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

[VIDEOS] I Lecture for Nineteen Hours on Nietzsche’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: PRELUDE TO A PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE

by Joseph Suglia

Nietzsche BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL My Translation Lecture Commentary Audiobook Nietzsche Philosophy ONE – YouTube

*

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

VIDEO ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

All philosophy is a form of autobiography.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

VIDEO THREE

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Life is liberating and liberated.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

VIDEO FOUR

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Nietzsche requires a new language to surpass metaphysics.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

VIDEO FIVE

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

VIDEO SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

A discussion of The Leech in Also Sprach Zarathustra.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

VIDEO SEVEN

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

* * * * *

Geniuses are intolerable, unless they deprecate themselves.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

VIDEO EIGHT

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

VIDEO NINE

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO TEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

VIDEO ELEVEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you give up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO TWELVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO THIRTEEN

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

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

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

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

VIDEO FOURTEEN

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

VIDEO FIFTEEN

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

Joseph Suglia

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

VIDEO ESSAYS

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

VIDEO: Jacques Derrida Is Overrated

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

VIDEO: My Neighbors Are Bothering Me

VIDEO: Reading My ENTIRE Novel TABLE 41 for You

VIDEO: Why I Hate Shakespeare

Table of Contents

SQUIBS

I

Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Consumerism and Genius

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

Aphorisms on Libertarianism, Criticism, and Psychoanalysis

My Favorite Writers, My Favorite Music, My Favorite Films

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

Three Aperçus: THE NEON DEMON (2016) and Envy

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

The Red Pig Asian Kitchen: BANNED by Yelp

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

Analogy Blindness: I Invented a Linguistic Term

Polyptoton: Greg Gutfeld

Two Haiku

David Foster Wallace and Macaulay Culkin: Two Aperçus

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

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

Jimmy Carter

Emo Island

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

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

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

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 HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK

THE UNREADABILITY OF HAMLET

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH

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 AUCH ZWERGE HABEN KLEIN ANGEFANGEN by Werner Herzog

On CRASH by J.G. Ballard

On A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

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

 

CORONAVIRUS POEM
by Joseph Suglia

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

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

 

 

CRUISE SHIP POEM
by Joseph Suglia

A scintilla of space
in a sea of time

A worldship
not fixed to any place

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

 

An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE – by Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (Shakespeare) by Joseph Suglia

PART ONE

A question that arises in the minds of readers of The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is inescapably the following: “Why does Iago have a pathological hatred for Othello?”  Well, why does anyone hate anyone?  Why does anyone love anyone?  The sources of hatred, as of love, are largely unconscious.  Hatred and love are not the products of conscious agency.  They are feelings that appear inexplicably in the mind.  The unconscious sources of human behavior can be marked in literature, however.  We are dealing here with a literary fabrication, a figure made of paper and ink, not a human being, and there might be textual clues that would explain Iago’s seething hatred for Othello.

There seem to be four hypotheses for the grounds of Iago’s vehement antipathy toward Othello:

  • Iago resents Othello for choosing Michael Cassio as his lieutenant.

Othello passes over Iago for promotion to lieutenant and instead selects him as his ensign or “ancient.”  He becomes someone who delivers Othello’s letters and carries his luggage.  Iago inveighs against the election of Cassio, whom he considers someone who has a merely theoretical knowledge of the science of death, a “great arithmetician… [t]hat never set a squadron in the field / Nor the division of a battle knows / More than a spinster” [I:i].  And yet Othello does raise Iago to the lieutenancy in Act Three, Scene Three.  Why, then, would Iago continue to hold a grudge?

  • Iago abominates Othello because he suspects that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia.

This is mere rumor, and Iago knows that the rumor is probably a canard: “I hate the Moor / And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets / He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true, / But I for mere suspicion in that kind / Will do as if for surety” [I:iii].  Iago admits that he has no evidence to support this hypothesis, and it doesn’t matter to him one way or the other whether Othello has cuckolded him.  Iago seizes upon the rumor as a pretext for his boundless negativity.

  • Iago is sexually jealous of Othello.  He is desirous of Desdemona, Othello’s wife.

This interpretation is not altogether without evidence, but it is not a comprehensive interpretation.  If Iago is sexually possessive of Desdemona, why, then, would he offer her to Roderigo?: “[T]hou shalt enjoy her—therefore make money” [I:iii].

Iago makes his lust for Desdemona plain in the following lines: “Now I do love her too, / Not out of absolute lust—though peradventure / I stand accountant for as great a sin— / But partly led to diet my revenge, / For that I do suspect the lusty Moor / Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof / Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards…” [II:i].  This passage makes it clear that “love,” for the immoralist Iago, is the mere scion of lust and that his desire for Desdemona is really the desire to screw Othello over.  He cannot bear the thought that Othello has “leaped into his seat”—which is to say that Iago’s rivalrous-emulous identification with Othello takes precedence over his carnal interest in Desdemona.

  • Iago despises Othello for his race.

It is true that Iago repeatedly calls Othello “the Moor.”  Depriving someone of a proper name, and replacing that person’s proper name with a common noun, is a common way of depersonalizing someone.  George W. Bush engaged in this linguistic practice quite often, renaming Vladimir Putin “Ostrich Legs,” Tony Blair “Landslide,” Silvio Berlusconi “Shoes,” and John Boehner “Boner.”

There is no question that Iago uses ugly racist language: Othello is nominated “an old black ram [that is] tupping [Brabantio’s] white ewe” [I:i]; he is “a Barbary horse” that covers his daughter; “you’ll have your nephews neigh to you, you’ll have courses for cousins and jennets for germans” [Ibid.].  Consider the audience to whom this language is addressed.  Iago’s invective might be used for purely rhetorical purposes, in order to produce specific effects within Brabantio, Desdemona’s father.  Brabantio is clearly a hardcore racist idiot who thinks that all North Africans are witches and warlocks and that Othello, therefore, could only win his daughter through ensorcellment: “Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her” [I:ii].  He makes this point with deadening repetitiousness.  He cannot conceive of his daughter “fall[-ing] in love with what she feared to look on” and cannot comprehend why she would reject the wealthy “curled darlings” [I:iii] of the state in favor of the Moor.

Iago, the reptilian-Machiavellian manipulator, might be playing on the racist sympathies of Brabantio in the way that a clever lawyer might stir up the racist antipathies of a jury without being a racist him- or herself.  While it is possible that there is a racial element in Iago’s hatred for Othello, his hatred is not reducible to racism or racialized nationalism.

Iago’s hatred for Othello is an absolute hatred—a hatred absolved from qualification, from relation.  A textual clue for the unconscious sources of his hatred is contained in the following lines: “Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago… I am not what I am” [I:i].

Were Iago the Moor, Iago would not be Iago: Am I alone in hearing in this line an unforgiving self-contempt and the desire to become Othello?  Whenever a human being encounters a stranger, the question is always the same: “Who are you?”  In other words: Who are you in relation to me?  Are you similar to me?  Are you different from me?  To what degree are you different from me?  How do I measure myself against you?  In the case of the stalker Iago, there is, I suspect, the painful consciousness of his own inferiority vis-à-vis Othello and the painful desire to become Othello, which is an absolute impossibility.  This is the meaning of the last line quoted: “I am not what I am.”  Iago is not identical to himself because he identifies himself intimately and yet impossibly with Othello.  If you are obsessed with someone, you desire to become the person with whom you are obsessed.  This will never happen, but what will happen is that you will no longer be your own, you will no longer be yourself, for the object of your obsession will engulf you.

Iago’s rivalry with Othello embodies the dialectic of the self in relation to the other human being.  There is, on the one hand, the self-assumption of the self–which is based on the differentiation of the self from the other human being–and, on the other hand, the becoming-other (Anderswerden) that Hegel describes in The Phenomenology of Spirit.  In the lines cited above, Iago articulates how he imagines himself as other-than-himself–how he exteriorizes himself as Othello–and recuperates himself from this self-exteriorization.

PART TWO

Would Othello have murdered Desdemona even without Iago’s deceptions and interferences?  This, of course, is a silly question from a philological point of view, since we only have the text and any speculation about “what would have happened” outside of the text is absurd.  However, it is important to think through the necessity or the non-necessity of Iago in relation to the act of uxoricide that Othello performs.

Let me rephrase the question, then: How integral is Iago to the act of uxoricide that Othello performs?

My interpretation is that Iago plays a non-essential role in the murder of Desdemona.  He externalizes a jealous rage that is already within Othello.  Iago echoes prejudices and suspicions that are already seething inside of him.  From the third scene of the third act:

OTHELLO: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?

IAGO: Cassio, my lord? no, sure, I cannot think it / That he would steal away so guilty-like / Seeing you coming.

Notice that Iago is merely reflecting Othello’s suspicions.  Iago is reactive, not active.  It is Othello, not Iago, who questions Cassio’s honesty:

OTHELLO: Is [Cassio] not honest?

IAGO: Honest, my lord?

OTHELLO: Honest? Ay, honest.

IAGO: My lord, for aught I know.

OTHELLO: What does thou think?

IAGO: Think, my lord?

OTHELLO: Think, my lord! By heaven, thou echo’st me / As if there were some monster in thy thought / Too hideous to be shown.  Thou dost mean something, / I heard thee say even now thou lik’st not that / When Cassio left my wife: what didst not like?

The monster does not dwell in Iago’s thought, but in Othello’s.  Iago draws out the monstrous thoughts that have been devouring Othello for some time.  It is Othello who does not like the way in which Cassio slinks away from Desdemona when her husband approaches.  It is Othello who finds Cassio’s behavior suspect, not Iago.  Iago eschews direct accusation and instead employs innuendo.

It is often said, as I discussed above, that Othello is a victim of racism and nationalism.  One should not also forget that Othello has nationalist prejudices of his own, absorbing, as he does, the idea that all Venetian women are whores—hence, his rush to judge Desdemona as licentiously “liberal” as he inspects her hand: “This hand is moist, my lady…  This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart: / Hot, hot, and moist. This hand of yours requires / A sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer, / Much castigation, exercise devout, / For here’s a young and sweating devil, here, / That commonly rebels.  ’Tis a good hand, / A frank one” [III:iv].

The inspection of Desdemona’s hand was Othello’s idea, not Iago’s.  Othello impulsively believes Iago’s every word condemning Desdemona, for Othello has already condemned Desdemona in his mind.  Just as Othello impulsively believes Iago’s every word condemning Desdemona, and denies Emilia’s every word defending her, Desdemona impulsively takes the side of Cassio, pledging to be his mediator until the end.  Both Othello and Desdemona are impulsive, acting without evidence.

Nor is Desdemona entirely innocent in her own annihilation.  When she falls in love with Othello, Desdemona falls in love with what she once and always has feared to look upon.  She loves Othello because of his violence, not despite his violence.  Desdemona is what psychologists call a “hybristophiliac”: someone who, like Rhianna or Bonnie Parker, is sexually attracted to violent criminals.  She is originally drawn to Othello for his adventurous exoticism and his proximity to death.  As Othello puts it in the first act of the play: “[Desdemona] loved me for the dangers I had passed” [I:iii].  Iago suggests to Roderigo that Desdemona will grow tired of Othello’s differentness and seek out another lover: “[Desdemona] must change for youth; when she is sated with [Othello’s] body she will find the error of her choice; she must have change, she must” [I:iii].  Is Iago wrong?  As Rene Girard suggests in A Theatre of Envy, Othello could eventually be replaced by a younger version of himself, for, in marriage, what husband could escape the crushing banalizations of the everyday?  The “extravagant and wheeling stranger” [I:i] would become a boring and bored husband like any other.  Othello, if he does not solidify his role as the death-giving general, is doomed to disintegrate into a cuckold.

In a sense, Othello is never other than who he appears to be.  By contrast, following Harold Bloom, Iago is engaged in a war against being.  Iago is anti-being or nothingness: He is not what he is.  When Iago says, “For I am nothing, if not critical” [II:i], this may be taken literally: He is divided against himself.  Othello, on the other hand, is always only what he is.  From the beginning of the play until its terrifying end, Othello is the violent warrior who loves death more than he loves love.

Joseph Suglia

A Critique of David Foster Wallace: Part One: OBLIVION / David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer / OBLIVION by David Foster Wallace

A review of Oblivion (David Foster Wallace) by Joseph Suglia

When I was in graduate school, I was (mis)taught Literature by a man who had no ear for poetic language and who had absolutely no interest in eloquence.  I learned that he held an undergraduate degree in Physics and wondered, as he chattered on loudly and incessantly, why this strange man chose to study and teach Literature, a subject that obviously did not appeal to him very much.  I think the same thing of David Foster Wallace, a writer who probably would have been happier as a mathematician (Mathematics is a subject that Wallace studied at Amherst College).

A collection of fictions published in 2004, Oblivion reads very much as if a mathematician were trying his hand at literature after having surfeited himself with Thomas Pynchon and John Barth–-not the best models to imitate or simulate, if you ask me.

The first fiction, “Mr. Squishy,” is by far the strongest.  A consulting firm evaluates the responses of a focus group to a Ho-Hoesque chocolate confection.  Wallace comes up with some delightful phraseologies: The product is a “domed cylinder of flourless maltilol-flavored sponge cake covered entirely in 2.4mm of a high-lecithin chocolate frosting,” the center of which is “packed with what amounted to a sucrotic whipped lard” [6].  The external frosting’s “exposure to the air caused it to assume traditional icing’s hard-yet-deliquescent marzipan character” [Ibid.].  Written in a bureaucratized, mechanical language–this language, after all, is the dehumanized, anti-poetic language of corporate marketing firms, the object of Wallace’s satire–the text is a comparatively happy marriage of content and form.

Wallace gets himself into difficulty when he uses this same bureaucratic language in the next fiction, “The Soul is Not a Smithy,” which concerns a homicidal substitute teacher.  I could see how a sterile, impersonal narrative could, by way of counterpoint, humanize the teacher, but the writing just left me cold.  The title of the fiction simply reverses Stephen Dedalus’s statement in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Wallace never composed a sentence as beautiful as Joyce’s.  Indeed, Wallace never composed a beautiful sentence.

“Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” simply duplicates the title (!) of Richard Rorty’s misguided polemic against representationalism (the misconceived idea that language is capable of mirroring the essence of things).  It concerns a son who accompanies his mother to a cosmetic-surgery procedure.  The son, who is also the narrator, says: “[A]nyone observing the reality of life together since the second procedure would agree the reality is the other way around…” [183].  The narrator might or might not be one of the deluded representationalists against whom Rorty polemicized.  For Rorty, “the reality of life” is not something that we are capable of talking about with any degree of insight.  Unfortunately, this is the only point in the text at which the philosophical problem of representation arises.

The eponymous fiction “Oblivion” and the self-reflexive “The Suffering Channel” (which concerns a man whose excreta are considered works of art) are inelegantly and ineloquently written.

After laboring through such verbal dross, I can only conclude that David Foster Wallace was afraid of being read and thus attempted to bore his readers to a teary death.  His noli me legere also applies to himself.  It is impossible to escape the impression that he was afraid of reading and revising any of the festering sentences that he churned out.  Because he likely never read his own sentences, he likely never knew how awkward they sounded.  Infinite Jest was written hastily and unreflectively, without serious editing or revision, it appears.  It is merely because of the boggling bigness of Infinite Jest that the book has surfaced in the consciousness of mainstream America at all (hipsterism is a vicissitude of mainstream America).  We, the Americanized, are fascinated by bigness.  To quote Erich Fromm: “The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers…”

Speech is irreversible; writing is reversible.  If you accept this premise of my argument (and any intelligent person would), must it not be said that responsible writers ought ALWAYS to recite and revise their own sentences?  And does it EVER seem that Wallace did so?

The prose of Oblivion is blearily, drearily, eye-wateringly tedious.  The hipsters will, of course, claim in advance that the grueling, hellish tedium of Wallace’s prose was carefully choreographed, that every infelicity was intentional, and thus obviate any possible criticism of their deity, a deity who, like all deities, has grown more powerful in death.  That is, after all, precisely what they say of the Three Jonathans, the sacred triptych of hipsterdom: Foer, Franzen, and Lethem, the most lethal of them all.

One thing that even the hipsters cannot contest: David Foster Wallace did not write fictionally for his own pleasure.  Unlike Kafka, he certainly did not write books that he ever wanted to read.

A valediction: The early death of David Foster Wallace is terrible and should be mourned.  He was a coruscatingly intelligent man.  My intention here is not to defame the dead. I recommend that the reader spend time with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and leave his other writings alone.  As I suggested above, he probably didn’t want his prose to be read, anyway.

Joseph Suglia

A review of CONSIDER THE LOBSTER (David Foster Wallace) by Dr. Joseph Suglia / David Foster Wallace Is a Bad Writer

A review of BOTH FLESH AND NOT (David Foster Wallace)
By Dr. Joseph Suglia

Published four years after David Foster Wallace’s career-advancing suicide (a despicable suicide that was an assaultive act against his widow Karen Green), Both Flesh and Not (2012) reprints essays and squibs that were originally written for various newspapers, magazines, and journals; one of the texts appeared as the introduction to an anthology of essays, another was appended to a thesaurus.  Both online and print sources are represented.  Through the collection threads a list of words and definitions that Wallace kept on his desktop computer.

The vocabulary list troubles me more than anything else assembled in this volume.  Someone who professed to care very much about Standard Written American Usage, Wallace abuses many words himself.

Wallace thinks that “art nouveau” refers to a “decorative style of early 20th c. using leaves and flowers in flowing sinuous lines, like on vases, columns, etc.” [34].  This is innocence and nonsense.  Jugendstil was much different than that.  Beardsley didn’t always use “leaves” and “flowers”!

Wallace thinks that “birl” means to “cause to spin rapidly with feet (as with logrolling)” [35].  But “birl” also means, intransitively, to “whirl”; for instance, you may say that hot dogs or sausages birl on spits.

Yes, Wallace is right to think that “distemper” might denote “a kind of paint-job using watered paint” [165], but it can also mean “to throw out of order” or “bad mood” and could denote a viral disease that affects dogs and cats.

Wallace thinks that an “ecdysiast” is a “striptease artist” [165], but this has only been the case since Gypsy.  An “ecdysiast,” etymologically speaking, refers to something that molts or sheds its skin, such as certain birds, insects, and crustaceans.

Wallace doesn’t know that Grand Guignol was horror theatre before ever it was “cinema” [190].

Throughout, there are many such compositional errors.

Wallace had abysmal taste in literature.  It is good to see Steps on a list of “five direly underappreciated U.S. novels” since 1960, but it ought to be stated that this novel, which is attributed to Jerzy Kosinski, was collaboratively written.  Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West has interesting content—the sort of content that one might expect to discover in an early- or middle-period film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky—but its prose style is a mere pastiche of Faulkner.  I don’t know what to say about a person who thinks that Denis Johnson is a serious writer.

Both Flesh and Not is a disastrous humiliation.  Republishing these essays and squibs was not a good idea and besmirches the reputation of Wallace even more than D.T. Max’s horripilative biography does.  Though he had many virtues, the ability to form strong sentences was not one of them.  David Foster Wallace could not write a decent sentence to save his life.

Joseph Suglia

 

Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Art

by Joseph Suglia

Art is not art the moment that it ceases to be a fabrication.  I support anything in art, on the basis that it is choreographed / fabricated.  The moment that a human being wounds, mutilates, kills an animal, the boundary that separates art from life has been crossed.  The moment that an artist kills an animal in the name of art, she or he has ceased being an artist in my eyes.

Art is a way of making life seem more interesting than it actually is.

Art transforms the spectator’s relation to the world, to others, and to oneself.  It is a human activity, not a natural or divine activity.

I have become an aesthetic nihilist: The word “art” is applied to whatever a person or a community believes is art.  I can only speak or write with authority on what I think art is.

Art is the perception of a perception.

Joseph Suglia

A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion / An Analysis of A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion

An Analysis of A Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Dedicated to Lux Interior (1948-2009)

What is one to say when the beloved dies?  There is nothing to say.  None of the platitudes of bereavement, none of the polite formulae seems adequate.  My husband was sitting on that chair, alive, and now he is dead.  “John was talking, then he wasn’t” (10).  What else is there to say?  There are no words that could properly express the banality of mortality.

A Year of Magical Thinking (2005) is Joan Didion’s attempt to craft a language that would make meaningful the death of her husband, John Greg Dunne.  It is a language that, at times, seems almost glaciated.  After all, she doesn’t offer any of the customary symptoms of bereavement (simulated tears, screaming, protests of denial, etc.).  The social worker who ministers to Didion says of the author: “She’s a pretty cool customer” (15).

Didion: “I wondered what an uncool customer would be allowed to do. Break down? Require sedation? Scream?” (16).

Superficial readers, predictably, mistake her seeming sangfroid for indifference.  Yet Didion is hardly apathetic.  She takes words too seriously to lapse into maudlin kitsch.  If she refuses sentimentalism, it is because she knows that the language of sentimentalism isn’t precise enough.  If she refuses to be emotionally effusive, it is because she knows how easily an access of emotion–however genuine–can deteriorate into cliché.  If she avoids hysteria, it is because she knows that abreaction is incommunicative.  Her sentences are blissfully free of fossilized phrases, vapid slogans that could never do justice to the workings of grief.

Of course, the opposite reaction would bring about censure, as well.  Had Didion expressed her grief in histrionic terms, American readers would have asked, rhetorically, “Why can’t she just get over it.”  (I deliberately omitted the question mark.)  The appropriate response to the death of the beloved is temperate mourning and cool-headedness: “Grieve for a month and then forget about the man with whom you spent nearly forty years of your life!  Don’t talk about it anymore after that fixed period; we don’t want to hear about it.”

Philippe Aries in Western Attitudes Toward Death: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

In place of a tragedy, Didion gives us a sober account of bereavement.  What is it like to be bereaved?  You will never know until it happens to you.  Didion discovers vortices everywhere–centers of gravitation that pull her toward the abyss left by her husband’s death.  A new Alcestis, willing to die in the place of her husband, she calls forth his presence, and yet each of these pleas for his presence reinforces the perpetual silence that separates her from him.  Self-pity, of course, is inescapable.  She becomes “she-whose-husband-has-died.”  She defines herself in relation to the absent beloved.  When John was alive, she was a younger woman, since she saw herself exclusively through her husband’s eyes.  Now that John is dead, she sees herself, for the first time since she was very young, through the eyes of others.  Now that John is dead, she no longer knows who she is.

Every one of us is irreplaceable, which is why death is an irretrievable, irreversible, irrecoverable, infinite loss.  When the beloved dies, an impassible divide is placed between the survivor and the absent beloved.  Didion hears her husband’s voice, and yet this voice is really her own voice resonating within her–a voice that nonetheless makes her own voice possible.  Nothing remains for the survivor to do but to turn the dead beloved into dead meat, to substitute for his living presence a tangible object (whether it is a photograph or any form of funerary architecture), to resign oneself to the dead beloved’s non-being.  She must accept the transformation of being into nothingness, the movement from everything to nothing, the withering of fullness into boundless emptiness.  Writing is one way to fashion an image of the dead man and thus bring to completion the work of mourning.  The failure of objectification, according to Freudian psychoanalysis, will lead to melancholia, the infinitization of the Trauerarbeit.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name in the trust accounts.

Let go of them in the water (226).

This is minimalism, of course, but Joan Didion’s minimalism is minimalism in the genuine sense of the word, not the kind of infantilism that most other American writers practice today and which goes by the name of “minimalism.”  They confuse scaled-down writing with simplicity; they externalize everything.  They write their intentions explicitly on the surface of the page.  Didion, on the other hand, attends to the cadences and pregnant silences inherent to the rhythms of speech.  She is attuned to the interstices that punctuate articulated speech, that articulate speech, that make speech communicable.  What is unsaid is weightier, for Didion, than what is said.  She does not express matters directly; she indicates, she points.  There is a kind of veering-away from naked being here, a swerving-away from the nullity of death.  Joan Didion is far too dignified, far too noble to pretend to bring death to language.

Joseph Suglia

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

APHORISMS ON RACISM, CULTURAL STUDIES, AND KIM JONG-UN

by Joseph Suglia

Race is nothing more than an abstraction; only individuals actually exist.

Cultural Studies explains philosophy through the speculum of trash culture.  This is very appealing to people who are bored by philosophy and who are attracted to trash culture.

Kim Jong-un might be able to read minds.  But can he read books?

Joseph Suglia

A Review of MIN KAMP / MY STRUGGLE: Volume Two (Karl Ove Knausgaard): by Dr. Joseph Suglia / MY STRUGGLE by Karl Ove Knausgaard

An Analysis of My Struggle (Min Kamp): Volume Two (Karl Ove Knausgaard)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.  To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s only aim.”

–Oscar Wilde, Preface, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Woo. I don’t know how to sum it up / ’cause words ain’t good enough, ow.”

–One Direction, “Better Than Words”

If I could accomplish one thing in my life, it would be to prevent people from comparing the Scandinavian hack Karl Ove Knausgaard with Marcel Proust.  Knausgaard does not have a fingernail of Proust’s genius.  Comparing Knausgaard to Proust is like comparing John Green to Proust.  Those who have actually read À la recherche du temps perdu know that Proust’s great novel is not the direct presentation of its author, a self-disclosure without literary artifice.  Those who compare Knausgaard to Proust have never read Proust and have no knowledge of Proust beyond the keyword “madeleine.”

Knausgaard calls his logorrheic autobiography, My Struggle (Min Kamp), a “novel,” but in what sense is it a novel?  It is completely devoid of novelistic properties.  There is not a single metaphor in the text, as far as I can tell, and the extended metaphor (perhaps even the pataphor?) is one of Proust’s most salient literary characteristics.

The first volume dealt with Knausgaard’s unimportant childhood; Volume Two concerns the middle of the author’s life, his present.  He is now in his forties and has a wife and three children.  He spends his time, and wastes our own, recounting trivialities, stupidities, and banalities.  All of the pomposities are trivialities.  All of the profundities are stupidities.  All of the epiphanies are banalities.

For most of this review, I will refer to Karl Ove Knausgaard as “Jesus,” since he resembles a cigarette-smoking Jesus on the cover of the English translation of the second volume.

We learn that Jesus dislikes holidays.  We learn that raising children is difficult.  Jesus takes his children to a McDonald’s and then to the Liseberg Amusement Park.  In the evening, Jesus, his wife, and his daughter attend a party.  Jesus thanks the hostess, Stella, for inviting them to her party.  His daughter forgets her shoes.  Jesus gets the shoes.  He sees an old woman staring through the window of a Subway.

Jesus smokes a cigarette on the east-facing balcony of his home and is fascinated by the “orangey red” [65] of the brick houses below: “The orangey red of the bricks!”  He drinks a Coke Light: “The cap was off and the Coke was flat, so the taste of the somewhat bitter sweetener, which was generally lost in the effervescence of the carbonic acid, was all too evident” [66].  He reads better books than the one that we are reading (The Brothers Karamazov and Demons by Dostoevsky) and tells us that he never thinks while he reads.  For some reason, this does not surprise me.

Jesus attends a Rhythm Time class (I have no idea what this is) and meets a woman for whom he has an erection.

Jesus’s daughter points her finger at a dog.  “Yes, look, a dog,” Jesus says [80].

Jesus assembles a diaper-changing table that he bought at IKEA.  The noise irritates his Russian neighbor.  He cleans his apartment, goes shopping, irons a big white tablecloth, polishes silverware and candlesticks, folds napkins, and places bowls of fruit on the dining-room table.

In the café of an art gallery, Jesus orders lamb meatballs and chicken salad.  He informs us that he is unqualified to judge the work of Andy Warhol.  I agree with the author’s self-assessment.  He cuts up the meatballs and places the portions in front of his daughter.  She tries to brush them away with a sweep of her arm.

Almost ninety pages later, Jesus is in a restaurant eating a dark heap of meatballs beside bright green mushy peas and red lingonberry sauce, all of which are drowning in a swamp of thick cream sauce.  “The potatoes,” Jesus notifies us, “were served in a separate dish” [478].

(Parenthetical remark: “[A] swamp of thick cream sauce” is my phrasing, not Knausgaard’s.  Again, Knausgaard avoids metaphorics.)

Upstairs in the kitchen of his apartment, Jesus makes chicken salad, slices some bread, and sets the dinner table while his daughter bangs small wooden balls with a mallet.  And so forth and so on for 592 pages of squalid prose.

Never before has a writer written so much and said so little.  The music of ABBA is richer in meaning.

Interspersed throughout the text are muddleheaded reflections on What It Means To Be Human.  We learn (quelle surprise!) that Knausgaard is a logophobe, “one who fears language”:

Misology, the distrust of words, as was the case with Pyrrho, pyrrhomania; was that a way to go for a writer?  Everything that can be said with words can be contradicted with words, so what’s the point of dissertations, novels, literature?  Or put another way: whatever we say is true we can also always say is untrue.  It is a zero point and the place from which the zero value begins to spread [here, Knausgaard seems to be channeling Ronald Barthes].  However, it is not a dead point, not for literature either, for literature is not just words, literature is what words evoke in the reader.  It is this transcendence that validates literature, not the formal transcendence in itself, as many believe.  Paul Celan’s mysterious, cipher-like language has nothing to do with inaccessibility or closedness, quite the contrary, it is about opening up what language normally does not have access to but that we still, somewhere deep inside us, know or recognize, or if we don’t, allows us to discover.  Paul Celan’s words cannot be contradicted with words.  What they possess cannot be transformed either, the word only exists there, and in each and every single person who absorbs it.

The fact that paintings and, to some extent, photographs were so important for me had something to do with this.  They contained no words, no concepts, and when I looked at them what I experienced, what made them so important, was also nonconceptual.  There was something stupid in this, an area that was completely devoid of intelligence, which I had difficulty acknowledging or accepting, yet which perhaps was the most important single element of what I wanted to do [129-130].

The only value of literature, then, according to Knausgaard, resides not in words, but in the transcendence from words.  Literature is not composed of letters, for Knausgaard; literature is the feelings and the impressions summoned forth within the reader.  After all, any idiot can have feelings.  Very few people can write well.

It is clear that Knausgaard, then, does not think very much of literature.  He is much more interested in LIFE.  Everyone alive has life.  Yes, palpitant life–throbbing, living life.  Life is the most general of generalities, but talent is much rarer, to channel Martin Amis.

This might be the reason that Knausgaard dislikes Rimbaud’s verse, but is interested in Rimbaud’s life.

“Fictional writing has no value” [562] for Knausgaard.  After all, fiction is distant from life, isn’t it?  This Thought is at least as old as Plato.  Knausgaard is unaware that fiction is, paradoxically, more honest than autobiographical writing.  Autobiographical writing is fiction that cannot speak its own name, fiction that pretends to be something more “real” than fiction.

