Afterword: The Asymmetry of Love


There are many ways to respond to the nihilism that is synonymous with modernity but they tend to take two prevailing forms: fascism and despair. Despair is the simpler of the two. The subject of despair sees the elimination of transcendent sources of meaning as an irrecoverable loss. There is no way back. But neither is there a way forward. With the future grasped from the perspective of what it cannot contain, and the past accessible only through a nostalgia that is as realistic about the impossibility of a return to former ways of being as it is ardent for them, all that remains is perpetual immobilisation in an unfulfilling present. The temporality of despair is characterised by this inertia—a feeling of paralysis.

Fascism is more complex, and far more insidious. It emerges from the same paralysing sense of loss that characterises despair, but without possessing the latter’s realism. Instead of facing the horror brought about by the evacuation of sense, value, and any guarantee of individual significance underwritten by some greater force (and perhaps even, as in Klaus Theweleit’s famous study of the proto-Nazi Freikorps, an inadmissible desire for passivity, femininity, and dissolution), it sublimates this horror, burying what it cannot bear to acknowledge beneath a mythology of power that reinstates the lost transcendent structure, only in a far more convoluted form. Fascism’s deep sense of betrayal by the present is nursed by an inflated attachment to the past, often accompanied by theories of time and history that valorise eternity, cyclicality, or return. If despair does not end in suicide and is not overcome, it is liable to follow this path of sublimation into fascism.

In more or less overt ways, it is a passionate involvement in this problematic—how to respond to nihilism, to the feeling that there is nothing outside of oneself that can be relied upon to make sense of one’s life, to modernity’s ‘black night of divine abandonment’, without succumbing to either despair or fascism—that is the common thread running through the writings of the obscure Italian occultist collective the Gruppo di Nun.…