The Shifting Experience of Self   /   Spring 2011   /    Thematic: The Shifting Experience of Self


The Pathos of Contemporary Life

Harvie Ferguson

Giorgione, The Tempest (detail), early sixteenth century; © Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY.

Everything now is “up in the air.”

Modernity has never been fully comprehensible. Since its european emergence, around 1600, a distinctive sense of newness has become a characteristic feature of human experience quite generally. Modern society and modern life, in all its aspects, were experienced as radically different from, and not just the development out of, older forms. Yet the real nature of that experience, and what it reveals about both the object and subject of modern life, has remained obscure. The radical origin of modernity, as Frank Ankersmit has shown in an impressive study, required a moment of oblivion, a trauma in which the complex global interrelatedness of the present to the past and everything it stood for was effaced.11xFrank Ankersmit, Sublime Historical Experience (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005). The modern was an assertion of the essential freedom of humanity to become itself through the creation of its own future. As increasing numbers of people became conscious of the radical implications of its Copernican moment of self-creation, modernity established its vision of autonomy—withdrawn from god, cut off from nature, and remote from the Past.


Modernity arose in the transformation of reality into the experience of reality. But experience had no sooner emerged as the decisive qualification of reality than it broke up, differentiated, fragmented, and dissolved into a multiplicity of particularities, aspects, and processes. In the revolutionary moment of self-consciousness—the sense of experiencing the world as well as the world revealed in that experience—reason and madness, desire and despair, pleasure and disgust entered in distinctive and incommensurable ways into the constitution of the multiple worlds of modernity. Between the world and the bewildering variety of its depictions, representations, and figurations, experience found itself caught in the ebb and flow of impenetrable moods. In the continuous interplay of these social processes of construction and deconstruction, which are in principle unlimited in their subdivision and variety, a series of significant modalities of experience were established as significant and ontologically distinct regions. The world was not one but many, but the confusion of the many fell effortlessly into a seemingly prearranged tripartite order defined by qualitatively distinct and mutually exclusive media of experience. The premodern unity of being, that is to say, was transformed into the qualitatively distinctive worlds of thinking, willing, and feeling. Broadly speaking, the earlier period of modernity was dominated philosophically by the thematic discourse of thinking, the mid-period by the dynamics of willing, and the later, contemporary period by the access of feeling.

Metaphysical theories of modern experience, thus, arose initially in response to the radical separation of the human subject from the sheer exteriority of the world of objects that stood over against it. Our cognitive relation to the world was viewed as decisive for every aspect of life, and, in particular, epistemological issues inherent in this perspective conditioned all philosophical reflection on a representation of the world within which all experience is confined. However, the process of representation is subject to an immanent logos (reason) that, ultimately and obscurely, provides an adequate navigational aid for the human subject in the midst of impenetrable objects. Indeed, the interconnection of doubt and reason serve continually to undermine and rebuild knowledge as the fundamental human relation to the world. Reason is understood as the mechanism that adequately orders and makes coherent the world open to the senses; it makes the world intelligible. In the process, reason is made abstract and hypostasized as a normative, regulatory principle to which human subjectivity is subordinated. But reason, unable finally to clarify either the nature of the world or the mechanism of its own operations, was continually undermined by ever-renewed doubt.

In a somewhat later, parallel development, modern Romanticism grasped reality in terms of the inner life of the subject and elevated its active self-development through willing and striving into a fundamental principle of development and growth governing nature as well as humanity. The immediate sense of subjective presence was constituted experientially, and progressively made transparent, through the operation of will and intention. In positing the world, the subject came into its own as a self-conscious being. Selfhood, in other words, was the regulatory principle inherent in the immediacy of inner experience. However, just as reason became an imperious and abstract norm standing above all actual life, so selfhood was projected into the future as the telos of all striving and willing. Selfhood became a demanding, and ultimately self-defeating, struggle to actualize and express unique individuality in its full authenticity. Selfhood could never wholly disclose itself, and the failure of authentic self-expression resulted in various forms of despair.