(Parenthetically: Despite what Knausgaard tells you, Pyrrho did not practice misology.  He affirmed the uncertainty of things.  Following Pyrrho: One can never say, “It happened” with certainty; one can only say, with certainty, that “it might have happened.”)

Hater of words, enemy of literature: Such is Knausgaard.  He despises language, presumably because he does not know how to write.  What is one to say of a writer who hates writing so much?  One thing ought to be said about him: He is alarmingly typical.

Knausgaard is at home in a culture of transparency, in a culture in which almost everyone seems to lack embarrassability.  Almost no one seems embarrassed anymore.  People go out of their way to reveal everything about themselves on social-networking sites.  Average people reveal every detail of their lives to strangers.  The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is violated, and almost no one seems to care.  We live in a culture in which our privacy is infringed upon countless times every day, and where is the outrage?  Those who are private–or who believe in the right to privacy–are regarded with malicious suspicion.  Seen from this cultural perspective, the success of My Struggle should come as no surprise.  An autobiography in which the writer reveals everything about himself will be celebrated by a culture in which nearly everyone reveals everything to everyone.

Art is not autobiography.  As Oscar Wilde declared in the preface to his only novel, the purpose of art is to conceal the artist.  Literature is not auto-bio-graphy, the presentation of the self that lives, the “writing of the living self.”  It is, rather, auto-thanato-graphy, the writing of the self that dies in order for art to be born.

Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (Shakespeare) by Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of All’s Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare)

by Joseph Suglia

“Die Forderung, geliebt zu werden, ist die grösste aller Anmassungen.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Volume One, 525

My argument is that Shakespeare is both the most overestimated and the most underestimated writer in the history of English literature.  His most famous plays are stupendously and stupefyingly overrated (e.g. The Tempest), whereas the problematical plays that have been relatively understaged and underread until recently, such as Measure for Measure and Love’s Labour’s Lost, are his masterworks.  All’s Well That Ends Well is rightly seen as one of the problematical plays, since it does not exactly follow the contours of the Shakespearean comedy.

One could rightly say that all of the Shakespearean comedies are conjugal propaganda.  They celebrate marriage, that is to say, and marriage, for Hegel and for many others, is the foundation of civil society.  In the Age of Elizabeth, long before and long afterward, the way in which children are expected to have been begotten is with the imprimatur of marriage.

But there is no marriage-boosterism in All’s Well That Ends Well, no ra-raing or oohing and aahing over marriage.  In All’s Well That Ends Well, a celebration of marriage is absent.

Whereas Much Ado about Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream end in anti-orgies, in collectivized, communalized, semi-coerced marriages, the wedding in All’s Well That Ends Well takes place in the second act and is absolutely coerced.

The play is about a woman named Helena who forces a man named Bertram to marry her and to have sexual intercourse with her.  As blunt as this synopsis might be, it is nonetheless accurate.  A psychotic stalker, Helena will stop at nothing and will not take “Yes” for an answer.  She pursues Bertram relentlessly.  As I shall argue below, Bertram genuinely does not want to be married to Helena, nor does he wish to be physically intimate with her.  Not only that: There is absolutely no evidence that he desires Helena at the end of the play.  Quite the opposite, as I shall contend.  Much like her predecessor, Boccaccio’s Giletta, Helena is a monomaniac whose obsession ends in the achievement of her desire and her scheme: “[M]y intents are fix’d, and will not leave me” [I:i].  And yet, does obsession ever end?

When we are first presented with her, Helena remarks, “I do affect a sorrow indeed, but I have it too” [I:i].  She means that she affects a sorrow for her father, who died not more than six months ago, but is genuinely sorrowful over the thought of the impossibility of possessing Bertram: “I think not on my father, / And these great tears grace his remembrance more / Than those I shed for him” [Ibid.].  Her indifference to her father’s death reveals that she is hardly the virtuous innocent that the Countess, Lefew, and (later) the King of France take her to be: “I think not on my father…  I have forgot him.  My imagination / Carries no favour in’t but Bertram’s” [Ibid.].  All she thinks about is Bertram, whose “relics” she “sanctifies” [Ibid.], much like a dement who collects the socks of her lover which she has pilfered from the laundry machine.

Even more revealingly, Helena’s love for Bertram has a social and political valence: “Th’ambition in my love thus plagues itself” [I:i].  Am I alone in hearing in the word ambition an envy for Bertram’s higher social status?  I am not suggesting that her love for him is purely socially and politically motivated.  I am suggesting rather that her love is inseparable from the desire for social / political advancement.

When he takes his leave, Bertram does not propose that Helena visit Paris to win the King’s favor, despite what Helena’s words might suggest: “My lord your son made me to think of this; / Else Paris and the medicine and the king / Had from the conversation of my thoughts / Haply been absent then” [I:iii].  Helena lies to the Countess—and/or lies to herself—when she says that her love “seeks not to find that her search implies, / But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies” [I:iii].  No, Helena is indefatigable and is hardly the self-abnegating “barefooted” saint [III:iv] that she pretends to be.  Furthermore, she is lying to herself and to the Countess of Rossillion when she says that she is not “presumptuous,” as she is lying when she says that she would not “have [Bertram]” until she “deserve[s] him” [I:iii].  Who decides when she should “deserve” Bertram?  Apparently, Helena believes that only she is authorized to decide when she is deserving of Bertram.  Why is Bertram not permitted to decide when and if she is deserving of him?  Helena is sexually aggressive from the beginning unto the sour end.

The fundamental challenge of the play is not for Helena to find a way to become married to Bertram.  As I wrote above, Bertram is forced to marry Helena in the second act of the play.  The fundamental challenge of the play is for Helena to find a way to have sexual intercourse with Bertram—to couple with him, whether he wants to couple with her or not.

And Bertram has made it clear that he does not find Helena sexually attractive.  And yet Helena refuses to accept his rejection and sexually unifies with Bertram while dissembling herself as another woman, Diana Capilet.

Helena is not satisfied merely being married to Bertram.  Nor, it seems, would she be satisfied with Bertram’s assent and consent, even if he had assented and consented to the marriage.  She wants to possess Bertram against his own will: “[L]ike a timorous thief, most fain would steal / What law does vouch mine own” [II:v].

Why not take Helena at her word?  On the one hand, she is saying that she is lawfully entitled to the appropriation of Bertram’s body, but that is not enough for her.  She is saying that she has the power to break his life, but she would rather have the power to break his heart.  On the other hand, taking Helena at her word, she is the thief who would like to steal what is lawfully her own.  She would like to experience the thrill of transgressing the law without ever transgressing the law.  All’s well that ends well.  She does not want to take the wealth of his body; she wants to steal the wealth of his body.  Now, this might seem a curiously literal interpretation of the line, but does Helena not deceive her husband like a thief in the night [III:ii]?  She does not cheat on her husband; she cheats with her husband.  She is like the banker who steals from her own bank or like the casino owner who gambles at her own casino.

It would be a mistake to see Bertram as an erotophobe, since he does attempt to seduce Diana.  He is revolted by Helena.  The idea of having sex with her suffuses him with nausea.  Bertram acknowledges that he is married to a woman whom he does not love, but he swears that he will never be physically intimate with her.  In a letter to his mother, Bertram writes: “I have wedded [Helena], not bedded her, and sworn to make the ‘not’ eternal” [II:ii].  He is so disgusted by the idea of having sex with her that he goes to war to escape her: “I’ll to the Tuscan wars and never bed her” [II:iii].

Bertram’s reluctance to be yoked to Helena must be seen within the horizon of the early seventeenth century.  Let us not forget that Queen Elizabeth was the monarch at the time of the play’s composition, and within Bertram’s refusal to become the “forehorse to a smock” [II:i] (the leading horse in a train of horses spurred on by a woman) one can hear the resonances of Elizabeth’s reign.  However, it would be mistaken to suggest that Bertram does not want to marry Helena merely because she is a woman who has been invested with regal authority or merely because she was once lowborn and poor.  Again, he finds her physically repellent.

Helena does not stop until she couples with Bertram without his consent.  Is this not rape?  According to the standards of our day, impersonated sex is indeed sexual violation, but it is unlikely that it would have been considered ravishment in the Age of Elizabeth.

And is this not incest, for Helena and Bertram are sister and brother, disregarding the banality of biology?  There is a conversation about incest in Act One, Scene Three, the conclusion of which is: Helena would acknowledge the Countess as her mother, on the condition that the world does not recognize Bertram as her brother.  But are Helena and Bertram not sister and brother?  They grew up together in the same household, and it is possible that Bertram rejects Helena partly out of the fear of incest.

The Countess certainly sees Helena as her organic daughter: “If [Helena] had partaken of my flesh and cost me the dearest groans of a mother I could not have owed her a more rooted love” [V:v].  Helena is the replica that is naturalized, much like the artificial fruit in the bowl that lies upon your kitchen table, which you accept as natural.

Fortune (what is constituted after birth) and Nature (what is constituted at birth) reverse each other: Bertram becomes the bastard child; the orphan Helena becomes the proper daughter: “Which of them both / Is dearest to me I have no skill in sense / To make distinction” [III:iv].  Much worse: The Countess raises Helena to a status that is higher than that of her own son, who is written off by her as a reprobate.  When the Countess intones the opening line of the play, “In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband” [I:i], you do get the impression that her biological son is dead through the act of birth, that her son is a stillborn.

Throughout the play, there are posited false equivalences.  Convalescence is falsely equated to marriage, as virginity is equated to mortality.  Epexegesis: The revival of the King of France is equated to the compulsory marriage of Bertram to Helena (Bertram questions this false economics of equivalence: “But follows it, my lord to bring me down / Must answer for your raising?” [II:iii]), in a Bachelorette-style gameshow that is rigged in advance in which she nominates Bertram without ever taking any of the French lords seriously as his competitors.  The death of the King is equated to virginity, as virginity is equated to death in Parolles’ campaign against virginity (“He that hangs himself is a virgin; virginity murthers itself, and should be buried in highways out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress against nature” [I:i]).  The King strikes a balance between Bertram’s loss and Helena’s gain: “Take her by the hand / And tell her she is thine; to whom I promise / A counterpoise, if not to thy estate, / A balance more replete” [II:iii].  A fake equivalence, false equation is again posited, between the sacrifice of Bertram’s social status and the elevation of Helena’s status.  One thing is taken for another, one person is replaced with another, as we see with the replacement of Diana with Helena.  Such is the logic of substitution or the logic of substitutability in All’s Well That Ends Well.

Those literary critics who praise Helena as an innocent are wrong (I am looking at you, Harold Bloom), in the same way that the Countess of Rossillion and Lefew are wrong about her “innocence”: Helena is not saintly, she is not simple, she is not unambiguously honest (unless by “honesty” one intends “virginity”), she is not unambiguously good, she is not uncomplicatedly “virtuous” [I:i].  She is not reducible to the role of the innocent that she plays.  Shakespeare’s characters are not undifferentiated.  His fools tend to be wise, and his characters in general are neither simply good nor simply evil, but rather both good and evil—sometimes, his characters are even good and evil at the same time.  This is stated almost aphoristically in the words of the First Lord, a gentleman whose role seems to be to emphasize that #NotAllMenAreSwine: “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipp’d them not, and our crimes would despair if they were not cherish’d by our virtues” [IV:iii].  The proto-Nietzschean Shakespeare is ventriloquized through the First Lord, I think.  Both Nietzsche and Shakespeare admonish us against pouring all of humanity into twin buckets, one marked GOOD and the other marked EVIL.  Shakespearean characters are of overwhelming and self-contradicting complexity, assemblages of oxymoronic elements.

For this reason, those critics who condemn Bertram as a cad are wrong in the same way that Diana is wrong when she calls him simply “not honest” [III:v].  (Let me remark parenthetically that Parolles is the double of Bertram, as Diana is the double of Helena.  Parolles absorbs all of Bertram’s negative traits, particularly the tendency to seduce and impregnate washerwomen.)  (And here is a second set of parentheses: Parolles is also the double of Helena.  He ignores his social status when he refuses to call his lord Bertram “master” [II:iii].)  Those who suggest that Helena shyly longs after a man who is unworthy of her are as wrong as Lefew, who claims that the French lords reject Helena, when it is the other way around.  (I’m still looking at you, Harold Bloom.)  Bertram is a cad, a seducer, yes, but he is not reducible to his caddishness.

Despite her indifference to her father’s death, Helena identifies with her father, Gerard de Narbon, the physician, and uses her father’s recipes to heal the King of France.  When Bertram pleads to the Florentine washerwoman, “[G]ive thyself unto my sick desires” [IV:ii], it is apparent that he is conscious of his own sickness, and it is Helena who will wear the quackish mask of the physician once more.  The first half of the play folds upon the second half: In the first half, Helena cures the King of his ailment; in the second, Helena cures Bertram of the sickness of his lechery—against his will.

When the King’s eyes first alight upon Helena, she seems a radiant presence: “This haste hath wings indeed” [II:i], he says, as if she were a seraphic apparition.  It is Helena’s womanly charm, her femaleness, that resurrects him from the dead: “Methinks in thee some blessed spirit doth speak / His powerful sound within an organ weak” [Ibid.].  It is her vixenishness that virilizes him.

The King is revived from the dead.  Now, Bertram has lost the right to say, “No” to Helena.  Love for Helena is now equated to the obedience to the King of France: “Thou wrong’st thyself if thou should’st strive to choose [to love Helena]!” [II:iii], the King screams at Bertram.  In other words, “You should not have to choose to love Helena.  I have commanded you to love Helena, and therefore you MUST love Helena.”  The word of the King is law, and to defy the word of the King is misprision.  Behind Helena’s monomaniacal pursuit of Bertram is all of the weight of legal and regal authority.  Love of Helena is bound up with love of the King, and an affront to Helena is an affront to the throne.  This is to say that Bertram is legally and politically obligated to love Helena, as if love is something that could be compelled, coerced, commanded.

Here, the King of France ignores that desire is not logical or causal and is not subject to regal injunction.  Desire cannot be systematized.  We cannot program our minds to love; we cannot download love applications into the smartphones of our minds.

Were she not such a monomaniac, Helena would have let Bertram go after he refuses her, but she does not.  Not once does Helena accept Bertram’s rejection.  Not once does she turn her attention to another man after Bertram scorns her.  Instead, she pretends to relinquish the man she is determined to appropriate: “That you are well restor’d, my lord, I’m glad. / Let the rest go” [II:iii].  When Helena says this, it is accismus, that is, the feigned refusal of that which is earnestly desired.  It is not a statement of resignation.  Nor should one mistake her demand to marry for a marriage proposal.  Helena does not propose marriage; she imposes marriage.

It would have been noble had Helena renounced Bertram upon learning that he is a marriage escapee, that he defected to Italy and entered the Tuscan Wars and a likely death to escape her.  However, this is not what Helena does: Instead, she pursues him to Italy.  Her path of reflection is as follows: “Bertram left France to escape me; therefore, I will leave France, as well—and follow him to Italy.”  Whereas Helena wants presence, Bertram wants absence: “Till I have no wife I have nothing in France” [III:ii], he writes to his mother.  To say that she wants everything would be a gross understatement.  She wants more than everything—she wants to eat her Key Lime Pie and refrigerate it at the same time.

Bertram gives away his six-generation family ring to Helena, who is disguised as a Florentine washerwoman, and this is ring will be returned to him.  The ring seals not only his marriage to Helena, but also seals his marriage to the community / to the collective.  The symbol of the ring is clearly the chief symbol of the play, for treason moves in an annular pattern.  Treachery is circular; treason is circular.  This is the meaning of the difficult and frequently misinterpreted words of the First Lord:

We are, the First Lord says, “[m]erely our own traitors.  And as in the common course of all treasons we still see them reveal themselves till they attain to their abhorr’d ends; so he that in this action contrives against his own nobility, in his proper stream o’erflows himself” [IV:iii].

I would translate these lines thus: “We human beings are traitors to ourselves.  We betray ourselves in the very act of betrayal.  As we betray others, we betray ourselves—that is, we reveal ourselves as traitors and thus we betray our own betrayals.”  According to a citation in The Oxford English Dictionary, “till” could mean “while” in 1603.  All’s Well That Ends Well is believed to have been written between 1604 and 1605.  If “till” meant “while” in 1603 in England, then this is a justifiable reading of the lines.

All of the main characters are unrepentant traitors, and traitors always betray themselves.  We see treacherous treason in the treacheries of Parolles, of Helena, and of Bertram.

Parolles intends to betray the Florentine army, but ends up betraying military secrets to the Florentine army.

Helena does, in fact, deceive her husband, but this deception ends in legitimized sexual intercourse.  Moreover, she lies when she says that she “embrace[s]” death to “set [Bertram] free” [III:iv], but she does so in order to affirm the sanctity of marriage.  She is a liar who feigns her own death—but she does so in order to honor marriage and thus to honor Elizabethan society.  In the eyes of the world, she has done nothing wrong.  Who could blame her for cozening someone who would unjustly win?  Would could blame her for deceiving her husband in order to sanctify conjugality?  A Casanova in reverse, she takes a honeymoon to Italy and has sex with her husband—only her husband thinks that he is having sex with someone else.  No one is devirginized, except for Bertram’s wife.

Bertram would betray Helena by cheating upon her, but he ends up betraying himself.  He intends to commit adultery on his own wife, but he ends up committing adultery with his wife.

From a purely external / legal / formal point of view, neither sin nor crime has been performed in each case.  In each case, the three characters have sinful intentions, and yet commit no sin.  All’s well that ends in a socially acceptable manner.  It is for this reason that Helena says that the reason within her treasonous marriage plot “[i]s wicked meaning in a lawful deed, / And lawful meaning in a lawful act, / Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact” [III:vii].  And later in the play: “All’s well that ends well; still the fine’s the crown. / Whatever the course, the end is the renown” [IV:v].  “Fine” here means “ending.”  The formal close of the plot sanctifies all of the deception that came before it.  The ring turns itself around; the end communes with the beginning.  The ring is closed, erasing all of the treachery and deception that was used to forge it.

No one is innocent, and no one is guilty.  Diana implies the innocent guilt of not only Bertram, but of all traitors, when she says: “Because he’s guilty and he is not guilty” [V:iii].  The traitors of the play (Parolles, Helena, and Bertram) are innocent, though their intentions are treasonous.

One character after the other intends to perform a treacherous action, but this action is transmuted into its opposite.  Such is the reversal of language: As the First Lord says to the Second Lord (in reference to a secret that will be communicated by the latter to the former): “When you have spoken it, ’tis dead, and I am the grave of it” [IV:iii].  Language kills.  That is: Language has the tendency to say the exact opposite of what we mean.  When we say or write, “I am lonely,” we cannot be lonely, for we open up the possibility of communication.  When we say or write, “I am sad,” we are not sad enough to stop speaking or writing.

Concerning the intentional errors of language: The bescarfed fool Patrolles misuses words throughout, and this is always Shakespeare’s way of ridiculing characters he does not respect.  For instance, Parolles says “facinerious” instead of “facinorous” [II:iii].  He uses an affected language, such as when he calls Bertram’s defection from marriage a “capriccio” [Ibid.].  He often cannot finish his sentences.  Again and again, his sentences are broken off with em-dashes (this is what rhetoricians call aposiopesis).  And yet there is some sense in his nonsense.  When he intones, “Mort du vinaigre!” [III:iii], this might seem to be mere babble, and yet might it not evoke the crucifixion of Christ, whose broken lips and tongue were said to be moistened by vinegar?  When Parolles is accosted by the Florentines, dressed as Muscovites, they utter gibble-gabble, such as “Boskos vauvado” and “Manka revania dulche” [IV:i].  And yet are they gabbling?  Dulche might invoke Dolch, a German word that means “dagger” (after all, the Florentines-dressed-as-Muscovites are pointing their poniards at Parolles), and boskos might evoke “bosk” or “boscage,” which makes sense, since the scene takes place in a forest.  Even though they are gabbling, there is significance in their gibble-gabble.  Shakespeare cannot allow his writing to be meaningless.  There is, in his writing, a tyranny of meaning.  Even the nonsense in his plays carries sense.

At the end of the play, which does not end well, and which therefore belies its own title, Bertram acknowledges that his wife is his wife, but he does so in formalistic and legalistic language: “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly / I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly” [V:iii].  In other words, “I love you because I am socially, legally, and politically obligated to love you.”  He speaks as if the knowledge of information led to desire, as if the confirmation of a legal contract necessarily issued in passion.  Indeed, Helena has proven that she has fulfilled both conditions of the contract: that she pull the ring from his finger and that she produce a child of whom he is the father.  The ring is given as evidence to Helena’s kangaroo court; the parturition of the child is demonstrated, as if this were the Elizabethan version of a talk-show paternity test.  It is probable, however, that Bertram intended “ring” and “child” as metaphors—and yet Helena takes the letter as the law.  Helena literalizes what might have been intended metaphorically.

Is the social, legal, and political obligation to love another human being not the definition of marriage?  Kant defined marriage as the mutual leasing of each other’s genital organs, and philosophers since Hegel have criticized his glacial definition.  But was Kant incorrect?  All’s Well That Ends Well implies essentially the same thing.  It could be said, with only slight exaggeration or overstatement, that this play is a work of misogamy in contrast to the epithalamia Much Ado about Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Shakespeare’s most problematical comedy would suggest that marriage is the lie of all lies, the hoax of all hoaxes, and should be avoided by anyone who values solitude, privacy, and freedom.

When Bertram submits to the will of Helena and the will of the King the first time, it is hardly a profession of love: “I find that she, which late / Was in my nobler thoughts most base, is now / The praised of the king; who, so ennobled, / Is as ’twere born so” [II:iii].  This is the least erotic assent to marry someone that has ever been articulated.

“All yet seems well” [V:iii; emphasis mine].  There is the semblance of a happy closure, the simulation of a happy ending.  Simply because the circle has closed in a formal sense, this does not mean that anyone is happy.  All’s Well That Ends Well does not end well.  All is not well in All’s Well That Ends Well.  All’s ill that ends well.

Joseph Suglia

Polyptoton: Greg Gutfeld: Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their [sic] War on You

Polyptoton: Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their [sic] War on You (Greg Gutfeld) by Joseph Suglia

Greg Gutfeld writes with all of the elegance of a demented leprechaun, with all of the sophistication of a gutbucket guitar.  Gutfeld, a writer without a working gut-hammer, is gutted of all integrity.  I have guttled down thousands of books in my life, but this is the only one that seems gutlessly written.  To be charitable, perhaps Gutfeld has reserved his gutsiest staves for his television program.  I found it difficult to gut it out and finish his book, which is a complete gutter ball.

Joseph Suglia

My Favorite Authors, My Favorite Films, My Favorite Music

MY FAVORITE BOOKS, MY FAVORITE FILMS, MY FAVORITE MUSIC: Joseph Suglia

My favorite music is German, Zambian, and English Progressive Rock from 1969 until 1987.

My favorite film is First Reformed (2018), directed by Paul Schrader.

My favorite writings include those of Gayl Jones, Roland Topor, D.H. Lawrence, J.G. Ballard, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, William Shakespeare, Richard Matheson, and [NAME REDACTED].

Joseph Suglia

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy / A Negative Review of THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

My analysis was cited in Marco Caracciolo’s article “Narrative Space and Readers’ Responses to Stories: A Phenomenological Account,” Style. Vol. 47, No. 4, Narrative, Social Neuroscience, Plus Essays on Hecht’s Poetry, Hardy’s Fiction, and Kathy Acker (Winter 2013), pp. 425-444. Print.

An Analysis of THE ROAD (Cormac McCarthy) by Joseph Suglia

“When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had colons and semi-colons to do with it…”

—Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (1985) is something of an undergraduate exercise.  It is a Faulknerian pastiche and, above all, hedonistic.  Hedonism, as far as I’m concerned, is an enemy of art.  Whereas Blood Meridian is verbally expansive, the language of McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is strictly delimited.

We follow a nameless father and son as they wander through a post-American void, a “blastosphere,” to use J.G. Ballard’s term.  (Blastosphere = Not the blastula, but the “implicit shape of the way matter is perturbed by an explosion” (Will Self)).  They scavenge for food and tools.  They encounter those who seemingly show their seamiest impulses and who behave in an unseemly manner.

And yet I suspect that this is less a novel about a post-apocalyptic future than it is one about our atheological present.  It is a theological allegory about a world from which the gods are manifestly absent.  Eine gottesverlassene und gottesvergessene Welt.

We find grounds for this supposition in those passages in which the grey waste is described as “godless” [4] and “coldly secular” [274] and wastes of human flesh are named “creedless” [28].

“On this road there are no godspoke men” [32].

The worst thing that could be written about The Road is that it is a sappy religious allegory.  Nabokov wrote of Faulkner’s Light in August:

“The book’s pseudo-religious rhythm I simply cannot stand–a phoney gloom which also spoils Mauriac’s work.”

I would write of McCarthy’s The Road:

The book’s pseudo-religious rhythm I simply cannot stand–a phoney gloom which does not pervade Faulkner’s work.

This does not mean that the book is unredeemable, however.  What might have been a pedestrian trifle in the hands of a lesser writer has become something genuinely pedestrian with author McCarthy.  The most distinctive feature of The Road is not the story that is told, but the manner in which McCarthy tells it: that is to say, the narrative.  He writes so magically that a grey empty world is summoned forth vividly before our eyes.

It needs to be said and emphasized that McCarthy has almost completely superseded standard English punctuation in the writing of this novel.  He strategically, willfully omits periods, commas, semicolons, and apostrophes throughout the work in order to equivocate, in order to multiply meanings, in order to enlarge the literary possibilities of language.

The relative absence of punctuation in the novel makes the words appear as if they were the things themselves.  Of course, one could seize upon the conscious, literal meaning of the words.  But does language not slip away from us?  Are its meanings not dependent on the interpretive framework of the listener, of the reader?  And is it not conceivable that the linguistic elisions reflect the consciousness of the central character?

Proper punctuation would disambiguate and thus flatten the sentences–sentences that are, liberated from such restrictions, both benign and lethal.  We have before us a rhetorically complex novel, a work of literature that is rife with ambiguity.

And the non-punctuation makes us feel.  If the “sentences” were punctuated in the traditional manner, we, as readers, would feel nothing.  We would not feel, viscerally and viciously, the nightmarish world into which father and son have precipitated.  We would not be infused with the chill of post-civilization.

The absence of standard punctuation in The Road is a fruitful, productive absence.  It is a writerly, stylistic choice.

I hope I have persuaded my readers that McCarthy’s idiosyncratic use of punctuation is stylized.  It most certainly is not unnecessary.  One of the lessons that we can derive from the novels of McCarthy is how to apply typography in literary craftsmanship.  Punctuation opens or closes the doors of meaning.  Let me invent my own ambiguously commaless sentence for the purposes of elucidation.  If I write, “I want to eat my parrot William,” this would seem to signify that I want to eat a parrot named William, a parrot that belongs to me.  However, what happens if the comma is explicitly absent?  Three contradictory interpretations are then possible: 1.) The narrator may be expressing the desire to eat a parrot that belongs to him or her, a parrot named William; 2.) The narrator, apparently, wants to eat a parrot that belongs to him or her and is addressing this remark to someone named William (“I want to eat my parrot, William”); 3.) The narrator may be expressing the desire to eat in general, and this comment is directed at his or her parrot, the name of which is William (“I want to eat, my parrot William”).  Punctuation, depending on how it is used, can restrict or expand meaning.  Commas articulate, determine meaning.  The absence of a comma, on the other hand, opens up semantic possibilities inherent to language.  Its absence opens the doors of ambiguity.

As I suggested above, McCarthy’s refusal to punctuate in the conventional manner is also intimately connected to the internal struggles of the main character and, perhaps, the psychology of the author.  The narrator eschews commas because he fears death.  I suspect that, similarly, McCarthy’s aversion to punctuation bespeaks a futile desire to escape his mortality–a charmingly fragile and recognizably human desire.

“[E]ver is no time at all” [28].

The ephemerality of the instant.  Hence, the relative commalessness of McCarthy’s statements.  A comma would pause an enunciation, rupture its continuity, the incessant flow of language, the drift of language into the future.  What, after all, is a comma if not the graphic equivalent of a turn in breath, of an exhalation or an inhalation?  Commas do not merely articulate a sentence.  Commas stall, they defer, they postpone, they interrupt without stopping.  A speaking that speaks ceaselessly, without commas, in order to outstrip the nightmare of history.  McCarthy’s language moves forward endlessly, without giving readers a chance to catch their breath.  This is a writing that is unidirectional and decidedly equivocal.

The thrusting momentum of McCarthy’s language fertilizes my suspicion that The Road is also a book about time.  More precisely, a book about time’s three impossibilities: the impossibility of ridding oneself of the past completely, the impossibility of eternalizing the present, and the impossibility of encompassing the future.

The future is essentially unpredictable for the son, and the reader has no idea, at the novel’s close, what will become of him.  Will the son survive?  Will he be bred for cannibal meat, for anthropophagous delicacies?  An infinitude of possibilities…  And here we come to yet another strange intimacy between McCarthy’s singular style of punctuating and not punctuating and one of the leitmotifs of his novel: The eerily open-ended “conclusion” of THE ROAD is no conclusion at all, a conclusion without a period.  And the novel lives on inside of the reader’s head and heart, growing within as if it were a vicious monster fungus.

Joseph Suglia

Slap Something Together: Sixteen Bad Sentences from Chuck Palahniuk’s MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

Slap Something Together: Sixteen Abysmal Quotations from Chuck Palahniuk’s MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD

by Joseph Suglia

1.) MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD

Every work of fiction is, by definition, something that is “made up.”  The word fiction is derived from the Latin fictio, which means “to fashion,” “to craft.”  If psychoanalysis has taught us anything, its lesson is that nothing that has been read can be unread.  The title of the book contains a redundancy and a statement of the obvious.  Or a statement that would be obvious to even a slightly educated person.  The book would have been better titled Slap Something Together: Stories No Thinking Person Should Ever Read.

2.) “My old man, he makes everything into a Big Joke” [1].

Elementary-school children learn that double subjects are bad grammar. chuckpalahniuk, who is fifty-three years old as I write these words, is still unaware of this fact. There is nothing wrong with appositives, but this is not an appositive: “My old man, he” is a double subject. The use of the double subject is not merely ungrammatical; it is irritating and unnecessary. And why capitalize “big joke,” if it is preceded by an indefinite article?

3.) “Me, I didn’t get it” [2].

No literate person begins a sentence with a double subject. Nor does he or she begin sentences with objective pronouns.

4.) “Me, my teachers still haven’t covered long division and all the multiple-cation tables so it’s not my old man’s fault I don’t know what’s ‘c**’” [3].

One might claim that the narrator is a child and would not know the proper spelling of multiplication, but the narrator is identified as a “grown-up son” on the fourth page.

