[VIDEOS] I lecture on Nietzsche’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL for nineteen hours (yes, really!)


by Joseph Suglia


The following is a partial transcript of a fifteen-part video series that I held during the COVID-19 pandemic, from April until June 2020.  I lecture on my English translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future [Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft].  Below is a partial transcript of the commentary; the words below are my own, not Nietzsche’s.  If you would like to listen to the translation and the full commentary, you will have to listen to the videos themselves.



Hello, everyone.  My name is Joseph Suglia.  And this is a video series.  A video series in which I will be lecturing on my translation into English of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future [Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft] by Friedrich Nietzsche.

I’d like to begin with a quotation from Herman Melville’s Typee.  This is the epigraph for this video series.  “Although the object in view [of missionary work] be the achievement of much good, that agency may nevertheless be productive of evil.  In short, missionary undertaking, however it may be blessed of heaven, is in itself but human; and subject, like everything else, to errors and abuses.  And have not errors and abuses crept into the most sacred places…?”

When Nietzsche hypothesizes that Truth is a woman, he is alluding to a myth.  He is alluding to the myth of Isis.  Isis, as you might know, is regarded as the Goddess of Nature.  And Isis is always veiled.  Isis was forever shrouded, cloaked in a veil.  Nature hides itself.  We all know this proverb, we all know this proverb.

Nature withdraws, Nature recedes.  The motto of Isis is: “I am she who always was and who always will be, and no mortal shall ever pull down my mantle.”  My veil, my shroud.

And the myth of Isis is beautifully represented by a poem by the German eighteenth-century writer and thinker Friedrich Schiller.  It is a poem entitled “Das verschleierte Bild zu Saïs.”  That could be translated as “The Veiled Image at Saïs.”  Sais is a city in Egypt where a statue of Isis was situated.  The poem is about a young man, a disciple of Isis, who wants to see the goddess unveiled.  That is, he wants to see the Truth naked.  So, one night, he steals into the Temple of Isis with the hope of ripping away the veil that conceals the statue which represents the Truth of Existence, tearing away the veil and bolding the Goddess of Truth in her divine nudity.  So, in other words, he wants to see the Essence of Nature.  Within the temple, he reaches out to remove the veil of Isis and hears the words inside of himself: “No mortal may move this veil, only I myself may lift it.”  He wants to behold the naked truth and takes off the veil from the statue.  What happens then?  The next morning, the priests come into the temple and find the young man lying dead on the floor of the temple, lying blanched, stretched out at the statue’s base.

Now, this is an allegory.  This is an allegorical fable about the essence of truth.  The metaphysical presumption—and Nietzsche is here calling the metaphysicians “dogmatists.”  He means metaphysical philosophers.  Metaphysical philosophers are those who believe that the world has a foundation.  An unshakeable, irrefutable, unchangeable foundation.  And Nietzsche is an anti-foundationalist.  He’s a critic of metaphysics.  He’s a critic of the metaphysical need that his unofficial mentor Schopenhauer believes in.  I mean, Schopenhauer came up with that term, “the metaphysical need,” das metaphysische Bedürfnis, the metaphysical requirement.  Well, it’s the emotional investment, this emotional necessity or impulse to believe that there is a stable, immutable foundation behind the whirlwind of appearances.  And anyone who believes that behind the whirlwind of appearances there is a stable foundation, an eternal foundation is thinking and feeling metaphysically.  Metaphysical desire is the desire for a foundation, for stasis, behind, below, or beneath the maelstrom, the whirlwind of phenomena.  But for Nietzsche, as he writes, the perspectival is the condition of life.  And what does he mean by this?  He means that there is nothing behind the world, the world is appearance, the world is appearances of appearances, the world is veils of veils, masks of masks.  And the metaphysical disciple of Truth can tear off veil after veil all he wants, in a kind of forced striptease, it doesn’t matter, it will all be in vain.  He will never behold the naked truth.  There is no naked truth.  There is no truth behind the chaos of appearances.  There are only appearances, there are only perspectives and perspectives of perspectives.

Now, this gets very difficult because if you think of it, there is only surface but no depth.  But could we even use the word “surface” anymore?  Can there be such a thing as a depthless surface?  I’m not sure.  We may not even use the phrase “hollow appearance” anymore, we may not even use the phrase “empty phenomenon.”  Because phenomena are all that we have.  Appearances are all that we have.  The world of appearances is objective truth.  And that is it.  Nietzsche is affirmative of life itself.  Life itself is the surface, is imagery without profundity.  Life is liberated and liberating, and Nietzsche is a prophet and an affirmer of life.  A thinker who celebrates and affirms life.  And he is a critic of metaphysics, which he sees as a sickness, which is why he hates Plato.

Well, Nietzsche hates and loves Plato.  He hates the Platonic concepts of the “Good in Itself” and the “Pure Spirit.”  Plato believed in the eidos, in the idea that is divorced from the world of appearances.  Why?  Well, everything that occurs in the world is subject to decomposition.  Everything decomposes because everything occurs in time.  So, according to Plato, something must exist outside of time, and what exists outside of time?  The ideas, and Kant was following Plato.  Kant believed in the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality.  These are atemporal and aspatial, hypertemporal and hyperspatial.

When I say, “hyper-” I mean the exact meaning of that prefix.  Sometimes, people use the prefix “hyper-” to mean “excessively.”  No, when I use the prefix “hyper,” I mean “away from,” “beyond,” so please keep that in mind.  So by “hyper-,” I mean “supra-,” “beyond,” “away from.”

I don’t want to get too deep into Plato and Kant, though.  I just want to make the point that Nietzsche is not a metaphysician, not even the last metaphysician, as Heidegger erroneously describes him.  Heidegger is wrong about many things.  No, no, Nietzsche is a perspectivalist.  That is to say, he is someone who rejoices, who exults in the play of appearances, in the free play of masks, of veils, of surfaces, if may even use that term.

There is more to say.  So, in the case of the Temple of Isis, if you were to see Nietzsche as a disciple of Isis, and he was only a disciple of the truth behind appearances, he was only a metaphysical thinker when he was very young and under the sway of Christianity and Plato, and later under the sway of Schopenhauer, whom he later rejected.  In Menschliches allzumenschliches, in Human, All-Too-human, you see him taking a distance from Schopenhauer, his unofficial mentor.  But then, he breaks from Schopenhauer absolutely in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, The Gay Science, and Nietzsche annihilates Schopenhauer in Also Sprach Zarathustra.  I mean, he sees Schopenhauer in that book as a Preacher of Death, and not in a good way.  And certainly in this book, he does, as well.  This is not to say that he retains nothing of Schopenhauer…  I’m sorry, I’m getting off topic, this is a tangent.

So, the dogmatists—again, I call them “metaphysicians” or “metaphysical philosophers”—they are suitors who are trying to court Dame Truth, Lady Truth.  They are trying to woo Lady Truth.  They are in love with truth; I mean, that is what a philosopher is.  Technically, the word “philosopher” means “lover of wisdom,” but you get the point.  So, a dogmatic metaphysical philosopher loves the Truth, and this philosopher is awkward, clumsy, and is fumbling around and lunging in a kind of inappropriate way, in a creepy way, in a stalkerish way at Lady Truth.  Trying to take off her veil.  In a way that is violating and disgusting and despicable.

And Nietzsche is not like that.  Nietzsche is very cool, and he knows not to lunge at Lady Truth.  This is an allegory, of course.  He’s not going to lunge and fumble around.  No, he’s going to keep his distance, he’s going to be very remote, laid-back, nonchalant.  And he doesn’t try to remove the garment, the gown, the vestment of Lady Truth because he knows that there is nothing behind the veil, he knows that the veil is everything.  But if he were to remove the veil, he would only find another veil and another veil.  I know this is an overworked metaphor, but you can think of Chinese Boxes.  You know, the image of a box within a box, and then another box inside of that box.  Or of a Russian doll.  I think that everyone knows Russian dolls.  There’s a doll, and then there’s a doll inside of the doll.  It’s a mise-en-abyme structure.  You see it in the engravings of M.C. Escher, for instance.  I’m sure that many of you know Escher.

For anyone who has been trained theologically and who has been raised under the sway of religion and who might no longer be under the sway of religion, I can see how all of this could be quite dispiriting, to say the least.  It could make somebody desperate.  “Oh, wait, you mean there’s nothing except for images and images of images, replicas and replicas of replicas?”  Nothing but veils and masks, and there is no deeper truth, no profundity.  I could see how that could cause someone to despair.  But don’t despair!  Because life is so rich in all of its vicissitudes, in all of its vagaries.  Life is inestimably rich.  I wouldn’t say that it is infinite, for Nietzsche.  This is my interpretation of Nietzsche, one of my many interpretations of Nietzsche.  Fin.



My name is Joseph Suglia, and I am going to be lecturing on Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, by Friedrich Nietzsche extemporaneously.

The presupposition of all that we have read thus far: Nietzsche is saying, in essence, that the human animal is inaccessible to itself, that the core of the human animal is unknown to that animal, that the essence of the human animal is opaque to itself.  Consciousness is nothing more than a thin, iridescent membrane, a pellicle on the surface of the unconscious mind.  Consciousness is a membranous film.  To use another metaphor, a Nietzschean metaphor: We are astride tigers, which are the totality of the unconscious mind.  Everything that we think, write, and say bubbles up from the unconscious mind.  All consciousness is explicable by reference to the unconscious mind.

Now if that is the case, and surely it is—all of Freudian psychoanalysis and modern psychology proceeds from this point of departure—if human beings are primarily unconscious beings, they practice a kind of self-misknowledge.  The Delphic oracle “Know thyself” is based on a false assumption.  There is only self-misknowledge.  There really is no such thing as self-consciousness.  Self-consciousness is hetero-consciousness; self-consciousness is the consciousness of the stranger, the foreigner.  Self-consciousness is an alien, anonymous, impersonal consciousness.

If this is true (and surely it is), what does this say of us and our self-evaluations, self-assessments, self-interpretations?  It means that every interpretation that we put forward about ourselves is an erroneous interpretation and should be regarded as such.  So, for example, we have all met people who tell us how empathic, how compassionate they are.  Altruism, other-centeredness is a myth.  Altruism, voluntarism, empathy, other-directedness—all of these things are rooted in an aggressive self-assertiveness; they are based on the vaunting desire for superiority over others, the desire to assert one’s strength in opposition to the weak.  Nietzsche rejects, for instance, the supposed “purity of compassion.”

Nietzsche is taking lofty ideals and bringing them down into the mud of the human-all-too-human world.  He is saying, “You think that your ideals are pure, you think that they are autogenously produced?  You think that your ideals, your values have a pure, separate origin?  You think that they come from an otherworldly place?  No, they come from the slime, the muck, the mud, the quag of the human experience.”

So, someone who claims to be a loving person is not so loving as one thinks.  As Nietzsche writes elsewhere (in Also Sprach Zarathustra), love is really the desire for assimilation and appropriation, the desire for control and possession, the desire to own another human being.  Is he wrong about this?  And maybe if we were to be honest about our “negative” emotions and our human psychology, we would stop deceiving ourselves, as much as we can.

We are self-deceptive creatures.  If most thinking is unconscious activity, if the majority of intellectual activity is unconscious, the human animal is a deluded creature.  The human animal is the one mendacious organism, the creature that lies to itself all of the time.  So, love is not pure, and why would love be a value?

My video series on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is written from this perspective, if you are interested.

What Nietzsche is saying: He is reducing “Good” to “Evil.”  This does not make of him a philosopher of “Evil.”  He does not believe in “Good” or “Evil,” so “Good” and “Evil” should be placed in quotation marks.  So, he is saying that what culture calls “Good” is reducible to what culture calls “Evil.”  He is not some devilish philosopher who exclaims, “Let Evil be my Good!” while twisting his Vercingetorix moustache.  He is not Machiavelli.  He is not even Timon, the famous misanthrope of Athens.

“Good” does not exist, according to Nietzsche, and neither does “Evil.”  He is not a philosopher of Evil.  Not at all.  He thinks that “Good” and “Evil” are abstractions and mystifications.  Humanity would be better without them, and once we slough off these antiquated, false concepts, humankind would be able to rise to its fullest height, to its zenith, its “Great Noon.”  This is what Nietzsche calls der Übermensch, the time of overhumanity.

* * * * *

What Nietzsche is saying is amazingly shattering: He is suggesting that mathematics is a fabrication, which it is.  It is not, as Kant believed, an analytic or synthetic a priori.  Logic is also a fabrication.  These are human systems of thought, and they have nothing to do with reality, with life.

Nietzsche is not asking a question, such as “Is this statement true?” “Is this logical proposition true?” or “Is this metaphysical claim true?”  He is asking: “What is the value, if any, of this proposition for life?”  Perhaps it is necessary to believe all of this junk in order for the human species to live and to perpetuate itself.  Perhaps there is an evolutionary benefit in believing in logic and mathematics.  Perhaps human beings need these lies, these fictions, in order to live.  Are logical propositions evolutionarily necessary?  I can’t think of a more radical thing to say about logic than that—radical in the etymological sense of the word, which means “to the radix,” “to the root,” to the basis.

* * * * *

All philosophers are advocates of their own uncritically accepted, irrational prejudices.

* * * * *

All philosophy is a form of autobiography.

* * * * *

Is Nietzsche suggesting that philosophers care more about money and other personal concerns than they do about philosophy?  If he suggesting this (and I hope that he is not!), he is very close to what Schopenhauer writes about university philosophy.  Is Nietzsche suggesting that academic philosophers are not preprogammed to do philosophy?  Is he suggesting that there is no predestination to the business of philosophy?  Is he suggesting that academic philosophers are not congenitally philosophical, that they are not born to philosophize?  No, he could not possibly be suggesting that!

* * * * *

Discussion of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) from a Nietzschean perspective.  Timothy Treadwell humanized the bears.  He appeared to believe that bears are human beings in bear costumes.  He thought that bears were zoömorphs, human beings in the shape of non-human animals.  Treadwell did not understand or accept the boundless indifference of nature, the measureless neutrality of nature.

* * * * *

Discussion of natural-law theory.  Those who see justice and order in nature—anyone who thinks that nature is just, fair, organized, or prestabilized—are exporting and projecting their own ideas of coherence, organicity, onto nature.  They are transferring their ideas of order, logic, justice, decency, goodness onto the blank screen of nature.

* * * * *

The Stoics wanted to practice self-mastery.  They wanted to tyrannize themselves.  The real point of departure is drawing a distinction between the controllable and the uncontrollable, between problems that one can change and problems that one cannot change.  Nietzsche lets no one off the hook, not even the determinists (those who believe in necessity as opposed to the free will).  This is an explosive and implosive book.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is suggesting that the body is what we are aware of before all else.  If one is short of breath, if one is sick (and we are struggling through an age of dis-ease), one will not be able to philosophize.  One is aware of the palpations and the palpitations of the body, the appetites of the body, before all else; the awareness of the body comes before all reflection.  When Nietzsche emphasizes the body, in Also Sprach Zarathustra and in this book, it should be seen as a riposte to the German Idealists.  The speculative idealists, such as Schelling and Hegel, write as if the body never existed.  Nietzsche is acknowledging the body: We are not minds with bodies attached to them; the mind is propped on the plinth, on the pillar of the body.  The human animal is mostly corporeal.  The mind is just superadded to the body.  How, then, could human beings rightfully see themselves as being superior to all other animals?  How, then, could human beings justifiably see themselves as “the measure of all things”?  How, then, could human beings see themselves as the masters of the Planet Earth?

* * * * *

I probably should talk about Jacques Derrida.  It is perhaps scandalous to say this, but Jacques Derrida is overrated.  Believe me, I spent ten years of my life reading Derrida in English and in French.  I am not coming from a place of ignorance.  I will say that there is nothing in Derrida that I cannot read in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.

If I wanted to be unkind, I would say that Derrida is a Franco-Nietzschean, a philosophical mountebank, a circumlocutionist, and a philosophaster.  All Derrida has written is that there is nothing pure, that all foundations, all origins, all logoi are woven into the web of language.  Every concept belongs to the network of language, the linguistic web.  Derrida doesn’t like the word language, though, because it has too much to do with speech.  It is too phonocentric for him (langue means “language” or “tongue”).

Everything that you read in Derrida you can find in Nietzsche, in Wittgenstein (“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt”), in Blanchot, in Levinas.  The later Derrida writes about how “every other is absolutely other.”  That came from Levinas.  The idea that language is a self-sufficient, autonomous, and impersonal network, a space in which no one speaks and nothing is reflected, is derived from Blanchot.



When Nietzsche writes of “the honeymoon of German philosophy,” he is mocking Hegel’s “speculative Good Friday.”

* * * * *

Schelling and Hegel pander to godly, the religious, the pious, whereas Nietzsche does not.  Nietzsche is a reprobate thinker.

* * * * *

Kant asks, “How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?”  Kant’s answer to his own question, “They are capacitated by a capacity,” is a non-answer, a tautology.

* * * * *

In Molière’s play The Imaginary Invalid, a physician explains that the soporific property of opium is a “virtus dormativa” (a “dormitive virtue”).  In other words, opium puts people to sleep by putting people to sleep.  The tautologous non-response of the physician is resemblant of Kant’s tautologous non-response to his own question: “Synthetic a priori judgments are capacitated by a capacity” (to paraphrase).

* * * * *

It is high time to replace Kant’s epistemological question with another question: “What is the value of such judgments for life?”  What is the evolutionary benefit of such judgments?  Do they enhance, promote, intensify life?  If they do not, why do we care about them?”

Perhaps it is necessary for human beings to lie to themselves in order for humankind to survive.  Perhaps it is necessary for humanity to believe in such lies in order for humanity to survive, in order to evolve.  Could it be that randomized natural selection demands self-deceptions, camouflages, subterfuges, simulations, chicanery, mendacity, fakery, charlatanry, lies?  Perhaps humankind needs lies in order to propagate itself, to proliferate itself, to perpetuate itself.

This means that such questions might still be false.  Perhaps it is necessary to believe that synthetic a priori judgments are possible in order for humankind to flourish.

* * * * *

As soon as you say or write something about your feelings or sensations, the feeling or sensation dies.

All language lies.  But even this may not be said, for if all language is false, then there is something which is true.  Perhaps what Nietzsche is doing here is universalizing falsehood and thereby superseding the distinction between the “true” and the “false.”

If you read Nietzsche’s late notebooks, or his early essay “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne,” you will find the assertion (to paraphrase) that truth is a lie.  But if you say something like this, aren’t you assuming that your own statement is apodictically true?  Is this a paradoxical statement (or a koan), and is Nietzsche aware that such a statement is paradoxical?

* * * * *

Nietzsche is slighting his former unofficial teacher Schopenhauer.  The beginning of the end of the love affair between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche took place when Nietzsche thought deeply about Schopenhauer’s “metaphysical need” or “metaphysical requirement” in the notebooks that were collated into Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits.  Schopenhauer’s “metaphysical requirement” is the alleged emotional necessity for human beings to believe in a world beyond this world, a permanent structure, an eternal structure outside of the maelstrom, the whirlwind of appearances.

* * * * *

The official topic of this book is the moral biases of philosophers, but as you will see, as we proceed, this book deals with a multitude of different subjects.  It is not a unified or coherent book.  The meaning of this book is not reducible to One Thing.  Even this chapter, which is supposed to concern the moralisms of philosophers, does not merely concern the moralisms of philosophers.

* * * * *

The Platonists and the Stoics have this in common: They both enjoy mastering their senses because their sensuality is so powerful.  The Stoics and the Platonists practice abstention from pleasure because they experience pleasure in self-overcoming; they are thwarted, self-stultified, self-repressed hedonists.  It reminds me of what T.S. Eliot writes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: Only those with strong personalities understand the necessity of depersonalizing their poetry (to paraphrase).

* * * * *

Nietzsche is savagely, ferociously dismantling philosophical concepts, one after the other, such as “immediate certainty,” “absolute knowledge,” the “thing in itself,” “disinterested judgment,” the “cause in itself.”  He reveals them as self-contradictory.  Certainty is mediated; someone has to serve as the mediator or mediatrix in order to establish “certainty.”  Knowledge, by definition, is relative to a human subject.  Things do not exist “in themselves” independently of relation.  There are no things, only relations between things.  “One should finally release oneself from the seduction of words”—the films of Jean-Luc Godard suggest a similar distrust of language.

Even the assertion “I think” contains an abundance of problematical presuppositions.  A genuine thinker will not take the proposition “I think” for granted—and perhaps that thinker will not even call oneself a “thinker,” much less a “philosopher.”  What right do we have to assume that there is a self-contained, uncontaminated subject that produces thoughts?  No, “I” do not think.  Thoughts surface, appear, bubble up in mind, and I have no idea where they come from.  Who is to say that “I” am the cause of my thoughts?  Why do I have the subject-hypothesis added to my “thinking”?  And let us pretend that we know what “thinking” means (we do not), for the purposes of argument.  What right do we have to say that there is a stable, self-sufficient, self-contained, uncontaminated subject that is the agent, the cause of thoughts?  I don’t know what I am going to be thinking, saying, or doing next.

* * * * *

Why do I believe in cause and effect?  The window shatters, and I assume that I know why the window shattered.  How do I think the so-called “effect” to the so-called “cause”?  Is that something that exists objectively in the world?  No, that is my mind playing a trick on itself.  It is legerdemain, a prestidigitation, that links a so-called “effect” to a so-called “cause.”

* * * * *

I am going to keep on talking, until I drop from fatigue.

* * * * *

It is a linguistic superstition to assume that every form of activity must be preceded by an actor.

This is Nietzsche’s critique of the self.  There is no such thing as the self, a changeless center of consciousness.  The “I” exists, but it is just a word, a representation.  You don’t have a self, and neither do I.  The way that I am speaking to the camera now is much different from the way in which I would speak to a family member, a friend, a cashier at a convenience store, the person who trims my hedges, the person who carries my mail, the person who delivers Chinese food to my door.  There are many “selves,” if one must use the word “self.”  Every human being is a multiplicity of “selves,” and one “self” is dormant when another self is active, and depending on the context in which I find myself, one “self” will be activated and the others will vanish.

Consciousness is like a Magic-8 Ball.  The other “selves” disappear when one “self” is activated.

There are other ways of criticizing the concept of selfhood.  When you are working out, jogging, etc., are you aware of yourself?  While you are exercising or dancing or listening to music, “I” do not exercise, dance, or listen to music.  It exercises, dances, listens.  “I” do not write my books; the books are writing themselves.

There are yet other critiques of the concept of the self.  When people discuss the “self,” they are assuming the existence of a changeless center of consciousness.  Where is this center revealed in Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging?

I might be aware of food in the supermarket, my neighbors, trees, dogs, the rain, but then if I direct my consciousness to myself, why am I not a phenomenon in the way in which they are phenomena?

Whatever comes into the open field of consciousness, within the horizons of consciousness, is a phenomenon, an appearance.  Self-consciousness is fictionalization, deception.

* * * * *

Sam Harris is not the first person to refute free-will theory, voluntarism.  Spinoza and Hume did so before Nietzsche, but Nietzsche’s refutation of voluntarism is the most devastating and coherent counter-argument to the theory of the freedom of the will.

* * * * *

Karl Popper developed but two interesting concepts, and one of them is “unfalsifiability” (die Unfalsifizierbarkeit), irrefragability, irrefutability.  An argument is strong if it is falsifiable, not if it is unfalsifiable.  A strong argument is an argument that could be proven false, under certain conditions.  If you come across an argument that someone sets forth and there is no way of disproving it, then it must be discounted out of hand.  If someone asserts the existence of a purple Pegasus, a giant winged horse that is snorting and beating its hooves on the asphalt and beating its wings uselessly and does not defend this allegation and does not show you any evidence and merely says, “You will just have to take my word for it,” the auditor has every right to repudiate, to reject that claim, for it is unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable.  A stick-figure drawing of a purple Pegasus or a Photoshopped image of a purple Pegasus is not sufficient evidence of the existence of a purple Pegasus.  A painting of a purple Pegasus is a weak argument because the evidence is faulty, but at least it is an argument, even though there are “holes” in the document.  It is a stronger argument than an unfalsifiable claim that the purple Pegasus exists and “you will just have to believe me”; at least the person who provides evidence in the form of a line-drawing of a purple Pegasus is making an argument, as dubious and as weak as that argument is.  To assert the existence of the purple Pegasus without evidence is to opine, to give an unfalsifiable, and hence rejectable, opinion.  It is not the making of an argument.

* * * * *

Schopenhauer presents the hypothesis, the intuition that only the Will is self-evident (this is an unfalsifiable claim).  Only the Will is known to us, according to Schopenhauer.  The Will, for Schopenhauer, is vitality, the vital force of Nature that pulses, that throbs, that palpitates within us and keeps the human species going, it keeps life going.  The Will is blind, it is insistent, it is vigorous.  It is not just non-intellectual, it is pre-intellectual.  The Will is the life-will, the will that drives forward the reproduction of the human species.  However, the Will is not precisely identical to the libido, though the late Nietzsche and Freud seem to make that identification.  The libido is a form in which the Will manifests itself.

* * * * *

To return to the official subject of this book: the moralistic biases of philosophers.  Traditional philosophy is the philosophy of the crowd and evinces the uncritically accepted assumptions of the crowd.  Philosophers come from the crowd.  They are not apart from the crowd; they are a part of the crowd.

* * * * *

For Nietzsche, “the Will” is complex, “the Will” is multiple.  It should not be merely presented as “the Will,” as if it were something simple and self-explanatory.  This reminds me of the concept of “love.”  The word “love” connotes a multiplicity of meanings: the love of a child for one’s parent, the love of a parent for one’s child, the love of a priest or a rabbi or an imam for one’s congregation, the love of God, romantic love.  There are many different modes of loving: the love of humanity, the love of animals, the love of the planet (whatever planet one happens to be on at the moment), the love of art, the love of literature, the love of music (melophilia).  But isn’t it interesting that one word, “love,” verbally unifies all of these different denotations?

* * * * *

Is the concept of the free will a fetish?  Is it something that we want to believe in because it gives us pleasure?  Don’t we want to be the captains of the ships of our minds?  Don’t we want to be the motorists of the automobiles of our bodies?  Don’t we want to believe that we have authority over our bodies and our minds?  Don’t want we want to believe that we are in command of our “selves,” in control of ourselves?  Doesn’t such a belief, which is a false belief, give us pleasure?  There is no such thing as the freedom of the will.

* * * * *

Every human being is 1,001 people.  Every human being is a plurality, a multiplicity, a congeries of “subjectivities,” “souls,” or “selves,” if we must use these words.  Each human being is a society of “selves.”  If you talk to your parents, you are one person.  If you talk to your neighbor, you become a different person.  When you talk to your eldest child, you are a different person.  When you speak to your younger child, you are a different person.

* * * * *

Concepts are not spontaneously, autogenously produced.  Every concept belongs to a system.  Passages such as this demonstrate that Jacques Derrida is not original, that he is not as innovative as his ovine acolytes assume that he is.  The point here is that meaning does not occur in isolation.  Meaning is relation, relativity, relationality.

* * * * *

Anyone who divides the world into a “suprasensible” part and a “sensible” part is thinking metaphysically.

* * * * *

Grammatical systems make possible metaphysical systems.  Because we think in a grammatical language, we believe that every action has a subject; this is metaphysics.  Language conditions our thought.  What would it take for us to stop thinking metaphysically?  Would we have to invent a language?  How interesting is it that there are some languages that are subjectless, non-subjectified.  Japanese is only one of many null-subject languages.

The middle voice suppresses agency, subjectivity.  The middle voice is much like the passive voice, except there is no form of the verb “to be.”  An example of the middle voice is: “The cheese sells for one dollar per pound.”  Where is the subject in this sentence?  There is none.

Incidentally, Heidegger writes about the middle voice in Sein und Zeit, Being and Time.

Nietzsche writes about the statement, “It lightnings,” “Es blitzt,” in On the Genealogy of Morality.  Who is doing the lightning?  Where is the subject?  Who is doing the snowing or the raining (to use more familiar English-language examples) in the statements “It is snowing” and “It is raining”?  There is a pure process, a pure doing without a doer, a pure asubjective activity.  Why do we impose a subject upon every process?  Why do we superadd to a subject to every procedure?

* * * * *

There are traces of East Asian thought, of Hinduism, in Schopenhauer and in Nietzsche.  The Hindu concept of samsāra can be found, transmuted, in Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same.

* * * * *

The idea of the freedom of the will is the idea that we are self-created agents.  It is the idea that we are gods, and as gods, we are self-responsible, free, autonomous, self-directed.  If you believe in the free will (and Sam Harris does not go into this in his 2012 book Free Will), you believe you can rip yourself out of temporality and spatiality, like a god, without a personal history, without any kind of evolutionary history, without any connection to the history of the species to which you belong.

Sam Harris, who pretends that he is the first person to ever refute free-will theory, does not acknowledge Nietzsche once in his book on the free will, even though Harris studied Philosophy as an undergraduate at Stanford University and even though Harris’s first unpublished novel included Nietzsche as a character and even though Harris recommends a few English translations of Nietzsche on his Web site.

Sam Harris ceased being interesting almost immediately after he published his book Free Will in 2012.  I consider this book to be excellent, and it has a permanent place in my library (though the fact that the text never refers to other thinkers’ refutations of voluntarism is troubling: not just Nietzsche’s, but Spinoza’s, Hume’s, Kant’s, Schopenhauer’s, et al.).  It has been profoundly disheartening to watch such a sharp, bright mind atrophy over the past eight years.  Sam Harris is now a Twitter philosopher—that is to say, he is now a non-philosopher or a philosophaster.  His blitheness toward classical and modern philosophy is disconcerting.  His dismissiveness toward Aristotle is absolutely astounding: “Aristotle is great and all, but he has done great damage to the history of science,” Harris said during one of his recent Ask Me Anythings.  Is Harris unaware that there would be no science without the categories that Aristotle developed?  And in conversation with Douglas Murray, who has proven himself to be far more intellectually agile than Harris: “Did [Schopenhauer] write [‘Religion: A Dialogue’] before or after he threw his housekeeper down the stairs?”  This tabloid rumor appears to be all that Harris knows of Schopenhauer—or all that interests him.  I did benefit from listening to Harris’s critique of the concept of subjectivity when he came to the Chicago Theatre circa 2018, but he was only recapitulating what he said circa 2011.  Name me a single new or insightful thing that Harris has said since 2013!  Anyone who discusses the economics of podcasting while on a podcast loses my respect as a philosopher.  He talks about online conservative commentators (many of whom are not worthy of speech) more often than he talks about philosophy.  Instead of discussing ideas, he discusses individual human beings.  This would be fine if he discussed individual human beings from an intellectual point of view, but he no longer does so.  You might find my words severe, but I am being (to use a Harris phrase) “intellectually honest.”  No genuine philosopher would sell a telephonic application, and I doubt that a guru would endorse a telephonic application on meditation, of all things.

* * * * *

Nietzsche could have taken the hard line of determinism and written: “You apostles of the free will, you are all wrong.  Determinism is the way to go.  One should follow a thoroughgoing, mechanistic determinism and reject the ‘freedom of the will.’”  But notice what Nietzsche does instead.  As I said in the previous video, Nietzsche lets no one off the hook.  Nietzsche is vigorously and rigorously criticizing the determinists, as well!  Anyone who believes in the “unfree will” is operating from a place of pathos, is exhibiting as much pathos as the advocates of the “free will,” and it is too much pathos for Nietzsche.  There is neither a “free will” nor an “unfree will,” and those of you who want to disabuse yourselves of the illusion of the “free will” while retaining the illusion of the “unfree will” are also wrong.  The “unfree will” is also a mythology.

* * * * *

Zarathustra, the alter ego of Nietzsche, encourages apostasy.  He wants to apostatize his apostles.  “Only by betraying me are you loyal to me” (to paraphrase the text).  Nietzsche is suggesting through the mask of Zarathustra.  Nietzsche believes in the piety of treason, when it comes to his followers.

* * * * *

Nietzsche’s theory of life (not an ontology, as Heidegger writes) is that all of life is bound up with relativities of power.  Everything could be explained by reference to the language of power relations.  People such as Jordan Peterson (and Douglas Murray) criticize this idea as too monistic, though Peterson is criticizing Foucault, not Nietzsche.  Peterson, apparently, is unaware that Foucault’s theory of power relations canalizes the ideas of Nietzsche.  Peterson believes that life is about accountability and competence, not power.  I doubt that Peterson has read very much of Nietzsche at all.  There is no such thing as accountability or responsibility, according to Nietzsche, who Peterson seems to think of as his precursor.  This is mystifying!  I don’t know where Peterson got that from.  Nietzsche and Peterson are antipodal.  According to Nietzsche, the illusion of responsibility is a manifestation, is an instantiation of the will-to-power!  And we are supposed to believe that competence has nothing to do with power!

I would like to conclude by saying that the idea of life as the will-to-power is not as simple as Peterson and his followers think that it is.

* * * * *

The personality of the philosopher reveals itself, comes on stage, unwittingly.  Philosophers who subscribe to the “unfreedom of the will” do so for psychological reasons.  They want to free themselves from the feelings of regret, guilt, self-resentment, self-accusation.  They want to overcome some misstep in their past.  The voluntarists (those who believe in the freedom of the will) think that they are their own demiurges, they are the technicians of the machinery of themselves.  This is nonsense, but the opposite is nonsense, as well.  The determinists want to answer for nothing and demand, out of a kind of self-contempt, to unload their self-blame on to someone else.  The determinists pathologize criminality, etc.

How interesting to observe that Nietzsche does not even exempt himself from critique!  Even he believes in a “necessary and calculable course of the world”!  Anyone who believes that there is an intrinsic lawfulness in the world is introjecting one’s own concept of lawfulness into the world—a concept that is, of course, inherited from culture.  One is injecting, inserting, introducing human, all-too-human concepts into nature.  Life has neither laws nor organization.  What about the laws of physics?  These are descriptive rules, not preinscribed rules.  The concepts of legality that natural-law theorists find in nature they put into nature.  To channel Heidegger, we find in a text what we put into a text (this is the “hermeneutic circle”).  If we think that nature is benevolent, this is because we have the interpretive desire for nature to be benevolent.  To be as charitable as possible: What if we were to claim that nature is innocent?  The only word to precisely describe nature is “indifferent,” but even that word is probably problematical.

Why is it a projective and introjective misinterpretation to call nature “innocent”?  Because the concept of innocence implies the counter-concept of guilt.  Remember that all concepts are relational concepts.  The concept of “Good” does not exist except in relation to concept of “Evil.”  “Good” and “Evil” form a doublet.  “Nature” and “culture,” “innocence” and “guilt” form doublets, which is to say that they are inherited and uncritically accepted concepts.  We have the tendency to anthropomorphize nature, when we call nature “peaceful.”  A tour guide who calls nature “peaceful” or “designed to please the eye” is anthropomorphizing nature—literally, putting nature into the form of the human.  This is fatuous folderol.  Nature does not care about us.  The world is not cruel, but neither is it kind.  When a volcano explodes and douses people with magma, most people would say that this is not quite as cruel as if an entire army were to slaughter the residents of a village.  Think of the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal.  Or the 1630 volcanic irruption in Furnas, Portugal.  Are these tragedies?  No, they are not, for a tragedy is a spectacle.  Who is the spectator?  Is death a spectacle?  Is it even kind to call death a “tragedy”?  A tragedy is a show, which is opposed to comedy.  People who say that “life is a comedy” are just as naïve as those who say that “life is a tragedy.”  Even to say that life is a comedy is to falsify the world.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is implying: Philosophy has been superficial for most of its history because it has been contaminated by moralism and metaphysics.  This has led to a misrepresentation of life, of the world, of the human being.

* * * * *

Hatred, jealousy, envy, greed—Nietzsche is suggesting that all of these “bad” feelings are part of the economy of life, and they are needed not just for the human species to survive, but to grow, to proliferate, to enlarge itself.  Such affects are necessary for the expansion of life, not just for the sustenance and maintenance of life.

* * * * *

Perhaps life is an abyss.  Perhaps life has no foundation.  Nietzsche is sympathetic to those who do not even want to think such a nightmarish thought.  And yet let no one consider Nietzsche to be negative or nihilistic.  He is a life-affirming thinker.

* * * * *

Life is liberating and liberated.

* * * * *

Nietzsche writes for readers who have not yet been born.  They are what he calls the free spirits.

* * * * *

Nietzsche throws a party for himself at the conclusion of Part One.

* * * * *

All of the current ideas of psychology and philosophy are archaic and are restraining, inhibiting, and Nietzsche wants to disinhibit us from moral cargo because it is burdening us.  The burden of inherited concepts is preventing us from looking at human beings in the eyes and saying, “This is who we are.  This is who I am” without shying away from our “badness.”  The point is to develop an incorporative attitude toward our “badness,” our culturally unacceptable impulses.

If Carl Jung helped to make Nietzsche the household appliance that he is today, perhaps we owe Jung a debt of gratitude.

Instead of disavowing, repudiating, repressing these so-called “negative” affects, the “negative” dimensions of the human being, we should incorporate them, and that would make for a more extraordinary philosophy and would make for more extraordinary human beings, for we would be more honest with ourselves about who we are.



Nietzsche is inviting us, encouraging us, exhorting us to overcome dualisms—dichotomies such as those between Good and Evil, between Heaven and Earth, between compassion and selfishness, between nature and culture.  When seen from this perspective—I’ve been bashing Derrida quite a bit, but when seen from this perspective—Jacques Derrida is not very original, is he?  Because one of the hallmarks of deconstructionism is the traversal of binary oppositions.  Nietzsche traversed binary oppositions long before Derrida and the deconstructionists.  So, according to Nietzsche, all oppositions are false oppositions.  There are no oppositions, in other words; they don’t exist, they are abstractions, they are intellectual mystifications, they are falsifications, they are misrepresentations of the world.  Anyone who says, for example, that you have the ‘masculine’ at one pole and the ‘feminine’ at the antipode, anyone who says that masculinity is counterposed to femininity, anyone who says such a thing is thinking in a false and misrepresentative manner.  No, there isn’t an Either-Or distinction between the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’; there is an axis between two poles.  I am borrowing the term “axis” from Brian Eno and his diary A Year with Swollen Appendices.  Eno writes about how it is more pensive to think in an axial way.  So, instead of thinking, for instance, between ‘masculine’ on this side and ‘feminine’ on the other, there is an axis, a continuum, and there are gradations, degrees, nuances, shades, hues between two extremes.  There is a scale of differentiation between one polarity and the other polarity, so one may say with justice, “Oh, your haircut is more masculine than his haircut, but your haircut is more feminine than her haircut,” and “Her shoes are less feminine that that person’s shoes.”  Of course, what is ‘more feminine,’ ‘less feminine,’ ‘more masculine,’ ‘less masculine,’ etc., is at the discretion of any individual.  There are many other examples of false dichotomies that one may adduce, and every dichotomy is traversable, every dualism is supersedable, and they all should be displaced if one is to think non-metaphysically.  What of the artificial difference between the law enforcer and the criminal, inasmuch as both the police office and the criminal are attracted to the same thing: criminality?  The saint and the voluptuary are two sides of the same menu, aren’t they, since both have an intense relation to physical pleasure?  Love versus hatred is another such false opposition, since love and hatred are by no means opposed; they belong to the same emotional complex.  There are only gradations between them, for loving often bears within itself hatred.  There can be no love without hatred, and there can be no hatred without love.  I know that it might not be immediately apparent what I am talking about, but consider the fact that love really is an obsession and so is hatred, and one quickly blends into the other.  What about the distinction between friendship and enmity?  Have you noticed how easily one category passes into the other, how quickly the one transposes with the other, how swiftly our friends become our enemies?  But sometimes, more happily, our enemies become our friends.  So, there are no binary oppositions in reality; they just exist as inherited concepts, and we would do well to overthrow them, we would do well to dispense with them.

* * * * *

Every profound thinker ought to wear a mask.  Use your subtlety to disguise yourself.  Dramatize yourself, perform, for life is performance.  And do you not see a covert agreement between Nietzsche and Shakespeare on this point?  If you think about Shakespearean philosophy and dramaturgy, the world is a stage, and we are performers, whether we admit it or not, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

* * * * *

Even though Nietzsche is a household appliance at this point, I would argue that he is still obscure, considering how often he is miscited and misinterpreted.

* * * * *

Nietzsche, to his credit, is conscious of the unacknowledged educational value of humor.

* * * * *

As Bataille remarks (in “Hegel, Death and Sacrifice”), Hegelian philosophy is a philosophy of tragedy.  Lacoue-Labarthe makes the same point.  Nietzschean philosophy, by contrast, is a philosophy of comedy: incipit comoedia.  And this is where I become critical of Nietzsche (and I’ve said this in my previous video on Nietzsche), for it is equally naïve to say that life is a comedy as it is to say that life is a tragedy (a satyr-play).  Perhaps if he had lived longer, his thinking would have expanded and deepened.

* * * * *

I spoke in my last video about the universalization of the lie, how, for Nietzsche, the lie becomes universal and hence becomes the new “truth,” which then supersedes the distinction between lying and “truth-telling.”  You can find something similar in Kafka’s The Trial, in which Josef K. remarks that “lying would become a universal principle,” if one were enjoined to accept something as necessary rather than as true.  This is the perfect description of a totalitarian dictatorship.

* * * * *

We are always speaking in a monologue, we are always only talking with ourselves and to ourselves, but one may soliloquize in the presence of others.  There is an unbridgeable abyss between one human being and another, but perhaps we should nonetheless try to reach over and overcome that abyss—even though such attempts will always be in vain.

* * * * *

Schopenhauer believes that the need for sociality, the need for friendship, is the sign of an inner deficiency, and if you are a fully formed human being, you are like a flower which blossoms only for itself.  For Nietzsche: If you are a thinker, a knower, a philosopher, you might want to overcome your solipsism and go out into the public sphere, if only to observe the public sphere.  I am cautious not to write, “out into the world,” for every living human being is in the world.  Go out into the public sphere to gather knowledge and to observe human behavior, which might be interesting from a psychological and sociological point of view.  This raises the question: Is it possible to be a solipsist who engages with the public sphere?  Perhaps or perhaps not, but, according to Nietzsche, if you remain aversive, quiet, and proud in your solitary fortress, you are not made for knowledge; you certainly are not predestinated for it.  This path of reflection marks a difference with the earlier Nietzsche of “On the Flies in the Marketplace,” a sermon in Also Sprach Zarathustra.

* * * * *

Antonin Artaud writes, “I love the cinema, but the cinema does not yet exist.”  Nietzsche writes for his equals, those who have not yet been born, the free spirits, his imaginary friends.

* * * * *

The Stoic is too superior to experience hatred, tragedy, aggression, or even misfortune as misfortune.

* * * * *

Kant’s ideal of disinterested aesthetic contemplation is nonsense.  Have you ever looked at a painting that you found enrapturing and felt “disinterested” while doing so?  And let us keep in mind the meaning of the phrase “without all interest” (ohne alles Interesse).  It signifies a detached, dispassionate, disembodied observation, certainly without emotion or appetite, in a scientific manner.  Kant actually believed that such is the way in which to assess the beautiful in art.  A judgment of beauty, of all “things,” should be without all interest.  This is utter nonsense.  It is impossible for any living, sentient, conscious human being to suppress one’s instincts and visceral impulses.  Aesthetic evaluation is appropriative (according to Nietzsche), and there is often desire for what is imaged; the appetites are activated, the desires come into play in the process of aesthetic judgment.  Kant was dead wrong in his discussion of aesthetic contemplation.

* * * * *

The pleasure produced by an idea proves absolutely nothing about the soundness or validity of that idea.  Anyone who thinks in this manner is practicing a Logical Fallacy known as the argumentum ad consequentiam, which is the false argument that if an idea, policy, program, ideology, dogma, work, etc., produces a positive effect, it must be coherent, good, wholesome, salutary, valuable, truthful, beneficial, etc.  If a statement causes displeasure, this does not mean that it is inaccurate, either.  Nor does it mean that a depressing philosophy, such as Schopenhauer’s, is accurate because it is depressing, which would be the “Goth” way of looking at philosophy.  Schopenhauer was one-sided; he only saw life from one of its many valences.

* * * * *

Nietzsche was a thinker of the Enlightenment, of the late Enlightenment, but he went further than any other “enlightened” thinker did, any other thinker of the Aufklärung.  Kant criticizes (that is to say, delimits) faith, but nonetheless makes a space for pure practical reason, which he never criticizes.

* * * * *

Nietzsche privileges phenomena over the so-called “true world” (which he knows does not exist).  He then dispenses with the distinction between the phenomenal world and “the true world” altogether.  Nietzsche does not believe in “the truth.”  Appearance is all.  But this means we have to rethink the false dichotomy between “truth” and “phenomena.”

* * * * *

Life-hating philosophers such as Descartes would pretermit the world, would prescind the world from consciousness.  By beginning one’s reflection with consciousness (as Descartes and the whole of phenomenology does), one articulates the desire to have done with the world, as if one could be a floating brain in a vat, much like the husband in Dahl’s short story “William and Mary.”

* * * * *

Nietzsche requires a new language to surpass metaphysics.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is deferring to the authority of artists because artists are masters of appearances, crafting, fabricating, fantasticating worlds.  All known worlds are worlds of artifice, for we percipients are fictionalizers.

* * * * *

Those who think metaphysically superadd a subject to every process and procedure.  What about “It is raining”?  Who is doing the raining?  There may be a hypothesis about the putative agent who produces the rain, but this remains hypothetical.

* * * * *

Language is all that we have.  How could we see to the other side of language?  Nietzsche is rattling the prison bars of language, which I respect.  Does Nietzsche know that language is a prison?  There is no way out of language.  Wittgenstein knows this “fact,” and the plagiaristic Derrida is canalizing Wittgenstein on this point (whom Derrida never names, as far as I know).

* * * * *

Our passions, our affects, our sensations are reality.  They are not extrinsic to reality.  To quote Schopenhauer, “The hand that grabs the tree branch can never let go of itself.”  The hand only touches itself.  The eye that sees the waves rushing in to the shore never sees beyond itself.  The world is my perception of the world (the tautology is intentional).

* * * * *

Schopenhauer divided the world into two valences: Representation (Vorstellung) and the Will.  By the “Will” (which is closely affine to the body, though it is not identical to the body), Schopenhauer means that insistent, persistent, throbbing, palpitant will-to-live.  Life is the will-to-live.  Life is the propulsion, the pulsion, of its own reproduction.  Life promotes nothing other than its own replication.  Life is the replicable, the self-replicative itself.  Life replicates, duplicates, reproduces itself.  The meaning of life is that life reproduces life, and whatever we do, whether we produce children or not, whatever we do is for the sake of the future generation of the living, in order to keep life going, to benefit the succeeding generation of the living.  To keep ourselves alive, sure, but also to keep the human species alive, to perpetuate the human species.

Now, I must be brief because I don’t want this to become a seven-hour video, but permit me to say that Nietzsche departs from Schopenhauer on this point.  Life is not the will-to-live, according to Nietzsche.  It is the will-to-power, by which Nietzsche means that all of existence is bound up with relativities of power.  Every human being has the desire to become God—each human being has the desire for preponderance, sovereignty, superiority over all other beings.  On the level of all living organisms: Each organism (not merely human organisms) has the will to be more powerful than all other organisms.  All relations between organisms are relations of power.  Even those organisms that are subordinate, reactive, passive are manifesting the will-to-power.

Everything that we do is an instantiation of the will-to-power, and that includes the drive to continue life.  The drive to continue life is not reducible to giving birth to children.  Anyone who is invested in architecture or agriculture is also committed (whether “consciously” or not) to the continuation of life—specifically, to the continuation and the perpetuation of the human species, if we are talking about human beings, human beasts.  People who write books are trying to continue life.  The drive to continue the human species is usually unconscious, as Schopenhauer in one of his better moments slyly suggests.  We think that we are autonomous beings, but we’re really acting in the service of the species, more than in the service of anything else.  Nietzsche takes this in a much different direction: To say that life is the will-to-power, as Nietzsche does, does not mean that “power” is the object of some “will.”  It means that life itself is the power-will, if that makes sense.

* * * * *

To say a few words about Nietzsche’s politics.  What is Nietzschean politics?  From time to time, there is a sympathy for the aristocratic and a contempt for democracy, which Christopher Hitchens finds off-putting, as do I.  Nietzsche sees democracy as a kind of leveling-out, a leveling-off, but one thing that I will say, in Nietzsche’s defense, is that he is not a proto-fascist, not even close.  What would be a political system that Nietzsche finds ideal?  Probably the same political system that Plato advocates.  A philosophocracy, a rule by the philosophers, a cognocracy, a rule by the knowers.  He believed in a rule by the intelligent.

It is not Nietzsche’s fault that he is vulgarized by Ayn Rand, whose writings I am very proud never to have read.  I only leafed through her The Virtue of Selfishness, and it seemed like a vulgarization of Nietzsche to me.

* * * * *

“Every profound mind loves the mask.”  Deep feeling should show itself only as its obverse.  If you love your parents, pretend that you have a cold relationship with your parents while in public.  Conceal your feelings by showing your feelings as their opposite.  “Tenderness and the tremble are reserved for the sophisticated.”  A deity would disguise itself as the poorest of the poor, as the shabbiest hobo.  Why?  Whenever beauty is displayed, it dies.  Whenever the divine shows itself as it is, it ceases to be divine.  Whenever violence is represented, it quickly falls into the banal.

Greatness dissimulates itself as its opposite.  Those who fly high into the sky are perceived as being small by those below: This conceit is derived from Schopenhauer.  Thales was laughed at by a washerwoman as he precipitated down a well.

When I come across certain overpoweringly beautiful passages, I will not comment on these passages because I do not wish to tarnish them with my commentary; leave them as they are, in their purity.

Don’t give the most precious things names, for language shrivels up what is ripe and fresh.  In order to signify, in order to mean something, language may not be restricted to any unique context; language must generalize in order to signify anything at all.  The generality of a sign kills off the uniqueness of the particular thing or being that is named.  If I say, “This is a hawk,” I am no longer referring to the singular bird that I perceive.  I am reducing the hawk to a hawk, one hawk among other hawks.  I am killing that unique hawk; I am committing avicide.  Hegel and Blanchot are in concurrence on this point.  Language kills because it generalizes.

Language composes and decomposes—it makes the thing or being that is named trite, paltry.

* * * * *

There are no common values, for what is valuable does not belong to the Most, to the All-Too-Many.



And so we continue.  There is no question that Pascal was a polymath; this is the person who invented the calculator.  He was a brilliant mathematician, as well as a religious thinker, but he only became a religious thinker in 1654, when he had a near-death experience.  He nearly collided with a horse-drawn carriage.  This anecdote is disputed by some scholars, but I like to believe in it, out of faith!  After this near-collision, he dedicated, devoted his intellect to God and became a religious intellectual.  Some claim that the term “religious intellectual” is an instance of antiphrasis, such as can be found in The Most Lamentable and Excellent Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (“cold fire,” “sick health”).  I don’t necessarily believe that, though.  He pledged his mind to Christianity.  He was terrified of scientific revolutions, such as those occasioned by the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo.  The real intellectual scandal was not that we no longer live in a geocentric cosmos (we live within a heliocentric system, rather); the real intellectual scandal, the real intellectual horror show is that we do not live in a closed world but rather in infinite space.  In the posthumously published notebooks entitled Pensées, Pascal writes, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”  So, there was a sense in which he recoiled, shrunk back from scientific discovery, and one may argue that there is a limitation to his thought, but the point that I want to make is that Pascal used his prodigious intellect to ratify the basic principles of Christianity.  Indeed, Pascal paved the way for Kierkegaard and his “leap of faith.”  There is a point at which faith is irrational; there is a point at which you cannot intellectually justify your faith.  Faith means believing without any reason to believe—believing what you believe, even though there is no reason to believe it.  Not believing despite the fact that there is no evidence to support your belief, but even believing because there is no evidence to support your belief.  Faith is the spitefulness toward evidence in any form.  Thus, faith cannot be intellectually grounded, and Pascal knew this.  Pascalian faith is really believing with the heart rather than with the head: You believe because you believe.

The problem is with the Pascalian wager, which truly is a form of intellectual suicide (to channel Nietzsche).  Essentially, this is a way of turning faith into God into a casino, a casino at which the faithful gamble.  It’s a way of gambling one’s faith, but the game is rigged in advance.  In its most basic form, the Pascalian wager is this: “Just believe in God; you have nothing to lose.  If you don’t believe in God, you might have everything to lose.”  I have heard theologians criticize this phony argument; I have heard Catholics criticize this phony argument, one of the most bogus arguments ever set forward.  It really is a fake argument, from beginning to end, and I’m almost certain that Nietzsche was thinking of this pseudo-argument when he writes about the suicide of reason orchestrated by Pascal.  Some have claimed that the Pascalian wager is a legitimation of hypocrisy, and indeed, it is.  My objection, however, is that I don’t choose what I believe.  Quite simply, I believe whatever I am persuaded to believe in, by the force of evidence.  If I am convinced that something is true, then I am convinced that something is true.  I don’t desire to believe in something and then program my mind to believe in that thing; believe is not a matter of auto-brainwashing.  Pascal thinks that faith is a matter of free will and also a matter of desire.  I find this idea repellent and false.  It is a kind of intellectual miscarriage, and I do agree with Nietzsche on this point.

After his near-collision with the horse-drawn carriage at midnight, in the summer of 1654, Pascal becomes an intellectual charlatan, with his talk of the logic of the heart, the non-intellectual faith of the heart, his terror before the measurelessness of space, the infinitude of space, the immeasurable vastness of space, and the wager, which no serious theologian takes seriously, which even Catholic priests have refuted, and which is indeed, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a protracted self-sacrifice of the intellect.

This is the real line that Pascal crosses, according to Nietzsche: Pascal’s whimpering that “The Me is hateable,” Le moi est haïssable.  The deadliest of all sins in Christianity is pride, and this outrages Nietzsche.  He is scandalized by the slander against human dignity, self-worth, self-love which is inherent to the diabolization of pride.  If you have read Also Sprach Zarathustra, you will know that Zarathustra teaches human beings to love themselves, albeit not in a spiritualistic, mystical, shopping-mall New Age way.  The human animal should learn to love itself, not despite all of its ugliness, darkness, and flaws, but because of its ugliness, darkness, and flaws.  Only after such a self-recognition will humankind rise to its greatest height.  This is why Nietzsche deposes many of the so-called virtues.  He suggests, for instance, that meekness should not angelized, should not be lionized to the status of a virtue; meekness should not be considered as a transcendent good.  Meekness shows a deficiency in intellect or “spirit,” for Nietzsche.  Conversely, we should elevate some of the vices—#NotAllVices—we should beatify some of the vices, which are not as vicious as modern culture makes them out to be.  There is nothing wrong with pride, for example.  Pride is the feeling that you are everything and that the admiration of others is nothing (you are substantial, regardless of what anyone else says).  Vanity is the feeling that you are nothing and that the admiration of others is everything.  The feeling of the proud that they are everything and their refusal to allow themselves to be treated disrespectfully might become vaingloriousness, which is a problem, however.  But why should pride be considered a vice?  And this is Nietzsche’s inaugural attack on traditional morality: Nietzsche is suggesting that religion meekens and weakens the human being by praising self-abnegation, self-renunciation, self-hatred, self-debasement, self-humiliation, lowliness, as if the Earth belonged to the meek and the Kingdom of Heaven would be given to those who abase themselves.  This is something that Nietzsche cannot abide; he cannot tolerate self-hatred.  If anything, Nietzsche wants to inspirit the dispirited and the broken-spirited; he is a positive, life-affirmative thinker, despite the media stereotypes about him.

