This thesis is about the unthinkable. It argues that the transcendence manifests the same impulse that irrupts into life as violence and the urge for violence. Specifically, violence is the return of the unthinkable when it is repressed, and the "unthinkable" character of any violent or traumatic act is evidence for this. I begin with a phenomenological analysis of the experience of embodiment, showing that psychological well-being depends on a full and complete articulation of motor impulses in perception, one that leaves space for the felt touch of the other's motricity-their touch, their gaze, etc.-to enter in. This is a delimitation of the motor, one that frees one from the immanence of one's own motricity to reveal the influence and the transcendence of the other. This freedom, this delimitation, is the unthinkable. As a part of this phenomenological study, I analyze both the accounts of those who perform self-harm and the manifestos of school shooters, showing that in any impulse toward violence there is a sense of drowning in one's own undelimited motricity, one's own infinity, and a longing for the touch of the other that only felt finitude can provide. Violence is a shortcut toward this finitude.The remainder and the bulk of this thesis is a comparative analysis of various art pieces and cultural artifacts from the years during and immediately around World War I. The claim here is that World War I itself can be conceived as a collective eruption of this impulse for the unfelt touch of the other, for finitude and that which transcends the finite. I analyze artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Giafcomo Balla as a part of this process. I show that their work depicts a flight from Cartesian space toward a framework where spatialities can encounter and penetrate each other without existing in a grand, overarching, undelimited spatial schema. I look at Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which is an attempt to delimit language in the same way that those artists delimited space. And I deeply analyze passages from C. G. Jung's Liber Novus, his attempt to probe the depths of the psyche through recorded fantasy, alongside those from a lecture by the spiritual teacher and esotericist Rudolf Steiner, to show that a deep awareness of the need for finitude and encounter shows itself there. I conclude with a postlude showing that the Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg's exegesis of the biblical flood depicts a situation where transcendence has been repressed.
College and Department
Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Swenson, Christian James, "Armistice Day: The Unthinkable at Work in Violence, World War I, and the Culture of the Early Twentieth Century" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 7500.
war, violence, phenomenology, art history, philosophy