5.) “This Stage Four cancer guy forces himself to laugh nonstop at Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy and those Marx brothers, and he gets healed by the end-orphans [sic] and oxy-generated [sic] blood” [4].

Even though the misspellings are purposeful, only someone with brain damage would write in such a manner.  There are purposeful misspellings in the writing of Anita Loos, but none is witless. chuckpalahniuk is capable of nothing but witlessisms.

6.) “The bartender smiles so nice and says, ‘What? You don’t like Michelob no more?’” [5].

That should read “so nicely,” of course; the Chuckies and the Chuckettes have the tendency to confuse adverbs and adjectives.  “So nice” is chuckpalahniuk’s ham-fisted way of trying to make his narrator (and himself) appear charming.  Unhappily, chuckpalahniuk is not merely charmless; he is uncharmable.  This sentence, incidentally, occurs toward the end of a rape joke.  I would defend to the death the right of writers to describe whatever they please, but anyone who finds rape amusing is either a sociopath or a psychopath.  The unenviable readers of Beautiful You already know that chuckpalahniuk finds rape a fit subject for humor.  chuckpalahniuk’s approach to the sexual violation of women is both slapdash and slaphappy.  It is a distasteful quality in the writer and not a little insane.

7.) “The old man’s gasping his big toothless mouth like he can’t get enough air, crying big tears down the wrinkles of both cheeks, just soaking his pillow” [6].

While it is the case that to gasp may be a transitive verb, the mouth is what is doing the gasping.  People might gasp, but they do not “gasp their mouths.”  “Like” is used conjunctionally, and the sentence is a non-parallel construction.  A less analphabetic way of writing the sentence would be: “The old man is gasping through his big toothless mouth, as if he couldn’t get enough air, crying big tears that stream down the wrinkles of both cheeks and soak his pillow.”

8.) “And he’s STILL dying, the old man’s leaving me not knowing the answer to anything. He’s abandoning me while I’m still so f***ing stupid” [7].

Ignorance is not stupidity.  Ignorance is the absence of knowledge, whereas stupidity is the inability to process ideas.  chuckpalahniuk thinks that stupidity and ignorance are interchangeable and that “stupidity” comes and goes.  In the case of chuckpalahniuk, however, stupidity is a chronic condition.

9.) “The old goobers stop chewing on their tobacco” [8].

Educated people know that to chew means “to bite on” and that “to chew on” is therefore an analphabetism.  The sentence should read: “The old goobers [if one must use that idiotic pseudo-word] stop chewing their tobacco.”

10.) “And finally one old barbershop codger, he says in barely a tobacco whisper, so soft you can hardly hear him, he asks, ‘Who’s there?’” [9].

While it is true that smoking can degrade the vocal system, “tobacco whisper” is an asinine coinage.  Perhaps one of chuckpalahniuk’s disciples could write a teleplay entitled Tobacco Whisperer, modeled on the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Ghost Whisperer.  Notice that two subjects are not enough for the pseudo-author chuckpalahniuk.  He adds a third.

11.) “In grocery stores or department stores, Monkey offered cubes of sausage skewered with toothpicks” [18].

To whom, precisely, did Monkey offer cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks?  Does the narrator not know in which realms Monkey offered cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks?  The phrase should read, “grocery stores AND department stores,” not “grocery stores OR department stores,” unless the narrator is unaware of the kind of spaces in which Monkey offered cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks.

12.) “Monkey offered dollops of apple pie served in tiny paper cups, or paper napkins cradling sample bites of tofu” [Ibid.].

This is a railway accident of a sentence.  A dollop is a small amount of soft food, and yet the crust of apple pie, as every infant knows, is hard.  Commas should not be used to separate dependent clauses, and “sample bites” is tautological.

13.) “Monkey hadn’t noticed at first, perhaps her nose had been blunted by selling perfume and cigarettes, but the cheese smelled disgusting” [20].

If Monkey’s actual nose had been blunted, this could mean that Monkey had an aquiline nose that had been flattened in the act of selling perfume and cigarettes.

14.) “Yet all night Monkey lay awake in bed, listening to Rabbit doing it with Mink in the next motel room, and fretting that, despite her advanced degree in Communications, she’d be stuck below a glass ceiling, getting sniffed by Moose for the rest of her career” [21].

Though I suppose it is possible that rabbit couple with mink, it seems unlikely, given that rabbit are lagomorphs and mink belong to the weasel family.  Do I really need to point out that “glass ceiling” is a mind-deflating cliché?

15.) “In Miss Chen’s English class, we learned, ‘To be or not to be…’ but there’s a big gray area in between. Maybe in Shakespeare times people only had two options” [29].

chuckpalahniuk appears to have stumbled into someone else’s interesting idea that being is not an absolute concept.  Indeed, transitional forms between being and nonbeing are thinkable.  Perhaps holograms and other forms of virtualization exist between being and nonbeing.  After this ill-worded yet provocative suggestion, chuckpalahniuk, predictably, writes about something entirely different: “Griffin Wilson, he knew that the SATs were just the gateway to a big lifetime of b*******.”  chuckpalahniuk is like a stupefied bumpkin who gapes at an idea that is too profound for him and then quickly diverts his attention to the Chick-fil-A across the street.  “Shakespeare” is a dolt’s only reference point to “the past,” as “Hitler” is a dolt’s only reference point to “evil.”  chuckpalahniuk’s condescension is astounding.  The difference between chuckpalahniuk and Shakespeare is analogous to the difference between a puddle of fermented wolverine urine and the Atlantic Ocean.

16.) “The problem with being Talented And Gifted is sometimes you get too smart” [29].

To unmuddle some of the confusions of this utterance: “Talented” and “gifted” should not be separated, and there is absolutely no reason to capitalize “and.”  In the squalid wastelands of Mr. Palahniuk’s Planet, intelligence is regarded as a vice and stupidity is regarded as a virtue.  This explains the writer’s appeal to high-school stoners of all ages.

17.) Every book by chuckpalahniuk is a frognado of idiocy.

Joseph Suglia

SO LONG, PLANET EARTH!: An analysis of ODE TO THE WEST WIND (Percy Bysshe Shelley) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

SO LONG, PLANET EARTH!: An analysis of “Ode to the West Wind” (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Bad news, humans!  The Andromeda Galaxy is barreling toward the Milky Way, the sun of our solar system will explode, will extinguish itself, as all stars do, and, long before either of these things happen, most of the Planet Earth will become uninhabitably hot.  All of the planets within our galaxy, with the exception of Earth, are unlivable, which means that the human species, if it is to survive at all, will have to trickle away the rest of its existence in spacecraft.  Otherwise, we are hurtling toward our extinction and oblivion as if we were a suicide of lemmings.

Percy Bysshe Shelley saw all of this coming and wrote a poem about the destruction of our world, in the autumn of 1819, when the poet was twenty-seven, entitled “Ode to the West Wind.”  It recalls an earlier poem by Albrecht von Haller entitled “Incomplete Poem on Eternity” (1736), which was quoted by Immanuel Kant in his youthful essay “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and of the Sublime” (1764).  (It is not entirely certain whether Shelley read Kant, much less Haller.  See Hugh Roberts’s article “Shelley among the Post-Kantians.”)  Both poems—that of Shelley and that of Haller—are chillingly apocalyptic and yet also celebratory of the apocalypse, the coming of what Haller described as “the second nothingness” that will “bury” us all.

The ode is divided into five groups.  Each group contains five stanzas.  The first four stanzas in each group are three lines long; the last stanza of each group is a rhyming couplet.  The entire poem is written in iambic pentameter: Each line has ten syllables; the first syllable is unstressed, the second is stressed.  It begins thus:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!

The West Wind is like an invisible exorcist that expels leaves in the way that an exorcist expels ghosts.  Thus far, the poem seems to be nothing more than the description of a natural phenomenon that uses a supernatural simile: A natural phenomenon (the West Wind) is likened to a supernatural force (the enchanter) that drives away another supernatural force (ghosts).  Until we read of the “pestilence-stricken multitudes” who are escorted to their mass-death.  “Multitudes” evokes human beings, not leaves—sick human beings, poor human beings.

When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, England was horribly impoverished.  It was a time of famine, grave poverty, and deep unemployment.  Thanks to the Corn Laws of 1815, the import of corn was blocked and the multitudes were starving.

At this point, one of the meanings generated by the poem is clear: This is an ode that welcomes the death of humanity (as it was in the early nineteenth century) and the birth of a new humanity.  The poem suggests that the Apocalypse might not be such a bad idea, after all.  It is not a misanthropic poem, however, since Shelley is not opposed to humanity as such; indeed, he (the paper Shelley) affirms the advent of a better humanity.  I hesitate to use the word nihilistic, since the poem is not absent of value.  Value-building is all that the poem does.  There is a value presented in the poem, and it is the value of preservative destruction: The westerly wind is named a “Wild Spirit,” at the close of the first section, and both a “destroyer” and a “preserver.”  It is the unseen presence that destroys the immiserated multitudes and the regal chariot that bears the seeds of a new humanity to their wintry sleep, to be awakened by the Spring Wind.  The West Wind, then, has two functions: to destroy lost contemporary humanity and to plant the seeds for a stronger future humanity.

At the close of the first stanza, as at the close of the second and the third, the narrator sounds a clarion call, a plangent summons to the West Wind (which is apostrophized by the familiar “Thou”): “oh, hear!”

Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aery surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh, hear!

The focus of the poem shifts from the ground to the sky.  To be precise: The view of the poem moves from the leaves that are being dispersed, as rioters in a mob, to the clouds that are being dispelled by the aerial force of the West Wind.  No longer does the poem look down upon the poverty-stricken multitudes; now, the poem looks up at the Castlereaghs and the Eldons.  No love is shown for the upper classes, which are likened to a bacchante’s tresses.

It is important to place the poem in the age in which it was written.  Shelley had already condemned the government of Lord Liverpool for butchering the British people at Peterloo, Manchester (16 August 1819), in a rage-incented and rage-incenting poem entitled “The Masque of Anarchy.”  Shelley was no nihilistic, ennui-drowsy elitist wishing for the death of the poor and uneducated masses.  The paper Shelley, at least, wishes for the West Wind to sweep away everyone and everything that currently exists, both low and high.

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!

The tyrannies of the world—the violently repressive British government among them—are overthrown by the annihilating gust.  The great wind dreamed, and this is what it dreamed: The wind envisioned the “old palaces and towers” reflected in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  And these “old palaces and towers” were “all overgrown with azure moss and flowers.”  Swathes of invasive vegetation colonize the city, which is transmuting into a jungle—an ever-growing, ever-flourishing, ever-blossoming jungle.

This is the last time that the prophet will summon the West Wind. Now, it is the prophet himself who will become the focus of the poem.  I use the masculine pronoun because it is clear that the narrator is a he in the fourth section:

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

The prophet, far from exempting himself from the wind’s sweepings, calls to the wind to carry him along as if he were a leaf, a cloud, or a wave.  At first, it seems as if the prophet were calling for his own self-negation, but then notice how he quickly calls himself a “comrade” of the wind in Stanza Three and then identifies himself with the wind in the second line of the couplet: “[o]ne too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.”  One cannot escape the impression that the prophet sees himself as something more than a leaf, a cloud, or a wave.  If anything, this is self-deification, the raising of the Self to the godhood.  This is anthropotheism, similar to the anthropotheism that Feuerbach saw in Christianity: Christians attribute the best parts of themselves to God.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O, Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Translation: Let my leaves emerge from the nothingness that the wind will leave in its wake.  Let me be revivified after the wind’s many destructions and annihilations.  Let my poems revitalize the dead Earth.  Like any good Romantic figure, Shelley’s prophet desires to unify himself with nature, but this does not mean that he would be swallowed up by nature–it means, rather, that he would swallow nature, engulf nature, interiorize nature, transform nature into the Self: “Be thou me.”  This is, again, not self-obliteration; it is anthropotheism, the aggressive self-assertion of the human will.  The poet’s song will outlast the wind.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript.  German Romanticism (of the Jena period) is nostalgic for the reunification of subject and object, self and world.  English Romanticism seems to want the same thing, except, in the English Romantic imagination, the Self dominates Nature.  It wants Nature to capitulate to the Self.

Compare Shelley with Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Are not the mountains, waves, and skies, a part
Of me and of my soul, as I of them?

Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

An Analysis of THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy / My analysis was cited in the Pennsylvania State University Press journal STYLE

My analysis was cited in Marco Caracciolo’s article “Narrative Space and Readers’ Responses to Stories: A Phenomenological Account,” Style. Vol. 47, No. 4, Narrative, Social Neuroscience, Plus Essays on Hecht’s Poetry, Hardy’s Fiction, and Kathy Acker (Winter 2013), pp. 425-444. Print.

An Analysis of THE ROAD (Cormac McCarthy) by Joseph Suglia

“When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had colons and semi-colons to do with it…”

—Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (1985) is something of an undergraduate exercise.  It is a Faulknerian pastiche and, above all, hedonistic.  Hedonism, as far as I’m concerned, is an enemy of art.  Whereas Blood Meridian is verbally expansive, the language of McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is strictly delimited.

We follow a nameless father and son as they wander through a post-American void, a “blastosphere,” to use J.G. Ballard’s term.  (Blastosphere = Not the blastula, but the “implicit shape of the way matter is perturbed by an explosion” (Will Self)).  They scavenge for food and tools.  They encounter those who seemingly show their seamiest impulses and who behave in an unseemly manner.

And yet I suspect that this is less a novel about a post-apocalyptic future than it is one about our atheological present.  It is a theological allegory about a world from which the gods are manifestly absent.  Eine gottesverlassene und gottesvergessene Welt.

We find grounds for this supposition in those passages in which the grey waste is described as “godless” [4] and “coldly secular” [274] and wastes of human flesh are named “creedless” [28].

“On this road there are no godspoke men” [32].

The worst thing that could be written about The Road is that it is a sappy religious allegory.  Nabokov wrote of Faulkner’s Light in August:

“The book’s pseudo-religious rhythm I simply cannot stand–a phoney gloom which also spoils Mauriac’s work.”

I would write of McCarthy’s The Road:

The book’s pseudo-religious rhythm I simply cannot stand–a phoney gloom which does not pervade Faulkner’s work.

This does not mean that the book is unredeemable, however.  What might have been a pedestrian trifle in the hands of a lesser writer has become something genuinely pedestrian with author McCarthy.  The most distinctive feature of The Road is not the story that is told, but the manner in which McCarthy tells it: that is to say, the narrative.  He writes so magically that a grey empty world is summoned forth vividly before our eyes.

It needs to be said and emphasized that McCarthy has almost completely superseded standard English punctuation in the writing of this novel.  He strategically, willfully omits periods, commas, semicolons, and apostrophes throughout the work in order to equivocate, in order to multiply meanings, in order to enlarge the literary possibilities of language.

The relative absence of punctuation in the novel makes the words appear as if they were the things themselves.  Of course, one could seize upon the conscious, literal meaning of the words.  But does language not slip away from us?  Are its meanings not dependent on the interpretive framework of the listener, of the reader?  And is it not conceivable that the linguistic elisions reflect the consciousness of the central character?

Proper punctuation would disambiguate and thus flatten the sentences–sentences that are, liberated from such restrictions, both benign and lethal.  We have before us a rhetorically complex novel, a work of literature that is rife with ambiguity.

And the non-punctuation makes us feel.  If the “sentences” were punctuated in the traditional manner, we, as readers, would feel nothing.  We would not feel, viscerally and viciously, the nightmarish world into which father and son have precipitated.  We would not be infused with the chill of post-civilization.

The absence of standard punctuation in The Road is a fruitful, productive absence.  It is a writerly, stylistic choice.

I hope I have persuaded my readers that McCarthy’s idiosyncratic use of punctuation is stylized.  It most certainly is not unnecessary.  One of the lessons that we can derive from the novels of McCarthy is how to apply typography in literary craftsmanship.  Punctuation opens or closes the doors of meaning.  Let me invent my own ambiguously commaless sentence for the purposes of elucidation.  If I write, “I want to eat my parrot William,” this would seem to signify that I want to eat a parrot named William, a parrot that belongs to me.  However, what happens if the comma is explicitly absent?  Three contradictory interpretations are then possible: 1.) The narrator may be expressing the desire to eat a parrot that belongs to him or her, a parrot named William; 2.) The narrator, apparently, wants to eat a parrot that belongs to him or her and is addressing this remark to someone named William (“I want to eat my parrot, William”); 3.) The narrator may be expressing the desire to eat in general, and this comment is directed at his or her parrot, the name of which is William (“I want to eat, my parrot William”).  Punctuation, depending on how it is used, can restrict or expand meaning.  Commas articulate, determine meaning.  The absence of a comma, on the other hand, opens up semantic possibilities inherent to language.  Its absence opens the doors of ambiguity.

As I suggested above, McCarthy’s refusal to punctuate in the conventional manner is also intimately connected to the internal struggles of the main character and, perhaps, the psychology of the author.  The narrator eschews commas because he fears death.  I suspect that, similarly, McCarthy’s aversion to punctuation bespeaks a futile desire to escape his mortality–a charmingly fragile and recognizably human desire.

“[E]ver is no time at all” [28].

The ephemerality of the instant.  Hence, the relative commalessness of McCarthy’s statements.  A comma would pause an enunciation, rupture its continuity, the incessant flow of language, the drift of language into the future.  What, after all, is a comma if not the graphic equivalent of a turn in breath, of an exhalation or an inhalation?  Commas do not merely articulate a sentence.  Commas stall, they defer, they postpone, they interrupt without stopping.  A speaking that speaks ceaselessly, without commas, in order to outstrip the nightmare of history.  McCarthy’s language moves forward endlessly, without giving readers a chance to catch their breath.  This is a writing that is unidirectional and decidedly equivocal.

The thrusting momentum of McCarthy’s language fertilizes my suspicion that The Road is also a book about time.  More precisely, a book about time’s three impossibilities: the impossibility of ridding oneself of the past completely, the impossibility of eternalizing the present, and the impossibility of encompassing the future.

The future is essentially unpredictable for the son, and the reader has no idea, at the novel’s close, what will become of him.  Will the son survive?  Will he be bred for cannibal meat, for anthropophagous delicacies?  An infinitude of possibilities…  And here we come to yet another strange intimacy between McCarthy’s singular style of punctuating and not punctuating and one of the leitmotifs of his novel: The eerily open-ended “conclusion” of THE ROAD is no conclusion at all, a conclusion without a period.  And the novel lives on inside of the reader’s head and heart, growing within as if it were a vicious monster fungus.

Joseph Suglia

Quentin Tarantino is an Anti-black Racist. DJANGO UNCHAINED is a Work of Anti-black Racism

Quentin Tarantino Is an Anti-Black Racist

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Quentin Tarantino is a slobbering anti-black racist who makes Blaxploitation films for hipsters.  These hipsters grow aggressively defensive whenever African-Americans stand up and denounce these very films.  (Roxane Gay, Spike Lee, Katt Williams, and Armond White are only a few of the African-Americans who have spoken out against Tarantino’s racism.)  Tarantino wishes to prove to his hipster fan base that he knows African-American culture better than African-Americans know their own culture.  And his hipster fanboys also desire that feeling–the feeling that they understand African-Americans better than African-Americans understand themselves.  (For an analysis of the mind of the hipster, consult Norman Mailer’s essay on this topic.)

Tarantino’s latest abomination is Django Unchained (2012), a film about a murderer-for-hire named Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) who enlists an African slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist him in his mass-murdering spree.  Their journey ends at Candyland, a plantation owned by the oleaginous Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, in an amusing and impressive performance that elevates above the film and never quite descends into camp).  There is much to demur to, but I will restrict myself to three demurrals: 1.) The film is an agglomeration of plagiarisms.  2.) The film is crypto-racist garbage.  3.) The screen violence is without passion or meaning.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS AN AGGLOMERATION OF PLAGIARISMS

Django Unchained is a pastiche of Spaghetti Westerns.  The opening song was lifted directly from the English-language version of Django (1966).  On the soundtrack is a well-known composition from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)–an American Spaghetti Western, if there ever was one.  There is also an appearance by Franco Nero, star of the original Django, which is a pointless, meaningless cinematic reference that adds nothing whatsoever to the film, which is itself a pointless, meaningless accumulation of cinematic references.

The references are smarmily, unctuously obvious.  One thinks of the scene in which Schultz recounts to Django the basics of Das Nibelungenlied.  If Tarantino were an artist, he wouldn’t have spelled out the legend of Siegfried and Brunhilda for the benefit of his illiterate spectatorship.

Not merely does the film contain a cluster of plagiarisms; it itself is a plagiarism.  The film is an unacknowledged remake of the Mandingo films of the 1970s–in particular, Mandingo (1975) and its sequel, Drum (1976).  Tarantino steals from these sources to such a degree that his film would have been better entitled Mandingo Unchained.

Calvin Candie is clearly modeled on two characters in Drum: DeMarigny (John Colicos), connoisseur of Mandingo fights, and Warren Oates’ character Hammond, slave-owner and breeder of Mandingos.  Both characters were spliced together to create the hybrid Calvin Candie, lover of intra-racial violence.

The Mandingo-fight scene [1:05] owes everything to the original Mandingo film, although different body parts are excised.  In Django Unchained, an eye is enucleated.  In Mandingo, a jugular vein is torn out.

Quentin Tarantino isn’t very much different from Calvin Candie.  After all, they both enjoy watching Mandingo fighting.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS CRYPTO-RACIST TRASH

On the surface, Django Unchained seems to be directed against white anti-black racism.  But it is itself a work of white anti-black racism.

Now, I like revenge fantasies as much as the next person, but there is something more sordid, more sinister going on here than what goes on in most revenge fantasies (“You got me!  Now I’m gonna get you, sucka!”).  Like its predecessor, Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained is a work of genocide pornography, the cruelest, most unconscionably vicious form of pornography in existence.  The crude plot of Inglourious Basterds trivializes the Holocaust; the crude plot of Django Unchained trivializes the enslavement of Africans in antebellum America.

But Django Unchained does more than merely trivialize the enslavement of Africans in nineteenth-century America.  It turns the enslavement of Africans into an object of consumption, an object of enjoyment.

To call this film “ahistorical” would be a gross understatement.  The film approximates history as closely as Spongebob Squarepants approximates marine biology.  With one important qualification: The creator of Spongebob Squarepants actually knows a great deal about marine biology, even if he chooses not to exhibit this knowledge in the television program that he spawned.  This film bears no relation to history whatsoever.  It is a bombinating vacuum in which references from exploitation films resonate.

No one in the nineteenth century ever said, “Adult supervision is required.”  Nor did anyone ever use the term “***********************************.”

Slaves could not read, but Django does a pretty good job of reading aloud the text of a Wanted poster [0:57].  He doesn’t know the words “bounty,” “valet,” or “positive,” but he does know the words “antagonize” and “intrigue.”  As Katt Williams pointed out, it is odd that Django can spell his own name.

The late populist film critic Roger Ebert used the term deus ex machina (“God-out-of-the-machine”) to describe the entry of Schultz in the opening of the film.  That moment isn’t quite a deus ex machina–such a device is commonly used at the end of a work, such as when Helios transports Medea on a golden chariot at the end of Euripides’ tragedy.

However, Ebert was correct to call Schultz a “god.”  He just didn’t know the extent to which he was correct.

Schultz is a god, all right.  He is the white god who creates the black Django.  “I feel vaguely responsible for you,” he says to Django.  “I gave you your freedom.”

Yes, it is Schultz who grants Django his liberty.  The first time we see Django’s face is when Schultz shines light on him.  It is Schultz who transforms Django into a murderer-for-hire.  It is Schultz who sculpts Django into a full human being.

Django is not allowed to kill Calvin Candie.  Only the Good White Master is allowed to kill the Evil White Master.  Django is allowed to kill Candie’s minions–both black and white — but not their Evil White Master.  Django has a master, all right, and his name is Dr. King Schultz.

It is for this reason that Will Smith declined to assume the role of Django: “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead.  The other character was the lead!  I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!'”

Will Smith’s objection to the film gets to the heart of the problem: Django is a secondary character, the Good White Master’s marionette.

Much has been made of the use of the “N-word” in the film.  That is because Tarantino enjoys saying the “N-word.”  The “N-word,” evidently, is his favorite word in the English language, a language that he does not know very well.  He expresses the “N-word” with brio, emitting it with gusto, as if this word were a shibboleth.

One recalls the infamous (I am using this word in its proper sense) scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) in which Tarantino-playing-Tarantino utters the “N-word” in Tourette’s-like staccato beats.  There is no point in arguing that Tarantino is playing a character and that his character is racist, not Tarantino, when Tarantino is obviously playing himself in the scene.  The delight that he feels whenever he bleats the “N-word” is palpable.

Django Unchained is backwater garbage, racist filth, intended for ugly-souled racist hipster fanboy cretins.  The film is regressive because it imagines that White (the presence of all color) and Black (the absence of all color) are “colors” and that races and have really existent correspondents.  The film erodes and erases so many of the steps that America has taken over the past four years.  I wrote the words above on 13 July 2013, the day on which George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

What is a racist?  A racist is someone who has nothing of which to be proud other than his or her epidermal pigmentation.  We are, all of us, out of Africa.  Anthropologists have established that Africa is the cradle of humanity and that there are only epidermal subdivisions between us.  It makes no sense to speak of “race,” since each individual “race” encompasses so many of these subdivisions.

Quentin Tarantino hypostatizes race.

THE VIOLENCE IN THE FILM IS PASSIONLESS

I don’t mind screen violence.  Screen violence can be bracing.  The problem with the representational violence in Django Unchained is that it is mechanical, spiritless, passionless.  It is difficult to understand how or why anyone would be offended by the violence in the films of Tarantino.  The violence in all of his films is automatized, transactional, emotionless.

I would like to call your attention to the moment [0:57] in which Schultz murders the alleged stagecoach robber Smitty Bacall.  Schultz snipes at his victim from a distance of about 200 feet.  Tarantino shoots the man from a distance of 200 feet, as well.  There is a complete emotional disengagement between the murderer and the murderee.  There is also a complete emotional disengagement between the film and the murderee.  We see the man’s son running to his father and hear the boy screaming, “Pa! Pa!”  But the boy and his father are no more than flecks of dust on the screen.  The father and son are hardly represented as human beings, at all.

And what about the scene that immediately follows the one that I just described?  The scene in which Django and Schultz use a band of cowboys for target practice [0:58]?  What, precisely, did these cowboys do to deserve to be gunned down?

All of the murders are filmed with the detached eye of a psychopath.

By contrast, the death scenes in the films of Nicolas Roeg are historically intense.  “A young man is cut down in the prime of his life,” Roeg said, referring to his directorial debut, Performance (1970).  “[Death] is an important thing.”

The murder of Lara Lee Candie (Laura Cayouette), Calvin’s sister [2:39], is as passionate as the deletion of a Microsoft Word document.

In Django Unchained, human characters (and horses) are eliminated with the same passion with which you would close pop-up advertisements on your computer screen.

* * * * *

The antistrophe to my arguments is quite predictable.  “It’s only a movie” comes the bleating response.  You can hear the booing, the cooing, and the mooing: “It’s only a mooooooooooooooooooovie.”  Keep on telling yourselves that: “It’s only a moooooooooooovie…  It’s only a moooooooooovie…”

Despite such zoo noise, it can be said, without fear of exaggeration or absurdity, that Django Unchained is one of the vilest motion pictures ever made.  Not because of its violence (again, screen violence can be bracing), but because it delights in the exploitation and dehumanization of African-Americans.  Quentin Tarantino is a hate criminal, and Django Unchained is a hate crime.

Dr. Joseph Suglia, table41thenovel.com

 

A Critique of David Foster Wallace: Part Two: A Supposedly Fun Thing That I Will Never Do Again / “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” / “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” / “David Lynch Keeps His Head”

An Analysis of A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING THAT I WILL NEVER DO AGAIN (David Foster Wallace) by Joseph Suglia

I have written it before, and I will write it again: Writing fictionally was not one of David Foster Wallace’s gifts.  His métier was, perhaps, mathematics.  David Foster Wallace was a talented theorist of mathematics, it is possible (I am unqualified to judge one’s talents in the field of mathematics), but an absolutely dreadful writer of ponderous fictions (I am qualified to judge one’s talents in the field of literature).

Wallace’s essay aggregate A Supposedly Fun Thing that I Will Never Do Again (1997) is worth reading, if one is an undiscriminating reader, but it also contains a number of vexing difficulties that should be addressed.  I will focus here upon the two essays to which I was most attracted: “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” and “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” a conspectus on the director’s cinema from Eraserhead (1977) until Lost Highway (1997).  Wallace seems unaware of Lynch’s work before 1977.

In “E Unibus Pluram,” Wallace warmly defends the Glass Teat in the way that only an American can.  He sees very little wrong with television, other than the fact that it can become, in his words, a “malignant addiction,” which does not imply, as Wallace takes pains to remind us, that it is “evil” or “hypnotizing” (38).  Perish the thought!

Wallace exhorts American writers to watch television.  Not merely should those who write WATCH television, Wallace contends; they should ABSORB television.  Here is Wallace’s inaugural argument (I will attempt to imitate his prose):

1.) Writers of fiction are creepy oglers.
2.) Television allows creepy, ogling fiction writers to spy on Americans and draw material from what they see.
3.) Americans who appear on television know that they are being seen, so this is scopophilia, but not voyeurism in the classical sense. [Apparently, one is spying on average Americans when one watches actors and actresses on American television.]
4.) For this reason, writers can spy without feeling uncomfortable and without feeling that what they’re doing is morally problematic.

Wallace: “If we want to know what American normality is – i.e. what Americans want to regard as normal – we can trust television… [W]riters can have faith in television” (22).

“Trust what is familiar!” in other words.  “Embrace what is in front of you!” to paraphrase.  Most contemporary American writers grew up in the lambent glow of the cathode-ray tube, and in their sentences the reader can hear the jangle and buzz of television.  David Foster Wallace was wrong.  No, writers should NOT trust television.  No, they should NOT have faith in the televisual eye, the eye that is seen but does not see.  The language of television has long since colonized the minds of contemporary American writers, which is likely why David Foster Wallace, Chuck Klosterman, and Jonathan Safran Foer cannot focus on a single point for more than a paragraph, why Thomas Pynchon’s clownish, jokey dialogue sounds as if it were culled from Gilligan’s Island, and why Don DeLillo’s portentous, pathos-glutted dialogue sounds as if it were siphoned from Dragnet.

