Selected Squibs, Scrips, and Essays by Joseph Suglia: Table of Contents

In this video, which I privatized for years, I discuss my novel TABLE 41. — Joseph Suglia

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

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CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO IN WHICH I READ CHAPTER TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nkLvd_AcAA

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

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CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO IN WHICH I READ THE FIFTH CHAPTER OF MY NOVEL TABLE 41:

THE NOVEL THAT PREDICTED IT ALL! Joseph Suglia Reads Chapter 5 of His Novel TABLE 41 audiobook full – YouTube

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

CLICK HERE TO READ MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

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SELECTED SQUIBS, SCRIPS, AND ESSAYS 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: PRELUDE TO A PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE and Reading My WHOLE English Translation

VIDEO: Jacques Derrida Is Overrated

VIDEO: Love Is the Deadliest Narcotic

VIDEO: A Close Reading of Nietzsche’s ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS: A POLEMIC

VIDEO: Love Is Insanity

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: What Is the Meaning of Life?

VIDEO: What Is Nihilism? Who Are the Real Nihilists?

VIDEO: EVERYONE LIES ALL OF THE TIME

VIDEO: Why I Hate Shakespeare

VIDEO: Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Nietzsche

VIDEO: My Screenplay Was Made Into an Audio Play

VIDEO: Sam Harris Is Overrated

VIDEO: My Analysis of Nietzsche’s TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS: OR, HOW TO PHILOSOPHIZE WITH A HAMMER

VIDEO: The Alchemy of the Mind and the Illusion of Time

VIDEO: Our Award-Winning Version of HEDDA GABLER!

VIDEO: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

VIDEO: TRUTH IS AN ERROR

VIDEO: LOVE IS A MENTAL ILLNESS

VIDEO: SHAKESPEARE THE PUNK

VIDEO: WHAT IS THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE OF THE SAME?

VIDEO: WHAT IS THE WILL TO POWER?

VIDEO: MY HOUSE IS ON FIRE!

VIDEO: THE MOST BRILLIANT WORDS YOU WILL EVER HEAR

VIDEO: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING

VIDEO: THIS VIDEO WAS PRIVATIZED FOR YEARS: AN INTERVIEW ABOUT MY MASTERPIECE TABLE 41

 

Table of Contents

SQUIBS

Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Consumerism and Genius

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 Kitchen: BANNED by Yelp

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

Analogy Blindness: I Invented a Linguistic Term

Polyptoton: Greg Gutfeld

I renounce all of my early writings

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 Will Be Eaten by a Swamp Rabbit

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

BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: PRELUDE TO A PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE / Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft: PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF THE TWENTY-HOUR VIDEO SERIES

ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS / ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALITY / ZUR GENEALOGIE DER MORAL

TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS: OR, HOW TO PHILOSOPHIZE WITH A HAMMER / Götzendämmerung: Oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?: Part One: An Essay that I Wrote at the Age of Twenty-Four

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?: Part Two

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

What  Does This Mean?: “God is dead”

“What Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger”: What Does This Mean?

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, PROBLEM PLAYS, AND LATE ROMANCES

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

PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE

CYMBELINE

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

THE TRAGEDY OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

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 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

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

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

by Joseph Suglia

Nietzsche on Solitude | Part 14 of My Lecture on BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL Reading My English Translation – 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

California über Alles: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino

CALIFORNIA ÜBER ALLES: An Analysis of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) by Joseph Suglia

“The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but THE PAST.  If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’–well, it never happened.  If he says that two and two are five–well, two and two are five.”

–George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”

Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.  Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they might believe that the Jews overcame the Nazis.  They will not know that around six million Jews–not to mention the elderly, the disabled, homosexuals, the chronically unemployed, gypsies, political dissidents, intellectuals (there were other categories, as well)–were funneled into factories of death, where they were stripped, shorn of their hair, and gassed.  Killed en masse as if they were vermin or swine.

No Jews are murdered, no corpses are incinerated in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino’s most malevolent travesty and perhaps the most ethically reprehensible motion picture ever made.  Nazis are incinerated.  Machine-gunned and set aflame.  In a cinema.  In Vichy France.  In 1944.  By a band of Jewish-American soldiers and French resistance fighters.

What, precisely, was Tarantino hoping to accomplish by this fusillade of historical revisionism?  By this erasure of history?  Is this nothing more than a puerile time-machine fantasy?  To deprive Hitler of the right to be killed by his own hand?

Tarantino’s own remarks belie this interpretation: “The power of the cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich.  I get a kick out of that!”

When the Nazis are cremated in the cinema, then, Tarantino is cinematically cremating the memory of their dominion.  The burning cinema is the central metaphor of the film.  It is a self-reflexive metaphor.

Predictably, few Americans seem to have a problem with this dehistoricization and rehistoricization of the Holocaust.  After all, America is a country without much of a history of its own.  Most of us are afflicted with historical amnesia.  To demonstrate my point, let me adduce a personal example.  I posted the first sentence of this review on facebook years ago: “Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.”

I received this in response (the mistakes have been retained for the sake of authenticity): “Aint it grand though!”

If this is what most Americans believe, then we are lost.  The entire culture is lost.

What no one seems to recognize is that the film is an insult both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who died in it.

The destruction of history is politically dangerous.  It is also a form of ethical rape, especially when that history is fraught with so much hideousness, so much carnage, so much death, so much sorrow.  To the supporters of the film, let me ask:

Do you honestly think that survivors of the Shoah would approve of this film?

Though Tarantino might claim that his film revolts against the Third Reich, it does nothing of the sort.  Inglorious Basterds does not combat fascism.  By liquidating history, it allies itself with fascism.  It is a film that uses the same totalitarian methods as the Nazi propagandists, despite Tarantino’s misguided intentions.

Holocaust revisionists such as David Irving and Ingrid Rimland (and so many others) would applaud what Tarantino has done in this film.  After all, he has created a film in which the Nazis lose, the Jews win, and the Holocaust never takes place.  Is that not what the fascist “historians” have been saying all along?

Permit me to make a few remarks about Tarantino’s method of presentation.

No one has described Tarantino better than the brilliant English novelist and critic Will Self.  The filmmaker is a “pasticheur and an artistic fraud,” Self writes.  Indeed, he is all of that and much worse.  Nearly every image in Tarantino’s cinema is derivative or evocative of something else.  The climax of Death Proof (2007)–in which a misogynist is surrounded by a ring of femmes fatales and pummeled into unconsciousness–blatantly and uninventively reconstitutes a formally identical moment in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).  Another scene in Death Proof–in which the female leads are surreptitiously photographed–repeats one of Dario Argento’s lavish set-pieces in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969).  Even the same Ennio Morricone music is deployed.

Throughout Inglorious Basterds, there are references to other films.  Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943) is playing at the theatre before it is razed to the ground.  Most of the film’s musical compositions were taken from the soundtracks to other films, such as Revolver (1973) and Allonsanfan (1974), both which were scored by Morricone.  Curiously, none of these allusions adds to the film. Tarantino merely showcases the cultural references.  He seems incapable of communicating himself cinematically except by way of derivations from other works of cinema.  He does not create.  He does not originate.  He does not imagine.  He does not conceive.  He ventriloquizes.

I could not help but feel a certain depression after viewing this abominable film.  I recalled that in the 1990s Tarantino was given carte blanche–the whitest of white cards–from critics for his use of racist language.  Here we have a work not of anti-Semitism, but of anti-Judaism.

Consider this injustice: Michael Haneke’s elegantly chilling The White Ribbon (2009), a film that casts a dark light on some of the conditions that led to National Socialism, is largely unseen and this atrocity is surrounded by a cavalcade of approval.  Genocide pornography is the worst form of pornography in existence, for it transforms the ultimate horror–the mass manufacture of corpses–into an object of consumption and enjoyment.  For this reason, I condemn Quentin Tarantino and his unforgivable film.  Quentin Tarantino is vile, and Inglourious Basterds is slime.

Joseph Suglia

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?: Part One

What Is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?: Part One

Joseph Suglia

NOTE: The original version of this essay was written when I was a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, a much different person than I am today.  For this revised and refined edition, I have cut out the superfluity and smoothed out many of its sentences.  I have also reorganized many of the paragraphs.  The original text was, in places, obscure; I have substantially revised the language so that it will be more legible.

Vraiment, c’était la une journée dont on se souviendrait.