* * * * *

Tertullian, irrespective of what Nietzsche claims, writes, “I believe it because it is inept,” not “I believe it because it is absurd.”  This is a good example of the Mandala Effect.

* * * * *

Moderns don’t understand the significance of the Cross.  Most do not brood over the meaning of the Cross, which is a paradox.  God is infinite and eternal, and yet God is humanized as Jesus, who is then crucified.  The infinite is finitized, the eternal is temporalized, and the divine is anthropomorphized and mortalized.  The Crucifix is a paradox, for it signifies the finitization of the infinite, the temporalization of the eternal, and the mortalization of the immortal.

I haven’t taken public transport in a while, since all of us are struggling through a quarantine that was incurred by the terrible pestilence known as “COVID-19,” but if you do take the train during rush hour, do you really believe that all of the yuppies who you see are brooding over their immortal souls?  Do you really think they are contemplating the meaning of the Cross?  Do you think they’re thinking about Jesus and the Crucifixion?  And yet most Americans consider themselves to be Christians, according to the polls.  But how “Christian” are they while they are engrossed by their iPhones?

* * * * *

Now, Nietzsche is alluding to something that he will fully explain in On the Genealogy of Morality.  The noble, the powerful nominate themselves as “the good,” whereas the poor, the oppressed are designated by the higher classes as “the bad.”  An inversion of values comes with the ascendancy of the priestly class.  The noble will be renamed “the evil,” and the poor will rename themselves “the good.”  What enrages the slave is not the sadism of the aristocrat.  What the slave cannot stand is the blithe unconcernedness, the superb indifference, the superior nonchalance, the ironical playfulness of the aristocrat, the emperor, the patrician, the lord.  This is what drives the slave mad and catalyzes the slave’s wrath and propels the slave to insurrections, such as the French Revolution.  This book was written only ninety-seven years after the French Revolution, in Oberengadin, Switzerland, which is 788 kilometers from Paris.  Nietzsche must have experienced the seismic resonance, or at least the seismic reverberations, of the French Revolution.

The plebeian thinks in absolutes; the plebeian thinks unconditionally.  The plebeian only thinks in the categories of “Good” or “Evil.”  The plebeian has the attitude: “I am good because you are evil.  You are evil; therefore, I am good.”  The imputed “evil” of the patrician is the condition for the plebeian’s feeling of one’s own “goodness.”

It is not so much that the upper classes, the aristocracy, are malicious or sadistic; it is that they don’t care, they are indifferent.

* * * * *

Of all the ancient thinkers, Epicurus is the closest to Nietzsche.  It is not that Epicurus denies the existence of the supernatural; it is that he thinks that the gods are unconcerned with us.  From a probabilistic perspective, extraterrestrials might very well exist (cf. the Fermi paradox), but if they do exist, why would they be concerned with us?  All we may say of the gods, from this perspective, is that they are absolutely otherwise than this world; they are the photographic negative of this world.  This places Epicurus and Nietzsche in more intimate proximity to the Lurianic Kabbalah (God is ein sof, “no end”), to Gnosticism, and to other forms of apophatic theology than one would customarily acknowledge.

* * * * *

Nietzsche writes of the paroxysms, the spasms of world-negation that beset those who desire fervidly the annihilation of the world.

* * * * *

A miracle is the suspension, the rupture, the interruption, or disruption of descriptive or prescriptive natural law.  The first instance of a rainbow is miraculous.  The first time that human eyes beheld a rainbow, it was perceived as miraculous.  Science brings things down to the level of the comprehensibly human.  To scientific eyes, a rainbow is a stratum of moisture against which sunlight refracts, creating an iridescent sheen.  Is birth a miracle?  There is a branch of science called “embryology,” and approximately 360,000 human beings are brought into the world each day.  How could human birth, then, a process which is scientifically explicated and so common as to be regular, be considered a “miracle”?  If an elephant gave birth to a mouse, that would rightly be regarded as a miracle, since it has never been known to happen before.

* * * * *

We know from Schopenhauer that the Will is irreducible, and Nietzsche affirms the will-to-will.  The Will generates meaning.  The Will would rather will nothingness than not will at all (to channel Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality).

* * * * *

Let us pretend, for the purposes of argument, that there is such a person as a saint and another type of person such as a sinner.  Why is one not the obverse of the other?  Why do they not belong to the same system dialectically?  To say that they are polarized would be to commit an intellectual error.  To assert that they are antithetical would be to draw an artificial distinction.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is, again, asking us to take affects, inner experiences, states of mind that are traditionally considered to be negative (such as pride, such as ambition, such as selfishness) and valorize them, vaunt them, elevate them, lionize them.  Perhaps some of the so-called “vices” are not so bad, and perhaps some of the “virtues” aren’t so virtuous.  Here is another Nietzschean inversion.

The morality of opposing values contaminates psychology and philosophy; such opposing values as “Good” and “Evil” are merely intellectual oppositions, ghosts of the mind (to canalize Stirner, whom Nietzsche certainly read), inherited concepts which are transferred on to the world as if they were really existent things or really existing characteristics of people.

* * * * *

Why have the most powerful people bowed down before the ascetic?  Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s most benevolent Caesars, prostrated himself before the slave Epictetus.  Marcus knew the insignificance of wealth and power; all that he admired was wisdom, it did not matter through which vector that wisdom was transmitted, it did not matter in which vessel that wisdom was contained.  Alexander the Great, after having been slighted by the half-naked, homeless, barrel-dwelling philosopher Diogenes Laertes, said to his soldiers: “If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes.”  Then, there’s the more recent example of François Duvalier, President of Haiti, supplicating before Mother Teresa.

The potentate is overawed by the self-abstention, the self-denial, of the ascetic and wonders: “Why would you give up so much pleasure?  My categories of understanding cannot be applied to this phenomenon.  The unworldliness of the ascetic, the giving up of sensuous pleasures, is mystifying to me.”

Could it be that Emperor Constantine—who converted to Christianity and founded the first Christian empire, making Byzantium the new seat of the Roman Empire—was under the sway of an ascetic, as well?  Could it be that he was in awe of the power of the saint?  Nietzsche does not explicitly pose this question, but it ought to be posed.  Christianity transmuted from the religion of the powerless to the religion of the powerful.  Some of us are old enough to remember the television mega-preachers of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Jim Bakker, with his apocalyptic feed buckets, and Jerry Falwell, with his suspicious anti-homosexualism.  Many of them had a gospel of affluence: “The more money that I fleece from you, my bleating flock, the more I can advertise my gospel of self-aggrandizement.”  Such was the defense of their gross accumulation of wealth.

* * * * *

Nietzsche praises the Hebraic Bible, not the so-called “Christian Bible.”  The so-called “New Testament” is a mere appendix and should have been published separately.

* * * * *

All metaphysics is religious—after all, it holds that there exists another world, a world other than the world in which we find ourselves, a suprasensible world.  Metaphysics is preoccupied with a stable, immutable, extraworldly foundation.

* * * * *

What if thinking were the condition and the cogito, the thinking thing, is superadded to the process of thinking?  What if thinking preceded the “I” that thinks?  What if the “I” were superimposed onto the activity of thinking?  Perhaps the self, the subject, is a grammatical fiction.  The “I” is a hypostatized synthesis.

Nietzsche writes of Kant: “The possibility of a phenomenal subject… might not have been foreign to him…”  And it wasn’t foreign to him!  Kant writes of auto-affection in the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of The Critique of Pure Reason, Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft.  In both editions (the 1781 and 1787 editions), Kant writes of the self having a feeling for itself, “self-affection.”  If everything that we perceive is subject to the universal condition of sensibility (time), everything is an appearance.  This means that the self is an appearance to itself; the self phenomenalizes itself.

* * * * *

The Vedanta philosophy (Hinduism) inspired Nietzsche—in particular, the Nietzschean thought experiment known as “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same.”

* * * * *

The near-sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the sacrifice of children to the daemon god Moloch—the sacrifice of children was too barbarous, too unsophisticated, too undignified for the Romans, who were always vornehm.  The sacrifice of children is translated into quadragesimalism, the sacrificing one’s nature (one’s physical inclinations) through fasting.  Celibacy is not mentioned, but it might as well have been.

Parenthetically: The myth of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia is reinterpreted in the film The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).

* * * * *

Once you start worshipping rocks, pieces of wood, material objects, such as relics, the belief in the god might actually be preserved.  The avatar for the god would be merely regarded as a paltry effigy, if one regards it ironically, as if it were a disguise that the god wears; the mask conceals yet reveals at the same time.  Everyone knows that the relic doesn’t directly represent or transmit the divine.  This is one way of preserving the supernatural.

But there is another outcome of worshipping rocks and pieces of wood.  If you reduce the divine to an effigy, belief in the god will die.  Nietzsche’s cosmeticization of the mask, his glorification of the mask is continuous with his thinking.  For Nietzsche, appearance is being; appearances are all that we have.  Kant was wrong; there is no “thing in itself” outside of human perception.  Nietzschean phenomenology is a phenomenological ontology.  Whenever you name something, that thing dies.  If I say that it is 4:10 p.m. now, in a minute, it won’t be.  Language quickly grows stale; words no longer name the thing that was indicated.  Language kills off the referent in order to signify anything at all.  Perhaps by naming the divine, one kills the divine.  By fetishizing the relic, by investing it imaginarily with supernatural properties, one kills the supernatural.

Nietzsche is gleefully anticipating the assassination of the supernatural, as he is welcoming the coming philosophers, if we may even use the word “philosophers.”  Nietzsche’s imaginary friends, the free spirits, would be pleased—those to whom he writes and for whom he writes, those who have not yet been born and will only be born long after he is gone.



Nietzsche is addressing the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, die Ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen.  Now, despite what other people might tell you, including Cambridge University Press, this is not the first published reference to the Eternal Recurrence of the Same.  Nietzsche has already written about this doctrine in The Gay Science, Paragraph 285, in which he uses the phrase die ewige Wiederkunft von Krieg und Frieden, “the eternal return of war and peace.”  There is also another reference to the Eternal Recurrence of the Same in Paragraph 341 of The Gay Science, in the form of a hypothesis (to paraphrase): What if a daemon were to visit you in your most solitary solitude, in your loneliest loneliness and tell you that you are going to have to live your life over, again and again and again?  Would you throw yourself to the ground and gnash your teeth and cry and tear your hair out?  Or would you thank the daemon and praise the daemon as if it were a god and affirm that you wanted your life to be repeated, recalled, restored, revived again and again and again?  Would you say to the daemon-god, “Yes, I want this to happen and to happen repeatedly, for all of eternity!”?

The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is, essentially, Nietzsche’s version of the Kantian Categorical Imperative.  Imagine that your life were to repeat itself for all of eternity.  Let this thought, this imagining, guide your conduct.  Phrased more precisely: Live your life as if it were to repeat itself for all of eternity.  Or in a more Kantian phraseology: Act as if your life were to recapitulate itself eternally.  That is: Act as if everything that you say and do were to replicate itself without ceasing, without limit.

This is a thought experiment.  Nietzsche is not describing how time works, how time unfolds itself.  Nietzsche is not subscribing to the Hindu doctrine of samsāra, though he is reinterpreting it, reappropriating it, revising it for his own purposes.  In samsāra, you might be revived (after your death) as an owl, as a fox, as an Egyptian vulture, as an Ashera cat.  The end of the cycle and recycle of rebirth and redeath is nirvana, which is not an overrated American rock band from the 1990s, but rather the extinguishment of the candle of life.  Nirvana is the cessation of the spooling of the cycle of rebirth and redeath and is fervently desired.  You want the recycling to end, for my gods, do I have to come back as a flamingo?  Do I have to come back as a toad, yet again?  I don’t want to be reincarnated.  I don’t want to undergo the endless cycling and recycling of birth and death of samsāra.  No, I want my candle to be extinguished, I want my candle to be snuffed out, and again, the snuffing-out of the candle is called nirvana, the extinguishing of the candle of life.

So, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is not the myth of reincarnation.  Again, it is this: Imagine that everything that you say and do will have been repeated eternally, and live your life in accordance with this imagining.

So, in other words, live as if there were no present moment.  The “now” is already the past, which is recuperated as the future.  The future is perfect.  There is no present, there is only the future perfect, prolepsis.  Nothing is; everything will have been.  There is no “was,” there is only the “will have happened,” for the past is recuperated in the future.

Nietzsche means: This is the only life you have—we are all mortal, we are all limited in space and in time.  Why don’t you live your life as if everything that you say and do will have been eternally repeated?

However, one may also see the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same as a theory of history.  This is the second connotation: The second dimension of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is a theory of history or a theory of historicity.  It suggests that every age has a fixed set of elements, but these elements are rearranged, in each epoch, into a different series of permutations.

The world is finite.  The world contains within itself a finite set of elements: There is a Plato in each age, a Napoleon in each age, a Virgin Mary in each age.  There is a finite number of typologies or characterologies.

All of these typologies will be endlessly re-permuted, will transmute themselves in different permutations.

So, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is a theory of history, though Nietzsche is not suggesting that we are immortal or that we will be reincarnated.  He is not subscribing to the myth of metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, the movement of a soul from one body to another.

* * * * *

In Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes of the “three metamorphoses of the spirit.”  He means the three stages of consciousness, the three transmogrifications of consciousness.  Not everyone reaches the third stage, and many do not even reach the second stage.

The first stage is that of camelinity; one is like a camel.  This is the stage at which one inherits, bears, and defends concepts that are transmitted by your parents, by your teachers, spiritual leaders, political leaders, ideologues, mystics, etc.  One is assimilating traditional concepts.  This is the stage of education and culture.  It is the stage of indoctrination, really, and of ideologization.  Some never transcend the cameline stage.

The second stage is an antithetical, antipodal stage, in which the mind wages a war against all of the conventions, traditions, and ideologies that one absorbed as a “camel.”  One is, at this stage, leonine, like a lion; one is antagonistic, one is “anti-,” one is opposed to social norms, conventions, traditions.  There is a great deal of aggression at this stage.  This is the stage at which Arthur Fleck turns into The Joker.  This is the stage at which The Joker is stuck.  You are fighting against traditions, attacking and attacking, attacking institutions, such school and church.  This is what Nietzsche did for most of his period of lucidity, I’m afraid.

Nietzsche did not live long enough to enter the third stage.  If you accede to the next stage of consciousness, the third stage is that of the child.  This is the final transmogrification of the mind.  You become forgiving, patient, obliging, accommodating—not “accommodating” in the sense that you sacrifice your position, but rather indulgent because you understand people, the mechanical way in which they act, you understand there is no such thing as free will, you understand that human beings behave in a mechanical way, they do what they are trained to do, what they are taught to do, unless they evolve into the lion or the child.

Notice that the first stage is not the stage of childhood.  Childhood is the final and highest stage, the Buddhistic stage, the stage of the highest form of consciousness, the stage of universal consciousness, of enlightenment, alertness, awareness, wakefulness, awakenedness, whereas the previous two stages were stages of benightedness, of intellectual darkening.

Why am I bringing this up?  The mature stage of human consciousness is the stage at which you look at everything with the eyes of a child, and there is no desire for revenge in your heart.  I forgot to say this earlier: The person of ressentiment clings to the “It Was,” the Es War.  Everything that happens in the past, you celebrate and affirm, by wanting it to happen yet again and again, noch einmal, for all of eternity.  This is the stage of joyful knowledge, the consciousness of the child, which is not naïve, but ironic, for the child is the wise one.  Childhood is the most evolved, transcendent stage of human consciousness, the terminal stage of the human intellect (I know that “intellect” and “consciousness” do not mean the same thing), not the initial, inaugural stage of human consciousness.  This is the stage at which the human being looks at the world, oneself, other human beings with a knowing innocence, knowing yet unknowing at the same time.  You know why people are doing what they are doing; you smile knowingly yet unknowingly, without bitterness.  Perhaps you are smirking a little; there might be some smugness and self-complacency in your smile.

The person of ressentiment is someone who adheres to the past, the “It Was.”  One knows that the past is immovable and irrevocable; time is irreversible, immutable.  The person of ressentiment is aggrieved because one knows that one cannot change the past yet wants to change the past.  One grows revengeful toward the “It Was,” toward the past.  This “Spirit of Revenge” is something that is observable in very wealthy and very powerful people; they have all of the money in the world, perhaps, and all in the power in the world, but they don’t have youth.  Their possibilities have been sapped, their possibilities have dried up; they have been exhausted.  So, they look at the past with eyes of revengefulness.  They want to change the past, but they can’t.

Nietzsche’s response to the person of ressentiment is (to paraphrase) “No, you say to the past: ‘I am glad that what happened, happened, and I would gladly replay the past eternally.’”  I don’t say “infinitely,” because “infinitude” means “spacelessness.”

* * * * *

If you truly believe in the immortality of soul and sin and redemption, why wouldn’t you give up everything worldly and from morning until night and perhaps even throughout the night spend your days and nights in an insomniacal haze and daze?  Why wouldn’t you do nothing but pray, abstaining from all worldly delights?  Why wouldn’t you devote yourself purely to the soul and to the health of the soul, and isn’t it the case that anyone who is genuinely religious requires a great deal of leisure time?  And if this is the case, doesn’t religion depend on opportunity?  And if the religiously ethical are the only truly moral people, doesn’t morality depend on opportunity?  And if that is the case, then what do you say to those who lack the opportunity to be pious, what do you say to those who do not have the leisure time, perhaps because of poverty, to be devout?  Are they not good people?  Are they not moral people?

Only the wealthy have the luxury to be contemptuous of work.  Only the wealthy have the leisure time to dedicate to their immortal souls.

Those who are busy have no time to be religious.  Does that mean that they are immoral people?  Because they have no time to be religious?

And did religion die in modernity because of the requirement of industriousness, of sedulousness?  “Modernity” (if we must use that word) is not a time of piety, of pious devotion to the divine, to the supernatural.  It is almost a cliché at this point to say that in the modern world, divinity vanishes.  It is almost banal to say that.

Notice how contemptuous Nietzsche is of the irreligious.  He is not letting the irreligious scholars off the hook.  He doesn’t let the determinists or the free spirits off the hook.  He doesn’t even let himself off the hook.

The industrious type thinks: “Why are all of these people funneling into the church?  Can you make money from it?  What advantage is to be derived from boring oneself in a church?  What is the pleasure, diversion, distraction?”  When he or she is not required to have truck with the godly, the pious, the faithful, the industrious type of person avoids them as if they were a pandemic.

Nietzsche looks at the architecture of a church.  All of the alcoves, niches, confessional cells, partitions, sacristies, hidden passageways—all of these architectural features scream of shame.

Nietzsche has greater contempt for people of modern ideas than he has for the religious.  He is indulgent toward the charmingly religious.  But he is mercilessly mocking of modern thinkers and their modern ideas.  He is unforgiving toward the “modern.”

Nietzsche is being ironical—I will allow that.  But he is also being gentle and accommodating toward the religious.  Does religion not give power a kind of theological backing?  Does religion not give support to dictatorships?  This explains theocracies.  It wasn’t enough that Henry VIII was the King of England; he was the religious leader of England, the sovereign of the Anglican Church, as well.  He broke with the Church of Rome when it declined his request for a conjugal annulment in 1534.  He was revered as a religious leader, not merely as a political leader.  Religion promotes obedience to a leader, and this is all that a political leader demands: absolute obeisance, submission from one’s followers.  Religion is the spiritualization of the political.  Religion sublimates politics; however, I would go further.  The religious is the political, inasmuch as it wants domination and institutionalization.  And all politics is a form of religion, insofar as it is based on the worship of a ruler.

Religion, Nietzsche argues, sanctifies and legitimates political power.  If Jordan Peterson ever read beyond the first paragraph of this book, he would probably distort the meaning of the passages in which Nietzsche gives an ironical and relative defense of religion.

A dialectical thinker, Nietzsche also gives us a counter-argument and polemicizes against religiosity.

* * * * *

If you are a fundamental teacher, why do you have subjective experiences?  You experience in order to teach; you do not teach in order to experience.  You gather and reflect on your subjective experiences so that you have something to teach.  Someone who does nothing but teach has nothing to teach.  One must have experiences in order to teach.  Shaw once said, “Those who cannot do, teach.”  But this proposition may be inverted: Those who cannot teach, do.

* * * * *

A discussion of The Leech in Also Sprach Zarathustra.

* * * * *

All profundity requires a disguise, a simulation or a form of dissimulation, camouflage, by way of the opposite appearance.  Profundity must disguise itself as shallowness or else it will be subject to vulgarization.  If profundity were to show itself as itself, it would become debased, common.  As Nietzsche has told us before, the phrase “common value” is self-contradictory, a contradictio in adjecto, an instance of antiphrasis.  There can be no common good, for what is good is rare.

* * * * *

There are 7.8 billion people on the Planet Earth, and you tell yourself, “This person is the person I was made to love, I was born to love this person.”  Love is a form of psychotic obsession.  Love is the passage from the indefinite article (“a person”) to the definite article (“the person,” “the only person in the world”).  When you are in love, you singularize and particularize and isolate one human being out of 7.8 billion human beings.  What is this if not madness?  If you think only one person is worthy of your love, this is a form of psychotic fascination.

* * * * *

Is it not possible to kill with politeness?  A writer receives a boilerplate letter of rejection from a press: “We will put your manuscript on file should more opportunities arise.”  A person you want to date rejects you with unbearable politeness: “Thank you for your expression of interest.  I will keep your message on file and make it available to my Instagram followers.”  A clerk says to you: “My pleasure.”  A Disneyworld employee says to you: “Have a Disney Day!”  These are all examples of malicious politeness.  There is an unmistakable dimension of humiliating brutality that is inherent to polite formulae.  Politeness (as Zizek puts it) is ambiguous: On the one hand, politeness shows a superficial concern for a person’s sensitivity, but beneath that, there is a kind of brutal disregard for a person’s feelings.  Respectfulness is a screen behind which disrespectfulness and insensitivity lurk; it is possible to be politely aggressive or aggressively polite.  If one has not observed that, one has not observed life with any degree of care.

* * * * *

The idea that character comes from repeated activity is an Aristotelian idea: We are what we do habitually.  You do the right thing, something virtuous, again and again and again.  That creates a habit, and habit creates a good character.  However, Nietzsche neither believes in “virtuousness,” nor in the “good character.”



I should apologize in advance for the sound emanating from my window.  The neighbors are having fun in the pestilential sun, even though we are in the throes of a pandemic and a lockdown, a shutdown, a closedown, so from time to time, you will hear my reveling neighbors as they revel.

* * * * *

Geniuses are intolerable, unless they deprecate themselves.

* * * * *

Why is it that so many intellectuals are voyeurists, scopophiliacs, Peeping Toms and Peeping Teresas?  It is not the case that many intellectuals have this paraphilia because they are intellectually curious.  No, the exact opposite is the case: Freud posited that these are people who are originally voyeuristic and thereby become intellectuals.  So, in other words, their intellectuality, their intellectual curiosity, their research is nothing more than a sublimation of their voyeuristic impulses.

* * * * *

First come the unconscious, instinctive tendencies, the inclinations, the proclivities, the predilections, which are by no means rational, which are pre-rational, pre-intellectual, pre-conscious, pre-critical, pre-reflective.  We have physiological impulses.  We camouflage them, costume them, disguise them, decorate them with our principles.  And two people with the very same principles might have been led to them by two entirely different instincts.  It makes me think of political conservatives—one might have been driven to conservativism by an authoritarian father; the other might have been driven to conservativism by a liberal father.  One is reverential toward authority and tradition out of deference to The Father; the other has a father who is aversive to authority and thus the child swings to the opposite direction politically (toward the reactionary).  Our politics come from obscure, muddy, murky places.

* * * * *

Concerning self-denigration, which is unhealthy (as opposed to self-deprecating, which is quite healthy): How many people have you met who claim to be worthless, insignificant?  People who tell you that they feel as if they were nothing?  But they are still talking to you, and by talking to you about the nothingness that they are pretending to be, they are taking that nothing and converting it into a positive by virtue of the fact that they are presenting it in the form of a linguistic statement.

Anyone who says, “I am lonely” is no longer lonely because by saying how lonely you are, you are opening the possibility of communication.  Whenever communication takes place, a void is avoided.  So, someone who reproaches oneself, rebukes oneself, censures oneself is still respecting oneself as the promulgator, as the proponent, as the producer of the statement by virtue of transforming the negative into a linguistic positive, into a communicative positive.  A nullity is nullified.

* * * * *

There is an economy of sociopathy.  Does not everyone have a sociopathic element within one?  You might be watching a video of the firebombing of Dresden—filmed from a Lancaster aircraft, from an aerial view—and you see the white flashes detonating below.  Do you feel empathically while watching the video?  If you see grainy black-and-white footage of a toreador being gored by a bull?  If you feel no empathy for the figure in the image, does that not mean that you are a sociopath, at least at that very moment?  Feeling no empathy for another’s suffering might be considered a form of sociopathy.  Nietzsche seems to be alluding to a person who is loveless, who is a genuine sociopath.  This person has no empathy; when this person is conscious of being loved, one’s “hidden elements” bubble up to the surface, are revealed to the sociopath, but also to those who surround the sociopath.

* * * * *

A matter that is explained ceases to concern us.  Interpretation is always geared toward an absence.  We don’t interpret things that are accessible to us; we interpret those things that are inaccessible to us, and once we sufficiently explain a matter, it ceases to be interesting, of course.  So, that absence (of what we did not understand) becomes a presence.

* * * * *

But what about ourselves?  One of the points that Nietzsche makes repeatedly in Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits is that human beings are self-concerned.  We are self-related, and self-relatedness lies at the bottom of all human conduct.  So, we are basically selfish, we human animals.  And no matter how “selfless” we human beasts think that we are, we are essential self-concerned.  But knowing oneself is not on the table, for if we knew ourselves, we would know that we are self-preoccupied and perhaps even solipsistic, and this is an inadmissible thought.  We do not know ourselves; human beings are not accessible to themselves.  There is only a self-unknowing, according to Nietzsche.  The “Know Thyself” proclamation is the news from the Delphic Oracle.

* * * * *

If I am the pitier, the one who pities, that would be harshness, oppression, tyranny for my neighbors.  For if I pity my neighbors, then I am reducing them to objects of my pity, I am taking away their dignity and their autonomy.  We pity wounded dogs, wounded cats, homeless people, podcasters (what a strange fate it is to lecture on Nietzsche on the internet!).  We pity those creatures, those organisms because we feel that, in some deep sense, they are impaired, they are defective, they are not on our level, and so the person who pities is on a transcendent level because the pitier can always withhold, withdraw, rescind one’s sense of pity for the pitiful.  Indeed, the pitier may forbear from dispensing pity altogether—to anyone.  Such is the prerogative of the one who has pity; pity is a form of self-transcendence.  This means that the person who pities is the one who has all of the power, and the person who has pity has no power.  How many people have you met who have said to you something like this?: “Don’t pity me, whatever you do.  Yes, I am going through a bad time right now.  I am going through a divorce (etc.), but don’t pity me.”  Because if you pity the pitiful, you make the pitied feel as though one were an object, you make the pitied feel as if one were subhuman.  Pity is subhumanizing for the one who is pitied.  To become the object of pity is to be insulted viciously.  It is depersonalizing.  It means that the person whom you pity is not even worthy of being your adversary.

* * * * *

What is the difference between hatred and contempt?  Hatred is an intense preoccupation, an obsession, and as I’ve said elsewhere, hatred is closely affine to love.  Hatred is closely related to love, whereas contempt is not closely related to love.  Hatred and love are two dimensions of the same emotional complex.  Hatred and love interpenetrate, intermesh, intermingle.  Now, contempt is something different from hatred; one should not conflate hatred with contempt.  I would say that contempt is hatred’s icy cousin.  Interestingly, the word Verachtung (“contempt”) contains Achtung (“respect”), and the ver– is privative.  Contempt is misrespect.

So, Nietzsche is suggesting that amiability—superficial friendliness, formalized intimacy, intimate formality—connotes contempt rather than hatred.  When one is coldly friendly to other human beings, there is a great deal of malice ensconced in one’s polite formulae.  When one is polite, that politeness masks a great deal of contempt.  One is not obsessed with the person of whom one is contemptuous.  No, rather, contempt is a kind of sneering condescension.  There is a real distance between the one who is contemptuous and the one who is regarded as contemptible.  If you are contemptuous of someone, if you find someone contemptible, then that person is not regarded as being on the same level as you, whereas, in a curious way, in hatred, there is a kind of parity between the hater and the hated, there is a kind of equalization, a kind of leveling-off between the one who hates and the one whom is hated, a kind of linearity or lateral attitude.  One hates one’s enemies, but one does not feel contempt for them.  In a strange way, we only hate people who we care about in some way.  I mean, we only hate people who have affected us and whom we consider worthy enough to be our enemies.

* * * * *

The three transformations of consciousness—the “three metamorphoses of the spirit”—end with the child, not with an old man.  This is why Stanley Kubrick’s somewhat overestimated film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ends with the star child.  The film is a misinterpretation of Nietzsche; it literalizes the Nietzschean text in a way that I am not comfortable with.  If anyone disbelieves that the film has anything to do with Nietzsche, notice the Richard Strauss music, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra.  In a strange way, Full Metal Jacket (1987) is more loyal to the Nietzschean text than is 2001: A Space Odyssey.  If I want to see a light show, I will go to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

* * * * *

The Enlightenment thinkers who criticize immorality are paving the way for a critique of morality—a critique of the idea that human beings are intrinsically moral or immoral, a critique of the idea that morality is valuable or necessary.  Pointing out the immorality of the clergy, for instance, is a step on the ladder that leads to a full-blown critique of morality—which, in turn, will lead to dispensing with morality, getting rid of the labels “moral” and “immoral” altogether.  And then, throwing down the ladder because it is no longer needed.  Because one has reached the height at which morality is now beneath one.  The Nietzsche of 1878-1881 repeatedly emphasizes that those who are anointed as “virtuous” are not (necessarily) virtuous, that those who are celebrated as “heroes” are not heroic, those who are proclaimed as “saints” have selfish motives and are hardly saintly, etc.  This critique of the “immorality” of others is a step on the ladder which leads to the surpassing of morality itself.

* * * * *

Nietzsche tells us that one should separate from life in the way in which Odysseus separated from Nausicaa—not lovingly, but blessingly.  Odysseus on his homeward mission does not give in to the charms of the young woman Nausicaa; he remains loyal to his wife Penelope, who is rebuffing the importunities of her suitors in Ithaca.  He doesn’t cross the line with Nausicaa, he doesn’t let things go too far.  He does not love Nausicaa, he does not allow himself to be enchanted by her, nor does he allow himself to be lured to his watery destruction by the sirens, nor does he allow his ship to be crashed against the rocks.  Nietzsche is setting up an analogy to the ideal relation to mortality.  In the same way as Odysseus parted from Nausicaa, one should part from this world: that is, non-erotically, without any enduring attachment, without being engrossingly attached to the world.  One should bless the succeeding generation, the living, and wish it well, etc.  Perhaps Nietzsche is advising sophrosyne as an attitude.  One should comport oneself—this is Nietzschean “ethics”—to one’s coming death without adhering greedily to the world which one is departing.  Do not cling to life, in other words, as you approach your own finitude, your own impossibility!  Where is the “adhesion,” where is the “clinging” in the Nietzschean aphorism?  It is suggested by the word “lovingly.”  Love is a form of obsessive adhering, a kind of obsessive clinging to the beloved—in this case, Nietzsche is recommending that we not obsessively glom on to the world.

* * * * *

The one who praises another person is implying: “I am your equal.”  This is why accomplished artists and performers are not flattered when the fanatic says, “I love your work.”  Celebrities might be indulgent toward their flatterers, but they are not genuinely flattered.  The best way to “praise” a celebrity is by echoing that celebrity, since that is all any narcissist desiderates.

* * * * *

Current Prime Minister of Great Britain Boris Johnson coined the term imbecilio (a fake rhetorical trope) to describe feigned stupidity or feigned ignorance.  I use the term irony, since the original meaning of the word is “disingenuousness” or a “display of affected innocence.”  Perhaps Nietzsche is suggesting that we are all ironists.

* * * * *

In Book Four of Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche derides the self-anointed “higher human beings,” those humanists who sanctify knowledge, those humanists who godify scholarship.  They make of the épistémè a religion and thus resurrect religious morality—even though they profess to be irreligious.  The soi-disant “higher human beings” worship a donkey in a cave: This is a figure of how they are assifying themselves.

* * * * *

When you discover that your beloved loves you back, you cease loving the person whom you once loved.  When your love is returned, when you receive recompense for your loving, which was previously unrequited, you feel disappointed.  Reciprocal love is a disappointment.  “Wait, this person is lowly enough… to love even me?  If that person thinks that I am worthy of love, then that person is not worthy of my love.”  If you receive love back from the person over whom you previously languished, then you’re disappointed.  Perhaps there is a certain self-hatred or masochism at the heart of unrequited loving.

* * * * *

What is the difference between vanity and pride?  A proud human being feels oneself to be everything, while everyone else might as well be nothing.  A vain person feels oneself to be nothing and everyone else to be everything.  A proud person feels that one is solid, substantial, worthy of respect.  A vain person only sees oneself through the vision, through gazes of others.

* * * * *

Your admiration for others dies once you become the cynosure, the cathexis of the crowd.

* * * * *

The one who condemns the “degeneracy” and “corruption” of others is setting up a partition behind which the condemner hides one’s own “degeneracy” and “corruption.”  The moralist claims that “depravity” exists somewhere so that one is able to hide behind the screen of “depravity.”



Hello, everyone.  My name is Joseph Suglia, and I would like to recite for your benefit Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, which is my English translation of Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft by Friedrich Nietzsche.  This is the eighth video in the video series dedicated to my English translation of the text.

In Paragraph 126, Nietzsche writes: “A people is nature’s detour to arrive at six or seven great men.—Yes: and then to circumvent them.”

The landmine detonates in the first part of the aphorism.  Every population produces Napoleon, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Friedrich der Grosse, Nietzsche, et al.

* * * * *

It recalls Hölderlin’s Der Tod des Empedokles, which is fragmentary and which exists in many different versions.  Empedokles claims that the Sicilian city Agrigento should be razed to the ground, incinerated, for the sake of one excellent girl, Panthea, Eine Vortreffliche.  However, Nietzsche then turns things around and tells us that a population then will circumvent these very same men…

* * * * *

In Paragraph 128, Nietzsche writes, “The more abstract the truth you wish to teach, the more you must entice the senses to it.”

Here, Nietzsche is close to Schopenhauer, who writes, “The truth cannot appear naked before the people,” Nackt kann die Wahrheit vor dem Volke nicht erscheinen.  Concepts should be sensitized, sensuousized.  Kant writes something similar in his Transcendental Logic: Concepts without examples are empty, and examples without concepts are blind.

* * * * *

In Paragraph 133, Nietzsche writes, “Whoever does not know how to find the way one’s ideal lives more frivolously and more impudently than the person who has no ideal.”

Cynics are thwarted idealists.  No one can realize one’s ideal, for it is impossible to realize any ideal.  How common it is for idealists to devolve into spendthrifts, wastrels, libertines, reprobates!  How many bars are populated by crushed and stultified idealists!

Anyone who is idealistic in the modern world will hit a wall very quickly, very early.  To return to Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity, the modern world is a world of equalization, which does not mean “equal rights.”  It is a world in which everyone is dragged down to the lowest possible level so that everyone will be posited as the same.  Equalization here means mediocritization.  Everyone is reduced to the Same, and the Same is the lowest stratum.  Under such adverse conditions, it is extremely difficult for the intellectually gifted to germinate and to evolve.

However, the intellectual flattening of the crowd will lead to intellectual deepening of the free spirit!

* * * * *

In Paragraph 134, Nietzsche writes: “From the senses originate all believability, all good conscience, all appearance of truth.”

People often are persuaded by the sound of a person’s voice.  The form of what is said, and the appearance of the person who is saying it, dominates the content of what is being said.  When discussing appearances, one would do well not just to refer to the optical.  The sonic, the aural, is also an appearance.  If someone is abrasive- and antagonistic-sounding, we are less likely to believe what that person has to say.  People are so easily swayed by the way in which the speaker speaks, if the speaker speaks unctuously and mellifluously.  If the orator is at the center of the video screen, and if the orator speaks with authority, speaks with conviction, speaks with confidence, the audience is much more likely to be swayed by the arguments that are being put forth.  The auditors are much more likely to believe what the orator is saying if the orator speaks with the appearance of surety.  The speaker with the microphone holds all of the aces.  If there is a speaker at the podium, the audience is expected to laugh at all of the speaker’s jokers and if there is a dissident in the audience, someone who says, “I don’t believe what you are saying; I have a counterargument,” that dissident will be shouted down and ridiculed by the auditors.  We human primates, we are so shallow.  And most of us only feel alive when we are surrounded by a crowd of like-thinkers.  So, if something strikes our senses in a striking way, optically or sonically, if it is verisimilar, it will often be accepted as “the truth,” in quotation marks, even if that statement is specious, casuistical.  And this is in keeping with Nietzschean phenomenology, which prescinds the thing-in-itself.

* * * * *

  1. Phariseeism is not the degeneration of the good human being; a considerable part thereof is rather the condition of all being-good.

There is no such thing as deep faith.  A Pharisee is someone who is only superficially dedicated to one’s faith, someone who follows the letter of the law, but not its spirit, much like, in another religion, Siddhartha, who only followed the surface tenets of Hinduism at the beginning of Herman Hesse’s novel of which he is the eponym.  Siddhartha is a young man who is training to become a Brahmin, but his heart isn’t in it.  He is a hypocrite, at the beginning of the novel.  Nietzsche is suggesting that hypocrisy is the condition of all religiosity.  The point is, to put it another way, that the letter-of-the-law skipping-along-the-surface of religious observation is as deep as it gets, according to Nietzsche.

* * * * *

  1. The one seeks an accoucheur for his thoughts, the other seeks someone whom he can assist: a good conversation thus originates.

In every conversation, there is a mother—the one who gives birth to the main idea of the conversation.  And in a sense, the mother is just talking to herself, in every conversation.  In every dialogue, one interlocutor gives birth; the other assists in the birth of the conversational subject.  The other interlocutor serves as a midwife, an accoucheur, who assists in the birth of the main idea of the conversation.

In other words, every conversation is a soliloquy, a monologue.  There is an unbridgeable, uncrossable abyss between both interlocutors, between both members of the conversation.  It is impossible to suture this gap.  We are endlessly talking to ourselves, about ourselves.  We are always talking about ourselves, even when we pretend to be talking about other people and things that are unrelated to us.  However, while in conversation, we are monologists, soliloquists, in the presence of a witnesses.

* * * * *

  1. We do the same while waking as while dreaming: We only invent and imagine the person with whom we have intercourse—and then forget it immediately afterward.

We normally think of a divide between wakefulness and dreamfulness.  The movement from wakefulness to dreamfulness is called the hypnagogic state; the movement from dreamfulness to wakefulness is called the hypnopompic state.  Notice what Nietzsche does here: He conflates wakefulness with dreamfulness.  Even while we are awake, we fabricate the reality that we experience.  Nietzsche’s example: We construct an image of the person with whom we are speaking—and then forget that we are the constructors.

Nietzsche means: We fantasticate, we invent the world—a world which we then experience.  The world is our construction.  We are all artists, all of us.  But very few of us see ourselves as artists who are crafting, who fashioning the lives that we are living.  The point is not to create in order to live; the point is to live in order to create.  The main idea is to live as if we were the authors of the books of our lives.

* * * * *

  1. The abdomen is the reason that the human being does not so easily take oneself for a god.

As I have written elsewhere, if I may quote myself, every human being has the desire to become a god, and all gods deserve to be slaughtered—metaphorically speaking.  I don’t mean that literally.  Perhaps all of us desire to become gods, but the fact that we have stomachs and intestines is a sign of our finitude.  The physiological need to ingurgitate, the gastrointestinal system is symptomatic of the fact that we are limited, in so many ways, including our susceptibility to sickness.  We are limited in space, we are limited in time.  We are not illimitable.  It is difficult to deify any animal that defecates.

* * * * *

  1. Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster thereby. And when you look too long in an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

Neither “Good” nor “Evil” exists as a reified category.  That is the meaning of the main title of this book, Beyond Good and Evil.  And anyone who struggles against Evil, which is imaginary, in the name of Good, which is also imaginary, might very well become evil in the process.  Moralists who fight against evil are in jeopardy of being evil themselves—that meaning is obvious.  A witchfinder, a witch-hunter, takes on the mantle of the Good in order to eradicate Evil.  But such a witchfinder might very well become diabolized in the struggle against fictitious Evil.  This meaning is, again, obvious, but the question is, why?  Because the Good which the witchfinder serves is fictitious.  The first problem is that both Good and Evil are fictitious—when I say, “fictitious,” I just mean “fabricated,” “created,” “made.”  The second problem is that the concept of Good is nothing more than a mask for the concept of Evil.  So, Good is actually Evil.

Moralists are fascinated by that which rejects or escapes morality.  They are fixated on the filth, the depravity, the Evil that they condemn.  Morality is intimately bound to what it repudiates and tries to exorcise.  That is to say, morality is actually already immorality.

If you would like to see a film about how the Good is dialectically related to the Evil, seek out The Witchfinder General (1968), the great final film of Michael Reeves, who died at the age of twenty-five.  There is a character named Marshall, who is a Roundhead soldier—a Roundhead supported the Parliament of England during the English Civil War in the seventeenth century—who indefatigably pursues the sinister, sadistic Matthew Hopkins, who is the witch-hunter of the title.  In any event, at the end of the film, Marshall, a Protestant warrior, is completely sullied, completely demonized while undergoing the process of righteous vengeance.  He falls into total corruption.

The second part of the aphorism—“when you look too long in an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”  This means that when a thinker thinks deeply about the world, the experience of thinking will deepen the thinker.  The world is the abyss.  A thinker becomes a deeper human being by thinking into the abyss—and the abyss has no end.  There are no answers in the abyss.  This experience is nauseating because the world has no foundation.  Once you recognize that the world has no foundation, this recognition will make you more profound.

* * * * *

  1. That which an age considers evil is usually an unseasonable echo of what was formerly considered good—the atavism of an old ideal.

You can hear in this aphorism the reverberations of a book that has not yet been written: Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality, Zur Genealogie der Moral.  Nietzsche’s central argument in Essay One of that book, which will be written in the following year, is that what Christianity considers “evil” was once considered “good.”  What is “evil” today was what the Roman patrician considered “good”—namely, nobility, the aristocratic attitude, irony, sophistication.  What was considered “good” in Roman Antiquity is transmuted into “evil” in the Christian era.

* * * * *

  1. “Where the Tree of Knowledge stands, there is forever Paradise”: so speak the oldest and youngest serpents.

Nietzsche is here suggesting: There is no knowledge in Paradise; there is only the Tree of Knowledge.  If you eat the fruit that grows on the Tree of Knowledge, you will be evicted from Paradise and forced into a broken world, and you will live in a slum of knowledge.  But at least you will have your liberty and your critical thought.  This is not what I am saying; this is my interpretation of what Nietzsche is suggesting.

* * * * *

  1. Talking about oneself a great deal can also be a means of concealing oneself.

This is the paradox of openness: Openness is a screen.  The most fundamental trait of unhiddenness is darkness, obscurity, concealment.  This is to say that displays of honesty or candor might be affectatious.

* * * * *

  1. In praise there is more importunacy than in blame.

Words of praise are invasive to an accomplished person; an accomplished person is not flattered at all by hymns to one’s greatness.  The accomplished person dismisses such flatteries as meaningless.  Praise is invasive, importunate, intrusive because the one who praises assumes equality with the one who is being praised.  The person who is praising is actually praising oneself—the person who praises is saying, in essence, “I am your equal,” “I am equal to the person to whom I am dispensing praise.”

“You are a famous artist, and your work is excellent”: Anyone who says this is presupposing that the artist and the encomiast are equal.  “I identify with you; I am as great as you are.”

When an interview called Mick Jagger’s onstage presence “electrifying,” Jagger responded with contempt: “Flattery.”  Mick Jagger has always found flattery presumptuous.  Flattery is an imposition.

* * * * *

  1. Now and then, one embraces a beloved person out of love of humankind (because one cannot embrace everyone): but that is precisely what may not be revealed to the beloved…

Might Nietzsche be suggesting that, sometimes, we love individuals because they are substitutes, placeholders, proxies, surrogates, stand-ins?  For whom?  For what?  Nietzsche tells us: For the whole of humanity.  The need to release one’s social instincts on someone is a pressure, and the pressure grows intense.  One loves an individual arbitrarily, in other words.  The person whom you love is fungible, is replaceable by another.  But no, he couldn’t be suggesting that!

* * * * *

  1. One does not hate when one disesteems but only when one esteems the hated person as one’s equal or as one’s superior.

Precisely.  Once you despise your rival, your rival ceases to be your rival.  One hates the rival; one doesn’t despise the rival.  Hatred and despisement are not identical concepts.

* * * * *

  1. Ultimately, one loves one’s desires and not the thing or person desired.

Nietzsche was immensely influenced by La Rochefoucauld, the seventeenth-century French thinker who wrote so many brilliant aphorisms.  Indeed, Nietzsche’s aphoristic style really comes from La Rochefoucauld.  In any event, La Rochefoucauld writes of love: “It is with love as it is with ghosts—it is often spoken of, but seldom seen.”  In other words, love does not exist—or, more precisely, love is a linguistic construction.  If no one talked about love, no one would believe in love.

And is this not the case?  There was no such thing as romantic love before Petrarch wrote his romantic sonnets to his unrequited love, Laura.  One could also look at the love songs of the twelfth-century French troubadours as a source for our contemporary understanding of love.

Love is a concept, and it has a history.  Everything historical has a beginning and an end.  Here is a frightening question: Is the concept of romantic love approaching its end?  Think about it.

One of the things that I argue in my video series devoted to Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is that love is a hallucination, and we fall in love only with our own hallucinations while we are in love.  We think we are in love with the beloved; in fact, we are in love with a simulacrum of the beloved.  We never really know the other human being.  The other human being is always inaccessible to us; what we do is we transfer our imago on to someone else, but that is only always our own imago.

The word imago, in psychoanalysis, means our idealized image of someone; usually an imago is the idealized image of a parent.  So, we project our imago on to the blank screen of the beloved—this might be the imago of The Mother, of The Father, or of someone else entirely.  This is why Nietzsche might be suggesting that love is an illusion and the object of love is an illusion, as well.  And sometimes, a delusion, which is far worse than an illusion.

* * * * *

  1. The familiarity of superiors embitters because it may not be returned.

This might be an obscure reference to an obscure author, but this aphorism reminds me of a short story by Roland Topor, the great French writer Roland Topor, entitled “The Blue-Eyed Boy.”  It is one of the most disturbing stories that you could read.  It’s about a young man who works in an office; he only has one arm, and he finds that his boss is excessively, suspiciously sweet to him.  His boss brings him candy, his boss brings him champagne and always asks how he is doing.  The boss gives the blue-eyed boy a raise, even though the boy is a fairly new employee, which, of course, exercises the boy’s colleagues and galvanizes their resentment toward him.  The boy is naturally suspicious and is wondering, “Why is my boss giving me special treatment?”  The other employees, in turn, wonder: “Why is our employer lavishing such attention of the blue-eyed neophyte and not upon us?”  The awkward position into which the blue-eyed boy is thrown is this: He cannot return the familiarity or the generosity of his superior, which places him in a relation of one-sided dependency on the institutional superior.  Such graciousness embitters the subordinate because the subordinate does not have the power to reciprocate the graciousness.  Exceptions are made for the subordinate, but the subordinate is not permitted to make exceptions for his superior because there is an inequality there, a power-relation.  Could this relationship be replicated in the relation between parent and child?  I think so.  There are parents who are excessively friendly toward their children, which generates endless problems for the child.  The child grows resentful toward the parent when the parent is overly chummy and palsy toward the child perhaps because the child knows or pre-knows that the intimacy is insincere and may be revoked at any moment.  In the 1999 film American Beauty, the father Lester Burnham addresses his daughter, who is played by Thora Birch, as “buddy.”  Such familiarity could only cause disturbances in the father-daughter relation, and it does manifestly in the film.

* * * * *

  1. “I am shaken, not because you lied to me, but because I no longer believe you.”

Right.  I have to rethink you, and thinking causes me distress.  There is such a thing as under-thinking, and many of us under-think perhaps from a fear of thinking.  For thinking does often cause discomfort.



What better of way of spending the quarantine than by reading Nietzsche?

There is a phrase here that Nietzsche borrows from Schopenhauer: liberum arbitrium indifferentiae, which, loosely translated, means “the indiscriminate free choice.”  It is an all-too-vast freedom, an arbitrary freedom, a laisser-aller liberty, a do-what-you-like liberty in which one choice is as good as any other, a do-what-you-want-to-do freedom.  This sort of indiscriminate freedom is the enemy of art and the enemy of productivity.

What Nietzsche is suggesting, by contrast, is restraint.  Art requires the restraint of form.  Where does freedom come from?  It comes from restraints that are imposed upon oneself.  One imposes limits upon oneself and works within those limits.  The limits of freedom are the limits that one has oneself circumscribed.  Freedom isn’t just do-whatever-you-please; it doesn’t mean “do-whatever-surfaces-in-your-consciousness” or “act randomly.”

Freedom means legislating the law—you are the legislator of your own law, and you work within the perimeters of that law (the word is not “parameters,” incidentally).  Your own margins, your own boundaries, your own limits, the space that you yourself have set up, have installed.

This is why laisser-aller writers do not create literature.  They create fiction, perhaps, but they are incapable of creating literature.  I was thinking about this earlier this morning.  I was thinking of Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger.  These are laisser-aller writers.  They write without self-compulsion, they write without self-restraint.  I have written about this elsewhere, but it seems to me that a writer of literature is someone more than just a typist, someone more than just a fictioneer, someone more than just a commercial fiction writer.  Commercial fiction has no enduring value, except, perhaps, as a historical document.  Fiction that is made for money is devoid of value.  No, literature, genuine literature, is written for the benefit of the author who creates it and for no one else and not in order to make money.  It does not follow from this that all writing that is created for the sake of the author is literature, and the process of writing literature is this: Be arbitrary and random in the first draft, and then rigorously and vigorously go over the text and make deletions.  Never begrudge deletions.  Never begrudge the excision of a word or a phrase that is repetitious, stale, or empty.  Never uproot a cliché begrudgingly.  Rigorously and vigorously go over that text again and again until it is as close to perfection as it is possible to be.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is suggesting that we are all artists.  We are not all artists in the genuine sense, however.  We are not all artists in the sense of “creators of works of art.”  He is much more fastidious than that, as am I.  My standards for what constitutes “art” are much higher than that.  But we are all artists in a sense because we fabricate the world, we construct a world that we know, and one of the things that we do, as Nietzsche will point out, is absorb and assimilate new sensations and new impressions within a familiar framework.  This is what all human beings do: We familiarize, we translate what is fresh, what is new into a language with which we are familiar.  So, for example, while we are reading, we seldom read syllabically, we usually don’t read each word of the text before us, and we poeticize, we fabricate, we projectively introject letters and entire words that we don’t actually read.  We guess what the unread portion of the sentence is.  We read, perhaps, five or six words in a ten-word sentence and then “color” the rest of the sentence.  Because we are the colorists and the flavorists of the world of our experience.  When we look at a tree, we do not see the totality of the tree; we poetically fantasticate the leaves and the branches that we never actually see.  We do not see what is behind the corner of the building.  We fantasize reality; we are the fantasists, the fabulists.  We construct the invisible by activating the play of the transcendental imagination, and all that we perceive is the synthesis of the transcendental imagination.  This is why we are all fictionists, poets—but only in the broadest senses of those words.  (I am not saying, for instance, that we are all “poets” in the genuine sense of that word.)  We introject our “own” meaning into the text of the world.

Now, I have a personal example; I hope that this interests you.  I was talking the other day about the Michael Reeves’s film The Witchfinder General (1968).  I adduced this film as an example of the diabolization of the self-appointed moral good.  If you are very sensitive, I disrecommend this film—“to disrecommend” is not a word, but it should be one.

In any event, you have a young soldier named Marshall who is indefatigably seeking out a wicked witchfinder named Matthew Hopkins and his associate.  Now, the associate of Hopkins violates Marshall’s girlfriend.  In fact, both of these sinister, sadistic men are preying upon the young woman through the film; they are the predators, and she is the prey.  Marshall wants revenge.  And Hopkins and his associate, his toady, his minion, these two vile men, these two vile “witchfinders” are discovered by Marshall, and Marshall wants his revenge, but in the process of exacting his revenge, Marshall enters a space of total self-corruption, a space of complete depravity.  Marshall becomes what he rejects.  He is the one who fights against devils and becomes a devil thereby.

I have seen this film twice—the second time was very recently.  The film was seen by me as a teenager and then, secondly, on the large screen at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago.  The ending of the film seemed, the second time around, to be completely different to me than it did the first time around.

My imagination fictionalized the film.  I was the co-director of the film; the film was not just directed by Michael Reeves.  I embellished, ornamented certain things, de-emphasized certain things, highlighted other things.  The film that I saw as a teenager that I saw recently, nor is it the film that I am remembering now.

This leads me to infer that there are as many editions of The Witchfinder General as there are viewings of the film.  If the film has been seen 564,303 times, then there are at least 564,303 versions of The Witchfinder General.

Inside of me there are at least three versions of The Witchfinder General: the one that I saw as a teenager, the one that I saw recently, and the one that I am thinking of now.



If I may continue Nietzsche’s path of reflection, it follows that human beings are animated by the will-to-power.  That everyone, every human being, has the desire for appropriation, the desire for assimilation, the desire for possession.  All of us do.  Love is a form of appropriation.  Compassion is also appropriative.

And this is yet another difference between Nietzsche and his unofficial teacher, his ex officio mentor, Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer believes that human beings are motivated by three impulses: compassion, egoism, or malice.  Notice what Nietzsche does.  Nietzsche erases compassion from that list, or, more precisely stated, he relegates compassion to egoism or malice.  Nietzsche reduces compassion, he distills compassion to malice or to egoism.  There is no such thing, for Nietzsche, as pure compassion, it doesn’t exist for him.  That is because, according to Nietzsche, there is no such thing as pure selflessness.  All compassion is the instantiation of the desire for appropriation.