There are scattershot arguments here, the most salient one being that postmodern fiction canalizes televisual waste.  That is my phrasing, not Wallace’s.  Wallace writes, simply and benevolently, that television and postmodern fiction “share roots” (65).  He appears to be suggesting that they both sprang up at exactly the same time.  They did not, of course.  One cannot accept Wallace’s argument without qualification.  To revise his thesis: Postmodern fiction–in particular, the writings of Leyner, DeLillo, Pynchon, Barth, Apple, Barthelme, and David Foster Wallace–is inconceivable outside of a relation to television.  But what would the ontogenesis of postmodern fiction matter, given that these fictions are anemic, execrably written, sickeningly smarmy, cloyingly self-conscious, and/or forgettable?

It did matter to Wallace, since he was a postmodernist fictionist.  Let me enlarge an earlier statement.  Wallace is suggesting (this is my interpretation of his words): “Embrace popular culture, or be embraced by popular culture!”  The first pose is that of a hipster; the second pose is that of the Deluded Consumer.  It would be otiose to claim that Wallace was not a hipster, when we are (mis)treated by so many hipsterisms, such as: “So then why do I get the in-joke? Because I, the viewer, outside the glass with the rest of the Audience, am IN on the in-joke” (32).  Or, in a paragraph in which he nods fraternally to the “campus hipsters” (76) who read him and read (past tense) Leyner: “We can resolve the problem [of being trapped in the televisual aura] by celebrating it.  Transcend feelings of mass-defined angst [sic] by genuflecting to them.  We can be reverently ironic” (Ibid.).  Again, he appears to be implying: “Embrace popular culture, or be embraced by popular culture!”  That is your false dilemma.  If you want others to think that you are special (every hipster’s secret desire), watch television with a REVERENT IRONY.  Wallace’s hipper-than-thou sanctimoniousness is smeared over every page.

Now let me turn to the Lynch essay, the strongest in the collection.  There are several insightful remarks here, particularly Wallace’s observation that Lynch’s cinema has a “clear relation” (197) to Abstract Expressionism and the cinema of German Expressionism.  There are some serious weaknesses and imprecisions, as well.

Wallace: “Except now for Richard Pryor, has there ever been even like ONE black person in a David Lynch movie? … I.e. why are Lynch’s movies all so white? … The likely answer is that Lynch’s movies are essentially apolitical” (189).

To write that there are no black people in Lynch’s gentrified neighborhood is to display one’s ignorance.  The truth is that at least one African-American appeared in the Lynchian universe before Lost Highway: Gregg Dandridge, who is very much an African-American, played Bobbie Ray Lemon in Wild at Heart (1990).  Did Wallace never see this film?  How could Wallace have forgotten the opening cataclysm, the cataclysmic opening of Wild at Heart?  Who could forget Sailor Ripley slamming Bobbie Ray Lemon’s head against a staircase railing and then against a floor until his head bursts, splattering like a splitting pomegranate?

To say that Lynch’s films are apolitical is to display one’s innocence.  No work of art is apolitical, because all art is political.  How could Wallace have missed Lynch’s heartlandish downhomeness?  How could he have failed to notice Lynch’s repulsed fascination with the muck and the slime, with the louche underworld that lies beneath the well-trimmed lawns that line Lynch’s suburban streets?  And how could he have failed to draw a political conclusion, a political inference, from this repulsed fascination, from this fascinated repulsion?

Let me commend these essays to the undiscriminating reader, as unconvincing as they are.  Everything collected here is nothing if not badly written, especially “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” a hipsterish pamphlet about Midwestern state fairs that would not have existed were it not for David Byrne’s True Stories (1986), both the film and the book.  It is my hope that David Foster Wallace will someday be remembered as the talented mathematician he perhaps was and not as the brilliant fictioneer he certainly was not.

Joseph Suglia

IN MEMORIAM TO IDENTITY by Kathy Acker / An Analysis of IN MEMORIAM TO IDENTITY by Kathy Acker

An Analysis of In Memoriam to Identity (Kathy Acker) by Joseph Suglia

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE FACTS ON FILE COMPANION TO THE AMERICAN NOVEL

Resonating with the title of Kathy Acker’s most mature work, In Memoriam to Identity (1990), is the notion that the self is inseparable from its own becoming-other, from the forms that it assumes and the masks that it dons.  The book serves as a series of largely disconnected epitaphs to a discarded concept of identity—that is, to “identity” conceived as transcendental and substantialized subjectivity that would endure unchanged through time and exist a priori independently of all relations to the other.  What Acker’s book suggests, in a manner that seems disjointed and even at times haphazard, is that personal identity is based on the exposure to the other person that is revealed by sexuality (the final and perhaps most significant word of the book).

Three cycles of narrative intersect with each other: 1.) A willfully anachronistic and reconstructive transcription of Rimbaud’s biography (broken off arbitrarily when Acker grew disgusted with the poet’s imperialist conversion) interspersed with references to AIDS and postmodernist theorist Jean Baudrillard (here decried as a cynic), deliberate mistranslations of Rimbaud’s verse, and intentionally unacknowledged citations from Büchner, Lautréamont, and Artaud—members of the counter-tradition of subversive literature within which Acker would like to insert herself.  Of foremost importance to her is Rimbaud’s impassioned relationship to Verlaine, who is compelled to choose between a socially unacceptable liaison with the boy and his responsibilities as a father, husband, and member of the bourgeoisie.  The narrative is set against the background of the Franco-German War of 1870.  According to the logic of Acker’s repoliticization, the Germans appear as yuppies who wage a ceaseless battle against the unemployed and arrogate to themselves services that only they can afford.

2.) A narrative oriented around Airplane, a young girl who exists in a relationship of absolute dependency to her rapist (later nominated as her “boyfriend”)—a relationship that mirrors, despite Acker’s own self-interpretive claims, Rimbaud’s relationship to Verlaine.  She is inexorably driven to dance at a strip club.

3.) A transformative replication of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury that concerns the sexually voracious Capitol, who is erotically obsessed with her brother Quentin.  Her goal, to couple with every man in the world, is the indirect endeavor to achieve sexual congress with her brother, the only man who matters to her.  Capitol is the pure desire to consume men, the will to conquer through copulation; she generalizes her male sexual partners to the point at which they are reduced to nothing.  Because Capitol can never remember any of the men with whom she couples (and does not exercise any discrimination in her choices), she not only erases these men as individual human beings: By eliding all memory, she effectively destroys her Self as an identity that would persist through time.  She “herself,” a female Don Giovanni (and this is the joint that links her narrative to the Rimbaud section), is “No One”: non-identical with herself; “she” is a multiple series of drives to overcome men through sexuality.

4.) “The Wild Palms” alternates successively between the narrative of Airplane and that of Capitol; both narratives are sutured together in counterpoint (this is a Faulknerian practice).

To love, in each context, is to demolish and shape one’s personal history.  The work is an extended, productive commentary on Rimbaud’s dictum, “Je suis un autre,” “I am an other.”  The most productive point of departure for an analysis of this work would be the first narrative, which concerns this dictum most directly.  Rimbaud longs to free himself not merely from the self that he is and has been, but from the stability of identity in general: “I want to die” [21].  He desires “to wake inside someone else’s skin” [23] (a direct translation from Rimbaud’s correspondence), and this self-transformation is only possible by way of a relation to the other human being: “Human flesh needs human flesh. Because only flesh is value” [27].  And later: “I’m waiting! I’m waiting for what I want! A certain type of life which I call LIFE.  So far I haven’t been able to get there because I need another person, V, and what’s happened and is still happening between me and V is nothing, ****… I want blood” [28].  Rimbaud prefers “the vulnerability of real identity” to the bourgeois self (a pre-existing self that would be identical to itself).  R’s identity is, strictly speaking, a non-identity: He is a multiple series of selves rather than the self-sameness of the unique self that would come before all others.  His desire to become other-than-himself, to be exteriorized as his own double, is inextricably bound to his relation to V.  Identity is both constituted and destroyed by the sexual relation.

It is a relation that gives rise to the most intense experience of pain.  Sexuality is not absolute communion, the fusion of the self and the Other, but rather absolute loneliness: What is most distinctive about the sexual relation is the absence of all bonds between the persons involved.  Whereas R’s relationship to V is one of submission, fragility, and addiction, the latter’s relationship to the former is something that could be reduced to a moral decision (Verlaine is able to choose between Rimbaud and his responsibilities as a husband, father, and member of civil society).  One witnesses a certain dissymmetry in the relation between R. and V. in scene after scene of this work.  What marks their rapport is the fact that this relation is unequal and without a future.  The hopelessness of the relation belongs to it essentially and defines both of its members.  Love becomes, as well, synonymous with coercion, the penetration of rape, and the agony of torture: “R’s consciousness of his love for V was a torture rack” [62].  R hates to desire V.  He desires V because he hates V, because V is killing him.  As Rimbaud says to his mentor African Pain: “I need what you’re doing to me because it’s only pain and being controlled which’re going to cut through my autism.  Because it’s pain you give me I love you” [5].  Acker’s “Rimbaud” is inescapably drawn to Verlaine because of the pain that the latter inflicts upon him.  He discovers love through pain and this is the only experience that would allow him to “demolish” “identity” [18] altogether: “There’s no way out but death or consciousness… Break the heart’s dead ice. He knew that the habitual self had to be broken” [16].

When V. withdraws from R’s life altogether in order not to be named a “homosexual,” R accedes to another relation.  It is at this point that R renounces poetry and pronounces poetry’s end—though one cannot assign a precise date, August 1873, for instance, to this renunciation and pronouncement—and is transformed utterly: “Each person has the possibility of being simultaneously several beings, having several lives” [92].  It is not as if Rimbaud discarded his past self as if it were an old shell and entered into a new one (that of an arms dealer and ivory trader).  What is affirmed is the essential instability and uncertainty of all identity: that the “I” is already the “Non-I.”

The renunciation of poetry corresponds precisely to the renunciation of Verlaine and what he represents: the self-sameness of subjectivity conceived as substance.  Such is Acker’s implicit explanation of R’s alleged “silence”—which was not a form of silence at all, but the accession to another order of writing.  It is not merely the case that R has broken with his past self and is transmuted into an imperialist (such is a conclusion that Acker has rejected).  He enters into an experience in which the self is continually annihilated and reformed, an experience in which the self proliferates into a series of duplicable selves or non-selves.  R’s narrative ends with the affirmation of an other consciousness: not a new consciousness that would supersede one that would come before it, but a consciousness that is always entirely other-than-itself.  R’s apparent renunciation of poetry, mistyped as his “silence,” was, in fact, a phenomenological turn toward the experience of the self as an other.

All of Acker’s work is severely flawed and In Memoriam to Identity is no exception.  But these flaws are tied to the success of her densely individuated style.  Acker’s bad writing (and carelessness is in evidence here—I have seldom read a book with more typographical and syntactical errors) might be read, charitably, as a mark of her biblioclasm, of her refusal to fashion a well-crafted masterpiece that would be accepted within the canon of traditional literary history.  Unfortunately, the stylization of the narrative is not immune to this practice.  The description of the relationship between R and V is, I’m afraid, only intermittently compelling and tends to veer toward mere compilation and summary of biographical data.  The deadpan repetition of “facts” from R’s life denies any pathetic identification on the part of the reader.  This, in itself, would not be disturbing if pathos were not what In Memoriam to Identity were all about.  The work is most impressive when Acker gives herself over to the desire, however juvenile, to shock her audience and approximates the punk sensibility of her vastly inferior early novel Blood and Guts in High School (1980), while bringing to the work a far greater intelligence.  And yet the work lacks the critical naivete that made Acker’s early writing (relatively) powerful.  Most troubling in this regard are the frequent intrusions of Acker the Professor and Literary Theorist into the space of the narrative.  Everything proceeds as if the author had surfeited herself with postmodern theory to the point at which she could only write narratives fraught with savvy, self-interpretive statements.  She anticipates the interpretation of her work in the hands of her informed readership.  In Memoriam to Identity thus takes on the strange appearance of a book that reads itself.

Joseph Suglia

MAO II by Don DeLillo / An Analysis of MAO II by Don DeLillo

An Analysis of MAO II (Don DeLillo) by Joseph Suglia

Exactly ten years before the terrorist assaults on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Don DeLillo’s Mao II (1991) compared the act of writing with the act of terrorism.  As terrorists, writers once had the power to destabilize perceptions of the world.  They unsettled one’s customary responses to things and opened up the possibility of new thoughts and impressions.  By giving ordinary things extraordinary names, literary language had the power to radically transform one’s relationship to the world.  Today, however, what could be more harmless than a novel?  A novel is insignificant in comparison with the explosive force of terrorist initiatives.  Literature is dead, and the news is the new means of perceptual disorganization.

The only way that literature can be effective in a culture of terror is by absorbing the gestures of terror.  In DeLillo’s novel, literature, quite literally, terrorizes.  Legendary novelist Bill Gray is blackmailed by a Maoist Lebanese political organization to act as its spokesperson.  Although literature has lost its power to alter human perception, the image of the author exerts a certain authority.  For this reason, Gray’s simulacrum will be used to promote the causes of Lebanese nationalism.  The writer becomes a reporter, a mediator of images that stimulate fear.

As if to acknowledge that literature is absorbed by the culture of the image, Mao II takes the form of a “picture-book.”  On the one hand, its various scenes have the “feel” of a documentary and resemble the news in printed form; there is, for example, an extraordinary “documentary”-like moment in which Brita and Karen watch Khomeini’s funeral on television and witness endless crowds simulating paroxysms of grief.  On the other hand, each section of the book is segmented by actual photographs: masses of Chinese citizens gathered before Mao Zedong; a preordained marriage ceremony at Yankee stadium; a crowd of people crushed against a steel fence by the rampaging stampede at the 15 April 1989 soccer game in Sheffield, England; Khomeini’s portrait; children in the trenches of war-torn Beirut.  All of this serves to reinforce the book’s thesis that the book is dead.  Dead or swallowed by an infinite swarm of technically reproducible images.

The author of a novel about terrorism, Martin Amis incorrectly categorized Mao II as a “postmodernist” work.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If anything, the book traces the limits of postmodernism by opposing the transformation of words into images.  The novel links the tyranny of images with the tyranny of terror–hence the title, which is taken from one of Andy Warhol’s mass-reproductions of Mao Zedong’s portrait.  By aligning the order of images with the order of terror, the book condemns both.  Of course, one of the characters, George Haddad, representative of the Lebanese terrorist group and Gray’s interlocutor, claims that terrorism has not been incorporated and subsumed by the culture of the image: “Only the terrorist stands outside” [157].  By saying this, Hadded attempts to identify the terrorist with those who are outside of mainstream culture.  But the exact opposite is the case–just because Haddad makes this claim does not mean that “DeLillo” agrees with him.  Terrorists need technically reproducible images in order to terrorize.  Without television and the massive circulation of sound-bytes and images that it empowers, the efforts of terrorism would be ineffective.  By contrast, literature is, strictly speaking, invisible: it is constituted by hints, clues, gestures, and ambiguities.  In a culture in which terror is spread through images, literature is doomed to failure: “What terrorists gain, novelists lose.  The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought.  The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous” [157].  American culture is a culture that valorizes the obvious–and for this reason, terrorism, which exploits the obvious, has a firm hold on the American sensibility.  Everything must be visualized, everything must be known, everything must be self-evident, everything must be confessed.  There is no place for literary opacity in a culture that values transparency above all else: “Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture.  Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory.  They make raids on human consciousness.  What writers used to do before we were all incorporated” [41].

And yet terrorists are also incorporated.  One must no longer imagine that terrorists are “Others” who infiltrate a domestic territory.  Terrorists do not attack “us” by way of an intervention or an incursion from the outside.  Terrorism, according to the logic of Mao II, inhabits the very culture that it pretends to assail.  All writers are terrorists and “half murderers” [158]–and Gray is no exception.  As the other “dictators” mentioned in the novel–Khomeini, Mao, and Moon–Bill recedes into an exile that would precede his accession to power and intensify his influence.  He disguises his past and changes his name (from “Willard Skansey, Jr.”) in order to de-expose himself.  His openness–the media exposure to which he “submits”–is the most devious form of concealment.

How else can an author survive in a culture of terror except by immersing him-/herself in an ever-proliferating sea of images?  Even before his “proselytization,” Gray allows himself to be photographed by the enigmatic Brita.  As the subject of a photograph, he yearns to obtain power through inaccessibility: “The deeper I pass into death, the more powerful my picture becomes” [42].  By retreating into the illuminated darkness of the image (like Pynchon, like Blanchot, like Salinger), the writer occupies a sacred space once reserved solely for godhood.  Only when the subject is dead can his or her image have any meaning.  Authors kill themselves by permitting themselves to be visualized.  The photograph is the death mask of the author.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk – A Review by Dr. Joseph Suglia / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

 

 

An Analysis of FIGHT CLUB (Chuck Palahniuk) by Joseph Suglia

Before discussing the form of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996), I would like to reconstruct its political content.

* * * * *

The thirty-year-old narrator of Fight Club feels alive only when surrounded by decrepitude and death.  He attends testicular-cancer support groups in order to enhance his vitality: By distinguishing himself as much as possible from the sick, he attempts to wrest himself away from a consumerist culture that suppresses death; by exposing himself to the mortality of others (which grants him the knowledge that he also is going to die), every moment in his life becomes more valuable.  One of the infinite number of go-betweens in this culture (his job is to determine the expenses of recalling lethally defective automobiles), the narrator yearns to die in an airplane crash in order to free himself from the superficiality of a world that trivializes death and immortalizes the unliving commodity (a “necrophilous” culture, as Erich Fromm would say).  Only what he imagines to be a direct experience of death grants him a real and intense sense of life, and, as the novel proceeds, violence will come to be his salvation.

[Let me remark parenthetically: the word “violence,” etymologically, means “life.”]

And yet Western culture manufactures not merely inclinations and proclivities, but also aversions and forms of disgust: Particularly relevant to a discussion of Palahniuk’s novel is the aversion toward violence and mortality that the narrator attempts to unlearn.

The narrator’s desires are prefabricated.  As countless others in a consumerist society, his selfhood is defined by the merchandise that he purchases: His “perfect life” is constituted by “his” Swedish furniture, “his” quilt cover set, “his” Hemlig hatboxes, and the IKEA catalogues that serve as the foundation of his “identity.”  He is the member of a generation of men who identify themselves with commodities (“Everything, the lamp, the chairs, the rugs were me” [111]), commodities that, according to the Marx of the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, serve as extensions of one’s personality in the capitalist world.

Enter Tyler Durden (a man who is, apparently, the same age as the narrator).  Aggressive, virile, and charming, Durden represents alternative possibilities that the narrator could assume.  Tyler is radically opposed to the progressive “improvement” of the self that has been so valorized by capitalist societies; he claims that the drive toward “perfection” has led to the loss of manhood and has transformed men into feminized purchasers and consumers who slave away in life-draining jobs.

By randomly destroying property (with which members of consumerist society identify), Tyler intends to explode the foundations of capitalist “identity.”  Since Rousseau and Hegel, it has been assumed that the bourgeois self is divided into civil and private dimensions: the citizen and the “true” individual.  Here we encounter two analogous versions of a single self: Whenever the narrator (who subserves capitalist society) falls asleep, Tyler Durden (who represents the “authentic” self) inhabits his body.

Tyler and the narrator form a masculine unit that exists apart from the feminized support groups that are populated by man-women such as Bob, an estrogen-saturated former weight-lifter who sprouts what appear to be mammary glands, as well as Marla Singer (associated, at one point, with the narrator’s mother), who appropriates the narrator’s support groups and eventually unsettles the homoerotic / homosocial bond between the two men.

Tyler founds “fight club,” an underground boxing organization and a perverse version of the support group attended by the narrator.  The split between the bourgeois and authentic selves is replicated in the difference between one’s work existence and fight club: “Who guys are in fight club is not who they are in the real world” [49].  Fight club thus opens up a separate space, one that is divorced from the dependency and servility of the world of exchange; it posits a self-sufficient universe in which control and mastery, sovereignty and force are achieved, paradoxically, through self-destruction.  The fights are not based on personal acrimony but on the exercise of power.  It is the fight that is pure; it is through the fight that one’s human implications are drawn out.  Norms learned from television (that mass accumulation is life’s goal, that success is equatable with financial success, that violence must be shunned)—all of these values are reversed in fight club, the sole objective of which is the reclamation of one’s manhood, which has been diminished in the feminizing world of capitalism (hence the phallic imagery that crystallizes throughout the novel).

The constituents of fight club (copy-center clerks, box boys, etc.) are members of the Lumpenproletariat, those who labor without a productive or positive relation to work, who are estranged from their own slavery, and who are excluded from every social totality.  Even those on the higher levels of the bourgeoisie, it seems, conform to the same model.  Their strength is vitiated; they, too, function as the refuse of a society that refuses to acknowledge them.  Dying in offices where their lives are never challenged (and therefore lacking anything with which to contrast with life), they are the mere shadows of the proletariat, deprived of access not merely to the fortunes of the capitalist world, but also to consciousness of their own oppression: They are “[g]enerations [that] have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need” [49].

Eventually, fight club transcends and operates independently of the individuals who produced it (following Tyler’s anti-individualist creed) and becomes wholly acephalic: “The new rule is that nobody should be the center of fight club” [142].  Fight club thus transmutes into Project Mayhem, a revolutionary group that begins with acts of vandalism and food contamination and eventually expands into full-blown guerilla terrorism.  Its aim is regression: to reduce all of history to ground zero.  Project Mayhem wants to blow the capitalist world to smithereens in order to give birth to a new form of humanity.  What fight club did for selfhood and individuality (the formation of a new “identity” apart from the one mandated by capitalist society), Project Mayhem would do for capitalist society itself.  In the same manner that fight club destroys capitalist “identity,” Project Mayhem aims to destroy Western civilization in order to “make something better of the world” [125]—a world in which manhood would intensify through a non-moral relation to violence.

Here we are in territory already elaborated—much more richly—by J.G. Ballard.  And John Zerzan, Portland anarchist.

Washing oneself clean, returning to one’s hidden origin, primitivism, regressionism, cleansing, and sacrifice…  Soap, which Freud named “the yardstick of civilization,” is here emblematic of a reduction to primal manhood.  The meaning of soap is not, in this context, propriety (as Freud would have it), nor, unfortunately, the ebullitions of language (Francis Ponge), nor, following Roland Barthes, the luxury of foaminess.  Soap is indissociable from sacrifice.

[Fight Club does not merely imply, but states in the most obvious manner that bare-knuckled fist-fighting makes one more virile, more masculine.  Palahniuk’s jock-fascism is jockalicious.]

If Western culture, as Freud claims in Unbehagen in der Kultur, is a culture of soap (sanitizing one from the awareness of death), the accustomed meaning of saponification is here transformed into its opposite.  Western culture represses the sacrifices that were its origins through a process of cleansing: Soap here would indicate a return to those repressed sources.  Violence must be re-vived in order to reclaim the self, now unclean.

The dream of capitalism complements the dream of fascism: “We wanted to blast the world free of history” [124].  Their common project is dehistoricization.  By attempting to destroy history, Project Mayhem pretends to break with the capitalist world but ends up mirroring it.  Capitalist culture homogenizes all of its inhabitants until individuality is lost—its alternative, communism, would lead, theoretically, to the redistribution of wealth and the elimination of rank.  Neither is accepted by Fight Club.  Nor, for that matter, are the utopian primitivism and fascistic terrorism represented by Project Mayhem.  The refusal of the capitalist / communist / fascist alternatives does not imply nihilism, either.  Fight Club posits nothing other than the impossibility of a way out.  This is evident in the text.  When the narrator attempts to demolish the fascist version of his self, his phantom double remerges.  Neither capitalism nor its double is overcome.  Tragedy is not death, the liberation from all forms of the political; it is, rather, the impossibility of dying.

* * * * *

A few words on the form of Fight Club (the only section of this review that will be read).

This could have been an excellent novel.

Any strong writer knows that a dead page–a dead paragraph, a dead sentence, a dead word–is unacceptable.  Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word should be electric, vibrant, vivacious.  Fight Club moves in the exact opposite direction: Its prose is soul-deadening, life-negating, dull.  It is a prose that neither confronts nor challenges.

Chuck Palahniuk does not have an easy way with words.  The language of this book is metallic, anti-poetic, and illiterate.

The writer claims to write in the way that “people talk.”

This would be good advice if we lived in an age in which people knew how to talk.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

 

Keats and the Power of the Negative: Part One: “La Belle Dame sans Merci”: A commentary

Keats and the Power of the Negative: Part One

An analysis of “La Belle Dame sans Merci”

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Dedicated to C.S.

Composed on April 21, 1819, in a single afternoon or early evening, “La Belle Dame sans Merci” has haunted the minds of readers for almost two centuries now.  In twelve stanzas, Keats says more than whole worships of writers say in their entire existence.  The poem is so sleekly, treacily, and elegantly composed, without a single false word, that it is imperishable.  Indeed, it is one of the few perfect English poems.

I will analyze the ballad stanza by stanza.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

The question is the narrator’s—whoever the narrator might be—to the honey-starved zombie knight.  For the published edition, Keats foolishly substituted the words “wretched wight” for “knight-at-arms.”  “Wight” recalls the Isle of Wight, where Keats would indite lust letters to Fanny Brawne, the lust of his brief consumptive life, which makes the published text of the poem faintly ludicrous.  “Knight-at-arms” is a much better choice of words, since it invokes strength, which contrasts nicely with the knight’s ailment, which is clearly love-psychosis.  It also sounds and reads better, infinitely better, than “wretched wight.”

The narrator is asking an epidemiological question (when one compares the first stanza with the twelfth): What is the source of your illness?  Even though the autumnal landscape is withered and songless, the knight is loitering around as if he were a beggar.  The flora are desiccated, much like the knight; there are no fauna, it seems, in the loveless expanse.  Nature has dried and shriveled up.  The birds that are not there are perhaps nightingales.  Readers of Keats will know that the nightingale is emblematic of the supernatural.  If this is the case, then the supernatural has withdrawn from the deathscape.

A nice instance of parechesis appears in the first stanza—a repetition of the grapheme LON in the words “alone” and “loitering.”

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

The granaries and the harvest have yielded a superabundance of food–food that is suitable for human consumption–but our love-zombie will never eat it. He will never eat the food because he cannot eat the food.  The knight is famished, starving for food that no human mouth can eat: It is the food that only his beloved faery princess can feed him.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

The syntax here is confusing: The lily that is embroidered on the knight’s brow is moist with anguish and moist with fever-dew.  The anguish-moist lily and the fading rose embroidered on the knight’s face-flesh: These are symptoms of his love-starvation.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

This is where the knight’s answer begins—an answer to the question, “What ails thee?”  Already, the reader is getting subliminal cues from the poem that the knight should run like hell away from the faery princess.  For one, she is the daughter of a faery and therefore any romance between the knight and the princess would be an interspecies romance.  Secondly, the wildness of her eyes might very well be the wildness of craziness.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

The number three is important in the poem: The faery princess’s physical attributes come in threes (her long hair, her light foot, her wild eyes), the food that she feeds to the knight comes in threes (relish root, wild honey, manna-dew), and here we have a triumvirate of decorations for the Beautiful Lady to wear (garland, bracelets, perfumed belt).  We might know three of her physical attributes and three things that she is wearing, but who is she, really, on the inside?

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

What kind of a knight is he, to let a woman he does not know ride his pacing steed?  And how can someone set someone else on a steed that is pacing?  Her sidelong look–her askance glance–lets us know that she is unconcerned with him and that his love will be unreturned; sharp readers should question the integrity of her intentions.  That he can see nothing else besides her radiance suggests that the knight has already plunged into total lunacy.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

How, precisely, does the knight know that the faery princess has declared her love for him?  The answer is: He does not. Her words are inaudible to him.  She speaks in a language that he cannot understand, and the suggestion is that the knight has projected his desire-to-be-loved upon her incomprehensible dark words.

The fact that communication between the knight and the faery princess is impossible intimates that contact between the knight and the faery princess is impossible.

“Honey” is sensuous, but the manna-dew is ethereal, heavenly: bread that rains from heaven.  “Manna” is customarily a noun, but here, it is used as an adjective and evokes, of course, The Book of Exodus.

“Manna-dew” was not in Keats’ original draft.  The lines read, in the original version: “She found me roots of relish sweet / And honey wild and honey dew.”  Keats was very wise to modify the wording.  The manna-dew that she feeds the knight reminds us that the faery princess is not a child of nature, but rather an otherworldly entity, one who comes from a transcendental province, much like the Grecian urn and the nightingale.  She exists outside of time and is not bound by the laws of nature.

The food that she feeds the knight is supernatural nutriment, and he will never be able to eat anything else.  All other food has become inesculent to him, even though the granaries are full and the harvest is done.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

She dwells in an elfin grotto, then.  If there is still any question on the subject, at this point, the argument over whether she is human has been settled: She is a chthonic being.  The fact that she dwells in an elfin grotto might imply that she is the Queen of Elphame, the elf queen who transported Thomas the Rhymer into the otherworld.

Why is the elf-girl weeping and sighing?  Is it because she knows that contact between her and her human lover is impossible?  If she is weeping and sighing over the impossibility of interspecies romance, does this not militate against the interpretation that she is wicked?

“Wild wild”: the use of anaphora (repetition) underlines her chaos, her untrammeled nature.  In Stanza Four, her eyes were described as “wild.”  Her eyes appear even wilder now.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

The faery princess anaesthetizes the knight, drugging him with Ketamine.  “The latest dream I ever dreamt”: The knight will never dream again.  Will he ever sleep again?

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

Listen to the chorus of love-hungry kings, love-hospitalized princes, and love-hurt warriors.  They tell you who they think the girl really is: The Beautiful Lady without Pity! They are the ones who call her “The Beautiful Lady without Pity.”  She never identifies herself, nor does the narrator, nor does the love-slaughtered knight at arms.  We don’t know her perspective at all.  Why should you believe the chorus of pallid loverboys?

The word “thrall” connotes enslavement.  To be in thralldom is to be in bondage to a master or a mistress.  In this case, the chorus of once-powerful men, of which the knight is now a member, is enslaved, enthralled, to the Beautiful Lady without Pity.

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

After the love-drug wears off, the knight awakens and finds himself in desolation and a place of natural destitution.  The only things in the dream-men’s mouths are warnings.  Much like the knight, only the food of the faery girl can nourish them; no other food can sate them.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

The faery-intoxicated knight is doomed to walk along the withered shore of the lake in a perpetual autumn, sapped of his vitality and potency.  He has been enervated by the psychosis-inflicting Beautiful Lady without Pity.  The poem suggests that she is a witch, but she might as well be a lamia or a succubus.  The women in the Keatsean poetic universe are all Belles Dames sans Merci.  “Misogyny” is a label too easily applied these days, but how can we avoid calling this a misogynistic poem?