—Pierre Klossowski, Le Souffleur

Pierre Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, published in 1969, was born out of the legacy of “the thought of May 1968,” and perhaps may be best understood within the context of the student riots and the decentralization of the Parisian university system that occurred at that time.  These insurrections and destabilizations confirmed what had already been asserted in theory: that the concept of power, as well as the relationships power customarily assumes, should be expanded.  According to this thought, the police are not the only manifestations of institutional control; the regiments of university professors,[i] priests, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, sociologists, doctors, and media figures constitute homologous forms of social domination.  Nor are philosophers—and this means, a fortiori, philosophy—exempt from institutional power relations.  Whenever the philosophizing drive is subordinated to the function of the philosopher—as a social entity, as a representative of society—philosophy is prompted by institutional or social policy.  And when that happens, philosophy might become a medium of manipulation and control.  Philosophy might afford one a position from which one can legislate in the name of truth, but this “truth” is formulated, vouchsafed, or homologated by specific institutions.  When a degree in Philosophy becomes a license to practice philosophy, philosophy becomes professionalized—and this means that it becomes departmentalized, divorced from the vital experiences of the human being who is called a “philosopher” and organized according to an institutional division of labor.  The subjective experiences of a human being are relegated to the service of the society in which s/he functions as a member.  The accents placed upon mystical thinking—as opposed to the thinking of a philosophical subject—in Klossowski and Bataille hint at an attempt to deinstitutionalize the philosophizing drive.

It is from this perspective—one that contests the metaphysics of subjectivity in favor of anonymous drives, impulses, inclinations, or, as they are called here, “experiences”—that one may approach Klossowski’s study of Nietzschean repetition.  When it registers the inconceivable thought that all things recur eternally, consciousness is struck by a kind of delirious lucidity.  In the experience of the eternal recurrence of the same, to move forward into “spiritual clarity” is always simultaneously to lose one’s advance.  What Klossowski stresses is the non-narratable character of this experience; it is an experience which may not be preserved, since a forgetting is essential to this experience.  The time in which the experience of the eternal recurrence is itself experienced must occur in time and so must be archaized; it is a time which must be relegated to an amnesia no less vital than an anamnesis.  As Klossowski remarks, “It is inscribed in the very essence of the circular movement that the movement itself be forgotten from one state to the next.”[ii]

The “he” or “she” to whom eternal recurrence discloses itself is in the impossible position of a spectator of its own eternalization, for the time in which the “he” or “she” will have experienced the “fact” of eternal recurrence is not the time in which the “I” generally lives, subordinated to the everyday system of signs.  Personal pronouns are the fossilized signs of ordinary language and crystallize through their repetition.  The experience of eternal recurrence casts the stagnant character of the “I” into dispersion and transforms it into a “he” or a “she.”  When I experience that all things will have returned, I am reconciled with myself only insofar as I become integrated within an infinite series of permutations of this self.  Auto-affection is at this moment a kind of hetero-affection.

Klossowski’s ecstatic self is not a selfsame subject; the self of eternal recurrence is, rather, expropriated from its own identity.  All the ecstatic self has in common with itself is reduced to a mere moment of disjunctive instantaneity, wherein the “presence” of its own self-sameness is forgotten, insofar as it is temporalized, disappropriated only to be taken up again, reappropriated not in the lucidity of self-consciousness, but reintegrated as a disjunctive member of an eternal series—what Klossowski calls “the successive realization of all possible identities.”[iii]  It is here that one discerns an elision of sameness for the sake of similitude—the self takes on the resemblance of itself, the self takes on the resemblance of instantaneity, of the likeness of being-the-same-with-itself.  The self takes form upon a play of surfaces.

The epiphanic moment at which I become aware that I shall come back, that I shall return eternally, constitutes a kind of formative blow.  Klossowski describes the self as an undulating figure which loses its identity only to come back to this identity—but upon its return, this second identity is different than the first.  The same is never the same or only provisionally the same.  It is not difficult to discern that this passage from identity to difference is paralleled by that from lucidity to delirium—that passage which Klossowski determines as the course of thinking itself.  Just as lucidity is overthrown by the delirium around which it revolves as though delirium were lucidity’s center, through recurrence, every given identity is carried into its dispersion.  Every singularity multiplies, but this experience of fragmentation leads to an eventual recuperation, safeguarded by forgetting.

The moment at which I become aware that all things recur endlessly is one in which the fact of forgetting is raised to consciousness, for though I must forget the prolific sequence of selves I once was, I never, at the moment the truth of recurrence is revealed to me, forget the sheer fact that I have forgotten and I will have forgotten.  Remembering that I am my own incessant repetition, I am surrendered to a movement of becoming-other (Anderswerden, to use Hegel’s term).  The estrangement of the self will have been contradicted: The residue of my past selves must be sentenced to oblivion in order for me to constitute a self which I can call my own.  When the meaning of the eternal recurrence is disclosed to me, my self is obliterated in the face of something objectively necessary and absolute—its own othering.  The experience of the eternal recurrence is the experience of a non-experience, for it implies the dissolution of the very self that would experience it.

What Klossowski understands by “the eternal recurrence of the same,” then, it is not the reconstitution of a static identity, for the self that experiences the eternal recurrence must reactualize all possible selves, revealing itself as nothing more than one of a series of masks.  The self is revealed, in Klossowski’s language, as a “fortuitous moment the very fortuity of which entails the necessary and integral return of the whole series.”[iv]  The subject that experiences recurrence is not an individuated, intending consciousness, but every self in history in succession, is the communication of one self with another, is nothing more than this pure communication.  Each self which communicates with the other is disjoined from the other and yet connected to the other selves within a reiterative series, for each self within this series has forgotten the other until the epiphanic moment comes which will have revealed that the self is othered and so undone within an integrative sequence.  The meaning of the self is accrued only with respect of its intensity.  Klossowski’s choice of this term is not accidental: “Intensity” is etymologically derivable from the Latin verb intendere, which means “to draw out” or “to stretch across.”  Intensity is that series of instants which stretches across time within which each moment of identity differs from all other moments, for intensity is this difference between identities.  In the intensification of time, both extremes, the past and the future, communicate with each other.

The instant accrues its significance only through this intensification.  Incessant repetition drains the individual moment of all significance it would have if it were set aside from all other moments within the series.  Infinite repetition divests every “unique” instant of its meaning, but this withdrawal of meaning is the constitution of sense; it is the sheer possibility of signifying.  For signification is nothing other than the “rise and fall” of this intensity.  As Klossowski phrases it, “Either all returns because nothing has ever made any sense whatever, or else things never make any sense except by the return of all things, without beginning or end.”[v]

The moment when the eternal recurrence is experienced is one when the disjointed self says, “Yes” to that intense and infinitely repetitive series which is temporality itself.  Yes, this present instant is occurring, but it has occurred before countless times, and it will have occurred countless times again.  The pronouncement of this affirmation discloses that the present moment is devoid of singularity—it will recur and recur endlessly.  Conjoined with the impassioned lucidity of this affirmation is a countermovement.  The moment of revelation—affording the greatest clarity—is also the moment of madness.  The mind grows giddy, is seized with vertigo at the advent of such a thought.

Despite the power of such an analysis (a power that is surpassed only by that of Heidegger, Deleuze, and Karl Löwith), we cannot follow Klossowski along his path of reflection.  We cannot follow him, for nothing survives his treatment except the experience the subject of recurrence has of its own undoing.  Klossowski’s analysis dovetails into a desubjectifying, polysubjectifying subjectification of the return.  A fractured self is still a self.  Similarly, Fichte’s “I-am-not-I” is a closed system, for the self always returns to itself, despite its unremitting self-laceration.  Nothing else emerges from Klossowski’s account of the eternal recurrence than the unraveling of the subject who experiences it as it confronts the multiplication of itself into duplicable selves or non-selves.  Klossowski, in effect, reduces the eternal recurrence to the marks, the notches that impress themselves upon the human subject that is the spectator of its circularity and is this circularity.  The subject is disconnected, as it were, from all existing, worldly actuality, is destroyed in its particularity and opens to nothing other than the absolutization of itself, the eternalization of itself in all of its multiple and proliferating forms.  To quote once more Klossowski: “I am not even this fortuitous moment once and for all if, indeed, I must re-will this very moment one more time!  For nothing?  For myself?”[vi]  This statement and its follow-up questions might indicate the extent to which Klossowski’s post-subjectivism is also, unwittingly, a subjectivism.

The experience of eternal recurrence, according to this interpretation, bears similar features in common with the experience of mysticism.  Indeed, Klossowski’s description of this experience is nothing besides the description of an ecstatic, mystical experience—this is also the limitation of Bataille’s analysis and marks out clearly enough that for which Bataille’s study fails to account.[vii]  Klossowski places a strong accent upon an experience through which the self is dissolved into a frantic and proliferative sea of copies of itself or “simulacra” and is surrendered to the necessity of the “divine” absolute.  But if this experience constitutes anything like an epiphanic moment, it discloses only that there could be no epiphany, there is no moment independent of recurrence; the transcendence afforded by this revelation is a negative transcendence.  Nietzsche emerges from this treatment as a mystic without a god, with no divinity other than of the divine vicious circle.  But despite the disclosure of the circular character of temporality, there could be no Second Coming—there are only a multitude of resurrections.  The chiliastic or messianic aspects of religious dogma are rendered absurd by such a thought, since the repetitions of historical instants are swept into their redundancy and so are made ridiculous.