You are compassionate toward those for whom you feel pity.  And what accompanies pity?  Contempt.  For whom do we feel contempt?  For those whom we consider inferior to us.  And those whom we want to own, to possess, to appropriate.  We want to make those for whom we feel pity, those for whom we feel compassion, the instruments, the implements, the utensils of our power.  Someone who needs our compassion needs us.  And recognizes us as the sovereign, the superior, as the one who has more power than they.  For whom do we feel compassion?  Those who are powerless or those who we feel have an inferior degree of power in relation to our level of power.

Remember: For Nietzsche, all relations are power-relations, every relationship is a relationship of power.  A few more remarks on this remarkable passage.  Notice the examples that Nietzsche gives us.  The third lover does not want his beloved, the woman he loves, his inamorata, to love a phantasmal version of himself.  That isn’t enough for him.  It’s not enough for him that she loves the phantasm.  No, no, he wants the beloved to love him in his nakedness, in his factuality, in his ugliness.  He doesn’t want the beloved to love the illusion, he doesn’t want the beloved to love the mask.  No, no, again, the third lover wants his beloved to love him in all of his ugliness.  And the fourth lover wants the beloved to love him in all of his wickedness, in all of his sinisterness.  Not despite his malicious qualities, no, the fourth lover wants the beloved to love him because of his malicious qualities.

So, satisfaction with mere external obedience is not possible for advanced human beings, for what Nietzsche is doing here is giving us a scale of mastery and of masterfulness, an ascending scale of mastery and of masterfulness.  You see, the most sophisticated, the most pensive, the most profound masters do not want to be simply obeyed.  That is not enough for them.  It’s like the father who says to his son, “Son, put down that X-Box.  We’re going to Grandma’s house.  Get in the SUV now!  You’re coming whether you want to or not.”  That is the authoritarian father.  But then there is the totalitarian father.  The totalitarian father knocks gently on the son’s bedroom door and says, “Hey, ace, come on, do you want to go to Grandma’s house?”  And the son says, “No, Brian, I want to play Call of Duty.”  “Yeah, come on, champ, come on, sport, let’s go to Grandma’s house.  You know that you really want to go.  You know that it will make you a better person.”  So, the totalitarian ruler demands the desires of his subjects to comply and to conform.  It’s not the authoritarian ruler who says, “You’re going to do this whether you want to or not.”  No, this is the totalitarian ruler who wants to get inside of the head of his or her subjects, his or her followers.  You see, the totalitarian ruler is the more sophisticated ruler because he or she wants to possess the soul of his or her object of power.  External obedience is not enough for the totalitarian ruler.  So, mere obedience is not enough.  It is not enough to obey the love, you have to have Achtung, which is love for the law.  You see, you mustn’t merely obey the law, you must obey the law with every fiber of your being.  You must believe in the law.  You must be in love with the law.  You must absorb the law, you must interiorize the law.  According to the totalitarian dictator, the law must become part of you.  You must willingly and completely submit yourself to the law, when we’re talking about totalitarian dictatorships.  The totalitarian dictator does not merely mandate submission to the law.  Reluctant obedience, reluctant submissiveness is not enough, reluctant conformism is not enough for him or her.  That would be mere force.  In the German, Kraft, which has nothing to do with artificially processed cheese.  No, the opposite of that is Macht, power.

There is a dyad between Kraft and Macht, between force and power.  They don’t mean the same thing.  Opposed to force is power.  Force is mere compulsion; you force a person to do what you want that person to do.  But the obedience, again, is merely external.  You force a person to say what you want that person to say.  You force that person to act according to your schema.  But power is much deeper than that, and it’s much more intrusive, it’s much more interiorizing and infiltrating and insinuating and insidious.  Power is.  Power comes inside of you.  Power issues into you, it insinuates its way into you.  That’s one way of distinguishing power from force.  Force is violence or the threat of violence, but power is much more effective.  As opposed to force, power suffuses your entire being.  What am I talking about?  Remember the parable of the Wind and the Sun.  The Wind and the Sun make a bet: Who can get the man below them, below the heavens, to remove the hat from his head?  Well, the Wind blows the hat from the man’s head.  The Wind sets in motion its gusts and its thrashes, it billows the hat from the man’s head.  It buffets the man with its violence.  The Sun, on the other hand, beats down upon the head of the man until the man swelters, and the man willingly, voluntarily, removes his own hat from head.  The Sun gets the man to remove his own hat.  Well, who emerges victorious?  Obviously, the Sun is the victor, the Sun triumphs over the Wind.  Why is that?  The goal is to remove the hat from the head of the man, but the Sun is much more subtle.  The Sun beats down its rays upon the head of the man and gets the man to remove his own hat.  Well, the Wind represents force, that is to say, Kraft, and the Sun represents power, Macht.  The man is uncomfortable and voluntarily removes his own hat.  Thus, who wins?  Clearly, the Sun because the Sun gets the subject to do what the Sun wants him to do.  The Sun is able to realize its desires through the vehicle, through the vector of the man.  That’s much different than exerting mere compulsion, mere force, mere violence.  So, one of the things that Nietzsche is suggesting is that the mask is necessary to secure power, to accede to power, and in order to exceed in power.  And Machiavelli taught us that, Machiavelli whom Nietzsche certainly read.  Yes, you need to be crafty, you need to be cunning, you need to be deceptive in order to secure power, everyone knows that.  Yes, in order to occupy a position of authority, one has to be mendacious.  Everyone knows that from Machiavelli.  But then once one becomes a leader, a ruler, a sovereign, one is no longer satisfied with the mask-wearing of one’s toadies, one’s stooges, one’s minions, one’s flatterers.  Even though one needs to wear a mask in order to occupy a position of authority, once one accedes to a position of power, one is no longer satisfied with the mask-wearing of one’s followers, one’s subjects, one’s courtiers.  The courtiers flatter and they flatter and they flatter, but the sovereign is never satisfied with their empty flatteries because he knows that their flatteries are hollow.  The sovereign does not want masked devotion from his subjects.  He wants genuine admiration, genuine obedience, genuine dedication.  And he will be satisfied with nothing less than that.  He is satisfied by nothing less than maskless, unfeigned, undisguised devotion.

Power is never absolute because “absolute” means without any exceptions, any limitations, any qualifications.  But power desires its absoluteness.  Power wants to absolutize itself—that is the nature of power.  Power wants to become absolute; power is satisfied with nothing less than its own absolutizement.  To say it once more: If power does not reach its own absolutizement, it will not be satisfied with itself.  And even though power wields a mask, wears a mask, dons a mask, it is not satisfied when its followers wear masks.  Power demands absolute complaisance—not complacency.  That is to say, affability, obeisance, the desire to please authority at all costs.  That’s what power demands from its subjects.

* * * * *

Nietzsche is implying that if one is a real psychologist of morality, in the scientific sense, one would not moralize, one would not impose one’s morals onto the object of one’s study.  One would not be sanctimonious, if one were a genuine psychologist of morals.  One wouldn’t make moral judgments, in other words.  Don’t adjudicate in a moral way upon one’s subjects.

You know, I am reminded of Nietzsche’s interpretation of The Tragedy of Macbeth by Shakespeare, in Daybreak, Morgenröthe.  Nietzsche makes the point therein that it is quite delightful to read Macbeth because Macbeth is the figure of a heroic villain or a villainous hero, though Nietzsche does not use those phrases.  But Nietzsche does see in the figure of Macbeth a heroic villain or a villainous hero.  And we as spectators or readers of the play, take a kind of delight in Macbeth’s commitment to evil and we vicariously enjoy Macbeth’s commitment to evil.  The reason that Macbeth is so captivating is that he is so vigorous, so dynamic, he is full of vitality, he is affirmative of life in all of its violence, in all of its tumultuousness.  And that is why we identify with Macbeth, because he possesses those very traits.  So, we as spectators or as readers are able to enjoy the blissfulness of evil, the freedom of evil, in the context of a spectacle.  A spectacle that cannot affect our lives in any direct sense.  It’s a spectacle.  That is why Macbeth is so captivating, both Macbeth the character and the play entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

I differ from Nietzsche on this point because it seems to me that Macbeth is neither good nor evil.  He has no free will.  He has no moral responsibility whatsoever.  He is buffeted by the forces of necessity.  He is carried along by the winds of necessity.  So those moralizing commentators who see Macbeth as a fallen angel, as a sinner, as someone who has fallen from grace, they are wrong.  Macbeth is presented as being quite sympathetic in the play, and a close reading of the text would bear that out.  But I also think that Nietzsche is wrong on Macbeth.

* * * * *

Nietzsche writes about equalization, the leveling-off of distinction, in the modern world.  Equalization and leveling-off mark modernity.  They mark the modern world.  The modern world, modern culture, is not rigorous enough for Nietzsche.  And it is intellectually stultifying.  Nietzsche is writing about how, in modernity, standards have been softened, whether we are talking about intellectual standards or political standards or linguistic standards or aesthetical standards or literary standards, any kind of cultural standards have been mollified, have been lowered, have been dumbed well down in the modern world.  Everyone has been levelled off, has been reduced to the Same.  Nietzsche is not writing against equal rights here.  Yes, he can be contemptuous of democracy, but that is not the point here, that is not the point he is making.  What Nietzsche is opposed to is the banalization of the world and the normalization of the world, the making-average, the making-ordinary, the making-mediocre of the world, and the reduction of the standards, the dumbing-down of standards that characterize modernity.  The making-same of every human being, the reduction of differences to the identical.  The leveling-off of differences between people, the destruction of singularity, of uniqueness.  Modern culture is a culture in which everyone is expected to be the same, and no differences are tolerated.  The reduction of distinction, the reduction of talent, the levelling-off of all nuance.  The eradication of all differences between one human being and another is what marks the modern world.  This is not a defense of tyranny, this is not a defense of dictatorship.  Far from it!  Quite the opposite.  No, this is an attack on the modern world and the age of modernity, which is the age of the crowd, what Nietzsche calls “the herd.”  And a crowd can easily convert itself into a mob, and mobs are violent.  If modern history has taught us anything, it has taught us that fact.  Again, this is not a critique of civil rights or of equal rights, and this passage should not be misrepresented in such a fashion.  To do so would be to practice bad philology.  This is Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the modern world.  In the modern world, differences are reduced to the Same, to the universal Same, to universal sameness, to indistinguishableness, to banality.  That is what Nietzsche is suggesting.

* * * * *

And does Nietzsche think of “progress”?  It should be clear.  Progress in the modern world is mediocritization, progress is the making-mediocre of everyone and everything so that every cultural production must be mediocre.  If it’s truly daring and exciting and complex and profound and challenging and provocative, it will be decried not merely as “bad,” it will be decried as wicked, as sinister, as evil, as immoral!  For the very fact that it will make someone think!  For a play, a book, a poem, a film that makes someone think, that challenges the conventional way in which one thinks, that destabilizes one’s relationship to the world, to other human beings, to oneself.  That work will be demonized; it will be diabolized.  Decried as evil.  And what is good?  What is good is the average, and the fundamental trait of the modern world is the making-average, the making-ordinary, the making-normal, the making-banal of everything.  As I would say, and the mediocre shall inherit the Earth.

And this is what is happening today.  The most mediocre people you will ever meet in your life are occupying positions of authority.  We live in a mediocracy, the rule of the mediocre.  Just the most normal, unremarkable, boring, unimpressive, unextraordinary people you will ever meet in your life occupy positions of authority.  And if someone does show even the modicum of a glimpse of a tincture of a jot of an iota of a scintilla of talent, that person will be ostracized, even persecuted and oppressed for being “too different.”  Those who show intellectual sophistication, young people who show promise, are persecuted for wrongthink, especially in the United States of Mediocrity.

In America, intelligence is reviled as if it were a vice; this exactly what Nietzsche is writing about.  Intelligence is vilified as if it were a crime, or writing differently or on a more sophisticated manner than others.  One is regarded with suspicion if one does that.  You must not really know what you’re talking about if you do that.  Because everyone must use the use the same words, and everyone must think the same way.  One of the things that I’ve noticed, and this is my diagnosis of a culture that Nietzsche did not live to see but that he foresaw, it is true that the vocabulary of the average person is expanding, but have you noticed how everyone uses the same words and phrases and slogans?  Everyone says the same thing.  Why is that?  Because everyone is thinking the same thing.  And if you think differently than the crowd, the crowd will come after you in a flaming brigade, with pitchforks and torches.  This is not so much what I am saying, it is what Nietzsche is saying: The exceptional are not merely persecuted and ostracized.  No, it’s worse than that.  Their very exceptionality is regarded as evil.  The fact that they are sophisticated, the fact that they are truly exceptional is regarded as a form of evil.  So, morality does nothing more than sublimate popular prejudices.  But this is sublimation without sublimity.  Because popular prejudices are raised up to the moral good, but the moral good is by no means sublime.

* * * * *

Well, it’s clear what Nietzsche is suggesting, isn’t it, when he writes of a “new task”?  Modern culture is a culture of minimization.  It is not an appropriate breeding ground for exceptional human beings, and as a result, humanity cannot flourish, cannot blossom, cannot grow to its highest height.  Humanity cannot keep pace with its promise in a culture that is inimical to it, in a culture that is adversarial to it, in a culture that only gives exceptional human beings adverse conditions.  No exceptional human being can grow in the dryness, in the aridity of this desert.  No, new conditions need to be established in order for exceptional human beings to grow, to develop, to reach their greatest height, in order for them actualize their possibilities.  Of course, not all possibilities can be actualized, but some of them can, and human beings are not living up to their greatest potentiality because of this culture in which they do not live—no, it’s a culture in which they disintegrate, in which they decompose, in which they putrefy, in which they rot, that is the culture which Nietzsche is diagnosing here.  Is Nietzsche incorrect?  Is he wrong?



A human being is fully itself when one is alone, and the greatest human being is the one who is capable of standing alone.

Nietzsche never actually writes these words; these are words that came to the surface of my mind as I was reading his work.

Here I am, sheltered in my lazaretto in this time of plague, reading for your benefit Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche, which is my English translation of Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft.

This is the eleventh video in the series devoted to the recitation of my English translation of the book.  I will also be lecturing on the text from time to time.

Just parenthetically, before I read the translation, let me make a number of general comments about what I will be reading in this video: Firstly, Romanticism and skepticism exist in tandem, according to Nietzsche.  Romanticism and skepticism are complementary.  They are both forms of volitional paralysis and intellectual paralysis.  Remember: Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity is that the most fundamental characteristic of the modern world is the petrification of the Will.  The stiffening of the Will is the malady of modernity.  The Will exists—because the will always exists and will always exist—but the Will is calcified.  No one has an active, vigorous, striving will anymore, not in the modern world.

To add on to this idea: The Romanticists and the skeptics are lotophages, which means “lotus-eaters.”  They are opium-eaters, in other words, and opium puts to sleep almost anyone who takes it.  They are narcoticizing themselves, they are taking sleeping aids, soporifics—they are sleeping their way through life.

Now, the reference to Hamlet might not be immediately clear.  Please allow me to explain, to clarify.  Hamlet represents hesitancy, of course.  He represents hesitantism, to coin a term.  A philosophy of hesitancy.  He is reluctant, he delays, he temporizes, he defers his decision to kill off his incestuous, fratricidal drunkard idiot stepfather Claudius.

When he sees the usurper Claudius, who usurped the throne of Denmark from his father, in Act Three: Scene Three, Hamlet is hesitant to kill him.  Because Claudius is praying.  And Hamlet is worried that if Hamlet slaughters Claudius at that moment, Claudius’ soul will ascend to the divine.  Hamlet doesn’t believe that Claudius is good enough for the divine.

So, this reference to Hamlet exists in the text to point out that the skeptics are forever unwilling to commit to apodictic assertions.  The skeptics delay incessantly, constantly—they are reluctant to make definitive statements about the way that things are.

This is another self-contradiction in this book, for Nietzsche told us earlier that a genuine philosopher will be reluctant to make any absolute claims, such as “I think.”  Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is a remarkably complex and self-contradictory book, if the word “book” even applies.

I disagree with almost everything that Jordan Peterson has said about Nietzsche, but the one statement that Peterson has made about Nietzsche that I agree with is: Beyond Good and Evil is not a book.

Indeed.  I concur.  Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is not a book, if by “book” we mean a unified, organic totality.  The text is not an organic, organized totality with coordinated parts—if it is a book, it is a book that cancels itself out as a book; it is a book that renounces its status as a book.  The text deals with so many sundry topics, that it doesn’t have anything like a unifying thesis.  The closest thing to a thesis is the idea that moral prejudices have contaminated philosophy, and philosophers would do well to jettison moralisms and invent their own values rather than subscribe to conventional morality.

Fourthly: I’ve been trying to disengage Nietzsche from the alt-rightists, the hard Right, the neo-Right, the extreme Right, from the neo-fascists because Nietzsche was none of these things.  For those who think that he is, let me ask you: Have you ever encountered a fascist who was not a nationalist?  Have you?  Why would Nietzsche have renounced his German citizenship?  He gave up his citizenship and was no longer a German national.  On almost every page of this book, he reviles, vilifies modern German culture.  And if I am wrong about this, and I’m not, why does Nietzsche suggest that the Will, which Nietzsche valorized, is more powerful in England, Spain, and Corsica than it is in modern Germany.  Nietzsche is no Germano-centric thinker, far from it.  He remarks again and again that modern German culture is afflicted with a volitional paralysis.  He praises French music to the sky.

Who is Nietzsche’s favorite composer?  Do you know?  I’ll wait.

No, not Wagner, only the young Nietzsche.  Not anymore.  Not in the period of intellectual maturity.

Beethoven?  No, though Nietzsche does write some approvingly things about Beethoven in Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits.

Do you give up?

Nietzsche’s favorite composer in the last years of his lucidity is Bizet.

How could Nietzsche be legitimately considered a German nationalist if his favorite musical composer is Bizet?

Shaw writes of Nietzsche’s taste in music (to paraphrase): “As I eat bread, Nietzsche favors Bizet!  As I eat bread and drink water, Nietzsche favors Bizet!  He prefers Bizet to Mozart!  He prefers Bizet to Beethoven!  As I eat bread and drink water, Bizet!”

And here, to my eyes and ears, Nietzsche sounds more like an internationalist, a cosmopolitan, than he does a German nationalist.

Notice the sulfurous remarks that Nietzsche directs at the German media.  In Also Sprach Zarathustra: “They spew their bile and call it a newspaper!”  And in this very book: “The Germans invented gunpowder.  All respect to them for that!  But then they ruined it: They invented the press.”

So, Nietzsche was no proto-fascist.  For if fascism means anything, and George Orwell opines that it is just a word that we apply to things which we do not like, fascism is nothing if not an anti-intellectualist ideology that easily gives rise to an anti-intellectualist organization.  Now, I’m not calling Nietzsche an “intellectual” because that word really implies a divide between one’s intellectual life and one’s private life, and Nietzsche recognizes no such distinction, and so the “intellectual” thinks in the service of an institution; the “intellectual” is paid to think institutionally in order to facilitate the maintenance of the institution.  The “intellectual” is an instrument in the service of an organization.  But I mean that fascism is anti-intellectualist in a different sense: It is pitted against critical thought, which is the ability to think for oneself.  Under fascism, everything exists for the benefit of the State or for the Nation—Mussolini says, “State” and Hitler says, “Nation.”  “Fascism” comes from the Latin fascis, which means “bundle,” and everything, under fascism, is bundled around the State or the Nation.  At the center of any fascist society is one leader, one ideology, and one book—think of Hitler, Mussolini, or Mao Zedong.  The individual is relegated to the State or the Nation, under fascism.  This means that the church and the university exist for the sake of the State or for the sake of the Nation under fascism, and there is no place in a fascist state or a fascist nation for independent-mindedness.  All of this is to underline the fact that Nietzsche’s free thinkers, his free spirits, his invisible friends of the future, are nothing if not independently minded.

So, what does Nietzsche expect from those who have not yet been born?  His future readers, his imaginary friends, the free spirits?  The coming generation, the approaching generation, the succeeding generation?  Not the generation that will come tomorrow, but the generation that will come the day after tomorrow?  He writes for them, if he writes for anyone other than himself.  He expects them to build a philosophers’ republic, a philosophocracy or a cognocracy.  A society that will be governed by free thinkers, those who do not think in a doctrinal, doctrinaire, or dogmatic manner.

Now, one might say to me: “Aren’t you trying to liberalize Nietzsche?”  In a sense, I am—but this comes from my deep conviction that Nietzsche is an anti-fascist thinker.  He certainly is no conservative, since he wants to conserve very little.  And I think that the alt-right, the extreme Right needs to find someone else to call its philosophical cheerleader because it is not Nietzsche.  Might I suggest Hegel?  Now, Hegel is a reactionary political thinker if there ever was one.  It is necessary to extricate, to disengage Nietzsche and his writings from the reactionaries.  Nietzsche exists in far greater proximity to liberalism than he does to conservatism.

When Nietzsche was writing this book, in 1886, it was the age of Bismarck and Bismarckian unification, right?  Bismarck unified Germany.

But immediately before that, from 1815 until the regnancy of Bismarck, Germany was fractured, fissiparous, fragmentary, broken up into micro-polities, micro-states, microscopic principalities.  There really was no unified Germany from 1815 on, until Bismarck knotted everything together, because the Congress of Vienna instituted what was called pejoratively, deprecatorily Kleinstaaterei, which I would translate as “small statehood.”  Again, that is a term of abuse, “small statehood.”  There really was no unified, unitary Germany.  Germany was composed of about thirty-nine small states, and there was very little communication among these states; there was very little ideological unity among these states.  You couldn’t even call the German confederation at that time “Germany” or a coalescence, coalition, or consortium of states, so divided was the German federation at that time.  It was a loose assemblage, a loose agglomeration of micro-states.  It was a very weak federation—it was called der Deutsche Bund.

If you’d like to read more about Nietzsche on Kleinstaaterei, read the passage in Also Sprach Zarathustra in which Nietzsche vilifies the state as “the hundred-headed monster.”

When Nietzsche writes of the “mindless enthusiast of handsome grenadiers,” he is thinking of Friedrich Wilhlem I, Frederick William I, who is not named in this text, and who was, from 1714 until 1740, the King of Prussia.

Friedrich Wilhelm I was known as the soldier king, as a “manly, manly, manly man,” which is silly.  He had a kind of silly, exaggeration vision of manliness, of virility.  And he was worried that his son wasn’t manly enough to be a world leader—I will turn to his son presently.  But before I do: Please don’t take Nietzsche literally.  Nietzsche is not endorsing this silly concept of masculinity; he’s making fun of it.  Why else would Nietzsche call Friedrich Wilhelm I a “mindless enthusiast of handsome grenadiers who had grown into big men”?

Friedrich Wilhelm I: This is the man who creates another imposing world leader, a leader who Nietzsche calls “a military and skeptical genius.”  That is Friedrich der Grosse, Frederick the Great.  He will become the successor to the Throne of Prussia.

Now, what is the relevance of all of this?  For Nietzsche, Friedrich der Grosse, Frederick the Great represents modern skepticism.  He spends his days colloquizing with dangerous French thinkers in salons.  The father suspected a broken will in his son.  It is the oldest story in the world: The father is cold, and the father’s coldness furthers the son’s descent into the rebelliousness, into the self-obsessiveness, into the negations of skepticism.  It is the oldest story in the world.  That is the reason why Nietzsche is writing about Frederick the Great, Friedrich der Grosse, to begin with.  Nietzsche hates skepticism, and he hates Romanticism, and he thinks that both skepticism and Romanticism are forms of intellectual passivity.  More significantly, they are, again, manifestations of the stagnation, the ossification of the Will.  Now, Romanticism, by that name, did not exist in the mid-eighteenth century, but there was perhaps a kind of proto-Romanticism, according to Nietzsche, in the form and figure of Friedrich der Grosse.

The point of all of this is that Nietzsche is collimating, drawing parallels between the mid-eighteenth century and the late nineteenth century.  Nietzsche is writing in the late nineteenth century.

When Nietzsche writes, “Men were missing”; that is not what Nietzsche believes.  Nietzsche is here ventriloquizing Friedrich Wilhelm I, who had an outmoded ideal of virility, of masculinity.

Skepticism is, for Nietzsche, the great spider that threatens to spin its web around the Planet Earth, and Nietzsche is an arachnophobe who wants to exterminate that spider.

So, when you read this passage, you have to operate on multiple levels simultaneously.  On the one hand, Nietzsche is making fun of Friedrich Wilhelm I.  On the other, Nietzsche sympathizes with his aversion to skepticism.  Skepticism was spider that was threatening to devour his son!  So, Nietzsche is suggesting that Friedrich Wilhelm I was right to be fearful of skepticism the spider!

I was going to say this later, but let me say it now: Nietzsche’s theory is that the skepticism of Frederick the Great paved way for skepticism and for Kantianism, which I know is not really skepticism, but rather the middle road between skepticism and dogmatism.

But anyone who thinks that sensibility is the base level of knowledge and sensation is the threshold of cognition is not really a rationalist.  Sensibility is immediate knowledge, it is the most direct relation to the thing, for Kant, and knowledge is finite.

Another argument.  The free spirit, according to Nietzsche, has absolutely no confidence that the truth is pleasant.  Simply because an idea is agreeable, that doesn’t mean that it is true.  Simply because an idea is exalting, elevating, simply because you feel enthusiastic about an idea, that doesn’t mean that the idea is true.  If a book enchants you, that doesn’t mean that its contents are true.  I’ve spoken about this before, but Nietzsche is, in this section, dissecting, criticizing what logicians call the Logical Fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam, “the argument from consequence,” which is this: If an idea gives me pleasure, if a theory gives me a pleasure, if a doctrine gives me pleasure, if a work gives me pleasure, then that idea, theory, doctrine, or work must be true, it must be valuable, it must be beneficial, it must be health-promoting, it must be meaningful, it must be sound, it must be valid.  But the pleasure produces by a work or an idea proves absolutely nothing about its truth or its meaningfulness or its valuableness.  Nothing!

Now, the idea that I might be revived after my death as a hammerhead shark might produce a positive emotional outcome.  I might believe, with every fiber of my being, that I am coming back after my death as a hammerhead shark.  Perhaps for my entire life, I have believed, with total conviction, that I will be resurrected after I die as a hammerhead shark.  So what?  That doesn’t mean that I will be revived as a hammerhead shark!

Nietzsche wants more intellectual rigor in nineteenth-century German culture.  And his criticism of modern German culture is that it is not intellectually rigorous enough; indeed, it is intellectually slack and stultifying for any burgeoning free spirit.

Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are concurrent on the following point: A human being is fully itself when one is alone, and the greatest human being is the one who is capable of standing alone.  If we need others, that is a deficiency within ourselves.  The weaker we are, the needier we are—and neediness here means the need for other human beings.  The strong person, the strong human being needs no one other than oneself.  The strongest human being is the flower that blooms only for itself.  Or to use another metaphor, the strongest human being is a concave mirror, the mirror that bends toward itself.  There is consonance between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on this point.  But they differ in that Nietzsche thinks that radical solitude is the means of freeing oneself from morality by becoming capable of creating one’s own values.

Let me conclude my opening marks with a few more remarks about shame: Nietzsche wants to liberate the human animal from shame and from guilt.  Do not let guilt drag you down below the waves, into the depths, into the fathoms!  One of the connotations of Kafka’s fragmentary novel The Trial [Der Prozess] is that guilt suffuses the totality of the self-responsible subject.  You might remember that, in the novel, Josef K. is accused of having committed a crime, but he is never told what that crime is.  It is as if guilt were not reducible to any particular, nameable crime—Josef K.’s crime is unnamed because it is unnamable, it is not specific.  The name of the crime is insignificant.  The point is that Josef K. feels guilty and ashamed for being alive.  His crime is the crime of having been born.  And his shame will outlive him.  Your very existence is guilty—this is what the self-responsible subject is trained to feel.  How to free yourself from guilt and shame: Create your own morality!

Parenthetically: When Nietzsche writes, “bloodline,” he doesn’t mean hereditary succession; he puts “bloodline” in quotation marks.  He doesn’t mean biological succession.  He is intending generations of culture—generations of culture are necessary in order to breed the free spirit.

Another parenthetical remark: If you give up the ghost of the free will, you recognize that choice does not come from the domain of consciousness.  The ultimate source of decision-making is not consciousness; it is the unconscious mind.  But if you give up the ghost of the free will, a practical aftereffect might be that you love less and you hate less.  Why?  Because you recognize that no one is responsible for oneself.



Permit me to make a few remarks on the seventh section of the text, “Our Virtues.”

Nietzsche is implying here that morality is the invention of the intellectually weak, the intellectually inferior, those who aren’t very bright, those who aren’t very intelligent.  They use morality as a means of equalizing themselves with the intellectually superior, the intellectually sophisticated.  It’s a brilliant argument, really.  Why is this?  How is this?

Well, morality provides the mediocre with a kind of making-easy, a kind of easy leveling-off, a going-linear, a plateauing, a making-ordinary, making-average, a banalization.  So, in other words, if you apply the standards of morality to everyone, you bring the intelligent down to the stratum of the mediocre.  Then, the intellectually adept are lowered to the level of the most blockheaded blockhead on the block.  And, conversely, the most mediocre mediocrity is raised, is elevated by the grace of morality.

And this is a corollary to the above argument: Belief in a god might be necessary to ground moral judgments.  Perhaps some of the godly—not all of the godly, but some of the godly, some of the faithful—believe in a deity, in a celestial demiurge, in order to give anchoring to their moral judgments.  And they need their moral judgments in order to improve their self-image, their self-confidence.

Even the most unremarkable person can be superior to everyone else, from a moral point of view.  And what is the basis of one’s moral superiority?  Belief in a god.

A moralist might say to a smarter person: “OK, you are smart and successful in this world.  BUT YOU ARE A SINNER!  You are a reprobate, a transgressor.  So, perhaps I am a bit more than just your equal.  I am your superior, morally!”  This explains the moralist’s interest in morality perfectly, does it not?

You see, morality is a kind of insidious, devious, sanctimoniousness, according to Nietzsche.  It is the idea that I-am-morally-superior-to-you-even-though-you-did-better-on-the-IQ-examination-than-I-did.  “Even though your Intelligence Quotient is higher than mine, I am a morally better human being than you are!”  And morality is the only standard that matters, for the moralist (according to Nietzsche).

“You’re a bad person, and that makes me a good person.  I feel as if I am a morally good person on the basis of your wickedness, your evilness, your infamy.  This means that I need you to be sinister in order to feel myself as good.  So, I need you to be evil (they say) in order to vaunt my moral goodness.  And I need my moral goodness because I don’t want to compete with you in the cerebral arena.  I cannot compete with you intellectually, but I can compete with morally”: This the motive of the envious moralist.

But of course, there is a great deal of disagreement on the foundation of morality, whether morality even has a firm foundation to begin with.  So, what the moralist does is anchor one’s moral adjudications in the belief in a deity.

This is a delicious argument that Nietzsche is making, even if you disagree with it.

The leitmotif of the book comes up in this section: Truth is a lady, and no one should do her any violence.  One should be respectful of Dame Truth.  The word for “truth” in German is feminine, die Wahrheit, and the associated pronoun is “sie,” which means “she.”  We’ve already come across the metaphor of Lady Truth in the Preface.

In Paragraph 231, Nietzsche points out the closures of his own thinking.  And he is suggesting that his reflections on women or Woman are deeply flawed.  He posits that all dogmatism is a form of stupidity, and I, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, I, too, am stupid, for I have axioms, uncritically accepted presuppositions, prejudices, and preconceptions.  There are certain things that I hold as axiomatic that shouldn’t be held as axiomatic.  This is my stupidity; there is a point at which I am unteachable.  And Nietzsche is admitting that his thoughts on womanhood are stupid; he is acknowledging here his own unteachableness when it comes to womanhood, and his remarks on womanliness should be read within that framework.  This is why, in Paragraph 231, Nietzsche puts “Woman in itself” in quotation marks.  This is also why Nietzsche derides the Goethe of Faust II, who celebrates the “Eternal Feminine Which Pulls Us In,” das Ewig-Weibliche / Zieht uns hinan.  Goethe is deriving this trope from Dante, incidentally.  Nietzsche ridicules this idea of the eternal, celestial, divine feminine, which is really a masculine ideal, in the same way that Nietzsche ridicules the dogmatists for misunderstanding Lady Truth.  Nietzsche does not believe in an essentialized, hypostatized, reified femininity.  There is no such thing as the essence of the feminine, and Nietzsche acknowledges this in Paragraph 231.  In other words, Nietzsche parenthesizes the very reflections on Womanhood that he puts forth—he suspends them, he brackets them out.

This is why Nietzsche writes, in Paragraph 231, that his “truths” are merely “my truths,” they are merely his truths.  This is not arrogance.  It is not as if Nietzsche were suggesting that his truths are the only truths that matter.  No, he is suggesting that these are only his truths and they shouldn’t be taken so seriously.  And his so-called “truths” cancel themselves out, they actively negate themselves, which is why whatever Nietzsche writes about women should be taken as something in which he himself does not believe.

What Nietzsche wants to do is to expose, reveal, disclose, uncover and ridicule his own non-educability.  Nietzsche never claimed to be a god; however, anyone who claimed to be a god, Nietzsche pulled down into the muck and the filth of our human, all-too-human world.  Nietzsche is an apostate to the godhood which is himself.

And when Nietzsche writes, “will,” I think he means the will-to-power.



The beyond is the space in which the free spirit hovers because the free spirit is above it all.  The free spirit floats, the free spirit levitates over all dichotomies, over all oppositions, over all dualisms.  And all dichotomies are false dichotomies, all oppositions are false oppositions, all dualisms are false dualisms.  You see, the free spirit doesn’t choose a side.  The free spirit chooses neither a Pro nor a Contra, neither a For nor an Against.  The free spirit doesn’t belong to any party or any ideology.  The free spirit, again, hovers, floats, levitates over all ideologies, including nationalistic ideologies, including patriotic ideologies.  So, the free spirit might dunk into such ideologies, might indulge in such ideologies from time to time, as Nietzsche writes that he does.  You know, perhaps for one hour in a year, he might pretend to be a patriot—but that’s just a mask that he wears.  He then takes the mask off and puts the mask back on again once a year and takes the mask off again.  Such is the thinking-life of the free spirit, der Freigeist.

[I comment on Nietzsche’s philo-Judaism.]

If Nietzsche lived to be 200 years old, would he have been an advocate of the European Union?

This video is, for the most part, the recitation of my English translation.  Commentary is relatively minimal.



There is relatively little commentary in this video.  I recite my English translation, and that is it, for the most part.



I recite the final poem of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.

Joseph Suglia




by Joseph Suglia


The following is a partial transcript of a YouTube video in which I lecture on Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer [Götzendämmerung: Oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert] and muse over the aphorism “Lesson from the School of War: What does not kill me makes me stronger,” which appears in this book.—Joseph Suglia


It is impossible to believe in an ideal and still sufficiently love yourself.

Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia, and I will be holding a lecture on Götzen-Daemmerung: oder Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, translated as Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Let me begin by expatiating on the title.

The main title Twilight of the Idols, Götzen-Daemmerung recalls the fourth part of Richard Wagner’s Ring opera, which is entitled Twilight of the Gods, Götterdämmerung. Twilight of the Gods concerns Ragnarök, which is the spectacular destruction of the world and the gods by submersion in water. However, Twilight of the Idols means something quite different. Nietzsche is suggesting by his title that there are no gods, but there are certainly idols.

All idols are anti-life, and all idols should be demolished. An idol is the deification of nothingness, and Nietzsche proposes that we would be better off without any idols, that we would do well to dispense with all idols, idolatry, and idolization.

If you idolize an imaginary entity, you diminish yourself. Even to hold up rationality as an ideal and to call the human animal “the rational animal” is to disgrace the body and to disgrace the totality of the human beast. The vital impulses, such as selfishness, are diabolized, and the anti-life impulses—such as asceticism, such as chastity, such as meekness—are angelized by classical morality and classical religion. What Nietzsche does first is depose the angelized impulses, such as self-denial. Then, he valorizes the demonized impulses, such as selfishness. Finally, he displaces the difference between “virtue” and “vice” altogether. There are no virtues, and there are no vices. There are, however, values, and each human being should invent one’s own values. A common value is no value at all, since value is based of rarity, not on commonness. That, in a nutshell, is Nietzsche’s argument.

The secondary title How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert: What does this mean? It has at least two connotations. The first is that Nietzsche intends in this book, as well as in most of his others, to shatter ideals, to blow them up, to explode them into flinders, to de-idealize the idealization of ideals. All of Nietzsche’s late polemical writings have as their object the defamation of ideals.

What is an ideal? An ideal is any principle, any idea, any concept that is placed above humanity. Such as the soul, such as the gods, such as the Beyond. If you believe in ideals, this means that you believe in the ideal world, the πέκεινα. And if you believe in the ideal world, this implies that you are defaming the this-world, the actual world, the only world there is.

If you believe in the purity of ideality, then you are devaluing yourself.

As I said: It is impossible to believe in an ideal and still love yourself. And what Nietzsche wants to do is to raise humanity, elevate humanity to the status of gods. Be your own idol, be your own hero, be your own god. (Do not even have Zarathustra as your idol. To paraphrase Zarathustra: “Follow me with the piety of a traitor. If you betray me, then I will come back to you again”—this is the inversion of what Jesus said.) Every human being has the desire to become a god, and all idols deserve to be slaughtered (not in the literal sense!).

So, Nietzsche’s philosophizing is the hammering of ideals, the destruction of all ideals, for every ideal posits a transcendence, a beyond, a world that is higher than the world in which we are living.

Ideals are a slander to life. Every ideal humiliates humankind, lessens humankind, which means that ideals narrow human possibilities.

So, that is the first connotation of “philosophizing with a hammer.” The second connotation that is likely intended is that of the reflex hammer. This book was published in 1888, and guess what else was released in 1888! The tomahawk reflex hammer—also known as the Taylor reflex hammer—was developed by John Madison Taylor in 1888, in the United States of America. Now, perhaps Nietzsche was unaware of this development, but he did read newspapers, albeit with a thick admixture of contempt and disgust, and this was the first reflex hammer ever invented. The second connotation, then, is that Nietzschean thought tests the soundness and healthiness of ideals—and always reveals such ideals to be hallow. (“Healthiness” means “the degree to which an ideal intensifies or promotes life.”)

Nietzsche does not exactly write, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Or: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” This statement is one of the most famous statements that have ever been attributed to Nietzsche, and one can find it in the music of Kayne West and all over MySpace.com. The original statement is Aphorism Number Eight, and it occurs in the first section of the book (after the Preface) entitled “Epigrams and Arrows,” Sprüche und Pfeile. However, again, Nietzsche does NOT exactly write, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” This is one of the most miscited passages in the history of philosophy.

What Nietzsche actually writes is this: “From Life’s School of War: What does not kill me makes me stronger,” Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens.—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.

What does Nietzsche mean by this, precisely?

When he writes, “What does not kill me,” Nietzsche is referring to the crisis of deep suffering. The loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of one’s property, the loss of a spouse, any gnawing, debilitating illness, forms of abuse, forms of violence: All of these things are examples of profound crisis and the crises of deep suffering.

What does Nietzsche mean by the first “Me”?: “What does not kill me.” Who am “I”? I am anyone, anyone who is not yet distinguished, anyone who is not yet distinctive, anyone who is not yet differentiated, anyone who is still immature and not yet vornehm. At this stage, I am mobbish; I am a member of the mob, of the crowd, of the canaille.

What does Nietzsche mean by “makes me stronger”? He means this:

What does not kill me makes me distinguished, distinctive, elegant, dignified, vornehm. Deep crisis confers upon me the right to separateness—the ability to experience long solitude. Deep suffering makes me capable of living separately from other human beings; it also makes me more profound. The crisis of deep suffering transforms me into a free spirit.

What does not kill me kills me.

Deep suffering makes one deeper. Deep suffering makes us profound—but who are we? We are the free spirits. And what transforms us into free spirits? The crisis of profound suffering or pain.

(I know that “pain” and “suffering” are not identical concepts. What distinguishes pain from suffering is time. Pain is short; suffering is long.)

To put it another way: Deep trauma gives birth to the sovereign individual. It is not just that trauma allows us to grow; it is that trauma is necessary for growth into the sovereign individual.

What does not kill me, the crisis of deep suffering, transforms me into the free spirit.

Now who is the free spirit? The free spirit is, negatively, one who does not think according to a program, an ideology, a dogma, a policy, or a party. The free spirit is capable of thinking for oneself and is capable of thinking two or more thoughts at once, both Pro and Contra, both “Yes” and “No” simultaneously.

Another word for a free spirit is “libertist” or “antinomian.” A free spirit is opposed to all idols, to all traditions, and the free spirit destroys ideals in order to clear a space for one’s own freedom.

The free spirit, the libertist, the antinomian, makes trauma the organ, the function, of one’s own power.

So, the free spirit converts trauma into strength. The free spirit transforms trauma into an appendage of the will-to-power.

Now, we should discuss the will-to-power.

The will-to-power means that the whole of life is a perpetual sequence of power struggles and that every living entity seeks to exert its superiority, its sovereignty, its preponderance over all other living entities. Life is violence, but not violence in the literal sense. Life is violence in the sense that every living organism seeks to overthrow obstacles that impede its growth and wants to escalate its degree of power. This is a peculiarly Nietzchean idea: Life is violence.

Ressentiment is inimical to life, it is an anti-life position. You might not know what I am talking about. If this sounds strange, please watch and listen to my videos on On the Genealogy of Morality, especially the second and the third video in the series, in which I discuss ressentiment.

Ressentiment is what Nietzsche calls, in On the Genealogy of Morality, “misarchism” because it denies that all organisms seek mastery, domination, lordliness over all other organisms. Misarchism holds that all government, all administration, is evil, but it is a necessary evil, whereas anarchism holds that all government should be annihilated.

Life, by its very essence, is dissymmetrical and hierarchical, according to Nietzsche.

Let us not be ungrateful toward those who have power, he is suggesting, for they impel us to take power away from them.

Nietzsche is no conservative or reactionary (I will return to this matter below.)

So, Nietzsche is affirming life as the power-will from an extramoral perspective, beyond Good and Evil, without the interference of moral prejudice, more judgment, or moral evaluation.

Nietzsche developed the theory of the will-to-power on the basis of Schopenhauer, who conceived the Will as a metaphysical force of Nature, the will-to-life. Nietzsche modulates Schopenhauer’s will-to-life and transforms it into the will-to-power. The point of life is not to promote life (that is Schopenhauer); the point of life is to promote power.

Some assume that Nietzsche must be a fascist because he developed the theory of the will-to-power. Those who believe this have no understanding of fascism and no understanding of Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a lifelong anti-nationalist and vituperates endlessly against anti-Judaism or what he calls “anti-Semitism.” Nietzsche was a friend of the Jews. He loved the Jewish people and even loved the Hebraic Bible, the central text of Judaism. Let no one therefore mistype Nietzsche as a “fascist” or a “proto-fascist.” Nietzsche was an enemy of, if not fascism, then at least of many of the lineaments of what would come to be known as “fascism.”

Neither was he a misarchist or an anarchist, for hierarchies do exist in nature, he thought.

He had a certain sympathy for the idea of an aristocracy, it is true. But he was no proto-fascist, not at all.

So, what affects me calamitously, what affects me catastrophically paradoxically intensifies my personal power. That is what Nietzsche means when he writes, in this book, “From life’s school of war: What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

* * * * *

The first idol that Nietzsche smashes is “the problem of Socrates.” What is the problem of Socrates? The problem of Socrates is the following problematical equation: Reason = Virtue = Happiness. Vernunft ist gleich Tugend ist gleich Glück.

We learn from Socrates—particularly, in the Charmides—that the wise person is the one who restrains one’s desires and the person who restrains one’s desires is the happiest person. This restriction of the impulses, of the desires, of the inclinations, of the appetites, of the proclivities, of the predilections is called sophrosyne, and it is linked to human flourishing or eudaemonia.

Nietzsche never actually uses the term sophrosyne in this text, but he is clearly thinking of it.

The Socratic problem, then, is that the restriction of the desires leads to virtuousness or the virtuous character and the virtuous character leads to human flourishing or eudaemonia.

Now, there are massive problems with this Socratic equation. The first—and the one on which Nietzsche fixes his attention—is that restraining one’s impulses will lead to happiness. No, it will not.

Nietzsche writes: “When people need reason to act as a tyrant, which was the case with Socrates, the danger cannot be small that something else might start acting as a tyrant,” Wenn man nöthig hat, aus der Vernunft einen Tyrannen zu machen, wie Sokrates es that, so muss die Gefahr nicht klein sein, dass etwas Andres den Tyrannen macht (“Das Problem des Sokrates,” Paragraph Ten).

What might that “something else” be? Nietzsche does not give us a direct answer to this question, but I think that I know. Restraining the desires by reason will lead to the recrudescence, the resurgence of the desires in their fullest force. The more you try to repress your desires, the more your desires will surge upward. This is what Freud calls “the return of the repressed,” Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten.

(Freud based his psychoanalysis on Nietzsche; there would be no modern psychology without Nietzsche, who is unavoidable. All roads lead to Nietzsche, despite the attempts of contemporary psychologists to commit parricide against him and against Freud, his unofficial student and successor.)

Repression is one attempt to manage the unruliness, the untrammeledness, the fractiousness of the riot of emotions and the other feelings and moods. But there is another form of self-maintenance, and that is the justification of the feelings and the moods.

For instance: Rationalized love.

Rationalized love is not instinctual love. Think of a woman who tries to find a man attractive, even though she has no genuine passion for him. She rationalizes her desire for the man—that is to say, she gives reasons to desire him. This sort of thing seldom works. Rational desire is not authentic desire at all.

Happiness comes from the release of the instincts, the liberation of the desires, the affects, the feelings, the instincts, not from the repression of the desires, the affects, the feelings, the instincts (according to Nietzsche). I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to say something in German: Die Moral ist eine Qual. Morality is a kind of torment. That is to say, the inhibition of the inclinations is a form of torment. Every child knows this, but let no one suppose that Nietzsche is a hedonist. Let no one suppose that Nietzsche is a eudaemonist, a sybarite, a hedonist. No, not at all.

In the section of the book entitled “Morality as Anti-Nature,” Moralität als Widernatur, Nietzsche makes it quite clear that he is not endorsing the running-wild of the desires, the running-amok of the desires, the running-riot of the desires.

No, not at all. The passions ought to be intellectualized, cosmeticized, sublimated, rather (Nietzsche is suggesting). And the name of the intellectualization, cosmeticization, and sublimation of the passions has a name. Its name is “love.”

Nietzsche writes: “The intellectualization of sensuality is called love: It represents a great triumph over Christianity,” Die Vergeisterung der Sinnlichkeit heisst Liebe: sie ist ein grosser Triumph über Christenthum.

Well, first of all, let me say that this is reminiscent of something that Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future: “What is done out of love always occurs beyond Good and Evil,” Was aus Liebe getan wird, geschieht immer jenseits von Gut und Böse.

The meaning of both of these statements is essentially the same. Classical religious morality separates two different kinds of romantic love. The first kind of romantic love is the pure kind, the sacred kind. And the second is what is called concupiscence—that is to say, carnal love or lust.

Now, classical morality condemns carnal love. It seeks to extirpate desires that are inextirpable. Morality is inimical to the impulses; it rebels against life, it revolts against the impulses of life.

Nietzsche is affirmative of the impulses of life, but he is not a carnalist, either. He doesn’t believe in a rigid distinction between “pure love” and carnal love. (He suggests this, as well, in the third essay of On the Genealogy of Morality.)

This is a false antinomy, according to Nietzsche, even though he does not explicitly write this in the passage that I am citing. The antithesis between “pure love” and fleshly passion is a false distinction. What Nietzsche names “the intellectualization of sensuality” is the supersession of the false dualism between the so-called “spiritual love” and the so-called “carnal love.” I believe that this is the main point which Nietzsche is making, even though he does not make this point explicit.

What is love in the Nietzschean sense?

Love—Nietzschean love—exists beyond conventional morality because it is the synthesis of the pure and the crude; it is the marriage between the dove and the pig.

Happiness comes from the feeling of the enhancement, the intensification of one’s vitality. But this is not some kind of do-whatever-you-want, let-chaos-reign, all-hail-disorder. It is not some kind of unconstrained scruffiness, some kind of laisser-aller.

Nietzsche teaches us this in a different book, but one that was written in the same year as this book was written, The Anti-Christian: “What is happiness?—The feeling that power is growing, that some resistance has been overcome,” Was ist Glück?—Das Gefühl davon, dass die Macht wächst, das ein Widerstand überwunden wird.

According to Nietzsche, Socrates had a pathological obsession with reason. Socratic philosophy is the pathology of rationality (according to Nietzsche).

Nietzschean thought is not a rationalism. It is an agonistics and an erotics.

* * * * *

The second ideal that Nietzsche explodes is the idea of absolute being, the permanency of absolute presence. The idea of a permanent being behind the whirlwind of the senses. Now, this permanent being might be the stability of the “I” (the unchanging center of the Self). It might be the eidos of Plato, which would exist in some spaceless space, in some timeless time.

It might be the idea of a signified meaning that would exist behind words, behind language.

Meaning does not exist behind words—it is generated by the relations among words and among letters and syllables, their interwebbing.

Permit me to quote Shakespeare, Henry IV: Part One, which is relevant to this context. The lines are spoken by Falstaff:

​“What is honour?  A word.  What is in that word honour?  What is that honour?  Air.  A trim reckoning!”

What Falstaff says about the word honour may be fairly said about all words, all signifiers. What is a “man”? “Man” is a word, first of all. What is within that word? Air.

The subject “I” is a grammatical superstition, and our concept of the Self (as an unchangeable and unageable center of consciousness) comes from a prejudice of Western grammar. Because so many of our sentences begin with the word “I” (or some other subject), we assume, unconsciously, that every action has an agent.

As Nietzsche writes in this book, famously, “I am afraid that we have not got rid of God because we still have faith in grammar,” Ich fürchte, wir werden Gott nicht los, weil wir noch an die Grammatik glauben…

It is quite rare for a philosopher to write about the body. Schopenhauer was one of the first philosophers to take the body seriously, in a positive manner. In fact, he was one of the philosophers to take animals and animality seriously.

Nietzsche, fascinatingly, writes about the nose, the nose which can detect motion (I have no idea whether this is scientifically accurate). Nietzsche thinks that the nose can distinguish subtleties that a spectroscope would miss. That is an intentional allusion to a Brian Eno song. Nietzsche inspired many musicians, including Marilyn Manson. It is clear that Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christian inspired many of Marilyn Manson’s lyrics (there are many correspondences between them).

I’m not sure if the nose can detect motion, but I do know that the olfactory sense plays a role in hearing and gustation (the sensation of taste).

Nietzsche writes about the nose in order to highlight his argument that the so-called world of the appearances, the world of phenomenality, IS the so-called “true world.” Our senses do not lie, as Plato believed. The sensorium gives us the only information about the world that we can have: sensory information.

All of this is to highlight the argument that the nose and the other sense organs bring us into closer contact with reality than do mathematics or logic. This might be another Nietzsche contradiction; it is an apparent contradiction or a quasi-contradiction. As I have written in other essays, Nietzsche contradicts himself often, but this is not a flaw in his thinking. Nietzsche bashes logic, yet elsewhere in this text (to be precise, in Paragraph Seven of “What the Germans Are Lacking,” “Was den Deutschen abgeht”), he bemoans the fact that fewer and fewer late nineteenth-century German students are mastering logic.

There is no logos behind the maelstrom of appearances. There is no Parousia, no permanence of absolute presence. Everything is motion without fixity, everything is change without stasis. (Nietzsche is here making a concession to Heraclitus.)

Neither is there the absolute origin or the absolute finality. The “absolute” is what is without conditions, qualifications, exceptions, or pre-origins. What seems to be a terminal point is a node in a web. There are no absolute beginnings or absolute endings. There is only becoming, not being—if by “being,” one means “the stasis of presence.” Another way of saying this is the distinction between being and nothingness is a false distinction; again, all is becoming.

So, appearances—what appears to our senses—are not errors. The dichotomy between the so-called “true world” and the so-called “world of appearances” is a false dichotomy. There is only one world, and that is the world of the senses. This is why Nietzsche writes, in italics: “[W]e got rid of the illusory world along with the true one!” [M]it der wahren Welt haben wir auch die scheinbare abgeschafft!

The true world is a fiction (I mean “fiction” in the sense of “something that has been fabricated”).

The importance of art, for Nietzsche, is that art reminds us that phenomena are all that we have. Art repeats “the world of appearances.” Art highlights, emphasizes, accentuates phenomenality—works of art illuminate the “fact” that there is only one world, the “fact” that the only demonstrable, probative, provable, livable world is the phenomenal world.

* * * * *

The third idol that is twilit in this book is imaginary causation.

We know now that devils do not cause illnesses. We know now that angels do not heal the sick; most do not believe that the COVID-19 patients are healed by the grace of an angel. We no longer believe that daemons imprecate humanity by diffusing plagues throughout the world. But there was a time when such things were believed.

There was a time when people believed that meat gave birth to maggots. Maggots emerge from meat left out in the sun. This, of course, is imaginary causation. There was a time when people believed that grain gave birth to mice. This is another form of imagination causation.

There was a time when people thought that certain babies were evil. I don’t believe this! Don’t blame me! They also believed that evil babies came from incubi—the mother mated, perhaps unknowingly, with an incubus who crawled into her bed at night. The products of such an unholy union were called cambions, half-human, half-daemonic hybrid offspring.

Imaginary causality works in this fashion: A phenomenon is experienced and then an imaginary cause is superadded after the fact. A chimerical cause is chimerized where a natural explanation would do much better. Instead of applying Occam’s razor, one introjects an imaginary cause to a natural process. Flies are attracted to meat and lay their eggs on meat to which they attracted; the larval stage of a fly is a maggot. Mice are attracted to the grain in the barn. The farmer sees a mischief of mice in the barn and assumes, erroneously, that the grain gave birth to the mice. A child is born, and that child is fractious, unruly, unmanageable. The father believes, falsely, that his wife coupled with an incubus. This superstitious nonsense is imaginary causation.

This false logic might also take the form of the confusion of chronology and causality. I went to a Japanese restaurant and woke up sick this morning. I am now convinced that the food that I ate last night sickened me. This might be the case, but it is not necessarily the case. A creepy, irritating man leaves an insulting comment on someone’s YouTube channel. The next day, the person who runs the YouTube channel deletes it. I suppose that the manager of the YouTube channel deleted her channel because she was offended. But there is no immediate evidence that would support this assertion. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, “after this because of this,” is the confusion of chronology with causality. Simply because something happens first does not mean that it is the cause of something else.

* * * * *

Morality is based on imaginary qualities or causes, such as human responsibility or the free will, to which I shall presently return. There is a great deal of talk in this culture about whether or not it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. Then there is the theodical cliché: How can you reconcile the idea of a beneficent god with a world that is overflowing with misery?

But one doesn’t have to go that far. Atheists have the tendency to attack theists for believing in an intervening God, but that seems hypocritical to be. So many of the godless seem to believe in the imaginary. Consider the imaginary presuppositions of traditional morality. Traditional morality, even without religion, is based on the imaginary; it is fraught with imaginary causalities.