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Postscript

There is an alternative interpretation that is possible: The figure of the woman would be the vessel into which the misogynistic delusions of the knight are projected, into the vacuum which stands for that which cannot be symbolized.  This evacuates the pallid, forlorn night.  The figure of the female has now become an agglomeration of split-off parts that represents him.  The figure is then a void to which the knight is inexorably drawn and from which he is driven in horror.  Keats’s pallid, forlorn knight has an experience of horror vacui.

The knight-at-arms would then have projected all of his disjecta membra into the figure of the female, thus rendering himself as servile and exhausted.

In other words, the Beautiful Lady without Pity is a construction.  What we are left with is only the imaginary.  This is, sadly, psychosis.  It is all too common.  The poem might then be a descriptive instantiation of delusional misogyny.

My only reservation with this alternative interpretation is that it is ahistorical.

I PREFER NOT TO MISINTERPRET / Dr. Joseph Suglia on “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville

I PREFER NOT TO MISINTERPRET Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

One of the most common misinterpretations of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” is that it is a story about writing.  (See Leo Marx’s unjustly influential 1953 essay “Melville’s Parable of the Walls.”)  Bartleby, according to this falsification, is a figure for the Writer.  Whatever Bartleby experiences, then, would be whatever the Writer experiences.

Those who set forth this erroneous interpretation must answer the following: If Bartleby is a figure for the Writer, why does he never actually write?  Only a watery understanding of the word writing would encompass what Bartleby does.  He copies; he does not write.  He does not produce anything original; he is a replicator.  He is no more a genuine writer than a Subway sandwich artist is a genuine artist.

Not only does Bartleby never write.  He does not even seem to read.  The lawyer says of Bartleby: “I had never seen him read—no, not even a newspaper.”

And why would Bartleby be a figure for the Writer and not the other copyists in the office?  Why would Turkey not be the symbolic expression of the Writer in the story?  Why not Nippers?  Turkey and Nippers do the same thing that Bartleby does: They copy contracts and deeds for pay.

One might rejoin that Bartleby represents all poetic writers.  There are indeed references to poeticism in the text.  John Jacob Astor, the lawyer’s symbolic father, is said to be “a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm”; Byron is called “mettlesome” by the anti-poetic lawyer; the view from within the artless lawyer’s office is described as “deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life,'” and so forth.  To say that Bartleby represents all poetic writers—and not every writer in the world—would be to engage in the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but we can put that aside for the moment.

There is a more urgent problem with this argument: If Bartleby represents all poetic writers and the ostracism and martyrdom of all poetic writers, why does he stop copying in the third act of the story?  Surely, a poetic writer is someone who never ceases to write poetically, someone who turns every experience into a writable experience.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” then, is not a parable about the Writer or about Writing.  What is the story about?

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” in the first place, is the story of a copyist at a lawyer’s office who reproduces documents, but resists, with gentle dignity, doing anything other than reproducing documents.

Too many readers have overlooked the fact that Bartleby is the ideal employee.  He does exactly what he is paid to do.  Indeed, he does his work with excessive dedication and never seems to step outside of the office (before his forcible eviction): “I observed that he never went to dinner; indeed, that he never went anywhere… he was always there.”  He works to the limit: “He ran a day and night line, copying by sun-light and by candle-light.”  He does not do anything, however, that he is not paid to do.  This is why Bartleby is disinclined–prefers not–to examine his own copies, why he is disinclined to bring letters to the post office, why he is disinclined to fetch Nippers, etc.  Whenever the lawyer asks him to do anything other than copy contracts and deeds, the response is always the same: “I prefer not to” or “I would prefer not to.”  Whenever impressed upon to perform even the simplest of errands, Bartleby states his non-preference—passively, reactively—from a place of hidden privilege and gentle condescension.  The literalization of his job description, Bartleby resists performing duties outside of his job description with a painful politeness.

One must be careful not to read the slogan “I prefer not to” / “I would prefer not to” as a refusal or declination.  Bartleby’s slogan is not a “No”-saying.  It is a form of “passive resistance.”  It is a slippery slogan.  It is a way of hovering over the categories of “Yes” and “No”–a linguistic trapeze act.

The “Sunday episode” is the crux of the story.  One Sunday morning, the lawyer goes to Trinity Church to hear a “celebrated preacher.”  Arriving rather early, he decides to kill time before the sermon starts by walking to his office.  Unable to open the door, he struggles with the lock.  The door opens, and Bartleby appears, his lean visage thrusting at the lawyer.  The lawyer slinks away, servilely accepting the apparition of Bartleby (the term “apparition” is used, evoking the spectral character of Bartleby).  One of the effects of this episode is evidence that there is absolutely no division between the private and the professional for Bartleby.  This point—the erasure of the distinction between the private and the professional—is reinforced later in the text, when the lawyer invites Bartleby to stay with him at the former’s home.

Bartleby destabilizes the office by being the perfect employee.  He super-agrees with the terms of the office.  He over-adheres to the policies of the office.  Soon, his keyword prefer spreads throughout the office as if it were a vicious linguistic virus.  Every adult in the office—the lawyer, Nippers, Turkey—soon finds himself using the word prefer.

Bartleby is the perfect copyist—and this is what unsettles the lawyer’s once-imperturbable placidity and is what robs the lawyer of his virility (the lawyer is “unmanned” by Bartleby, de-manified by Bartleby).  Bartleby perfectly identifies with his professional role as a duplicator—and thus subverts the profession with which he perfectly identifies.  He copies the office and thus undermines the office.

The point to be made is that Bartleby over-agrees with his job description.  He exaggerates and affirms his position to the point of absurdity, throwing the office into chaos and driving his employer to madness.  The logic of super-agreement is why Kierkegaard is an enemy of Christianity.  Kierkegaard was such a super-Christian, endorsing Christianity with such fervidness, that he made being a Christian a nearly impossible state of being.  Kierkegaard’s super-agreement with Christianity, his fervid endorsement of Christianity, means the undoing of Christianity for many readers.  Nietzsche, on the other hand, who ferociously hammered Christianity, is, paradoxically, Christianity’s friend.

This is not to say that Bartleby endorses the ideology of the office.  Bartleby is a rebel, to be sure, but he is a quiet rebel.  If he were a raging lunatic (think of “The Lightning-Rod Man”), Bartleby would be dismissible.  His commanding calmness is the reason that the lawyer is overthrown by his employee: “Indeed, it was his wonderful mildness chiefly, which not only disarmed me, but unmanned me as it were.”  Bartleby is a quiet rebel whose quiet rebellion takes the form of relentless passivity.  At the core of his passivity is an active dimension.  He is actively passive, pushing the terms active and passive beyond their usual significations.  His weakness is an unconquerable strength, to channel Duras.  He is emblematic of “passive resistance”–and in these words, one should hear resonating the words of that other great American, Henry David Thoreau: “civil disobedience.”

What, then, is “Bartleby, the Scrivener” actually about?

The work is a critique of Evil America in the nineteenth century–an America in which too much of everything is dehumanizing Business.  Bartleby is a Christ within the world of nineteenth-century American capitalism, but he is not a self-negating Christ.  [Note: Much in the way that Peter denies Jesus, the lawyer denies Bartleby.]  The “I” is the most important word in the slogan, “I prefer not to” / “I would prefer not to.” (Deleuze’s word is “formula.”)  “I prefer not to” is the assertion of subjectivity against the impersonal and anonymous space of the office, the imposition of subjectivity on the desubjectified world of exchange.

Reading “Bartleby, the Scrivener” in twenty-first-century America is a defamiliarizing experience.  These days, any employee who asserted, “I prefer not to” would be sent to Human Resources for immediate termination.  We live in a culture of compliance and submission, of obeisance to managerial authority (compliance is a word that is used in the text: “natural expectancy of immediate compliance”).  Now, Bartleby does, in fact, participate in the capitalist world of nineteenth-century America, yet his compliance is a kind of conditional compliance, his submission to authority is submission on his own terms, his acceptance of the world of exchange is a conditional acceptance.  His patrician passive-aggressive preferences-not-to are ways of saying, “I will do whatever I please, but nothing other than what I please.”  This is Americanism, to be sure, but the Americanism of Thomas Paine and the other Founding Fathers, not the Americanism of the bureaucrats.

Bartleby exists on the boundary of capitalism.  A Christ in Evil America, he is deathly, from the other side of life, former and current employee of the Dead Letter Office in Washington.  This is why Bartleby is iteratively described as “cadaverous” in this text (three times), an “apparition” (twice), and a “ghost” (twice).  He is dead and yet present; he is in the capitalist world and yet not of the capitalist world.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

An analysis of AS YOU LIKE IT (Shakespeare) by Dr. Joseph Suglia / Transgender Characters in Shakespeare / Gender and Shakespeare / Gender in Shakespeare / Shakespeare and Gender / Transgenderism in Shakespeare / Shakespeare Transgender / Transgender AS YOU LIKE IT / Shakespeare Transgender

An analysis of AS YOU LIKE IT (Shakespeare) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

“Aimer grandement quelqu’un c’est le render inépuisable.”

—Paul Valéry, Cahiers (1944. Sans titre, XXVIII, 524)

In the wrestling match between Nature and Fortune, it is Fortune that chokeholds her opponent and flattens her on the mat.  “Nature” refers to the qualities with which one is born; “Fortune” signifies all that comes post-natal.  “Nature” is another word for “necessity”; Fortune is accident, preference, education, style.  In Elizabethan England: That which God makes is Nature; that which you like belongs to Fortune.  What you are born with is overthrown by what you like in Shakespeare’s most audience-accommodating comedy, As You Like It (circa 1599).

We see the clash between Nature and Fortune in the very first scene, one in which Orlando grieves that he, a natural gentleman, is reduced by Fortune to the status of a stalled ox.  This, the work of his brother Oliver, who mars what God made.  Orlando moans: “My father charged you [Oliver] in his will to give me good education.  You have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities” [I:i].  Fortune will ever have her revenge.

Orlando is pursued by his fratricide-minded brother and banished by the skinless Duke Frederick.  After the first act, we are no longer in the duchy of Frederick, with the exception of the space-flash of Act Three: Scene One.  We are fleeting time with the exiled Duke Ferdinand and his fellows in the Forest of Arden.

The Forest of Arden is described as a “desert,” as a deserted, unpopulated place.  The Duke Senior calls the forest “this desert city” [II:i].  Rosalind calls the forest “this desert place” [II:iv].  Orlando says to Adam: “[T]hou shalt not die for lack of a dinner, if there live anything in this desert” [II:vi].  Later, Orlando: “this desert inaccessible” [II:vii].

Here we discover the first of the many paradoxes that will come to meet us in the Forest of Arden.  How could the forest be a “desert” if it is populated by more people than there were in the duchy of Frederick?

Disguise abounds in the Forest of Arden, as well.  Duke Ferdinand expresses the desire to hunt “venison” [II:i].  Who hunts venison?  Instead of using the words “deer flesh,” which would be Anglo-Saxon German, the Duke uses the French-Latin term (“venison”).  Nothing is more common than the use of linguistic camouflage to disguise the reality of the animals that we ingurgitate.  Instead of saying, “swine flesh” (Anglo-Saxon German), we say, “pork” (French Latin).  Instead of saying, “cow flesh” (Anglo-Saxon German), we say “beef” (French Latin).  And yet people seem to have no problem saying that they want to eat chicken, doubtless because they can imagine, without disgust, swallowing our squawking and bawking relatives.  Chickens (and fish) are seen as being remoter from human beings than deer, pigs, and cows.  Many would be afraid of nominating a Pulled Pork Sandwich a “Pulled Swine-Flesh Sandwich” for the visceral reason that pigs are perceived as being genetically close to human beings (which they certainly are).  Food-applied French Latin is the articulation of anthrophagophobia, which is a word that I have invented that means “the fear of cannibalism.”

Another paradox emerges when Duke Ferdinand praises the forest as a place where everyone is oneself.  Extolling the virtues of sylvatic life (as opposed to courtly life), Duke Ferdinand claims that the feeling of seasonal difference feelingly persuades him of what he is:

“The seasons’ difference—as the icy fang / And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, / Which even when it bites and blows upon my body / Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say: ‘This is no flattery. These are counsellors / That feelingly persuade me what I am’” [II:i].

Far from being unlike “the envious court” [Ibid.], the Forest of Arden is the Forest of Envy.  How can everyone be himself or herself in the Forest of Envy?  Rosalind is herself AND himself.  She envies, and identifies with, the male figure of Ganymede.  The Forest of Envy is a forest in which Jacques the Melancholy envies Touchstone the clown: “O that I were a fool. / I am ambitious for a motley coat” [II:vii].  It is a forest in which one is one-who-is-other-than-what-one-is.  Oliver transforms into a New Self.  Celia alienates herself from herself when she becomes Aliena; she is other-than-what-she-appears-to-be (“Aliena” means “stranger”).  Everyone is a stranger to oneself in the Forest of Envy.

Much like the internet, the Forest of Arden is a transformative, metamorphic space in which anyone can become anything that one wishes to become.  It is an indifferent space that comes before masculinity and femininity.  It is an indifferent space that comes before gender.  In the forest, men behave in the way that women are expected to behave and women behave in the way that men are expected to behave.  Jacques the Melancholy weeps when he considers a fallen deer–surely, this is an instance of a man acting in a way that would be considered feminine.  When the lioness tore flesh away from his body, Oliver reports to Rosalind-as-Ganymede and Celia-as-Aliena, Orlando fainted: “The lioness had torn some flesh away, / Which all this while had bled; and now he fainted / And cried, in fainting, upon Rosalind” [III:iv].  Surely, fainting is generally, and falsely, regarded as a symptom of female psychology.  And yet in the very same scene, exactly fifteen lines later, Oliver taxes Rosalind-as-Ganymede for swooning: “Be of good cheer, youth; you a man! you lack a man’s heart.”

At another moment, Rosalind does indeed act in the way that a man is expected to act.  The unwept tears of Rosalind tell us everything that we need to know about Rosalind’s “performance” as a man.  It is a performance that ceases to be a performance, that erases itself as a performance, and becomes the reality of what is being performed.  Rosalind:

“I could find in my heart to disgrace any man’s apparel and to cry like a woman, but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat.  Therefore courage, good Aliena” [II:iv].

Let us remember that these words are spoken to an audience that is conscious of the comedic irony that is being enacted: Touchstone, Celia, and everyone in the Globe Theatre.  We are not unaware of Rosalind’s biological sex.

Other Shakespearean comedies contain female characters who dress as men (cf. The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice, the latter which contains no fewer than two female characters who dissimulate themselves as men).  Not to psychologize matters, this transformation of women into men almost certainly says something about Shakespeare’s paraphilia.

Note the attraction that Orlando has for Rosalind-as-Ganymede.  It might not be invidious to suggest that Orlando finds Rosalind more attractive as Ganymede than he finds Rosalind attractive as Rosalind.  David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly (1993), anyone?  If I am incorrect about this (and I am not), why would Orlando agree to court Ganymede in his hovel?  And why would he agree to marry Ganymede—even if we allow that the marriage is presented as fictitious?  Shakespearean comedy is conjugal propaganda, which means, as I have written elsewhere, that all of the principals marry in the fifth act, whether they want to or not.  A comedy in the Shakespearean sense is one that ends in forced marriage, forced dancing, and forced mirth-making.  Jacques the Melancholy is among the few who escape the coerced marriage, the coerced dancing, and the coerced merriment: “I am for other than for dancing measures” [V:iv], he wisely intones as he wisely steals from the stage.

The resonances produced by the name “Ganymede” would not have escaped Shakespeare’s audience.  “Ganymede” connoted homoeroticism in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century, as Ganymede, famously, is the young boy who was given a first-class flight to the Olympian Lounge, where he worked part-time as a bartender to the gods and where he was romanced by Jove.  It is probable that the attraction that Orlando has for Ganymede is not homoerotic in the usual sense, but an instance of andromimetophilia.  The late Dr. John Money and Dr. Malgorzata Lamacz coined the term “andromimetophilia” to denote the sexual attraction to women who dress as men.

Each line in Shakespeare has become a cliché, which means, as Harold Bloom suggests, that everyone has read Shakespeare even without having read Shakespeare.  Who has not heard the verbal fossil that crawls from the downturned mouth of Jacques the Melancholy?: “All the world’s a stage.”  And yet most people stop quoting there.  The soliloquy continues: “And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances” [II:vii].  If nothing else, these lines mean that life is itself performance, that the dramatizations of Fortune supersede the nature of Nature.  This is surely why Shakespeare reminds his spectatorship that the play that he is writing is nothing more than a play, both in the Epilogue in which Rosalind expresses the desire to kiss every man in the audience, and in the words of Jacques the Melancholy, who calls attention to text’s shift from lyricism to blank verse: “Nay, then, God be wi’ you, an you talk in blank verse” [IV:i].  The reference to blank verse reminds us that the play that we are reading / watching is nothing more than a play in the literal sense.  Life is a play in the metaphorical sense.

All of the players in the Globe Theatre were male, which means the following: On the stage, there is a man (the male actor) who dramatizes a woman (Rosalind) who dramatizes a man (Ganymede) who dramatizes a woman (Rosalind again, the Second Rosalind).  The gender metamorphoses in Shakespearean comedy suggest that gender is not a natural category.  Calling it a “choice” might imply that gender is a matter of free will, for Shakespeare, and this concept is something that might be disputed.  Nonetheless, if you follow the metaphors of the play, the theorems are implied: If you decide to become more feminine, you might become more feminine.  If you decide to become more masculine, you might become more masculine.  But this has absolutely nothing to do with maleness or femaleness.  Gender does not exist below or beyond the expressions of gender.  Sex is Nature.  Gender is Fortune.  “Sex” signifies the secondary physiological characteristics with which one is born.  Gender is as you like it.

Joseph Suglia

An Analysis of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Shakespeare)

An Analysis of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Shakespeare)

by Joseph Suglia

I normally avoid discussing the plots of works of literature.  I prefer to dwell upon the words as they are written on the page, to interrogate and interpret the language of the text.  If I have hesitated to talk and write about plot, it is because conversations about plot generally ignore the language in which the text is written.  The plot seems to exist somewhere outside of the language of the text.  After all, a plot could have been invented before the actual text was composed, and when literary critics discuss plot, they must be abstract.  It is rare to cite the text when describing a plot, for the obvious reason that plot is structure, not literary language.

Since the world is essentially plotless, why should a literary work have a plot at all?  From the late nineteenth century onward, much of Western literature has discarded the mandate of the plot (Lautreamont, Flaubert, Nerval, and Proust were vanguards in this respect).  Even earlier, to refer to a single example: Shakespeare’s The Tempest does not have much of a plot.  This is not to suggest that plots vanished since the late nineteenth century; millions of books have been written and published since that time that do, in fact, have plots.  They are summoned into existence by writers and readers who come to books to experience the imposition of order upon a world that is bewilderingly and overwhelmingly chaotic.  There is nothing wrong with the desire to experience a closed, self-contained representation.  But closed, self-contained representations belong to the province of art before the late nineteenth century and to the province of entertainment.  Modern art poses questions that it does not itself answer (this is the job of the interpreter); works of modern art have open-ended structures.

Despite my reservations about plot, I would like to adumbrate the design of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the first edition of which was published in 1600).  By doing so, I think that we can learn something about the configuration of this massively complex play and, perhaps, about how plot in general works and perhaps even why so many people have the desire for a plot.  I will fix my gaze upon the structure of the play.  Again, this will have the necessary but unfortunate consequence that I will have to disregard much of the play’s filigreed, aureate verse.

The initiating conflict takes place in the first scene of the play: Egeus sentences his daughter to death or a loveless marriage.  He forbids his daughter Hermia from marrying Lysander, the man she loves.  She must choose between death and marriage to Demetrius, a man whom she definitely does not love.  The Athenian duke Theseus alleviates Hermia’s dilemma somewhat by allowing her to choose between a marriage to Demetrius and a life of celibacy, but still reinforces the father’s judgment with all the power of Athenian law.  It is the sentencing of the father, and the legitimation of the sentence by the law, that drives both lovers, Hermia and Lysander, into the moon-bathed forest.  The law impels the lovers into the forest, and the law will bring them out of the forest.  Theseus revokes his judgment when Demetrius has a change of heart, but let us not ignore the fact that the play begins with the law and ends with the law.  The man who sets into motion the inaugural conflict of the play, Theseus, will also resolve all the conflicts at the close of the play.  He promulgates that Hermia must make her decision by the day of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, and, indeed, all the conflicts will be reconciled in a triple marriage: the marriage of Lysander and Hermia, the marriage of Demetrius and Helena, and the hierogamy of Theseus and Hippolyta.  (A hierogamy is the sacred marriage between a god and a goddess.)

The conflict between Father and Daughter will be enlarged and mapped onto a second conflict between Oberon and Titiana, the Fairy King and the Fairy Queen.  Just as Theseus represents the Law of Athens, Oberon will represent the Law of the Fairy World.  Oberon’s most serious task is to suppress the insurrection of his fairy queen.

There is a further conflict between the world of the fairies and the world of the human beings.  Puck (also known as “Robin Goodfellow”) is the Interferer.  He is the agent of the supernatural that will intervene in the affairs of the morals (as will his lord Oberon).  The intrusion of the supernatural into human affairs will be one of the motors that pushes the plot forward; this conflict, in turn, will be applied to conflicts between Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena, which tangle the plot further.  The eavesdropping Oberon intervenes in the relationship between Helena and Demetrius.  Oberon delegates to his jester the responsibility of intoxicating a man wearing Athenian garb with an aphrodisiac in the shape of a purple flower.  The romance between Lysander and Hermia is interrupted and complicated by a mistake: Puck drugs Lysander instead of Demetrius with the juice of the purple love-narcotic.

We, then, have three pairs of lovers who are in conflictual relations with one another: Oberon and Titiana, Helena and Demetrius, and Lysander and Hermia.  Theseus and Hippolyta are now in a harmonious relationship, but were once at variance with each other.

As I wrote above, the judgment of the father leads to the elopement of Hermia and Lysander.  When both lovers rush into the moon-bathed forest, they turn their backs on the Law of the Father; they enter a metamorphic, transformational space (compare with the Forest of Arden in As You Like It): Within the wood, the craftsman Bottom will be translated into an assheaded man.  Within the wood, Lysander will cease to love Hermia.

The forest is also a place of erogenous desire; the erotomania with which the characters are seized is mostly synthetic.  Only Hermia’s desire for Lysander and Helena’s desire for Demetrius are natural, but, it should be remembered, their desire predates the exodus from the Father and entry into the forest.  While in the forest, almost everyone else’s desire is artificially induced: Demetrius and Lysander only fall in lust with Helena because their eyes have been infected with flower juice.  Titiana lusts after Ass Head because she has likewise been intoxicated.  Under the influence of the flower, Helena and Ass Head become objects of lust.

The perversity does not end there: First, Titiana is obsessed with a child and then, she is obsessed with Ass Head.  After having her eyelids squirted with flower juice, Titiana’s unholy obsession with Ass Head replaces her obsession with the stolen Indian boy.  Both of these obsessions are perverse: Titiana’s strange, quasi-maternal obsession with the stolen Indian child causes a scission between her and Oberon and his bride, and Titiana’s obsession with Ass Head is both drug-induced and interspecies.

Titiana’s obsession with the stolen Indian boy parallels Helena’s obsession with Demetrius.  Shakespeare’s play suggests that all the love in the forest is unnatural love (with the exception of Hermia’s constant love for Lysander).  Again, Lysander’s obsession with Helena, as well as Demetrius’s obsession with Helena, are both brought on by the Ketamine-like purple flower love-toxin.

The forest is a place of disunification.  Within the wood, the human characters are separated from the agents of the supernatural: While in the forest, the fairies are hidden from the craftsmen and from the lovers.  The fairies are concealed from the lovers, but the lovers are not concealed from the fairies.  Furthermore, the craftsmen are not aware of the existence of the fairies or the existence of the lovers in the forest.  This concealment allows the fairies–in particular, Puck–to complicate the plot further by drugging Lysander and, later, Demetrius.  (Again, Puck confuses Lysander for Demetrius, and this mistake creates pandemonium in the forest: Hermia is abandoned, and now Helena becomes the object of lust of the two male lovers.)  And yet the audience will find this amusing, since we know that their lust is not genuine.  This is what I would call “comedic irony”–the counterpart of dramatic irony.  Dramatic irony surfaces when the audience knows an uncomfortable truth that a character on the stage or screen does not know: Romeo thinks that Julia is dead, but the spectators know better.  Comedic irony is when the audience does know an amusing truth that a character on the stage or screen does not know: that Lysander and Demetrius only “love” Helena because they have been infected by the juice of the purple flower, Love-in-idleness.  Laughter comes about through the contradiction with human reason, as Kant wrote in the Third Critique: “Es muss in allem, was ein lebhaftes, erschütterndes Lachen erregen soll, etwas Widersinniges sein (woran also der Verstand an sich kein Wohlgefallen finden kann).”

The characters, then, are balkanized into three mutually exclusive communities: the lovers, the fairies, and the craftsmen.  The exception to this is Bottom, who, when transformed into Ass Head, belongs both to the human and the fairy communities.

The forest is also the place of another form of sexuality that would have been considered perverse in the Age of Elizabeth.  The play is adorned with two female characters–one earthly, one ethereal–who are enormously aggressive: Titiana and Helena.

Both Helena and Titiana hunt the men they desire.  Much like her namesake in All’s Well That Ends Well, Helena is a woman who has unreciprocated love for a man and who refuses to take “Yes” or “No” for an answer.  Helena herself acknowledges that this is an inversion in gender roles.  Helena to Demetrius:

“Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex. / We cannot fight for love, as men may do; / We should be woo’d, and were not made to woo” [II:ii].

Titiana is even more sexually aggressive than Helena.  She imprisons Ass Head in the forest:

“Out of this wood do not desire to go: / Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no” [III:i].

I would like to emphasize how remarkable this is: A female character is restraining a male character against his consent.  This doubtless would have provoked laughter in the Elizabethan audiences for which it was performed because it would have been considered absurd, uncanny, and unnatural.  Consider, further, that the entire plot is set in motion by Helena’s furious jealousy and talionic rage.  I don’t think that this is a matter of comedy, however.  Without Helena being thrown into a rage, Demetrius would never have pursued Hermia into the forest, nor would Helena’s father and the Duke of Athens and his minions chased them.  Were Helena not in the forest, she would not have been eavesdropped upon by Oberon, and Oberon would not have delegated Puck to drug the killjoy Demetrius with the flower-shaped aphrodisiac.  When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, this creates chaos in the forest.

All of this, the totality of the plot, was propelled by Helena’s Borderline Personality Disorder.  Am I the first literary critic to notice that Helena is a borderliner?  Those with Borderline Personality Disorder shift from absolute love to absolute hatred with the velocity of a single beat of a hummingbird’s wing.  They angelize the object of their desires prematurely and rapidly and then diabolize the object of their desires with equal prematurity and with equal rapidity.  A borderliner dismisses all flaws in the beloved in the ‘love’ phase and dismisses all positive traits in the beloved in the ‘hatred’ phrase.  This movement from absolute love to absolute hatred is often typed “splitting,” which is an unfortunate term.  It is more of a switching than it is a splitting.  Though we do not witness her diabolization of Demetrius, Helena pursues Demetrius with such voracity that she does resemble a borderline-disordered person.

*****

The play’s raison d’etre is to amuse the spectatorship with a spectacle of deformations and denaturations and then reassure that same spectatorship that the Great Chain of Being is still intact or has been restored.  The crises of the play are, in sum, as follows: The Fairy Queen, Lysander, and Demetrius are intoxicated with love-sap.  Within the forest, the characters belong to mutually exclusive societies.  The play-within-the-play is interrupted.  Titiana and Helena go against their traditional feminine roles and pursue male characters.  The Fairy Queen and the Fairy King hate each other.  There is the animalization of the human (the becoming-ass of Bottom).  Characters are mistaken for one another (to repeat, Lysander is confused with Demetrius).  The four lovers are single, as are the Duke and the Duchess-to-be.

In the final act, the power of the floral aphrodisiac has (in most cases) dissolved, the character-tribes that were once separated from one another are now integrated and interleaved (the craftsmen, the duke and duchess, the fairies, the lovers), the harlequinade is performed, Titiana and Helena are no longer playing the role of the huntress, the Fairy Queen and the Fairy King are no longer at variance with each other, Bottom has returned to his human shape, everyone knows who everyone else is, and six of the principal characters are getting married.  I would like to highlight what the culmination of the plot means:

  • No more drugs.
  • No more separateness.
  • No more interruption.
  • No more perverse sexuality.
  • No more conflict.
  • No more bestialization.
  • No more confusion of identity.
  • No more bachelorhood.

Love does not triumph over marriage in the play; marriage triumphs over love.  At the beginning of the play, to state it again, Theseus mandates marriage between Hermia and Demetrius; the only thing that changes is that now, there is a mandatory marriage between Hermia and Lysander.  The play begins with the compulsion of marriage, and it ends with three compulsory marriages.  It is not the case that Hermia frees herself from a marriage that is decreed by the Athenian state; she subjects herself to a different marriage that is decreed by the Athenian state.

Marriage is the Imprint of the Father and the Imprint of the Law.  As Theseus says to Hermia:

“Be advis’d, fair maid. / To you your father should be as a god: / One that compos’d your beauties, yea, and one / To whom you are but as a form in wax / By him imprinted, and within his power / To leave the figure, or disfigure it” [I:i].

Let us not forget that marriage is the effect of the Law of the Father and the Law of the State.  As he explains himself to the Duke of Athens, Lysander’s speech is broken off by what rhetoricians call aposiopesis, and Egeus summons the law:

“Enough, enough, my lord; you have enough! / I beg the law, the law upon his head!” [IV:i].

Another ambiguity in the plot that has never been sufficiently clarified: Does Demetrius genuinely desire Helena at the close of the play, and has the spell of the flower worn off?  His desire for her was a fabricated desire, brought about by the magical flower.  Is his desire for Helena now authentic?  On what basis could we say that it is?  In Shakespearean comedy, as I have written many times before, all of the principals shall be married, whether they want to be or not.  Demetrius’s marriage to Helena might very well be a mandatory marriage, a marriage that is contrary to love, impelled by the unreciprocated love of a woman, the dictates of the Athenian state, and the constraints of the plot.  Again, this same pattern will become integral to All’s Well That Ends Well: Even the name of the pursuing female character (Helena) will be the same.  Demetrius:

“I wot not by what power—/ But by some power it is—my love to Hermia, / Melted as the snow, seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud / Which in my childhood I did dote upon; / And all the faith, the virtue of my heart, / The object and the pleasure of mine eye, / Is only Helena” [IV:i].