In contrast to the evidently central roles of thinking and willing in the construction of modern experience, feeling, until quite recently, apparently played a minor role. The passions lay outside the modalities of comprehension born with modernity. neither explicable in terms of reason, nor understandable in terms of selfhood, the passions were rejected and suppressed as inherently disruptive, discontinuous, and disorderly. Against the spirit of modernity, passion overcame and overwhelmed the subject newly constituted as rational and self-conscious. The logos of the passions (pathology) constituted a disorderly succession of irresistible and fundamentally alien states of being. It was only with the late nineteenth-century crisis in bourgeois self-confidence that the passions were again acknowledged and recognized as an integral aspect of the continu- ously transforming character of modern experience.

Pleasure emerged as the immanent regulatory principle of a region of experience hitherto regarded as radically antinomian. Rather than being suppressed outright, the passions could be contained and subject to the constraining possibility of pleasure. As Freud, wholly in tune with the times, demonstrated, pleasure depended on a self-limiting mechanism of restraint and moderation. However, as Kierkegaard writing in the early 1840s had foreseen, the pursuit of pleasure and its transformation into the uniquely modern life-value, had the perverse effect of tainting every potentially enjoyable experience with boredom and disgust.


We never lived through the ideal categories of modernity; the time and space of the philosopher and scientist—empty, continuous, infinite—bear little relation to the qualitatively varied spatial experiences of home, neighborhood, city, countryside, wilderness, and so on, or the equally diverse temporalities of, for example, waking and sleeping, workdays and holidays, or childhood and old age. It was only in terms of the wholly abstract idea of modernity that Reason and Selfhood emerged as immanent self-regulatory principles of, respectively, cognitive and conative regions of experience. Actual life satisfied itself with thoroughly incoherent but livable compromises, common sense, and respectability. Similarly the life of the passions conceptualized in terms of a self-regulatory mechanism of pleasure made sense for the new philosophical discourses of aesthetics and psychology, but remained alien to everyday life for which comfort emerged as a modest goal.

With respect both to everyday life and its theo- retical model, however, the history of modernity can be read as, firstly, the suppression, followed by the slow re-emergence, and now the increasing dominance of the passions as the primary modality through which reality is given. Whereas for the period of classical modernity, distinctive feeling-tones accompanied the vivid presentation of exterior objects and interior intentions, more recently the typical construction of experience in terms of well-defined foreground forms and indefinite background features has dissolved into the turbulence of continually changing states and conditions of life in general. We no longer experience a world, or sense ourselves as the subject of that experience; we are, rather, shrouded and carried along in the moodiness of the present.

In a challenging way, the philosophical conundrums of modernity, the separation of subject and object, self and other, being and world, have been finally resolved—not in a moment of clarifying synthesis but in the enigmatic character of life itself. We are daily seized, and often in small ways, by excitement and fear; we are possessed by anxiety, sadness, anger, and regret; experience comes to us, first of all, in an access of feeling. The succession of moods, the undramatic swell of affect as well as the periodic intensification of varied emotions, comes over us in an obscure manner. Contemporary life is moodiness, the immediate feeling of the moment. experience no longer comes tinged with feeling; it comes as feeling and often, it seems, without regard to its cognitive and/or active content.

The puzzling exteriority of the world becomes characteristic also of immediate and intimate experience. We inhabit its moodiness; our mood is simultaneously an aspect of the world. We are in the spontaneous flow of life and, in a peculiar sense, therefore outside ourselves. Alterity rather than identity is the conspicuous feature of contemporary experience. The exteriority of experience, its baffling outwardness, and the frustrating sense in which it is elusively “somewhere else” is manifest in every aspect of contemporary life. Whereas sociology, in a variety of classical and contemporary formulations, thought through the experience of the world as remote, unreachable, and strange, we now find ourselves ambiguously implicated in a banal and familiar reality. We are now ourselves, other than ourselves, and other than selves. This is the pathos of immediacy. We are beside ourselves with contemporary life, subject to, and subjects of, its moodiness.


