My novel TABLE 41 is now available in physical form

Dear friends,

Many of you have asked me to publish my novel TABLE 41 in physical form.  It is now available:

purchase TABLE 41 here

Excerpts from the book are readable here (Table One, Table Two, Table Three, and Table Four): table41thenovel.com

Wishing you the best,

Joseph Suglia

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Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia: Table of Contents

 

SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS by Joseph Suglia

My novel TABLE 41

My Guide to English Usage

My YouTube Channel

Table of Contents

SQUIBS

A Wonderful Video for Wonderful People

I Renounce All My Early Books and Writings

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

The Most Important Video You Will Ever Watch

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

THE NIETZSCHE COMMENTARIES

HUMAN, ALL-TOO-HUMAN / MENSCHLICHES, ALLZUMENSCHLICHES

DAYBREAK / MORGENRÖTHE: GEDANKEN ÜBER DIE MORALISCHEN VORURTHEILE

THE GAY SCIENCE / DIE FRÖHLICHES WISSENSCHAFT

THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA / ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA

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

OVERESTIMATING / UNDERESTIMATING SHAKESPEARE

VOLUME ONE: THE COMEDIES AND PROBLEM PLAYS

THE TEMPEST

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

AS YOU LIKE IT

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

TWELFTH NIGHT, OR, WHAT YOU WILL

THE WINTER’S TALE

VOLUME TWO: THE TRAGEDIES

THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

THE MOST LAMENTABLE ROMAN TRAGEDY OF TITUS ANDRONICUS

THE MOST EXCELLENT AND LAMENTABLE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET

TIMON OF ATHENS

CAESAR ANTI-TRUMP

KING LEAR

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

PHILIPPICS

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 PASSION OF THE CHRIST by Mel Gibson

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

Dave Eggers Is a Bad Writer: Part Two: On YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND YOUR PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER? 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 WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE by James Hawes

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

MORE LITERARY AND CINEMATIC CRITICISM

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

On ROBERTE CE SOIR and THE REVOCATION OF THE EDICT OF NANTES by Pierre Klossowski

Escape from Utopia: Bret Easton Ellis

On GILES GOAT-BOY by John Barth

On LIPSTICK JUNGLE by Candace Bushnell

On IRREVERSIBLE by Gaspar Noe

On IN MEMORIAM TO IDENTITY by Kathy Acker

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 EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES by Tom Robbins

On V. by Thomas Pynchon

On A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE by Anaïs Nin

On MAO II by Don DeLillo

On ROBINSON ALONE by Kathleen Rooney

Dennis Cooper and the Demystification of Love

On THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

On EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL by Werner Herzog

On CRASH by J.G. Ballard

On A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion

 

On KING LEAR (Shakespeare)

 

I DON’T THINK YOU’RE READY FOR THIS VILE JELLY: 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 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 ********ing 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.  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 IS NOT APART FROM HUMANITY; HE IS A PART OF HUMANITY

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]

 

WHEN HIS LANGUAGE ENDS, ALL LANGUAGE SHALL END

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.

 

HE IS EITHER GENEROUS TO EVERYONE OR GENEROUS TO NO ONE

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!
[IV:iii][4]

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.

 

HE MOCKINGLY IMITATES THE MOCKING IMITATORS

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).

 

HE IS A MISANTHROPE, IT IS TRUE, BUT IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT HE MISANTHROPIZES HIMSELF

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.

 

HE REINTERPRETS HIS PERSONAL EXPLOITATION AS INFECTION BY PESTILENTIAL HUMANITY

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.

 

ONE IS THE CANNIBAL AND THE OTHER IS THE CANNIBALIZED

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.

 

THE REAVING THIEVES AND THE WATERY NOTHINGNESS OF THEIR WORDS

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.

 

HE DIGS IN THE EARTH

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.

 

HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS DESTRUCTION

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.

 

HE GIVES MORE THAN IS ASKED FOR AND THEN GROWS SPITEFUL WHEN HIS LARGESSE IS NOT RETURNED

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.

 

HE IS AS MUCH OF AN EXPLOITER AS THE FLATTERING PARASITES WHO FAWN OVER HIM

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.

 

EVEN WHILE WASTING AWAY IN THE WASTELAND, TIMON GIVES MONEY TO THE UNWORTHY

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.

 

THEOREM

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

 

NIETZSCHEAN RETROACTIVE CONTINUITY

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 spontaneous birth.

 

DEVALUATING THE VIRTUES

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 OVERHUMANITIES

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.

 

THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE OF A JOKE

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.

 

DETHRONING THE HIGHER HUMANS

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.

 

NIETZSCHE CONTRA PETERSON: JORDAN PETERSON DOES NOT UNDERSTAND NIETZSCHE

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”).