He knows not by what power he has fallen out of love with Hermia and fallen into love with Helena.  Notice that Demetrius separates the source of his new love for Helena from his own mind and his own body.  The power that compels him to desire Helena, then, is something exterior to his self.  Could the power of which he speaks come from the lingering effects of the flower-drug?

*****

There are two instances of prodiorthosis in the play, or what are called today “TRIGGER WARNINGS.”  Prodiorthosis = a warning to the audience that something offensive or shocking is about to be said or displayed.  The second is a TRIGGER WARNING after the fact (if such a thing be possible):

Quince: “If we offend, it is with our good will. / That you should think, we come not to be offend, / But with good will” [V:i].

Puck: “If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended, / That you have but slumber’d here / While these visions did appear” [V:i].

The “shadows” are the characters themselves, since the work of art is itself a dream, and Puck reminds us that the adventure in the oneiric forest is a dream within the dream.  As I have written elsewhere, Shakespearean comedy is conjugal propaganda, and the contours of the plot are shaped by a wedding.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself was most likely written on the occasion of a wedding and first staged at a wedding.  This is worth remarking upon because conjugality is the transcendent value of the play.  The sexual tension that is stimulated and aggravated throughout the play ends in the moderation of marriage, the institutionalization of sexuality.  The perversity and the savagery of the huntresses in the play (Titiana, Helena) are tamed by marriage.  As the second prodiorthosis reminds us, the entire plot might have been a dream, an erogenous dream that is cancelled out by a mass-wedding.  The wildness of an erotic dream fizzles out into the crushing boredom of marriage.

*****

From all of the above I draw the principle: Plot is a literary artifice that creates the illusion that the world is organized.  But there is no prestabilized harmony that holds together the world.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Is THE TAMING OF THE SHREW misogynistic? Is THE TAMING OF THE SHREW sexist?

 

For my videos on literature and philosophy, GO HERE!

An analysis of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (William Shakespeare) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

“Happy Birthday, Mr. President! / Happy Birthday to you!”

–Marilyn Monroe, 19 May 1962

With all of the graciousness of a Wall Street businessman offering a homeless man a wine bottle bubbling with urine, a noble lord orchestrates a play for the amusement of drunkard and wastrel Christopher Sly, who is deceived into believing that he is a noble lord himself.  This meta-narrative, called the “Induction,” does not exactly frame the play that we are watching or reading, since the meta-narrative only reappears briefly in the first scene of the first act and does not resurface after the play is over.  (It should be remarked parenthetically that Christopher Sly is pushed above his social station, in the same way the servant Traino will be pushed above his social station when he impersonates his master Lucentio.)

The play in question is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1590-1592), if Shakespeare did indeed compose the text (I have my doubts), and critics have wondered about the relation (or non-relation) between the Induction and the play itself.  The word induction comes from the Latin inducere, which means “to lead into,” and indeed the Induction does feed through the play.  A close reading would bear this out.

Petruchio, Veronese drifter, travels to Padua to find a dowry and a wife (in that order).  A disgustingly selfish person, he courts acid-tongued bachelorette Katherine Minola when he learns how much money he can get from her father, the wealthy Baptista.  Much in the same way that Christopher Sly is deceived into believing that he is a noble lord, Petruchio will be deceived into believing that he is a master and shrew-tamer.  As Christopher Sly, Petruchio is trapped in his own illusions.

Like a triad of lascivious lizards, the suitors Lucentio, Gremio, and Hortensio encircle Katherine’s younger sister, the vacuous narcissist Bianca.  The courters seem genuinely attracted to Bianca and genuinely repelled by Katherine.  No man will have access to Bianca until or unless Katherine is sold to a suitor.  This, however, cannot be said to be the challenge of the play, since Baptista easily gives his eldest daughter to Petruchio.  The courtship of Katherine, such as it is, is insultingly brief.  Katherine feels the insult deeply, and we know this when she says that she was “woo’d in haste” [III:ii].  The challenge of the play is rather: How will Petruchio tame the shrewish Katherine?  How will Petruchio subdue her tongue and force her to submit to his husbandly will?

Let there be no mistake: Katherine is a shrewd shrew.  She is abrasive and hurtful.  In a clear sense, she is the precursor of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, who also uses verbal aggressiveness to camouflage her erotic desires.  Verbal aggressiveness, for both women, is a defensive mechanism.  Both the divine Beatrice and her predecessor Katherine reserve their sharpest rebukes and barbs for the men they love.  It is not fortuitous that Katherine’s opening salvo terminates with the provocative reference to a taboo sex act [see Act Two: Scene One].  Katherine is hardly indifferent to Petruchio.  Her verbal violence is a symptom of her desire for the man.

Whereas Katherine’s desire for Petruchio is passionately real, Petruchio appears to have, at least initially, a purely financial interest in the shrew.  As the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Petruchio seems to have a purely financial interest in women in general.  Petruchio makes his intentions plain when he asks Hortensio if he knows of an eligible bachelorette with a rich dowry:

[I]f thou know / One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife, / As wealth is burden of my wooing dance… / I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua [I:ii].

It is all about the dowry for Petruchio.  Not about love, not even about sex.  Katherine, understandably, sees herself as more than merchandise and resents Petruchio’s attempts to erase her human spontaneity and transform her into a thing of ownership among other things of ownership.

There are differences between the iterations of the Hebraic tablets known as “The Ten Commandments” in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but in all versions, the Tenth Commandment is the same.  In the tenth of the divinely chiseled commandments, women are leveled to the status of real estate, of servants, of livestock: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”  The Tenth Commandment resonates through Petruchio’s description of Katherine:

She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing [III:ii].

Even the language is the same as the language in Exodus and Deuteronomy: the “house,” the “ox,” the “ass,” the “any thing.”

And how does Petruchio get poor Katherine to bow to his will?  The disgusting brute jilts her on their wedding day, famishes her, and disturbs her sleep.  Emotional abuse, starvation, sleep deprivation: The brute denies his wife her basic emotional and psychological needs.  Instead of indulging in uxorious excesses, Petruchio treats his bride disgracefully.  Even a threat of physical violence against Katherine emerges from the mouth of his servant Gremio: “Will [Petruchio] woo her?  Ay, or I’ll hang her” [I:ii].

Whereas Petruchio uses force to get his way, Katherine is a mistress of seduction and subtle manipulation.  Katherine’s revenge is to carnify Petruchio’s power-mirages.  She will become everything that Petruchio wants her to be: pliable, docile, servile.  Katherine remains the shrew—such is her essence—while assuming the disguise of the docile housewife.  She is separable from the disguises that she assumes and ironically dramatizes the role of the submissive bride.  Shakespearean philosophy—that life is dramaturgy, that the world is a stage and we are all performers—would corroborate this suspicion.  From the beginning of the play until its end, Katherine remains the malevolent termagant.  In a play in which characters impersonate one another (Traino impersonates Lucentio, Lucentio impersonates the Reading Tutor Cambio, Hortensio impersonates the Music Tutor Licio), Katherine plays the part of a repentant shrew and plays her part well.  Let us overhear the strength and the irony in her closing address to the big-minded female guests at Lucentio’s dinner party:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience [V:ii].

In these words, Katherine subtly rejects the role that Petruchio tries to impose and superimpose upon her.  If I am mistaken about this (and I am not), how does one explain the fact that we have never seen Petruchio do anything that Katherine says that husbands do?  She is the perfect parody of servility and docility.  Her becoming-parody is absolutely evident in the following conversation:

PETRUCHIO

Come on, i’ God’s name; once more toward our father’s.
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!

KATHERINA

The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now.

PETRUCHIO

I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

KATHERINA

I know it is the sun that shines so bright.

PETRUCHIO

Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house.
Go on, and fetch our horses back again.
Evermore cross’d and cross’d; nothing but cross’d!

HORTENSIO

Say as he says, or we shall never go.

KATHERINA

Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
An if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

PETRUCHIO

I say it is the moon.

KATHERINA

I know it is the moon.

PETRUCHIO

Nay, then you lie: it is the blessed sun.

KATHERINA

Then, God be bless’d, it is the blessed sun:
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it named, even that it is;
And so it shall be so for Katherina [IV:v].

In other words: If I [Petruchio] say that the Moon is the Sun, then the Moon is the Sun.  If I say that the Sun is the Moon, then the Sun is the Moon.  If I say that two plus two equals five, then two plus two equals five.  The fact that Katherine assents to Petruchio’s capriciousness and silliness only highlights the absurdity of what he is saying.  By simulating Petruchio’s fantasy of mastery, she plays out the undoing of his presumptions of mastery.

Who IS Katherine, precisely?  Is she a reluctant conformist?  Is she an inconsiderate conformist?  Is she a vigorous conformist?  To Petruchio, she is the replica of his desires for supremacy, but this is not Katherine’s essence: She presents a ceaselessly multiplying play of masks.  Her self-multiplications enlarge infinitely.  Purely mutative, purely transformative—who is she, really, in herself?  The shrew has multiple names, and this means that she wears multiple guises.  The plurality of her personae is absolutely evident in this passage:

KATHERINA

They call me Katherine that do talk of me.

PETRUCHIO

You lie, in faith, for you are call’d plain Kate, / And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst; / Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom, / Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate, / For dainties are all Kates… [II:i].

The plurality of personae is what provokes Petruchio’s desire; the impossibility of ever mastering her totality is what makes Katherine so bewitchingly shrewish.  If she were vapidly selfsame, as Bianca is, Petruchio would likely not want her.  No matter how old she becomes, even when her luminosity dims, it is probable that she will be desirable to Petruchio.  Because she is never reducible to One Thing.  Which leaves us with these questions: Is it truly the case that Kate has been domesticated?  Has Petruchio not been Kated?  Has the shrew indeed been tamed, or has not Petruchio been beshrewed?

Joseph Suglia

For my videos on literature and philosophy, GO HERE!

Happy Father’s Day: Or, Chopo Chicken

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY: OR, CHOPO CHICKEN

by Joseph Suglia

Chopo Chicken in Chicago, Illinois: the most insulting eatery I have yet attended.

The dwellers of Lincoln Park were entranced by the parti-colored mural on the residential-street side of this chowtrough for three months before its vernissage.  This makes the experience that I had all the more disheartening.

The place is grungy.  The Styrofoam containers are flecked with filth, even before being loaded with the swill that is hawked here.  Were they taken from the trash and reused?  There are clean Styrofoam containers beneath the counter, if you ask for them.

The Yucca fries are cold and old.  They taste like week-old French fries and are smothered in a bilious goo.

A man in a grime-sodden gown takes out a cleaver and hatchets a whole chicken into quarters.  The chicken is encrusted with an anthracitic substance.  The chicken is, strangely, almost meatless.

It is roadkill chicken.  It looks like a chicken that was killed on the road.  It looks as if the chicken, with Schopenhauerian exertion, strove to cross the road only to end up as faux-Peruvian cuisine at Chopo Chicken.

The portions are cafeteria-size.  I understand well the fundamental principle of business: buy cheap and sell dear.  It is clear that the gangsterish restaurateurs want to spend as little money as possible and charge as much money as possible.  But if they want their restaurant to survive–and nine out ten restaurants go extinct–they have to offer something that people would want to eat or would want to eat again.

Joseph Suglia

Shakespeare’s CORIOLANUS / An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS by Shakespeare / Shakespeare’s THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS: An Interpretation / Commentary on CORIOLANUS (Shakespeare) / Shakespeare’s CORIOLANUS: An Analysis

THE POETRY OF CONSERVATISM: An Analysis of THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS (William Shakespeare)

by Joseph Suglia

“Poverty and underdevelopment are not God-given but are man-made, and can be unmade by man.”

—“The Move Forward,” Christopher Hitchens, 21 June 1971

THE POETRY OF CONSERVATIVISM

If you would like to know where your friends stand politically, you could do no better than give them The Tragedy of Coriolanus (circa 1605-1608) to read, arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy but also his most politically reactionary play.  If your friends side with Caius Martius Coriolanus, they are likely more conservative.  If your friends side with the Roman crowd, they are likely more liberal.

The play is perhaps the prototypical poem of conservativism and even more politically conservative than The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, which explains why the work is T.S. Eliot’s favorite play, why Hazlitt dislikes it so much, and why Brecht, the radical Marxist dramatist, turned Coriolanus into a fascist dictator in his 1951 reinterpretation of the tragedy.  It does not explain, however, why Beethoven (a republican in the old sense of the word, someone who we would today call a liberal) wrote an overture in the general’s honor.

The most intelligent architects of modern political conservativism (including Hegel) are Machiavelli and Hobbes.  One of the premises of modern political conservatism is an intuition that can be found in the writings of both Machiavelli and Hobbes: Do not trust the crowd, for the crowd is fickle, unreliable, stupid, lazy, selfish, and malicious.  If you trust in the crowd, you are likely a liberal.  If you think that the crowd is fickle, unreliable, stupid, lazy, selfish, and malicious, you are likely a conservative.

The rightist politics of The Tragedy of Coriolanus are evident from the very first scene on.  It is a politics that is contemptuous of democracy.

STARVING THE POOR

When we first see him, Coriolanus is astride a horse, condemning the poor of Rome for demanding food to eat.  He chastises the famishing wretches for having the temerity to beg for corn, for the criminal impertinence of demanding corn from the aristocracy.  The crowd claims that the Roman nobility has more food than it could ever eat (“If they [the patricians] would yield us but the superfluity while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us [the poor] humanely” [I:i]); when he became consul, the real-world Coriolanus pledged to withhold food from the poor unless the rights of the poor were revoked.  The most salient of these rights was the right to appeal to the tribunes, the representatives of the people—a right that was given to appease the people after the plebeian secession.  The real-world Coriolanus loathed, more than anything, the system of tribunes, of the vocalizers (and influencers) of the popular will.  Not only did the real-life Coriolanus deny the poor corn after he became consul, demanding the rescission of the rights of the poor—he demanded that their spokesmen be divested of power, as well.

The Tragedy of Coriolanus was composed at a time of grain shortage, when hunger in England reached near-famine levels.  The insurrection of the Roman people does not recall Ancient Roman history at all; it recalls the Midlands Revolt of 1607, as well as the insurgencies and rebellions in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire, which were fomented in response to insufficient harvests and the food-hoarding of the English aristocracy.  There is even the appearance of English mills in the grain of the text (“’Tis south the city mills” [I:x])—as the 1878 Clarendon edition glosses, this refers to the mills of London, not those of Rome.  As is always the case in Shakespeare, though the subject matter is historical, the play is presentist, not antiquarian: It is a work that concerns not Roman antiquity, properly, but the Elizabethan present in which Shakespeare is writing.

We are supposed to believe that the macerating poor have no right to ask for food, that they should starve to death rather than importune Coriolanus, who alone has the right to the things of necessity (food, shelter, clothing), to comfort, and to pleasure.  He even makes fun of the words that they use (“an-hungry” is the demotic style, a low-class colloquialism): “[The poor] said they were an-hungry” [I:i].  The poor “sighed forth proverbs— / That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat, / That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not / Corn for the rich men only” [I:i].  These all might be platitudes, as Coriolanus points out (some of which were emblazoned on placards held aloft by the unruly crowd in Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 cinematic interpretation), but who has the right to tell the hungry that they are not hungry?  And what arrogance it is to mock the hungry for articulating their hunger and for clamoring to satisfy their hunger!  Coriolanus repudiates the poor for the need to put food in their stomachs.  The brutality and factuality of hunger are undeniable.  Coriolanus is saying, in essence, “I don’t want to hear about your hunger” with the same incensed dismissiveness and lofty indifference with which Chris Christie said that he doesn’t want to hear the New Jersey poor talk about raising the minimum wage (it has been raised twenty-five cents to a grudging $8.85 in the year in which I am revising this essay, 2019).

How dare the poor beg for bread!  How dare they insist that their stomachs be filled!  For their irreducibly human need to eat, the poor are called “dissentious rogues” [I:i]—rascally wretches and wretched beggars.  The a priori assumption is as follows: The more the poor have, the less the nobility has.  The less the poor have, the more the nobility has.  The hungrier the poor are, the more prosperous the nobility.  The humiliation and immiseration of the poor lead to the dignity and luxury of the rich: “The leanness that afflicts us [the poor, the miserable], the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them” [I:i].  The starvation of the poor equals the elevation of the nobility, and the fetid, contaminating sewer water of the poor should never flow into a conflux with the pure waters of the nobility.  Thus, Martius espouses an Ancient-Roman precursor of trickle-down economics: Feed the rich, and perhaps, someday, scraps shall fall from their table, scraps on which the poor may snack.

Martius has a granular understanding of the poor.  He sees the poor as if they were so many grains of corn, so many motes, so many “fragments” [I:i]; he sees them not as individual totalities, but as disjointed pieces broken from the whole of the Roman commonality.  He even welcomes crushing them in the war against the Volscians: “Then we shall ha’ means to vent / Our musty superfluity” [I:i].  They are either grains of corn or vermin verminizing England.  For the crime of hunger, Martius expresses the wish that the poor be mass-exterminated in the Roman-Volscian war, as if they were rats: “The Volsces have much corn.  Take these rats thither / To gnaw their garners” [I:i].  (Garners = granaries.)  Send them to the wars!  Coriolanus echoes exactly what the Roman poor say about the patricians—to the wealthy, the poor are either fodder for the war or starvelings: “If the wars eat us not up, they will” [I:i].

The play itself is on the side of Coriolanus, not on the side of the poor.  Already, in the first scene, this is evident.  To be clear to the point of bluntness: The play’s glorification of Coriolanus makes the tragedy a reactionary, rightist, ultraconservative work of dramatic literature.  If I am wrong about this (and I am not), why are the poor not presented in a poetical manner?  Only Coriolanus is enshrined with poetical loftiness and lyrical magnificence.  The poor are not given a poetical voice.  Only Coriolanus is given a poetical voice.  The reason for this might be, as Hazlitt writes, that the principle of poetry is “everything by excess” and is therefore married with the language of power.  Poetry is not about equality; it is about the contrast (the dissymmetry) between the low and the high.  Poverty is not an easy subject for poetry, which is nothing without elevated moods and elevated language.  It is, of course, possible to write a poem about food stamps, but it is not possible to write a good poem about food stamps without some poetical sublimation or fantastication.  Hazlitt’s idea is that The Tragedy of Coriolanus is fascistic (though he does not use this word, writing, as he did, in 1816) because poetry is fascistic by its very essence.  This would be to view the politics of the play through the speculum of poetry rather than to explain the poetry of the play through the speculum of politics.

THE INFANTICIDAL MOTHER

Coriolanus’s war-loving and war-mongering mother is living vicariously through her soldier-son.  Volumnia, the bellicose mater, only becomes peace-loving when her son wages a war against her country, Rome [I will return to this point below].

The real mother of Coriolanus was named Veturia, and the real-world wife was named Volumnia.  It is extraordinary to notice that Shakespeare gives the fictional mother the name of Coriolanus’s real-world wife.

Indeed, there is a disturbing sexuality between mother and son in the play.  The mother says to Virgilia, Coriolanus’s wife, in prose, “If my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honour than in the embracements of his bed, where he would show most love” [I:iii].  The mother is projecting herself, through the medium of the imagination, into the mind of Virgilia, Coriolanus’s wife.  But this is trifling chitchat when set against the epiphany: The mother is imagining what it would be like to have sex with her own son.  Even more arrestingly shocking and shockingly arresting is the recognition: The mother would rather her son die in war than have sex with anyone (else?), as her succeeding remark makes clear.  Asked the sensible question of what she would think if her son died in combat, the mother responds that “his good report” (the report of his war death) should have been her son: “I therein would have found issue” [I:iii].  “Issue” here is meant in the original sense of “offspring,” and the flabbergasting implication is that her son will only fulfill his human promise when pierced by the sharp end of the enemy’s sword.  She continues: “Hear me profess sincerely: had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Martius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action” [I:iii].  Not only is the mother introjecting herself, imaginarily, into the role of her son’s wife; she is declaring to this same wife that the mother would rather her son put his life at stake on the slaughterfield than enjoy the pleasures of the bed (“voluptuously surfeit out of action”).  This implies, again, that she has imagined having sexual intercourse with her own son and that she is gleefully anticipating her son’s lethal besmearing.  She would have him become a “thing of blood” [II:ii].

The mother’s dark romance with her son takes the form of violence and death.  Volumnia salivatingly counts the scars that had been inflicted and inscribed on her son’s body at the expulsion of the Tarquins, cataloguing his wounds with malicious lust (“malicious,” “maliciously,” or “malice,” used eleven times in the text, is one of the most signifying words in the play): “There will be large cicatrices to show the people when he shall stand for his place.  He received in the repulse of Tarquin seven hurts i’th’ body” [II:i].  She proudly numbers the sum of her son’s wounds at twenty-five—“He had, before this last expedition, twenty-five wounds upon him” [II:i]—and is gushingly elated to learn that the number has increased to twenty-seven.  Menenius, the substitute father, is overjoyed to learn that his substitute son Coriolanus has been wounded in the Battle of Corioli.  He is delighted to report that the surrogate son has been wounded “[i]’th’ shoulder and i’th’ left arm” [II:i].

Lawrence Olivier would giggle uncontrollably as he read the line in which Volumnia declares her willingness to perform six of Hercules’ labors (“If you had been the wife of Hercules, / Six of his labours you’d have done and saved / Your husband so much sweat” [IV:i]), but is it so difficult to conceive the woman hacking away with a sword at the Hydra?  She is a militaristic machine, and, as I have argued, one who would rather see her only son killed on the slaughterfield than catch him in bed with a woman.  War, or the vicarious experience of war, is motherly pleasure for Volumnia.

Ralph Fiennes was very wise to put Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) in a military uniform that vaguely resembles a uniform of the Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army in his film interpretation of the play.  Her role as military commandant (for what else is she?) supersedes her role as a mother.  She cares more about Martius’s military victories than about his well-being.  No, worse than that: She is seized with a kind of bloodlust, and this is absolutely evident in the following lines: “[Blood] more becomes a man / Than gilt his trophy / The breasts of Hecuba / When she did suckle Hector looked not lovelier / Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood / At Grecian sword contemning” [I:iii].

Martius fights for the mother, in the name of the mother.  No wonder he is psychologically stultified—never developing into an adult with the consciousness of an adult, never loosening or severing dependency on the mother.  No wonder he doesn’t know how to talk to the common people, no wonder he cares only for himself and for his mother (for the mother is the origin of his selfhood), no wonder he hoards the grain for himself and for his peers.  His loyalty to his motherland is loyalty to his mother Volumnia.

Consider that Coriolanus is a mother-obsessed fascist, and this consideration gives one insight into the psychology of fascist consciousness: Overmothered mammothrepts become fascists (Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), anyone?).  Martius was a fascist long before the word existed.  For the word fascism comes from the Latin fascis, which means “bundle,” and under fascism, an entire society is bundled around a single authoritarian leader.  Martius is bundled by the mother.

War is an industry.  Beyond the psychodynamic dimensions of her relation to her son, does Volumnia not also have a financial interest in her son’s military victories?  When Martius defeats the Volscians, the defeat of the Volscians benefits Rome.  If Martius, now “Coriolanus,” as the Volscian general, were to defeat Rome, this would obviously erode the mother’s position of authority.  We see, in the play, that familial relationships are also financial relationships.  Volumnia has a relation to her son that reminds one of the financial and erotic interest that Donald Trump takes in his daughter Ivanka Trump.  What benefits Rome benefits Volumnia.  His victories against Volsci are her political and financial victories.  Though she says that she would rather have the entire city perish than lose her son, could this be because Volumnia believes that the city will perish without her son?

KILLING MACHINE (NEARLY) BECOMES CONSUL

To say that Martius is a great soldier would be a gross understatement.  He is an army-annihilating zombie, an anthropomorphic mega-drone, a super-tank in human form.  He hospitalizes the best fighters and slaughters everyone else.  His worthiest enemy, Aufidius, flees for his life, is driven away breathless by Martius five times [I:x].  Martius is pure lethality and neither Volsci nor Rome can win a war without him when he is on the other side.

Martius surges into Volsci and besieges the city of Corioli.  The Roman senate and the Roman people are so impressed with the besiegement and with his military performance that they nominate Martius consul and rename him with the cognomen “Coriolanus,” named after the toponym “Corioli.”  Thus begins the becoming-Volscian of Martius.  The mother seems dismayed by the renaming of her Caius Martius: “‘Coriolanus’ must I call thee?” [II:i].  The re-nomination of Martius as “Coriolanus” marks the beginning of the veering-away from the mother, which will be short-lived.

The soldier soon proves to be an inept statesman—he shows such contempt for the plebeians that they reject him as consul, as his appointment is not confirmed, and expel him from the city of Rome.

The brutishness and arrogance of Coriolanus are fitting for a soldier, but less than fitting for a statesman.  As I suggested above, he does not know how to speak to the commoners; he has no feeling for the commonal.  He is the skillful military general who cannot function as a politician.  He is reluctant to speak to the people after being nominated consul [II:ii], as he is reluctant to canvass them for votes [II:iii]; when he does address the people directly, it is almost always with disgust.  Coriolanus’s language defeats him.

When Coriolanus declares, “I banish you” [III:iii] to the mob, it is as if he were a disgruntled ex-employee who, seconds after being fired, shouts at his employer: “You can’t fire me; I fire you!”  A woman breaks up with her boyfriend.  The erstwhile boyfriend shoots back: “You want to break up with me?  I am breaking up with you!”  Coriolanus is every bit as childish as the ex-employee and the rejectee—he is a child-adult or an adult-infant.

The Romans estrange Coriolanus, literally: They turn him into a stranger, a transformation which was presaged by his name change.  When he is re-nominated “Coriolanus,” it is not long thereafter until the people of Rome see him as a foreigner, as though he were a resident of Corioli.  The Romans see Coriolanus now as a foreigner, but are the Romans not foreigners to Coriolanus?  Along the same lines: The Romans see the Volscians as foreigners, but are the Volscians not foreigners to the Romans?  The Volscians have vanished into the abysses of history, but they were a formicine tribe that gathered south of Rome—“formicine” (ant-like) only because they dwelled upon the hills of what is now Southern Italy.  When Coriolanus is repatriated to Volsci, why do we see this as a betrayal?  Why are so many of us pious toward the country in which we were born?  Why is Rome the home-space—especially considering that Coriolanus was a stranger in “his” own motherland?  Why are the marshland people of Volsci the strangers?  Why do the swamps and hills of Volsci form a shadowzone?

THE PRIVATE AND THE PUBLIC

Coriolanus is incapable of separating his public and private selves.  (For a discussion of the separation of public and private selves in bourgeois society, see Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche.)  As far as I can tell, he only gives one soliloquy, in the fourth scene of the first act (“You souls of geese / That bear the shapes of men…”)—this is the only time in the play when he is alone.  Otherwise, he is forever enrounded by other people.

If Coriolanus does not understand the difference between the public and the private, this is likely because his mother never taught him the difference between the public and the private.  Indeed, his mother nurtured him to become a soldier, thus confusing his familial and public roles.  We see this confusion of roles clearly in the moving scene of reconciliation between mother and son.  Martius’s tearful discourse with his own mother would have been more appropriate in private, not held before an audience of Volscian thugs.  His exhibition gives Aufidius free hand to taunt him for being a mamma’s boy.

Coriolanus has the tendency to say whatever comes to his mind without filter.  A particularly illustrative example of Coriolanus’s tendency to blurt things that should not be said in public: He asks the Roman senate to forgo the custom of requiring the nominee to the consulship to speak to the people.  This is a custom, he says, that “might well / Be taken from the people” [II:ii].  Now, as the editors of the Arden edition point out, the outrageousness and inflammatoriness of this remark could be soothed somewhat if we imagine that he is addressing his remarks to Menenius.  In Ralph Fiennes’ contemporization, a live microphone picks up Coriolanus’s careless remark—which should not have been heard by the people and certainly not by the tribunes.  In the film, at least, he didn’t intend for anyone but Menenius to hear what he said.

The one exception to his ignorance of the distinction between the private and public spheres is when Coriolanus tells a citizen, from whom he would solicit votes, that he has “wounds to show [the citizen] which shall be [his] in private” [II:iii].  The crowd unjustly resents him for not displaying his stigmata in the agora (yes, I know this is a Greek and not a Latin term).

His public and private languages are mixed together, as Menenius acknowledges: Coriolanus is “ill-schooled / In bolted language. Meal and bran together / He knows without distinction” [III:i].  Coriolanus cannot disengage crass language (bran) from diplomatic language (meal); he cannot distinguish the crude from the pure.  He speaks insultingly when the language of diplomacy would be more appropriate.

HIS LEAST FAVORITE WORDS

There are four words that “trigger” Coriolanus, and they are kindly, shall, traitor, and boy.  When these words are said to him, in certain contexts, he loses his mind.

Lucius Sicinius Vellutus dispenses with personal pronouns when he gives Coriolanus a command: “It is a mind that shall remain a poison / Where it is, not poison any further” [III:i; emphasis mine].

Coriolanus’s response: “Mark you his absolute ‘shall’?” [III:i].  The shall is described by Coriolanus as coming from the “horn and noise o’th’ monster’s” [III:i], one of the vocalizers / influencers of the will-to-power of the people.

What incenses Coriolanus is the absolute, peremptory command of the people—the relativization of the desired absoluteness of his will-to-power.  The nobility no longer has absolute authority if it shall submit to the will-to-power of the people.  The shall announces the conflux of the plebeians and the patricians, or indeed the subordination of the patricians to the plebeians, which is exemplified by Coriolanus’s metaphor of the crows pecking the eagles: “Thus we debase / The nature of our seats… and bring in / The crows to peck the eagles” [III:i].  The crows raiding the eagles’ aeries are the poor and their tribunes; the eagles are the patricians.

When Sicinius calls Coriolanus a “traitor,” this incites from Coriolanus a torrent of insults, a full-throated denunciation of the people: “The fires i’th’ lowest hell fold in the people!” [III:iii].  One Word instigates the total denunciation of the people—and this means that One Word is what drives Coriolanus into / brings on the sentence of banishment, causes his expulsion from the city of Rome.

The third word, boy, spoken as a taunt by Aufidius, prompts a recognition of what Coriolanus is: an adult-infant.  Insults only hurt us when we recognize them as truthful.  Is it not thinkable, then, that Coriolanus is a boy?

HE LEAVES ROME

Coriolanus sallies forth from Rome and resituates himself in Antium, the capital of Volsci and home to Aufidius, leader of the Volscians.  (Antium is present-day Anzio, a coastal city in the South of Italy.)  He then does what anyone in his state would do: He joins the opposite side and fights against the civilization that nurtured him.  Of course, this is a non sequitur: It doesn’t follow that banishment must lead to defection.  It certainly doesn’t follow that banishment must lead to war against the country that banishes you.

I imagine that others might say that Coriolanus, chewing off the umbilicus, is developing into a full-blown individual.  This, however, is doubtful, given that he becomes no one at all [I shall return to this point below].

