness and strong in their will to independence,”

The main facets of Palante’s pessimism could be stated as:

  1. social life is suffering;
  2. conspicuous skepticism with respect to the powers of reason;
  3. outright rejection of the notion of social progress;
  4. outright rejection of the teleological basis of history (i.e., that human history is organized in some fashion towards the accomplishment of some end
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