The exteriority of mood, however, is not over against us in the way in which, for Modernity, reality was constituted as a collection of “things.” The impenetrable objectivity and remoteness of all objects gives way here to the engulfing closeness and familiarity of the atmosphere. Mood is atmosphere. It is background, the most general affect-tone characterizing ordinary experience.22xStephen Strasser, Phenomenology of Feeling: An Essay on the Phenomena of the Heart, trans. Robert T. Wood (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1977). Moods are “in the air.” We breathe the mood of the moment and, inspired by its vitality, are attuned (to use Heidegger’s uniquely felicitous term) to its reality. We are by turns excited, angered, consoled, sorrowful, and so on; alternatively, we are drained of life and bored. There is always something, or nothing, “in the air.” We do not yet know what it is, but we are alert, ready to catch it, to catch on to it, to go with it, and keep abreast of it. now, of course, the air is alive with invisible messages and images; we are continually oriented and “plugged into” the live “stream” of the present. Contemporary technology here facilitates and organizes a form of life that had already become well established. The mobile, hand-held, wireless-free device is, perhaps, the best example of the way in which contemporary technology and design becomes successful by “catching on” to the present mood and provides new means of detecting, receiving, and living through whatever is “in the air.”

Everything now is “up in the air.” In the tumult of contemporary life, ideas, images, intentions, decisions, values, personalities, memories, hopes, and events are all thrown into the meteorological chaos of the present. Life is “in the air,” as if we had finally defeated gravity and realized the centuries-old dream of unaided flight. Reality is “in the air,” continually changing in terms of visibility, humidity, temperature, mobility, and so on. We frequently refer to mood in terms of weather: dull, stormy, breezy, sunny, cold, warm, and so on. In passing moods, we are dissolved into currents of air, and, at the same time, moods are embodied in quite precise physical forms. Contemporary illnesses of various sorts, for example, are “in the air” and “going around.” Mood, medium, and mode—contemporary life is everywhere an atmospheric phenomenon.

The history of Modernity, in fact, can be glimpsed in the dark- ening sky and thickening atmosphere of some of its most striking artistic imagery. The sharply defined object and lucid atmosphere of both Italian and Flemish Renaissance painting was already turning vague and cloudy in Giorgione’s Tempest (1505). The clarity of the Renaissance image, through which we have learned to grasp reality, here gives way to an obscure and even opaque indeterminacy. Everything is seemingly held in abeyance; a hushed atmosphere of the uncanny shrouds the world, and rather than appearing in luminous but distant objects, a new reality is presaged in a dark and turbulent sky.

For the Renaissance, atmosphere is primarily light. The air is the medium of Divine luminosity. The tradition continued into the modern period and reached new perfection in Vermeer’s captivating interiors, and most recently in the tangible light of Edward Hopper’s remarkable depiction of contemporary American life. But the cloudiness of Romanticism, as well as the huge skies of the Dutch landscapes, announced a new concern with the obscurity and indefiniteness of atmospheric forms.33xHubert Damisch, A Theory Of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting, trans. Janet Lloyd (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). Seized upon by the great painters of modern moods, Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner, clouds, mist, fog, and vapor became the very stuff of existence.

Mood is no longer the accompanying tone of experience that has its focus in precisely delimited objects and subjects—the background radiation, so to speak, of the social cosmos. It is, rather, the medium of reality, our reality, the immediate here and now of everyday life. nor is mood only the ambient air, as distinct from the indrawn breath; it is, in Zygmunt Bauman’s evocative term, the liquidity of contemporary life.44xZygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge, England: Polity, 2000). And it is the moodiness of contemporary life that confers reality on the atmosphere in a peculiar and significant way. In Karl Marx’s memorable phrase, “everything solid melts into air”; the sense of the real, that is to say, has been dislodged from the earth, from the solidity and sheer thingness of its formed objects, and turned the limpid air dark with menacing vapor.55xKarl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Samuel Moore (1848; Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 2004).

This view cannot easily be written off as the fanciful image of some artists and writers. Quite apart from the validity of such images in their own context, modern science, which had provided the most compelling account of reality consecrated as objects, abandoned all the most central and significant concepts of mechanical philosophy. The “point-mass” realism of Galileo and Newton was transformed by James Clerk-Maxwell into a dispersed and continuous field of force.66xBruce Clarke and Linda Dalrymple Henderson, eds., From Energy to Information: Representation in Science and Technology, Art, and Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). The hitherto “obvious” localization of matter-in-space gave way to an energized medium: the ether.

Mood is background with which all foregrounding has merged; atmosphere is the dispersal of subjectivity into currents of life.