Coriolanus seeks a “world elsewhere” [III:iii]: the other-world of Volsci, the very city against which he sallied as a general.  In the introduction to the Arden edition of the play, Peter Holland makes the brilliant point that liminal spaces (such as the sea) are not enough for Coriolanus.  The warrior must either have his way or defect to the other side—there is no medium, no middle ground for him.  He wages a war against Rome after he doesn’t get what he wants, leading the Volscian army against Rome and its territories in a strike of vengeance.  The Muttersohn becomes dragon: Initially, he goes alone to Antium, “[l]ike to a lonely dragon that his fen / Makes feared and talked of more than seen” [IV:i].  He approaches the dragon (Aufidius) and then becomes the dragon of the Volscians, “fight[ing] dragon-like” [IV:vii] against the land of his birth.  Notice the draconic metaphor used by Menenius: “This Marcius is grown / from man to dragon: he has wings; he’s more than a / creeping thing” [V:iv].

THE RECONCILIATION WITH MOTHER ROME

Incubated by the mother, Caius Martius crawls out of the womb a super-soldier who single-handedly massacres entire populations, armies and civilians alike.  Now, the mother-obsessed soldier turns against the motherland.  This leads one to wonder: Is Coriolanus’s hatred for Rome not powered by an unconscious hatred for his mother?  Is Coriolanus’s draconic attack on Rome not also a tacit attack on his mother?  When disclaims Rome, is he not also disclaiming his mother?

Menenius, the substitute father, appeals to Coriolanus in vain.  Only Coriolanus’s mother moves her son to give up his campaign of vengeance against Rome; he gives up his antipathy for Rome after the mother arrives and pleads with her son to stop fighting against the Roman people.  She smothers the blaze of his hatred with her tears.  Martius only knows two extremes, two antipodes: He is either mother’s infant, or he is a repatriated zombie who fights against his motherland.

Turning against the mother, Coriolanus was reduced to a “kind of nothing” [V:i], as Cominius identified him.  When his mother (accompanied by his wife and his son) creeps into the enemy camp, there is an emotional spectacle in front of the dead-hearted army thugs; only then does he show human feeling.  I consider this to be the most emotionally powerful scene in the whole of Shakespeare—someone who is a cipher, a zero, becomes human, even though he never becomes completely human.  It is as if the mother is giving birth to him a second time—it is a palingenesis rather than a genesis.

In the real world, the mother’s intercession was an act for which the statue of Fortuna was established; the act was blessed by the memorial.  The mother and the wife are memorialized for ending the siege on Rome: “The ladies have prevailed” [V:iv]; “Behold your patroness, the life of Rome!” [V:v].  And yet the reconciliation between Rome and Volsci was merely a surface reconciliation: The Volscians did later launch unsuccessful sallies against the Romans, all of which were squelched.

I hold that The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Measure for Measure, and Timon of Athens are among Shakespeare’s greatest accomplishments as a playwright.  While these plays are by no means unknown, they are certainly much less known and celebrated than the overrated The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  Particularly, I second T.S. Eliot’s opinion that The Tragedy of Coriolanus is immeasurably superior to The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  Of course, Hamlet will kill Claudius, usurper and parricide; there is no surprise in that.  His vacillations are a mere plot contrivance to temporize until the inescapable killing of the stepfather; as I will argue in my essay on The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the play is about the problem of free will, but this is not the right place to pursue this argument.  Whereas the conflict in Hamlet is simple, the conflict within Coriolanus is much more complex.  Coriolanus’s decisions to finesse a conciliation of the Volscians and a reconciliation of Volsci and Rome must be understood in psychodynamic terms as reconciliation with the mother and as the return to the uterus.

DISMEMBERMENT

All seems well until Aufidius defames Coriolanus to the Volscians and takes away his “stolen name” [V:vi], stripping him of his cognomen.  He instead refers to him by his birth name—Martius—thus symbolically reverting his opponent to his infant status.  Martius is then hacked to death by Aufidius’s conspirators, a move which is itself a form of infantile regression.

The terrifying mob assault at the end of the play recalls the dismemberment of Pentheus beneath the talons of the crazed Maenads at the end of Euripedes’ Bacchae.  Coriolanus is torn to pieces, ripped to shreds, by the blades of Aufidius’s assassins, while they chant, “Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!” [V:vi].  The mob cheers them on; the mob has not forgotten that Coriolanus has widowed and orphaned so many of them.

The climax is suggesting: If you try to eat the mob, then the mob will eat you.  The mob wants to eat Coriolanus.  And Coriolanus wants to eat the mob.  That is to say: The rich are eating up the poor at the beginning of the play: “If the wars eat us [the poor] not up, they [the rich] will” [I:i].  Coriolanus is feasting upon the poor, consuming the poor, ingurgitating the poor, who will then be ejected from Coriolanus’s anus.

Two figures run throughout the play: the figure of eating-the-poor and the figure of being-eaten-by-the-poor.  The second appears at the close of the play, wherein Martius is devoured by the mob.  At the climax, it is indeed the poor who are devouring the rich.  Both figures nourish my suspicion that politics is largely about food.  Those who are more conservative want to hoard all the food for themselves; those who are more liberal want to distribute the food evenly.  Coriolanus is keeping pace with his promise.  Knifed as the mob shouts for his blood, Coriolanus is realizing the supreme desires of his mother which have always been his own.

Joseph Suglia

Corregidora / Corrigenda – by Joseph Suglia

 

 

Corregidora / Corrigenda

by Joseph Suglia

A typical response to genocide is the injunction to remember.  All of us have heard the words “Never forget!” in reference to the Shoah.  Most are familiar with Kristallnacht, with the Names Project, also known as “the AIDS Quilt.”  The March for Humanity memorializes the mass-murder of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.  Every year, at this time in April, the Rwandan government urges its citizens to kwibuka—the Rwandan word for “to remember.” To kwibuka, to remember the countless Tutsis who were slaughtered in the massacre of 1994.

But how should one respond when genocide is misremembered?  Is the misremembrance of genocide superior to the forgetting of genocide?

Which is worse, distortion or oblivion?

Is it worse to minimize, for example, the number of Armenians who were killed at the beginning of the twentieth century, or to forget that the genocide of Armenians ever occurred?

The most dominant medium of the twentieth century was the cinema, and the cinema still has the power to shape, and to misshape, collective memory.

Over the past seven years, a talentless hack filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino has manufactured films that I would not hesitate to describe as “genocide pornography.”  That is to say, these are films that would turn genocide into an object of consumption, an object of enjoyment.  These are also films that disfigure historical consciousness.

Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that the Jews defeated the Nazis.  Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they might believe that Hitler was assassinated.  They might believe that, in general, African slaves rose up and overcame their enslavers.  They might believe that every African slave in antebellum America was a free agent.  Not an insurrectionist like Nat Turner, but an action figure like Django.

But what if misremembrance were not a disfiguration or a distortion of memory?  What if misremembrance plays a constitutive and formative role in memory itself?

Freudian psychoanalysis has something to say about the interpenetration of remembrance and misremembrance.

At the earliest stage of his career, between the years 1895 and 1897, Freud formulated what is called “seduction theory.”  Seduction theory is based on the idea that sexual trauma is pathogenic—that is, that sexual abuse produces neuroses.

Freud rejected seduction theory in 1897, but this does not mean that he silenced the voices of abused children.  From the beginning of his career until its end, Freud never ceased to emphasize that sexual trauma has pathological effects.

Why did Freud reject seduction theory?  Because it was too linear, too simple, because it did not take into consideration the supremacy of the unconscious.

The memory of sexual trauma, Freud recognized, might be repressed, sublimated, externalized, transferred, reintrojected, reimagined, or fictionalized.

This does not mean that when children claim that they have been sexually abused, they are lying.  It means, rather, that experiences of abuse pass through the imagination and the imagination passes through the unconscious.  Seduction theory did not take the imagination—die Phantasie—into account and therefore had to be abandoned.

The unconscious, as Freud wrote to Wilhelm Fleiss, does not distinguish between fact and fantasy.

It is difficult for a victim of abuse to acknowledge his or her trauma directly, and Freud knew this.  Sexual trauma, after it occurs, does not manifest itself directly or immediately, but epiphenomenally—that is to say, symptomatically.  It shows itself in disguise.  It dramatizes itself.  It retraumatizes.  It might be phantasmatically reconstituted.

From the Freudian standpoint, remembrance and misremembrance are not mutually exclusive.

There is a third form of misremembrance that I would like to pause over.  It is the kind of anamnesis or déjà vu when an individual recollects not her own individual history, but the history of past generations, the history of her ancestors.  Cultural memory, seen from this perspective, would be a form of misremembrance.

Such misremembrance could only be figured in art.

The literature of Gayl Jones reminds us that the remembrance of personal trauma always contains a cultural dimension, that all memory is misremembrance.

The past that you have experienced is not the past that you remember.

When I first heard the title of Jones’s first novel — Corregidora  (published in 1975) — I thought it was “corrigenda.”

Corrigenda: a list of errors in a published manuscript.

* * * * *

At the novel’s opening, lounge singer Ursa Corregidora is shoved down a staircase by her husband, Mutt — a catastrophic blow that results in her infertility. After she renounces her husband, Ursa enters into a relationship with Tadpole, the owner of the Happy Café, the bar at which she performs. Like all of her significant relationships with men, this second relationship proves disastrous and is doomed to failure.

Every man in the novel, without exception, sees Ursa as a “hole” — that is, as a beguiling and visually appealing receptacle to be penetrated. The narrative suggests this on the figural level. A talented novelist, Jones weaves images of orifices throughout her text — tunnels that swallow and tighten around trains, lamellae such as nostrils, mouths, wounds, etc. Although one of Ursa’s “holes” is barren, another “hole” is bountifully “prosperous”  — her mouth, from which the “blues” issue. A movement of sonic exteriorization corresponds to a counter-movement of physiological interiorization.

It is easy to be trapped by these more immediate, socio-sexual dimensions of the narrative. Corregidora might seem, prima facie, to be nothing more than another novel about a woman imprisoned in abusive and sadistic relationships with appropriative men. But the meanings of Corregidora are far more profound than this.  A “transcendental” framework envelops the immediate narrative and casts it in relief, thereby enhancing its significance.  We learn that Ursa is the great-granddaughter of Portuguese slave-trader and procurer Corregidora, who sired both Ursa’s mother and grandmother.  Throughout the course of the novel, the men in Ursa’s life take on a resemblance to Corregidora — and this resemblance sheds light on both the sexual basis of racism and the tendency of some oppressed cultures to take on the traits of imperialist hegemonies.  According to the logic of the novel, the children of slaves resemble either slaves or slave drivers.  Even within communities born of slavery, the novel suggests, there persist relationships of enslavement.  “How many generations had to bow to his genital fantasies?” Ursa asks at one point, referring to Corregidora the Enslaver.  As long as hierarchical relationships form between men and women in the African-American community, Jones’s novel suggests, there will never be an end to this period of acquiescence; Corregidora will continue to achieve posthumous victories.

As long as hierarchical relationships form between men and women in the African-American community, the novel suggests, the enslavers will continue to achieve posthumous victorious.

As long as hierarchical relationships form between men and women in the African-American community, the novel suggests, the segregationists and the white supremacists will continue to achieve posthumous victories.

To return to the opening statement of this essay: A typical response to genocide is the injunction to remember. Although her infertility robs Ursa of the ability to “make generations” — something that, she is taught, is the essence of being-woman — she can still “leave evidence,” can still attest to the historical memory of slavery.  All documents that detailed Corregidora’s treatment of his slaves were seemingly destroyed, as if the abolition of slavery abolished memory itself.  According to the injunction of the Corregidora women (Ursa’s ancestors), one must testify, one must re-member, one must “leave evidence.”  And yet memory is precisely Ursa’s problem.  Memory cripples her.  Throughout the novel, Ursa struggles to overcome the trauma of her personal past.  And this past — in particular, the survival in memory of her relationship with Mutt — belongs to the larger, communal past that is her filial legacy.  Her consciousness is rigidified, frozen in the immemorial past of the Corregidora women.  This “communal” past is doomed to repeat itself infinitely, thus suspending the presence of the present — and, in particular, Ursa’s individual experience of the present.  Her individual experience of the present is indissociably married to her personal past, and her most intimate past is, at the same time, also the past of her community.  The words that Ursa uses to describe her mother could also apply to Ursa herself: “It was as if their memory, the memory of all the Corregidora women, was her memory too, as strong within her as her own private memory, or almost as strong.”

At the shocking and unforgettable close of the novel, the past and present coincide almost absolutely.  When, after twenty-two years of estrangement, Ursa is reunited with her first husband, the historical memory of slavery is superimposed and mapped onto their relationship. Both Ursa and Mutt become allegorical figures, each representing slave and slaveholder, respectively.  The present-past and the past-present reflect each other in an infinite mirror-play until they both become almost indistinguishable from each other.

At the juncture of both temporalities is an inversion of power relations that comes by way of a sex act.  Ursa performs fellatio on her first husband.  Oral sex replaces oral transmission.  Here we have the perpetuation of a traumatic past, and yet it is a repetition with a difference.  Fellatio is disempowering for the man upon whom it is performed; dangerously close to emasculation, it is experienced as “a moment of broken skin but not sexlessness, a moment just before sexlessness, a moment that stops just before sexlessness.”  For the woman, by contrast, it might be an act vacant of all sensuality, one that is abstracted of all emotional cargo.  Fellatio might infuse the performer with a feeling of power’s intensification; its objective might not be the enhancement of erotic pleasure, but of the pleasure that comes with the enhancement of one’s feeling of power.

By playing the role of the guardian of memory, Ursa dramatizes the intersection of her individual past with a communal past.  The paralysis of historical consciousness sets in: “My veins are centuries meeting.”

End of quotation, and the end of the essay.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

 

 

Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE / An Analysis of Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE / Die fröhliche Wissenschaft / THE GAY SCIENCE by Friedrich Nietzsche / What does Nietzsche mean by “God is dead”? / What does this mean?: “What does not kill me makes me stronger” / Nietzsche and Schopenhauer / Was Nietzsche a proto-Nazi? / Was Nietzsche a fascist? / Was Nietzsche a misogynist? / Was Nietzsche a feminist? / Was Nietzsche a sexist? / What is the “Eternal Recurrence of the Same”? / What is the “will-to-power”? / Nietzsche and “The Will to Power” / Nietzsche and “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same” / Nietzsche and Buddhism / Nietzsche and Hinduism

For my videos on philosophy and literature, GO HERE!

On Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE

by Joseph Suglia

“At the beach and in the sand, small mussels are splashed about, into them we wriggle and see only wrigglers but never the waves and upsurge of beings!”

—Martin Heidegger, Black Notebooks, October 1931

FROM THE EARLY PERIOD TO THE MIDDLE PERIOD

The middle period of Nietzschean thought begins with The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) (1882; 1887).  Its invigorated and invigorating philosophy was made possible by the largely destructive Human, All-Too-Human (1878; 1886) and Daybreak (1881; 1887), the two books that immediately preceded The Gay Science.  In Human, All-Too-Human, Nietzsche explodes the concept of the free will and reveals the obscene selfishness, the crass self-interestedness, that underlies all human conduct.  In Daybreak, Nietzsche argues that all morality is false—indeed, impossible—if we conceive of moral behavior as being voluntary or other-directed.

The foundation of Nietzschean thought could be represented by one word: anankē (the Greek word for necessity).

We do not control what we think; we do not control what we do.  The sources of thought and action never exist within the horizons of consciousness.  All human thought and activity are uncontrollable / involuntary—that is to say, necessary—and therefore there is no reason to celebrate anyone for his or her “heroism” or condemn anyone for his or her “immoral” behavior.  It makes no sense, therefore, to regret what one has said or done, as it makes no sense to regret what one has not said or not done.  We are free to choose only what necessity has chosen for us.  Persephone rolls the dice of fate in Hades; we are free to play along.

The Gay Science—and the gay science—is the passionate assumption of necessity, amor fati (“the love of fate”).  The gay science is gaiety at the meaningless mechanism which is the world.  Everything is necessary yet purposeless.

DIVORCING SCHOPENHAUER: WHAT IS THE “WILL-TO-POWER”?

The Gay Science marks a swerving-away from Nietzsche’s unofficial teacher Schopenhauer.  There were already indications of Nietzsche’s growing dissatisfaction with Schopenhauer in Human, All-Too-Human [cf. especially Paragraph Thirty-Nine], in which Nietzsche ridicules his master for believing that some “metaphysical need” is innate to human beings.  The “metaphysical need” comes after religion; religion is not responsive to a preexisting “metaphysical need.”  Nor, Nietzsche argues, does the human conscience imply human moral responsibility—this is a false inference on Schopenhauer’s part.  The human conscience is a hive of error.

The total break with Schopenhauer, again, is announced in the pages of The Gay Science.  I would direct the reader to Paragraph Ninety-Nine, where Nietzsche makes explicit statements against Schopenhauerian philosophy, as well as to the poem “Pessimisten-Arznei” and the 1887 Preface, wherein he describes pessimism in physiological terms as a sickness.  What Nietzsche writes is pellucid; little commentary from me is required.  Briefly: Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the One Will is indemonstrable (that all causes are manifestations of the One Will); the idea that a genius is a timeless, subjectless, desubjectified subject of knowledge is ridiculous; there is no such thing as animal magnetism; pity is not separate from the selfishness of individualism, etc.

What I would like to focus on here is something that is less obvious: the way that Nietzsche subtilizes Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the Will.

As the title of Schopenhauer’s masterwork, The World as Will and Representation, suggests, the world has two valences.  The innermost core of the world is the Will: the throbbing, palpitating, blind, stupid vital force, the will-to-live, the impulse to perpetuate and to preserve life.  The Will is the impelling force of Nature.  The Will is what makes one want to live, what keeps one alive, but more importantly, what makes us, usually inadvertently, continue the human species.  All that we do, whether we think we are doing so or not, is in the service of the life-will, of the impulse toward the enhancement and enlargement of life.

The fundamental trait of the Will is striving.  The exertions of the Will as objectivated in the human body are geared toward one thing (not a “purpose” or “goal”): the reduplication of humanity.  While this might sound “heteronormative” or “heterosexist” (to use two fuzz words), it is not.  Schopenhauer is not implying that the Will is a libido that is geared toward sexual reproduction; the Will is not the Will-to-sexually-reproduce.  Childless farmers, non-procreative artists, the celibate, gays, lesbians, the transgender—all of these, too, dance the regimented, compulsory dance of life, creating conditions for future humanity.  Homosexuality, for example, is a necessary counteraction / has a necessary counteractive effect which serves the drive to revitalize the human species.

Life, then, has no “purpose” other than its own perpetuation and promotion.  Human beings are playthings of the will-to-live.  The will-to-live continues, despite the endless deaths of individuals (there are no individuals, for Schopenhauer)—which is why suicide is both foolish and repulsive.  You can kill yourself, but you can’t kill life.  “Individuality” is subordinate to the push-to-keep-humanity-alive.  The gay science is consciousness of the thrustings, the wellings, and the swellings of the Will and of the purposelessness of existence (Nietzsche, in this regard, likens the Will to the Wave, der Wille to die Welle).

Human beings think that they are their own masters, when behind every gesture, action, and word is the ascendant urge to renew the human species.  As I explained above, in Human, All-Too-Human, Nietzsche destroyed the philosophical foundations of altruism and the free will; in Daybreak, he destroyed morality on the basis of the destructions of Human, All-Too-Human.  In The Gay Science, we learn what human acts and thoughts subserve.  We are marking time, marching in place, when we believe that we matter.

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are one at this stage: Individuals who believe that they are masters of themselves are self-deceptive.  They are puppeteered by the Will (which Schopenhauer believes is the will-to-preservation; Nietzsche believes the Will is something else, as we shall see).  Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, however, differ in their positions toward life.  For Schopenhauer, life is tragedy (life is a business that cannot cover its own expenses; human beings arise only to be extinguished; the character of life is suffering).  Nietzsche does not deny any of this—far from it—but for him, life is a comedy, a comedy because it has no goal, and consciousness of the pointlessness of life is the gay science.  Why else would Nietzsche invite the Grillen to dance the dance of life?  Grillen: this interesting word means both “crickets” and “whimsical (often, bad) moods.”  We are invited to confront and absorb the negative in the dream-dance of life: hence, the frequent terpsichorean and oneiric figures that proliferate throughout the text.  Nietzsche rejects Schopenhauer’s gloominess, his dourness, though he agrees that the maintenance, sustenance, and perpetuation of the human species is the result of a more fundamental human impulse than that of the principle of individuality (the principium indivuationis).

Nietzsche advances another step beyond his ex officio teacher and mentor, Schopenhauer, when he calls attention to how vices and how (later) squandering contribute to the will-to-live: Hatred, malice, envy, aggression, the desire to steal—all of these forms of so-called “wickedness” belong to “the astounding economy of the conservation of the species” ([die] erstaunliche[-] Oekonomie der Arterhaltung) [Paragraph One].  Much later, Nietzsche informs us that “Evil” is nothing more than another name for those who are vigorous, for those who are passionate (leidenschaftlich) [Paragraph 326], for those who enhance life, for those who stimulate opposition, with their passionate individualism and unconventional ideas.

Life is neither ugly nor beautiful, good nor evil in itself; we make it so.  That is to say: Neither Good nor Evil exists.  “Good” and “Evil” are mystifications, simplifications (and hence falsifications), abstractions.  The dichotomy of Good and Evil is replaced, by Nietzsche, with the terms strong / fertile / healthy and the feeble / sterile / sick.  Nietzsche seems to be using dualisms / dichotomies / binary oppositions himself.  One must be careful not to think that Nietzsche is substituting one dualism for another, however.

The strong and the weak do not form a dualism, but a continuum or an “axis” (to use Brian Eno’s term).  There are no opposites, only continua / axes.  Sickness and health are not opposites—there are subdivisions, gradations, degrees, nuances, levels between the antipodes of “strength” and “feebleness,” between “sickness” and “health.”  Health cannot do without sickness, as we learn from Paragraph 120 of The Gay Science and the 1886 Preface of Human, All-Too-Human.  All values are derived from disvalues.  Logic comes from illogic [cf. Paragraph 111].  Altruism is the chick that is hatched from the egg of selfishness.  In Human, All-Too-Human, we learn that generosity is drawn from a selfish lust for power.  In Paragraph 118 of The Gay Science and Daybreak, passim, we learn that benevolence (and pity, the affect that motivates benevolence) is the effort of the strong to appropriate the weak.  Opposites interpenetrate.

The most fundamental human impulse is not the will-to-reproduce-life, as Schopenhauer believes.  In the following words, Nietzsche definitively breaks with Schopenhauer: “In nature, it is not distress which rules, but rather abundance, squandering, even to the point of absurdity.  The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the life-will; the great and small struggle revolves everywhere around preponderance, around growth and expansion, around power, in accordance with the will-to-power, which is simply the will-to-live” ([I]n der Natur herrscht nicht die Nothlage, sondern der Überfluss, der Verschwendung, sogar bis in’s Unsinnige.  Der Kampf um’s Dasein ist nur eine Ausnahme, eine zeitweilige Restriktion des Lebenswillens; der grosse und kleine Kampf dreht sich allenthalben um’s Übergewicht, um Wachsthum und Ausbreitung, um Macht, gemäss dem Willen zur Macht, der eben der Wille des Lebens ist) [Paragraph 349].

The will-to-live is only the restriction of a much greater will.  For Schopenhauer, the Will is the will-to-live; in Nietzsche, the Schopenhauerian Will is transformed into the will-to-power.

What is the will-to-power?  The “will-to-power” means the following: All of life is composed of relativities of power.  One creature is the dominant; the other is the subordinate.  One creature is the master; the other is the slave.  Not the desire for power, but desire as power is the fundamental characteristic of the will.  Exertion, struggling, striving for the preservation of the human species is a secondary characteristic.  The essential trait of the Will is the drive toward supremacy, toward ascendancy, over other organisms and entities.

All live organisms strive for dominance over other live organisms—but they also strive for dominance over the world.  Such is the will-to-power.  Power is not an object that is separate from the will; it is inherent to the will itself.  The will-to-power is the will of power, the power-will.

NIETZSCHE LOVES WOMEN / NIETZSCHE LOVES MOUNTAINS / NIETZSCHE DOES NOT LOVE WOMEN / NIETZSCHE DOES NOT LOVE MOUNTAINS

Nietzsche, sadly, writes a number of disobliging things about women in The Gay Science.

Am I the first reader to notice that Nietzsche writes about women in almost the same way in which he writes about mountains?  In Paragraph Fifteen, he tells us that mountains are only beautiful at a distance.  A mountain is beautiful to look at, but it is not beautiful to be a mountain.  The man who gazes at the mountain from the comfort of the Swiss boarding house is charmed; the mountaineer is not so enchanted.  (Schopenhauer gave exactly the same example to illustrate the ephemerality of beauty, before Nietzsche did.)

In Paragraph Sixty, Nietzsche writes almost exactly the same thing about women.  Women, we are told, produce magical effects on the spectator only at a distance.  Fascination / bewitchment / enchantment implies distance.  The comparison between women and mountains could easily be interpreted as a misogynistic comparison (for what is a mountain but a large rock?).  However, as I have written elsewhere (in my commentary on Human, All-Too-Human), Nietzsche is not always merely a misogynist.

At other times, Nietzsche praises women to the sky.  Consult Paragraph Sixty-Four: Old women—Nietzsche slyly utters while twisting his Vercingetorix moustache—know that the superficiality of existence is its essence.  In other words, experienced women are more philosophically minded than experienced men.  A philosopher (I will return to this point below) is not someone who sees the Platonic idea (eidos) through the masquerade of appearances.  A philosopher is one who knows that there is no idea behind the curtain.

Anyone who still thinks that all of Nietzsche’s thoughts on women are reducible to misogyny should read on.  In the poignant paragraph that follows, we learn that Nietzsche has sympathy (perhaps even empathy) for women who offer their bodies—and their shame—to men who neither appreciate them nor return their love.  At another point, he even equates life itself to women / women to life itself: “Yes, life is a female!” (Ja, das Leben ist ein Weib!) [Paragraph 339].  This is the highest encomium that could ever be accorded to anyone.  What is this if not philogyny (the love of women)?  What is this if not crypto-feminism?

NIETZSCHE WAS NOT A FASCIST.  NIETZSCHE WAS NOT A PROTO-NAZI

Of all the tabloid lies that have been told about him, none is as blatantly untrue as the rumor that Nietzsche was a fascist or a proto-Nazi.  Such slanderous gossip could be refuted in a few words.  Nietzsche renounced his German (Prussian) citizenship in 1869.  He vilified the authoritarian state in Thus Spoke Zarathustra—and there has never been a fascist who did not revere the authoritarianism of the state.  He believed in a rule of intellectuals [cf. Paragraph 283], or, to invent words, a cognocracy or a philosophocracy—surely, fascism is nothing if not anti-intellectualist (see my brief article “Fascism”).  He inveighed against nationalism, racial hatred (Rassenhass), and the fetishistic piety of epidermal worship or “mendacious racial self-admiration” (verlogne[-] Rassen-Selbstbewunderung) [Paragraph 377].  Not only does Nietzsche suggest that “racial purity” (whatever this means) is undesirable—he even seems to suggest that it is impossible.  He never ceased to ridicule and condemn Anti-Judaism (for one example of this, consult the final pages of Toward the Genealogy of Morals).  He constantly expresses his admiration for the Jewish people [read Paragraph 475 of Human, All-Too-Human and Paragraph 205 of Daybreak].  On 29 March 1887, Nietzsche inked and mailed a letter to Theodor Fritsch, self-anointed Anti-Semite and one of the vilest ideological precursors of National Socialism, that contained these words as its closing paragraph: “Finally, how do you think I feel when the name Zarathustra is mouthed by an Anti-Semite?”  Nietzsche was demanding that Fritsch stop sending him copies of the rag that Fritsch edited: the Antisemitische Correspondenz und Sprechsaal für innere Partei-Angelegenheiten.

This is scarcely the profile of a fascist or a proto-Nazi.  The ethnic purifiers, the racial homogenizers, the phenotype idolaters, the ideological Aryans, the alt-rightists, the Neo-Nazis should find another “fave” philosopher (might I suggest Hegel?).  Nietzsche revolted against everything these thugs, mugs, and lugs stand for.

OUT-KANTING KANT: ONTOLOGY IS PHENOMENOLOGY

The title Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (“the gay science”) has at least four meanings:

1.) At the most literal level, the gay science is poetry. The term gaya scienza was used by twelfth-century troubadours from Provence as another name for poetic art.  The book itself is fringed by two series of poems: “Joke, Cunning, and Revenge” and “The Songs of Prince Vogelfrei.”  The most significant of these is “To Goethe” (from “The Songs of Prince Vogelfrei”), to which I will turn, briefly, below.

2.) The title carries a personal meaning. In the 1887 Preface, Nietzsche attributes the provenance of the book to a personal convulsion, the “saturnalia of a mind” (Saturnalien eines Geistes), an overturning, an overthrow of the romantic pessimism of Schopenhauer and of Schopenhauer’s disciple Wagner.  The rejection of romantic pessimism does not lead Nietzsche into optimism (thank goodness).  “The gay science” is the impassioned affirmation of the world-as-such in all of its ugliness, not the naïve hyperbole of Leibnizian optimism, which sees the world as the best of all possible worlds.  To see the world as the best of all possible worlds is to see the world as better than it is, since there is only one world.  This is the world, and there is no other.  Optimism and pessimism are surpassed in favor of the life-affirming repudiation of all religion, of all morality, and of all metaphysics (which serves as the foundation of religion and morality).  Metaphysics, by definition, posits a supraworld, a world-beyond-the-world, an Apart-from-the-world, an επέκεινα.  This explains the book’s frequent references to Epicurus, who believed that if there are gods, they do not concern themselves with us.  The Gay Science is not a Leibnizian book (far from it); it is an Epicurean book.

3.) The gay science, as I suggested above, is the consciousness of the purposelessness of existence—unless the promotion of life is itself a purpose. But how could the impulse to continue, to perpetuate, to reproduce the human species be a “purpose”?  If the concept of purpose implies free will (and surely it does), then the impulse to propagate the human species is no purpose at all.  The gay science is the joyous assumption of necessity.  It is the cheerful knowledge that a supercomputer would be able to preprogram all of human behavior centuries before any of that behavior was enacted.

4.) The gay science is Nietzsche’s phenomenological ontology.

Let me address this final theorem here.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche gives us a philosophy of superficiality.  Nietzsche tells us, “We cannot see around our corner” (Wir können nicht um unsre Ecke sehn); the human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself, things in the world, and other selves under its own perspectival forms [Paragraph 374].  All we have are surfaces and surfaces of surfaces.  The world is a glittering, glistening, trembling, quivering play of surfaces without depth—a scintillating mosaic with nothing behind it.