There are a number of famous atheists who seem very religious to me, for these atheistic public intellectuals believe in imaginary causes, such as moral responsibility. It has never been proven that any human being is morally responsible. Now, one might say that being morally responsible has its benefits, but isn’t that another question?

If someone believes in moral responsibility, that person believes in imaginary causation. And it is very likely that such a person believes that morality is universal, as well, which it is not.

I have expanded on this subject elsewhere, but let me say a few words to refute the fallacious claim that morality is universal.

Anyone who believes that morality is universal is ignoring the historical fact that marriage, for example, was at one time regarded as something transgressive—transgressive because private. Today, marriage is regarded as a virtue; at other times, it was regarded as a vice. For instance, throughout Europe, there was a practice known as the droit de seigneur. That is the putative right of a feudal lord to take possession of a bride on the day of her wedding or at any time he wanted to. This was a practice that we would regard as disgraceful today, but the point is that marriage was once regarded as something that was contrary to the right of the lord.

Hubris was regarded as a transgression in Ancient Greece. Consider the myth of Prometheus—Prometheus stole fire from the gods and was punished by being shackled to a rock. Every night, an eagle would devour his liver, which would then regrow only to be re-devoured. In Ancient Greece any violation of nature (the gods were emblematical of nature) was seen a transgression, but look at the violation of nature which is mountaintop blasting! This is something that is often practiced in our societies.

Revenge was considered a virtue in Ancient Greece (read the Orestia), but we disapprove of it today, etc., etc.

* * * * *

The fourth idol which is toppled from its pedestal is the argumentum ad consequentiam, “the argument from consequence,” though Nietzsche does not use this term. The argumentum ad consequentiam is a logical fallacy. It gives me pleasure to believe that I will be revived, after my death, as a hammerhead shark, or an Ashera cat, or an Egyptian wolverine; I believe this with every fiber of my being. But pleasure proves nothing. The pleasure produced by an idea proves absolutely nothing about the soundness of that idea. Nietzsche makes the point that hope ferments comfort—it could just as easily be argued that hope ferments discomfort, but fine. Irenicism might bring me comfort, I might desire with my entire being for there to be peace in the near future, but that doesn’t mean that one can look forward to the prospect of an irenic future. It is impossible to make absolute statements about the future with any degree of justification, and the future doesn’t care about me and my emotional state. Just because I desire a comforting cause, this doesn’t necessarily imply that the ostensible cause is the cause.

* * * * *

The fifth mythology is already one of the best-refuted mythologies in existence: voluntarism, the mythology of the freedom of the will. Nietzsche doesn’t actually demolish the concept of the freedom of the will in this book. He already annihilated the factitious concept of the free will in other of his books. Instead, Nietzsche is wondering: What is the benefit of having other people believe in the freedom of the will? Cui bono?

This is the argument, and it is an interesting one: Those who are invested in the propagation of free-will theory are practicing a form of sadism. “Whenever a particular state of affairs is traced back to a will, an intention, or a responsible action, becoming is stripped of its innocence. The notion of will was essentially designed with punishment in mind, which is to say the desire to assign guilt,” Man hat das Werden seiner Unschuld entkleidet, wenn irgend ein So-und-so Sein auf Wille, auf Absichten, auf Akte der Verantwortlichkeit zurückgeführt wird: die Lehre vom Willen ist wesentlich erfunden zum Zweck der Strafe, das heisst des Schuldig-finden-wollens [Paragraph Seven of “The Four Great Errors,” “Die vier grossen Irrthümer”].

Epexegesis: “There must be a free will because I have the emotional need to believe in the free will” (this is another version of the argumentum ad consequentiam). But there is a specific emotional need at play here:

Epexegesis: “There must be a free will because I want to punish people. And I cannot punish them by inflicting them with guilt unless they believe that they are free to choose whatever they choose.”

The entire criminal-justice system is built on the concept of the freedom of the will (cf. United States v. Grayson, 1978).

Now, we were taught in the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality that all human beings are cruel, but some of us interiorize our impulse toward cruelty. When cruelty is reintrojected in the human self, that is called “guilt” and “the bad conscience.” And the inculcation of guilt actively negates my self-esteem, my feeling of self-worth.

But all human beings are cruel. Nothing is more natural to the human animal than a taste for cruelty (it might take the form of watching horror films, “fail videos,” or other malicious spectacles). Though Nietzsche never writes about sociopathy, this idea makes me rethink modern psychology’s take on sociopathy. Perhaps it is inaccurate to throw certain people into a bucket labelled “Sociopaths.” Perhaps there is an economy of sociopathy. Perhaps everyone has the capacity for sociopathy. If I am wrong about this, why do so many people enjoy violent sports, such as boxing or tauromachy (bullfighting)? Is there a certain moment at which any human being can read about the destruction of other human beings with coldness, with indifference?

* * * * *

The sixth idol which is blown into smithereens is the ideal that life has a transcendent purpose. Another of the most famous statements that Nietzsche ever made also appears in this book, and you will find it in form of memes all over social media. It is Aphorism Twelve: “If someone has a Why? in life, one can get along with almost any How?” Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie?

However, this aphorism has been often misinterpreted. Nietzsche is suggesting that the idea of a purpose in life makes life tolerable, to be sure, but he is not suggesting that life actually has a real purpose. Life has no purpose at all, according to Nietzsche. As I wrote in my essay on Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister:

All is purposeless yet necessary.

Life does not move in the direction of some transcendent goal, unless death and decomposition would be considered a “goal.”

But everyone is necessary in relation to the whole economy of life. There is an amazing profusion of human types in the economy of life. And one should never wish to wish away any human being, for each human being is necessary for the operation and self-maintenance of the whole economy of the human species. Every mediocrity is essential to the economy of life; without the mediocre, the remarkable would be unremarkable. To cite one example of this: Bad books are essential because they are consonant with the tastes of undiscerning people.

* * * * *

The seventh idol is that the idea that humanity is progressively improving, which it manifestly is not, and it is refreshing to read Nietzsche’s counter-argument to the Enlightenment, the Aufklärung. If you’d like an example of the Enlightenment hypothesis that humanity is gradually refining itself, read Lessing, “The Education of the Human Race,” Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts.

I already discussed Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity in my lecture series on Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. The malady of modernity, for Nietzsche, is the paralysis of the will. Nietzsche also writes about the stupidification, the idiotization, the mediocritization, the banalization of culture in the modern world. In Götzen-Dämmerung, Nietzsche has a slightly different critique of modernity. In modernity, according to the logic of this book, progression and regression are one and the same. The ostensible “refining” of humankind is really a taming, a domesticating, a making-docile of the human beast. Animals are trained—this doesn’t mean that they become sophisticated. Neither is it the case that the human beast becomes sophisticated, becomes refined simply because it is trained to be “civilized.” Making-civilized is retrogressive; it is the manipulation and curtailing of the life-instincts. An uncaged animal is more advanced than the modern human being.

Nietzsche is in good company. Kafka said something similar to Gustav Janouch: “In the light of Darwinism, human evolution looks like a monkey’s fall from grace.”

H.L. Mencken wrote something quite similar, but regrettably, I can’t find the citation. Mencken made the argument that the human being devolved from the ape. Of course, it is a falsification to think that human beings evolved from apes; they did not. Mencken, who journalistically covered the Scopes trial, was inverting the common misconception of Darwinian evolution.

As I have said above, Nietzsche is an antinomian. He reminds us, again and again, not to believe in any traditional concept that you haven’t evaluated yourself. It makes no sense to believe in a concept merely because it is old. To do so is to enter the logical fallacy known as the argumentum ad antiquatitam, the argument from tradition. Simply because an idea is hoarily old, this does not imply that such an idea is valid.

Permit me to enumerate all of the ideals that are detonated in this book, all of the idols that are twilit:

False Idol One: Reason leads to virtue, which leads to happiness.

False Idol Two: Absolutes exist. There is such a thing as absolute, motionless, changeless being, whether it is the Self, permanency, an unconditional origin, absolute finality, signified meaning that comes before language, etc.

False Idol Three: Imaginary causes are real causes.

False Idol Four: A belief that gives me pleasure is a true belief.

False Idol Five: There exists something like a free will.

False Idol Six: Life has a transcendent purpose.

False Idol Seven: Humanity is progressively improving.


Joseph Suglia



Joseph Suglia


Below is a partial transcript of a video that I published on YouTube. It concerns Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.


I hate this play, in the same way that I hate all of Shakespeare’s order-restoring plays and treasure most of his order-deconstituting plays. Shakespeare is, at once, both the most overestimated writer of all time and the most underestimated of writer of all time.

My name is Joseph Suglia, and I will give a lecture on Pericles, Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare.

Let me say this before carving up the play as if it were a cooked turkey. If one is a child, Pericles, Prince of Tyre by Shakespeare is an unanswerably beautiful, unfadably exquisite, magical fairy tale, fletched with lovely verse, and that is fine for children, but for adults, it is drivel that is insulting to the intelligence of any person of maturity.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a late-period play, probably composed circa 1607; in some places, the manuscript is mutilated, and Harold Bloom surmises that the opening two acts of the play were not even fashioned by Shakespeare.

We learn (from the chorus) that Pericles comes to Syria in order to win the hand of King Antiochus’ daughter, who is named merely “Daughter.”

Our chorus is John Gower, the medieval poet, who serves as one of Shakespeare’s primary sources. He addresses the audience directly.

Like The Tempest, the play contains direct appeals to the audience and seeks to appease the spectator in an ingratiatory manner. Pericles, Prince of Tyre contains a superabundance of direct appeals to the audience, far more than The Tempest does.

We learn from the chorus that “the father” took a “liking” to the Daughter and “her to incest did provoke” [Chorus: Act One].

“Incest” and “crave” are the two most significant and signifying words in the play. “Incest” appears five times in the text, and some form of the verb “to crave” appears seven times.

The Daughter is described as a “[b]ad child” and as a “sinful dame” [I:i] by Gower.

This is strange, for surely the Daughter is not responsible for her own violation by the Father. We will return to this matter presently.

Much as Hercules was charged to pluck the golden apples in the dragon-guarded orchard of the Hesperides, Pericles is challenged with an impossible task. Why this task is impossible I will explain in a moment.

The challenge with which he is presented is the same challenge with which all of the Daughter’s prospective suitors are presented: Solve a riddle, much in the way that Oedipus was challenged to solve the riddle of the Sphinx.

Antiochus the Father says: “Before thee stands this fair Hesperides, / With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touched, / For death-like dragons here affright thee hard” [I:i].

What are the death-like dragons in the golden-apple orchard?

Antiochus explains: “[W]hoso asked [the Daughter] for his wife, / His riddle told not, lost his life. / So for her many a wight did die, / As yon grim looks do testify” [I:i].

The stage direction indicates that Antiochus points to a series of decapitated heads displayed above him, heads that bedeck the walls—presumably, the severed heads that are nailed to the wall are those of the failed suitors.

The corpse-heads are glowering at Pericles from above.

The heads that are fastened to the wall are described as those of “martyrs slain in Cupid’s wars” [I:i], which would be an excellent title for a hard-rock album.

Decapitation signifies, of course, emasculation—the destruction of the Son’s masculinity by the Father who assumes the role of the lover of his own daughter. The Son is pitifully inadequate in relation to the Father.

In these lines, Pericles expresses how “little” he feels in relation to the “greatness” of the artificial Father, Antiochus: “The great Antiochus / ’Gainst whom I am too little to contend, / Since he’s so great can make his will his act, / Will think me speaking, though I swear to silence…” [I:ii]. He is here listening to himself speak. Pericles experiences himself as “little”; the Father is experienced as “great.”

Though Pericles does not expound the solution, it is evident through his silence and his elusive remarks that he has decrypted the riddle. He refuses to disclose the meaning of the riddle, but he does show that he understands its meaning. He does not name the sin of incest, but he points at it. His language, though indirect, condemns him.

This is what Pericles says to the King when the former is commanded to expound the riddle (from Act One: Scene One):

Great king,
Few love to hear the sins they love to act;
’Twould braid yourself too near for me to tell it.
Who has a book of all that monarchs do,
He’s more secure to keep it shut than shown:
For vice repeated is like the wandering wind.
Blows dust in other’s eyes, to spread itself;
And yet the end of all is bought thus dear,
The breath is gone, and the sore eyes see clear:
To stop the air would hurt them. The blind mole casts
Copp’d hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is throng’d
By man’s oppression; and the poor worm doth die for’t.
Kings are earth’s gods; in vice their law’s
their will;
And if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?
It is enough you know; and it is fit,
What being more known grows worse, to smother it.
All love the womb that their first being bred,
Then give my tongue like leave to love my head.

Antiochus says, in an aside: “Heaven that I had his head!” [I:i].

So: If Pericles correctly explicates the riddle, he will be killed; if he does not correctly explicates the riddle, he will also be killed.

The Father is a mendacious, unfair, unjust, dangerous, “sinful” father, since any man who solves the riddle incorrectly is decapitated AND any man who solves the riddle correctly is decapitated.

If a suitor guesses the meaning of the riddle, the effect will be decapitation.

If a suitor does not guess the meaning of the riddle, the effect will be decapitation.

There will be decapitation—that is to say, emasculation—either way.

Pericles imperils himself by showing without showing that he comprehends the perverse character of King Antiochus’ relationship with his daughter.

Incest is unmentionable, unspeakable, unutterable and must remain unspoken before the King. Some things are too dreadful to be brought into utterance, some things are too dreadful to be vocalized in the presence of majesty. And yet the word does appear elsewhere in the text.

Pericles solves the riddle, much as Oedipus does, further fortifying the incestuous love triangle.

In Act One: Scene One, Pericles describes the Daughter in the following way (talking to himself silently, while apostrophizing her in his head): “You are a fair viol…” Now, a viol is a stringed musical instrument, and one can hear the resonances of the word “vial” within—for the Daughter is like a receptacle, a vial that allegedly contains vileness. But V-I-O-L are contained in the word “violation,” as well.

The Daughter is violated. She is forced into an incestuous relationship with her father, a relationship for which Pericles and the Chorus nonetheless blame her.

The relationship between Antiochus and the Daughter is obviously an aberrant, perverse relationship. This is the incestuous triangle: Antiochus has turned his daughter into his wife, in effect, since they are in an incestuous yet monogamous relationship. This makes the daughter the mother of Pericles, since Pericles looks upon Antiochus as if Antiochus were the Prohibiting Father, the Father who says, “No.”

This might seem far-fetched, but hear me out. Traditionally, the young man will ask the father of the daughter for the daughter’s hand in marriage. If the daughter becomes the young man’s wife, the father of the daughter will become the son’s father. So, the father of the wife is the surrogate, substitute, artificial, proxy father of the husband. It is true that Pericles does not become married to Antiochus’ daughter, but that changes nothing.

Pericles’ passion for the Daughter appears to be stimulated, of course, by the fact that he is essentially prohibited from having her. This is almost epigrammatic: What is forbidden, interdicted, prohibited is appealing.

Now, Pericles is not Antiochus’ literal son, but neither is the “Daughter” reducible to the role of Antiochus’ daughter. Incest warps and invalidates anything like a defensible father-daughter relation.

The Son, Pericles, desires the Mother, who is both the daughter to the Father, Antiochus, and the wife to the Father.

Antiochus is the Bad Father—the son-destroying, emasculating, perverse, mendacious, totalitarian father who sees the son as a competitor. In totalitarian dictatorships, the totalitarian dictator prosecutes the feelings, the thoughts, the dreams, the desires, the fantasies of his/her subjects, if those feelings, etc., are not sanctioned by the dictator. The dictator claims the soul, in the inner life, of his/her subjects. Antiochus is not prosecuting Pericles for the latter’s actions, but for Pericles’ intentions, thoughts, dreams, desires, etc.

The Father wants the Daughter-Dash-Wife all for himself, and the son is interdicted from having access to the Mother-Daughter.

And Pericles wants the Mother-Daughter precisely because of the totalitarian prohibition of the Sinful Father. Pericles uses the phrase “sinful father” in Act One: Scene Two in conversation with his understudy Helicanus. Antiochus is the Father who stimulates his son’s desires by prohibiting those desires and who punishes the Son for having such desires. For desiring the Mother, who is sacred. “Sacred” means “that which may not be touched or desired.”

Pericles, the Artificial Son, desires Antiochus’ Daughter because she belongs to the Father, not despite the fact that she belongs to the Father. To the extent that the Daughter is the Wife to the Father, this disrupts Pericles’ desired identification with the Father. Pericles will not become the Father until he reconciles with his own daughter, Marina, in the fifth act of the play.

At the close of the play, the artificial Son, Pericles, will become The Naturalized Father, and the circle will be complete.

* * * * *

Thaliard is the assassin who is suborned to kill Pericles. Thaliard intends to kill Pericles until he assumes that Pericles will perish by sea.

The crane descends. So, the assassin suddenly gives up his mission to assassinate Pericles as soon as the assassin learns that Pericles is at sea. This is the first deus ex machina of the play.

What is a deus ex machina? A deus ex machina, a “god out of the machine,” is a plot convenience in which a character in a literary work is suddenly rescued from some brutal fate. This happens, for instance, at the end of Euripides’ Medea when the Georgian infanticidal murderess is rescued by Helios, the Sun God. A deus ex machina is more than a contrivance of plot; it is contrived-appearing. In Ancient Greek tragedy, a literal crane descends on to the stage and seizes the misfortunate and pulls him or her up to safety. And the audience smiles and feels warm inside.

My central criticism of the play is that it is a chockablock with instances of deus ex machina.

The crane descends, and the god saves the misfortunate.

There is one deus ex machina after the other in the text.

God is not in the machine, but out of it, rescuing Medea, putting her in the passenger seat of Helios’ chariot.

The crane comes down and snatches up Pericles, rescuing him from possible assassination.

We learn from Helicanus, in Act Two: Scene Four, that Antiochus and his daughter will be struck by divine lightning and incinerated for the transgression of incest: “A fire from heaven came and shrivelled up / Their bodies even to loathing…” The gods come out of the machine and destroy Pericles’ enemies or otherwise impede their projects.

Pericles flees Syria and sails to Turkey—particularly, to the city of Tarsus—where he is heralded as a messiah for saving the starving, impoverished Tarsians from immiseration, starvation, emaciation, maceration.

Here is another deus ex machina. Down comes the crane! There is a rapid shift from immiseration to grateful celebration. The Tarsians cease their lamentations; they will be fed.

In the chorus of Act Two, Gower gives us sing-songy perfect rhymes which sound less than perfect.

But they do serve as a transition from the first act to the second act, in which we learn that Pericles, upon discovering that Thaliard came full-bent with sin to murder him, decides that Tarsus is not the best for him to make his rest and puts forth to seas where men have seldom ease, ’til Fortune, tired of doing bad, throws him ashore to make him glad. I’m just lightly paraphrasing, lightly paraphrasing.

Upon what shore is Pericles thrown? Upon the shore of Pentapolis, which means “a group of five cities.” He is greeted on the shore by fishermen, who mock him mercilessly. He begs for help, but the fishermen laugh at him, until he talks about how he is a “man throng’d up with cold,” by which he means that he is assaulted by the cold as if the cold were a mob [II:i], which activates the altruistic social instinct of the First Fisherman, who proclaims:

I have a gown here;
come, put it on; keep thee warm. Now, afore me, a
handsome fellow! Come, thou shalt go home, and
we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for
fasting-days, and moreo’er puddings and flap-jacks,
and thou shalt be welcome

So, notice that the First Fisherman has a suddenly inhuman and inhumanly sudden change of mind and change of heart, a burst of metanoia. The First Fisherman moves from callousness toward outsiders and malicious mockery to the warm embracement of the Tyrian Pericles. Now, Pericles will, apparently, become an artificial appendage of the First Fisherman’s family and can look forward to repasts of puddings and flap-jacks. This is one of the many squirmy, wince-inducing, improbable metanoias that pock the entire text of the play.

It strikes me now that Pericles, who moves from one synthetic family to another, is desperately trying to find the Father. He tried to find the Father in Antiochus and fails. He tries to find the Father in the First Fisherman. He will finally find the Father in Simonides.

The crane descends again and snatches up Pericles. Pericles will soon, beyond comprehension, plausibility, and probability, be welcome by the King Simonides and will marry his only daughter, Thaisa.

Simonides is the benevolent authoritarian father; Antiochus is the “sinful” totalitarian father.

However, Simonides pretends to be the Absolute No-Father that Antiochus is. Let us remember that Antiochus is the father who always says, “No,” much like the No-God of Karl Barth, the God Who Forever Says, “No.”

Just as Simonides is the replacement of Antiochus, Thaisa is the replacement of Antiochus’ daughter.

The drama that will unfold among Pericles, Simonides, and Thaisa is an ironic repetition of the drama among Pericles, Antiochus, and Antiochus’ daughter at the beginning of the play. Things turn out much better the second time around for all parties involved.

Notice that, in his asides, Simonides confesses to the audience that he wants Pericles to marry his daughter “with all [his] heart” [II:v]. However, he gives a show of resistance and demands “subjection” [Ibid.]. It is a display of refusal, it is pure theatre. In Shakespearean philosophy, all of human existence is the dramatization of roles, even in the intimate sphere of the family. The totalitarian-seeming father Simonides should be distinguished from the actual totalitarian father Antiochus.

The totalitarian-seeming father Simonides demands that both his daughter and his prospective son-in-law “frame [their] will” to his. In other words, the totalitarian-appearing father outwardly demands submission in order to enhance Pericles’ desire for his daughter, knowing, as wise Simonides doubtless does, the essence of human desire. We chase after that which is not easily available.

Simonides pretends to be as imperious and as preemptory as Antiochus, but he is not so. The effect is, whether “conscious” or “unconscious,” the stimulation of Pericles’ desire for Thaisa. Desires desires only what is not easily accessible, what is remote, what is receding. It is likely that Simonides knows this, and so he stages a barrier between Pericles’ desiring and the object of his desiring, Thaisa.

If desire does not seem to be transgressing a law—in this case, the Father’s edict—desire cannot exist.

What does Antiochus orchestrate such a cruel form of gamesmanship? I suspect that he does so in order to feel his own power. He is so insecure, as all tyrants are, that he rigs the game in advance so that each suitor will lose. He is like the casino owner who will always win at his slot machines and roulette wheels.

Think of the gamesmanship of Simonides, who actually wants Pericles to win. Simonides also rigs the game in advance such that the player, Pericles, will win; Antiochus rigs the game in advance such that every player will lose.

In Act Three, Pericles is on a ship with his new bride, underway to Tyre, where he must land soon or else forsake his kingship. His wife Thaisa appears to die while giving birth to Marina, so-called because she is born at sea. As Marina later describes herself: “Ay me, poor maid / Born in a tempest when my mother died, / This world to me is as a lasting storm, / Whirring me from my friends” [Act Four: Scene One]. The physical world is the world of Neptune; Marina, like her mother, is dedicated to the world beyond the physical world, which is the world of Diana. The play stages a conflict between Neptune and Diana.

What is strange about this scene—the first scene of Act Three—is that Pericles immediately assents to the superstitious mumbo-jumbo of the mariners. The mariners tell Pericles that the (phenomenal) cadaver of his wife must be pitched over the side of the ship, for it is bad luck (they think) to have a dead body aboard. Incredibly, Pericles submits to the will of mariners, invertebrate that he is: “As you think meet. Most wretched queen!” Pericles is still weak—he is excessively deferential, even to his own subjects.

The sailors throw Thaisa overboard in a coffin, seasoned with eleven herbs and spices, as if she were a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is not a joke; it actually appears in the text (the corpse is seasoned with spices). There is even a passport within the coffin. This is also not a joke; it actually appears in the text.

The coffin sails to Ephesus, where it is discovered by its inhabitants. Either the Ephesians revive Thaisa’s corpse, or they reinvigorate and awaken the still-living-yet-comatose Thaisa.

There is a certain ambiguity here (though far less interesting than the concluding ambiguity of The Winter’s Tale). Does Thaisa actually die and is then revivified? Or did she merely fall into a coma while undergoing the agony of parturition?

Another question that floats in my mind as I read the play: Why does Pericles not check Thaisa’s vital signs?

Now, one might object to me that medical science in the Age of the Elizabeth did not reach any degree of sophistication, but Elizabethan England did, in fact, have a knowledge of vital signs. Indeed, Shakespeare and Pericles both have a knowledge of vital signs. We know this from the very play that we are discussing.

In Act Five: Scene One, in their scene of reconciliation, Pericles asks Marina if she is imaginary or real. He asks her if she has vital signs: “Have you a working pulse and are no fairy?”

So, why does Pericles not check Thaisa’s vital signs before pitching her over the side of the ship and into the briny sea? Presumably because he is an idiot.

At this stage, Pericles is still weak; at the conclusion of the play, he will become The Father.

In any event, Thaisa retires to the Temple of Diana—“A vestal livery will I take me to,” she says in Act Three: Scene Four—and Marina ends up in a bordello.

So, to summarize, Pericles brings his sea-born daughter Marina to the Tarsians, for the sake of her safety, and solicits them to raise her. When she turns fourteen, Marina is admired by all of the Tarsians, and Lady Dionyza’s less prepossessing daughter Philoten is ignored. (Dionyza is the wife to the Lord of the Tarsians, Cleon.) So, Dionyza does what any mother would do and suborns the murder of Marina. Dionyza is another version of Lady Macbeth. The Tragedy of Macbeth was composed circa 1606, and this play was composed, again, circa 1607. It is very likely that Shakespeare was thinking of Lady Macbeth as he was fashioning the character of Lady Dionyza. In Act Four: Scene Three, Dionyza asks her husband, rhetorically, “Can it be undone?” She is alluding to the phenomenal murder of Marina, and her words are consonant with Lady Macbeth’s famous line “What’s done cannot be undone.” Interestingly, Dionyza’s name might be traceable to Dionysus, I’m not sure. I might be mistaken about this, but the thought did occur to me. In any event, Dionyza commissions Leonine, whose name means “The Lionlike One,” to assassinate Marina.

As you might expect, there is yet another deus ex machina.

Out of nowhere, pirates appear and prevent Leonine from slaughtering sweet Marina! Leonine says of Marina (in a soliloquy): “I’ll swear she’s dead / And thrown into the sea” [Act Four: Scene One].

The pirates will now sell poor Marina into prostitution at a brothel in Mytilene, which is a city in Greece that was founded in the eleventh century before the Christian era.

But wait, there is another deus ex machina! Even though Marina is prostituted against her will, she shames all of her clients with her purity, with her eloquence, with her elegance, with her grace, with her high-mindedness.

Those licentious men who steal into the bordello at night come out physically unfulfilled but with pure thoughts (and presumably as votaries of the Goddess Diana). Marina emerges from the entire ordeal vestally unviolated. As the Bawd phrases it, in Act Four: Scene Five, “[Marina] is able to freeze the god Priapus and undo a whole generation.” Shades of Measure for Measure.

So, Marina gets through her ordeal unviolated. Her name means, again, “She Who Was Born at Sea” and who navigates through the world unshipwrecked, without a fatal naval disaster. She is a votaress of the Goddess Diana, much like her mother. They are devoted in soul and in mind and in heart to the world beyond the senses. The physical world is likened to the dominion of Neptune. This world—this tempestuous, turbulent, mutable world—belongs to Neptune, for it is as unstable as the sea; the suprasensible world belongs to the Goddess Diana.

One of Marina’s clients is Lysimachus—yes, the same, the very Lysimachus who was the successor to Alexander the Great and is currently the Lord of Mytilene. Yet again, Marina shames her client.

Marina calls herself “the meanest bird” that flies in the “purer air” [IV:vi], but the exact opposite is more accurate. Is she not the purest bird in the meanest air?

Students of rhetoric will be familiar the Pathetic Appeal, which is when the speaker or the writer attempts to stimulate pity—it is an argument-enhancer, an argument-intensifier, an argument-decorator, not the core of the argument itself, which should be logos. If logos is ever superseded by pathos, then the argument becomes an argumentum ad misericordiam, which is a non-argument, but I can’t discuss that here.

There is also an unnamed rhetorical device, which I would call the “Shame Appeal.”

So ashamed is Lysimachus by Marina’s rhetoric that he bates himself, he bates his libidinal cravings. He demands nothing of Marina and gives her more than what was required of him. This client—originally, a hardened libertine who frequents houses of prostitution—will eventually become Marina’s husband.

So, the woman who is forced into prostitution and who yet refuses to prostitute herself marries one of her own clients. That is exactly what happens in this text.

The panderer has enough of this and intends to have his way with Marina. He threatens to abscond with her virginity (“Come, mistress…” [IV:v]).

But the crane descends again! The panderer is so impressed by Marina’s resume that he offers to find her a job elsewhere. The very traits that make Marina an object of envy—her singing skills, her weaving skills, her sewing skills, her dancing skills (“I can sing, weave, sew, and dance,” she says in Act Four: Scene Five)—are the same traits that make her marketable elsewhere and allow her to escape prostitution.

So: Marina’s skillfulness at sewing—a quality that nearly got her killed by the hand of Leonine, under the direction of Dionyza—will prove to be her redemption. She will become a sewing instructress at an all-girls’ school.

Are we supposed to believe that a dissolute panderer, a hard-hearted procurer, a snakelike pimp, is proficient at job placement and is able to find Marina a teaching position at a school for the daughters of wealthy families? Apparently, Shakespeare thinks that we are credulous enough to believe this, if he indeed is the author of this play.

Marina again escapes unviolated. As is stated in Chorus Six, “Marina thus the brothel scapes…”

Let us pause over this moment. This is astonishing: Lysimachus is a hardened libertine who uses prostitutes and might actually be syphilitic. And we are supposed to allow that it is perfectly wholesome for him to marry the pure-hearted and virginal Marina, who staves off lecherous men by shaming them and who is a votaress to the Goddess Diana, much like her mother.

This is but one of the many improbabilities, one of the many implausibilities with which the play is fraught. And yes, it is yet another deus ex machina.

In Act Five: Scene One, there is a beautiful reconciliation and recognition between father Pericles and daughter Marina. The recognition gives way, as it always does traditionally, to a turnaround in the plot. Pericles says to his rediscovered daughter: “O, come hither, / Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget” [V:i].

Translation: “You created the one who created you.” If one were to take this passage literally, the Father creates the Daughter, who then becomes the Mother to the Father—but the Daughter never becomes the King’s wife, the Queen (as happens between Antiochus and his Daughter).

This temporal paradox is reminiscent of one of the chief paradoxes of Christianity: God creates the Virgin Mary and then becomes the Son of his own Mother, His own creation. So, the Father creates His own Mother.

By contrast, one of the heresiarchs of the Christianity, Arius, held that the Son has a separate existence and a separate divinity from God the Father. Allegedly, Arius was slapped across the face and exiled because of this heretical belief that the Son does not encarnalize the Father.

To return more immediately to the text of the play: Marina is the involuntary prostitute who is too pure for the role that has been imposed upon her. She, the daughter to Pericles, rejects a life of perversity, unlike Antiochus’ Daughter, who exists in an unholy, incestuous alliance with her father. Unlike Antiochus’ Daughter, Marina has a name—an identity apart from the Father.

Thus, the play turns full circle. It is a cosmically ironic circularity. Marina at first presents herself to her initially unrecognizing father Pericles not as his daughter, but as a comely young woman. She says, in Act Five: Scene One, that she is often “gazed on like a comet,” an astral body streaming through the heavens.

Marina does not present herself to Pericles initially as her daughter but as a woman who would inflame his senses and who, to quote Lysimachus, “would allure” him [V:i]. Now, “allure” is not a word that I would choose to describe the effect that a daughter normally has upon her father, at least not in healthy relationships between daughters and fathers.

The plot swiftly moves in a more wholesome direction. So, the recognition scene between Pericles and Marina begins as if it were incestuous, much as the relationship between Antiochus and his daughter was certainly incestuous. And yet the relationship between Pericles and Marina moves beyond the perverse into a realm of legitimacy.

Pericles expresses his intention to shear his hair and beard, which he grew long while mourning his daughter and wife: “And now this ornament [which] / Makes me look dismal will I clip to form” [V:iii]. The word form, like the word frame, suggests restraint, rather than the boundless depravity of Antiochus.

There are, within the text, altogether too many ingratiatory appeals, too many appeasements of the audience. Art should never attempt to ingratiate itself with the spectatorship.

In this play, the Evil perish—Cleon, Dionyza, Antiochus, Leonine all are enemies who are rapidly vanquished—and the Good win.

* * * * *

What is life? Life is the swathe of all possible experiences, and many of these possible experiences are conflictual experiences. All of us living must participate in the struggle for existence, and existence is largely conflict. There is the conflict between Self and Self (we see the gradual self-overcoming of Pericles), the conflict between Self and Other Human Beings, and the conflict between Self and World or Self and Nature (represented by the naval disasters set in motion by Neptune, the Sea). But this play, which dramatizes the second conflict (between Self and Other Human Beings) in a tepid manner, makes such conflicts seem easily won. Again and again, the crane descends, saving one protagonist or another.

I admit that this might be a personal disinclination, but I cannot tolerate art (or entertainment) that gives easy answers to life’s insoluble and indecipherable riddles. That is the task of entertainment; art should never do so. Art should highlight and dramatize the conflicts of life, not soft-soap them. Pericles, Prince of Tyre mollifies interhuman conflicts; it narcotizes the reader (or spectator).

As I was re-reading this play, I thought of another dramatist: Berthold Brecht.

You might be familiar with the East German dramatist Brecht. At the end of his play The Three-Penny Opera, Die Dreigroschenoper, the life of the gangster Macheath is saved when the King inexplicably pardons him.

A character named Herr Peachum reminds us that “in reality,” the lives of “the poorest of the poor” end in a terrible manner, denn in Wirklichkeit ist gerade ihr Ende schimm.

In reality, the poorest of the poor are not saved from a dismal end by the King!

At the very end of the play, the Morality Singer, Moritatensänger, intones the following lines. First, I will cite the German, then my rendering of the stanza into English:

Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln,
Und die andern sind im Licht.
Und man sieht die im Lichte,
Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.

For some are in darkness,
And others are in light.
You see those in the light,
Those in the darkness no one sees.

Why do I cite these lines? To suggest the following: Art is a lie, but it doesn’t have to be an insultingly patronizing lie. This play is a pretty fairy tale, if you are a child, but one doesn’t have all of life to grow up. Complex art deals with the glories of life, to be sure, but also its misfortunes. Pericles, Prince of Tyre gives nothing other than false consolations.

Joseph Suglia



Shakespeare the Punk | Lecture-Analysis-Commentary-Essay on Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE

by Joseph Suglia


Shakespeare is playing a prank on us. He is playing a joke on us.

There is only one way to defend this play, and that is to see it as a deliberate affront to the audience, in a manner that is comparable to the manner in which Lou Reed intentionally affronted his audience by releasing sixty-four minutes of painfully dissonant guitar feedback under the title Metal Machine Music in 1975.

Cymbeline is not quite as sadistic as Metal Machine Music is, and it contains a profusion of fascinating incongruities. King Cymbeline’s daughter Innogen has a deep and rich inner life, and she seems out of place in a play that seems to be otherwise a slaphappy farce. There are other profundities, as well. Upon discovering what they believe to be the corpse of Innogen, now disguised as the waifish boy Fidele, the King’s lost sons Guiderius-Polydore and Arviragus-Cadwal sing a dirge to their unrecognized sister, one of the most beautiful hymns to death written before Novalis’s Hymnen an die Nacht (1800). The death song, interestingly, recalls another play by Shakespeare. It alludes to a moment in Act One of The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus in which the Roman general Titus laments the killing of his sons in the battle against the Goths.

Cymbeline is an auto-reflexive play, a play that refers often to itself. That the play evinces an awareness of the audience is undeniable. Posthumus addresses us directly in the beginning of the fifth act—or, at least, those of us who are married: “You married ones…” But it is also a meta-theatrical play that refers to other Shakespeare plays. The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus is only one of them.

To say that Cymbeline alludes to other Shakespearean works would be to say too little. Shakespeare’s other works swirl endlessly in the funhouse mirrors of Cymbeline. The Arden edition describes this play as “recapitulatory,” recapitulating, as it does, a gallimaufry of Shakespeare’s earlier plays (this is a late romance, composed in 1610). Cymbeline recapitulates quite a bit, but to what purpose?

What is the point of all of this auto-reflexivity and meta-theatricality? Harold Bloom thinks that the Shakespeare of Cymbeline is fatigued with himself, exhausted, ennuyé: “Shakespeare is his own worst enemy in Cymbeline: he is weary of making plays.” The implication here is that the Shakespeare of Cymbeline is sterile, out of new ideas. Bloom also believes that Cymbeline is a clutch or constellation (my words) of self-parodies. Shakespeare, Bloom thinks, is play-weary and is making fun of himself.

But I see the play differently. Shakespeare is not making fun of himself; his play is making fun of its audience. All of the recapitulation seems wonderfully affrontive.

Cymbeline sets up and reaffirms the audience’s horizon of expectations and then undermines these same predeveloped expectations. It would be unpresumptuous to say that the play is contemptuous of its spectatorship.

As far as whether or not Shakespeare was weary as he composed the play (if indeed he was the only one who did compose the play): Not only is it impossible to reconstruct the thought processes of a dead author, it is impossible to reconstruct the thought processes of a living author. All we have is the text.

Posthumus, too lowborn for his father-in-law Cymbeline’s taste, is exiled from Roman Britain and migrates to Italy. (Some commentators have noted that the Italy to which Posthumus retreats seems strangely like the Italy of the Renaissance, which would mean that Posthumus time-travels for about four hundred years.) His wife Innogen is a prisoner in the kingdom and is forbidden by the King, her father, from consorting with her husband.

While exiled in Italy, Posthumus encounters the oleaginous dandy Iachimo, who wagers that he can seduce Innogen. The husband agrees to wager his wife’s chastity and his diamond ring against ten thousand of Iachimo’s gold ducats.[i] Posthumus is, in effect, flogging his wife’s chastity (and the diamond which symbolizes that chastity) as if it were a saleable commodity.

The story about a bet between two men—one of whom is a rogue who wagers that he can seduce the wife of the other—is a trope in Western literature. You can find this story in Boccaccio’s Decameron, one of the greatest works of Western literature, nearly equal to Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy and the best of Shakespeare (among which this underestimated play can, arguably, be said to be numbered). You can also find this subject fictionalized in a magnificent short story by Roald Dahl called “The Great Switcheroo,” which should never be read by children.

Iachimo bluntly proposes to Innogen a copulatory revenge strategy: “Be revenged, / Or she that bore you was no queen, and you / Recoil from your great stock… I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure… Let me my service tender on your lips” [I:vi].

The innocent Innogen remains inseducible. She is understandably aghast at Iachimo’s overboldness and threatens to report him to her father, the King: “The King my father shall be made acquainted / Of thy assault” [I:vi]. Iachimo quickly turns things around and claims to have been merely testing her fealty to her husband: “I have spoke this to know if your affiance / Were deeply rooted” [Ibid.].

Innogen pardons Iachimo, the failed seducer, exactly thirteen lines after she condemns him: “You make amends” [I:vi]. Even more incredibly, she promises to share her kingdom with the rogue only twenty-four lines after she summons her servant to drag the scoundrel away: “All’s well, sir. Take my power i’th’ court for yours” [Ibid.].

Things swiftly become even more preposterous. Iachimo requests to leave his traveling case in Innogen’s bedroom, and Innogen agrees: “Send your trunk to me: it shall safe be kept / And truly yielded you. You’re very welcome” [I:vi]. You’re very welcome, indeed, my dear sir! Innogen not only pardons the lacertilian failed seducer; she welcomes him into her home, the man who lied about the infidelity of her husband and who proposed a night of coital vengeance on the basis of this lie.

I am citing these lines and summarizing the scene at length in order to highlight how absurd all of this is. We are supposed to be ingenuous enough to believe that Innogen will forgive the loutish failed seducer Iachimo after he confesses that he lied to her about her husband’s faithlessness. We are also supposed to believe that Innogen, daughter to the King, will forgive Iachimo after the libertine admits that he lied to her in order to provoke her into copulatory revenge. We are supposed to be naïve enough to accept that Innogen will not only pardon Iachimo, but allow him to put his traveling trunk in her bedchamber. Or are we? This conduces me to my main point: It might be the case that the improbabilities are calculated and the inhumanly sudden and suddenly inhuman metanoias are designed to thwart the received ideas of the audience.

The slithery Iachimo insinuates himself into Innogen’s bedchamber by hiding in the traveling case and then springs up out of the trunk like a Jack-in-the-Box while she is sleeping. Iachimo filches the bracelet given to her by Posthumus, slipping it from her sleeping arm, a bracelet which is as “slippery as the Gordian knot was hard” [II:ii].

Literate spectators will expect Iachimo—who likens himself to Sextus Tarquinius, the slobbering Roman patrician who ravished the plebeian girl Lucretia—to do the odious thing that Sextus Tarquinius did. He is also likened to Tereus, the violator of the tongueless Philomel, who transforms into a nightingale (as her name suggests). Iachimo finds a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on Innogen’s bedside table: “She hath been reading late / The tale of Tereus: here the leaf’s turned down / Where Philomel gave up” [II:ii].

The same allusions appear in The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, which make the allusions in Cymbeline the allusions of allusions. Specifically, Iachimo reminds us of the lupine sons of the Goth Queen Tamora, who ravish and mutilate Titus’ daughter Lavinia in the wood. They are likened to Tereus and to Sextus Tarquinius, and Lavinia points with a stick to a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And which story does she indicate, precisely? She indicates the story of Tereus.

The point that I want to highlight is that Iachimo never actually ravishes Innogen, even though he is likened to Tereus and Tarquin, two violators in Greek and Roman Antiquity, respectively.[ii] Rather, Iachimo crawls into her bed and ogles her and her bedroom as she is sleeping. Iachimo advances upon Innogen’s sleeping body and surveys both the décor of the bedchamber and the “cinque-spotted” mole upon her chest [II:ii].

Thank goodness Iachimo does not violently appropriate Innogen! But the fact that the audience is expecting the ravishment to happen and the fact that the ravishment does not happen fortifies my conviction that Shakespeare is pranking us better than even the most skilled prankster could do. What we are reading may only be described as a farce, as a spoof, as a lampoon. In the slightly underprized 2014 cinematic interpretation, Iachimo is played by Ethan Hawke. (Iachimo could be played by no one other than Ethan Hawke.) Hawke’s character leers at Innogen as she is slumbering and takes a picture of the “cinque-spotted” mole on her chest with his cellular telephone. In a staged production of the play (which I have not yet witnessed), I could imagine the “cinque-spotted” mole being screened on the cyclorama.

So, we, as an audience, move from the dreadful to the ludicrous. Humor comes from incongruity—when two disparate things clash in a way that is unexpected. An elephant that trundles into proctological conference would probably elicit laughter. When Iachimo, instead of violating Innogen, takes out a notebook and inventories the furniture in her bedroom and itemizes its architecture and decorations, this probably will stimulate laughter in the audience, though it perhaps will also provoke bafflement: “But my design—To note the chamber. I will write all down… Such and such pictures, there the window, such / Th’adornment of her bed, the arras, figures…” [II:ii]. One can imagine the questions that will surface in the mind of the spectator or reader: “What absurdity am I watching? What absurdity am I reading? This is Shakespeare?”

Iachimo manipulates Posthumus into believing that his wife is faithless and thus provokes his jealousy, recalling The Tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice. But Iachimo is far too ridiculous to be equated to Iago. Iachimo is likely so nominated because he is an incompetent imitator of Iago, which is why the former shares the first two letters of his name with his nihilistic model. Iachimo is an inadequate who, at least, has the scintilla of a moral conscience and is, at least, not immalleable, as we see in Iachimo’s self-accusation and assumption of guilt in the second scene of the fifth act: “The heaviness of guilt within my bosom / Takes off my manhood. I have belied a lady, / The princess of this country, and the air on’t / Revengingly enfeebles me…” Iachimo is the Wal*Mart edition of Iago. Iago, by contrast, is a snarling void, a propulsion of pure negativity. Iago is anti-ontological. Iachimo is like a professional circus employee who twists balloons and wears face paint. He is a zany, not the enemy of existence that Iago is.

Iachimo’s false supposition is that no woman is monogamous; Posthumus’s false supposition is one of out-and-out gynophobia. “I’ll write against them” [II:v]: Posthumus tells himself, in his misogynous rant, that he will write misogynous novels and poems, condemning every woman on the planet because of his misapprehension of one woman, his wife Innogen. “We are all bastards…” [Ibid.]: All men, he means, are bastards, for all husbands, he thinks, are cuckolds. This is the source of male misogyny: A man has a negative experience with one woman and thus generalizes his experiences with that one woman to the whole of womankind. Posthumus appears to become a parody, a more extreme version of Iachimo in Act Two: Scene Five.[iii] We are also reminded here of the misogyny of Troilus in Troilus and Cressida, who repudiates the whole of womankind for the apparent treachery of the woman he loves. Posthumus suborns the assassination of his wife, who goes into exile after Pisanio’s attentat—for in the “great pool” of the world, Britain is but a “swan’s nest,” and there are “livers” elsewhere [III:iv]. And here is another meta-theatrical reference—to Coriolanus, who says, “There is a world elsewhere” in the play that is named after him.

To escape assassination, Innogen-Fidele escapes the British kingdom, where her life is at risk and where she is daily besieged by marriage proposals (I will return to this matter below). The self-exiled Innogen wanders through a forest and comes upon a cave that is inhabited by a CHAZ-like commune. The Chazians are the two boys who will later be recognized as the King’s lost sons—Guiderius-Polydore and Arviragus-Cadwal—and their pseudo-father Belarius, who was “unjustly banish[ed]” from Cymbeline’s court [III:iii]. In the slightly underestimated 2014 cinematic interpretation, one of the boys is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.

The Chazians dispense with money. They dispense with the norms of capitalist society in the same way that the twenty-first-century Seattle anarchists claimed to dispense with the norms of capitalist society (though, as it later turned out, the Seattle Chazians did require money). Arviragus-Cadwal expresses his disgust for pelf in the following terms: “All gold and silver rather turn to dirt, / As ’tis no better reckoned but of those / Who worship dirty gods” [III:vi]. The transformation from prince into anarchist is complete; the transformation of prince into anarchist reflects Innogen’s transformation from woman into man.

The forest is much like the Forest of Arden in As You Like It: It is a realm that is free from the rigid roles and gestures of courtier life. As I mentioned above, Innogen moves from the feminine to the masculine and becomes Fidele. Here we have another allusion to As You Like It, with the self-masculinization of its female character Rosalind-Ganymede. This happens in the forest, since the forest is always a space of freedom and transmutation in Shakespeare, a transmogrifying space in which one can become whatever one likes to be, much like the internet, though more of a locus amoenus than the internet ever is.

Innogen also exiles herself in order to elude the entreaties of Cloten, who is her stepbrother, son to the poisonous witch queen. The punkish Cloten is so named because he is a clot, a dolt, a yokel, a buffoon, a dimwit, an imbecile, a cretin, a lump, a lug, a dullard, an oaf, a “harsh, noble, simple nothing” [III:iv]. She refuses to marry Cloten, and her rejection fills him with white-hot rage. Cloten’s violent rage toward Innogen is reminiscent of Posthumus’ violent rage toward Innogen, which makes Cloten a sinister-yet-unfrightening parody of Posthumus, who, in turn, is a diabolical parody of Iachimo, which makes Cloten the parody of a parody. All three of the male characters—Iachimo, Posthumus, and Cloten—are doubles of one another, but each successive double in the series is more grotesque than he who comes before him. They are all vile degenerates and incompetents, and it presses the limits of credulity to believe that Innogen would ever forgive Posthumus and Iachimo. But forgive both of them she does, beyond all plausibility, beyond all probability, beyond all comprehension. She forgives Posthumus and (temporarily) Iachimo with inhuman swiftness. (I will return to this matter below.)

Cloten’s interest in assuming the persona of a man of lesser station than he likely means that he is more interested in becoming Posthumus than he is interested in appropriating Innogen. Such is the triangular mimesis of rivalry: The double rivals for the model’s love-object because the double identifies with the model and wishes to become the model. Gratefully, the reader will discover that no such violation will take place in the space of the play, which confirms its prankish, farcical character.

Blazing with wild devilment, Cloten swathes himself in Posthumus’s clothing, a mark of his obsessive, envious identification with the low-born man whom Innogen chose as her husband and whose “meanest garment” [II:iii] would be dearer to her than the hair on Cloten’s head, even if each hair were to turn into a man! Cloten literalizes Innogen’s fetishization of her husband’s clothes in Act Two: Scene Three. The vile villain Cloten intends to violate her upon her husband’s dead body while he is clothed as her husband, recalling again The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus: “With that suit upon my back will I ravish her—first kill him, and in her eyes. There shall she see my valor, which will then be a torment to her contempt. He on the ground, my speech of insultment ended on his dead body, and when my lust hath dined—which, as I say, to vex her, I will execute in the clothes that she so praised—to the court I’ll knock her back, foot her home again. She hath despised me rejoicingly, and I’ll be merry in my revenge” [III:v]. In a hilarious inversion, Innogen will sleep on the “bloody pillow” of Cloten’s headless corpse [IV:ii].

It is difficult to take Cloten seriously, since, despite his disgustingly sinister intention to ravish Innogen, he is swiftly decapitated by Guiderius-Polydore. His hacked-off head will cast into the creek, presumably, where it will be devoured by fish: “I’ll throw [the head] into the creek / Behind our rock, and let it to the sea / And tell the fishes he’s the Queen’s son, Cloten” (Guiderius-Polydore) [IV:ii]. The creek represents bucolic life; the sea represents the life of the court.[iv] This is yet another allusion—to The Tragedy of Macbeth, with its multiple decapitations. The scene here, though, is high comedy. The first time someone is decapitated, it is a tragedy; the second time, it is a farce. The decapitation of Cloten is farcical, ridiculous—it provokes to laughter much in the same way that Shakespeare’s other late romance The Winter’s Tale provokes us to laughter when the old man Antigonus is mauled and devoured by a bear. Yes, the scene is one of carnage—it is a sanguinary scene—but no one has sympathy for Cloten, who is a psychopathic varlet, and his death is hilarious because it seems so incongruous in relation to its textual environment. Why “incongruous”? The incongruity comes from a happy moment of cosmic irony (for once, the term is earned): Cloten tells himself that he will decapitate Posthumus and then is decapitated while wearing Posthumus’s clothes: “[T]hy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be cut off” [IV:i].

Posthumus is death-obsessed, and with good reason. He is so called because he survived his childbirth, whereas his mother did not; she was “deceased / As he was born” [I:i]. He is also so called, perhaps, because he ardently wants to die, and yet his death is denied to him.[v] He says to the Jailer: “I am merrier to die than thou art to live” [V:iv].[vi] Posthumus, then, is posthumous. As his name implies, he is a survivor; he survives both his birth and his death sentence, despite his will to die. Spasming with guilt, he begs for a judiciary suicide: “O give me cord, or knife, or poison, / Some upright justicer” [V:v]. Posthumus’s wish for an assisted suicide recalls Marcus Antonius’ wish to be decapitated in The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. Antonius implores his servant Eros to chop off his own head. Not to psychologize, for all we have is the text, but there is a heavy yearning for the sweetness of death that pervades the work.[vii] Every member of Posthumus’s family is dead—his father, Sicilius Leonatus, his mother, and his brothers, the Leonati. Their apparitions hover over him as he sleeps in his prison cell, and he wishes to join them in the infinite nothingness.

The reconciliation between the father Cymbeline and the daughter Innogen is devoid of all pathos and is more risible than anything else. It does recall the restoration of Pericles’ thought-dead daughter Thaisa in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, yet another allusion which makes Cymbeline seem even more self-plagiaristic and almost (God help us all) postmodern. This is not intended as a commendation, since there is nothing sicklier, more anemic than postmodern art.

The resipiscence of Posthumus and Iachimo is far stranger; indeed, it is incredible. As I suggested above: Are we so credulous as to believe that Innogen will take Posthumus back after he gambled her virginity and suborned her assassination? Posthumus is ethically unrestorable and unpardonable. What he has done is unforgivable, and he has surpassed the possibility of redemption. And yet Innogen apparently forgives him, only to be struck to the ground by Posthumus, who does not recognize her. “Peace my Lord,” she implores him before she is struck. “Hear, hear—” [V:v]. This moment resurrects the final act of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, wherein Pericles forcibly drives back his daughter Marina, whom he does not at first recognize. We are also supposed to believe that King Cymbeline will forgive Belarius for having kidnapped the princes, thus robbing the King of the opportunity to experience twenty years of their lives. Cymbeline even calls the abductor Belarius “brother” in the fifth scene of the fifth act!

There are other improbabilities. Bloom raises the reasonable question: How likely is it that Innogen will fail to recognize her husband’s anatomy?: “It seems odd that Imogen could mistake the anatomy of Cloten for her husband’s, but then she is in a state of shock.” Bloom is being too charitable, I think, in the final clause of his sentence (“but then she is in a state of shock”). And I would raise another improbability: Why does Innogen assume that the clothing of Cloten’s headless cadaver is that of Posthumus? “Where is thy head?” she asks, addressing the corpse as if it belonged to her husband. “Where’s that? Ay me, where’s that?” [IV:ii]. Does Posthumus wear the same clothing every day? Is Posthumus the only one who would wear the outfit that his ostensible corpse is wearing? Cymbeline is improbable as The Comedy of Errors, in which you have characters who are mistaken for one another and who wear the same outfits as their counterparts.

Not merely is the play fraught with improbability; there are leaps of false logic, as well. Paralogisms abound. Why, for instance, does Cymbeline muse aloud that it would have been “vicious” to have “mistrusted” the evil Stepqueen, even after he discovers that “she never loved [him]” and murdered his bio-daughter [V:v]? (This is not a rhetorical question, it is an instance of hypophora.) The King gives us an answer: Because the evil Stepqueen was “beautiful” and her “flattery” seemed to be sincere! The King’s “ears” and “heart” “thought her like her seeming” [Ibid.]—in other words, she was pleasing in a coenaesthetic manner and therefore, she was trustworthy! Do I need to point out that this does not follow logically?

We are mistreated by another paralogism at the opening of the text: The First Gentleman overpraises Posthumus because Innogen chose him over her stepbrother Cloten: “[Posthumus’s] virtue / By her election may be truly read / What kind of man he is” [I:i]. As if beautiful and virtuous women only choose handsome and virtuous men as their husbands!

Certain moments in this text are so fantastically bizarre that they surpass the limits of dramaturgical respectability. My favorite example of this is Innogen’s ejaculatory optation in Act One: Scene One. Innogen frothingly fantasizes that she would like to see her stepbrother and her husband sword-fighting each other in Africa! And she would “prick” with a needle the “goer-back”—i.e. whichever of the two backs away from the fight! Everyone’s fantasies are odd, I suppose, but you rarely read or hear fantasies such as this verbalized in Shakespeare.