Somewhat dubious is Klossowski’s description of Nietzsche’s thinking of the eternal recurrence as possessing a “doctrinal” character: “[T]he idea itself emerges as a specific doctrine…”[viii]  From the evidence found in the all the scattered notebooks of Nietzsche’s literary estate, one might argue that perspectivism or the will-to-power are subsumable under an ideology or a dogma, perhaps, but the eternal recurrence?  One wonders how Klossowski could remark upon a “doctrine” of eternal recurrence at all, since, according to his own claims, the experience of eternal recurrence is an experience to which forgetting is essential and that could never be doctrinal, since it dissolves the very subject who would experience the miraculous “fact” that all things recur endlessly.  In the absence of a subject who would promulgate it, what possible doctrine could emerge?

This account abstracts from the time in which and through which all of the world would repeat itself; the temporality of world-time is ignored by Klossowski.  For he is less interested in how the universe and humankind are regulated by eternal recurrence than in the effects this thought upon Nietzsche’s lucidity and in the conditions of passivity and receptivity one must assume in order to become a sacrificial altar upon which the meaning of this experience would be made manifest.  Klossowski’s interpretation, furthermore, underplays the complex temporal paradoxes of eternal recurrence. 

There is a series of questions that Klossowski does not pose that seems to be essential to this topic.  For example: Why must the same eternally come back to itself?  Why must the same return?  And if the same is not equatable to the identical, by what possible criterion could one make that distinction?  Does the same maintain its constancy even when subjected to postponement?  What befalls the same through its repetition?  Does recurrence exclude the same, given as something unified, given as a totality?  Is the same the same if it recurs?  Would the same be the same if it did not recur?  Or is it the case that the same is nothing other than its own recurrence?[ix]

If the eternal recurrence of the same is pure repetition, nothing would recur, strictly writing, for there would be no present instant that would be subject to recurrence.  If the eternal recurrence of the same were to be taken seriously as a philosophical concept, one would have to exclude from it from the category of presence altogether.  I will try to demonstrate this in the following argument.

I understand the concept of the eternal recurrence of the same to mean that all worldly acts and events will have repeated themselves ceaselessly.  If one were to accept this definition, then it follows that the past and the future are, in a certain sense, conjoined.  That is to say, the future would have been anticipated by each moment in the past, while the past would have projected itself into the future.  The time of recurrence is a time that throws itself backward, but only in order to cast itself forward.  To phrase it concisely: The past is recoverable in its futurity.  If this is the case, the “present instant” does not recede into a “present instant” that is no longer.  Each moment would not only occur once and never again; each moment would rather occur “this” time and yet again, and so on eternally.  If this is the case, no instant could be said to be singular, for each instant would be the reiteration of an infinite series of moments.  Of course, the notion of the instant—understood as a discrete temporal unit the integrality of which cannot be reduced—is here problematized.

Each instant moves forward into the future; the past is projective, insofar as each instant anticipates its own futurity.  Yet the future, according to this conception, is retrocessive because the future is determined in advance.  The future has already occurred, for each instant in the past determines a futural series of instants.  By the same token, the past is determined after the fact, inasmuch as the past only has meaning in its futural recuperation.  In other words, the time of the eternal recurrence is of a progressive-regressive temporality.  Progression and regression are one and the same.

What, then, of “presence,” of the present instant?  The instantaneity of the moment is already a futurity because the present is already subject to a necessary repetition.  The “now” is always what will have occurred and will have recurred ad infinitum.  What is occurring only occurs because it will have occurred.  The future perfect tense is here appropriate, since each instant is predetermined as proleptic.  But if what we call the “present moment” is already determined as the repetition of a prior series of moments, then presence has already been outlawed before it could begin.  There is nothing new under the sun: As Nietzsche writes in his posthumously published notebooks, “The world lacks the capacity for eternal novelty,” Es fehlt der Welt… das Vermögen zur ewigen Neuheit.[x]  What would be the present moment is already marked as the futurity of the past.  As Nietzsche writes in The Will to Power Fragment 684, recurrence is a regressus in infinitum or “a temporal infinitude of the world going backward,” eine Zeitunendlichkeit der Welt nach hinten.[xi]

The time of the eternal recurrence is a time without the “now” because no instant ever occurs once.  Everything in the present has already happened and has happened eternally and will have happened eternally.  Nor is this time a matter of hopefulness, even though the future is perfect.  It is a time of reversible futurity, but this does not mean that future moments may be prophesized.  No moment is forecast; every moment will have occurred and will have recurred.

Let me return to one of my earlier questions: Is the same ever itself, if it recurs?  Thrown into the disjunctive repetitions of recurrence, being is never being.  Nothing in time is ever absolutely itself, for what is in time is never absolutely present.  What occurs is the necessary possibility of its being-repeated.  The illusion of transcendence—understood here as abstraction from temporality—founders in endless repetition.  The present is nothing more than a mode of possibility.

Aphorisms

  1. Only time is determinative of time.
    *
  2. The past is not the past.  The past and the future are one.  The past is the to-come, the comeback.  It is the Wiederholung, the re-draw, the re-tow, the re-pull, the re-haul, the re-traction.
    *
  3. Being is subordinate to its temporalization.
    *
  4. The beginning and the ending are reduced to the interregnum.
    *
  5. Recurrence is not the permanentization of finitude, but the permanentization of intermittence.
    *
  6. Intermittence is the Law of Recurrence.
    *
  7. Without presence, time is nothing but becoming.  Time is Law.  What is, is in time or not at all.
    *
  8. Time is nonlateralization.
    *
  9. Whatever returns, is not or is not simply.  The “is” is already the “was” and the “will be.”  What will be, is.  The “isness” of the “is” is the “will have been.”
    *
  10. The eternal recurrence of the same means the impossibility of periodization.
    *
  11. Whenever an event occurs, it does not occur.  At the same time.
    *
  12. What of the “I” that occurs in time?  “I was” and “I will be”: These are the two modes of being-a-self.  I am only a moment of disjunctive instantaneity.
    *
  13. The law of temporality is the law of recurrence.
    *
  14. I am pure circularity.  I am nothing besides this circularity.  Whenever I turn back to myself, I am a likeness, a similitude of what I once was.
    *
  15. When I perceive the circle of recurrence, when I become aware that time reiterates itself, I am conscious of the fact that I am not.  I am conscious of the fact that I am in the world as a disjunctive member of an intensified series.  But then this knowledge will be forgotten.  So, forgetting is essential to the experience of the eternal recurrence of the same.  It is an experience that will perish, but the perishability of this experience gives to it a strange beauty.

Joseph Suglia


[i] Even though Foucault never wrote a genealogy of the university as an institution that appoints dispositions of power.

[ii] Pierre Klossowski, “Nietzsche’s Experience of the Eternal Return,” The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation.  Ed. David B. Allison.  Trans. Allen Weiss.  Cambridge: p. 110.  I draw from Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche et le cercle vicieux. Paris: Mercure de France, 1969.

[iii] Klossowski, “Nietzsche’s Experience of the Eternal Return,” p. 108.

[iv] Ibid. p. 109.

[v] Ibid. p. 113.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Cf. Georges Bataille, On Nietzsche. Trans. Bruce Boone. New York: Paragon House, 1992, pp. 139-140.

[viii] Klossowski, “Nietzsche’s Experience of the Eternal Return,” p. 108.

[ix] Maurice Blanchot attempts to answer similar questions in his The Infinite Conversation. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 82. Trans. Susan Hanson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993.

[x] Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Wille zur Macht: Eine Auslegung alles Geschehens. Ed. Max Brahn. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroener, 1921, p. 372.

[xi] Nietzsche, p. 370.

My Screenplay Is an Audio Play [FULL VIDEO]

My screenplay has become an audio play. And it is available for free, on YouTube, here: HEDDA GABLER: a sonic melodrama of Ibsen’s masterpiece – YouTube

In 2010, I wrote a screenplay for Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER.  I discovered recently that filmmaker Steve Balderson committed my screenplay to sound.  That is fine with me; I am not angry at all.  He gives me due acknowledgment, for which I am profoundly grateful. The sonic melodrama is stately, elegant, and incredibly intense.  I might quibble over the fact that the director changed my ending slightly, but on the whole, I approve of what he has done.  I highly recommend entering this aural landscape.

Listen here: HEDDA GABLER: a sonic melodrama of Ibsen’s masterpiece – YouTube

Joseph Suglia

[VIDEOS] Love Is a Mental Disorder | THE TRAGEDY OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare AN ANALYSIS

 

 

 

 

Love Is a Mental Disorder—Love Is Psychosis—The Dark Side of Love: On Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: Three Video Essays

by Joseph Suglia

 

The following is a series of partial transcripts of a video series that I created in May-June 2020. They are three lectures on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. The interpretive horizon within which I am analyzing the play is the psychology and philosophy of love.

 

VIDEO ONE

What is love? Love is a mental disorder. Love is a form of psychosis. And today, I would like to talk about the dark side of love.

Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia, and I would like to speak about the experience of love, the experience of being in love, to set up a context in which to talk about Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra.