Feeling Loss

What is the mood of contemporary life? What is the something that is “in the air”? Of course mood is mobile, changeable, and unsettled; all moods are aspects of a general moodiness, a continuous process of transformation. It nonetheless makes sense to describe a predominant or general mood that constitutes something of an undertow to the affective currents of everyday life. What is the atmospheric condition that marks the “current climate”? In contemporary terms we might ask, “what is the default position of the passions?” Both as the recurrent theme of, and background swell to, electrifying bursts of feeling, contemporary life is characterized by a curious sense that life is else- where; life is characterized, that is, by a ubiquitous sense of loss.

Something of value has vanished, but what? The peculiar feeling tone of the present, the diffuse ache of existence, somehow eludes particularity and pervades the atmosphere with the strange vapor of loss. A miasma of absence is draped over the excited, restless movement of contemporary life. The overwhelming frenzy of social life; the ceaseless pursuit and accumulation of possessions; the continuous development of science, knowledge, and art; and the extraordinary wealth of entertainments and diversions of all kinds that now force themselves upon us do nothing to dispel the fog of melancholy. Loss is generic and essential to modernity and has found innumerable expressions in modern western philosophy and literature: the withdrawal of Being, the concealment of Reality behind appearance, the substitution of experience for truth, the conversion of the world into a picture of the world. We live in the deceptive and unreliable medium of representations, confined within a consciousness that, maddeningly, makes us conscious of its own limits.

Sociology developed, in part, as a response to, and an attempt to explain and exorcise, the specter of loss haunting modernity. The experience of loss was grasped in terms of the actual passing of community, authority, certainty, security, tradition, intimacy, and so on that, it was claimed, had been striking features of premodern western society. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that until recently feeling was of marginal interest to sociologists, who were concerned primarily with the structural features of modern society and its institutional culture. Thus, while forms of knowledge, aesthetic movements, and images of collective life and its history have been exhaustively described and analyzed, and in spite of the general recognition of its recalcitrant ubiquity in modern society, the feeling of loss and more generally the character of feeling as such, have been neglected. Feeling was grasped as a mystery: internal, subjective, private, and, above all, inscrutable. Feeling was a region of experience into which even sociologists should not venture.

Now, as if making up for lost time, the passions threaten to displace long-established analytical, institutional, historical, and cultural preoccupations of the human sciences. It no longer strikes anyone as odd that academics should write social histories of anger, fear, envy, hope, or any other feeling, or that particular social groups, periods, movements, and events can be characterized in terms of their emotional content as much as, or more than, their purpose, intention, or composition.77xWilliam M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of the Emotions (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006). This interest serves, first of all, to uncover an alternative history of modernity, one that begins with Spinoza rather than Descartes, and through suggestive reinterpretations of classical texts, brings to light the transformation of its passions.

A striking contradiction is already evident, not only from academic studies, but in more general commentaries on contemporary passions. On the one hand, feeling is publicly far more evident and is more readily manifest than until recently was commonly the case, and, on the other hand, it seems increasingly difficult adequately and legitimately to express our own personal and immediate feelings. There is an abundance, perhaps superabundance, of public demonstrations of grief, love, rage, excitement, and so on. Public reaction to the death of Michael Jackson is only a recent and striking example of a widespread current tendency to open emotionality. Sporting stars cry with joy or disappointment, equally tearful politicians and preachers confess to deceit, and ordinary people are roused to hatred. Public life is bathed in banal sentimentality. At the same time, and notwithstanding successive waves of liberation that have opened some, if not many, to new experiences and acknowledgement of hitherto suppressed feelings in themselves and others, it seems as difficult as ever to communicate genuine feelings and establish meaningful relationships through them.

How has this contradiction arisen? And how, more generally, has feeling come to occupy such a prominent but indeterminate place in contemporary life? This question arises only from the perspective of an academic philosophy of Modernity. For all such philosophies, both classical and romantic, the construction of modern experience is the experience of the world. In relation to the world, and particularly as it arises through the active will and agency of the subject, experience is focused and defined through self-experience. All experience, that is to say, is simultaneously the self-experience of the world, and thus of its world. From the perspective of ordinary life, however, modernity was the practice of how not to be myself—of how, in fact, to avoid altogether the heavy obligation of authenticity and self-development.88xAlain Ehrenberg, The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age (Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010).

For ordinary life, however, experience no longer serves as the immediate “proof ” of our existence any more than it provides indubitable knowledge of the world. now “I” am aware of myself as dissolving and flowing outward. It is not that we sense the loss of the world as loss of feeling, or the feeling of loss; now we directly and immediately feel loss as self-surrender to the stream of life. And this, after all, is not only or merely evident in the ubiquity of a sense of loss but also manifests itself as a process of social formation in which life finds itself once again the collective subject.