Since we are reading a play that is never entirely its own, we might reasonably question, what precisely are we reading? Is this a play about the character named in its title? Why is this play entitled Cymbeline? I can understand why The Tragedy of King Lear is so called, for it is the tragedy of King Lear. But why is this work called Cymbeline? King Cymbeline hardly dominates the play; he is given relatively little stage time. We see him screaming at his daughter and his son-in-law in the first scene of the play; he does not remerge before the beginning of the third act, wherein he discusses Roman-British diplomacy and conflict with the poisonous Queen and her slimily reprobate son Cloten. Cymbeline then vanishes again and resurfaces in Act Three: Scene Five, only to withdraw once more. Indeed, we only see him again at the very close of the play—to be precise, in the second scene of the fifth act, in which he is silently taken by the Romans and then rescued by his unrecognized sons and his substitute, Belarius.

The auto-reflexivity, the meta-theatricality, the improbability, the fallacious logic, and the overall absurdity of the play fortify my conviction that it is a prank, a farce, a comedy, a lampoon. A lunatic play, an antic play, a woozy play, Cymbeline unsettles the reader’s (or spectator’s) expectations, expectations that would be incubated and marinated by other Shakespeare plays. Taking all of these matters into consideration, Cymbeline comes across as an elaborate practical joke. Perhaps Shakespeare learned that to become a great author, one must have a seething contempt for the reader or for the spectator.

Joseph Suglia


[i] Iachimo: “If I bring you no sufficient testimony that I have enjoyed the dearest bodily part of your mistress, my ten thousand ducats are yours; so is your diamond, too. If I come off and leave her in such honour as you have trust in, she your jewel, this your jewel and my gold are yours, provided I have your commendation for my more free entertainment” [I:iv]. Posthumus: “I embrace these conditions. Let us have articles betwitxt us. Only thus far you shall answer: if you make your voyage upon her and give me directly to understand you have prevailed, I am no further your enemy; she is not worth our debate. If she remain unseduced, you not making it appear otherwise, for your ill opinion and th’assault you have made to her chastity, you shall answer me with your sword” [Ibid.].


[ii] Iachimo: “Our Tarquin thus / Did softly press the rushes ere he wakened / The chastity he wounded” [II:ii].


[iii] Notice that Iachimo has already expressed misogynous opinions: “If you buy ladies’ flesh at a million a dram, you cannot preserve it from tainting” [I:iv]. And in the next act: “The vows of women / Of no more bondage be to where they are made / Than they are to their virtues, which is nothing” [II:iv].


[iv] We know this from Innogen’s aside in Act Four: Scene Two: “Th’imperious seas breeds monsters; for the dish, / Poor tributary rivers as sweet fish.”


[v] Mournful Posthumus thinks that he killed his wife and longs to die: “[T]o the face of peril / Myself I’ll dedicate” [V:i].


[vi] And earlier: “For Innogen’s dear life,” Posthumus implores God, “take mine, and though / ’Tis not so dear, yet ’tis a life; you coined it…” [V:iv].


[vii] A superabundance of verbal cues informs us that Posthumus is a death-obsessed survivor. He tells Innogen that he will “cere up his embracements” of his wife from other women with “bonds of death” [I:i]. He apostrophizes his diamond ring, newly given to him by Innogen: “Remain, remain thou here / While sense can keep it on” [Ibid.]. “Sense” here refers to consciousness—hence, the duration of his lifespan. The dirge that the boys sing in Act Four: Scene Two is, again, an encomium to mortality which suggests that the sweetness of death should be welcomed, for it means the cessation of all fear and anxiety. The ghost of Euriphile (“The Lover of Europe”) hovers over the play. She was the nurse of the lost sons of Cymbeline the King and was taken as their mother [III:iii]. The dirge was originally written for Euriphile and then is sung for Innogen, who is only phenomenally deceased.

Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia: Table of Contents


My novel TABLE 41

My Guide to English Usage

My YouTube Channel


VIDEO: Lecturing on Nietzsche’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL and Reading My WHOLE English Translation

VIDEO: Jacques Derrida Is Overrated

VIDEO: What Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger: What Does This Mean?

VIDEO: My Neighbors Are Bothering Me

VIDEO: Reading My ENTIRE Novel TABLE 41 for You

VIDEO: Why I Hate Shakespeare

Table of Contents



Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Consumerism and Genius

Aphorisms on Racism, Cultural Studies, and Kim Jong-un

Aphorisms on Libertarianism, Criticism, and Psychoanalysis

My Favorite Writers, My Favorite Music, My Favorite Films

Three Aperçus: On DEADPOOL (2016), David Foster Wallace, and Beauty

Three Aperçus: THE NEON DEMON (2016) and Envy

Bob Dylan Is Overrated: On Bob Dylan Being Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016

The Red Pig Asian Kitchen: BANNED by Yelp

Happy Father’s Day: Or, Chopo Chicken: BANNED by Yelp

Analogy Blindness: I Invented a Linguistic Term

Polyptoton: Greg Gutfeld

Two Haiku

David Foster Wallace and Macaulay Culkin: Two Aperçus

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park: BANNED by Yelp

Jimmy Carter

Emo Island

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem






Was Nietzsche an Atheist?  Was Nietzsche a Misogynist?  Sam Harris’s Unspoken Indebtedness to Nietzsche

What  Does This Mean?: “God is dead”

What Does This Mean?: “What does not kill me makes me stronger”

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?

What Is the Will-to-Power?

Was Nietzsche a Sexist?

Was Nietzsche a Fascist?

Was Nietzsche a Proto-Nazi?

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche

Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Nietzsche

A Readable English Translation of Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche: Translated by Joseph Suglia






























Racism and Shakespeare: Was Shakespeare a Racist?

What, If Anything, Does Donald Trump Have in Common with Julius Caesar?

Was Shakespeare a Sexist?

Transgenderism in Shakespeare


Jordan Peterson Is Overrated

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part One: When Did Writing Stop Having to Do with Writing?: Mark Z. Danielewski’s THE HOUSE OF LEAVES

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On ONLY REVOLUTIONS by Mark Z. Danielewski

Mark Z. Danielewski Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: On THE FIFTY-YEAR SWORD by Mark Z. Danielewski

Quentin Tarantino Is an Anti-Black Racist

California Über Alles: Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Against “Bizarro” Fiction

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On FIGHT CLUB by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On STRANGER THAN FICTION by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: On RANT by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Four: On SNUFF by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Five: On TELL-ALL by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Six: On DAMNED by “Chuck” Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Seven: Fifty Shades of Error: “Chuck” Palahniuk’s BEAUTIFUL YOU

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer: Part Eight: Slap Something Together: “Chuck” Palahniuk’s MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD

On THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss


On THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

On EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part One

On EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Two

On EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Three

Writing with Scissors: Jonathan Safran Foer’s TREE OF CODES: Jonathan Safran Foer Is a Bad Writer, Part Four

On CHRONIC CITY by Jonathan Lethem

Malcolm Gladwell Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell

Dave Eggers Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING by Dave Eggers


Karl Ove Knausgaard Is a Bad Writer: On MIN KAMP / MY STRUGGLE, Volume One by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard Is a Bad Writer: On MIN KAMP / MY STRUGGLE, Volume Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part One: OBLIVION

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING THAT I WILL NEVER DO AGAIN

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Three: BOTH FLESH AND NOT

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Four: CONSIDER THE LOBSTER

David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer: Part Five: INFINITE JEST

Jonathan Franzen Is a Bad Writer: On FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen


On THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

Craig Clevenger Is a Bad Writer: Part One: On DERMAPHORIA by Craig Clevenger

HOW NOT TO WRITE A SENTENCE: Craig Clevenger Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK by Craig Clevenger

Girl Gone Rogue: Concerning Sarah Palin


Corregidora / Corrigenda

I Prefer Not to Misinterpret: Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”

So Long, Planet Earth!: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”

Keats and the Power of the Negative: On “La Belle Dame sans Merci”

On “Eveline” by James Joyce

On “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” by D.H. Lawrence

Why I Can’t Stand Georges Bataille

On WOMEN by Charles Bukowski

On FAT GIRL / A MA SOEUR by Catherine Breillat

On NOSFERATU by Werner Herzog

On CORREGIDORA by Gayl Jones


Escape from Utopia: Bret Easton Ellis

On GILES GOAT-BOY by John Barth

On LIPSTICK JUNGLE by Candace Bushnell



On O, DEMOCRACY! by Kathleen Rooney

On STUCK by Steve Balderson

On THE CASSEROLE CLUB by Steve Balderson

On THE YELLOW WALLPAPER by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Trace of the Father

On VICTOR/VICTORIA by Blake Edwards

On STEPS by Jerzy Kosinski


On V. by Thomas Pynchon


On MAO II by Don DeLillo

On ROBINSON ALONE by Kathleen Rooney

Dennis Cooper and the Demystification of Love



On CRASH by J.G. Ballard


The Impossible Liberty of Macbeth / An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH by Shakespeare

N.B. This is a severely truncated version of a MUCH longer study on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.  This abbreviated edition is only 4,353 words long.  The original version is over 15,000 words long.  Eventually, I will publish the entire 15,000-word study.  But the time is not yet propitious to do so.–Joseph Suglia

* * * * *


by Joseph Suglia







Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth signifies nothing if it does not signify the absence of the freedom of the will.[i]  Macbeth is not free, and his commitment to evil is not a self-chosen commitment.  And if Macbeth’s commitment to evil is involuntary, and surely it is, could he even be said to be evil?  Macbeth overpowers his reluctance to kill the King of Scotland only with difficulty, much in the way that Brutus only with difficulty overcomes his reluctance to kill Julius Caesar.  Surely, no one would call Brutus “evil.”  Why, then, should anyone characterize Macbeth as “evil”?  Perhaps because one thinks of Macbeth as someone who kills for power, whereas one thinks of Brutus as someone who kills in order to prevent power from growing tyrannical.  After killing Duncan, the King of Scotland, Macbeth finds himself entangled in an ever-enmeshing net.  He is impelled to kill and kill again in order to maintain the role in which he finds himself.  Macbeth does not abrogate himself of any responsibility, as some commentators claim.  Macbeth has no responsibility.  He is blameless from the beginning of this rapidly escalatory play until the end, a play that accelerates toward its terminus without allowing the spectator or reader to catch one’s breath.



Macbeth has a moral feeling for his king.  He recognizes Duncan’s decency, acknowledges with gratitude that he owes his newly anointed title of Thane of Cawdor entirely to Duncan.  Duncan lavishes praise on Macbeth, and Macbeth appears grateful for this praise.

After he kills his beloved King, Macbeth is rattled by spasms at night and by paroxysms during the day.  He is nauseated by what he did.  He is aghast at the murder that his hands committed, sickened by the deaths that he suborns.[ii]

It is an “air-drawn dagger” [III:iv] that leads Macbeth to regicide.  Led on by the floating dagger—a phosphorescent dagger in the 1970 cinematic interpretation—Macbeth is entrained to Duncan’s bedchamber where he will murder the King and his sleepy grooms, the King’s minions, the chamberlains.  The dagger which virtualizes before him spouts blood from itself.  It is as if the metal itself contained blood vessels, blood vessels that are venesected.  The dagger is ascribed human agency and a kind of moral responsibility that is denied to Macbeth.  The handle of the dagger beckons to him: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand?” [II:i].  It is the dagger which commands Macbeth to kill, it is the dagger which seems to marshal Macbeth: “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, / And such an instrument I was to use” [Ibid.].  It is not the user who wields the instrument; it is the instrument which wields the user.

The hand that takes precedence over the mind, in this play; the doing takes precedence over the doer.  Practice supersedes the practitioner; usage supersedes the user.  “What hands are here?” [II:ii], Macbeth asks in wonderment.  It is as if his own hands were disembodied, self-sufficient, and self-active:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see [I:iv].

“Wink at,” here, means “not to see.”  Translation: “Let the eye not see what the hand does (i.e. murder Duncan), but let the hand do what the eye is afraid of looking at.”  The hands are performing the action, which is disconnected from Macbeth’s consciousness (metonymically represented by the eye).  It is not that Macbeth is exculpating himself, not that he is absolving himself of blame, but that, the play is suggesting, he is blameless to begin with.  His own hands seem to belong to a strange executioner, not to himself.  They are not his hands, but “these hangman’s hands” [II:ii].  “Go, get some water / And wash this filthy witness from your hands” [Ibid.]: When Lady Macbeth, who thinks that guilt can be abluted away with water, utters these words, she is ignoring the stranger thought that Macbeth is fundamentally guiltless.  The dagger is doing the work, the hand is performing the action, not the I.

Hence, the play’s superabundant proliferation of hands and deeds and doings and dids:

“Hand,” “hands,” or “-handed” appears in the text thirty-seven times.

“Deed,” “deeds,” “indeed,” or “undeeded” appears in the text twenty-four times.

“Do,” “doth,” “doing,” “dost,” “done,” or “does” appears in the text 142 times.

“Did” and “didst” appear in the text forty times.

Macbeth vows (to Lady Macbeth) to kill the King: “I go, and it is done” [II:i].  He does not say, “I go to do the deed.”  The “It” supersedes the “I.”  The “It” is acting, not the “I.”[iii]  The subject is not the one who intends to do something; the action is asubjective.  The actions that are performed by Macbeth are done without the intervention of his subjective will.

Shakespeare’s play suggests the opposite: that deeds are done without a doer.  There is only a pure doing without a self.  “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself” [II:ii], Macbeth says after the deed is done.[iv]  This experience of self-estrangement is the reversal of the Delphic injunction to “Know thyself!”  The deed is depersonalized, as if the deed were done by someone else, someone other than Macbeth.  The idea to kill Duncan is someone else’s thought:

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is, but what is not [I:iii].

Macbeth is suggesting that it is not he who is thinking of murder; his thought has a life of its own.  He is seized by a thought that is disembodied, by a thought that shakes his individuated humanity, his “single state of man.”  The thought in his brain has supremacy over him; he does not have supremacy over this thought.  He is gripped by the thought and dominated by it.  The paradox that “nothing is, but what is not” means that absence is phenomenalized and presence turns into absence.  Nothing is (reality disappears) but what is not (the hallucinatory nightmarishness, the terrifying hallucination of the dagger).

It is as if Macbeth’s actions were governed by thoughts that have been transplanted into his mind: “Strange things I have in head, that will to hand, / Which must be acted, ere they may be scanned.”  To translate: “Thoughts that are not my own shall be translated into actions (‘will to hand,’ ‘must be acted’) before I will become conscious of them.”

The disembodiment of the deed from the doer: Such is the reason that all of Macbeth’s direct killings are invisible, occurring offstage, before the final act.  We do not see the killing of Duncan, and the killing of Banquo and the killing of Macduff’s wife and children are performed by mercenaries.  The effect upon the spectator or reader, whether “intentional” or “unintentional,” is that s/he will be unlikely to judge the character of Macbeth from a moral point of view.  Shakespeare is subtly exculpating Macbeth, emancipating him from responsibility, liberating him from liberty.




Macbeth encounters on the heath three women who will tell him his future.  In Holinshed, Shakespeare’s sole primary source for the play, the women of the heath are either the weïrd sisters or “nymphs of feiries.”  In Shakespeare, the three women are certainly the weïrd sisters.

Weird is the favorite insult of the unintelligent-insecure and is usually applied to anyone who falls too far outside of the common herd (“You are, like, sooooooooo weiiiiiird…”).  Most English-language users have forgotten that weird originally meant “magical” and “relating to fate or destiny.”  To be “weird” etymologically means to be “fated,” to be drifting away from one’s self-chosen path by the compulsions of fate.  It is derived from the Old English word for “fate,” which is wyrd.  Scottish writers in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries used the phrase werd sisteris to describe the Fates of Ancient Greek mythology, those female divinities who determine our futures.  The phrase werd sisteris can be found in The Asloan Manuscript, an anthology of Scottish prose and verse that was assembled by John Asloan.  “The weird sisters” always means “The Fates.”  Shakespeare’s witches are the forces of fate, of moira.  To translate Holinshed into contemporary English, they are “the goddesses of destiny, imbued with the knowledge of prophecy by their necromantical science because everything came to pass as they had spoken.”[v]  Everything came to pass as they had spoken: By speaking of events in the future, they bring those very things about.  The weïrd sisters generate the events that they foretell.[vi]

Macbeth is deeply impressed by the witches’ soothsaying, by their fortunetelling.  The witches make oracular pronouncements—Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor, no longer the Thane of Glamis, and then the King of Scotland.  Macbeth will remain childless, Banquo will be prolific and generate an entire dynasty.  Banquo shall “[b]ring forth men-children only…  Nothing but males” [I:vii].  Banquo’s children “shall be kings” [I:iii].  Banquo will be progenitive, producing a lineage.  He shall be “[l]esser than Macbeth, and greater… Not so happy [as Macbeth], yet much happier” [Ibid.].  In other words: Macbeth will become King, but he will not become a progenitive King.  Macbeth will become King, but he will spawn no Kings.  The witches’ oracular pronouncements impel Macbeth to kill Duncan and, later, Macduff and to suborn the murders of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and children.  Both Banquo and Macduff are generative.  Macbeth and Macduff have similar names because Macduff is the double of Macbeth.[vii]  As if to suggest what?  Macbeth is barren—as Macduff says, “He has no children” [IV:iii]—but he has no problem suborning the murder of Macduff’s children.  He has no problem slaughtering the children of his double for he bears no children of his own.  Macbeth is the sterile double of Macduff, Macduff is the fertile double of Macbeth.  Childless Macbeth kills off his child-producing double Macduff, as childed Macduff will assassinate his infertile double Macbeth.  All of this was set in motion by the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth will have no sons and Banquo will be generative of a dynasty (the Roman Catholic, French-sympathizing dynasty of the Stuarts).  The regicide of Duncan—as well as the murders that were designed to cover up that regicide—was propelled by the oraculizations of the weïrd sisters.  The witches do more than read Macbeth’s future; their “great prediction[s]” [I:iii], their “prophetic greeting[s]” [Ibid.], their fatidic pronouncements create his future.  The epicene witches prophesy Macbeth’s coronation—but this prophecy means that the future has already occurred.

Notice that the first thing that Macbeth says in the play, his opening statement, is a resaying, is the mindless repetition of what the weïrd sisters have said already: Macbeth’s observation “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” [I:iii] is an echoing of the witches’ earlier paradoxical statement “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” [I:i].[viii]  Macbeth is will-less—even “his” language ventriloquizes the language of those who marionette him.  This does not mean that there is a hidden sympathism or synchronicity between the witches and Macbeth.  It means that Macbeth’s words are not his own, his desires are not his own.  His mind, as his language, is molded, shaped, formed by the witches.






The wizardesses are chaos agents.  They form a terrorist cell that projects its gales against Macbeth, who is borne by its winds.

The witches prophesize Macbeth’s downfall by speaking through the Three Apparitions.  I will ascribe the prophetic remarks to the weïrd sisters for the purposes of convenience.

The weïrd sisters issue literal statements, and Macbeth will metaphorize them.  Macbeth metaphorizes literal statements, wrongly believing taking such statements literally would be the literalizing of metaphors.  The witches literally mean that the forest of Birnam will be deforested and reforested.  They are not speaking in hyperbole.  The witches’ statement is ambiguous only because it is straightforward—Macbeth reads the statement as hyperbole, not as a literal assertion, much as he hyperbolizes their other statement that only a man not of woman born could slaughter him (I will return to this point below).  Macbeth believes that he is safe in Dunsinane only because the witches have told him that only the deforestation and reforestation of Birnam Wood would undo him.  The witches through the Third Apparition: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” [IV:i].  Immured in his fortress, Macbeth assumes, falsely, that mobile trees are not things that could ever exist.

When they say through the Second Apparition that “none of woman born / [s]hall harm Macbeth” [IV:i], the witches intend the statement literally.  They mean that Macbeth’s killer will have been birthed by way of a Caesarian operation.  They are saying that Macbeth’s slaughterer will not have come from a birth canal; they are not intending that Macduff’s genesis was without the intervention of a mother.

Because Macduff never was expelled from a birth canal, he is able to send Macbeth down the death canal.

The emphasis, then, should be placed not upon “woman,” but upon “born.”  Macduff did indeed come from a woman; however, he was not born from a woman.  He was “from his mother’s womb / [u]ntimely ripped” [V:viii].  Macduff was from woman born, just not naturally born.  It is likely that the juggling fields know well that Macbeth will accentuate the word “woman” and not the word “born.”  And yet they mean what they say!  The weïrd sisters are not liars—everything that they say is the literal truth.  The point is that the weïrd sisters know that their words will be misinterpreted.  They make plain statements that they know will be interpreted ambiguously.

Fascinating “juggling fields… [t]hat palter with us in a double sense” [V:viii]!  The weïrd sisters make clear, literal statements, which Macbeth then either interprets metaphorically or places the emphasis on the wrong word in the sentence, thus distorting its meaning.[xiii]  Of course, it is likely that the juggling fiends know what they are doing: They know the tendency of human beings to overinterpret or to falsely embellish literal statements.  The trick of language of the weïrd sisters is not that it is opaque—the trick is that their language is limpidly transparent.

The witches have tricked Macbeth with the equivocality of their speech.  Their speech is equivocal because it means precisely what it says.  Such is the diabolism, such is the mummery of the triad of wizardesses.  Language is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing unequivocal.[xiv]







Lady Macbeth arranges the killing of the King.  She says to her husband:

…you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch,
Which shall to all our nights and days to come,
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom [I:v].

“Dispatch” here means “management.”  Translation: “You shall, my husband, let me govern tonight’s event (the killing of the King)—an event that shall dominate all of our nights and days in the future.”[xvi]

When her husband expresses reservations about killing the man who promoted him, who made him Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth calls her husband, in essence, a sissy: “When you durst do it, then you were a man; / And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more than the man” [I:vii].  In other words: “You will not become a man unless you kill the King; otherwise, you will remain a boy, perhaps a ladyboy.  And if you do it, then you will be more than just a man.”  Any hesitancy on Macbeth’s part is written off as weakness: Macbeth’s spasms, his paroxysms, his anxieties would “well become / [a] woman’s story at a winter’s fire / [a]uthorized by her grandam” [III:iv].  She is here taunting, assaulting his masculinity, undermining the presumption of his manliness.  “Are you a man?” [Ibid.], she asks him, rhetorically, after the deed is done.  She belittles her husband by questioning his masculinity, infantilizing Macbeth, for he is indeed the child of Lady Macbeth.  Lady Macbeth mothers—produces—her own husband, who would only become a man by doing her bidding.  Lady Macbeth says of her husband’s face:

Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men
May read strange matters… [I:v].

This is an ambiguous statement.  What, precisely, does Lady Macbeth mean by strange?  Lady Macbeth might mean that her husband’s face is expressive—men may read strange matters therein.  “Strange” would mean “unsettling,” “grotesque,” “horrific.”  Men may read eerie, disturbing things in her husband’s face, things that are on Macbeth’s mind, things that should remain hidden.  Or she might mean that Macbeth’s face shows things that are foreign to his cast of mind.  “Strange,” then, would mean “alien,” “foreign,” “incommensurate,” not part of him, outside of his consciousness.  In other words, men may read things in Macbeth’s face that Macbeth is not actually thinking.  Macbeth’s face, then, would be inexpressive.  The fundamental point, for my argument, is that Lady Macbeth acts as the official interpreter of the book of Macbeth’s face.[xvii]

Despite all of her aggressiveness, so guilt-afflicted is Lady Macbeth post-deed that she becomes vegetabilized and then takes her life.  After the suicide of his wife, Macbeth does what any husband would do in the same situation.  He philosophizes.  He philosophizes in a sequence of metaleptic substitutions: “Life” becomes a “brief candle,” which becomes a “walking shadow,” which becomes a “poor player,” which becomes “a tale / [t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury / [s]ignifying nothing” [V:v].  Metalepsis, in the rhetorical sense, is the substitution of one metonym for another.

Childless Macbeth is as a child to Lady Macbeth.  I see Macbeth’s childlessness as an abdication of the parently role and as the continuation of childlikeness.  Unable to procreate, he is infantilized.  For Macbeth is indeed a child—he is powerless, which in the deepest sense is what a child is.













The play begins with a decapitation (that of Macdonald) and ends with a decapitation (that of Macbeth), suggesting that the actions that we assign to subjects are acephalic actions.  Macdonald’s “head is fixed upon [the Scottish army’s] battlements” [I:ii], and Macduff “enter[s]… with Macbeth’s head” [V:ix].  Not fortuitously, the First Apparition is a disembodied, weaponized head [IV:i], foretelling the coming beheading of Macbeth.  Decapitation is the key to understanding The Tragedy of Macbeth.

* * * * *

In his magisterial Daybreak: Thoughts on Moral Prejudices, Nietzsche sees in Macbeth a vigorous, daemonically attractive figure who is appealing because of his impassioned commitment to evil.  Nietzsche cosmeticizes Macbeth as a “hero-villain” or a “villain-hero” (without using these terms).

Instead of regarding Macbeth as a villain-hero or an anti-hero, as he often is, I see Macbeth as a process and the recipient of forces that are constantly acting upon him.  If there is no free will, and both the tragedies of Hamlet and Macbeth suggest that there is none, there are neither villains nor even heroes, even in time of plague.  Nor is there such a thing as a Self that would be the changeless center of consciousness, as if the subject were the captain of a ship—in charge of the deeds that the body does.  The play suggests that human beings are not self-conscious agents but fleshly puppets or “walking shadow[s]” [V:v].[xix]  Drivenness is what marks Macbeth—he is not an auto-mobile, not a self-driven vehicle.  He is being driven.

Immediately after the suicide of his wife, Macbeth acknowledges that the life of the human species is temporary.  He acknowledges that the life of the human animal is nothing more than a “poor player” who “struts and frets his hour upon a stage” [V:v].  He acknowledges that human life is a “brief candle” [Ibid.] that flares up only to be extinguished.  Macbeth assumes finitude and refuses finitude at the same time.  He assumes mortality and refuses mortality.  When he says, “At least we’ll die with harness on our back” [Ibid.], Macbeth appears to be suggesting that he does not have a speckle of a scintilla of a modicum of a tincture of a jot of a hope of surviving yet rushes headlong to his death and oblivion.  He appears to be suggesting: Even though we know that we are going to die, even though we know that we are going to be forgotten (we are hurtling toward oblivion, which is forgottenness), “[a]t least we’ll die with harness on our back” [Ibid.].  This great, triumphal statement is an assertion of the human in the face of nothingness.

The play suggests that all actions are involuntary, that everything is necessary.[xx]  Macbeth is provoked to murder involuntarily, by forces beyond his control, in the same way that alcohol involuntarily provokes nose-painting, sleep, and urine [II:iii].  The acceptance of necessity is determinism, as is the short-lived stoical resignation of Lady Macbeth: “What’s done is done” [III:ii], and “What’s done, cannot be undone” [V:i].  Yes, and what will have been done will have been done.

There is no redemption or forgiveness or apology at the end of the play, only an impassioned refusal and assumption of necessity, a fighting-in-vain against necessity unto the end, “with harness on our back.”  The Tragedy of Macbeth is, relevantly, Shakespeare’s briefest tragedy.  As if to remind us of the ephemerality of life, the play itself is ephemeral.  Time is all-annihilating, the life of humankind is a “brief candle,” and Macbeth is an agent of all-annihilating time.

Joseph Suglia



[i] Date of composition: 1606, terminus post quem.


[ii] Macbeth is not equal to the deed that he has committed (the murder of Duncan).


[iii] Macbeth is deploying a similar distancing technique when he says, “If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly” [I:vii].  Note that he does not say, “If I were to do it.”  The “It” takes the place of the “I.”


[iv] It would be unpresumptuous to say that this experience is not one of self-knowledge, but one of self-misknowledge.


[v] The original text of Holinshed: “These women were either the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie, or else some nymphs or feiries, indued with knowledge of prophesie by their necromanticall science, bicause euerie thing came to passe as they had spoken.”


[vi] Appearances of the supernatural or of aberrant nature protrude and obtrude throughout the text of the play—a mousing owl hawking and killing a towering falcon, two horses cannibalizing each other [II:iv], the banqueting ghost of Banquo [III:iv], the apparitions of an armed head, a bloody child, and a child crowned, with a tree in his hand, the show of eight kings [IV:i].


[vii] The names are similar, fortuitously, for these are the names given in the historical record (Holinshed).  Macbeth, Macduff, and Macdonald are the three Big Macs.  There are instances of parechesis throughout the play: “banquet” and “Banquo,” “thane” and “thine,” as well as “Macbeth,” “Macduff,” and “Macdonald.”


[viii] The weïrd sisters often speak in paradoxes: “Greater than Macbeth, and lesser”; “When the battle’s lost, and won” [I:i].  Macbeth, whose speech imitates the speech of the witches, also occasionally speaks paradoxically: “This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill; cannot be good” [I:iii].  Malcolm, too, is paradoxical when he says: “We have met with foes / That strike beside us” [V:vii].  He might mean: “We have encountered enemies who are on our side,” perhaps alluding to the kerns (Irish guerilla soldiers), against whom the Scots fought at the beginning of the play and who might now be Scottish allies.  The entire play contains a paradoxology.


[ix] “I’ll do, I’ll do, I’ll do” gives the illusion of subjectivity.


[x] “I’ll do, I’ll do, I’ll do” is what rhetoricians call “epizeuxis”: the repetition of a word in close succession.  Epizeuxis is the least intelligent form of rhetorical repetition, but it would be unfair to blame Shakespeare for this, since the repetition is purposely mindless.  Perhaps the clearest example of epizeuxis: “No, no, no, no.”


[xi] Macbeth to the witches: “[Y]ou untie the winds and let them fight / Against the churches…” [IV:i].


[xii] “Though his bark cannot be lost, / Yet it shall be tempest-tossed” [I:iii].


[xiii] To think that words only have a metaphorical significance is to have a slender understanding of how words work.


[xiv] Babbling language, signifying nothing—language is a text in which the signifier supersedes the signified.


[xv] The original text of Holinshed: “The woords of the thrée weird sisters… greatlie incouraged him herevunto [to kill Duncan], but speciallie his wife lay sore vpon him to attempt the thing, as she that was verie ambitious, burning in vnquenchable desire to beare the name of a quéene.”


[xvi] And she continues: “To alter favour ever is to fear. / Leave all the rest to me” [I:v].


[xvii] What Lady Macbeth is saying sounds uncannily resemblant of what King Duncan says in the fourth scene of the first act: “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face.”  He is alluding to the traitorous quondam Thane of Cawdor.  In a masterly feat of Shakespearean cosmic irony, the King then turns to speak to someone he misestimates: Macbeth!


[xix] The play subtly weakens the idea that a human being could be autogenously produced; it criticizes the myth of autogeny.  That idea is blown up into flinders.  To use the language of psychology: The play suggests that the formation of the human being could be explained by alloplasticity, not autoplasticity.  Not by the mind’s capacity for dealing with the external world, but by the mind’s capacity for being affected by the external world.


[xx] The play humanizes the tyrant Macbeth.  He is impelled, necessitated to kill.



Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

I am not a lyrical poet, but for some reason, these two lyrical poems surfaced in my mind recently.  If you like them, you will love my novel TABLE 41, the novel which predicted the novel Coronavirus.–Joseph Suglia


by Joseph Suglia

Quiet city
The zoogenic and zoonotic pestilence is encoiling and ensnaring the quiet city
Encoiling and ensnaring
The plan-disruptive plague

Quiet city
There are pigs in the alley
These pigs do not squeal; they screech
There is a screeching outside in the quiet city



by Joseph Suglia

A scintilla of space
in a sea of time

A worldship
not fixed to any place

A migratory, nomadic space
with an affinity to the flows of water


The Unreadability of Hamlet


by Joseph Suglia


“No wavering mind, infected with Hamletism, was ever pernicious: the principle of evil lies in the will’s tension, in the incapacity for quietism, in the Promethean megalomania of a race that bursts with ideals, that explodes with convictions…”

—Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay


“O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”


Hamlet is not killed by Laertes, nor is he killed by Claudius; he is killed again and again by consumer culture, which is incrementally becoming the only culture on the Planet Earth.  That is to say: The text entitled The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which is attributed to a person named William Shakespeare, has been distilled to a compound of popular-cultural clichés.  The text has been zombified.  I do not mean that the language of the text is obsolete or irrelevant.  I mean that the play “lives on” in the deathful form of clichés, for clichés are dead language.

Nearly every line of the play has become a platitude, a slogan, a title of a song or a film, a song lyric.  Most have an at least sedimentary understanding of the play—in the form of the clichés that the play has generated.  You might not have read Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark, but Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark has read you.

It is nearly impossible to read the words of the text in their original context, since the text now appears porous to any culturally literate person.  It is not an open-source text; it is an open-sore text.  It is leachy, pervious, permeable to the outside.  That is to say, the text constantly refers to popular-cultural detritus, to bastardized commercializations of the play that Shakespeare was fortunate enough never to have seen or to have heard.  Or, proleptically, to other works of literature; I have read about half of these lines in other works of literature.  When I read “sweets to the sweet,” “ay, very like a whale,” or “beetles over his base into the sea,” I think not of Hamlet (or of the play of which he is the eponym), but of Joyce’s Ulysses, wherein these same phrases reappear.  I am forcibly extricated from the initial text and redirected to another, much later work of literature.

It is not that my mobile telephone is pulling me out of the text.  Staying alone with the text, without the buzzing and shrilling of our telephones, without the compulsive need to check one’s e-mail is a persistent challenge for most, it is true.  Yet this argument is not so much incorrect as it is banal.  It is an argument has been too easily and too often made before (most notably, by Nicolas Carr in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”).  My argument is not that the webware of our minds has been redesigned and redrawn—something that I have accepted as an immovable fact long ago.  Yes, I know that most are distractible.  I have known this for years.  My argument is different.

What is pulling me out of the text is a set of exophoric references that has come long after the fact of the text’s composition.

I am arguing that the play is unreadable independently of its multiple references to consumerist culture.  I do not mean that the text cannot be read (it is as compulsively readable as any text in the Shakespearean canon).  Again, this is not my argument.  I am suggesting something else.  I mean that the text cannot be read as a text, so englutted is it with post-date media clichés and references to other works of literature.  The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a multiply linked polytext.

In an age in which Google is the New God, it is even less probable that one could read a text in its nudity.  We have reached the point at which many of us cannot read a text as text, assuming that such a thing were even ever possible.  As Nietzsche writes in the late notebooks, “To able to read off a text as text, without interposing an interpretation between the lines, is the latest form of ‘inner experience’—perhaps one that is scarcely possible,” einen Text als Text ablesen können, ohne eine Interpretation dazwischen zu mengen, ist die späteste Form der “inneren Erfahrung,”— vielleicht eine kaum mögliche…  One would require an innocent mind to be able to read a text that is unalloyed.

And yet there are no innocent minds any longer—if there ever were!  So supersaturated is the play with after-the-fact media clichés, so embedded is the play with alluvial deposits, so thoroughly is the play encrusted with post-date media messages that it is pre-contaminated.  It is pre-inscribed, paradoxically, by cultural references that were superimposed on the text 400 years after the fact.  Cultural references that have been superimposed to the extent that they are have become part of the text “itself.”  The clichés are not extricable from the text “itself.”

The play cannot be ensiled, protected from the intrusion of clichés.  To ensile means to prepare and store fodder (such as hay or corn) so that it is conduced into silage (succulent feed for livestock).

The lines of the play have taken on lives of their own outside of the play.  Many of them have fallen into the flabbiness of ordinary language.  Popular culture has engulfed the text and debased it.


* * * * *


Here is a partial list of popular-cultural vandalizations and vulgarizations of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  I will be citing the Second Quarto (1604-1605) exclusively, for it is the most expansive version of the play:

“’Tis bitter cold / And I am sick at heart” [I:i] is now the language of the weather report.  Squalls and flurries are routinely described by meteorologists as “bitter cold.”  Supporters of politicians are said to wait for their candidates in the “bitter cold.”  “Bitter cold” is said to be the climate of beautiful Rochester, New York.  Poeticism has been deflated, fallen into the stupidity of ordinary language.

“Not a mouse stirring” is now a verse in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore.  Moore defamiliarized and rescrambled the cliché: It has now become “Not a creature was stirring / not even a mouse.”  And yet that itself has become a cliché.  Readers and spectators of the play will call the Christmas favorite to mind—and digress from the text of the play into yuletide musings.

The stage direction Exit Ghost is now the title of a 2007 novel by Philip Roth.

“Stay, Illusion” is now the title of the book of poetry by Lucie Brock-Broido.

“A little more than kin, and less than kind” [I:ii]: Hamlet’s reproving words to his adulterous, fratricidal stepfather is now a Canadian television series called Less Than Kind (2008-2013).

“I shall not look upon his like again”: Whenever someone dies and the eulogist at the obsequy wants to sound literate, s/he will say, “We’ll not see his/her like again.”  In their eulogies to David Bowie and John McCain, Will Self and Joe Biden, respectively, change the “I” to “we”—a common misremembrance, a common misrecollection of the line.  It is originally Hamlet’s manner of saying that his father—his only father, his real father, his bio-dad—is irreplaceable and certainly may never be replaced by an incestuous, fratricidal drunkard and idiot.

“This above all, to thine own self be true” [I:iii]: These words no longer are counsel given by the unbrilliant Polonius to his son Laertes before the latter is dispatched to France to study at university.  They now form an inscription tattooed on the faceless arms of hundreds of thousands of “social-media” mystics and cybernetic insta-priests (the words before the colon are usually deleted).

I place “social media” in quotation marks because there is nothing social about “social media.”

I suspect that the tattoo exists in order to be photographed and “shared” for the benefit of “Likes.”  I wonder how many carve, chisel, these words into their flesh in order to display the insignia / imprint to their shadowy internet “friends” and “followers.”  This is a good example of denaturing the body in order to receive approval from hollow cybernetic effigies.

In the twenty-first century: We do not experience and then represent; we represent and then experience.

But to my mind, though I am native here / And to the manner born, it is a custom / More honoured in the breach than the observance” [I:iv]: As Philip B. Corbett illuminates in his The New York Times article “Mangled Shakespeare,” “to the manner born” is often misheard and misremembered as “to the manor born.”

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” [I:iv]: Once Marcellus’s baleful diagnosis of his country upon seeing the ghost of the dead king, the statement is now a cliché that can be found almost everywhere.

No longer the admonition of Claudius to his son to leave the boy’s mother unpunished by worldly vengeance, “leave her to heaven” [I:v] is now a 1945 film noir directed by John M. Stahl.

Once Horatio’s words of astonishment upon seeing the ghost of his friend’s father, “wondrous strange” is now the title of a young-adult fantasy novel by Lesley Livingston.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”: This was originally Hamlet’s gentle rebuke to Horatio for his Epicureanism (Epicurus denied the supernatural) after both characters see the ghost of Hamlet’s father.  The “your” is often changed to “our,” Horatio’s name is almost always deleted, and this is now the favorite weasel sentence of agnostics who condescendingly allow the probabilism of the supreme deity.

“The time is out of joint”: This is now the resaying of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who uses the quotation to explain what Kant means by the universal form of sensibility, which is time.  Deleuze is unaware that “[t]he time” refers to the unspecified age in which the play is set, not to temporality itself.  Though he is no marketer, Deleuze belongs on this list.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire” [II:ii] has been curdled into a line that can be heard in the films Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Letters to Juliet (2010).

“Thou this be madness yet there is method in’t”: The original context (Polonius’s interlude of lucidity) has been forgotten, since it is now a thought-annihilating platitude, with neither method nor madness therein.  It is also the 2019 cinematic comedy Madness in the Method, directed by Jason Mewes.

“What a piece of work is man!” is no longer Hamlet’s ejaculatory paean to the intricate elegance and elegant intricacy of humanity.  It is now “You’re a real piece of work!” which is a favorite insult of the insecure, one which is sometimes applied to a person who steps too far outside of the herd.  Urban Dictionary makes the interesting point that a “piece of work” is someone who is needlessly difficult.

“The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  One of the most stupid lines in the whole of Shakespeare has become an episode of the seventh season of SpongeBob SquarePants, “The Play’s the Thing.”

“To be, or not to be—that is the question” [III:i] has been transmuted into a 1983 film by Mel Brooks entitled To Be or Not to Be (superseding an earlier film with the same title which has been largely forgotten).  It is also a 1965 song by the Bee Gees.

“Slings and arrows” is now a Canadian television series (2003-2006).

“Outrageous fortune” has been transformed into a 1987 film comedy starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long.

“Perchance to dream” is the twenty-sixth episode of the animated series Batman (1992).

“What dreams may come” has become a 1998 film drama starring Robin Williams.  Few seem to remember that the film is based on a novel by the great Richard Matheson that was published two decades earlier.

“The undiscovered country” is no longer Hamlet’s metaphor for death.  It is now the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

“Get thee to a nunnery”: Hamlet’s vicious insult to Ophelia, after he declares his non-love for her (and perhaps his lovelessness in general, his possible inability to love anyone), has been reduced to a meme, to an ironic, internet cliché.  “Nunnery” might signify “brothel,” but it more probably signifies “convent,” since, in tandem with his To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy, Hamlet seems to be pursuing the antinatalist argument that it is better for humankind to stop breeding, that it is better never to have been born (following Sophocles and anticipating the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Cioran).  What thwarts Hamlet’s suicide is his fear of the afterworld, of afterwordliness—this fear is the “conscience [that] does make cowards of us all.”  There is no reason to breed, then.  It is better never to give birth, for suicide is too dicey.

“[T]he mirror [held] up to Nature to show Virtue her feature” [III:ii] is now an infantile short story by David Foster Wallace called “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” (which, in turn, was based on a work of philosophy by Richard Rorty).

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”: Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, means that the Player Queen is affirming too much, she is over-emphatic in her declarations of love for her second husband.  Protesting does not mean, here, negating.  It is not an instance of Freudian Verneinung, as if a husband were to say to his wife, unprompted, “I am not saying that I’m attracted to the waitress.”  Nor does it mean “to disagree with someone vehemently, in a suspiciously egregious manner.”  In Shakespeare’s England, “to protest” meant to give repeated affirmations, “to over-assert,” “to pronounce a statement vigorously and forcefully.”  In an interesting example of the Mandela Effect, there has been a collective misremembrance of the line as “Methinks you protest too much.”

“I must be cruel only to be kind” [III:iv] are no longer the self-exculpatory words of Hamlet, defending the very cruel words that he says to his mother, Queen Gertrude.  It is now the advice of Nick Lowe, given in his 1979 hit song “Cruel to Be Kind,” a song that is sometimes cited by cruel people who claim to be honest.

“Hoist with his own petard” doesn’t mean lifting oneself by one’s own crane, despite what a number of political cartoons and political commentators suggest.  “To hoist with one’s own petard” means “to blow oneself up with one’s own bomb.”

“This man shall set me packing” means “This man will provoke me into action.”  It has nothing to do with eviction, with kicking someone out of an apartment, with expulsion, which is what it has come to mean colloquially or when Joe Biden says, “We will send Trump packing and keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.”  Or when current Prime Minister of Great Britain Boris Johnson says that he is “absolutely confident that [the Britons] can send the Coronavirus packing in this country.”

“Goodnight, ladies, goodnight.  Sweet ladies, goodnight, goodnight” [IV:v] has been demoted to the final song on Transformer (1972), Lou Reed’s worst album, which is really a bad David Bowie album (Bowie was its producer).  The line does also reappear in intentionally, floridly bastardized form in “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot—a poem that concerns the cheapening, the coarsening, of literary values in the mass culture of the European twentieth century.

“A fellow of infinite jest” [V:i] is no longer a phrase that Hamlet uses to praise his father’s jester Yorick, who is now dead and whose skull Hamlet is holding.  It is now the title of one of the most execrably written books ever published, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

“[T]he quick and dead” is now the 1995 film The Quick and the Dead, directed by Sam Raimi.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” [V:ii] is now the title of Tom Stoppard’s not-always-bracing postmodernist, auto-reflexive play.  It has also been resurrected as the 2009 American independent film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.


* * * * *


As the snapshots of popular culture above demonstrate, popular culture has vulgarized and continues to vulgarize the play, for popular culture vulgarizes all art, degrading it until it becomes something other than art, something baser than art.

Each popular-cultural citation leaves a residue.  Of course, there would be no “pure” text beneath the accrual of sedimentation.  However, I am arguing something else: The text is even less pure than it would be otherwise, so buried is it under a mountain of kitsch, a garbage mountain of clichés in an ever-compounding media landfill.

We deviate from the text at hand.  We are force-fed bowls of fuzz-word salad.

If I were able to approach the text in its “nudity”: My own approach to the text would be to examine it through the speculum of the question of the free will.  Multiple essays have already discussed the question of free will in Hamlet, but none, as far as I know, have argued that the play is suggesting that free will is a delusion from which we would do well to disabuse ourselves.  If the play is about anything at all, it is about the impossibility of anything like a free will.

The crux of the play, its pivotal question, is why does Hamlet delay?  Why is Laertes a swift avenger whereas Hamlet is a sluggardly avenger?  Whereas Laertes is undiscouraged and rushes headlong toward vengeance—Laertes, who all but breaks down the door to slaughter Hamlet, whom he blames for his father Polonius’ death—Hamlet is unnimble and delays the exaction of revenge for the murder of his father.  Hamlet’s hesitancy, his hesitantism, has nothing to do with will, for Hamlet is consciously committed to exacting revenge for his father’s death “with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love” [I:v].

The answer is that Hamlet’s will is not his own, as Laertes himself says in the third scene of the first act to Laertes’ sister Ophelia.  He has no free will for no one has freedom of will.  Our decisions emerge from the abysses of the unconscious mind.  The source of decisions is not consciousness; we are only free to choose what our unconscious minds have chosen for us.

We see that Hamlet believes in the mirage of the free will when he commands, “About, my brains!” in the all-important soliloquy of Act Two: Scene Two, a soliloquy that is far more significant than the To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy.  “About, my brains!” means “Get to work, my mind!”  Or: “Activate, my mind!  Impel me into action!”  Hamlet (his consciousness and the Ego which is the nucleus of his consciousness) is commanding his brain (his unconscious mind, the hinterbrain) to prompt him to action.  And yet Hamlet’s “I” (the Ego, the idealized and self-preserving representation of the Self) remains unprovokable.  The “I” commands the brain to act—Hamlet apostrophizes his brains.  It is a dialogue or a duologue between consciousness and the unconscious mind.  Hamlet is both talking-to-himself and listening-to-himself-speak.  The play is suggesting that action does not issue directly from the “I” but from the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Hence, it is a critique, in dramatic form, of the misbegotten concept of the free will.

It is only within the final scene of the play that Hamlet learns that all human thinking and acting is necessary, involuntary, inadvertent, unwitting: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” [V:ii].  He learns to leave things as they are, in a manner similar to stoicism or Heideggerean Gelassenheit: “Let be,” Hamlet says.  “Let be”: Let things be in their being.  Accept things as they are, instead of tyrannizing nature and expecting life to follow according to one’s subjective volition.  Adjust to the swirl of experience, which is beyond anyone’s conscious control.

None of this will appear to readers and spectators of the play, so dumbed down has the text become by ordinary language and the stupiditarians of the entertainment industry.  Language does change over time, as the descriptivists repeatedly claim to justify their unreflective assertion that language speakers do not need to be told what the rules of that language are.  It is as if the descriptivists were calling out: “Let chaos reign!” and “All hail disorder!”  I would say, in rejoinder: Language becomes more and more stupid over time.

Ultimately, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has become a cliché-manufacturing factory—generative of clichés that are more enduring than the Prince of Denmark’s sweaty vacillations and testy temporizations.

Joseph Suglia

On KING LEAR (Shakespeare)


by Joseph Suglia


“One has not observed life very carefully if one has failed to see the hand that gently—kills.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Paragraph 69


“Achieved art is quite incapable of lowering the spirits.  If this were not so, each performance of King Lear would end in a Jonestown.”

—Martin Amis, “Philip Larkin: His Work and Life”


Any writer who has received a Letter of Rejection knows the sting of malignancy behind that letter’s boilerplate politeness: “Every month, we are sent thousands of manuscripts for review.  Unfortunately, your manuscript was not among the few that reached our editorial board.  We will keep your query on file should another opportunity arise.”  Any suitor whose desires have been refused knows the malicious assertion of power that surges and throbs behind the superficially gentle refusal, so unkind in its apparent kindness: “Thank you.  I am very flattered; unfortunately, I am not available for dating.”  When American corporatists say, “I am sorry that you feel that way,” this means: “I don’t care how you feel.”  When Disney employees cheep and chirp, “Have a Disney Day!” to tourists, this is another way of saying, “Kill yourself!”

Such is what Slavoj Žižek calls the “unmistakable dimension of humiliating brutality” inherent to polite responses (In Defense of Lost Causes, p. 17).  Politeness is ambiguous because it seems to be a form of gallantry and respect for the other person’s feelings; just as often, it conceals a radical disregard for a person’s sensitivity.  Open expressions of dislike must be avoided in polite society; therefore, one’s contempt for others maintains itself as disguised contempt.  Respectfulness and tact are, often enough, screens behind which disrespectfulness and insensitivity lurk.  There is, in a word, such a thing as aggressive politeness; there is such a thing as being aggressively polite.

I believe that the ambiguity of politeness is evident in Shakespeare’s traumatizing King Lear (1605-1606).  Let me be blunt: The play concerns a king who is thrown down to the level of a homeless beggar, and he is subjected to a series of brutal humiliations throughout the play, as are Edgar, Gloucester, and Lear’s rough yet loyal-to-the-death servant Kent.  The abjections begin long before the King’s exposure to the cold gusts of the open heath.  Lear is humiliated long before he experiences undisguised elder abuse, long before he is pushed out of doors, long before he is diminished to an undignified poverty.  The degradations begin with the manifest politeness of his two eldest offspring, Goneril and Regan.  Lear is mapping out and parceling out his kingly estate—prematurely, I would add—to his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, before his “[u]nburdened crawl toward death” [I:i].  His crawl toward death turns out to be a severely burdened one, despite his expectations.  His decision to give away his land, property, and revenue is an undiscerning one—hence the ocular imagery that spreads throughout the play.  The gruesome enucleation of Gloucester in Act Three: Scene Seven, for instance, mirrors Lear’s own blindness, his inability to leer.  The play’s twin metaphors are blindness and nothingness.[i]

When Lear asks his youngest daughter, his favorite, to declare her love for him, Cordelia’s response is monstrously inappropriate: “Nothing, my lord” [I:i].  (Inappropriate yet not as cruel as the pointed flatteries of Goneril and Regan, which I will turn to below.)  Inexpressive Cordelia says this to herself, and so we know that it is genuine: “I am sure my love’s / More ponderous than my tongue” [Ibid.].  She knows that language always lies, she knows that any word that she could possibly say would belie the love that she has for her father, transmuting her feelings to their converse,[ii] so she chooses to say nothing: “Nothing, my lord.”  She utters the following to explain her mutism: “I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth” [Ibid.]—“to heave” means “to lift.”  She cannot raise the profundity of her feeling to language, with all of its manifold evasions, pomposities, and solecisms.  Undiscerning Lear misses Cordelia’s meaning: All Cordelia is suggesting is that she loves her father according to a wordless obligation.  She is “[s]o young” and “true” [Ibid.]—and Lear, dotard that he is, mistakes his youngest daughter’s brazenness and refusal to dote on him for disloyalty.[iii]

Again, Lear’s successive humiliations begin not with Cordelia’s inadvertent insult, but with the politeness of Goneril and Regan.  Cordelia, the malapert minx, with her saucy bluntness, is kinder than Goneril and Regan, who are empty flatterers and who are cruel in their flattery.  Politeness and manners are cruelty.  Goneril and Regan are followers of the conventions of the court; their intimacy is a kind of formalized intimacy or a kind of intimate formality.  One of Goneril’s inflated flatteries goes thus: “Sir, I do love you more than word can wield the matter…” [Ibid.].[iv]  Undiscerning Lear, who “jointly” “invests” his eldest daughters with his “power” [I:i][v] trusts their statements—statements that are no more meaningful than the proposition “Banana trees eat cheese.”

Cordelia’s resistance is nothing in comparison with Goneril and Regan’s insubordination, for they undermine their father’s standing and resources before pushing him out into the cold of the storm.[vi]  The point that I am trying to make is that Cordelia’s resistance, however inapposite it might be, is far less destabilizing than the savage overthrows of her older sisters, who wear the mask of politeness.

Lear is a literalist.  He literalizes Cordelia’s impoliteness, as if it represented disloyalty, when it does not.  He literalizes Kent’s bluntness, his “unmannerliness,” his “plainness” [I:i], as if it represented rebelliousness, which it does not.  Instead, he prizes Goneril and Regan’s “oily” and “glib” [I:i] flatteries, which conceal a deep and deadly disobedience.  To repurpose something once said by George Carlin, their version of politeness is contempt pretending to be manners.

The King’s demand is for the expression of love, as if the expression of love were love itself.[vii]  Lear prefers expressions of politeness to genuine loyalty.  He believes that Goneril and Regan love him because they say that they do.  When he finally grasps the venom with which their polite formulae is saturated, Lear makes the logical error of associating the inhuman behavior of Goneril and Regan with the behavior of all women.  Lear becomes a full-blown misogynist on account of this logical error (the Fallacy of Composition), which is similar to the unfortunate mistake of some critics who think that the play is misogynistic because the character Lear blindly becomes a misogynist.[viii]

Lear’s absolute authority at the beginning of the play is gradually triturated.  Contemptuously, Oswald refers to the King as “My lady’s father” [I:iv].  “My lady’s father” places the emphasis on the “lady” (Goneril) and thus suggests the unmanning of Lear.  Everyone in the hall knows this nasty bit of pseudo-politeness for what it is: an insult to the King.  Kent accordingly gives Oswald a good drubbing—Kent, who is blunt and painful in his honesty yet far, far kinder than those flatterers, those sycophants, those sophists, whose loyalties lie in their mouths and not in their deeds.

The eldest daughters are the cuckoos that bite the head off the hedge-sparrow, their father.  The Fool to Lear: “The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long / That it’s had it head bit off by it young” [I:iv].  The most shocking thing about the second line is the intentional absence of proper grammar.  The grammatical way of composing the lines would be: “The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long / That it had its head bit off by its young.”  The intentionally bad grammar intensifies the shocking character of the image.  Since the cuckoo and the hedge-sparrow belong to different species within the avian kingdom, the Fool might even be suggesting that Lear’s daughters belong to a different species than the King—though, to be historically precise, Linnaeus established the separate classification of dunnock and cuckoos slightly over 150 years after this play was composed (in 1758).  If the Fool intends that they belong to the same family, this is an image of the daughters cannibalizing their father.