What is love? First of all, love is an emotion. Not merely a feeling, but an emotion. The two concepts are not identical, though they overlap.

What is the difference between a feeling and an emotion? Well, feeling is a general category that encompasses all kinds of states of mind. An emotion is a specific form of feeling. An emotion is a solidified, focused, concentrated feeling.

So, what is love? Love is the most intense emotion; it is a very intense fixation on the other human being.

It is interesting that we use this one word to denote many different modes of loving. The word love may signify amatory love, the love of God, the love of one’s sister or brother, the love of humanity, the love of the friend, the love of one’s parents, the love of literature, etc.

The single word love verbally unifies all of these significations, all of these denotations and the connotations.

All of these different modes of loving are verbally unified by one word: love, l’amour, die Liebe.

What we will talk about today is not love of God, not the love of the father, not the love of the mother, not the love of the sibling, not the love of the political leader. We will discuss what is called “romantic love,” which is distinguishable from these other modes of loving.

Now, one way of understanding love is to say that it marks the passage from the indefinite article (“a” or “an”) to the definite article (“the”). When someone is in love, one does not love A person, but THE person, as if that beloved were the only person in the world. In a world populated by 7.8 billion human beings, you love one person; you singularize and particularize one human being. What is this if not madness?

Love means that we fall in love with our own hallucinations, ignoring the shortcomings of the beloved and exaggerating the beloved’s strong points, as if the beloved had nothing but strong points and no flaws, no weaknesses. And the lover attacks mercilessly anyone who would discredit the beloved, anyone who would point out any flaws in the object of one’s loving.

As Nietzsche writes in Paragraph Sixty-Seven of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future: “Love for only one person is a kind of barbarity, for it is exercised at the expense of all other people. This also includes the love for God.”

Of all the people who can fall in love with, you fall in love with one person and believe that this one person is the only person who is worthy of your love. You are willing to sacrifice all other love objects for the sake of the one beloved. Again, what is this if not madness?

This is why I say that love is a form of psychosis.

There are three fundamental impulses in the human being. The first of these is the egoic impulse—the drive to self-preservation, the drive to conserve the self (hunger, thirst, the need for clothing, the need for shelter, the need for safety, the avoidance of pain).

Beyond the egoic instinct, there are two fundamental social impulses: the nurturing impulse and the erotic impulse which is called “love.”

Most human beings instinctually prefer to nurture those in whom they recognize themselves. The nurturing instinct must be intellectualized, must be rationalized, in the way that Jesus taught, if someone is going to want to nurture someone whom one does not resemble. The intellectualization of the nurturing instinct is called “altruism.” Value is based on rarity, and “altruism” is considered to be a value (a virtue). Something is considered a “value” only if it is rare, only if it is difficult. This is because altruism goes against our more basic proclivity, which is to prefer the familiar-looking to the unfamiliar-looking.

Love is a social instinct that, ideally, leads to reciprocal determination—the beloved defines me in my being. And I define the lover in one’s being.

The sex or gender of the beloved does not matter. Sex is not subject to time; gender is subject to time.

We care about what the beloved thinks about us because the beloved defines us in some profound sense.

Reciprocal love means that the lover defines the beloved, and the beloved defines the lover. In reciprocal love, I define you, and you define me.

This does not mean that two lovers fuse together into a single being. This is Platonic nonsense.

There is no harmonization in love; there is, to a much greater extent, division and antagonism. I am approaching my main argument.

To quote Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, which is a somewhat overrated book, lines from which are tattooed on the arms, legs, backs, and shoulders of countless people:

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other. This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

The concept of amatory love is not timeless; it has a history. Where does this myth come from? Where does our contemporary understanding of amatory love come from? It is probably traceable back to Petrarch, fourteenth-century Italian poet and scholar who dedicated a number of sonnets to his beloved Laura, whom he loved in a self-sacrificing and masochistic manner, and, much earlier, to twelfth- and thirteenth-century Spanish and French troubadours who sang love poetry. What we understand as “romantic love” is derivable from these sources.

No one will be surprised to hear that most popular songs are about love. Popular songs are hymns to love or prayers to love. Well-known examples of these include “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles or “What the World Needs Now Is Love” by Jackie DeShannon, a song that was used at the end of a film about polygamy Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice from 1969. Or another, better song sung by Jackie DeShannon, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” All of these songs misrepresent the essence of love, as I will argue below.

Why should love be a value? Why should any emotion be regarded as a value?

Love has been praised as a virtue, as the affirmative emotion par excellence at least since Petrarch; indeed, it is quite possibly, along with the concept of freedom, the most dominant ideal in Western culture. (Is it even logical to make of an emotion an “ideal”?).

Love is a dark emotion. Love impinges on darker affects.

Let me discuss the darker dimensions of love—because love draws out our darker dimensions.

I freely admit that love offers some of the most exquisite delights that life has to offer. A loveless life is a life not worth living.

Love does offer some of life’s greatest delights, but love can also do a number on you; it can scuttle you, it can destroy you.

There is a dark side to love that is seldom acknowledged or addressed. Love is a mental disorder. Love is a psychological sickness.

The feeling of powerlessness that afflicts the lover is the reason that lovesickness is the most devastating subjective disaster that a human being can go through—unreciprocated love, the vertiginous experience of unrequited love, the viciously catastrophic abysses of unreciprocated love.

Why is it that the unreciprocated lover so often has thoughts of murder or suicide? Thoughts of murder and suicide are seldom absent from the mind of a beloved. The throes of unreciprocated love end often in death, in suicide or in parasuicide—parasuicide is an uncompleted suicide attempt in which the aim is not death.

There are many anecdotes that one could tell of the suicidally heartbroken. After multiple anecdotes are told, evidence ceases to be anecdotal.

Let me be empirical, then. There are neurophysiological reasons for the link between suicidality and unrequited love.

The experience of love leads to what psychologists call “limerence.”

Limerence refers to the obsessive thoughts that plague the mind of the lover. Love, again, is a kind of obsessive fascination with one human being as opposed to 7.8 billion other human beings. Even worse, amatory love suppresses the serotonin in the lover’s body. The serotonin levels of the lover plummet. Serotonin is helpful for sleep—serotonin is converted by your brain into melotonin, which helps you fall asleep. Lovers tend to have low levels of serotonin—again, this is the chemical predecessor of melotonin—which is why lovers tend to suffer from insomnia.

Moreover, low levels of serotonin make one easily irritable, irascible, querulous, peevish. Low serotonin tires you out, fatigues you, exhausts you.

And low serotonin often leads to appetite withdrawal. So: When you’re in the throes of love, you can’t sleep, you have no urge to eat, and you are besieged by insistent unwanted thoughts of the beloved.

That is what the word “obsession” means (it comes from the Latin verb obsidēre: to besiege): to be beleaguered, to be burdened, to be imposed upon.

More frighteningly, some neuroscientists have concluded that serotonin deficiency sometimes conduces to suicidal ideation. The entire world already knows this, though. Yes, unrequited lovers often ponder suicide and, disturbingly, violence against other human beings, which is another possible consequence of serotonin abnormality!

Here are the links to journal articles that give scientific evidence in support of the thesis that love has a narcoticizing essence:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4649802/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825712/

One of the dangers of erotomania, of love-obsession, is that lovers are outsiders. Necessarily, always. A lover is an outsider, on the fringes, on the margins of society. Love is not a common experience. Being in love is a relatively rare subjective condition. Lovers appear wild, untrammeled—as if they had never been socialized.

Something that Nietzsche has taught us is that love is the desire for possession, for appropriation, for assimilation. Amatory love, for this reason, is ALWAYS accompanied by jealousy. Always, necessarily. There can be no love without jealousy.

You are not in love with your partner if you are not jealous of those who are erotically in proximity to your partner.

It is possible to be jealous of the love interest of someone you’re not attracted to. Sure. So it’s possible to be jealous and not to be in love. But there can be no love without jealousy. If you feel no jealousy for those who amorously surround the supposed object of your affection, then you are lovelessly related to that person.

The ubiquity of jealousy wherever there is love demonstrates that love is the desire for ownership, appropriation, assimilatory impulse. When the desire for possession is slaked, the lover ceases to desire the beloved. In other words: Reciprocal love is boringly disappointing.

As Nietzsche writes in the Paragraph 102 of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future: “The discovery of mutual love should really make the lover sober about the beloved. ‘How is this possible? The person you love is unpresumptuous enough to love even you? Or stupid enough? Or—or—.’”

The other thing to consider is that love and hatred really do go together. Language is deceptive on this point. We have one word, love, and we have another word, hatred. Love and hatred form a single emotional complex. Love and hatred are intermeshed and intertangled. Language simplifies matters, as if we were discussing two discrete things. Love is always entangled with hatred, and, perhaps, hatred is entangled with love.