Feeling is a wound, the outflow of self; the reverse movement of the entire history of modernity that consisted in energy coming from outside, “fixing” the interior, and holding it in tensed, energetic readiness. Reality now is present in a sense of dissolution and loss; a bewildering intuition of life flowing outward, ebbing away, and finding itself in the abundant flow of life in relation to which we jog along or run along to keep “in touch” with ourselves.

Feeling loss is neither an emotional anesthesia, nor nostalgia for an imagined past; it is simply a sense of draining away. An old world slips away and with it the sense of everything real, but this is the prelude to a new reality, sustained by and sustaining, nothing more (or less) substantial than a mood. The intermingling co-presence of myself as an inner life and the moody collective subjectivity of contemporary life are apprehended first of all as feeling loss. But this feeling leads outwards. I am “beside myself ” with grief, desolation, boredom, and loss. It is not “in me” or “just me”; the “beside myself ” of feeling loss is a penumbra of being that floats in the air and draws me into the collective Being of (an unhappy) collective life.

Beside Myself

What do people do all day? They “keep in touch” with one another, with events; they “keep up with” and “abreast of ” news; they become part of “breaking news,” the wave form of emergent time that, always keeping just ahead of the formed objectivity of events themselves, remains forever and eternally breaking, emerging, and trembling still with potentiality. It is as if coming into existence was a kind of death. The trick is to “stay ahead.” The contemporary “beside myself ” is just what happens to be going on at the time; it is fashionable, and everything can be considered from the standpoint of the fashionable. Reality, as it were, intensifies at the moment of its appearance, bursting forth with the all the energy of new life. But, in the very moment of its appearance, the fashionable decays into the merely conventional.99xGilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002). The truly fashionable is not yet visible; it is the emerging moment, the “now” moment of what were at one time popularly known as “happenings.”

Passions overwhelm; they happen to us and take us out of ourselves. I am beside myself with anger, glee, excitement, grief, love, and so on. These states stand alongside and separate from the “me” that is invaded by unruly and disorienting bursts of passion for which it disclaims all responsibility. Here Hume, surely, is on the right track. The ungovernability of the passions, their peculiar irresponsibility and irrationality, not only define their specific character; they ultimately wreck every self-conscious effort towards the construction of a rational and just world. Beside myself is distinct from in myself (I feel well “in myself ”), but it is not other than myself or even outside myself. “I” become angry or fall in love, but do not, and cannot, do so at will. Yet the most intense feeling “comes to me” and “comes over me,” overwhelms and “sweeps me away.” It is nothing other than self, but that self is now the collective subject rather than the individuated and interiorized ego. Passion is self-surrender to a collective subjectivity and, thus, in a different sense to that invoked by Hume, eminently, and even pre-eminently, social in character.

Beside myself is the mood of the immediate present; the mood that settles over and engulfs me is the same mood in which others are carried along and carried away. Mood cannot be grasped, that is to say, in a conventional sociological framework of interactive agency; it is the collective subject. The immediacy of mood is quite unlike the inner individuality of subjective agency. Mood, which is the opening of the passions, arrives unbidden and often unwelcome; it rarely responds to deliberation or effort. to “get into” a good mood, as much as to “throw off” a bad mood, remains one of the great psychological tricks of everyday life. In fact, mood responds immediately to the present and, thus, properly speaking belongs to a region of sublimity, the “now moment” that resists figuration as experience. even where it qualifies (as in fact is always the case) uniquely individual life forms, the “beside myself ” of moodiness is never truly private. The isolation of depressive states, the grip of an anxious moment, the rapture of love, draw on, and indeed are, collective moods of the age. In this context, it is worth noticing that boredom and depression, which are asocial in that they cut people off from one another, are the new, contemporary forms of what Kant termed “unsocial sociability”: a collective sentiment felt uniquely as a singular and internal affect.