Soon after his eldest daughters drive him down, inverting the traditional father-daughter relationship,[ix] Lear becomes estranged from himself; he becomes unrecognizably other.  Alienated from himself, alienated from his estate, which he has imprudently given to his eldest daughters, Lear can no longer recognize himself: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” [I:iv].  His previous self is foreign to him: “Does any here know me?  Why, this is not Lear” [Ibid.].  He is the father who is father no more; he is the king who is king in title only.  For much of his life, he thought of himself as father and as king.  Now that the roles of father and king have been robbed of their substance, he does not recognize who he is.  This non-self-recognition is madness.[x]

Lear tries to strip off his royal habiliments in the storm, which would be a kind of stripping-away of the symbols of royal authority, but is restrained by the Fool.  The Fool is introduced in Act One: Scene Four, three scenes after the befooling of Lear has been initiated.  The Fool disappears in Act Three: Scene Six, right after Lear says, “We’ll go to supper in’the morning” [III:vi], which means that Lear is now completely demented.  Now, it is the King who has become the Fool.  What use is the Fool when the King is foolish?  It is only when the Fool is hanged that we hear of the Fool again.

Even though, on the surface, Cordelia has “scanted” her “obedience” [I:i] by avoiding an explicit declaration of love for her father, she shows signs of real devotion to him toward the end of the play, when she leads a charge into England to restore him to the throne.  After the first scene of the first act, we do not see Cordelia again until the fourth scene of Act Four, wherein she reemerges as the Queen of France.  At least, this is the case in the Quarto of 1608.  There are significant discontinuities between the Quarto of 1608 and the First Folio of 1623.  In the First Folio, Cordelia reappears in the third scene of “Actus Quartus,” surrounded by pendants, drums, and her entourage: “Enter with Drum and Colours, Cordelia, Gentlemen, and Souldiours.”

One of Cordelia’s roles, after she accedes to the queenship of France, is to re-man, to re-virilize Lear, to undo the unmanning to which he has been subjected: “How does my royal lord?  How fares your majesty?” Cordelia asks her father in the seventh scene of the fourth act—without ever addressing him as her father!  No, she gives Lear a higher status than that of a father, than that of a biological progenitor.  He is the King, her royal lord, his majesty once more, and he is addressed with respect—and yet, for once, one senses that there is no malice beneath a shifty veneer of respectfulness.

The play does end in a certain restoration—the King reunites with his disowned daughter—and it is a beautiful resipiscence, a beautiful reconciliation between father and daughter, which makes the play almost endurable.  At the risk of sounding facile, this is a very dreary, very abjective, and quite nauseating play, but it does contain one positive value, and that is the value of covert loyalty.  Whereas Harold Bloom inflates the role of Edgar, I would emphasize the magnificent Kent.  Even when he disguises himself and escapes banishment, Kent does so in order to better serve his master.  Kent’s dishonesty masks a deeper honesty, his deceptions mask a deeper loyalty, as Cordelia’s phenomenal coldness masks a profounder warmth.  Kent shows a deeper obedience to Lear by standing up to the King and telling him, in essence, that the King is acting against his own best interests.  Kent is the very model of disloyal loyalty, of traitorous piety, of the fidelity of treason, which is something that Nietzsche knew well.

Joseph Suglia

[i] These are not matters that I am able to pursue in this essay directly, so I will place the relevant citations within an endnote.  Concerning the ocular metaphors: Goneril claims, phonily, that her father is “[d]earer than eyesight” to her [I:i].  Lear exclaims to Kent: “Out of my sight!”  Kent’s response: “See better, Lear, and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye” [Ibid.].  Lear says to his own eyes: “Old fond eyes, / Beweep this cause again, I’ll pluck yet out…” [I:iv].  Concerning the metaphors of nullity, within which Harold Bloom would see a creative gnostic vacuity: There are Cordelia and Lear’s “Nothings” in the first scene.  Edmund says to his father, “Nothing, my lord” in the second scene of the play.  In the fourth scene of the first act, Lear tells the Fool that “nothing can be made out of nothing.”  The Fool says to Lear: “I am a fool, thou art nothing” [Ibid.].

[ii] Cordelia knows the deceptiveness of language, as does her male double, Edgar.  Edgar says, to himself, that “the worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst’” [IV:i].  The verbal articulation of one’s condition nullifies that very condition.  One is not fully lonely, as long as one can say, “I am lonely,” to follow Blanchot.  One is not fully sad, as long as one can say, “I am sad.”  One at least has energy enough to say that one is sad; one still opens the possibility of an addressee or an auditor when one says that one is lonely.

[iii] So scandalized is Lear that he (ostensibly) delights in the company of his youngest daughter no more than he delights in the company of cannibals: “[H]e that makes his generation messes / To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom / Be as well neighboured, pitied and relieved, / As thou my sometime daughter” [I:i], Lear intones to Cordelia.

[iv] Cordelia, by contrast, is reticent: “To speak and purpose not—since what I well intend, / I’ll do’t before I speak” [I:i].

[v] By way of an illocutionary performative speech act.

[vi] Regan and Goneril’s insubordination of their father is mirrored by the bastard Edmund’s insubordination of his father.  Edmund betrays his father, the Earl of Gloucester, as Goneril and Regan betray their father, Lear.  Edmund, at least, becomes sympathetic in his dying.  In his final moments, he has a coda of self-acknowledgement.  Not so Goneril and Regan.  Edmund is an obvious sociopath but is less dislikable than Goneril and Regan.

[vii] Lear is King James I perceived through the speculum of a funhouse mirror.  Much as James I, who patronized Shakespeare and whom Shakespeare served when this play was first performed, King Lear demands absolute obedience.  James I asserted his absolute authority in writing, in The True Law of Free Monarchies; or, The Reciprocal and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and His Natural Subjects (originally published in 1598).  Anyone who reads this text will see that James I considered obedience to the King to be identical to obedience to God.  Intriguingly, Shakespeare seems to be subtly criticizing his patron.  Both James I and Lear make the mistake of believing that an outward show of submission is true obedience.  Moreover, James I similarly divided his estate, giving it to his sons, renouncing the ownership of moieties of his land and money.  Instead of burbling about Shakespeare’s “universalism” or “infinity,” it is important to place the plays within their proper historical contexts.  “Universalism” and “infinity”: Such are a few of the pomposities and vaporizings of Harold Bloom, who is otherwise often admirable.

[viii] Lear is nothing if not the Father.  If he is not patriarchal, then no one is.

[ix] Lear is infantilized, becoming son to Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia.  In this play, daughters are mothers to their father.  “Old fools are babes again,” Goneril says of her father to Oswald [I:iii].  The Fool tells Lear, “[T]hou mad’st thy daughters thy mothers” [I:iv].  Similarly, Edmund says of his brother Edgar that the latter claimed: “[T]he father should be as ward to the son and the son manage his revenue” [I:ii].  Likewise, Edgar says of his father, “He childed as I father’d” [III:vi], implying an inversion of relation between father and son.  It is an inverted world in which the characters are dwelling, one in which the home-space is outside of the kingdom and the outside is within: “Freedom lives hence and banishment is here” [I:i], as Kent phrases it.

[x] There is a great deal of self-estrangement in the play.  Edgar disguises himself as Poor Tom, peasant and bedlamite, before becoming the next King of England, and Kent disguises himself as Caius before being recognized for who he is by the dying Lear in the final act.  In the guise of Poor Tom, Edgar dispatches the vermin Oswald and Edmund, who have verminated England.  Interestingly, there is a legend that the historical King Edgar committed lupicide, dispatching and expelling wolves from Albion immediately after he became king.


A Fragmentary Analysis of TIMON OF ATHENS (Shakespeare) by Joseph Suglia


A Fragmentary Analysis of TIMON OF ATHENS (Shakespeare)

by Joseph Suglia


“Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but death chiefly, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.”

—Epictetus, The Enchiridion


“A friend asks only for your time and not money.”

—From a fortune cookie.  Chinatown, Chicago, 2019


Athenian lord Timon has an embarrassment of wealth, and he doesn’t seem in the least embarrassed about it.  He is generous—absurdly, promiscuously generous, prodigal to the point of profligacy.  His Lucullan feasts are well-attended.  Of course, he is parasitized by the mob—by the mob of disgusting parasites who call themselves his “friends.”  As if they were a pack of baphometic daemons, his “friends” eat up his money until he has nothing left.  When the creditors demand repayment, Timon has nothing to give them.  None of his “friends” helps Timon in his time of need; the pseudo-friends to whom he appeals for money—Lucullus, Lucius, and Sempronius—refuse his entreaties, even while they are wearing the jewelry that Timon gifted them.  Timon is soon on course for self-immolation.  He is so aggrieved that he spends the rest of his life in a wasteland, where he execrates the whole of humanity.

So goes the epitasis of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens (circa 1605-1608), largely based on Plutarch’s life of Antony and Lucian’s dialogue on Timon.  It is an allegory of language (this is not something that I will pursue in depth here) and an allegory of misanthropy and sounds particularly allegorical when Timon declares dismally to Alcibiades: “I am Misanthropos and hate mankind” [IV:iii].  It is clear that Timon is allegorizing misanthropy in the general and in the abstract.  However, Shakespeare’s great play, one of the most underestimated in the Western literary canon, is not a misanthropic play, despite appearances, but a subtle critique of Timonian misanthropy.



Timon retreats to the wasteland in order to avoid human contact and to correct the errors of his personal past, to correct the mistakes that he made when he was rich (profligate liberality, exploitability).  And what does he do while in the wasteland?  He socializes still!

Even while wasting away in the wasteland, Timon is thronged by other human beings.  In the same way that the Forest of Arden in As You Like It is an overpopulated desert, there are too many people in the wasteland, and Timon can’t escape contact with them.  Timon curses Alcibiades for approaching him: “The canker gnaw thy heart / For showing me again the eyes of man!” [IV:iii].  He withdraws from humanity and yet draws humanity to him at the same time.

The obvious question floating in my mind: If Timon wishes to be left alone, why does he ask Apemantus[1] to report to Athens that Timon has money: “Tell them there I have gold” [IV:iii].  He knows well, and Apemenatus tells him as much, that he will soon be thronged with Athenians.  Apemantus even affirms that the rogues of Athens will come for him, seeking money: “I’ll say thou’st gold: / Thou wilt be thronged to shortly” [IV:iii].  This is a strange paradox or a koan: If he wants to be left alone, why does Timon send Apemantus as a messenger to Athens?  And why is the message that Apemantus carries, in effect, “I have money.  Come to see me!”?

Apemantus and Timon are paradoxes: both misanthropes and social animals at the same time.  If Apemantus dislikes humanity so much, why does he attend Timon’s well-attended dinners?  He doesn’t eat the food that is prepared; he instead show-offily eats roots and drinks water.  Why even go to one of Timon’s parties if he is not there for the food?  Apemantus does relish piercing the revelers with caustic insults.  Everyone appears to know who he is, and he interacts with the partygoers.

The most interesting thing about Shakespeare’s punk-rock play is that it is a condemnation of the whole of humanity—and of Timon along with it!  This condemnation extends to misanthropy.  Timon’s misanthropy does not go far enough; it leaves Timon immune.  Timon is not apart from humanity; he is a part of humanity, even after he renounces it.  The play suggests the impossibility of liberating oneself from humanity, the impossibility of ever being alone while being alive, something that brings the work—the strangest, darkest, most nihilistic, most heterodox work in the Shakespearean canon—in close proximity to the shocking literature of Roland Topor.  Timon the Misanthrope thinks that he is soaring over the unhuman crowd, but he is one of them; he is a member of the crowd.[2]



Timon of Athens is an allegory of language.[3]  It suggests that language is empty.  Timon’s parasitical “friends” make empty promises and justify the non-performance of their promises with empty words.  Timon spends more money than he has and thus defaults on his loans.  The Poet promises to craft a poem in honor of Timon that he will never present, the Painter promises to paint a likeness of Timon that he has no intention of completing, etc.  Flavius claims that “the world is but a word” [II:ii], the world only extends as far as language does, and that the “breath is gone whereof this praise is made” [II:ii].

It is no wonder that Timon looks forward to the apocalyptic death of language, the reduction of human words to muteness, to silence.  Ultimately, all we have are words.  When human language dies, humanity dies—and this is something that Timon welcomes in his final words, as if the language of humanity will die when his language dies: “Lips, let sour words go by, and language end” [V:ii].  When his language ends, Timon suggests, all language shall end.



Timon moves from indiscriminate generosity to indiscriminate human-hatred.  Life is a zero-sum contest, for Timon.  He knows only absolutes.  Much as Coriolanus, another one of Shakespeare’s simpletons, either loves his motherland Rome or hates Mother Rome, Timon either loves Athens or hates Athens.

Timon is either a profligate prodigal or a human-hater.  There is no middle ground for him.  He is a quasi-borderline, as if he were afflicted with a version of Borderline Personality Disorder.  He absolutely loves or absolutely hates—not one individual, but the totality of humanity.

Note Timon’s use of the word “therefore,” as if he were drawing a logical conclusion:

There’s nothing level in our cursed natures,
But direct villainy.  Therefore, be abhorr’d
All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!

He proclaims that he holds no brief for human beings and their communities and rituals, holds no brief for those who compose the human species because they are unequal (it is as if he were attempting to refute Hobbes, whom Shakespeare certainly read, and read with great admiration, according to Ben Johnson).  Allow me to paraphrase further: “Human beings are unequal except that they are equal in villainy; therefore, all of human society should be hated!”

Again, Timon is either generous to everyone or generous to no one.  As we have known at least since Hegel, opposites interpenetrate.  Opposites are inwardly connected; they belong to the same system.

Leftism is nothing more than the inversion of rightism, and Satanism is nothing more than the obverse of Christianity.  An opposite is not completely different from the original term.  The opposite of something is related to that thing.

Timon, a man whose fortune suddenly changes to misfortune, is not a genuine misanthrope at all.  For he only hates humanity after he has been exploited.  Had he not been exploited, as Apemantus suggests, he would never have converted to misanthropy.  As Apemantus phrases it, Timon’s misanthropy is forced: “This is in thee a nature but affected” [IV:iii].  Timon’s human-hatred is a pre-reflexive, ungenuine, affected misanthropy.  It is an immature misanthropy.

Apemantus, who, in many respects, is the raisonneur of the play, is suggesting, quite rightly, that Timon’s rejection of sociality is the mere opposite of promiscuous sociality.  Apemantus says, in prose: “The middle of humanity thou never knewst, but the extremity of both ends” [IV:iii].  Apemantus has a more nuanced view of humankind than Timon does.

Jonathan Swift knew that Timon’s misanthropy is naïve and simplistic.  This is likely why Swift refuses to identify as a Timonian human-hater.  Swift acknowledges that he is a misanthrope, but not a misanthrope in Timon’s manner (see Swift’s letter to Alexander Pope, 29 September 1725).  Timon’s misanthropy is not intelligent enough for Swift.

Similarly, in Paragraph 379 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche distances himself from Timonian misanthropy.  Nietzsche knew not the love of hatred, but contempt.  Contempt is hatred’s icy cousin, and Nietzsche knew well the aristocratic pleasures of contempt, as he knew well that hatred is an all-enmeshing obsession.



Timon’s attitude toward art undergoes a change.  First, he believes that art is almost the direct representation of human nature: “The painting is almost the natural man” [I:i].  Art is like reality itself; it shows things as they are: “[T]hese penciled figures are / Even such as they give out” [I:i].  He is naïve, again, and has a naïve, pre-reflexive attitude toward art.  At the beginning of the play, he actually believes that art is honest!

In the fifth act of the play, Timon considers art to a sham, a kind of fakery, a confidence trick, a lie.  The Painter is said to draw “counterfeit” and the Poet is said to compose “fiction” [V:i].  Timon mockingly imitates the mocking imitators.

What Nietzsche writes about Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar may also be written about Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens: Shakespeare slyly ridicules poetry and all other forms of art.  There is in Timon of Athens the playful disparagement of poetry as a kind of frivolity (see Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Paragraph Ninety-Eight).



Timon is a misanthrope, it is true, but it is also true that he misanthropizes himself.  His misanthropy comes from his autolatry, his self-worship, his narcissism, and his inability to forgive himself for his prodigal liberality.  It is for this reason that Flavius says of Timon: “[H]e is set so only to himself” [V:ii]

Timon, or Timonian misanthropy, presages the cultural movement in this century known as the “incel” movement.  “Incel” is a portmanteau abbreviation of “involuntary celibate.”  “Incels” are sexually disappointed young men, men who cannot find sexual release with women and who despise these same women for rejecting them.  Often, “incels” are “black-pilled,” which seems to mean that they are anticipating a dreary, hopeless future for themselves and, often, for everyone else.

I see the similarity in that “black-pilling” involuntary celibates transfer their self-hatred onto a world that does not bend to them, much in the way that Timon transfers his self-hatred onto a world that is indifferent to him.

Misanthropy is founded on narcissism and on narcissistic self-hatred.  Misanthropes project their hatred of themselves onto the numberless faces that they will never see.

Misanthropy is an immature response to the venality of humanity.  Rather than inventing more nuanced, cleverer ways of dealing with people, the misanthrope thinks: “Because a small group of people mistreated me, all of humanity should be condemned.”  It is as if the misanthrope were saying: “Because I was exploited and because no one helped me when I was abject, die, everyone, die!”

It is important to highlight that this play is critical of Timon’s liberality and his misanthropy.



In his final words, Timon says, dismally: “My long sickness / Of health and living now begins to mend” [V:ii].  Dying is the healing, the “mending,” of the sickness of life, the remedying of that disease which is life.  Timon reinterprets his personal exploitation as infection by pestilential humanity.

Timon is someone who seems endlessly fascinated by Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), to the extent that I would describe him as a syphillographer, a syphillologist, and a syphillophile.  This makes perfect sense when we consider that Timon associates venereal disease with human life, since, after all, human life is a Sexually Transmitted Disease.



Timon of Athens sets forth the dreariest vision of humankind of any Shakespearean play.  In the fourth line of the text, the Painter says that the world “wears… as it grows” [I:i]: that is, the world is progressively wearing itself down, depleting itself, exhausting itself, decomposing, rotting, putrefying, in the same way that Timon’s fortunes are shrinking and shriveling.

Human relations are anthropophagous relations, the play is suggesting: In every relationship between any given two human beings, one is the cannibal and the other is the cannibalized, one is dominant and the other submissive.  Alcibiades looks forward ghoulishly to a “breakfast of enemies” that would be “bleeding new” [II:i].  Apemantus knows that wherever two human beings meet, one is the predator and the other is the prey, one is more active and the other is more passive: “What beast couldst thou be that were not subject to a beast?  And what a beast art thou already that seest not thy loss in transformation!” [IV:iii].  In other words, humanity has devolved into the purely bestial: “The strain of man’s bred out into baboon and monkey” [I:i].  Apemantus asks, rhetorically “Who lives that’s not depraved or depraves?” [I:ii], and it is the clear that Apemantus knows well that Timon’s friends are devouring him: “It grieves me to see so many dip their meat in one man’s blood” [I:ii].

The distinction between eater and eaten runs throughout the play.  Timon’s friend-enemies are feeding upon him, eating his flesh, slicing him up: “Cut my heart in sums—” [III:iv], Thomas cries out as the creditors come for him.  Flavius declares that the creditors ate of his “lord’s meat”; “they could smile and fawn upon his debts, / And take down th’interest into their gluttonous maws” [III:iv].  This is an interesting use of antiprosopopoeia (the representation of human beings as objects): Timon is represented as the meat on which his “friends” feast.  The creditors come, demanding payment and charging interest—they are metaphorically ingesting Timon.

Timon is preyed upon by creditors who wear the jewels that Timon has given them.  The “strange event,” Titus says of his master, is that “he wears jewels now of Timon’s gift / For which I wait for money” [III:iv].  Here is the sickening cosmic irony: Timon has given gifts to recipients who now demand payment for those same gifts.  In the very diagesis in which he claims to have warned Timon about keeping a tighter purse, Lucullus says that he ate Timon’s food!: “Many a time and often I ha’ dined with him, and told him on’t, and come again to supper to him of purpose to have him spend less…” [III:i].  The “friends” who are wearing Timon’s gifts refuse to lend him any money and charge Timon for the gifts that he has given them.

It is as if Shakespeare were canalizing Machiavelli, whom Shakespeare might have read and who claimed, in The Prince, that human beings are, in general, “ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous.”  One might add, according to the metaphorics of Shakespeare’s underestimated play: self-interested, swinish, gruesome, callous, lazy, unreliable.



At the end of the third act, Timon feeds the parasites lukewarm water.  He tosses the water at the false friends and tosses them out of his house.  “Smoke and lukewarm / water / Is your perfection” [III:vii], he declares.  As Jesus evicts the money changers and the dove hawkers from the temple, Timon evicts the false friends from his house, baptizing them with tepid water, a kind of reverse christening.

Why water?  Why smoke?  The smoke is the vapor emanating, paradoxically, from the lukewarm water—and the vaporous, lukewarm water is the perfect metaphor for the reaving thieves and the watery nothingness of their words.  Water literalizes the metaphor of friendship as liquid—that is to say, as not solid, not trustworthy, not constant.  As Flaminius asks, rhetorically, “Has friendship such a faint and milky heart / It turns in less than two nights?” [III:i].

Liquid metaphors drench the text.  Apemantus is a root-eater and water-drinker, and water, as I will explain below, symbols the reversion to nature and the desertion of fortune.



Fortune overtakes nature, as it always does in Shakespeare.  Timon tells us, recalling As You Like It (written around ten years earlier), that brothers who are twins by nature will fight against each other as soon as one brother grows more fortunate than the other: “Twinned brothers of one womb / Whose procreation, residence and birth / Scarce is dividant, touch them with several fortunes, / The greater scorns the lesser” [IV:iii].

It is no wonder that Timon favors nature to fortune.  It is no wonder that Timon reverts to nature, to eating roots and drinking water: “Earth, yield me roots” [Ibid.].

The stage direction makes it plain: Timon digs in the earth [Ibid.], excavating for roots, much in the way that his model Apemantus does—Apemantus, the ape man whom Timon is aping.  Timon, then, turns against fortune and turns toward nature, for he knows well that fortune quickly converts into misfortune.



Only a coarse and lazy reading of the play would suggest that Timon is innocent of his exploitation and eventual destruction.  Sharper, more careful readers will not think of Timon as an innocent victim.  Both meanings are supportable: His friends are parasitical, and Timon is complicit in his demolition.



Timon refuses to allow the recipients of his gifts to give him anything of equal value.  It might be tempting to describe his gifts as a kind of potlatch, but let us remember that (according to Mauss and Bataille) potlatch places the recipient of the gift in the uncomfortable position of having to out-give the original giver.  This is not the case here.  Timon does not accept the repayment of debts—in that sense, Timon does not loan money; he gives it.  He refuses Ventidius’ offer to repay the money that Timon has given him.  Timon’s response is that gifts should be given freehandedly: “[T]here’s none / Can truly say he gives if he receives” [I:ii].  He gives promiscuously, but not entirely without the reciprocity of interest (I will discuss this matter later on).

Not only that: Timon cannot accept a gift without giving something to the giver in exchange.  When Lucullus gives Timon two brace of greyhounds, Timon’s response is that they should not be received “without fair reward” [I:ii].  As the Second Lord phrases it: There is “no meed but [Timon] repays / Sevenfold above itself, no gift to him / But breeds the giver a return exceeding / All use of quittance” [I:i].  In other words, Timon has the tendency of giving beyond compensation, beyond remuneration.

More so: Timon gives excessively.  He gives more than is asked for and then grows spiteful when his largesse is not returned.  He ransoms Ventidius from debtor’s prison—and even offers to support him financially after he is freed: “’Tis not enough to help the feeble up, / But to support him after” [I:i].  Timon is too trusting, too naïve, too credulous, and gives too readily, too quickly to the firstcomer; he guarantees more than is requested.  (When Timon is down in a financial hole, incidentally, Ventidius does not come to his aid.)

Worst of all, Timon is financially illiterate; indeed, his knowledge of money is at best lineamental.  He is not financially hyperopic enough to see that his lavish expenditures exceed his income.  When Timon complains that Flavius never warned him about the rapid decrease in his funds, the servant says: “You would not hear me: / At many leisures I proposed—” [II:ii].  Timon interrupts Flavius before Flavius can conclude his sentence of explanation, inadvertently proving Flavius’ point: Timon is a terrible listener and hence a terrible learner.  When, in his previous life, Timon is overly generous to those around him, he speaks of a “bond in men” to “build [the] fortune” of others [I:i; emphasis mine].  He uses this word—bond—as if it were a divine commandment to give his servant Lucilius a massive raise.



Timon seems to be a selfless giver—“more welcome are you to my fortunes / Than my fortunes to me” [I:ii], he says to Ventidius—and yet Timon does expect compensation.  He just doesn’t expect monetary compensation.  As Nietzsche reminds us, no one gives without expecting a reward.

Timon is every bit as parasitical as his so-called “friends.”  Timon says: “[W]hat need we have any friends, if we should ne’er have need of ’em?” [I:ii].  He is saying, in effect: “Because I give to you, you will give to me, if I ever need you!”  But this does not follow logically; it is an argument that contains false inference.  Timon discovers his non sequitur too late.

He is an exploiter in a culture of exploitation—he is as much of an exploiter as the flattering parasites who fawn over him.



Unfortunately, there is one thing about Timon that only changes very late in the play: Even while in self-imposed exile, even after renouncing and repudiating humanity, Timon gives away his money!

He gives money to Alcibiades (“There’s gold to pay thy soldiers—” [IV:iii]), he throws gold at the prostitutes without getting or asking for anything in return (“There’s more gold” [Ibid.]), he squanders money on thieves.  His gives money to everyone besides the Poet, the Painter, and the Senators.  What, then, has changed about Timon—if anything?

(Interestingly, one of the prostitutes is named Phrynia, a name which almost certainly is an allusion to Phryne, the high-end batrachian call girl of Ancient Greece.  And as deep readers of Greek history will know, the historical Alcibiades was a kind of prostitute himself.)

Has he changed at all?  He gives now out of spite, not out of love—but the ridiculous excessive liberality has not changed.  He gives out of different motives than he gave before, but he still gives—indeed, squanders—what he has.  “More whore, more mischief first—” [IV:iii], he says to the prostitutes, whom he pays to sow discord, and pays Alcibiades to wage war against the Athenians.  But he is still Timon the Spendthrift.  As far as the thieves are concerned: Timon might curse them, but the thieves might as well say, in contemporary American English slang, “I still got your money, dude.”

Has Timon truly changed?  Even while wasting away in the wasteland, Timon still gives money to the unworthy.  If I were to be even more curmudgeonly, I would like to suggest that Timon hasn’t learned his lesson: He is still giving to the parasites who are feeding upon him.



Timon of Athens is the complex character study of a misanthrope who never succeeds in hating humanity as much as humanity deserves to be hated.

Joseph Suglia


[1] Much like Thersites in Shakespeare’s earlier Troilus and Cressida, Apemantus is a cynical philosopher.  In the fourth act, Timon has transformed himself into the likeness, into a grotesque burlesque of Apemantus, the ascetic who eats nothing but roots and who drinks nothing but water (perhaps in denial of the opulent pleasures of affluence).  A defensible reading of Apemantus’ name would be Ape-mantus: the Ape Man, as well as the Man Who Is Aped.  He is an ape man, and he recognizes that other human beings are apes.  And he is aped by Timon, who takes on Apemantus’ misanthropy.  There is a flaw in Timon’s imitation of Apemantus, however.  Though Timon takes on the human-hating position of Apemantus, there is something forced, something affected in Timon’s misanthropy.  Apemantus is not a hater of the whole of humankind.  It would be accurate to say that Apemantus has contempt for humanity, but there is no evidence that he is gripped and entangled by that obsession which is called “hatred.”  Apemantus seems to approach Timon in the desert only in order to torment him further and to prevent him from copying his mannerisms: “Do not assume my likeness” [IV:iii].  Timon and Apemantus are not pleased to see their doubles.  It would not be relevant for me to pursue a sustained comparison between Thersites and Apemantus here.


[2] Here is another of the play’s cosmic ironies: In the sixth scene of the third act, Alcibiades pleads to the senators for the life of one of his rogue soldiers.  They banish him for his alleged impudence.  At the end of the play, these same senators will plead for their lives with the grinning submission of passive chimpanzees when confronted by a dominant chimpanzee.  The Third Senator proposes “decimation and a tithed death” [V:v] for the Athenian people.  “Decimation” does not mean “destruction.”  It means “the killing of every tenth being.”


[3] The thrust and the tenor of this essay is not to explore the ways in which the play is an allegory of language (I am more concerned here with the ways in which it is an allegory of misanthropy), but let me give some indications of how such an analysis would proceed.  There are apostrophes, in the rhetorical sense, throughout the text.  A (rhetorical) apostrophe is an address to someone or something that is absent.  Here is a partial list of apostrophizing in the text: The Poet addresses an absent Timon as “Magic of bounty” [I:i].  Both the Poet and the Painter frequently speak of Timon in absentia.  Flavius apostrophizes Timon in his lord’s absence: “My dearest lord…” [IV:ii].  Timon apostrophizes money: “O thou sweet king-killer…” [IV:iii].  In the third scene of the fourth act, Flavius apostrophizes the gods (“O you gods!”).


[4] This statement is every bit as insane as when Timon says to Apemantus: “[T]hou’rt an Athenian, therefore welcome” [I:i; emphasis mine].


Jordan Peterson Is Overrated / Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Nietzsche / Entrain the Nietzschean Time Machine / An Analysis of ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA by Friedrich Nietzsche / An Analysis of THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA by Friedrich Nietzsche

Entrain the Nietzschean Time Machine

by Joseph Suglia


“It’s a love/hate relationship I have with the human race.  I am an elitist, and I feel that my responsibility is to drag the human race along with me—that I will never pander to, or speak down to, or play the safe game.  Because my immortal soul will be lost.”

—Harlan Ellison

“When belief in a god dies, the god dies.”

—Harlan Ellison



Nietzsche is like a peaceful hurricane—not a hurricane that has been pacified but a hurricane that peacefully sweeps aside villages.

I am convinced that Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885) is work of retrodictive speculative fiction.  By “retrodictive speculative fiction,” I mean a work of a fiction, such as a novel, that imagines what the world today would look like if the world of yesterday were different than it was.

The thesis makes perfect sense if we consider the following: The historical Zarathustra was an ancient Iranian prophet (circa 1500 B.C.E.) who founded one of the first monotheisms—some religious historians even say the first monotheism—Zoroastrianism.  It is a religion that vastly predated Platonism and Christianity and is one of the first religions to postulate a divine order, a world beyond the world of the senses.  It clearly inspired Christianity, which also posits a dichotomy between the world-in-which-we-live and the beyond.

Nietzsche considers every religion to be a hive of intellectual errors.  If one were to go back in time and correct one of the first and most influential religions, Zoroastrianism, in what kind of world would we be living today?  This, I believe, was Nietzsche’s question as he was writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche is asking us: What if this book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, were a book written by the historical Zarathustra?  What if Nietzsche’s Zarathustra were the real Zarathustra?  If Nietzsche’s Zarathustra were the historical Zarathustra, the book is suggesting, we would be living in a much better, saner, healthier, more robust, more living world.  What effects would it have on the history of Christianity, if Nietzsche’s Zarathustra were the historical Zarathustra?   Christianity would have been entirely different—indeed, Christianity would never have existed.  There would be no Christianity without the historical Zarathustra.  We must remember that Nietzsche considered Christianity to be anti-life and anti-human.  One can find ballast for my supposition in Nietzsche’s opusculum Ecce Homo: “Zarathustra created this fateful error of morality [the division between benevolence and self-interest]: This means he has to be the first to recognize it.”  And to correct it.  Nietzsche’s Zarathustra will go back in time and will correct the ancient Zarathustra’s errors—errors that gave birth to Christianity and to Christian-inspired moralisms.  Nietzsche’s Zarathustra will reverse the errors that the ancient Iranian prophet Zarathustra made and thus obviate the supervenient Christianity.  Nietzsche’s target is clearly Christianity, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a counter-Bible.  It is a speculative-fictional retrodiction of the Christian Bible.  Its title could have been What Would Nietzsche Do?

The historical Zarathustra never said anything that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says.  Nietzsche’s Zarathustra even acknowledges that he is not his Iranian namesake at one stage (in “Von Tausend und einem Ziele”).[1]  This is why I maintain that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is an ex-post-facto speculative novel.  The novel establishes retroactive continuity, what we might call “Nietzschean retcon.”  We, as readers, are enjoined to travel in the Zarathustran Time Machine and to alter the past, which will, of course, alter the future.  This is not quite utopian fiction, since it does not present a paradisaical utopia, but it is not far away from utopian fiction, either (along the lines of Bellamy’s chiliastic-utopian Looking Backward).  It is a shame that Nietzsche did not live to write a science-fiction novel that would have been about the future—one that would have been written in the future perfect about a perfect future.

The narrative takes place in the hyper-past—not in the Before as it was lived, but in the Before as it might have been lived from the perspective of the After.  I am well aware that Thus Spoke Zarathustra makes allusions to nineteenth-century Europe and that the book is a modern book.  But its modernity resides in the fact that it bends the past to the will of the future.  A citation from T.S. Eliot (in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”) is a propos to this context: “Whoever has approved this idea of order [the idea that the order of the English literary canon must be adjusted when a new work is canonized], of the form of European, of English literature will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.  And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.”  (Zizek, in his debate with Jordan Peterson on 19 April 2019, slightly miscited this passage from T.S. Eliot.)  One must modulate the T.S. Eliot quotation somewhat: The past should be altered not by the present, in the case of Nietzsche, but by the future.

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is an irreligious prophet who lives alone in a mountain cave with his pet eagle and his pet snake.  (The eagle represents pride; the snake symbols cunning.)  After living in solitude for ten years, Zarathustra is now forty years old—only one year older than Nietzsche was when he began writing this book, in 1883.  Bored with his self-imposed exile, he returns to humanity and showers his wisdom on the people.  He is like the sun and wishes to radiate, for a sun needs an object against which to refract its rays in order to show its brilliance—we remember that Zarathustra’s Greek name, Zoroaster, means “Golden Star.”

An overflowing cup, Zarathustra wants nothing more than to teach and so he teaches the lesson of the overhuman, the Übermensch, to the residents of the Motley Cow, the bunte Kuh, a city that is as bovine and as disorderly as its name suggests.  He sermonizes the crowd non-messianically, lecturing them on “the sense of the Earth,” der Sinn der Erde, the overhuman (which I will discuss in greater depth below).  In doing so, Zarathustra gives what could be best described as an Anti-Sermon on the Mount.  Implicit in this sermon is a perversely subversive reinterpretation of Jesus.  Zarathustra blesses the meek, as Jesus does—but Zarathustra blesses the meek not because the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, but because they will soon go under, because they will soon decline.  To go under (untergehen) is the necessity prerequisite for going across (übergehen) to overhumanization.  Unlike Jesus, Zarathustra is not a prophet who praises meekness, weakness, self-renunciation.  Unlike Jesus, Zarathustra is a prophet who praises strength, pride, vitality, creativity, fecundity.  Zarathustra favors the noble and the dignified, those who are vornehm, to the weakly meek and the meekly weak.  Zarathustra Contra Jesus.

Unlike Jesus, Zarathustra is no populist and would rather be alone than mingle with the mob.  Love of the crowd quick-transforms into disgust and contempt for the crowd, into a thick admixture of nausea and contempt, for the crowd is distractible and manifestly unworthy of his love and his lesson.  This is likely why Nietzsche subtitles the book A Book for Everyone and No One, Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen—he does not write for the herd, for the ironically anointed “higher humans” of today, or for the “last humans” of tomorrow.  He writes for his imaginary friends who will come about the day after tomorrow, the supra-futural free spirits who alone will understand his writings, his message, his lessons (the All), not for the human beings of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries who will constantly misinterpret his messages and lessons (the No One).  As all great authors, he writes not for readers of today, but for readers who have not yet been born.

Zarathustra witnesses a display of funambulism in the city square.  A tightrope walker, a Seiltānzer, is balanced above the crowd.  Suddenly, a buffoon, a Possenreisser, appears and leaps over the funambulist, who topples from the line and plummets to his slow death.  Much like the tightrope walker, modern humanity, Zarathustra reminds us, is positioned between the ape and the overhuman.  Who could the jester represent other than those nihilists who would overthrow humankind as it exists in modernity in a simple and hasty fashion?  The mistake of the buffoon is to believe that humanity could ever be merely “jumped over.”  Humankind must go down before it can ever go across, before it transforms into the overhuman, it is true—but it must go across.  The Prologue suggests that humanity cannot be “jumped over” in a simple way—great longing and self-disgust precede the lurch into the overhuman.  Epigenesis, then, not autogeny or spontaneous birth.



After the Prologue, very little happens.  Zarathustra just gives speeches most of the time.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra becomes, formally, a novel of sermons—a microscopic subgenre of literature to which novels of Hölderlin, Gibran, and Hesse also belong.  Zarathustra sets to work dispraising and disprizing virtues—exposing them as genetically vicious—and praising and prizing vices.  He will do so throughout Part One, Part Two, and Part Three (this is a book in four parts).  Until Part Four, wherein Thus Spoke Zarathustra again becomes a narrative, the book will not be especially literary.  Part Four did not appear until 1885; forty copies were published privately and gifted to friends.

In a book that is heavy in metaphor,[2] Nietzsche compares his language, his writing, to the snout of a boar which digs up acorns and insects from the dirt.[3]  As the boar, as the wild pig, Nietzsche will uncover, reveal, disclose our hidden motives whenever we do something that seems to be moral.  So, Nietzsche the boar digs up our hidden motives—and what does he find?  He finds that all of our motives are unclean and selfish and rotten.[4]  Human beings are grasping and designing creatures.

According to Nietzsche, no one ever does anything without the promise of a reward.  Behind every virtue is the desire for an advantage.  The virtuous want to be paid, Nietzsche tells us: ‘[S]ie wollen noch—bezahlt sein!’ (“Von den Tugendhaften”).  I have coined the adjective virtuous-Machiavellian to describe this disposition.  Think of those who perform good acts because they want transcendence: They want compensation, in the beyond.  After death, I will receive repayment for all that I have suffered in the name of virtue.  I will receive my compensation for being a good person.  But this is only a religious framework.  Nietzsche is not writing about a religious framework, really; he’s writing about those who are virtuous for the sake of the approbation of an audience.

For Nietzsche, virtues are not inner properties, inner qualities (here, Nietzsche partly agrees with Aristotle).  They are not signs of a good character.  A virtue is a performance.  What is a virtue if you can’t perform it in front of spectators?  Virtues exist for one reason—to be displayed.  We have virtues in order to show them off, according to Nietzsche.  We have virtues in order to assert our moral superiority.  Someone who speaks in a very loud voice about his or her moral outrage over some event or over some sequence of syllables—does that person not want to be regarded as morally superior?  And isn’t such a megaphonic blast of phony moral outrage a kind of strike or attack against other people to whom one wants to be superior?  All virtuousness is sanctimony.

To adduce three examples of sanctimonious virtuousness (from Human, All-Too-Human and Daybreak, slightly paraphrased):

a.) The man who rescues an anile old woman from an immolating building wants everyone around him, including himself, to think that he is heroic.  He is performing a counterstrike against his own feeling of powerlessness—as he is suggesting that who do not intervene are powerless.

b.) The soldier who dies on the battlefield wants to be memorialized as a superhero—in opposition to the Most, who, he implies by his self-chosen death, are cowardly and not as strong as he.  He really has the vain desire for immortality.

c.) The girl who is faithful to the boy she loves wants her beloved to cheat on her so that she can display her virtuous faithfulness.  She can then boast of her virtuous chastity and loyalty.

The point is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, that these self-anointed saints of virtue want to elevate themselves by degrading others.  In Daybreak, Nietzsche writes of the nun who wants married women to hate her because she is celibate and piously devoted to God.  The nun flaunts her holiness; the nun flaunts her virginity.  She degrades all other women in order to elevate herself.

This is why Nietzsche suggests that virtue is vengeance.

We learn that the virtues are actually vices, that Good is actually Evil.  After all, all virtues have degenerate, corrupt, filthy, unspeakable origins.  At the bottom of our virtues are malice, the desire for revenge, envy, gluttony, hatred, vanity—our darkest impulses lie at the bottom of every virtue.  Nietzsche lets no one off the hook and certainly not the meek, the charitable, the volunteers, and the saints.

Chastity is disguised vulgarity, for instance.  Chastity is nothing more than lust misspelled.  The chaste are vulgarians who would revirginize themselves—but one cannot revirginize oneself.  Chastity places extraordinarily unhuman restrictions on our somatic constitutions—but it does not eliminate lust.  Chastity intensifies lust.  As Nietzsche reminds us, chastity is originally filthiness, and the chaste tend to be filth-obsessed.  Chastity, and all of the other conventional virtues, are already rooted in the body—and yet the virtues pretend to be transcendences, idealizations, sublimities.  They pretend to be away-from-the-body etherealities.  The point is that the virtues are not so virtuous and the vices are not so vicious and we should invent new values that would celebrate and affirm the bodiliness of the body and that would celebrate and affirm the worldliness of the world.  The elaboration of new, life-affirming values could only happen once we accept that all of us are selfish and that we can never erase our petty envies and trivial vanities.

Nietzsche’s chapter on the virtuous, the Tugendhaften, is clearly a riposte to Kantian ethics.

Kant criticizes what Nietzsche acknowledges, the impurity of motives, but Kant believes in a higher morality—in a morality that is enacted for the sake of morality, for the sake of pure practical reason.

There are no pure incentives or pure motives, according to Nietzsche.  Here is a difference from Kant.  Kant believes in the pure, insensate feeling of respect (Achtung) as the affective basis of all moral action.

For Kant, morality is autonomy (reason talking to itself, reason telling itself what to do, the human reason giving the law to itself).

For Nietzsche, all morality is heteronomy (reason is told what to do by external forces—social forces, the sensorium, the emotions).

For Kant, to be moral, we must be rational: We must perform moral acts and make moral choices without expecting anything in return.

For Nietzsche, whenever we perform moral actions and make moral choices, we always expect something in return.

Human beings are not autonomous, despite what the Kantians and the libertarians tell us.  Human beings are automatic; they are automata.

Nietzsche’s “On the Despisers of the Body” (“Von den Verächtern des Leibes”) is a rejoinder to Plato’s theory (in the Timaeus) that the soul is immaterial and the body is an obstruction to the intuitions and perceptions of the soul.

In the Prologue, Zarathustra exclaims to the residents of the Motley Cow: “Whoever [-] is the wisest among you, he is nothing but a conflict and a hybrid between plant and ghost,”  Wer [-] der Weiseste von euch ist, der ist auch nur rein Zwiespalt und Zwitter von Plfanze und von Gespenst.  If we see the vegetative “part” as the body (matter without consciousness) and the ghostly “part” as the mind (consciousness without matter), we are artificially dividing the human being into two antagonistic components.  This is a false interpretation of the human animal.  This is the OLD way of looking at human beings, not the NEW way that Zarathustra teaches.

As is well-known, Aristotle asserted that the human being is a rational animal—an animal with reason superadded to what is animal, that is to say, the human being is an animal with reason superadded to what is body.  Rationality, thinking, the mind, the soul, the spirit, the ectoplasm, the anima, according to this conventional path of thinking, is somehow transcendent to the physical—as if these ideals were immiscible with physical reality.

But it is precisely the other way around: The body is not a function of the soul; the soul is a function of the body.  Nietzsche suggests, as well, that the mind is an appendage of the body, thinking is a physiological process, the cognitive supervenes upon the somatic.  Sense is a figure of the body, Zarathustra tells us, so ist [der Sinn] ein Gleichnis unsres Leibes (“Von der schenkenden Tugend”).  The mind, and the consciousness that is dependent upon the mind, could not exist outside of the body and is subordinate to the body.  Every cognitive scientist today knows this already.

And yet Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says more than this.  Nietzsche despiritualizes and animalizes / bestializes the human being.  The animal “part” is, according to Nietzsche, the whole of the human animal.  He places the body above the spirit and then supersedes the distinction between body and spirit altogether.  The Cartesian distinction between mind and body is a false distinction.

Since at least the time of Plato, human beings have thought of themselves as divided organisms (as composites of body and mind or as composites of body and soul), whereas, for Nietzsche, they are unified bodies that misinterpret themselves.  Contempt for the body is itself a manifestation of the body, of the body that despairs of the body, Der Leib war’s, der am Leibe verzweifelte (“Von den Hinterweltlern”).  We learn that the body is a great reason, Der Leib ist eine grosse Vernunft (“Von den Verächtern des Leibes”).  We are taught that “soul” is only a word for a Something on the body, Seele ist nur ein Wort für ein Etwas am Leibe (Ibid.).  The human reason is corporeal, the “soul” is corporeal, the “I” is corporeal, the mind (or spirit) is corporeal.  Everything that is considered “spiritual” is corporealized.  Everything is the body; the body is everything.

There is no evidence that the mind does anything apart from the body—quite the contrary.  The idea that the mind is separate or separable from the body is an anti-physiological wish—the wish for human self-mastery and human freedom.

The soul is a part of the human anatomy.  There is no pneuma outside of soma.  The spirit does not come before the flesh.  For Nietzsche, the flesh comes before the spirit.  What Nietzsche is suggesting is far more radical (than suggesting merely that the mind is a part of the body): He is telling us that the ideal is rooted in the real.  The real makes possible the ideal, not the other way around.  The overhumans will not think of themselves as half-bodies and as half-souls but as all bodies—and each body of each human being contains a thinking organ.

The world, as the body, is empty of sin.  Zarathustra, accordingly, terrestrializes the world: “Stay true to the Earth,” bleibt der Erde treu, Zarathustra says in the Prologue.  “To blaspheme the Earth is now the most terrible thing…”  An der Erde zu freveln ist jetzt das Furchtbarste…  We should no longer believe that the world is infused with sin or that the body is infused with sin.

After deposing the body and the world, Nietzsche deposes pity as a virtue.  Nietzsche unmasks pity as the desire to inflict shame (Scham) on the object of pity.  Pity is formative of a power-relation: The pitier has dominance, preponderance, superiority over the pitiful.  The one who is capable of pity has a greater degree of power than the one who is incapable of pity.  The one who pities makes the pitied dependent on the pitier—the pitied forms a “great dependency” ([g]rosse Verbindlichkeit) as a result of being pitied by the one who is capable of pity.  This dependency creates within the pitied, in turn, the impulse toward revenge against the pitier (“Von den Mitleidigen”).

Generosity is unmasked as a form of revenge, for Nietzsche: When we are generous, we are trying to show how noble we are—which means that we are suggesting that we are better than most people, especially the benefactors of our generosity.  We give with an aggressive freehandedness, which is why the one who refuses our gifts is regarded by us as an insulting person.  The overnice are not very nice.  The overmellow are not very mellow.

Gratitude is likewise unveiled as the sign that one is overflowing with power—one has the power to be grateful to someone who has done one a favor.  Here we must remember: Life itself is the will-to-power.  That is to say: Every living thing desires mastery, preponderance, superiority over all other living things.  The two forms of will-to-power are obeying and commanding, and even obeisance is the desire for mastery: “Even in the will of the serving I found the will to be master,” noch im Willen des Dienstenden fand ich den Willen, Herr zu sein (“Von der Selbst-Überwindung”).  Even in servants, especially in servants, there is the will to become master.  Every secretary desires to become the boss; every nurse desires to become the doctor.

Nietzsche-Zarathustra reduces benevolence to vengeance.  Reclining under a Bodhi Tree—much like the Buddha did, except the Buddha squatted under a Bodhi Tree—Zarathustra is bitten in the neck by an adder.  And what does Zarathustra do in response?  He does not forgive the adder, nor does he offer the snake his neck for a second bite.  He thanks the serpent for awakening him, for he has a long journey ahead of him.

Zarathustra, then, doesn’t offer his neck to his enemy.  To do so would be to dishonor the snake.  “Turning the other cheek” is not a morally pure action.  There is nothing good about “turning the other cheek”—it is a passive-act of aggressive generosity.  As Nietzsche reminds us, not avenging oneself can be a subtle and elegant form of vengeance.

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek—to exchange an evil with a good.  Zarathustra teaches us not to exchange an evil with a good—but to show our enemy that by doing us evil, he has actually done us some good, beweist, dass er euch etwas Gutes angetan hat (“Vom Biss der Natter”).  At this point, I cannot resist paraphrasing the greatest of all Nietzschean novelists, D.H. Lawrence, who warned us never to forgive our enemies prematurely, lest we breed murderers in our hearts.  In the same way that benevolence is vengeance, vengeance can be a form of benevolence.  This is what I would call salutary revenge.

Even the desire for justice, for equality and equitableness, is distilled to the hunger for revenge against the powerful—and decocted to the enviousness of the powerful.  The contempt for tyrants is itself the “tyrannical lunacy of impotence” (Tyrannen-Wahnsinn der Ohnmacht) (“Von den Taranteln”), for within every socialist revolutionary pulses the heart of a micro-tyrant or a failed tyrant, a tyrant manqué.  The tarantulas (Nietzsche’s name for justice advocates) and the firehounds (his name for revolutionaries) practice the sadism of unearned victimhood.  Justice advocates and revolutionaries are driven by emotional-political and political-emotional impulses.

Zarathustra scrapes off the coating of gold from the Golden Rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself!”  One might rightly ask oneself these questions: Why should I love my neighbor?  What has s/he done to earn my love—and can love ever be earned?  Is love a matter of choice?  What if I hate myself?  How could I then love my neighbor?  Love of the neighbor means not loving oneself, eure Nächstenliebe ist eure schlechte Liebe zu euch selber (“Von der Nächstenliebe”).  Neighborly love, Nächstenliebe, is really the abrading of self-love, the failure to love oneself properly, or a kind of cowardice, the fear of being hit or otherwise hurt by one’s neighbor.  Other-centeredness benefits the neighbor, and yet neighborly love is selfish, paradoxically (I will return to the concept of self-love below).

Nietzsche distills love to envy.  By loving someone, one often wants to jump over the envy that one has for the person whom one loves, oft will man mit der Liebe nur den Neid überspringen (“Vom Freunde”).  Yes, love is a form of envy.  To love someone is to want to become that person.  In the eyes of lovers, in their Liebesblicke, there is the desire to become those whom they love—and then to become better than those whom they love.  What is attractive to the lover are certain qualities that the lover lacks.  Love is a form of cannibalism, and cannibalism is the urge to ingest desired traits of the cannibalized.

The indiscriminate love of humanity makes no sense, either, for Zarathustra/Nietzsche (there is no essential difference, is there?).  Nietzsche has a name for average human beings.  He calls them flies.  And Nietzsche’s flies are venomous—though, as far I know, there are no venomous flies in nature, though biting flies, such as the female Horse Fly or the Yellow Fly, do exist.

Why flies, precisely?  In the eighth chapter of Exodus of the Hebraic Bible, God sends swarms of flies to attack the Pharaoh of Egypt and his retinue.  Nietzsche’s imaginary friends, the suprahuman readers of tomorrow, are pharaonic disbelievers, of course; accordingly, his Zarathustra advises us to flee into our solitude—away from the divinely propelled flies, away from the rabble, away from the mob, away from the crowd, away from the commonal.

Here, Nietzsche is passing close to the teachings of stoicism, the philosophy of the corridor.  Stoicism teaches us that we can control the way that we feel (I actually don’t believe this) but that we cannot control what we cannot control: the uncontrollable, ananke.  Do your best in everything, and don’t worry about what you cannot change!  Such is the watchword of stoicism.  One of the things that is within our control is the number of friends we permit through the narrow aperture of our lives.  Zarathustra has no time for the venomous flies.  As Darius Foroux writes, “[Y]ou don’t control others.  That’s why who you spend your time with is a matter of life and death.”  Epexegesis: You cannot control other human beings, but you can control who you spend time with.

What I gather from this lesson in Nietzschean stoicism: The crowd is not the enemy of the free spirit; average people are flies, not enemies.  Flies are not enemies, for the concept of enmity implies parity.  An enemy is your equal; to call someone an “enemy” is to imply that such a creature is your equal.  To avenge oneself on a fly is to grant that subhuman organism a dignity that is not its own.  Do not swat them!  Dismiss them from your life, that is all.  A fly is unworthy of becoming the object of your vengeance.  One does not avenge oneself on flies.  One does not swat flies.  As Nietzsche writes, it is not Zarathustra’s lot to be a flyswatter, a Fliegenwendel (“Von den Fliegen des Marktes”).

Zarathustra drags everything ideal down to the Earth.  He pollutes every form of purity.  There is no such thing as pure perception, as immaculate perception (die unbefleckte Wahrnehmung), we are told.  Here he is in total concordance with his unofficial Philosophy teacher Schopenhauer, with one important distinction—Nietzsche believes that perception is contamination, which is something that Schopenhauer nowhere suggests.  We never perceive anything like an objective world—our perceptions are sullied with our desires, with our anthropomorphisms, with prejudices that we impose on the world.  We screen the world through our own speculum.  I do not perceive the moon as it actually is; I perceive an image on my retina.  My mind is a hegemonikon, a sun that illuminates all of the things that surround me and gives them meaning.  My hand does not touch the branch of the tree; my hand touches itself, my hand only touches its own touching.  I do not see the waves as they rush to the shore; I only see my own seeing.  As Schopenhauer argues, the hand can let go of anything other than itself; Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are concordant on this point.  The world has to reach to my height, zur meiner Höhe (“Von der unbefleckten Wahrnehmung”).  An honest perception is one that embraces the veil—and this embracement-of-the-veil is art.  An honest percipient is one who perceives that we only perceive our own perceptions, that any possibility of “purity” is contaminated by our valuations, our prejudices, our background, our desires, our feelings—and the highest form of perception is formative, aesthetic perception.  Art expresses the desire for a perception to become more than mere perception while acknowledging that all perception is mere perception.  How does art do this?  By creating the image of a perception.  Art is the image of an image.

In contradistinction to the teachings of the Iranian Zarathustra and to the lessons of Jesus, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra tells us that there is no otherworldliness, that there is no mind apart from the body, that soma is spirit.  There is no reason, we learn, for tormenting the body for its necessary cravings and impulsions; there is no reason for tormenting ourselves for feelings that are inborn within us, feelings that are innate, our congenital affections and desires.

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra anticipates, welcomes, promises, celebrates a self-affirmative, spontaneous, productive, fruitful humanity that will not condemn itself for what it is and for what it cannot but be.

It is as if Nietzsche were presenting to us a Zarathustra, one of the first religious prophets we know of, who is anti-metaphysical, who believes in sanctifying the Earth, who celebrates the body and who does not see the mind as separate from, or superior to, the body, and who even tells us that benevolence is selfishness, that there is no giving without selfishness.  A healthier, more vigorous, more lifeful overhumanity will accept these things.



The overhuman is a new species of humanity that will be disencumbered from the intellectual lies of religion, metaphysics, and morality.  The overhuman is the one who will exceed, surpass, transcend the religions, the moralities, the metaphysics that have hitherto encumbered humankind.  It will be the end of the Anthropocene and the beginning of the Meta-Anthropocene.