I hope that I have persuaded you, at the very least, that love is not pure. Love is not free from our most disagreeable impulses. Kafka said the following to Gustav Janouch about the interrelatedness of love and filth: “Love always inflicts wounds which never heal because love always appears hand in hand with filth.” Whenever you see an older person with a worn, ragged face, this person might have had the excruciating experience of being in love when young. Perhaps because love is intimately conjoined to pain, it leaves an indelible mark on our unconscious minds.

So, love is not immune from thoughts of destruction, from hatred, from pain—to the contrary. Moreover, the lover is analogous to a slave.

The lover exists in a one-sided dependency on the beloved, for the lover at the beloved’s whims, is subject to the beloved’s caprices. It would not be hyperbolic to claim that love is a form of enslavement. The lover is enslaved to the beloved, who is loveless or who is less in love than the lover. If you are in love with someone, you are bound to that person; being in love means the loss of independence. The one who is loveless has more power than the one who is in love. The one who is needed has power not the needful. As Baudelaire writes in his journal: “Even though a pair of lovers might be deeply devoted, full of mutual desires, one of them will always be calmer, or less obsessed, than the other. He or she must be the surgeon or the torturer: the other patient or victim.” That is, in love, one partner is more passive; the other is more aggressive. This same asymmetry or dissymmetry appears everywhere love exists.

All of this is to suggest that “true love,” that is, reciprocal love, does not exist. As La Rochefoucauld writes, “People would never fall in love if they hadn’t heard love talked about.” By love, he means so-called “true love,” which is equated to peacefulness and happiness, which like ghosts, many have spoken about, but no one has ever seen. For “true love” or “pure love” does not exist.

Bataille has a number of disturbing thoughts on love in his book variously translated as Erotism and Death and Sensuality. Though the second title is remote from the French original, it is more thought-provoking than the first. The word “sense” is contained in the word “sensuality.” The inclusion of the word “sense” in “sensuality” reminds me that there is a significance in sensuality, there in a logic in sensuality. There might be a logic in sensual love, but if there is, it is the logic of lunacy.

Bataille writes: “The whole business of eroticism is to strike to the inmost core of the living being so that the heart stands still. The transition from the normal state to that of erotic desires presupposes a partial dissolution of the person as he or she exists in the realm of discontinuity.” In other words, love leads to the destruction of one’s self-possessedness, of one’s self-mastery. This passage sheds light on the co-extensivity, the co-terminousness between love and death: Love is death, as death is love. We are overcome, in love as in death, by something that is infinitely more powerful than us and have the experience of a non-experience of the annihilation of the individuated self.

The link between love and death has been a constant subject in the history of Western literature. We can find it in Goethe and in Shakespeare’s The Most Lamentable and Excellent Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and The Tragedy of Antony of Cleopatra.

Western literature has often concerned itself with the darker side of love. Let us begin with Goethe (though Goethe, of course, postdates Shakespeare). In Goethe’s first novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, twenty-four-year-old Werther falls in love with an inaccessible woman named Charlotte and shoots himself through the brain because he cannot have her.

If you have read The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, you know that Juliet is put into a coma and laid out in a tomb by the supremely idiotic Friar Laurence so that she can escape marriage to the repellent Count Paris. Romeo finds Juliet comatose in the tomb and mistakenly assumes that she is dead and commits suicide. The message that would have informed him of the Friar’s ill-advised stratagem arrives too late. Juliet discovers Romeo’s cadaver and dispatches herself in the vault, much in the way that Isolde does after discovering the corpse of Tristan.

Something quite similar happens in The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, as if both of Shakespeare’s plays were suggesting to us that end of all erotic desire is misinterpretation and death.

As we shall see, Cleopatra dies from the bite of the venomous asp, but it is a self-envenoming, a self-inflicted envenoming. She envenoms herself.

In The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, we also have messages that don’t arrive on time—which might be read as an allegory of language, as a comment on the delay of meaning. Messages are always late. Poststructuralists would argue that the signified is never contained within the signifier, the signified forever comes after the signifier.

Let me, however, restrict my focus to amatory desire. Antony turns his back on Rome and migrates to Alexandria. He then expropriates territories held by the Roman Empire and donates these territories to Cleopatra’s children. Most scandalously, he gives a title of honor to the notorious Caesarion, the illegitimate son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. The honorific makes Caesarion the rightful heir of Julius Caesar, implying the Caesarion should be the future emperor of Rome. This does not go over well with Caesar Octavius and causes a massive political conflict which leads inexorably to war.

To summarize: Loverboy Marcus Antonius commits treason against his homeland, gives away Roman territories to the children of his Egyptian lover while he was still married to Octavia (these are known as the “Donations of Alexandria”). He does all of this out of love.

If I may make a contemporary analogy: In 2009, the Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford vanished from the state that he was elected to govern. And where was he? He was spending his days erotically with Maria Belen Chapur, an Argentinian journalist, a woman who was not his wife, in Argentina.

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is hardly a prayer to love, hardly a hymn to love, as “All You Need Is Love” or “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” certainly are.

A more accurate song on the subject of love is “Love Is the Drug” by Roxy Music.

Joseph Suglia

 

VIDEO TWO

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare is no prayer to love. It is not a hymn to love. If anything, it is a critique of love in tragic form. It is a play that evokes the darkest dimensions of love. This is the thesis on which I will fasten my attention.

We are now within the second part of the video series in which I lecture on The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. My name is Joseph Suglia.

The personal is the geo-political, and the geo-political is the personal, in this play. The last war of the Roman Republic is the war with Alexandria, and this war is set in motion by personal conflict. Marcus Antonius represents the eastern territories of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra represents Egypt, and Octavius Caesar represents Rome proper.

The war is incited by emotion—Antony is a negligent, neglectful, love-obsessed leader, an erotomaniacal leader. Shakespeare’s play suggests that Antony is a ridiculously incompetent ruler. Why is he ridiculously incompetent as a political leader? Because he is in love!

One of Antony’s closest minions Enobarbus says of Cleopatra: “We cannot call her winds and waters sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report” [I:ii]. When she weeps, it is a meteorological disaster, metaphorically speaking. The passions of the main characters have super-geo-political consequences. The emotions of the characters set in motion geo-historical events.

The play perceives war—particularly, the war between Rome and Alexandria in 30 B.C.E.—through the speculum of two human beings who are erotically engrossed in each other—so the super-geo-political is the personal, and the personal is the super-geo-political.

In the opening scene of this work, one of Marcus Antonius’s followers Philo is discussing his master’s weakness for his Egyptian lover, his indolence and negligence. This is common technique in Shakespeare—before showing the main characters, have secondary characters talk about the main characters. (You see this in The Tragedy of Timon of Athens, for instance.) Philo says to his colleague: “You shall see in him [Mark Antony] / The triple pillar of the world transformed / Into a strumpet’s fool. Behold and see” [I:i].

Antony is one of the members of the triumvirate that runs the Roman Empire. The other triumvirs are Lepidus and Octavius Caesar also known as Augustus. Octavius is not the legitimate son of Julius Caesar; he is Julius Caesar’s great-nephew. Octavius’s mother is Julius Caesar’s niece, but he is Julius Caesar’s heir. Lepidus is an ineffectual buffoon who doesn’t understand when he is being made fun of.

This is the opening conflict of the play: Marcus Antonius is voluntarily marooned in Alexandria with his Egyptian lover Cleopatra, while being married to Fulvia. Mark Antony is summoned to defend the Roman Empire against the violent incursions of the army of Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the Great, who was banished from the Roman Empire but took residence in Sicily.

Now, Sextus Pompeius is invading Rome and even has a groundswell of support from legions of young Roman men. But the observation that I want to make is that Mark Antony delays, postpones coming to the aid of Octavius and Lepidus. Why? Because he is in the thrall of Cleopatra.

Mark Antony is so besotted by his lover Cleopatra that he allows Rome to be infiltrated by the army of Pompey the Younger, Sextus Pompeius. Mark Antony is taunted and gibed and goaded and manipulated and provoked by Cleopatra—and he is so obsessed with her that he has been neglecting his official duties. He does not assist Lepidus or Octavius in their defense of Rome against the invasion of Sextus Pompeius, ignores the messages that they send, he doesn’t open their e-mails for days. And allows Rome to burn, metaphorically speaking!

Cleopatra is like Circe, marooning Odysseus on her island, beguiling Antony and bewitching him into remaining with her in Alexandria.

As Antony himself puts it: “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch / Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space! / Kingdoms are clay!” [I:i]. Let the world burn, in other words; I would rather stay here with Cleopatra.

According to Plutarch, Antony and Cleopatra described their common life with the word amimetobion, which means “the life incomparable.” The problem is that it is a life that is shut off from responsibility—particularly, from Antony’s sovereign obligations, the triumviral responsibilities.

Because he is delaying his participation in the defense of Rome, his love-obsession has geo-historical consequences. The fact that Mark Antony is neglectful and inadvertent and is obsessed with his Egyptian lover Cleopatra is world-altering. The subjective experiences of the main characters—their affectivity, their emotions—sway the course of the world. The play concerns the relationship between the all-englobing engrossments of love—that is, it concerns the destructive effects of love.