Feeling is exterior not because it is projected or externalized in some way. It is, rather, the case that the collective subjectivity of passion, after a lengthy period of repression in the modern era, now appears openly and on its own behalf. Passion no longer needs to be interiorized and hidden; it remains on the outside, and that is now, consequently, where we are. And the “we” of collective life, which is felt in the imme- diacy of the passions, cannot be explained in terms of determinate sequences of cause and effect, nor can it be rendered meaningful in terms of values or goals imposed upon it or retrospectively read into it. The collective, the passionate, cannot be narrated; quite literally it does not make sense. Passion is the pure social phenomenon, the ontological region of being in which society shows itself as social in an absolutely free way.

Passion, thus, is properly construed as eternal, rather than fashionable. Passion does not measure or notice time; as it is without cause, effect, intention, or significance, duration and succession do not enter directly into its constitution. Passion arises from its own dead zone, boredom, for which it provides the ideal solution to the problem of “passing the time.” The “beside myself ” of mood carries the self away—away from itself into the ungraspable fluidity that Gilles Deleuze recognized as the pure immanence of collective life.1010xGilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York, NY: Zone, 2005).

This is an unexpectedly comfortable world. Currents of life arise in us as the varied moods of collective subjectivity. This relation, which, reviving a phrase from Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, might be called “the participatory consciousness of contemporary pas- sions,” transforms the object world.1111xLucien Lévy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality, trans. L. A. Clare (Boston, MA: Beacon, 1966). Ordinary objects, of course, still exist. A general sense of dissolution does not imply the actual disappearance of objects. They remain themselves but, open to the same currents of life that register in us as moods, objects also participate in the passions of contemporary life. The remoteness of objects gives way to an intimate relation with things in the world. A multiplicity of things shares our moods; things are cool, chic, sexy, brutal, charming, and so on. Objects are not dead matter. Many people name their motorcars. Uniform, mass-produced commodities take on personal qualities that distinguish them from others. And never quite predictable, they manifest “a mind of their own.” We cannot resist touching things and, in this way, participate in their mood. And it is through touching, that is, through feeling, that we become acclimatized to contemporary moodiness.

For the philosophical culture of modernity, reality was grasped in terms of individuated, interior experience that implied an alienated, externalized, and estranged relation to the object world. But now the uncomfortable homelessness of human subjectivity in the modern world is mitigated in the participatory consciousness of moods that includes within it the entire world of objects. The contemporary world, far from being a strange and unknown landscape, is altogether familiar and, to that extent, comforting.


As distinct from the orthodox division of modern experience into subject and object, that is to say, mood is both “extended subject” and “intensive object,” and mysterious only to the extent that an older philosophical orthodoxy persists. Mood is subjective, collective exteriority; it is the propensity of the passions, a tendency towards the differentiation and forming of feeling into distinct and characteristic affective states. In moodiness, everything is held in abeyance.

Mood is background into which all foregrounding has merged; atmosphere is the dispersal of subjectivity into currents of life. This world is familiar, comfortable, friendly, and incomprehensible: the extended subject, the exteriority of immediate self presence without objectification, alienation, the “may-be” of everything, even that which has happened or is just now actually taking place. On the screen we watch the “live” event simultaneously with its description, its commentary, its parallel and related occurrences. The subjunctive mood, the peculiar being of may-be, is no philosophical conceit.1212xRodolphe Gasché, Of Minimal Things: Studies on the Notion of Relation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999). It is, for example, the common grammatical form of speech for ordinary Glaswegians for whom almost every statement is delivered with an implicit question mark, inciting the common response: “aye, mibbe” or “mibbe-no.”

In a striking way contemporary moodiness, which has grown directly out of european Modernity, resonates with Oriental and particularly modern Japanese culture. We are now becoming sensitive, for example, to what the Japanese refer to as “the pathos of things” (mono no aware).1313xSteve Odin, Artistic Detachment in Japan and the West: Psychic Distance in Comparative Aesthetics (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2001). More generally, and over a longer period, Japanese culture has recognized the emotional import of objects and insisted on the exterior character of feeling. And in the many remarkable works of François Jullien, we find, not only a vivid account of the hidden, indefinite, unformed, temporary, and endlessly ambiguous character of classical Chinese culture but, surprisingly though quite unmistakably, the most subtle and compelling account of our moodiness.1414xFrançois Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China, trans. Janet Lloyd (New York, NY: Zone, 1995); Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece, trans. Sophie Hawkes (New York, NY: Zone, 2000); Vital Nourishment: Departing from Happiness, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York, NY: Zone, 2007).