But what are the virtues of the overhuman?  We know the Official Theories that are subjected to critique by Zarathustra: pity, generosity, gratitude, benevolence, the sense for justice, romantic love, love of the neighbor, the love of humanity or philanthropy, immaculate perception, etc.  Zarathustra de-ballasts the traditional concepts of morality, as well as those of metaphysics and of religion.  But what does Zarathustra stand for?  Zarathustra heralds the overhuman.  What does the overhuman stand for?  What are the virtues of the overhuman?  What are the overhumanities?

It is too early to say with precision—the overhuman has yet to be born, the overhuman will come after the last human—but there are three overhumanities that we know of, and they are presented in the chapter entitled “On the Three Evils.”  We learn a great deal about what the overhuman will not be.  What the overhuman is, what the overhuman believes and thinks, in a positive sense, will be explained in “On the Three Evils.”  What, then, are Zarathustra’s values?  The answer is: Zarathustra’s values are what have hitherto been called “vices.”  Nietzsche soberly and dispassionately evaluates three so-called “vices” or “evils”: voluptuous carnal pleasure, the desire to rule, and selfishness, Wollust, Herrschsucht, and Selbstsucht (“Von den drei Bösen”).

“Selfishness” is healthy self-love, not the sickly “own-love” (Eigenliebe) of pathological narcissism, the self-obsession of sadistically abusive, exploitive narcissists who do not genuinely love themselves and who are forever unhappy—and forever heavy.  Self-loving is a kind of delicious selfishness.  Self-love cannot be the basis of a moral action, according to Kant.  Against Kant, Nietzsche is urging us to love ourselves.  Nietzsche teaches us to love ourselves, against Christianity, as well, which teaches that self-love is the deadliest of all sins.

Voluptuous carnal pleasure, the desire to rule, and selfishness are all life-affirming and signs of human strength.  Are they really so bad?  Virtuousness, which hides the demand for moral superiority, and which praises weakness and meekness, is far worse.  Virtuousness is a life-hating position; vice is enhancing of life.

Nietzsche, then, elevates “Evil” and “vices” and derogates “Good” and “virtue.”  Again, what is traditionally called “good” isn’t very good, and what is traditionally called “evil” isn’t so bad.

The first stage, then, is the dispraise of conventional virtues.

The second stage is the praise of conventional vices.  Nietzsche/Zarathustra prizes, in particular, voluptuous pleasure, the lust for power, and selfishness.  None of these deserves to be goblinized; none of these deserves to be monsterized.  Here it is imperative to clarify: Thus Spoke Zarathustra is not some Satanic Anti-Bible; this is not inverted Christianity.  Nietzsche wears the devil’s horns, prankish Nietzsche, but it is only a mask.  Marilyn Manson, who is conscious of Nietzsche, similarly plays the role of the bogeyman.  Nietzsche is not an endorser of Evil; he is not Mephistopheles who pops up from the abysses of Hell and proclaims, “Let Evil be my Good!”  He wants to rethink the dichotomy between Good and Evil altogether, which leads us to the third stage.

The third stage is the displacement, the overcoming of the distinction between “virtue” and “vice” altogether and the making-way for a set of new values.  The final stage is the abrogation of common Good and common Evil.  There is no reason to have virtues or vices in an overhuman world in which the Earth and the body are valued.  Invent new values!  Invent your own values!  Actively forget the virtues and the vices!  Values, yes.  Virtues and vices, no.

So: In the first stage, the virtues are diabolized, and in the second stage, the vices are angelized.  In the third stage, there are neither devils, nor are there angels.  Derrida does not appear terribly original anymore when we see the supersession of dichotomies in Nietzsche.

After praising vices and dispraising so-called “virtues,” we accede to a new order in which there will be no vices and there will be no virtues.  A world in which nothing will be considered “moral” or “immoral,” a world in which nothing will be considered “good” or “evil.”  Create your own morality, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is suggesting to us.  And to create, Zarathustra reminds us, one must be a lover—and one, perhaps paradoxically, must be solitary.  “With your love go into your solitude and with your creating, my brother,” Mit deiner Liebe gehe in deine Vereinsamung und mit deinem Schaffen, mein Bruder… (“Vom Weg des Schaffenden”).  Then comes the euphoria of aesthetic productivity.  Overhuman values will be generated.  And this is what Nietzsche means by “self-overcoming” (Selbst-Überwindung): the devaluation and destruction of conventional values and the creation of overhumanly affirmative values.

Here Nietzsche is not far from the anti-ethical philosophy of Max Stirner, whose work Nietzsche certainly read and admired.[5]  Stirner thinks that the Good is whatever is good for me and that the Evil is whatever is evil for me.  Such are the contours of the Stirnerian ego-system.  However, Nietzsche goes beyond the egosphere, beyond the egoic.  Nietzsche, by contrast, asks: What is good for humanity?  And what is good for humanity will be a banquet of delights for overhumanity.

The point is not to humanize humanity, but to overhumanize humanity.  Nietzsche welcomes not the superhuman, but the suprahuman.  Zarathustra is not the overhuman but the one who heralds the overhuman.  Accordingly, Zarathustra’s new animal friends will be a lion and a flight of doves that encircles the beast—the sign of the overhuman (“Das Zeichen”).

* * * * *

If the world seemed like a desert to Nietzsche, the Europe of the nineteenth century, the modern world, it was because there were so many camels about, so many human beings who loaded themselves up with toxic, noxious inherited concepts, concepts that were extrinsic to humanity—and that stultified humanity.  Good and Evil, the concept of original sin, led to the desertification of the world and the becoming-camel of cameline humanity.  Of camelinity.

Nietzsche sees humanity as weighed down by the so-called virtues and vices, as weighed down by fictitious Good and fictitious Evil, a humanity burdened by the self-hatred that comes with guilt and the presumption of selflessness, which does not exist.  Nietzsche’s diagnosis is that modern humanity is still freighted by the “Spirit of Gravity,” der Geist der Schwere—but this spirit is losing its gravitas.  Nineteenth-century Europe is drifting toward nihilism.

The Spirit of Gravity is the misbegotten idea that the world is aggravated by some inherent meaning.  The Spirit of Gravity freights the world with theological lies such as Good and Evil, as if human beings were simple and undifferentiated and pourable and fillable into Tupperware containers marked ‘Good’ and ‘Evil.’  Specifically, Nietzsche is concerned with original sin.  The concept of original sin blocks self-love—after all, if we are born evil, if sinfulness is inborn within us, what is lovable about you or me?

Nietzsche’s goal is to liberate humanity from the concept that existence is sinfulness (as promulgated by Christianity and Schopenhauer, Nietzsche’s former ex officio mentor).

For Schopenhauer, existence is hatable for three essential reasons: 1.) When the human will can’t get what it wants, it suffers.  2.) When the human will seizes upon what it wants, it doesn’t want that object anymore.  3.) The fundamental character of the will is striving.  There will thus inevitably be a conflict of wills.  Two people want the same piece of land—because the other person wants the same piece of land.  Two men desire the same woman—because the other man desires the same woman.  Two women desire the same man—because the other woman desires the same man (one does not need to limit oneself to heterosexual desires; here, Schopenhauer is close to Hobbes).

Nietzsche has a different, more interesting characterization.  Life appears terrible because the past is irrecoverable, irreversible, immutable.  We grow bitter, resentful, because we wish that the past were otherwise than what it was.  The past seems immovable, like a stone.  We hate existence because we hate who we were in the past.  The Spirit of Revenge (der Geist der Rache) avenges itself on existence by regarding existence as punishment, as sinfulness.  Christianity holds that human beings are essentially mired in sinfulness—which means, of course, that they are sinful even before they are born.

Zarathustra would liberate—redeem—human existence from the imputation of sinfulness.  He would emancipate humanity from its self-inculpation.  How?  By regarding the irretrievable, irrecoverable, undeletable, unerasable, hatable past into something that is fervently desired—the “It was” becomes the “So I want it,” the Es war becomes the So wollte ich es (“Von der Erlösung”).

Against Schopenhauer, against Christianity, Nietzsche reverses resentment toward the “It was.”  Both the Christian and Schopenhauerian positions are concordant: “I can’t do anything about the ‘It was,’” they both suggest.  Yes, you can do something about the “It was”—you can impassionedly affirm it.  You can desire the “It was.”

Regarding existence as sinful or as a punishment (Schopenhauer agrees with Christian theology that existence is fallenness and a punishment) stops being meaningful as soon as you desire the “It was.”  More than that: You desire that the “It was” will repeat itself infinitely.

Not only is the past vigorously affirmed—the infinite repetition of the past is vigorously affirmed.  The thought experiment is as follows: Act as though everything that you do will have been repeated infinitely.  This suspends the category of the past; the “It was” becomes the “It will always be” and “It will always have been.”  Living one’s life for the sake of its own infinite repetition—the past is now subject to its own infinite repetition—means that the category of the past is suspended.  It also means that the category of the present is abolished, as I will argue when I finally get to Nietzsche’s posthumous papers.

(Briefly: There is no present moment, since the present moment will repeat itself infinitely.  The infinite repetition of the same suspends the category of the present.  There is no such thing as the present, only the future perfect.  Nothing happens now—things only will have happened.  The future has already occurred; the future will have already occurred.)

The embracement of the eternal recurrence of the same, the affirmation of infinite repetition, eliminates all human regret and all human guilt.

In “Vom Gesicht und Rätsel,” Zarathustra experiences a vision of the eternal recurrence of the same.  Two roads lead from and to a gate upon which is emblazoned a sign that reads “MOMENT.”  One eternity leads to the past, the other to the future (assuming that the word “MOMENT” actually means that the intersection of the two eternities is the “MOMENT”).

Zarathustra envisions a spider in the moonlight and a talpine dwarf.  (Talpine = “mole-like.)  Zarathustra hears the baying of a dog.  The spider in the moonlight, the baying dog, the dwarf-mole—all of these creatures will recur again and again, forever.  They will play their parts in an infinitely restaged spectacle.

Zarathustra dreams of a shepherd who is lying supine on the ground in the moonlight with a snake down his throat, choking on the snake that is tunneling down his throat.  Why is he a “shepherd”?  How is he a “shepherd”?  Isn’t a shepherd someone who tends sheep?  But this “shepherd” doesn’t tend sheep—he is writhing on the ground with a snake in his mouth.  Perhaps the shepherd represents Zarathustra himself—the shepherd without sheep, the leader without followers (I will return to this matter below).

Nietzsche is also slyly suggesting to us that the one who gazes at his or her life with an eternal eye will be free from every role, will not be reducible to any social role or to any social function.  S/he will be liberated, fully transformed, fully human for the first time.

Why “choking”?  In the same way that God chokes on His pity for humankind, the shepherd is choking on his pity for humankind, on a thick admixture of disgust, contempt, and pity.

Biting the snake, the shepherd who tends no sheep transcends his nausea.  It is nauseating, at first, to think of all of time repeating itself eternally.  A future humanity will embrace and affirm the eternal repetition of all things without nausea.

The point is to think eternally, in the way that Zarathustra does, and to surmount one’s nausea in the face of life’s abyssal eternal self-repetition.  Nietzsche is not suggesting that our lives will actually repeat themselves endlessly; Nietzsche does not believe in reincarnation, in samsāra, in the perpetual recycling of rebirth and redeath.  The eternal recurrence of the same is a thought experiment.  It is a Nietzschean imperative.  The Nietzschean imperative is: Act as if your life will repeat itself eternally.  Once you act as if your life will endlessly reinitiate itself, concepts such as Good and Evil seem as if they were only wispy clouds, drifting ephemerae against the backdrop of the infinite blue sky (“Vor Sonnen-Aufgang”).[6]

The theory of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same lightens the world.  It alleviates the world of its anti-human cargo.  The lightness that suffuses one is not unbearable at all, especially since Nietzsche stresses that the levity of self-love exists “so that one [can] bear oneself,” dass man es bei sich selber aushalte (“Vom Geist der Schwere”).  The consequence of believing in the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is not the unbearable lightness of being, but the floaty legerity of existence.



In order to properly understand the chapter entitled “On the Poets” (“Von den Dichtern”), the reader must know something about Goethe.

Goethe writes at the end of Faust: Part Two (1832): “All that is perishable is just a parable,” Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis.  He meant that the idea that anything is decaying, decomposing, dying, temporary, ephemeral, evanescent, vanishing is an illusion.

Zarathustra says to his disciples: “‘Imperishable’—that is just a parable,” ‘Unvergängliche’—das ist auch nur ein Gleichnis (“Von den Dichtern”).  In other words, the idea that anything is immortal, permanent, eternal, everlasting is an illusion.  Zarathustra’s disciples are rather upset by this announcement, but they are even more upset when their leader tells his followers not to believe anything that he says.  The leader disfollows his followers; he tells his own followers not to follow him.

Zarathustra says more than this.  He even calls his own erstwhile beloved overhuman one of the “colorful brats” (bunte[-] Bälge) that we place into the heavens—in other words, the overhuman is nothing more than a bombastic fiction, nothing more than an ethereality, nothing more than a fabrication, nothing more than a mystification, nothing more than an abstraction, nothing more than one form of unreality among other forms of unreality.

One should draw a contrast between the Goethe of Faust II and the Goethe of the second edition of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1775).  In the second version of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe revised the poem at the beginning of the book to end thusly: “Be a man, and do not follow me,” Sei ein Mann, und folge mir nicht nach [in italics].  It is as if Goethe were admonishing young men not to follow Werther’s example.  It is as if Goethe were admonishing young men not to kill themselves, as Werther did, and not to imitate Werther’s atrocious fashion choices.  Goethe didn’t want his young male readers to kill themselves; he probably didn’t want them to dress the way that his Werther did, either.

Nietzsche is turning toward the Goethe of 1775 and turning away from the Goethe of 1832.  It is as if Zarathustra were saying to his followers, and Nietzsche were saying to his readers, “Do not believe in me!  Believe in yourselves!  Do not follow me!  Follow yourselves!”

In The Gospel according to Luke, Jesus commands his disciples to follow him blindly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters—yes, even his own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” [14:26].  Unlike Jesus, who demanded obeisance from his disciples, Zarathustra wants traitors, not followers.  By being faithful to Zarathustra, his disciples are betraying themselves.  Zarathustra thus implores his disciples to follow him with a kind of treacherous piety and to believe in themselves, not in him: “Now I summon you to lose me and to find yourselves; for only after you have all denied me will I turn back to you.”  Nun heisse euch, mich verlieren und euch finden; und erst, wenn ihr mich alle verleugnet habt, will ich euch wiederkehren (“Von der schenkenden Tugend”).  In other words: Think for yourselves!  And thinking for yourselves means to contradict yourselves, to overthrow your own convictions and credulities, again and again and again.  Jesus never says, “Betray me!” or “Deny me!”  He says (to Peter), “You will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:34).

The Jesus of the Johannine Gospel says, “Whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (11:26).  Zarathustra, by contrast, affirms the “consummative death,” [der] vollbringende[-] Tod (“Vom freien Tode”)—the death that is undergone by the complete free spirit who chooses his or her own death, who chooses to die at the right time, at the time of his or her fullness and ripeness, who completes his or her life in the active passivity of dying.  And life can only complete itself through the voluntary assumption of mortality.  More relevant to this section of my essay: Zarathustra is saying, in essence: Whoever lives by believing in me is deceiving oneself.  This is not a didactic or pedantic book.[7]

Nietzsche is telling us, in effect, that everything that we have been reading is a lie!  Zarathustra brooks no fans, no fanatics, no followers.  He wants to missionarize no one.  Zarathustra is a sermonizer who urges his disciples to betray him and to contradict his lessons.  A prophet who renounces his or her own followers renounces himself, renounces herself.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a book that cancels itself out; it takes on the strange appearance of a book that annihilates itself and leaves the reader alone to think for himself, for herself.



In Part Four, Zarathustra encounters the ironically typed “higher humans.”  Each one of them lets out a cry of distress (Notschrei) in the forest, and Zarathustra, out of pity, rushes to soothe their lachrymose lachrymations.  A cry of distress leads Zarathustra from one higher human to the next, from one station to the next.

The higher humans are invited to a feast at Zarathustra’s cave.  They are the following: the Soothsayer, the Two Kings, the Conscientious of Spirit, the Wizard, the Last Pope, the Ugliest Man, the Wanderer, and the Voluntary Beggar.  Each personage misinterprets Zarathustra’s lesson (I will return to this matter below).

1.) The Soothsayer (der Wahrsager) predicts the coming emptying-out of all values—the epoch of nihilism, the historical moment at which human beings will no longer have the desire to value anything at all.  This will be the time of the last humans, those who blankly blink, those who are passionless, those who are self-complacent, those who don’t even understand the concept of striving.  The absence of all values will be the moment when values will devaluate themselves, which is the final stage before the coming of the overhuman (see Deleuze’s remarks on the Soothsayer in Pure Immanence).  The Soothsayer holds that all life is suffering; he, perhaps, reflects Schopenhauer.

2.) The Two Kings might be best described as “anthropotheists”: those humanists who worship the Human as if it were a god.  They allegorize those who seek the higher humans; they are also, paradoxically, called “higher humans” themselves.  The Two Kings replace the dead gods with the living human being.  It is they who bring the donkey.  They misinterpret what Zarathustra aphorizes: that a “good war hallows any cause” and that a “short peace is better than a long one,” der gute Krieg ist es, der jede Sache heiligt and [Ihr sollt] den kurzen Frieden [lieben] mehr als den langen. (“Vom Krieg und Kriegsvolke”).  Nietzsche knew that some of his hastier and lazier readers who misinterpret him as an endorser of bellicosity.  Zarathustra (and Nietzsche) does not endorse war in the literal sense—he endorses an intellectual war against the complacencies of faith.  The Two Kings literalize Zarathustra as a militarist.

3.) The Conscientious of Spirit (Gewissenhafte des Geistes) allegorizes scholarship and scholarliness.  He is the Man of Knowledge; he is the one who holds knowledge above all else.  He fetishizes knowledge in lieu of thinking.  Thinking is superior to knowledge—and those who privilege knowledge over thinking are paving the way for religiosity, for political ideology, for morality, for all forms of dogmatism.  He misinterprets Zarathustra’s language: When he said that “spirit is that life which cuts into life,” Geist ist das Leben, das selber ins Leben schneidet, Zarathustra never meant that life should turn against life (“Von den berühmten Weisen”).  The Conscientious One wants security (Sicherheit) and comes to Zarathustra for security.  But Zarathustra is a great destabilizer and destabilizes all certainties, all complacencies, all assurances.  The Conscientious of Spirit is parasitized by a leech, the leech of knowledge.

4.) The Wizard is a comic figure, a self-deceptive figure, who deceives himself into mourning the death of the gods.  The best contemporary instantiation of the Wizard is Professor Jordan Peterson (I will return to this matter below).

5.) The Last Pope claims that the gods died for their pity of humankind (in “Ausser Dienst”).  Having lost the dead gods, the sad hierophant now worships the godless one, Zarathustra.  Nietzsche appears to be proleptically making fun of the vulgar Nietzscheanists who will distort him into resembling a religious thinker.

6.) The Ugliest Man has assassinated the gods.  Why did he assassinate the gods?  He assassinated the gods because the gods witnessed the Ugly Man’s ugliness and the Ugly Man could not stand the idea of the all-seeing gods witnessing his ugliness.  He kills the gods so that the gods can no longer see the Ugliest Man’s ugly hideousness and hideous ugliness.  When he writes of the Ugliest Man’s “ugliness,” Nietzsche means the Ugliest Man’s perception of sinfulness, his sinful self-perception, the perception of his mortality, his thanatoception.  But what madness is this?  Omnificent gods create sinful human creatures, and then the gods punish human creatures for their sinfulness.  This means that the gods punish their own creatures for what the gods have put into their creatures—the gods create human beings and then punish their own creations for being imperfect.  The gods punish themselves.  The Ugliest Man is ashamed of his sinfulness, and this leads to self-contempt, Verachtung.  The cure of self-contempt is self-love—something that the Ugliest Man certainly does not have.

7.) The Wanderer is entranced by dancing girls from the East, by their shapely choreomania.  Nietzsche is probably metaphorizing those who are allured by Eastern mysticism.  There is also mention of the Shadow, but the Shadow is tenebrous to me.

8.) The Voluntary Beggar (der freiwillige Bettler) gives up all of his wealth so that he might live among sheep, among the ovinely faithful.  He figures the ascetic, the self-denying religionist.  He misinterprets Zarathustra’s great disgust, grosser Ekel, as disgust over one’s own affluence, as nausea over riches and self-accumulation, which is something that Zarathustra has never actually expressed (“Der freiwillige Bettler”).

* * * * *

Zarathustra returns to the cave where the higher men were feasting, a cave that was until now full of joy and laughter.  No one is laughing anymore.

And what are the higher men doing, these visitors, these guests?

Zarathustra is shocked to see the higher men in the cave worshipping the donkey as if the beast were a god.  They are godifying the donkey, the donkey is to them a god, an asinine divinity or a divine asininity.  It is like a Satanic mass, but the problem, for Nietzsche, is not its unholiness, but its holiness!  Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, are alarmed by the pointlessness of it all, the pointlessness of muttering prayers to oneself that no one else can hear.  After all, it makes as much sense to worship a donkey as it does to worship a wafer, a cracker, a goblet of wine, or a piece of wood.

Why a donkey?  Why does Nietzsche use this metaphor, and what is being metaphorized?

The donkey metaphorizes the gods—all deities, all idols.  The donkey is the Ass God.  The nimbus of mystery that shrouds the gods has been dispelled.  The god is revealed as an animal.  An enigma that is revealed is an enigma no longer; a mystery that is revealed is no longer a mystery.  What we are left with is not the mysticism of mystery, but the animalism of an animal.

The donkey has long ears—it is incapable of subtle, critical listening, incapable of listening with discernment, incapable of distinguishing lovely sounds from harsh sounds.  It likes everything and everyone, without discrimination.  The donkey’s long ears are figurative of the indiscriminate listening of the inscrutable gods.

Donkeys never answer questions; the gods never answer questions.  The donkey spews inhuman, unintelligible gibberish.  Hence, its mindless cry: “I-A.”  Pronounced: “Eeeh-Ahh!”  Donkeys laugh inanely at everything and at nothing.  Much as the deity who is forever silent or, what amounts to the same, utters indecipherable mishmash, the donkey never discloses itself; no one knows what its message is.  No matter what the gods say, the believers will find something meaningful in it.  No matter what happens, it is always the will of the gods.  When a child dies, “the gods work in mysterious ways,” we are told; if a child’s life is saved, that, too, is the work of the gods.  This is a game that is rigged in advance, a game that is impossible to lose, an infinitely inflatable air bag.  No matter what one says about the will of the gods, it will be correct—because the gods do not disclose themselves.  No matter what the donkey says, it is regarded as meaningful—even though it is braying senselessly.

The donkey accepts everything and nothing with a kind of blank stupidity, with an empty stupidity.  The donkey emptily affirms everything.  It bawls its affirmation, its I-A, to everything and nothing.  The yee-hawing of the donkey, its empty affirmation of everything and nothing with equal vacuity and acuity, is not the affirmation, the Yes-saying, of Zarathustra.

Zarathustra denounces the higher humans and their false idol—for all idols are false, according to Nietzsche.  Zarathustra denounces the higher humans with the same rage, with the same asperity, with which Jesus denounced the money changers and the animal hawkers in the temple.  It is thrilling to read Zarathustra’s denunciation of the ass-drunk hypocrites.

The higher humans are not high enough.  The higher humans are still deists; they are still godly men.  They are still god-obsessed, god-addicted, god-infected, god-infested, god-injected lunatics.

The entire point is that the humanists are religionists and humanism is a form of religiosity.  The higher humans are not yet overhuman; humanity has not yet superseded itself and acceded to the overhuman.

The humanists talk about the “transcendent,” as Jordan Peterson does.  They talk of the religiosity of art, how “art and poetry are not possible without religion,” as Peterson said.  They are hucksters, quacksters, fraudsters.  They are the resurrectors of the gods.

The higher humans are not irreligious enough for Nietzsche.  They pretend to be irreligious, but they are all covert god-believers—they are all infected, infested, injected with religiosity.

Humanism fills the abyss left by the absence of the gods.

After the gods die, humanism takes over.

Why did the gods die?  The gods died because they pitied humankind.  The Christian God “died” when He became Christ—even Karl Barth acknowledged that the finitization of God-as-Christ is the mortalization of God.  God “died,” even before Christ was mounted on the cross.

Such is Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity: Modernity is the slow convalescing from a sickness—belief in the gods is a sickness, and since the gods died, we have been convalescing from this sickness.

On guidance counselors’ office doors throughout the United States of America is emblazoned the overcited declaration: “Whoever would give birth to a dancing star must have chaos within,” man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können (Prologue).  Nietzsche means that the higher men will give birth to the overhuman, once the agonies of self-contempt and nausea have subsided.

Nietzsche’s genealogy of the future runs like this: First comes self-contempt on the part of humanity.  Humanity will become contemptuous of itself.  Then comes the death of the gods.  Then, nihilism, or the self-evacuation of all values.  Then, the last human, who cares about nothing, who has no longing, no yearning, no striving.  Then, self-overcoming or the invention of new, life-affirmative and world-affirmative values, which leads to the overhuman—a humanity that finally keeps pace with its fullest promise.

Part Four is especially brilliant in the way that it folds back on Parts One, Two, and Three.  Part Four contains ways in which the first three parts of the book will have been misinterpreted by Nietzsche’s careless readership long after he will have been gone.  To give one example of this: The Ugliest Man quotes Zarathustra: “One kills not by wrath, but by laughter,” Nicht durch Zorn, sondern durch Lachen tötet man.  (These words were originally written in “Vom Lesen und Schreiben” and are now quoted in “Das Eselsfest.”)  However, the Ugliest Man misinterprets these words to mean: “It doesn’t matter whether or not one excises God from one’s life.”  He mistakes Zarathustra’s laughter as silliness, as giggling nonchalance.

Part Four is a meta-literary device—it affords a meta-perspective that anticipates the book’s future reception.  Nietzsche installed in his book its inevitable misinterpretation in the hands of a lazy, glazy, dazy, hasty readership.  (Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a fissile book—it opens to the future.)  Indeed, this is exactly what happened: Nietzsche has been misinterpreted as a proto-Nazi and as a crypto-Christian, among other things that he was not.

No one has misinterpreted Nietzsche more perniciously and more fatefully than Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche and Dr. Jordan Peterson.



The most visible and effective public intellectual on the Planet Earth, at the time that I am composing this essay, is almost certainly Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson.  He is far more effective and visible than competing public intellectuals Dr. Slavoj Zizek and Twitter philosopher Dr. Sam Harris, both of whom he has debated publicly.  The fact that Dr. Peterson is so visible and so effective says more about the current state of the Planet Earth than it does about Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Jordan Peterson—who is a homarine brophilosopher (or, as my friend Andy Ball puts it, a “brosopher”)—makes sense 88.8% of the time.  Unlike other critics of Dr. Peterson, I actually believe that some of his prescriptions, such as “Stand up straight!” and “Clean your room!” are only apparently simple, are indeed profound, and have great utility, both as literal and as metaphorical prescriptions for the young and for the old (here is not the place to pursue this argument).  And then he says things such as “There can be no art or poetry without religion” to a cackling audience of atheists (see his debate with Matt Dillahunty; April 2018).  Even worse are his remarks on Nietzsche.  His pseudo-reading of Nietzsche is that of a Christian existentialist (a contradictio in terminus, if there ever was one).

On the 18 April 2019 episode of his podcast, Dr. Peterson had this to say about the Nietzschean Death of God: “When Nietzsche announced the Death of God—which, by the way, as you may know from listening to my lectures [!!!]—was not precisely a triumphal… wasn’t an announcement of triumph.  It was a warning and the tolling of bells of sorrow.  That’s a good way of thinking about it.  Even though Nietzsche styled himself as a vicious [!]… an intellectually vicious critic of institutionalized Christianity, which he certainly was, he was also a strange friend to the faith.  I think, in the most fundamental sense, that’s the truth…  So, when Nietzsche announced the Death of God, he did it sorrowfully…”

These are not adventitious remarks.  These remarks are at the core of Dr. Peterson’s thinking.  Whenever he lectures or interviews, Dr. Peterson refers to Nietzsche, almost without exception, and whenever he speaks of Nietzsche, he invariably speaks of the Death of God.

On the 8 June 2018 episode of a video series entitled, fittingly, The Big Conversation, Dr. Peterson had this to say:

“You know, Nietzsche announced, of course, in the 1880s, in the late 1880s [sic!!!], that God was dead.  Typical rationalist atheists regard that as a triumphal, a triumphalist proclamation.  But that wasn’t that for Nietzsche.  Nietzsche knew perfectly well and said immediately afterward that the consequences of that was going to be a bloody catastrophe because everything was going to fall…  Nietzsche knew perfectly well that when you remove the cornerstone from underneath the building that even though it may stay aloft in mid-air like a cartoon character that’s wandered off a cliff, that it will inevitably come to crumble.”

Dr. Peterson makes the claim that Nietzsche was really very sad about the Death of God almost everywhere he goes.  On 16 May 2018, Dr. Peterson participated in a structured Question-and-Answer session at the Oxford Union.  When an exceedingly bright student asked him if meaning is artificially imposed on the world by human beings, Dr. Peterson uttered this non-response in response:

“When Nietzsche announced the Death of God, which is something that he announced in sorrow and trembling [!!!!!!], I would say, rather than triumphantly, which is often how that’s read because people don’t actually read Nietzsche; they just read one half of a quote from Nietzsche.”

But have you truly read Nietzsche, Dr. Peterson?  If anything, Dr. Peterson is the illiteratus and his followers, the illiterati.  “Nietzsche was sad about the Death of God” is a false axiom.  To refute Dr. Peterson’s erroneous claim that Nietzsche mourned the Death of God, one only has to consult the following passage from “On the Apostates”:

“It has been over for the gods for a long time now: —and indeed they had a fine, joyful gods’ end! / They did not ‘twilight’ themselves to death—that is a real lie!  Rather: They laughed themselves—to death!”

Mit den alten Göttern ging es ja lange schon zu Ende: —und wahrlich, ein gutes fröhliches Götter-Ende hatten sie! / Sie “dämmerten” sich nicht zu Tode—das lügt man wohl! Vielmehr: sie haben sich selber einmal zu Tode—gelacht! (“Von den Abtrünnigen”).

Dr. Peterson believes that Nietzsche is one of those who think they want the destruction of God but who “creep at midnight around God’s tomb,” mitternachts um das Grab seines Gottes schleicht (“Von den Hinterweltlern”).  And Jordan Peterson is the mournful mourner, not Nietzsche, who never mourns the death of the Old Gods.

Nietzsche did suggest that belief in the gods, which constitutes the absolute virtue, is an obstruction to aesthetic creativity.

Nietzsche/Zarathustra proclaims: “[I]f there were no gods, how could I stand not being a god!  Therefore, there are no gods.”  [W]enn es Götter gäbe, wie hielte ich’s aus, kein Gott zu sein!  Also gibt es keine Götter (“Auf den glückseligen Inseln”).

This is both a false inference and an argument from pleasure, an argumentum ad consequentiam.  Nietzsche actually appears to be suggesting: “Because I can’t stand the idea of not being a god, there are no gods!”  As if the existence of gods were dependent on my emotional needs!  Right after the fake syllogism that I cited above, there is the sly suggestion that Nietzsche is being ironic, that he knows that he is being illogical.[8]

All healthy virtues will be rooted in the body and in the world—and the unhealthiest of all virtues, according to Nietzsche, is faith in the Old Gods, which leads Nietzsche into a logical contradiction.

In contradistinction to Jordan B. Peterson, who believes that there can be no art or poetry without religion, and who said as much to an amphitheater of giggling atheists, Nietzsche writes the exact opposite: There can be no art or poetry with religion!

There would be no reason for art if gods existed.  “What would there be to create if gods—were there!” [W]as wäre denn zu schaffen, wenn Götter—da wären!  (“Auf den glückseligen Inseln”).  Art is a fundamentally human activity—it only makes sense in the absence of gods.  I create because no gods exist, for the gods and goddesses would be the superior craftsmen and craftswomen.  To believe in a god that you have not created is to negate yourself.  Nietzsche is suggesting: Don’t believe in any god that you haven’t invented yourself.  The absence of gods makes possible artistic creativity.[9]

Nietzsche affirms the gaiety of creation in the absence of deities.  The only person who is mournful about the absence of the deities is—Dr. Jordan Peterson, who is no Zarathustra!

The one who feels as if one were a human god has no need of gods.  I acknowledge that this is a dangerous position, but it is Nietzsche’s position, regardless of whether one agrees with it.  Nietzsche wants all of us—each free spirit who reads his words—to feel as gods ourselves.

Above all, Nietzsche wants to inspirit the broken-spirited.

Dr. Joseph Suglia


[1]Wahrheit reden und gut mit Bogen und Pfeil verkehren”—so dünkte es jenem Volke zugleich lieb und schwer, aus dem mein Name kommt—der Name, welcher mir zugleich lieb und schwer ist.”

[2] A book that is heavy in metaphor will not be understood by professional philosophers who do not know how to retranslate its metaphors into concepts, who will be puzzled by, for instance, Zarathustra’s claim that he speaks too crassly and openly for Angora rabbits (Seidenhasen).

[3] Metaphor conceals the harsh nascency of the concept.

[4] Style is a means of concealing one’s motives.  Having style—finesse, trickery, chicanery—means not showing everything.  Style is the corrective of nature.

[5] We know that Nietzsche read Stirner with admiration (see Conversations with Nietzsche, edited by Sander L. Gilman, pages 113-114).

[6] The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is the forever-supervenient and the non-obviatable.

[7] Compare the following passages: In “On the Spirit of Gravity,” Zarathustra tells us, “The way precisely—that does not exist!”  Den Weg nämlich—den gibt es nicht! (“Vom Geist der Schwere”).  In “On the Old and New Tablets,” Zarathustra claims that he is a “prelude to better players,” Ein Vorspiel bin ich besserer Spieler (“Von alten und neuen Tafeln”).

[8] “Wohl zog ich den Schluss; nun aber zieht er mich” (Ibid.).

[9] Much like Archimedes, Zarathustra demands that the stars orient themselves around him: Kannst du auch Sterne zwingen, dass sie um dich drehen? (“Vom Wege des Schaffenden”).

Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park

“Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park” by Joseph Suglia

On Friday, 21 November 2014 at 5:05 p.m., I ordered a cheese pizza at the Lincoln Park location of the Standard Market Grill.  The clerk who took my order is named Nicolette.  This pizza was “to-go.”

When I arrived home, I opened the cardboard box in which the pizza was contained and discovered to my horror that there was not a single fleck of red on the entire pizza.  I looked more closely at the pizza.  No, there was not a single lineament of tomato puree on the gobbets of cheese that bedecked the pizza disc.  Nor was there any tomato puree on the bready background.  I called the restaurant at 5:27 p.m.; Nicolette answered the telephone.  I explained to her that tomato purée was absent from the pizza that I ordered, and Nicolette insisted that there was tomato sauce on the pizza, “even if there wasn’t enough for [my] liking.”  I insisted, in turn, that there was no tomato sauce on the pizza.

I extracted the web of cheese from the pizza disc.  Not a single trace of tomato purée was uncovered.  There was no red on the underside of the cheese web, either.  I ate a slice–which was all that I could stand, since the pizza was flavorless–and, no, I did not sense the unmistakable taste-datum that had been inscribed into my consciousness, the tangy tomato puree with which the Standard Market Grill has slathered all of the many pizzas that I have ordered in the past.  The sponginess of the bread did not compensate for the untastiness of the pizza-complex.

If Nicolette was correct, and she wasn’t, and there WAS tomato sauce on the pizza, then why was the pizza sauce both invisible and untasteable?  Again, I have ordered many pizzas from the Lincoln Park location in the past, and all of them were blessed with a tomatoey tang.

I wrote the management on this matter and never received a response.  This is the level of customer service that I have come to expect from the Lincoln Park branch of the Standard Market Grill.

444 West Fullerton Parkway is a challenging space for any business to occupy.  In my ten years of living in Lincoln Park, I have seen four businesses at 444 West Fullerton Parkway flounder and founder, fail and flail.  The Standard Market Grill is struggling, and it will not stand.

Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE – by Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (Shakespeare) by Joseph Suglia


A question that arises in the minds of readers of The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is inescapably the following: “Why does Iago have a pathological hatred for Othello?”  Well, why does anyone hate anyone?  Why does anyone love anyone?  The sources of hatred, as of love, are largely unconscious.  Hatred and love are not the products of conscious agency.  They are feelings that appear inexplicably in the mind.  The unconscious sources of human behavior can be marked in literature, however.  We are dealing here with a literary fabrication, a figure made of paper and ink, not a human being, and there might be textual clues that would explain Iago’s seething hatred for Othello.

There seem to be four hypotheses for the grounds of Iago’s vehement antipathy toward Othello:

  • Iago resents Othello for choosing Michael Cassio as his lieutenant.

Othello passes over Iago for promotion to lieutenant and instead selects him as his ensign or “ancient.”  He becomes someone who delivers Othello’s letters and carries his luggage.  Iago inveighs against the election of Cassio, whom he considers someone who has a merely theoretical knowledge of the science of death, a “great arithmetician… [t]hat never set a squadron in the field / Nor the division of a battle knows / More than a spinster” [I:i].  And yet Othello does raise Iago to the lieutenancy in Act Three, Scene Three.  Why, then, would Iago continue to hold a grudge?

  • Iago abominates Othello because he suspects that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia.

This is mere rumor, and Iago knows that the rumor is probably a canard: “I hate the Moor / And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets / He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true, / But I for mere suspicion in that kind / Will do as if for surety” [I:iii].  Iago admits that he has no evidence to support this hypothesis, and it doesn’t matter to him one way or the other whether Othello has cuckolded him.  Iago seizes upon the rumor as a pretext for his boundless negativity.

  • Iago is sexually jealous of Othello.  He is desirous of Desdemona, Othello’s wife.

This interpretation is not altogether without evidence, but it is not a comprehensive interpretation.  If Iago is sexually possessive of Desdemona, why, then, would he offer her to Roderigo?: “[T]hou shalt enjoy her—therefore make money” [I:iii].

Iago makes his lust for Desdemona plain in the following lines: “Now I do love her too, / Not out of absolute lust—though peradventure / I stand accountant for as great a sin— / But partly led to diet my revenge, / For that I do suspect the lusty Moor / Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof / Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards…” [II:i].  This passage makes it clear that “love,” for the immoralist Iago, is the mere scion of lust and that his desire for Desdemona is really the desire to screw Othello over.  He cannot bear the thought that Othello has “leaped into his seat”—which is to say that Iago’s rivalrous-emulous identification with Othello takes precedence over his carnal interest in Desdemona.

  • Iago despises Othello for his race.

It is true that Iago repeatedly calls Othello “the Moor.”  Depriving someone of a proper name, and replacing that person’s proper name with a common noun, is a common way of depersonalizing someone.  George W. Bush engaged in this linguistic practice quite often, renaming Vladimir Putin “Ostrich Legs,” Tony Blair “Landslide,” Silvio Berlusconi “Shoes,” and John Boehner “Boner.”

There is no question that Iago uses ugly racist language: Othello is nominated “an old black ram [that is] tupping [Brabantio’s] white ewe” [I:i]; he is “a Barbary horse” that covers his daughter; “you’ll have your nephews neigh to you, you’ll have courses for cousins and jennets for germans” [Ibid.].  Consider the audience to whom this language is addressed.  Iago’s invective might be used for purely rhetorical purposes, in order to produce specific effects within Brabantio, Desdemona’s father.  Brabantio is clearly a hardcore racist idiot who thinks that all North Africans are witches and warlocks and that Othello, therefore, could only win his daughter through ensorcellment: “Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her” [I:ii].  He makes this point with deadening repetitiousness.  He cannot conceive of his daughter “fall[-ing] in love with what she feared to look on” and cannot comprehend why she would reject the wealthy “curled darlings” [I:iii] of the state in favor of the Moor.

Iago, the reptilian-Machiavellian manipulator, might be playing on the racist sympathies of Brabantio in the way that a clever lawyer might stir up the racist antipathies of a jury without being a racist him- or herself.  While it is possible that there is a racial element in Iago’s hatred for Othello, his hatred is not reducible to racism or racialized nationalism.

Iago’s hatred for Othello is an absolute hatred—a hatred absolved from qualification, from relation.  A textual clue for the unconscious sources of his hatred is contained in the following lines: “Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago… I am not what I am” [I:i].

Were Iago the Moor, Iago would not be Iago: Am I alone in hearing in this line an unforgiving self-contempt and the desire to become Othello?  Whenever a human being encounters a stranger, the question is always the same: “Who are you?”  In other words: Who are you in relation to me?  Are you similar to me?  Are you different from me?  To what degree are you different from me?  How do I measure myself against you?  In the case of the stalker Iago, there is, I suspect, the painful consciousness of his own inferiority vis-à-vis Othello and the painful desire to become Othello, which is an absolute impossibility.  This is the meaning of the last line quoted: “I am not what I am.”  Iago is not identical to himself because he identifies himself intimately and yet impossibly with Othello.  If you are obsessed with someone, you desire to become the person with whom you are obsessed.  This will never happen, but what will happen is that you will no longer be your own, you will no longer be yourself, for the object of your obsession will engulf you.

Iago’s rivalry with Othello embodies the dialectic of the self in relation to the other human being.  There is, on the one hand, the self-assumption of the self–which is based on the differentiation of the self from the other human being–and, on the other hand, the becoming-other (Anderswerden) that Hegel describes in The Phenomenology of Spirit.  In the lines cited above, Iago articulates how he imagines himself as other-than-himself–how he exteriorizes himself as Othello–and recuperates himself from this self-exteriorization.


Would Othello have murdered Desdemona even without Iago’s deceptions and interferences?  This, of course, is a silly question from a philological point of view, since we only have the text and any speculation about “what would have happened” outside of the text is absurd.  However, it is important to think through the necessity or the non-necessity of Iago in relation to the act of uxoricide that Othello performs.

Let me rephrase the question, then: How integral is Iago to the act of uxoricide that Othello performs?

My interpretation is that Iago plays a non-essential role in the murder of Desdemona.  He externalizes a jealous rage that is already within Othello.  Iago echoes prejudices and suspicions that are already seething inside of him.  From the third scene of the third act:

OTHELLO: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?

IAGO: Cassio, my lord? no, sure, I cannot think it / That he would steal away so guilty-like / Seeing you coming.

Notice that Iago is merely reflecting Othello’s suspicions.  Iago is reactive, not active.  It is Othello, not Iago, who questions Cassio’s honesty:

OTHELLO: Is [Cassio] not honest?

IAGO: Honest, my lord?

OTHELLO: Honest? Ay, honest.

IAGO: My lord, for aught I know.

OTHELLO: What does thou think?

IAGO: Think, my lord?

OTHELLO: Think, my lord! By heaven, thou echo’st me / As if there were some monster in thy thought / Too hideous to be shown.  Thou dost mean something, / I heard thee say even now thou lik’st not that / When Cassio left my wife: what didst not like?

The monster does not dwell in Iago’s thought, but in Othello’s.  Iago draws out the monstrous thoughts that have been devouring Othello for some time.  It is Othello who does not like the way in which Cassio slinks away from Desdemona when her husband approaches.  It is Othello who finds Cassio’s behavior suspect, not Iago.  Iago eschews direct accusation and instead employs innuendo.

It is often said, as I discussed above, that Othello is a victim of racism and nationalism.  One should not also forget that Othello has nationalist prejudices of his own, absorbing, as he does, the idea that all Venetian women are whores—hence, his rush to judge Desdemona as licentiously “liberal” as he inspects her hand: “This hand is moist, my lady…  This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart: / Hot, hot, and moist. This hand of yours requires / A sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer, / Much castigation, exercise devout, / For here’s a young and sweating devil, here, / That commonly rebels.  ’Tis a good hand, / A frank one” [III:iv].

The inspection of Desdemona’s hand was Othello’s idea, not Iago’s.  Othello impulsively believes Iago’s every word condemning Desdemona, for Othello has already condemned Desdemona in his mind.  Just as Othello impulsively believes Iago’s every word condemning Desdemona, and denies Emilia’s every word defending her, Desdemona impulsively takes the side of Cassio, pledging to be his mediator until the end.  Both Othello and Desdemona are impulsive, acting without evidence.

Nor is Desdemona entirely innocent in her own annihilation.  When she falls in love with Othello, Desdemona falls in love with what she once and always has feared to look upon.  She loves Othello because of his violence, not despite his violence.  Desdemona is what psychologists call a “hybristophiliac”: someone who, like Rhianna or Bonnie Parker, is sexually attracted to violent criminals.  She is originally drawn to Othello for his adventurous exoticism and his proximity to death.  As Othello puts it in the first act of the play: “[Desdemona] loved me for the dangers I had passed” [I:iii].  Iago suggests to Roderigo that Desdemona will grow tired of Othello’s differentness and seek out another lover: “[Desdemona] must change for youth; when she is sated with [Othello’s] body she will find the error of her choice; she must have change, she must” [I:iii].  Is Iago wrong?  As Rene Girard suggests in A Theatre of Envy, Othello could eventually be replaced by a younger version of himself, for, in marriage, what husband could escape the crushing banalizations of the everyday?  The “extravagant and wheeling stranger” [I:i] would become a boring and bored husband like any other.  Othello, if he does not solidify his role as the death-giving general, is doomed to disintegrate into a cuckold.

In a sense, Othello is never other than who he appears to be.  By contrast, following Harold Bloom, Iago is engaged in a war against being.  Iago is anti-being or nothingness: He is not what he is.  When Iago says, “For I am nothing, if not critical” [II:i], this may be taken literally: He is divided against himself.  Othello, on the other hand, is always only what he is.  From the beginning of the play until its terrifying end, Othello is the violent warrior who loves death more than he loves love.

Joseph Suglia

TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk / Negative Review / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

A review of Tell-All (chuckpalahniuk) by Dr. Joseph Suglia


chuckpalahniuk’s followers have grown older and are now turning against the one they once adulated as their master.  How could they not be insulted?  They have been treated with contempt by a writer who dumbs everything down for them.  They read more widely now and have come to recognize that the idealism that they once saw in their leader is false, and they despise him for his blatant opportunism.  This is a man who has no interest in knowledge or language, but who merely wants to make as much money as possible.  (chuckpalahniuk said: “I don’t care what they do with my book, as long as the f****** check clears.”)  They resent him for simplifying ideas that he has stolen from more sophisticated writers–and from his own fan base.  chuckpalahniuk writes under the heads of his sixteen-year-old target audience.  Sadly for him, those sixteen-year-old sheep are now twenty-four.  chuckpalahniuk is irrelevant, and the responses to his most recent work demonstrate this.

* * * * *

Those who write according to deadlines inevitably generate dead lines.  It should surprise no one, then, that chuckpalahniuk’s tired, labored contractual offering, Tell-All (2010), is a concatenation of lifeless sentences.  I’ve always felt–and clearly I’m in the minority these days–that words should bleed from the page, that one should write with one’s blood, as Nietzsche would say.  Well, Palahniuk’s pages don’t bleed; they suppurate.  A genuine writer composes electric prose, nothing but electric prose.  There is no electricity here, no artfulness.  But to claim that chuckpalahniuk writes artlessly would be to say too little.  Every sentence, every phrase, every word in this book is spoken by a voice from the grave.  Consumerist fiction is never vivacious.  You don’t believe that Palahniuk is a “literary” entrepreneur?  Here is his advice to a young poet: “Don’t expect to make any money off [poetry].”

The “plot,” such as it is, regurgitates All About Eve (1950), with Hazie Coogan reassuming the role of Eve and Katherine Kenton reincarnating Margo.  Every name is embossed in bold type, which makes the book as appealing to read as a telephone directory.  The weakest elements in Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are his lists.  One needn’t know how to write in order to compile lists of indiscriminate items.  Here, the entire novel is a list–a list of proper nouns.  Reading this drivel is exactly like being jabbed incessantly in the ribs by an idiot savant who recites name after name in a narcotizing monotone, giggling after each jab.

The prose is irritatingly incompetent.  Should we forget that all German nouns are capitalized?  Are we supposed to think that “bile-ography” [32], “fossilidealized” [46], “laud mouthing” [58], and a “jury of sneers” [147] are clever neologisms?  Should we forget that hipster Dave Eggers popularized self-reflexivity (though he did not invent it–such a practice can be found in Ludwig Tieck and Shakespeare, to cite but two names) and that the use of it is no longer particularly “experimental”?  Should we ignore the fact that the phrase “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” is used no fewer than four times in this novel [on pages 3, 79, 129, and 177] and that such mindless repetitions are excessively fatiguing?

[After writing this review, I learned that the terms “bile-ography,” “to fossilidealize,” “to laud-mouth,” a “jury of sneers,” and “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” (not capitalized?) are not of chuckpalahniuk’s contrivance.]

chuckpalahniuk’s knowledge of his subject is as limited as his vocabulary.  “That vast wealth of 50’s [sic] film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard,” chuckpalahniuk announced to Amazon.  Silliness abounds.  Are we to allow that Samuel Beckett was a “celebrity” [2] who attended opulent parties at Hollywood mansions?  Beckett recoiled from the entertainment industry as if it were a cancerous polyp (though he was not entirely indifferent to fame: See Stephen Dilks, Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace).  Are we credulous enough to believe that folk singer Woody Guthrie composed music and lyrics for Broadway shows when he never did–and would have probably found the very idea of doing so repellent?  Should we be persuaded that the great French filmmaker Alain Resnais “saddled humanity” [109] (with what, precisely?), when he has given us so many strikingly beautiful, provocative, and groundbreaking works of art–something that chuckpalahniuk has never been able to do?  Though Resnais opened up a new way of seeing, most of humanity has ignored his oeuvre.  Muriel (1962), his masterpiece, is almost completely obscure.

chuckpalahniuk’s opera minora belong to a genre we might term “moron fiction,” fiction intended for readers who hate books.  One suspects that chuckpalahniuk hates books himself, given how little effort he invests in reading and creating them.  Tell-All is a nonliving entity, a throwaway, a trifle, a triviality, a little slice of nothing.


Being taught how to write fictionally by chuckpalahniuk is exactly like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.

Joseph Suglia


THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson / An Analysis of THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (Erik Larson)

An Analysis of The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson) by Joseph Suglia

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003) is an unclassifiable book.  It seems to tolerate no generic distinction.  Yes, it is a work of history–there are copious end notes and a substantive bibliography; its research seems historiographically sound (though it is not; read Adam Seltzer’s book H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil); every direct quotation is taken from an imposing armature of sources.  And yet it reads as if it were a novel.

The book is concerned with two figures who are said to be diametrically opposed to each other: Daniel Burnham, one of the chief architects of Chicago’s World Fair, and H.H. Holmes, murderer of young women (despite Larson’s claims, Holmes was a serial failure; he even failed at being a serial killer).  Both are said to be emblematical of the Gilded Age, that is, late nineteenth-century industrial America.  And both are said to have converged at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The book’s premise seems to be that, in America’s Gilded Age, two polar energies were at work: that of technological construction and that of destabilization, the grandeur of architecture and what erodes stability and what reverses progress.  Larson further qualifies this opposition in his introductory “Note”: “[I]t is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.”

But are architecture and destructuring, “good” and “evil” parallel oppositions?  Where can “good” and “evil” be seen in the Gilded Age outside of these two isolated figures?  Are architecture and destructuring indeed opposed to each other?  Where else was this vague disassembling at work in the Gilded Age?  Outside of a description of what Holmes and Burnham did and said, Larson does not provide answers to these questions.

The “voice” of the work is that of the grandfatherly storyteller.  Nearly every sentence is bloated with hoary bombast.  Patiently, bombastically, the author recounts the stories of the murderer and the architect.  And yet what is the meaning of it all?  Does this book have a clear and defensible thesis?

The Devil in the White City never affords its readers access to the killer’s mind.  In the section of book entitled “Notes and Sources,” Larson concedes, “Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known.”  He defers to “what forensic psychiatrists have come to understand about psychopathic serial killers.”  But should forensic psychiatry be given the last word?  Is the dossier then closed after they have spoken?

What, exactly, is the relationship, for Larson, between the architect and the murderer?  Is Larson suggesting that Holmes’s desire for “dominance and possession” was also the desire of Burnham?  Does Burnham merely wear a more socially acceptable mask?  Do they represent two variations of the same impulse?  Regrettably, Larson never pursues any of these questions.

Joseph Suglia

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR by William Shakespeare

A review of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (William Shakespeare)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

You know the rumor already: Queen Elizabeth commanded Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor (circa 1596) in two weeks.  Well, not The Merry Wives of Windsor specifically, but a play in which the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most developed creations, falls in love.  This rumor was first set down by John Dennis (1702), over one hundred years after the play was composed.  For three centuries, Shakespeare scholars have debated the question: “Did Queen Elizabeth ever issue such an edict?  Did she command the poet to write his play in two weeks, for Her pleasure?”

The answer is, who cares?  You may either buy the royal-command hypothesis or reject the royal-command hypothesis.  Either way, the play seems to have been written for money, and it seems to have been written in two weeks.  As every conscientious writer does, Shakespeare reserved his genius lines and genius staves for his stronger plays.  The wordplay here is less than dazzling; there is not a single memorable line in the entire play (though the play does have the virtue of having contributed to Orson Welles’ masterly Chimes at Midnight (1965)).

Whenever he wants to make fun of one of his characters, Shakespeare has that character make fritters of the English language.  Clearly, Shakespeare valued English more highly than he did anything else.  It is a pity that his love for English isn’t particularly legible in this work.  There are some amusing countrified insults: “cony-catching rascals” [I:i]; “Banbury cheese” [ibid.]; “Let vultures gripe thy guts!” [I:iii]; “jack-a-nape” [I:iv]; “his guts are made of puddings” [II;i]; “mechanical salt-butter rogue” [II:ii]; “your cat-a-mountain looks” [II:ii]; “jack-an-ape” [II:iii]; “Jack dog” and “John ape” [III:i]; “Jack-a-Lent” [III:iii]; “polecat” [IV:ii].  Characters liken one another to animals and food products.  Contemporary readers of the play might begin insulting their irritating neighbors by calling them “Banbury cheese.”

Shakespeare seems to have disobeyed the queenly command (if one was ever given).  Falstaff doesn’t actually “fall in love” with anyone.  He has a purely financial interest in the merrily sadistic wives of the title, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford.  He attempts to seduce and exploit both of the women for money–unsuccessfully, of course.  I write “seduce” but should qualify that Falstaff appears to have no erotic desire for the wives, nor for anyone else.  Mistress Page and Mistress Ford quickly disclose Falstaff’s scheme and dispatch the fat old knight.

In the Arden edition, the editor makes the incisive claim that The Merry Wives of Windsor is not a humorous comedy at all.  I partially concur with this assertion.  Approaching the text as a black comedy is probably the best way of going about it.  A “black comedy” in the sense that Andre Breton defined the term (in relation to Jonathan Swift): a comedy that provokes the audience to laugh, even though the author is never laughing.