But if there is no depth, can there be a surface?  For Nietzsche, there can be depthless surfaces—there is nothing beneath the surface; there are only grooves, filigrees, fissures, grooves incised on the surface of the world.  There are nothing but veils and veils that veil veils.  As he writes in the 1887 Preface: “We no longer believe that the truth still remains the truth when the veil is pulled off” (Wir glauben nicht mehr daran, dass Wahrheit noch Wahrheit bleibt, wenn man ihr die Schleier abzieht).

The disciple of the Temple of Sais pulls off the veil that veils the statue of Isis—there is nothing there beneath the veil.  No revealed mystery, no depth.  The unveiling is a forced striptease that does not lead to nudity, that does not lead to the truth, that never reaches an essence, that never comes to an ultimate profundity, but one that leads to another set of impermeable veils.  What this means is that depth is superficiality, as superficiality is depth.  A frog is a frog, a log is a log, a bog is a bog.

It takes a deep person to recognize that the world is superficial, which is why Nietzsche writes that mystics are not even superficial / surficial: “Mystical explanations are estimated as deep; the truth is, they are not even superficial” (Die mystischen Erklärungen gelten für tief; die Wahrheit ist, dass sie noch nicht einmal oberflächlich sind) [Paragraph 126].  My interpretation of this statement: A mystic / mystagogue is someone who ignores the surfaces of life in favor of a deeper world that does not even exist.

The all-important Paragraph Fifty-Four—the centrifugal force of the book—liberates appearances from essences.  We learn here that a phenomenon is not the appearance of a thing; a phenomenon has its own integrity.  Appearance is not the opposite of some essence (Gegensatz irgend eines Wesens).  Appearance is not a death mask (eine todte Maske), an unknown X (ein[-] unbekannt[es] X), the crust or shell of a thing.  “Semblance,” Nietzsche writes, is “the acting and living themselves” (Schein ist für mich das Wirkende und Lebende selber).  Though Nietzsche does not write the following explicitly, he implies: Appearance is essence.

In this extraordinary paragraph, Nietzsche emancipates himself from his unofficial teacher Schopenhauer and from Schopenhauer’s unofficial teacher Kant.  It is not merely the case that we only know appearances and never things in themselves, Nietzsche suggests to us.  Nietzsche celebrates and affirms—with the giddiness of gaiety—phenomenality without Dinge an sich (“things in themselves”).  Here, Nietzsche is moving away from Schopenhauer (and from Schopenhauer’s predecessor, Kant), who still believed that there is a supersensible truth beyond the world of appearances.  Whereas Kant believed that things in themselves underlie appearances, Nietzsche here affirms that there are only appearances and no things in themselves.

Further, Nietzsche positions himself against all ethics of prudence.  Reason does not have a pure employment—all ethics are ethics of prudence, of convenience, of self-interest.

Kant does assert repeatedly that the forms of knowledge (particularly, the forms of sensibility, space and time) cannot be applied to things as they are in themselves.  Neither are they applicable to three “Ideas of Reason” that entranced the originators of Christianity (and, to an extent, Christian Wolff): God, the free will, and immortality.  On this, Nietzsche and Kant are in agreement.  The “Ideas of Reason” have no correlative in experience.  Where is God?  Where is the free will?  Where is immortality?

However, Nietzsche goes much further than Kant.  Nietzsche utterly denies the reality of God.  He utterly denies the reality of the free will.  He utterly denies the reality of immortality.  We must admit that Nietzsche was far more enlightened than Kant.  In comparison with Nietzsche, Kant appears to be clouded by intellectual benightedness.  Nietzsche thinks that God, the free will, and immortality are intellectual errors and that human reason is by no means bound to accept them even as noumenal realities.

Nietzsche, then, is out-Kanting Kant: There is no noumenal self, no supersensible morality, no noumenal world.  There is no separation between the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds.  Although Nietzsche never actually writes this, we can aver with confidence that Kant was not enlightened enough.  Kant is not the representative of the Enlightenment that most think him to be.  Nietzsche, who was born forty years after Kant died, takes the Enlightenment to its logical conclusion.  He certainly took the Enlightenment much further than Kant ever did.

Nietzsche phenomenalizes the world.  That is to say: Nietzsche superficializes the world.

Heidegger is wrong when he claims that Nietzsche inverts Platonism.  To “invert” Platonism would be to place the phenomenon above the essence (eidos).  Nietzsche does not invert Platonism.  He displaces Platonism.

Does this imply that life is a lie?  Nietzsche will write in the Nachlass that “[t]ruth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live.”  This, regrettably, is one of the most unfortunate things that Nietzsche ever wrote.  For does not this interpretation of truth presuppose truth?  Is Nietzsche not assuming that his own statement is true?  Is he not hoping that we, the readers, will accept his statement as a true statement?  Or is he suggesting that his own statement is erroneous?  This is one of the Megarian paradoxes: A man comes from a city where everyone lies.  He says, “I am lying.”  Is he telling the truth?  Nietzsche writes that truth is a lie.  Is he telling the truth?

Nietzsche’s argument might be saved if we rewrite his statement as follows: “There is no truth (no absolute reality, no reality absolved of perception and perceptibility); there are only things that we take as the truth.”  To cite a popular-cultural example: The film I, Tonya (2017) seems to proceed from this understanding—all the while discounting any perspective other than that of Team Tonya.  In the film, Tonya Harding is the victim, not Nancy Kerrigan.

Most of the poems in The Gay Science are nothing more than silly fun (and Nietzsche admits this), but there is one that stands out: “To Goethe.”

World-Play, the masterful, / Blends being and semblance:—

Welt-Spiel, das herrische, / Mischt Sein und Schein:—

To paraphrase: There is no “deeper life.”  Being is appearance, Sein is Schein, ontology is phenomenology.  Life is a scintillating mosaic, a play of surfaces.  Again, this is not an inversion, but a displacement of Platonism.

This is why Nietzsche praises artists, creators of illusions of profundity.  This is why artists are compared to lovers, and lovers are compared to artists; both conceal naturalness [Paragraph Fifty-Nine].  Art is the “good will to semblance” (gute[r] Wille[-] zum Scheine) (Paragraph 107)—that is, art is illusion without the pretext of being true (unlike, say, religion).  Art resembles existence, which is already aesthetic.  This does not mean that art represents things in the world, as Aristotle believes.  It means that art repeats the phenomenal character of existence.  We are drawn to works of art because they remind us that life is already art—that is, they remind us that life is already a shallow play of appearances.  Art reminds us that life is already a constellation / a clutch / a cluster of illusions.

This is why what flying fish love most about life is its skinnishness / skinness / skinnedness / epidermality (Hautlichkeit) [Paragraph 256].  For life is a vast skin without fat or muscle—a skin of many pigmentations.

This is why the name of a thing (its reputation) is more important than the thing itself.  A name describes the human relation to a thing; it does not describe the thing itself.  The name of a thing is the skin that becomes its very body [cf. Paragraph Fifty-Eight].  Indeed, without a name, a thing is not accessible at all.  Language gives birth to reality—Nietzsche almost writes this [cf. Paragraph 261].

Language is not reducible to some meaning behind letters and punctuation marks.  Language inheres in letters and punctuation marks.  This point is reflected by Nietzschean novelist Hermann Hesse, a writer who has long been adored by public and reviled by Germanists, in the fourth chapter (“Awakening”) of his novel Siddhartha.  In this chapter, the eponymous protagonist throws off religion and affirms his self, the surfaceness of life, and the signifierness of language (sit venia verbo):

“Meaning and essence were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them” (Sinn und Wesen waren nicht irgendwo hinter den Dingen, sie waren in ihnen, in allem).

The affirmation of the empirical is not scientific reductionism, for science destroys mystery / ambiguity [cf. Paragraph 373].  It is not scientific reductionism; it is the gay science.  The gay science: to be unfavorably disposed toward meta-phenomenal ideas and toward absolute unbudgeable, unrustable convictions.  The gay science is the joyous, impassioned affirmation of empty phenomena.

The lightness of being is not unbearable—to write against the worst of the pseudo-Nietzschean novelists, Milan Kundera (Hesse is his superior).  Not only is the lightness of being bearable, it is joy-inspiring.  Nietzsche celebrates the joyous weightlessness of existence.  The gay science—and The Gay Science—is a gay phenomenology.

“GOD IS DEAD”: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

How could God die, if God never existed to begin with?: Both Foucault and Christopher Hitchens have posed this question.  The answer, of course, is that Nietzsche never intended the literal death of God when he wrote, “God is dead.”  He meant the implausibility of believing in the otherworld, the unbelievability of belief in the otherworld.  One should recall the story of the lunatic in the marketplace that Nietzsche tells us in The Gay Science: The people of the marketplace do not even believe in God and are indifferent to the lunatic’s rantings.  The point is not that God does not exist but that the idea of God is unbelievable.

If God is dead, this is because God is depth.  Any belief in metaphysical depth becomes incredible.

God is dead because God is depth.

WHAT DOES NOT KILL ME KILLS ME: WHAT DID NIETZSCHE MEAN WHEN HE WROTE, “WHAT DOES NOT KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER”?

Nietzsche is a thinker who many talk about, but few have read—thoroughly, at least.  One of his statements that is repeated everywhere throughout American popular culture, a statement that permeates everything from the now-moldering and –smoldering Web site MySpace to the sounds of Kayne West, is “What does not kill me makes me stronger” (Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker) [from Götzendämmerung].

The 1887 Preface to The Gay Science helps one understand this statement, probably the most oft-quoted statement that Nietzsche ever made (eclipsing perhaps even the death of God and the abyss-that-is-looking-into-you): “I doubt that [the great] pain ‘improves’ us—; but I know that it deepens us” (Ich zweifle, ob [der grosse] Schmerz ‘verbessert’—; aber ich Weiss, dass er uns vertieft).

The 1887 Preface clarifies in advance what Nietzsche meant by “What does not kill me makes me stronger”: What Nietzsche means by “what does not kill me” is “the great pain,” the most excruciating pain of one’s life.  The great pain makes me deeper.

But what or who is this “me”?  The “me” is the free spirit.  What does not kill the free spirit makes the free spirit deeper.  Pain makes the free spirit become another person—the free spirit is always becoming another person.  A way of retranslating this famous formulation, then, might be: “The great pain annihilates and recreates the free spirit.”

What does not kill me kills me.

The new person is a questioner—one who poses questions as to the questionableness of existence.  After an experience of pain, the free thinker—the survivor of the trauma—delights in the experience, for s/he knows that pain is necessary and produces meaning.  Pain problematizes existence, highlighting its ambiguity / equivocality.

What does not kill me makes me more profound—and (to retranslate this remark into the terms of The Gay Science) my profundity makes the world appear superficial.

WHAT IS THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE OF THE SAME?

The Gay Science contains the first published reference to the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same (an unpublished reference occurs earlier, in the notebooks—see the notebook of August 1881): In order to attain your highest humanity, “you desire the eternal recurrence of war and peace” (du willst die ewige Wiederkunft von Krieg und Frieden) [Paragraph 285].  By the “eternal recurrence of war and peace,” Nietzsche does not intend that our lives will repeat themselves infinitely.  He intends that we ought to live our lives as if our lives will repeat themselves infinitely.  The infinite repetition of our lives is a thought-experiment, not a metaphysical claim.  The infinite repetition of our lives is a philosophical imperative, an “Ought.”  (I will pursue this topic in much greater depth when I discuss Beyond Good and Evil and the Nachlass.)  The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is the philosophical imperative: Live your life for nothing other than its own infinite repetition.

Schopenhauer constantly refers to Hinduism (or as he calls it “Brahmanism” or “the Vedanta philosophy”) throughout The World as Will and Representation.  The extent to which Nietzsche is indebted to Hinduism has yet to be sufficiently explored.  One should not ignore the epigraph to Morgenröthe, which comes from the Rig Veda: “There are many days that have yet to be dawned.”

Is it possible that Nietzsche was inspired by Hinduism when he came up with the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?  I am thinking of the Hindu concept of samsāraSamsāra is the endless recycling of rebirth and redeath.  The only way out is nirvāna, the extinction of the self (the word nirvāna originally referred to the extinguishing, the snuffing-out, of a candle flame).  For the Hindu, the point of life is not to reenter the cycle of samsāra.  The point of life is to suspend samsāra—not to perpetuate it.

The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is not a matter of hopefulness, even though the future is perfect.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

For my videos on philosophy and literature, GO HERE!

WHY I CAN’T STAND GEORGES BATAILLE / BLEU DU CIEL / THE BLUE OF NOON by Georges Bataille

WHY I CAN’T STAND GEORGES BATAILLE
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

I first discovered Bataille at the age of eighteen.  Here was a French Nietzschean who wrote strident essays and excessively explicit novels.  What was there not to like?  Throughout my eighteenth and nineteenth years, I read the oeuvres of Bataille, alongside the works of Heidegger, Derrida, and many others.

Around the age of twenty, my relationship with Bataille underwent a change.  I could no longer stand to read his writings.

La Littérature et le Mal (1957) destroyed my love for Bataille.  The book is almost unreadably silly.  Bataille argues, with the most incredible casuistry, that literature and evil are the same.  Literature evades collective necessity.  Evil evades collective necessity.  Both literature and evil evade collective necessity.  Therefore, literature IS evil.  However, this does not seem to imply, according to Bataille, that evil is literature.

This is a bit like saying: A duck is not a zebra.  A chicken is not a zebra.  Therefore, a duck is a chicken.  However, a chicken is not a duck.  This is the logical fallacy known as affirmative conclusion from a negative premise or illicit negative.

“Hegel, la Mort et le Sacrifice” (1955) troubled me, as well.  I had read enough of Hegel to know that Bataille was making intellectual errors, was misinterpreting Hegel.

Bataille’s misinterpretation of Hegel may be summarized thus: Human beings sacrifice the animal parts of themselves in order to become fully human.  Nowhere does this statement appear in the Gesammelte Werke of Hegel. Hegel writes instead: “[Der Geist] gewinnt seine Wahrheit nur, indem er in der absoluten Zerrissenheit sich selbst findet.”  When he writes that the Spirit finds itself in a state of absolute shreddedness, Hegel means that the human mind exteriorizes itself as an object and restores itself from its self-exteriorization.  The human mind is both itself and outside-of-itself at the same time.  There is no sacrifice of the animal for the sake of the human.

In L’Érotisme (1957), Bataille’s thesis is that death and eroticism issue from the same source, and many of his arguments are unforgettably convincing.  But his opening argument is both banal and irrelevant: Bataille contends that the relation between sex and death is apprehensible at the microbiological level: When the ovum is fertilized, it is demolished.  The ovum “dies” in order to form the zygote.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenology of eroticism, nor does it have anything to do with the phenomenology of mortality.

Last month, I read as much as I could endure of the fragments collected in The Unfinished System of Non-Knowledge.  These are the incoherent screechings of a lunatic.

* * * * *

THE BLUE OF NOON: A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

According to Georges Bataille’s autobiographical note, Le Bleu du ciel (“The Blue of the Sky”) was composed in the twilight before the occupation of Vichy France.

The descending night darkens these pages.

Dissolute journalist Henri Troppmann (“Too-Much-Man”) and his lover, Dirty give way to every impulse, to every surfacing urge, no matter how vulgar.  Careening from one sex-and-death spasm to the next, they deliver themselves over to infinite possibilities of debauchery.  A fly drowning in a puddle of whitish fluid (or is it the thought of his mother, a woman he must not desire?) prompts Troppmann to plunge a fork into a woman’s supple white thigh.  The threat of Nazi terror incites a coupling in a boneyard.

Their only desire is to begrime whatever is elevated, to vulgarize the holy, to pollute it, to corrupt it, to bring it down into the mud.

By muddying whatever is “sacred,” they maintain the force of “the sacred.”

As a historical document, Le Bleu du ciel is eminently interesting.  It offers unforgettably vivid portraits of Colette Peignot (as Dirty) and the “red nun” Simone Weil (as Lazare).

It is also the story of a man who is fascinated with fascism and the phallus, of someone who loves war, though not for teleological reasons.  It is the story of a man who celebrates war on its own terms, who nihilistically affirms its limitless power of destruction.

As the night spreads, the blue of the sky disappears.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Quentin Tarantino is an anti-black racist. Is DJANGO UNCHAINED racist? Is Quentin Tarantino racist? DJANGO UNCHAINED is a work of anti-black racism. Race Analysis. Representation of Race. Quentin Tarantino and Race. Quentin Tarantino and Racism. Django Unchained and Racism. Django Unchained Race Controversy. Django Unchained Racist Controversy

Quentin Tarantino Is an Anti-Black Racist

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Quentin Tarantino is a slobbering anti-black racist who makes Blaxploitation films for hipsters.  These hipsters grow aggressively defensive whenever African-Americans stand up and denounce these very films.  (Roxane Gay, Spike Lee, Katt Williams, and Armond White are only a few of the African-Americans who have spoken out against Tarantino’s racism.)  Tarantino wishes to prove to his hipster fanatic base that he knows African-American culture better than African-Americans know their own culture.  And his hipster fanboys also desire that feeling–the feeling that they understand African-Americans better than African-Americans understand themselves.  (For an analysis of the mind of the hipster, consult Norman Mailer’s essay on this topic.)

Tarantino’s latest abomination is Django Unchained (2012), a film about a murderer-for-hire named Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) who enlists an African slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist him in his mass-murdering spree.  Their journey ends at Candyland, a plantation owned by the oleaginous Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, in an amusing and impressive performance that elevates above the film and never quite descends into camp).  There is much to demur to, but I will restrict myself to three demurrals: 1.) The film is an agglomeration of plagiarisms.  2.) The film is crypto-racist garbage.  3.) The screen violence is without passion or meaning.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS AN AGGLOMERATION OF PLAGIARISMS

Django Unchained is a pastiche of Spaghetti Westerns.  The opening song was lifted directly from the English-language version of Django (1966).  On the soundtrack is a well-known composition from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)–an American Spaghetti Western, if there ever was one.  There is also an appearance by Franco Nero, star of the original Django, which is a pointless, meaningless cinematic reference that adds nothing whatsoever to the film, which is itself a pointless, meaningless accumulation of cinematic references.

The references are smarmily, unctuously obvious.  One thinks of the scene in which Schultz recounts to Django the basics of Das Nibelungenlied.  If Tarantino were an artist, he wouldn’t have spelled out the legend of Siegfried and Brunhilda for the benefit of his illiterate spectatorship.

Not merely does the film contain a cluster of plagiarisms; it itself is a plagiarism.  The film is an unacknowledged remake of the Mandingo films of the 1970s–in particular, Mandingo (1975) and its sequel, Drum (1976).  Tarantino steals from these sources to such a degree that his film would have been better entitled Mandingo Unchained.

Calvin Candie is clearly modeled on two characters in Drum: DeMarigny (John Colicos), connoisseur of Mandingo fights, and Warren Oates’ character Hammond, slave-owner and breeder of Mandingos.  Both characters were spliced together to create the hybrid Calvin Candie, lover of intra-racial violence.

The Mandingo-fight scene [1:05] owes everything to the original Mandingo film, although different body parts are excised.  In Django Unchained, an eye is enucleated.  In Mandingo, a jugular vein is torn out.

Quentin Tarantino isn’t very much different from Calvin Candie.  After all, they both enjoy watching Mandingo fighting.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS CRYPTO-RACIST TRASH

On the surface, Django Unchained seems to be directed against white anti-black racism.  But it is itself a work of white anti-black racism.

Now, I like revenge fantasies as much as the next person, but there is something more sordid, more sinister going on here than what goes on in most revenge fantasies (“You got me!  Now I’m gonna get you, sucka!”).  Like its predecessor, Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained is a work of genocide pornography, the cruelest, most unconscionably vicious form of pornography in existence.  The crude plot of Inglourious Basterds trivializes the Holocaust; the crude plot of Django Unchained trivializes the enslavement of Africans in antebellum America.

But Django Unchained does more than merely trivialize the enslavement of Africans in nineteenth-century America.  It turns the enslavement of Africans into an object of consumption, an object of enjoyment.

To call this film “ahistorical” would be a gross understatement.  The film approximates history as closely as Spongebob Squarepants approximates marine biology.  With one important qualification: The creator of Spongebob Squarepants actually knows a great deal about marine biology, even if he chooses not to exhibit this knowledge in the television program that he spawned.  This film bears no relation to history whatsoever.  It is a bombinating vacuum in which references from exploitation films resonate.

No one in the nineteenth century ever said, “Adult supervision is required.”  Nor did anyone ever use the term “***********************************.”

Slaves could not read, but Django does a pretty good job of reading aloud the text of a Wanted poster [0:57].  He doesn’t know the words “bounty,” “valet,” or “positive,” but he does know the words “antagonize” and “intrigue.”  As Katt Williams pointed out, it is odd that Django can spell his own name.

The late populist film critic Roger Ebert used the term deus ex machina (“God-out-of-the-machine”) to describe the entry of Schultz in the opening of the film.  That moment isn’t quite a deus ex machina–such a device is commonly used at the end of a work, such as when Helios transports Medea on a golden chariot at the end of Euripides’ tragedy.

However, Ebert was correct to call Schultz a “god.”  He just didn’t know the extent to which he was correct.

Schultz is a god, all right.  He is the white god who creates the black Django.  “I feel vaguely responsible for you,” he says to Django.  “I gave you your freedom.”

Yes, it is Schultz who grants Django his liberty.  The first time we see Django’s face is when Schultz shines light on him.  It is Schultz who transforms Django into a murderer-for-hire.  It is Schultz who sculpts Django into a full human being.

Django is not allowed to kill Calvin Candie.  Only the Good White Master is allowed to kill the Evil White Master.  Django is allowed to kill Candie’s minions–both black and white — but not their Evil White Master.  Django has a master, all right, and his name is Dr. King Schultz.

It is for this reason that Will Smith declined to assume the role of Django: “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead.  The other character was the lead!  I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!'”

Will Smith’s objection to the film gets to the heart of the problem: Django is a secondary character, the Good White Master’s marionette.

Much has been made of the use of racist language in the film.  That is because Tarantino enjoys using racist language.  Racist words, evidently, are his favorite words in the English language, a language that he does not know very well.  He expresses racist words with brio, emitting them with gusto, as if such words were  shibboleths.

One recalls the infamous (I am using this word in its proper sense) scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) in which Tarantino-playing-Tarantino utters a racist word in Tourette’s-like staccato beats.  There is no point in arguing that Tarantino is playing a character and that his character is racist, not Tarantino, when Tarantino is obviously playing himself in the scene.  The delight that he feels whenever he bleats the racist word is palpable.

Django Unchained is backwater garbage, racist filth, intended for ugly-souled racist hipster fanboy cretins.  The film is regressive because it imagines that White (the presence of all color) and Black (the absence of all color) are “colors” and that races and have really existent correspondents.  The film erodes and erases so many of the steps that America has taken over the past four years.  I wrote the words above on 13 July 2013, the day on which George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

What is a racist?  A racist is someone who has nothing of which to be proud other than his or her epidermal pigmentation.  We are, all of us, out of Africa.  Anthropologists have established that Africa is the cradle of humanity and that there are only epidermal subdivisions between us.  It makes no sense to speak of “race,” since each individual “race” encompasses so many of these subdivisions.

Quentin Tarantino hypostatizes race.

THE VIOLENCE IN THE FILM IS PASSIONLESS

I don’t mind screen violence.  Screen violence can be bracing.  The problem with the representational violence in Django Unchained is that it is mechanical, spiritless, passionless.  It is difficult to understand how or why anyone would be offended by the violence in the films of Tarantino.  The violence in all of his films is automatized, transactional, emotionless.

I would like to call your attention to the moment [0:57] in which Schultz murders the alleged stagecoach robber Smitty Bacall.  Schultz snipes at his victim from a distance of about 200 feet.  Tarantino shoots the man from a distance of 200 feet, as well.  There is a complete emotional disengagement between the murderer and the murderee.  There is also a complete emotional disengagement between the film and the murderee.  We see the man’s son running to his father and hear the boy screaming, “Pa! Pa!”  But the boy and his father are no more than flecks of dust on the screen.  The father and son are hardly represented as human beings, at all.

And what about the scene that immediately follows the one that I just described?  The scene in which Django and Schultz use a band of cowboys for target practice [0:58]?  What, precisely, did these cowboys do to deserve to be gunned down?

All of the murders are filmed with the detached eye of a psychopath.

By contrast, the death scenes in the films of Nicolas Roeg are historically intense.  “A young man is cut down in the prime of his life,” Roeg said, referring to his directorial debut, Performance (1970).  “[Death] is an important thing.”

The murder of Lara Lee Candie (Laura Cayouette), Calvin’s sister [2:39], is as passionate as the deletion of an unneeded Microsoft Word document.

In Django Unchained, human characters (and horses) are eliminated with the same passion with which you would close pop-up advertisements on your computer screen.

* * * * *

The antistrophe to my arguments is quite predictable.  “It’s only a movie” comes the bleating response.  You can hear the booing, the cooing, and the mooing: “It’s only a mooooooooooooooooooovie.”  Keep on telling yourselves that: “It’s only a moooooooooooovie…  It’s only a moooooooooovie…”

Despite such zoo noise, it can be said, without fear of exaggeration or absurdity, that Django Unchained is one of the vilest motion pictures ever made.  Not because of its violence (again, screen violence can be bracing), but because it delights in the exploitation and dehumanization of African-Americans.  Quentin Tarantino is a hate criminal, and Django Unchained is a hate crime.

Dr. Joseph Suglia, table41thenovel.com

EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer / Is Jonathan Safran Foer a Bad Writer?

A review of EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer

Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Safran Foer have made a living by choosing illiterates and children as the narrators of their commercial fiction.  Such a writerly choice alleviates them of the responsibility of writing well.  Now, in his most recent offering, Eating Animals (2009), Mr. Foer writes in his own language for the first time in book form and still sounds very much like the rather dimwitted narrators of his novelistic fabrications.

Though it never fulfills its promise, Eating Animals belongs to the genre of books that explore the ethics of meat eating.  Foer claims that his research into food production has been “enormous” [14] and “comprehensive” [12].  But from a philological point of view, Eating Animals is the scholarly equivalent to animal compost.  How can the male Foer legitimately write and publish a book on the ethics of carnivory without so much as even mentioning the names of Peter Singer and Charles Patterson?  A peal of thundering silence drowns out these extremely loud and incredibly imposing references.  On Page 258, Foer eschews direct statement, but the point is clear: “It might sound naive to suggest that whether you order a chicken patty or a veggie burger is a profoundly important decision.  Then again, it certainly would have sounded fantastic if in the 1950s you were told that where you sat in a restaurant or on a bus could begin to uproot racism.”  Yes, human rights are equated to animal rights, EXACTLY the equation set forward by Peter Singer thirty-four years ago.  It does seem parricidal that no reference to Singer or to Patterson is made.

Even worse, Foer’s handling of sources is suspect.  He name-drops Walter Benjamin, tells us what Benjamin allegedly said, and then neglects to give us the citation information in the endnotes (he is referring to, but does not cite Benjamin’s 1934 essay on Franz Kafka).  He implies that Kafka felt “shame” while visiting a Berlin aquarium merely because Benjamin finds shame as a motif in Kafka’s LITERARY work.  He quotes Derrida twice in the book and gives, first, an inapplicable commentary on Derrida’s argument, and, secondly, dispenses with commentary altogether.  In his end note to the Benjamin-Kafka-Derrida passage, Foer writes: “The discussion of Benjamin, Derrida, and Kafka in this section is indebted to conversations with religion professor and critical theorist Aaron Gross” [276].  This discussion, apparently, exonerates Foer of the necessity of reading Benjamin, Derrida, and Kafka himself–and of treating their works with care.

I would never dream of suggesting that Foer should have expatiated on the groundbreaking inclusion of animality in Schopenhauerian philosophy and the exclusion of animality from the Kantian philosophy–that would be effrontery on my part.

The prose style is not merely bad–it is abusively, appallingly, annoyingly, and aggressively bad.  Foer thinks that to aggravate means “to irritate,” that incredibly means “extremely,” that the plural of food is “foods,” and that inedible is a noun.  To aggravate [etymologically, “to make graver”] should never be used to signify “to irritate” in published prose; incredibly properly means “unbelievably” and only means “extremely” in colloquial language; those who think that the plural of food can EVER be “foods” are semiliterate simpletons and debasers of the English language.  Shall we acquiesce to the mistaken idea that inedible is a noun?  (Edible may be a noun; inedible should never be a noun.)

Is it too much to ask the writer whose second novel was described by The Times as a “work of genius” to pursue his research questions?  And what ARE, precisely, his research questions?  After an unhealthful serving of microwaved family anecdotes (always an easy and smarmy introduction), we get an inkling of what Foer’s point of departure might be, and it is all pretty familiar ground: “I simply wanted to know–for myself and my family–what meat is.  I wanted to know as concretely as possible.  Where does it come from?  How is it produced?  How are animals treated, and to what extent does that matter? What are the economic, social, and environmental effects of eating animals?” [12].  Well, what we get instead are heaps of digitalized information copied and pasted from the internet and fictionalized first-person narratives written from the perspective of animal-rights activists and factory farmers, the kind of “I-am-my-own-Greek-chorus” meta-fiction one often encounters when teaching first-year Composition at an art school.  Excise the persona poetry, and you have a pamphlet.

It is only at the book’s premature climax that we come by something resembling a thesis.  Foer endorses “eating with care.”  Despite what he says, Foer does not “argue” for this position.  Nor does he even explain it.  He simply advocates what seems a fairly anodyne stance.  He advocates vegetarianism and “another, wiser animal agriculture” and “more honorable omnivory” [244], without telling us what either of these last-mentioned things might be.  Don’t carnify your comestibles!: That is the extent of the “argument,” such as it is.

There is nothing revolutionary or special about vegetarianism or hoping that animals will be treated without cruelty.  Vegetarianism is surely good for animals, but does it make of the vegetarian a majestic figure?  If this book is distinctive at all, it is merely because of the prefabricated consensus that surrounds it and the writer’s desperate efforts to persuade everyone that he is holier than the rest of us.  One is reminded, in particular, of an anecdote that Foer tells of two friends who are hungry for hamburgers or for “burgers,” as Foer calls them. One man gives in to the hamburger impulse; the other refuses to do so, for “there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment” [74; note the masculine pronoun].  In the end, Eating Animals is an auto-hagiography, the memoir of a sacrificer of hamburgers who becomes holy by refusing to give in to his carnivoracity, the story of one man’s relationship to his own viscera.

Dr. Joseph Suglia