Shakespeare’s play has a great deal to say about love and the fascinations of love and the obsessiveness of the obsessive fascination which is love, the destructive fixation upon the other human being, the One Human Being who is singularized and particularized, the One Beloved who becomes the single axis around which the world is oriented.

Now, Caesar Octavius doesn’t like any of this. Octavius notices that Antony is ignoring his sovereign responsibilities and is instead lounging around in bed with Cleopatra. Antony is charactered as a wastrel and a wanton who diverts himself with sport. Octavius says: “[Antony] fishes, drinks, and wastes / The lamps of night in revel” [I:iv]. He likens Antony to those “boys who, being mature in knowledge, / Pawn their experience to their present pleasure / And so rebel to judgment” [I:iv]. In other words, Antony won’t stop playing around—and this infuriates Octavius.

Octavius, we come to understand, is a much different human being than Mark Antony. Antony is forever enraptured with Cleopatra and forever lacerated by his emotions; it is said that he wept at the death of Julius Caesar and at the death of Brutus, even though Brutus was the arch-architect of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius is raptureless, by contrast. He is sober, moderate, abstemious. Octavius is reluctant to dance at the celebration of the armistice between the Second Triumvirate and the forces of Sextus Pompeius. And Octavius is twenty-three years old; Antony is around forty-three-years old.

Antony is wasting away, lying around like a layabout, while Lepidus and Octavius, the other members of the triumvirate, defend the Roman Empire.

Antony, apparently, was not always a profligate, according to Octavius. There is a passage that suggests this. In the battle of Battle of Mutina, which took place on 21 April in the year 43 B.C.E., Antony and his forces retreated. They were famished, and Antony resorted to drinking puddles of urine and eating bark from the trees. Octavius gives us this anecdote to demonstrate how much he admired Antony’s former austerity. Like much of the play, this passage is inspired by Shakespeare’s only historical source for the play, Plutarch, in the translation of Sir Thomas North. Caesar Octavius apostrophizes the absent Antony: “[Thou fought’st against famine] with patience more / Than savages could suffer. Thou didst drink / The stale of horses and the gilded puddle / Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign / The roughest berry on the rudest hedge. / Yea, like the stag when snow the pasture sheets, / The barks of trees thou browsed” [I:iv]. The passage is beautifully disgusting.

In Scene Five of Act One, we are back in Alexandria again! This is not an Aristotelian play, violating, as it does, the unity of space. The unity of space means that a play takes place at a single location for the entirety of its duration—this is a rule that Aristotle mandates and that Shakespeare follows in The Comedy of Errors. This is very much a disunified play. It is a sprawling, extravagant, opulent pantomime. One of the most striking things about the play is that it transfers us across the world. First, we are in Alexandria. Then, we are shuttled to Rome (in Act One: Scene Four). Now, in the fifth scene of the first act, we are back in Alexandria again. The play is a bit like a teleportation machine, transposing us from one place to another, and a time machine, shuttling us from one time to another.

We next see Cleopatra lounging on her divan like an odalisque, asking her minion Charmian for a drink: “Give me to drink mandragora” [I:v]. Madragora is mandrake juice—it’s a kind of narcoticizing juice. Again, as I discussed in the first video of this series, love is related to narcosis in this play. For indeed, love is the drug, the drug par excellence.

In the second scene of the play, the servant girl Charmian’s gives us a chilling anticipation of how the play will end—namely, tragically: Charmian says as she is getting her palm read: “I love long life better than figs” [I:ii]. At the play’s gruesome conclusion, Cleopatra serves herself a dish of figs garnished with a venomous asp.

So, in Act One: Scene Five, Cleopatra is writhing on her bed, dreamily thinking. Of whom is she thinking? Of Antony, of course. “You think of him too much” [I:v], Charmian says. She is correct. Love is an obsessive fascination with the other human being, and that idea is suggested by this text.

Cleopatra says: “Broad-fronted Caesar, / When thou wast here above the ground, I was / A morsel for a monarch” [I:v]. “Above the ground” means “alive.” Cleopatra is probably to alluding to the legend in which she was bundled up in a mattress strapped by a leather belt and delivered to Julius Caesar as a “morsel,” as a dainty delicacy, for his enjoyment (with her consent). At the time, Julius Caesar was the most powerful leader in the known world.

Both Antony and Cleopatra make extreme, absolute statements. This is one of the ways in which both figures mirror each other. Many of their statements are silly; they aren’t particularly intelligent. Cleopatra vows to write a letter to Antony every day at the end of Act One: Scene Five. Or, she says, “I’ll unpeople Egypt!” [I:v]. In other words, if Cleopatra doesn’t have the opportunity to write Antony a letter every day, she will subject the Egyptian people to genocide. Both Antony and Cleopatra are psychotically ridiculous—and their psychotic ridiculousness results in the death of countless people.

Cleopatra, again, hyperbolizes. This puts her at the furthest remove, at the antipode to the Roman Empire. Ancient Romans were known for their laconic speech; they were known for moderation, for sophrosyne. This is a Greek word, an untranslatable Greek word that basically refers to temperance, moderateness, abstemiousness. Caesar Octavius is the antithesis of Cleopatra. Cleopatra writhes luxuriously on her bed and makes extravagant statements about how Antony will receive a letter every day from her or she will commit genocide against her own people.

Antony’s gesture of profligate, extravagant generosity is known by historians as “The Donations of Alexandria”: “All the East… shall call [Cleopatra] mistress” [I:v], Antony writes in his correspondence to Cleopatra. To allay Cleopatra’s anger, Antony orders the transference of all of the eastern territories of the Roman Empire. What does this mean? He gives the Eastern Roman Empire to Cleopatra and her children! This promiscuous donation of his regime is done from erotic desire; it is a squandering, a wastefulness that is prompted by love.

The lives of thousands of soldiers are destroyed because of one man’s obsession with one woman—namely, because of Antony’s love-obsession with Cleopatra.

Their love affair gives rise to the last war of the Roman Republic. Love leads inexorably to misinterpretation and to death.

The Final War of the Roman Republic would never have taken place were it not for Antony’s libidinal obsession with Cleopatra

Emotions impel the action of the play—love drives forward military action and mass death. Love leads to unspeakable destruction, in this play.

What, precisely, is the relationship between love and destruction? That will have to wait for the third and final video in this lecture series.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

VIDEO THREE

Hello, everyone. This is the third and final video in which I talk about THE TRAGEDY OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare. My name is Joseph Suglia.

Caesar Octavius has good reason to hate Antony. First of all, Antony divorces Caesar’s sister Octavia in 33 B.C.E., which is a good reason to hate Antony, I suppose. The marriage of Antony and Octavia is nothing more than a marriage of convenience; it is intended as an armistice between Caesar’s forces and Antony’s forces. But the armistice is short-lived. Antony says: “Though I make this marriage for my peace, / I’th’ East my pleasure lies” [II:iii]. Or, as Enobarbus puts it, “[Antony] will to his Egyptian dish again” [II:vi]. In other words, Antony will marry Octavia in order to smooth things out between him and Octavius, but he is obsessed with Cleopatra. So Antony soon divorces Octavius’s sister.

Secondly, Octavius resents Antony because Antony’s brother Lucius and Antony’s wife Fulvia waged war against Octavius.

Thirdly, Octavius bemoans Antony’s inactivity, his negligence of matters of state.

But what is the most impelling catalyst of the Battle of Actium, the final battle of the Roman Republic? Fought on 2 September 31 B.C.E. The Battle of Actium was fought in the Ionian Sea, near Greece, between Antony’s naval forces and Octavius’s naval forces.

What was the most impelling catalyst of the Battle of Actium? The fact that Mark Antony gave the eastern territories of the Roman Republic and honorifics to Cleopatra’s children. And one of Cleopatra’s children is Caesarion, who is Octavius’s arch-nemesis. Octavius is seething with white-hot rivalrous hatred for Caesarion, whom he calls that man “whom they call my father’s son” [III:vi]. Caesarion is the illegitimate love child between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

Octavius declares war against the forces of Cleopatra and Antony, who are still militarily allied and now a conjugal team. Octavius’s forces invade Egypt in 30 B.C.E. Octavius is incensed that Antony has made Caesarion the heir to the Roman Empire and incensed that Antony has divorced his sister in order to marry Cleopatra.

So, again, as I discussed in the second video of this series, the final battle of the Roman Republic was prompted by love.

Antony is more skilled at land than at sea—and his army suffers multiple desertions.

Antony abandons his own soldiers in Greece, where they go hungry and are compelled to surrender to the forces of the Roman loyalists.

Antony flees the Battle of Actium—he abandons his fleet, abandons his army, coward that he is.

Antony’s naval campaign shipwrecks, metaphorically speaking, because of love. He retreats prematurely, “turn[ing] the rudder,” following Cleopatra’s fleet, leaving his own army to famish in Greece [III:x]. Antony describes his cowardice thus: “I have fled myself and have instructed cowards / To run and show their shoulders” [III:xi]. He is pursued by the “itch of his affection” [III:xiii]—his libidinal inclinations.