The play has the shape and the style of an erotic nightmare.  If you know the early films of Peter Greenaway–particularly, The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and Drowning by Numbers (1988)–you have some idea of what to expect.  The resemblance between these two excellent films and The Merry Wives of Windsor is uncanny.  To truly appreciate what Shakespeare is doing, I would recommend viewing both of these films before reading the play.

Mistress Page and Mistress Ford gang up on poor Falstaff.  He is thrown into a laundry basket and tossed into a river.  He nearly suffocates in the laundry basket and nearly drowns in the river.  He is dressed up as a woman–feminization is a classic form of humiliation in the vocabulary of sadism and perhaps also in the vocabulary of masochism, though not in the writings of Sacher-Masoch–and beaten with a cudgel.  Antlers are mounted on his head.  He is pinched and burned.  He becomes a sacrificial figure.

This last form of torture and humiliation does fascinate me, I must confess.  The antlers give to the play an even darker valence.  In at least three ways: 1.) We learn that Falstaff is a deer-stealer in the first act–the antlers thus create a cosmic irony.  2.) What Falstaff said he would do to Mr. Ford (literal cuckoldry) is done to Falstaff instead (metaphorical cuckoldry).  3.) Falstaff is an Actaeonian figure.

The myth of Actaeon is alluded to implicitly and explicitly throughout the play.  The name ‘Actaeon,’ in fact, appears twice in the text: “Like Sir Actaeon he, with Ringwood at thy heels” [II:i]; “divulge Page himself for a secure and wilful Actaeon…” [III:iii].

The myth is simple and powerful.  Actaeon spies on the naked bathing goddess, Diana.  Since the goddess is not containable in any human form, Actaeon stares at an empty appearance, a simulation.  A rustling in the bushes reveals all.  Diana raises herself in her divine nudity and screams at the voyeur: “Tell that you saw me bathing here naked–if you can tell at all!”  The hunter is transformed into a stag and ripped into pieces by his own hounds.

What we are given here is a sadistic fantasy, a masochistic fantasy, or a sadomasochistic fantasy.  The play culminates in a ritual persecution in which a human being is sacrificed.

Of all the many attempts to ideologize Shakespeare and to press him into the service of a sexual-political cause, this might be the best play to use as a vehicle.  And yet the play has been strangely ignored both by specialists in Gender Studies and Shakespearean scholars in general.  An Emeritus Professor of Renaissance Literature wrote a book entitled Shakespeare on Masculinity without ever so much as mentioning The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The play does have a great deal to say about disgraced masculinity.  Every full-grown man in this play is a puddinghead–even Mr. Ford, who is cuckolded without being cuckolded and who commits adultery with his own wife (prefiguring All’s Well that Ends Well).  The women are the crafty ones.  Whether this vision of hell is making an ontological claim about the differences between men and women is ambiguous; whether this vision of hell is misogynistic, misandristic, or both is non-obvious.  Reading the play is rather like watching two cackling little girls flinging apples at an old lion in the zoo.

Reading over what I have written so far, I see that I am making the play appear more interesting than it actually is.

Joseph Suglia

INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace – A Review by Dr. Joseph Suglia / A Negative Review of INFINITE JEST

A Critique of David Foster Wallace: Part Five: INFINITE JEST

by Joseph Suglia

The writings of Lessing and Kant are the magna opera of German Enlightenment.  The works of Novalis and Schelling are the magna opera of German romanticism.  Joyce’s Ulysses is the magnum opus of European modernism.  The poems of Trakl, the paintings of Kirchner, and the dramas of Wedekind are the magna opera of German expressionism.  The films Un Chien andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930) are the magna opera of French surrealism.

Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace is the magnum opus of American hipsterism.

What is a “hipster,” you ask?  A hipster is one who has what Hegel described as an “unhappy consciousness”: He is a self that is at variance with itself.

* * * * *

Anyone who has spent any time in academia will instantly recognize Wallace’s pedigree upon opening this book.  Wallace was an academic writer.  Unhappily, all connotations of “academic” are intentional.  That is to say, the book is both fantastically banal and seems to have been composed, disconsolately and mechanistically, in a registrar’s office.  It is not arbitrary that the narrative begins in the Department of Admissions of a tennis college.  The language here recalls the world of registration and withdrawal forms and the world of classrooms where works such as this are spawned, dissected, and pickled—the world of the academic industry.

Wallace: “Matriculations, gender quotas, recruiting, financial aid, room-assignments, mealtimes, rankings, class v. drill schedules, prorector-hiring… It’s all the sort of thing that’s uninteresting unless you’re the one responsible…” [451].

I wonder if anyone besides Wallace has ever found these things interesting.

Since no one else has taken the trouble to encapsulate the narrative, permit me to attempt to do so here.  The novel seems to have two diegetic threads and a meta-narrative.  The first thread concerns the incandescent descent of Hal Incandenza, teenager and tennis student, into drug addiction.  (Well, no, it isn’t quite incandescent, not quite luciferous, at all, but I liked the way that sounded.)  The second outlines the shaky recovery of Don Gately, criminal, from Demerol.  The “woof,” I imagine, details the efforts of a cabal of Quebecois terrorists to inject a death-inducing motion picture of the same title as this book into the American bloodstream.  All of this takes place in a soupy, fuzzy future in which Mexico and Canada have been relegated to satellites of the onanistic “Organization of North American Nations.”  Predictably, and much like NAFTA, America is at the epicenter of this reconfiguration.

It is hard to care about any of this.  If Wallace had written fluidly, things would have been otherwise.  It is not that the book is complex, nor that its prose is burnished (if only it were!).  The problem is much different: The sentences are so awkwardly articulated and turgid that the language is nearly unreadable.  You wish that someone would fluidify the congested prose while struggling with the irritation and boredom that weave their way through you.

There is literary litter everywhere.  No, “nauseous” does not mean “nauseated.”  No, “presently” does not mean “at present.”  Such faults are mere peccadilloes, however, especially when one considers the clunkiness of Wallace’s language.  A few examples:

1.) “The unAmerican guys chase Lenz and then stop across the car facing him for a second and then get furious again and chase him” [610].  I am having a hard time visualizing this scene.

2.) “Avril Incandenza is the sort of tall beautiful woman who wasn’t ever quite world-class, shiny-magazine beautiful, but who early on hit a certain pretty high point on the beauty scale and has stayed right at that point as she ages and lots of other beautiful women age too and get less beautiful” [766].  It would take more effort to edit this see-Spot-run sentence than it did, I suspect, to write it.

3.) “The puppet-film is reminiscent enough of the late Himself that just about the only more depressing thing to pay attention to or think about would be advertising and the repercussions of O.N.A.N.ite Reconfiguration for the U.S. advertising industry” [411].  This is a particularly representative example of Wallace’s heavy, cluttered style—a sentence larded with substantives.

4.) “So after the incident with the flaming cat from hell and before Halloween Lenz had moved on and up to the Browning X444 Serrated he even had a shoulder-holster for, from his previous life Out There” [545].  So… Lenz moves “on and up” to a knife… “from” his previous life?  If this is a sentence, it is the ugliest I’ve yet read.

To say such a thing would be to say too little.  Nearly every sentence is overpoweringly ugly and repellently clumsy.  Not a single sentence–not one–is beautiful, defamiliarizing, or engaging.  I am sorry to write this, but Infinite Jest is a joylessly, zestlessly, toxically written book and the poisonous fruit of academic bureaucracy.

* * * * *

A few valedictory words: It would be tasteless–raffish, even–to malign the literary estate of a recent suicide.  Wallace was nothing if not intelligent, and his death is a real loss.  Had he lived longer, he might have left us books that impress and delight.  Let me advise the reader to avoid this plasticized piece of academic flotsam and pick up and at instead Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, his true gift to the afterlife and the afterdeath.

Dr. Joseph Suglia


On the distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

1.) A boulevardier drinks in the fashionable atmospheres; a flâneur drifts like a ghost through fashionable spaces, which are less remarkable to him than emptied factories.

2.) A flâneur takes pictures in the mind of landfills; a boulevardier takes pictures of tourist attractions.

3.) A flâneur is a seer; a boulevardier is a sightseer.

4.) A boulevardier strolls down prescribed paths; a flâneur is a mapless wanderer.

5.) A boulevardier walks to be seen; a flâneur walks to see.

Joseph Suglia


A Critique of David Foster Wallace: Part One: OBLIVION / David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer / OBLIVION by David Foster Wallace

A review of Oblivion (David Foster Wallace) by Joseph Suglia

When I was in graduate school, I was (mis)taught Literature by a man who had no ear for poetic language and who had absolutely no interest in eloquence.  I learned that he held an undergraduate degree in Physics and wondered, as he chattered on loudly and incessantly, why this strange man chose to study and teach Literature, a subject that obviously did not appeal to him very much.  I think the same thing of David Foster Wallace, a writer who probably would have been happier as a mathematician (Mathematics is a subject that Wallace studied at Amherst College).

A collection of fictions published in 2004, Oblivion reads very much as if a mathematician were trying his hand at literature after having surfeited himself with Thomas Pynchon and John Barth–-not the best models to imitate or simulate, if you ask me.

The first fiction, “Mr. Squishy,” is by far the strongest.  A consulting firm evaluates the responses of a focus group to a Ho-Hoesque chocolate confection.  Wallace comes up with some delightful phraseologies: The product is a “domed cylinder of flourless maltilol-flavored sponge cake covered entirely in 2.4mm of a high-lecithin chocolate frosting,” the center of which is “packed with what amounted to a sucrotic whipped lard” [6].  The external frosting’s “exposure to the air caused it to assume traditional icing’s hard-yet-deliquescent marzipan character” [Ibid.].  Written in a bureaucratized, mechanical language–this language, after all, is the dehumanized, anti-poetic language of corporate marketing firms, the object of Wallace’s satire–the text is a comparatively happy marriage of content and form.

Wallace gets himself into difficulty when he uses this same bureaucratic language in the next fiction, “The Soul is Not a Smithy,” which concerns a homicidal substitute teacher.  I could see how a sterile, impersonal narrative could, by way of counterpoint, humanize the teacher, but the writing just left me cold.  The title of the fiction simply reverses Stephen Dedalus’s statement in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Wallace never composed a sentence as beautiful as Joyce’s.  Indeed, Wallace never composed a beautiful sentence.

“Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” simply duplicates the title (!) of Richard Rorty’s misguided polemic against representationalism (the misconceived idea that language is capable of mirroring the essence of things).  It concerns a son who accompanies his mother to a cosmetic-surgery procedure.  The son, who is also the narrator, says: “[A]nyone observing the reality of life together since the second procedure would agree the reality is the other way around…” [183].  The narrator might or might not be one of the deluded representationalists against whom Rorty polemicized.  For Rorty, “the reality of life” is not something that we are capable of talking about with any degree of insight.  Unfortunately, this is the only point in the text at which the philosophical problem of representation arises.

The eponymous fiction “Oblivion” and the self-reflexive “The Suffering Channel” (which concerns a man whose excreta are considered works of art) are inelegantly and ineloquently written.

After laboring through such verbal dross, I can only conclude that David Foster Wallace was afraid of being read and thus attempted to bore his readers to a teary death.  His noli me legere also applies to himself.  It is impossible to escape the impression that he was afraid of reading and revising any of the festering sentences that he churned out.  Because he likely never read his own sentences, he likely never knew how awkward they sounded.  Infinite Jest was written hastily and unreflectively, without serious editing or revision, it appears.  It is merely because of the boggling bigness of Infinite Jest that the book has surfaced in the consciousness of mainstream America at all (hipsterism is a vicissitude of mainstream America).  We, the Americanized, are fascinated by bigness.  To quote Erich Fromm: “The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers…”

Speech is irreversible; writing is reversible.  If you accept this premise of my argument (and any intelligent person would), must it not be said that responsible writers ought ALWAYS to recite and revise their own sentences?  And does it EVER seem that Wallace did so?

The prose of Oblivion is blearily, drearily, eye-wateringly tedious.  The hipsters will, of course, claim in advance that the grueling, hellish tedium of Wallace’s prose was carefully choreographed, that every infelicity was intentional, and thus obviate any possible criticism of their deity, a deity who, like all deities, has grown more powerful in death.  That is, after all, precisely what they say of the Three Jonathans, the sacred triptych of hipsterdom: Foer, Franzen, and Lethem, the most lethal of them all.

One thing that even the hipsters cannot contest: David Foster Wallace did not write fictionally for his own pleasure.  Unlike Kafka, he certainly did not write books that he ever wanted to read.

A valediction: The early death of David Foster Wallace is terrible and should be mourned.  He was a coruscatingly intelligent man.  My intention here is not to defame the dead. I recommend that the reader spend time with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and leave his other writings alone.  As I suggested above, he probably didn’t want his prose to be read, anyway.

Joseph Suglia

THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold / A Negative Review of THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

An Analysis of The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) by Joseph Suglia

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002) is the type of book that effortlessly mounts American bestseller lists.  It is impossible to deny that the book serves as a symbolic reaffirmation of the traditional values of the now-vanished American middle class.  Any sober analysis of the book must take this into account.

Much like other smash-hit novels, the book fetishizes children / younger teens and their alleged innocence.  When readers first encounter the novel’s protagonist, fourteen-year-old girl Susie Salmon, she has already been raped and murdered and is gazing down on the earth from the Bel-Air comfort of her personal Heaven.  During the recreation of Susie’s murder, the narrative oscillates between Susie’s violation and killing and a description of charming details from Susie’s life.  While this tactic might seem emotionally manipulative, there is no question that Ms. Sebold is shrewd.  Only the toughest eyes will be able to hold back their tears.

Ms. Sebold recreates the voice of a fourteen-year-old girl exceptionally well at the beginning of the novel.  Her character’s syntax and diction become more sophisticated as the novel spins along.  The voice is emotionally manipulative perhaps, but not everyone can psychologically maneuver little lambs via the written word.

Not merely is the book’s milieu white, American suburbia.  Its norms are also very suburban, very white, and very American.  Unsurprisingly, the book’s Heaven (a place where every little girl’s dreams come true) resembles an upper-middle-class country club, with “soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin.”

The slobbering enemy of the work–Susie’s butcher, Mr. Harvey–is what critical theory used to call (and sometimes still does) “the Other.”  He is an outsider to the world that Susie and her family inhabit, the kind of man who “never married and ate frozen meals every night and [was] so afraid of rejection that [he] didn’t even own pets.  The kind of man you read about in health class.”  Such is the novel’s attitude toward anyone who falls too far outside of its particular status quo.

Those of foreign descent are welcome in the novel’s world, on the proviso that they support its middle-class values.  Susie’s former boyfriend, Ray Singh, for instance, is Indian and yet gives a guest lecture at the University of Pennsylvania on “Suburbia: The American Experience.”  It does seem rather odd that an Indian teenager would care very much about this topic.  And since when are teenage boys arbitrarily invited to give lectures at major American universities?

The novel also displays an uncharitable attitude toward other-sexual male desire.  Looking down from Heaven on her former friend Clarissa, Susie is disgusted by what she sees: a young boy palming the girl, groping for “a little mound of love.”  The book presents the sexuality of men as if all male lust were despicable or homicidal.

How did Mr. Harvey become Mr. Harvey?  Was Mr. Harvey violated as a young boy?  If Susie Salmon survived, would she have transformed into someone like Mr. Harvey?  Victims of abuse too often become abusers themselves.  The Lovely Bones does not explore these seamy depths.  If it did, it would not be an Alice Sebold novel.

Joseph Suglia

California über Alles: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino


“The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but THE PAST.  If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’–well, it never happened.  If he says that two and two are five–well, two and two are five.”

–George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”

Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.  Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they might believe that the Jews overcame the Nazis.  They will not know that around six million Jews–not to mention the elderly, the disabled, homosexuals, the chronically unemployed, gypsies, political dissidents, intellectuals (there were other categories, as well)–were funneled into factories of death, where they were stripped, shorn of their hair, and gassed.  Killed en masse as if they were vermin or swine.

No Jews are murdered, no corpses are incinerated in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino’s most malevolent travesty and perhaps the most ethically reprehensible motion picture ever made.  Nazis are incinerated.  Machine-gunned and set aflame.  In a cinema.  In Vichy France.  In 1944.  By a band of Jewish-American soldiers and French resistance fighters.

What, precisely, was Tarantino hoping to accomplish by this fusillade of historical revisionism?  By this erasure of history?  Is this nothing more than a puerile time-machine fantasy?  To deprive Hitler of the right to be killed by his own hand?

Tarantino’s own remarks belie this interpretation: “The power of the cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich.  I get a kick out of that!”

When the Nazis are cremated in the cinema, then, Tarantino is cinematically cremating the memory of their dominion.  The burning cinema is the central metaphor of the film.  It is a self-reflexive metaphor.

Predictably, few Americans seem to have a problem with this dehistoricization and rehistoricization of the Holocaust.  After all, America is a country without much of a history of its own.  Most of us are afflicted with historical amnesia.  To demonstrate my point, let me adduce a personal example.  I posted the first sentence of this review on facebook years ago: “Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.”

I received this in response (the mistakes have been retained for the sake of authenticity): “Aint it grand though!”

If this is what most Americans believe, then we are lost.  The entire culture is lost.

What no one seems to recognize is that the film is an insult both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who died in it.

The destruction of history is politically dangerous.  It is also a form of ethical rape, especially when that history is fraught with so much hideousness, so much carnage, so much death, so much sorrow.  To the supporters of the film, let me ask:

Do you honestly think that survivors of the Shoah would approve of this film?

Though Tarantino might claim that his film revolts against the Third Reich, it does nothing of the sort.  Inglorious Basterds does not combat fascism.  By liquidating history, it allies itself with fascism.  It is a film that uses the same totalitarian methods as the Nazi propagandists, despite Tarantino’s misguided intentions.

Holocaust revisionists such as David Irving and Ingrid Rimland (and so many others) would applaud what Tarantino has done in this film.  After all, he has created a film in which the Nazis lose, the Jews win, and the Holocaust never takes place.  Is that not what the fascist “historians” have been saying all along?

Permit me to make a few remarks about Tarantino’s method of presentation.

No one has described Tarantino better than the brilliant English novelist and critic Will Self.  The filmmaker is a “pasticheur and an artistic fraud,” Self writes.  Indeed, he is all of that and much worse.  Nearly every image in Tarantino’s cinema is derivative or evocative of something else.  The climax of Death Proof (2007)–in which a misogynist is surrounded by a ring of femmes fatales and pummeled into unconsciousness–blatantly and uninventively reconstitutes a formally identical moment in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).  Another scene in Death Proof–in which the female leads are surreptitiously photographed–repeats one of Dario Argento’s lavish set-pieces in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969).  Even the same Ennio Morricone music is deployed.

Throughout Inglorious Basterds, there are references to other films.  Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943) is playing at the theatre before it is razed to the ground.  Most of the film’s musical compositions were taken from the soundtracks to other films, such as Revolver (1973) and Allonsanfan (1974), both which were scored by Morricone.  Curiously, none of these allusions adds to the film. Tarantino merely showcases the cultural references.  He seems incapable of communicating himself cinematically except by way of derivations from other works of cinema.  He does not create.  He does not originate.  He does not imagine.  He does not conceive.  He ventriloquizes.

I could not help but feel a certain depression after viewing this abominable film.  I recalled that in the 1990s Tarantino was given carte blanche–the whitest of white cards–from critics for his use of racist language.  Here we have a work not of anti-Semitism, but of anti-Judaism.

Consider this injustice: Michael Haneke’s elegantly chilling The White Ribbon (2009), a film that casts a dark light on some of the conditions that led to National Socialism, is largely unseen and this atrocity is surrounded by a cavalcade of approval.  Genocide pornography is the worst form of pornography in existence, for it transforms the ultimate horror–the mass manufacture of corpses–into an object of consumption and enjoyment.  For this reason, I condemn Quentin Tarantino and his unforgivable film.  Quentin Tarantino is vile, and Inglourious Basterds is slime.

Joseph Suglia




Bret Easton Ellis: Escape from Utopia

by Joseph Suglia

America is a utopia.  A placeless “place” in which all desires are answered even before they are articulated.  A non-place without a history and without horizons.

The “America” to which I refer is less the nation that bears this name than that nation’s ideal, one that posits a world which is seemingly disconnected from the contingencies of time and space.  One could object, of course, that America is hardly “utopian” or paradisaical: There is, after all, misery everywhere.  And yet utopianism does not exclude the possibility of misery.  Like all ideological constructions, the image of America contradicts the existing conditions of its societies.  America interprets itself as a locus of absolute plentitude, overflowing with whatever one may need/desire; it presents itself as a space that is anti-spatial, anti-temporal and anti-historical, a non-place in which desires are quickly converted into needs and in which “new” desires proliferate infinitely.

It is America’s utopianism that Bret Easton Ellis addresses in his fiction.  His novels are populated by those who, theoretically, have everything–except “something to lose” (Less Than Zero).  They are the illiterate glitterati–ridiculously stupid and narcissistic people who say ridiculously stupid and stupidly ridiculous and narcissistic things (e.g., “She wasn’t looking at my abs, but she wanted to,” from The Rules of Attraction; “You’re tan, but you don’t look happy,” from The Informers).  Members of the “beautiful elite,” each of his “characters” (if this word even applies–the personages have no identity) is vapid and vacant precisely because their desires are produced by mainstream consumer culture–a culture that is fundamentally shallow.  Although they numb themselves with drugs and sex, they cannot even be called “hedonistic” because they don’t enjoy themselves.  The majority of Americans would say that Ellis’s “characters” are without problems: After all, most are rich, gorgeous, and young.  But the absence of problems is, in itself, a problem.

In Ellis’s first truly “political” literary work, his aptly titled third novel, American Psycho (1991), the white, rich, and impossibly handsome Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman is, strictly speaking, the “perfect” American–and the “perfect” representative of a “perfect” world.  He has no flaws.  He’s a trust-fund baby with an immensely well-paying job that seemingly requires no effort; women fall for him wherever he goes; he is young and beautiful.  He lives at the center of American culture and, for this reason, wants for nothing.  And yet the tragedy of his (and of all) “perfection” is that it must constantly reestablish itself: No one who is “perfect” can afford not to be vigilant.

Patrick Bateman is “perfect”–and also perfectly vicious.  He is a murderer–and also at the center of American culture.  These statements are not contradictory.

The following question plagues the readers of American Psycho: How is it that others are seemingly unaware of, or indifferent to the murders that Bateman commits?  The answer is obvious.  There is nothing extraordinary about homicide; indeed, homicide has become completely normalized.  Whether one has committed homicide is less significant than whether one wears Armani.  Throughout the novel, descriptions of dismemberment occur in the same paragraph as discussions of insipid, 1980s pop-music kitsch.  In fact, much of the book is a recitation of such trivia interspersed with gruesome descriptions of the mutilation of women.  What is one to make of this?  Is Ellis a violent misogynist, as many have claimed?

On the contrary, American Psycho is the perhaps most radical critique of American culture in general–and of American misogyny, in particular–in novelistic form.  American culture is “evil,” the novel suggests, because “evil” no longer matters.  One’s moral value is insignificant in relation to one’s physical appearance and the size of one’s bank account.  The smug, self-preening Bateman is able to commit the most ghastly and monstrous acts imaginable with impunity, precisely because he looks good and has a hierarchical position in society.  When Bateman dissects his victims–who, for the most part, are homeless people, prostitutes, and ethnic minorities–the reader should remember that such acts are “business as usual” in the United States.  There is nothing unusual about anything that Bateman does; his murderous behavior is representative of the mainstream.  If he gives a disquisition on the greatness of post-Peter Gabriel Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, or Whitney Houston before slicing up a prostitute, this is because there is no essential difference, the book suggests, between the stupidity of American pop culture and the monstrosity of evil.  “Evil,” the book suggests, is not some Mephistophelean figure that springs up from the depths of Hell.  Nor may be it explained by the Kantian concept of “radical evil,” in which the senses are maximized and elevated to the basis of moral decisions.  No, for Ellis, “evil” is the money-sucking, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic yuppie businessman: the axis and apotheosis of American culture.

Bateman, the “American psycho,” is perfect, and perfection is the American psychosis.  More specifically, the American psychosis is the drive to be perfect, to have an apartment more expensive and better situated than Paul Owen’s.  Anyone outside of the sphere of perfection is regarded as trash.  “You are not … important to me,” Bateman says to his equally superficial and vacuous fiancée: Such is the ethos of the Reaganite 1980s.  And it is precisely this maxim of conduct that Ellis represents in American Psycho.

The eerily open-ended “conclusion” of American Psycho ominously hints at the impending apocalypse of heterosexual white upper-class male domination.  A Middle-Eastern taxi cab driver and a homeless woman–evocative of the disenfranchised minorities killed off by the hard-hearted yuppie earlier in the novel–take their symbolic revenge on the majoritarian Bateman.  As he enters his twenty-eighth birthday, he faces the inexorable demise of his regime and his self-deceptions.

* * *

Ellis’s next experiment, The Informers (1994), seems, at first glance, to be nothing more than a collection of short stories and drafts for Ellis’s more ambitious novelistic projects (“The Secrets of the Summer,” for instance, reads as if it were an early version of American Psycho).  It is far more than that, however.  Each story connects with all of the others; the book has an inner continuity that is strikingly intricate.  There are complicated interchanges between the “characters”; each one of them is absolutely interchangeable with everyone else.

The Informers is set in Los Angeles in the 1980s.  No one in the book has an individuated personality, if by “personality” we mean a distinguishable set of preferences, disinclinations, and verbal expressions.  All of the characters take Valium and drink Tab.  All of them say the same things and have the same desires and aversions.  Indeed, all of Ellis’s “characterologies” are the same.  This is not a flaw in his novelistic practice.  It is, rather, a sign of his writerly strength.  In “The Up-Escalator,” a middle-aged woman cannot distinguish her son, Graham, from any of the other tall, blond boys that populate the novel.  In “In the Islands,” William cannot distinguish his son, Tim, from Graham.  One stoned pool boy is identical to another stoned pool boy.

“Perfection,” it would seem, may be bought and sold in mass quantities.  According to the metaphorics of the work, one’s identity is founded upon the products that one buys.  Because products are available in mass quantities, identity is also available in mass quantities.  If commodities are equivalent to one another (through the medium of money), there is no reason that identities should not be posited as equivalent, as well.  It is the logical consequence of living in a culture that valorizes consumerist equivalence that its citizens should also be indistinguishable from each other.  The most dominant figure of The Informers is the destruction of individuality by the exchange of equivalents.

Another of the novel’s obsessions is the effect of a highly technologized media culture on social relationships.  Rather than bringing the “characters” together, audio-visual technology drives them further apart.  One person can only relate to another by relating him/her to a media image.  While on a plane to Hawaii, William and Tim both listen to headsets, each playing a different kind of music; they can only endure each other through the magic of technological “communication.”  In “Another Grey Area,” Graham identifies his father’s corpse by likening it to Darth Vader.  His “friend” Randy drapes his own face with a copy of GQ and effectively becomes John Travolta, whose image is featured on the cover.  One character, Ricky, is murdered on the night of a Duran Duran lookalike contest, which is a propos because everyone in The Informers participates, whether intentionally or not, in a celebrity-lookalike contest.  In “Sitting Still,” Susan dislikes her father’s fiancée (partly, at least) because the latter likes the film Flashdance (1982).  Most pitifully, in “Letters from L.A.,” Anne is slowly swallowed up in the media culture of Los Angeles–a culture that she once disdained.

* * *

Ellis’s most recent novel, Glamorama (1998), is a departure for the author, insofar as it does not merely concern the hollowness and superficiality of American culture, but also the way in which the whole of reality is structured within the context of this culture.  In Glamorama, the entire structure of reality is choreographed.  It is impossible to tell, throughout the work, whether a character is in a “real” scenario or whether that scenario has been rehearsed, scripted, and staged.  In Glamorama, the surface of things overtakes all depth.  We have reached, Ellis seems to suggest, a hyper-Kantian moment in which appearances are finally liberated from the things that they would represent.  Indeed, the novel “itself”–a panorama of hollow, glitzy appearances–is an endless play of surfaces without profundity.

The “star” of Glamorama, semi-model Victor Ward, is photographed at film premieres and fashion shows that he never attended; these photographs take on the status of the “truth.”  Only that which is mediated by the media, the novel seems to imply, is regarded as “real” in American culture.  The “characters” of Glamorama–models and celebrities and those who serve them–can only recognize something as “true” to the extent that it is simulated.  In particular, for the lovable idiot Victor, the “living” instant exists only for the sake of its media duplication: That is to say, he can only recognize something as significant insofar as it recalls a popular song lyric, television show, or film.  A human being has value for him except inasmuch as s/he resembles an actor/actress such as Uma Thurman or Christian Bale (“You’re looking very Uma-ish, baby” is a typical remark).  Like all of Ellis’s mannequin figures, Victor is vacant, a media sponge, a mediator of transitory sound-bytes.  In the first and second sections of the novel, for instance, Victor is nothing more than a vehicle for the words of others (a running joke throughout Glamorama is Victor’s tendency to respond to questions, inanely, with decontextualized popular song lyrics).  It is his emptiness of meaningful content that allows him to become the scapegoat of various political factions, who exploit his naïveté for their own programs.  Victor becomes entangled with fashion-model terrorists who are even more surface-fascinated than him and who “teach” him that a world of pure surfaces is a world without ethical limits.

A Bildungsroman for the early twenty-first century, Glamorama charts Victor’s gradual transformation into a person of substance.  At the end of his metamorphosis, Victor fastens his mind on the image of a mountain that he must “ascend” in order to escape from the world of self-referring resemblances.  An agent of “the real,” Victor yearns to break free from the network of appearances that constitutes American culture.  He yearns to break free from his culture (“Have you ever wished that you could disappear from all this?” an MTV journalist asks Victor in an interview) precisely because it is utopian.  Only after the traumas of the latter sections of the novel does Victor become aware of the drawbacks of America’s utopianism.  He is “[o]n the verge of tears–because [he is] dealing with the fact that we lived in a world in which beauty was considered an accomplishment.”  A world in which “supermodels” are automatically qualified to be actors, filmmakers, artists, writers, representatives of the United Nations–and terrorists.  A world in which physical appearance and money are the only significant power-categories.

Ellis’s equation of beauty with terror might strike one as capricious.  It is not.  In America, it is not surprising to see the televised image of a “supermodel” such as Claudia Schiffer wearing a T-shirt that reads “EVIL” or to learn that a popular fashion-designer (Von Dutch) was a Nazi.  Fascism intersects with fashion at multiple points.  Fashion makes raids on human consciousness no less damaging than terrorist initiatives.  Both assault memory and self-perception.  Both destabilize one’s sense of security and well-being.  Ellis demonstrated the conjunction of terrorism and performance before the attacks of September 11, 2001.  In its conflation of fashion with fascism, Glamorama recalls Stockhausen’s callous but nonetheless accurate remark that the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center constituted a work of performance art.  An accurate statement, insofar as the terrorist interventions of September 11, 2001 would not have existed were it not for the spectacle of television.

There is nothing new about any of this.  Indeed, fascism has traditionally used aesthetic means to take hold of the human imagination and exert its dominion over human life (Italian futurism is one example of this).  Such is the meaning of the Nazi swastika on the ceiling of Victor’s New York nightclub and the Hitler epigraph at the beginning of the novel: “You make a mistake if you see what we do as merely political.”  By way of the epigraph and the figure of the swastika, Ellis suggests that fascism is not merely a political, but also an aesthetic movement.  But the reverse is also true, according to the logic of Glamorama: What once appeared as merely aesthetic reveals itself as a political movement.

Victor, then, wants to escape from utopia.  It is this swerve away from shallow phenomenality that leads one to believe that Ellis is not a “postmodern” novelist–that is to say, one who has resigned himself to the omnipresence of empty images.  Far from it.  Indeed, as a novelist, Ellis traces the limits of postmodernism.  There is, Glamorama suggests, a space beyond postmodern culture–a culture in which image ceaselessly passes into image, in which signs have no order except for that constituted by their own formal arrangements.  Ellis beckons away from the image sphere toward the space-time of consumption.  In terms of the “society of the spectacle” (following Guy Debord, a philosopher to whom Ellis alludes at least once in Glamorama), reality exists only insofar as it is converted into an image.  Ellis’s Glamorama suggests that it is still possible to engage with “the real” outside of the sphere of simulation.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once said of America: “This country is without hope.”  In a typically American fashion, Ellis refuses to resign himself to hopelessness.  He is a writer who relates to his own culture (a culture with which he also, to a certain extent, identifies) by ridiculing it mercilessly.

A satirist with a laser-sharp wit, Ellis opens up the imaginary possibility of liberating ourselves from the space in which each of us is imprisoned.  But Ellis is not a politician, only a writer.  He seems to have no program for radical social change, and that is refreshing.  Ellis relinquishes utopian alternatives to America’s utopianism.  He merely presents American culture through the distorted speculum of his own fun-house mirror.  By doing so, he ventures further than any of his contemporaries have dared.

Joseph Suglia



A Critique of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell / A Negative Review of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

An Analysis of BLINK (Malcolm Gladwell) by Joseph Suglia

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) is not a meticulously researched book.  Nearly all of its ‘research’ was derived from studies in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In the book’s Notes (a mere seven pages in length), you will count fifteen references to that journal and a few references to other sources.

It seems appropriate that Gladwell’s research is so slipshod.  After all, Blink is like a war machine pitted against research in all forms.  There simply isn’t time to investigate and deliberate, after all. And the more you research, the less you will know.

The more you think, the less you will know.

Blink celebrates and affirms pre-knowledge, the uncritical reflex, the snap judgment, the spur-of-the-moment decision.

Our initial perception of things is always correct, according to Gladwell, unless our minds are led astray by some extraneous matter.  All of us would come to the same conclusions, as long as we were to refine our “thin-slicing” skills. “To thin-slice,” in this context, means to extract the salient meaning from an initial impression.  All of us are afforded an immediate and direct insight into the atemporal essences of things.

All of this is ‘argued’ anecdotally.  As I mentioned in the opening of the review, nearly all of the anecdotes were stolen from a single source.  And in many cases, misappropriated.  Gladwell tells us that students can instantly judge a teacher’s effectiveness as soon as s/he walks into the classroom.  What Gladwell doesn’t tell us is that the article from which he derived this ‘truth’ concerns the impact of a teacher’s perceived sex appeal on course evaluations.

How the ‘glimpse’ actually works is never explained; we are told, in several places, that instantaneous intuition “bubbles up” unbidden from the recesses of the “adaptive unconscious.”  “The” adaptive unconscious, mind you, as if there could only be one.  This is, of course, monism, and Gladwell believes in absolutes.

Of course, one’s initial impressions might yield profitable results.  But to say that one’s immediate intuition of the world is inherently superior to slow and careful thinking is madness.  One should beware of any form of mysticism, and Gladwell’s blank intuitionism could easily be put in the service of a fascistic Wille zur Macht.

Blink’s target audience is composed of Hollywood producers, literary agents, advertisers, and military strategists.  You will learn in this book that films that exhibit Tom Hanks are superior to those that do not, that margarine tastes better when packaged in foil, that music sounds better when marketed the right way to the right people, that military strikes should be carried out without discipline or forethought.  The surface impression is everything.  Submit to your impulses!

Blink is American pop-culture’s defense of its own stupidity.

Joseph Suglia

TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer / A Negative Review of TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk

GO HERE to watch and listen to my YouTube videos on literature and philosophy: GO HERE!

A review of Tell-All (chuckpalahniuk) by Dr. Joseph Suglia


chuckpalahniuk’s followers have grown older and are now turning against the one they once adulated as their master.  How could they not be insulted?  They have been treated with contempt by a writer who dumbs everything down for them.  They read more widely now and have come to recognize that the idealism that they once saw in their leader is false, and they despise him for his blatant opportunism.  This is a man who has no interest in knowledge or language, but who merely wants to make as much money as possible.  (chuckpalahniuk said: “I don’t care what they do with my book, as long as the f****** check clears.”)  They resent him for simplifying ideas that he has stolen from more sophisticated writers–and from his own fan base.  chuckpalahniuk writes under the heads of his sixteen-year-old target audience.  Sadly for him, those sixteen-year-old sheep are now twenty-four.  chuckpalahniuk is irrelevant, and the responses to his most recent work demonstrate this.

* * * * *

Those who write according to deadlines inevitably generate dead lines.  It should surprise no one, then, that chuckpalahniuk’s tired, labored contractual offering, Tell-All (2010), is a concatenation of lifeless sentences.  I’ve always felt–and clearly I’m in the minority these days–that words should bleed from the page, that one should write with one’s blood, as Nietzsche would say.  Well, Palahniuk’s pages don’t bleed; they suppurate.  A genuine writer composes electric prose, nothing but electric prose.  There is no electricity here, no artfulness.  But to claim that chuckpalahniuk writes artlessly would be to say too little.  Every sentence, every phrase, every word in this book is spoken by a voice from the grave.  Consumerist fiction is never vivacious.  You don’t believe that Palahniuk is a “literary” entrepreneur?  Here is his advice to a young poet: “Don’t expect to make any money off [poetry].”

The “plot,” such as it is, regurgitates All About Eve (1950), with Hazie Coogan reassuming the role of Eve and Katherine Kenton reincarnating Margo.  Every name is embossed in bold type, which makes the book as appealing to read as a telephone directory.  The weakest elements in Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are his lists.  One needn’t know how to write in order to compile lists of indiscriminate items.  Here, the entire novel is a list–a list of proper nouns.  Reading this drivel is exactly like being jabbed incessantly in the ribs by an idiot savant who recites name after name in a narcotizing monotone, giggling after each jab.

The prose is irritatingly incompetent.  Should we forget that all German nouns are capitalized?  Are we supposed to think that “bile-ography” [32], “fossilidealized” [46], “laud mouthing” [58], and a “jury of sneers” [147] are clever neologisms?  Should we forget that hipster Dave Eggers popularized self-reflexivity (though he did not invent it–such a practice can be found in Ludwig Tieck and Shakespeare, to cite but two names) and that the use of it is no longer particularly “experimental”?  Should we ignore the fact that the phrase “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” is used no fewer than four times in this novel [on pages 3, 79, 129, and 177] and that such mindless repetitions are excessively fatiguing?

[After writing this review, I learned that the terms “bile-ography,” “to fossilidealize,” “to laud-mouth,” a “jury of sneers,” and “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” (not capitalized?) are not of chuckpalahniuk’s contrivance.]

chuckpalahniuk’s knowledge of his subject is as limited as his vocabulary.  “That vast wealth of 50’s [sic] film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard,” chuckpalahniuk announced to Amazon.  Silliness abounds.  Are we to allow that Samuel Beckett was a “celebrity” [2] who attended opulent parties at Hollywood mansions?  Beckett recoiled from the entertainment industry as if it were a cancerous polyp (though he was not entirely indifferent to fame: See Stephen Dilks, Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace).  Are we credulous enough to believe that folk singer Woody Guthrie composed music and lyrics for Broadway shows when he never did–and would have probably found the very idea of doing so repellent?  Should we be persuaded that the great French filmmaker Alain Resnais “saddled humanity” [109] (with what, precisely?), when he has given us so many strikingly beautiful, provocative, and groundbreaking works of art–something that chuckpalahniuk has never been able to do?  Though Resnais opened up a new way of seeing, most of humanity has ignored his oeuvre.  Muriel (1962), his masterpiece, is almost completely obscure.

chuckpalahniuk’s opera minora belong to a genre we might term “moron fiction,” fiction intended for readers who hate books.  One suspects that chuckpalahniuk hates books himself, given how little effort he invests in reading and creating them.  Tell-All is a nonliving entity, a throwaway, a trifle, a triviality, a little slice of nothing.


Being taught how to write fictionally by chuckpalahniuk is exactly like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.

Joseph Suglia

GO HERE to watch and listen to my YouTube videos on literature and philosophy: GO HERE!

“Eveline” by James Joyce (from Dubliners): A Commentary / An Analysis of “Eveline” by James Joyce / DUBLINERS, “Eveline” by James Joyce

A commentary on “Eveline” (James Joyce)

by Dr. Joseph Suglia


The opening of “Eveline” (1904-1907; published in 1914), from Dubliners, by James Joyce:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.

Notice that Eveline is not named at the beginning of the story.  Her name is given in the title, it is true, but not in the first sentence of the text.  She is a nameless, passive percipient, rather than an agent (an actor).  She does not act; she observes.  It is the evening that is performing an action; it is the evening that is acting.  The evening is invading—Eveline is already paralyzed, immobile, static at the very opening of the story, as she will be at the story’s close.

Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne.  She was tired.

Joyce does not write, “She leaned her head against the window curtains…”  He writes that her head was leaned.  The head is described as an object, as the object of an action.  The head was leaned—this means that Eveline was not leaning her own head; someone or something was leaning her head against the window curtains.  The use of the passive voice illuminates Eveline’s own passivity and immobility.

In her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne: The odour of the heavy fabric enveloping the furniture was invading Eveline’s nostrils.  Again, an image of invasion, of infiltration, of violation.  She was tired: This was Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite of all sentences, presumably because the simplicity of the language is a red herring, distracting the reader from the complexities of the text-web.

Few people passed.  The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses.

The last house where?  Where is the cinder path?  Where are the new red houses?  It is difficult to locate any of these things.  Joyce is generally very good with space and with describing the placement of objects within spaces, but here, he leaves it to the reader to imagine where the last house is, where the cinder path is, and where the new red houses are.

One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children.  Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it—not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs.  The children of the avenue used to play together in that field—the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters.

Notice that Eveline places herself after the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, and little Keogh the cripple.  Eveline puts herself at the end of the line.  Already we have a sense that this girl has abysmal self-esteem.

Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up.  Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming.

“In” and “out” are a strange coupling of prepositions. What does it mean to hunt children in out of the field?  Shouldn’t the independent clause read: Her father used often to hunt them out of the field?  Incidentally: “To keep nix” means “to be on the lookout.”

Still they seemed to have been rather happy then.  Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive.  That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead.  Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England.  Everything changes.  Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.

If Eveline’s father was not so bad then, just imagine how bad he is when the story takes place.

Home!  She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from.

Eveline identifies herself as a duster-of-inanimate-objects.

Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.

She does not distinguish herself from the static objects that surround her.  At the end of the story, when she has the opportunity to realize her human freedom and spontaneity, she imitates the inertia of inactive objects.

And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Beloved of Irish Catholics, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French Catholic nun who was the embodiment to pious devotion to tradition—much in the same way that Eveline is piously devoted to her family and her homeland.

He had been a school friend of her father.  Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:

“He is in Melbourne now.”

She had consented to go away, to leave her home.

The fact that she describes her decision to escape Dublin as one of consent implies that she does not see that decision as her own, but rather as one that has been made for her and one to which she has assented.

Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question.

Apparently, she assented reluctantly.  Her mind has not yet been made up.  The reader also is invited to weigh each side of the question: Should she leave?  Should she have left?  No answer is given.  A literary work of art, “Eveline” provokes questions that it never answers; it never gives readers the means of answering these questions.

In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.  Of course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business.  What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?  Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement.  Miss Gavan would be glad.  She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.

“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”

“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”

She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.

But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that.  Then she would be married—she, Eveline.  People would treat her with respect then.  She would not be treated as her mother had been.  Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence.  She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations.

At this point, one has to wonder why any person of sense would want to stay in the Hill household.  Her father is abusive; this much is clear.  She is treated derogatorily by her employer, Miss Gavan.  Her brother Ernest and her mother are dead.  She is suffering from violent paroxysms, tremors brought on by her father’s abuse.  What is there to keep her in Dublin?  And trying her luck in the open air of Buenos Ayres would afford her a new possibility.  Though not everything that is possible is positive, at least she would have the possibility of something positive being brought into her life.

[Frank] told [Eveline] the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians.

Now, the bit about the Patagonians makes me wonder if Frank is a liar.  A chronicler of Magellan’s expeditions wrote that the Patagonians were a race of giants.  Is Frank repeating the same myth of the “terrible Patagonians”?  If Frank is telling Eveline such nonsense, this should lead us to question the integrity of his intentions.

He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a holiday.  Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say to him.

“I know these sailor chaps,” he said.

Is the father necessarily incorrect?  As dour as Eveline’s life is in Dublin, is it not preferable to being seduced and abandoned in South America?  There is no way to know with authority whether or not Frank is a reptilian seducer.  He very well might be a boa constrictor in human form.  Not even Frank might know if he is a seducer, if we consider the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Frank is inscrutable to us, and perhaps Frank is even inscrutable to himself.  The inscrutability of Frank summons forth the indeterminacy of life itself.

Sometimes [Eveline’s father] could be very nice.  Not long before, when [Eveline] had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire.  Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth.  She remembered her father putting on her mother’s bonnet to make the children laugh.

The atypical tenderness of the father only serves to underline his general abusiveness.

Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.

The grammar changes here: Now, Eveline is playing a more active role: She was leaning her head, she was inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.

Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing.  She knew the air.  Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could.  She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy.

The song of the Italian organ player conjures the most dominant figure in Eveline’s life.  Neither her father, her surviving brother Harry, nor Frank, her lover, but rather her dead-yet-deathless mother.  The mother is resurrected, invoked by the organ-player’s song, and reminds Eveline of the latter’s death-bed oath to glue together the unglueable pieces of their shattered family.  As if to hook and draw Eveline into the tomb.  To save her from life.

The organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying:

“Damned Italians! coming over here!”

The father’s hatred of itinerant foreigners stands in contrast to the Wanderlust of Frank, an émigré from Ireland who travels to the “good air” of Buenos Ayres.

As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being—that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.

Notice the use of the verb to close.  Three sentences before, Joyce used close as an adjective.  Here, he is using close as a verb.  This is paronomasia (punning).  An adjective in one sentence is used as a verb in another.  The fact that Joyce is using close twice in proximity means something: Close evokes the sepulchral narrowness of the life that Eveline will choose.

She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:

“Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”

This is, apparently, corrupt Gaelic for: “The end of pleasure is pain! The end of pleasure is pain!”  It is as if the mother were admonishing her daughter from beyond the grave to avoid pleasure—to live in a narrow life of nunnish self-renunciation, to stay mired in the misery in Dublin, to languish in Dublin, to duplicate the self-negations of her mother and the insanities of her mother’s dying.  These are irenic words, sibylline utterances.  They are necrotic commandments, words spoken from the tomb, words spoken from deathness.

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror.  Escape!  She must escape!  Frank would save her.  He would give her life, perhaps love, too.  But she wanted to live.  Why should she be unhappy?  She had a right to happiness.  Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms.  He would save her.

And she would not, then, save herself?  This passage highlights, more than any other, why Eveline is immobilized.  Rather than will to escape, she wills not to have a will.  She wills to let someone else make the decisions for her.  Her absence of self-determination is the reason that she is likely condemned to the self-negating boredom and insanity that marked her mother’s life.

Through the wide doors of the sheds [Eveline] caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes.

Joyce, again, is very good at describing place—particularly, at describing blockages.  A less talented writer would have merely pointed to the existence of the boat.  A less talented writer would have merely described the boat.  Joyce describes the visual impediments, the obstructions that impede the view of the ocean liner.  The black mass of the boat is seen through the wide doors of the sheds—an image of blockage, of separation.  The sheds are emblematic of the self-imposed barriers that divide Eveline from freedom.

Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

It is difficult to believe, but Joyce—one of the greatest literary artists who ever lived—makes a usage error in this passage.  Amid, which means “in the midst of,” should only be placed before singular nouns.  Seas is a plural noun and should take among.

[Eveline] set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

Nothing has changed within Eveline since the opening of the story.  She is immobile from the beginning of the story unto its end.  The blankness of her eyes—their illegibility, their incomprehensible nothingness—can be interpreted to signify anything.  Readers may introject their own meanings into those null eyes.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

A review of CONSIDER THE LOBSTER (David Foster Wallace) by Dr. Joseph Suglia / David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer

A review of BOTH FLESH AND NOT (David Foster Wallace)
By Dr. Joseph Suglia

Published four years after David Foster Wallace’s career-advancing suicide (a despicable suicide that was an assaultive act against his widow Karen Green), Both Flesh and Not (2012) reprints essays and squibs that were originally written for various newspapers, magazines, and journals; one of the texts appeared as the introduction to an anthology of essays, another was appended to a thesaurus.  Both online and print sources are represented.  Through the collection threads a list of words and definitions that Wallace kept on his desktop computer.

The vocabulary list troubles me more than anything else assembled in this volume.  Someone who professed to care very much about Standard Written American Usage, Wallace abuses many words himself.

Wallace thinks that “art nouveau” refers to a “decorative style of early 20th c. using leaves and flowers in flowing sinuous lines, like on vases, columns, etc.” [34].  This is innocence and nonsense.  Jugendstil was much different than that.  Beardsley didn’t always use “leaves” and “flowers”!

Wallace thinks that “birl” means to “cause to spin rapidly with feet (as with logrolling)” [35].  But “birl” also means, intransitively, to “whirl”; for instance, you may say that hot dogs or sausages birl on spits.

Yes, Wallace is right to think that “distemper” might denote “a kind of paint-job using watered paint” [165], but it can also mean “to throw out of order” or “bad mood” and could denote a viral disease that affects dogs and cats.

Wallace thinks that an “ecdysiast” is a “striptease artist” [165], but this has only been the case since Gypsy.  An “ecdysiast,” etymologically speaking, refers to something that molts or sheds its skin, such as certain birds, insects, and crustaceans.

Wallace doesn’t know that Grand Guignol was horror theatre before ever it was “cinema” [190].

Throughout, there are many such compositional errors.

Wallace had abysmal taste in literature.  It is good to see Steps on a list of “five direly underappreciated U.S. novels” since 1960, but it ought to be stated that this novel, which is attributed to Jerzy Kosinski, was collaboratively written.  Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West has interesting content—the sort of content that one might expect to discover in an early- or middle-period film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky—but its prose style is a mere pastiche of Faulkner.  I don’t know what to say about a person who thinks that Denis Johnson is a serious writer.

Both Flesh and Not is a disastrous humiliation.  Republishing these essays and squibs was not a good idea and besmirches the reputation of Wallace even more than D.T. Max’s horripilative biography does.  Though he had many virtues, the ability to form strong sentences was not one of them.  David Foster Wallace could not write a decent sentence to save his life.

Joseph Suglia


Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Art

by Joseph Suglia

Art is not art the moment that it ceases to be a fabrication.  I support anything in art, on the basis that it is choreographed / fabricated.  The moment that a human being wounds, mutilates, kills an animal, the boundary that separates art from life has been crossed.  The moment that an artist kills an animal in the name of art, she or he has ceased being an artist in my eyes.

Art is a way of making life seem more interesting than it actually is.

Art transforms the spectator’s relation to the world, to others, and to oneself.  It is a human activity, not a natural or divine activity.

I have become an aesthetic nihilist: The word “art” is applied to whatever a person or a community believes is art.  I can only speak or write with authority on what I think art is.

Art is the perception of a perception.

Joseph Suglia


A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion / An Analysis of A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion

An Analysis of A Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Dedicated to Lux Interior (1948-2009)

What is one to say when the beloved dies?  There is nothing to say.  None of the platitudes of bereavement, none of the polite formulae seems adequate.  My husband was sitting on that chair, alive, and now he is dead.  “John was talking, then he wasn’t” (10).  What else is there to say?  There are no words that could properly express the banality of mortality.

A Year of Magical Thinking (2005) is Joan Didion’s attempt to craft a language that would make meaningful the death of her husband, John Greg Dunne.  It is a language that, at times, seems almost glaciated.  After all, she doesn’t offer any of the customary symptoms of bereavement (simulated tears, screaming, protests of denial, etc.).  The social worker who ministers to Didion says of the author: “She’s a pretty cool customer” (15).

Didion: “I wondered what an uncool customer would be allowed to do. Break down? Require sedation? Scream?” (16).

Superficial readers, predictably, mistake her seeming sangfroid for indifference.  Yet Didion is hardly apathetic.  She takes words too seriously to lapse into maudlin kitsch.  If she refuses sentimentalism, it is because she knows that the language of sentimentalism isn’t precise enough.  If she refuses to be emotionally effusive, it is because she knows how easily an access of emotion–however genuine–can deteriorate into cliché.  If she avoids hysteria, it is because she knows that abreaction is incommunicative.  Her sentences are blissfully free of fossilized phrases, vapid slogans that could never do justice to the workings of grief.

Of course, the opposite reaction would bring about censure, as well.  Had Didion expressed her grief in histrionic terms, American readers would have asked, rhetorically, “Why can’t she just get over it.”  (I deliberately omitted the question mark.)  The appropriate response to the death of the beloved is temperate mourning and cool-headedness: “Grieve for a month and then forget about the man with whom you spent nearly forty years of your life!  Don’t talk about it anymore after that fixed period; we don’t want to hear about it.”

Philippe Aries in Western Attitudes Toward Death: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

In place of a tragedy, Didion gives us a sober account of bereavement.  What is it like to be bereaved?  You will never know until it happens to you.  Didion discovers vortices everywhere–centers of gravitation that pull her toward the abyss left by her husband’s death.  A new Alcestis, willing to die in the place of her husband, she calls forth his presence, and yet each of these pleas for his presence reinforces the perpetual silence that separates her from him.  Self-pity, of course, is inescapable.  She becomes “she-whose-husband-has-died.”  She defines herself in relation to the absent beloved.  When John was alive, she was a younger woman, since she saw herself exclusively through her husband’s eyes.  Now that John is dead, she sees herself, for the first time since she was very young, through the eyes of others.  Now that John is dead, she no longer knows who she is.

Every one of us is irreplaceable, which is why death is an irretrievable, irreversible, irrecoverable, infinite loss.  When the beloved dies, an impassible divide is placed between the survivor and the absent beloved.  Didion hears her husband’s voice, and yet this voice is really her own voice resonating within her–a voice that nonetheless makes her own voice possible.  Nothing remains for the survivor to do but to turn the dead beloved into dead meat, to substitute for his living presence a tangible object (whether it is a photograph or any form of funerary architecture), to resign oneself to the dead beloved’s non-being.  She must accept the transformation of being into nothingness, the movement from everything to nothing, the withering of fullness into boundless emptiness.  Writing is one way to fashion an image of the dead man and thus bring to completion the work of mourning.  The failure of objectification, according to Freudian psychoanalysis, will lead to melancholia, the infinitization of the Trauerarbeit.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name in the trust accounts.

Let go of them in the water (226).

This is minimalism, of course, but Joan Didion’s minimalism is minimalism in the genuine sense of the word, not the kind of infantilism that most other American writers practice today and which goes by the name of “minimalism.”  They confuse scaled-down writing with simplicity; they externalize everything.  They write their intentions explicitly on the surface of the page.  Didion, on the other hand, attends to the cadences and pregnant silences inherent to the rhythms of speech.  She is attuned to the interstices that punctuate articulated speech, that articulate speech, that make speech communicable.  What is unsaid is weightier, for Didion, than what is said.  She does not express matters directly; she indicates, she points.  There is a kind of veering-away from naked being here, a swerving-away from the nullity of death.  Joan Didion is far too dignified, far too noble to pretend to bring death to language.

Joseph Suglia