Six Propositions About the Death of Ambition

Structure Of Collapse (2016)
Joseph Goddard

Propositions in order of appearance

Proposition 1:

To feel means nothing. Let me be clear; feelings are democratic, but they are also commoditised. We can all have one whenever we want, free access to whichever size, colour, depth, length we might be inclined to need at any given moment’s notice. That is, so long as you have the means to afford the particular feelings you want.

You know what would really make the papers? A global shortage of feelings. A total blackout of emotion. That we are living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of emotional wreckage; this is not far off from the truth. Hyperbole at best, but seriously, how about this scenario: an open free market where empathy and joy and euphoria fetch high prices and despair and anguish can be purchased on the cheap. Feelings are available to anyone who can pay for them. The rest of us can opt for the torment of perpetual rage against the injustice of a mechanical system with no brake lever, or the paralyzing numbness of not giving a shit anymore. We conclude that apathy is the death of ambition because it is economically viable.

Proposition 2:

We are all artists. Every movement is a calculated resolution giving expression and purpose to an otherwise boring moment. Our lives a string of these idle fragments delicately knotted together into a magnificently complicated but utterly mundane epic.

Brushing your teeth? A sophisticated interrogation of the Sisyphean struggle against the chaos of microbiological takeover. Watching cars and people and animals and weather pass through the kitchen window? Your consciousness is an installation of the universe observing itself, a five-dimensional representation of pure objectivity juxtaposed with the contradicting reality of our individual subjectivity.

Art is everywhere. It is everything. We are each a self-contained creator and audience; the catch is that we are rarely critics of our own performances. Art exists in every firing impulse of the brain. Our very biology narrates the repetitive story of tension and release: our bodies a biological system with a billion moving parts, our resolution is the ultimate truth. As meaningfulness finds its way into everything, its richness becomes diluted; the expansion of the universe is the death of ambition.

Proposition 3:

Art is not only clever observation, but also raw performance. It comes into being through the frantic scrambling of limbs. It is the about-to-vomit feeling that churns guts during the feverish trembling of some horrible flu. It is the rapture of sunlight on naked cheeks after weeks of impenetrable winter painted grey and lifeless by shadows and decay and depressive coldness. Art is a caged and hungry animal. It is conflict pushing wildly against the air that holds it in place; resolution is a mathematical limit, always tending toward zero but never reaching an axis. The death of ambition lies on this curve which sprints towards an infinity of unchanging scenery.

Proposition 4:

Comfort, it can be argued, is the leading cause of the carbon monoxide death of ambition. It is the dry grass reclining fields which lie concealing the bones of ideas thought up but never given a chance to cry out for oxygen.

Many things can be said of comfort. It is, after all, what doctors in hospices offer to patients and their families. Comfort is palliative. The metaphor of the pre-death numbing of pain readily joins hands with the notion that our idea lose something essential when certainty can be expected of comfort. Knowing what comes next is most certainly the death of ambition.

Proposition 5:

Since a graveyard implies more than one death — a collection of deaths, in fact — it may be argued that the plots in the graveyard of ambition are reserved for only a handful of people who have shared the ground and the air with the rest of us. There lie those who have encountered the bliss of contented certainty. Those who have seen the expansion of the universe and are exalted by its infinite magnificence. But wait, is it not also for those who suffer an impoverishment of feeling, who have been cast down and exist in perpetuity watching their feet? If so, then who does not belong in this great cemetery? To where has ambition gone?

Proposition 6:

The graveyard of ambition is a tired fucking idea. The edifices of our precariously constructed reality are burning, and we may sit around and congratulate ourselves for thinking life could ever be so amazing and comfortable. That we are so downtrodden and unlucky, that our very drive to expression dies. The idea itself is such a casual ‘fuck off’ to the untold number of people for whom, even the concept of comfort, is as fleeting as the warm air, languidly falling out of the vent, above automatic sliding gas station doors, on a frosty late autumn morning. Comfort is over; it’s so twentieth century.

Do you remember that last day in, December 1999? We all sat on the brink of an imaginary global collapse that ended up, in actuality, coming somewhat unexpectedly nearly eight years later. Those were the days of comfort. Arm chairs and cable television. Mass terrorism and invasive corporate marketing were just around the corner, but still ideas, in their adolescence, still experiencing their own coming of age story.


The graveyard of ambition is a folk story. A cautionary tale. It reminds us not to settle for shit feelings while at the same time not losing our purpose within life’s folding immensity. Dylan Thomas encouraged us not to go gentle into any such scenario but instead to approach art as life, as ourselves with requisite rage and intensity.

Nicholas Dunham