Antony is clearly losing his mind. He challenges Octavius to a swordfight, which Octavius laughingly declines. And Antony acts oddly around his servants, addressing them as “Thou, and thou, and thou” (“Thou hast been rightly honest”) and thanking them profusely and supplicating himself before them with almost unbearable deference [IV:ii]. His behavior grows bizarre; he is clearly having a mental breakdown.

Antony is provoked into battle by love and he abandons the battle out of love. Antony: “My sword [is] made weak by my affection” [III:xi]. He is not much a warrior anymore because he is in love. Perhaps love should be banished from the Republic in the same way in which poetry should be banished from Plato’s Republic. Poetry is a form of mimesis, which makes it the replication of a replication; the world is a replication of a constellation of ideas. Poetry is an imitation, a mimesis, of the world, so poetry is the imitation of an imitation. Poetry would lead to the mollification of warcraft—and, in this play, love leads to the mollification of warcraft.

Love is neither logical nor rational in any other sense (according to the metaphorics of this play). There is even more textual evidence that would support this interpretation. Enobarbus says of Antony: “He… would make his will / Lord of his reason” [III:xiii].

“Will” here does not mean what we today mean by the word “will”; it means passion, it means desire, it means love.

In other words, Antony’s decisions are not purely intellectual; they are grounded in feeling—in particular, in his impassioned feelings for Cleopatra.

And later, in the same, scene Antony has this to say of himself: “The wise gods seel our eyes, / In our own filth drop our clear judgments, make us / Adore our errors, laugh at’s while we strut / To our confusion” [Ibid.]. Seeling is a rather disgusting practice in which the eyelids of falcons are sewn shut by their falconers.

In other words, lovers are mesmerized by their own delusions and thus are incapable of lucidity of thought.

There is one more citation that I would like to adduce:

“I see men’s judgments are / A parcel of their fortunes, and things outward / Do draw the inward quality after them / To suffer all alike” [III:xiii]. Enobarbus, in an aside.

Shakespeare is suggesting, again, that the human beast is an emotional animal and that its decisions, its judgments, are based on feeling, based on desire—in this case, on the emotion that we simplistically name “love.”

Let us talk about the character Enobarbus, who calls himself a “considerate stone” [II:ii].

In Plutarch, there are two men named Domitius. One accompanied Antony on this Parthian campaign, the other was a soldier who deserted Antony. Shakespeare conflates both of these people into a single figure: Domitius Enobarbus. Now, why did Shakespeare use the name Enobarbus? Perhaps because Enobarbus often makes barbed remarks, but probably because Enobarbus means “red-beard” and that evokes the red-bearded betrayer Judas Iscariot.

Enobarbus does, indeed, betray his master Marcus Antonius, much in the way that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.

Domitius forsakes Antony and joins the opposition in a Judas-like betrayal. Enobarbaus dies in a wasteland, sickened by his own sense of guilt.

Enobarbus at first appears as a raisonneur. What is a raisonneur?

A raisonneur is a character in a book who epitomizes and spells out the official meaning of that book—the authoritative, literal message of the book and often the author’s intentions or the author’s philosophy. Of course, this does not mean that every meaning that the book generates is the point of view of the raisonneur. Far from it. It is only suggests that the raisonneurs point of view is the official, surface point of view of the book. The raisonneur exemplifies The Meaning of the book. Other examples in Shakespeare include Gower in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida or Apemantus in The Tragedy of Timon of Athens.

At first, Enobarbus such a character. He functions as a Greek chorus, explaining what is going on, as he does when he describes the glorious pageantry that surrounded Cleopatra when was carried on a barge. He also philosophizes and pontificates and tells jokes to alleviate the grief of Antony immediately after Antony learns that his wife Fulvia has died by giving him a philosophical perspective from which to view her demise. Enobarbus, at first, seems a detached character, not so much a character who moralizes as he is a character who immoralizes.

So, at first, Enobarbus is a raisonneur. But look what happens in this play, in The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. He reveals himself to be an unreliable raisonneur!

Before I explain why I say this, I must pause over Hegel.

Each one of Shakespeare’s characters, in all of the plays, is compact of disparate and contradictory elements. They are similar to how Hegel conceived the object of perception.

In the 1806 edition of The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel conceived the object of perception as an assemblage of Alsos. Each thing that we perceive is a cluster of disparate traits. This coalescence of disparate features is what Hegel called “indifferent passive universality.” For example: A piece of sugar is brown, and it is shaped like a cube, and it is dissolvable, and it is friable. It looks brown, and it is also in the form of a cube, and it also can be dissolved, and it also can be easily crumbled. It has all of these individual properties, so you could say that every object is this thing and also this thing and also this thing and also this thing. This is the first moment of perception, for Hegel.

You might wonder why I am bringing this up. Shakespeare’s characters are quite similar in that they are enormous complex. They contain a multitude of traits that are contradicting. They lack collapsibility—they are not collapsible, by which I mean they are not compact or simple. Octavius is cold, level-headed, and sober, and he is dead-set on defeating Antony, who is his mortal rival, and yet he also has an emotional breakdown when he learns of Antony’s death. Enobarbus is a raisonneur, and yet he also betrays his master Antony in the style of Judas—he is treacherous, and yet he also dies of grief for having been disloyal to his master.

During his meltdown, Enobarbus has this to say: “I am alone the villain of the earth, / And feel I am so most… I will go seek / Some ditch wherein to die; the foul’st best fits / My latter part of life” [Act Four: Scene Six].

We get an impression from this text of how fragile, how contingent history is. It is interesting to talk about this play at a time of upheaval. I don’t know when you will be watching and listening to this video, but right now, it is a time of upheaval, a time of social upheaval, a time of cultural upheaval, a time of political upheaval.

There is a character in this play who might seem, at first glance, to be a minor character, but there are no minor characters in Shakespeare. One of Shakespeare’s dramaturgical tricks is that the characters that, at first, appear to be secondary or even tertiary characters turn out to be central characters of the play.

The wise water-thief Menas proposes slicing the throats of all three leaders of the Western world—Octavius, Lepidus, and Antonius—while they are wassailing on Pompey’s warship, on his galley. They are celebrating the armistice between the forces of Pompey the Younger and the combined forces of Octavius, Lepidus, and Antony.

The pirate Menas makes the following proposal to Pompey the Younger. He will finesse the elimination of all three pillars of the Western world. He will cut the mooring of the galley and cut the throats of all three triumvirs while they are in a drunken stupor: “These three world-sharers, these competitors, / And in thy vessel. Let me cut the cable, / And when we are put off, fall to their throats” [II:vii]. Menas, then, offers to cut the mooring of the ship and cut the throats of Octavius, Lepidus, and Mark Antony. This opens up speculative possibilities: What if the pirate had killed off the Second Triumvirate? How would world-history have been transformed? Everything that we consider “normal” today would have been destabilized. Anything that we consider to be stable in life could be unsettled at any moment. We could easily be thrown into a state of disequilibrium, into a state of dis-ease by a disease, such as the novel Coronavirus, for instance. The today of Western civilization and the today of Eastern civilization would be entirely different than they are today. Too often, we conceive of history as being, as it were, divinely ordained, necessary, stable, fixed, preprogrammed—and yet history is arbitrary. The play evokes the contingency of history. It evokes how unstable life really is.

One of the reasons why this play is transcendent, why it is so exciting to read, is that suggests an alternative, speculative history beside the history which it presents, the material of which is almost exclusively derived from a single source: Plutarch in the Sir Thomas North translation.

I have noticed that throughout this play are there are images of deliquescence. To deliquesce means “to de-congeal,” “to dissolve,” “to melt away,” “to discandy,” “to de-coagulate,” “to de-coalesce,” “to de-solidify.” I have noticed figures that are melting, forms that are melting, shapes that are melting.

Antony uses the verb “to discandy” (“to melt away”); Cleopatra uses the same word.

Cleopatra exclaims: “Melt Egypt into Nile, and kindly creatures turn all to serpents!” [II:v]. Incidentally, Cleopatra is metaphorically associated with pyramids, the River Nile, and snakes, in particular, the venomous asp. (Lepidus gives the incorrect plural of “pyramid,” when he says, “pyrimises” [II:vii].)

Upon observing the dying of Antony, Cleopatra says: “The crown o’th’ earth doth melt” [IV:xv].

Charmian says in Act Five: Scene Two: “Dissolve, thick cloud, and rain, that I may say / The gods themselves do weep!” [V:ii].

Cleopatra employs the verb to discandy in Act Three: Scene Thirteen:

Ah, dear, if I be so,
From my cold heart let heaven engender hail,
And poison it in the source; and the first stone
Drop in my neck: as it determines, so
Dissolve my life! The next Caesarion smite!
Till by degrees the memory of my womb,
Together with my brave Egyptians all,
By the discandying of this pelleted storm,
Lie graveless, till the flies and gnats of Nile
Have buried them for prey!

Antony also employs the same metaphor in Act Four: Scene Twelve:

O sun, thy uprise shall I see no more:
Fortune and Antony part here; even here
Do we shake hands. All come to this? The hearts
That spaniel’d me at heels, to whom I gave
Their wishes, do discandy, melt their sweets
On blossoming Caesar; and this pine is bark’d,
That overtopp’d them all. Betray’d I am:
O this false soul of Egypt! this grave charm,–
Whose eye beck’d forth my wars, and call’d them home;
Whose bosom was my crownet, my chief end,–
Like a right gipsy, hath, at fast and loose,
Beguiled me to the very heart of loss.
What, Eros, Eros!

Notice that, at the very end of Antony’s soliloquy, he summons Eros—that is to say, erotic desire, love.

What is the significance of all of this imagery of deliquescence? The first answer is: Most of the principal characters have emotional meltdowns. Secondly, the fact that both Antony and Cleopatra use the word “discandy” is a verbal cue by which Shakespeare suggests that their fates are connected, which they surely are.

One of the hidden agreements that links Cleopatra to Antony is the fact that both maltreat their subordinates, their lackies, their minions, couriers who bring them messages. Cleopatra practices messenger abuse; she is immensely cruel to the messenger who brings her bad news. When a messenger comes to Cleopatra to inform her that her love Antony is married to Octavia, Cleopatra exclaims, “I have a mind to strike thee ere thou speak’st” [II:v] and then beats the messenger, striking him down, haling him up and down with blows; these are the stage directions. She even draws a knife and brandishes it at the messenger. Antony has one of Caesar’s envoys flogged—his name is Thidias—in Act Three: Scene Thirteen. He does so out of jealousy, after descrying Cleopatra’s hand being kissed by Thidias (“Give me grace to lay / My duty on your hand,” he says before kissing her hand [III:xiii]. Antony is unaware that Cleopatra has done something much worse than kiss the hand of the messenger—she appears to agree to abandon Antony and give herself up to Caesar.[i]

Cleopatra and Antony are rude to their subordinates. This rudeness links them.

 

Is the ethical worth of a person not determined by the way in which one treats one’s subordinates?

With the exception of one favorable message (Act One: Scene Five), all of the messages in this play fall into one of three categories: There are messages that are bad, messages that are late, and messages that are false. The network of communication does not communicate—it is endlessly falling apart. The disrupted system of communication between Cleopatra and Antony suggests that there is only misinterpretation between lovers. Messages do not arrive on time, messages are flat-out false, or messages are unwelcome.

Characters are linked by a system of communication that is malfunctioning and only gives bad, late, and false messages. All of this suggests:

Love leads to reciprocal misinterpretation, and love is inextricably bound to death.

I will write very little about Cleopatra’s self-annihilation, for it has nothing to do with love. Cleopatra’s suicide, in contrast to Antony’s self-demise, does not appear to emerge from any intense passion for Antony. Cleopatra is afraid of ritualistic public humiliation. She is afraid that she will be subjected to the puerile defilements of the rabble. She suspects, correctly, that Octavius intends to humiliate her, the Pharaoh Queen, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt, perhaps leading her through the streets naked with a lariat around her throat in a triumphal procession, as if she were a trophy of war.[ii] She decides, for this reason, to be “noble to [herself]” [Ibid.], to exert mastery over herself, to become godlike by choosing her own death instead of allowing it to be chosen for her, to become the goddess of her own finality. She prefers death to being subjugated to the whims of the rabble, of the mob, where she should be paraded around as if an “Egyptian puppet” [Ibid.], along with Iras, her servant.

Again, Cleopatra’s suicide does not appear to emerge from any deep, intense passion for Antony.

The self-demise of Antony is a much different matter. When Antonius sees that his soldiers have deserted him, he grows enraged against Cleopatra, whom he accuses of treachery against him. There is little textual evidence that she has indeed betrayed him, other than the conversation with Thidias. But there is no textual evidence that she actually has done so.

Cleopatra, terrified by Antony’s ebullition of rage, locks herself in a sepulcher and sends out a messenger to Antony to tell him that she is dead (“Mardian, go tell him I have slain myself” [IV:xiii]). Antony’s response is to assassinate himself.

Antony’s self-assassination is not romantic, but pitiful, protracted, abject, and absurd.

Antony destroys himself, he kills himself on the basis of an uncorroborated false rumor, a rumor for which he does not seek evidence. Much in the way that Romeo who finds Juliet comatose falsely assumes that she is dead, Antony assumes that Cleopatra is dead on the basis of a false report. Remember: Almost all messages in the play are bad, late, or false. In this case, we get a message that is false and another message that is late. A system of communication is installed that does not connect the characters, but which disconnects them from one another, as if to suggest that love is founded on misinterpretation.

The fact that we know something that Antony does not know is classical dramatic irony. What is dramatic irony? Dramatic irony is when we, the spectators or readers, know a piece of essential information that is denied to the characters on stage.

Antony suborns his own assassination by turning to his servant, Eros, and commanding him to strike off Antony’s head: “Thou art sworn, Eros, / That when the exigent should come—which now / Is come indeed… Thou then wouldst kill me. Do’t” [IV:xiv].

Now, if Shakespeare were an inferior dramatist, he would have had Eros kill off Antony directly.

Of course, this would have contravened the source from which Shakespeare derived nearly all of his material, Plutarch in the North translation. More pointedly, it would have been laughably fatuous and simplistic. It would not have been allegorical; it would have been symbolic in the Greek sense, sumbellein, which means “the coming-together” of meaning and image in a transparently obvious manner. Eros kills Antony, and this would mean: “Love kills the lover.” That would have been stupid. A much lesser dramatist than Shakespeare would have written the scene in such a fashion.

Instead, Eros (love) prompts Antony to end himself. Antony says: “There is left us / Ourselves to end ourselves” [IV:xiv]. One might object to this interpretation: The historical Eros is the name of the servant, as recorded by Plutarch. If the significance of the name Eros is limited to historical documentation, why is it, then, that Shakespeare manifests Eros in Act Three: Scene Eleven and has Antony incant the name Eros three times in Act Four: Scene Four, whereas Plutarch only cites the name once?

Shakespeare highlights, emphasizes, accentuates the name Eros in order to turn Eros into an allegorical figure. When Eros’s self-demise prompts Antony to assassinate himself, an allegory is being set up: an allegory about the relationship between amatory passion (love) and destruction, which is what I have been speaking about for three videos, the destructiveness of love.

I am tempted to read these lines metaphorically: Antony addresses Eros as “[t]hrice nobler than myself” and says, “Thou teachest me, O valiant Eros, what I should and thou couldst not” [IV:xiv].

Eros, Love, does not kill the lover directly; it prompts lovers to destroy themselves. Love and Death issue from the same source: an experience in which the self is overwhelmed and obliterated. I am arguing that Shakespeare is suggesting to us that Love (Eros) flows into Death (Thanatos).

This is, again, what psychologists call limerence.

Sadly, this is all too common. As I have discussed above, we know empirically that limerence, lovesickness, leads to a decline in serotonin, which, in turn, sometimes leads to thoughts of self-assassination. Antony is nothing if not limerent.

This is why Antony’s self-assassination is not romantic, but pitiful, protracted, abject, absurd.

It is strange that we use the word “love” to denote both the love of the parent for the child AND the love of one amatory partner for another. These are two different types of love, or they should be.

However, there is a telescopic coincidence between both types of love. Love is a form of intense emotional dependency on another human being. The parent is intensely emotionally dependent on the child, as the romantic lover is intensely emotionally dependent on the beloved. But this similarity ends there.

I quoted Georges Bataille earlier. He believes that Eros and Thanatos, love and death, issue from the same source. For both love and death afford the experience of a non-experience in which self-possessedness, self-mastery is overtaken.

What is it that drives us crazy about the beloved? What drives us crazy about the other human being, the human being whom we love, is the beloved’s freedom from our desire. The person we love has the freedom to do whatever one wants, independently of us. The beloved is uncontrollable, and this drives us insane. The absolute self-sufficiency of the other human being drives us into a frenzy. No one can control absolutely what the other person says or does; the other person can always respond negatively to something positive that we say or respond affirmatively to something negative that we say. Insofar as the beloved is absolutely free from our desire, the beloved forces us to experience the limits of our own presumptions.

We are drawn to what is within the beloved that escapes our mastery. This inevitably converts the desire for the other human being into the desire for the destruction of the beloved’s freedom. What do I mean? The lover wants to control the beloved, to turn the beloved into an object. And this desire for objectification is the desire for dehumanization and the desire for the destruction of the other person’s liberty. The end of all desire, it may be said, is destruction. The lover desires to turn the beloved into oneself, to nullify the beloved’s “otherness,” which means to reduce the other person into nothing.

Why else would thoughts of murder and suicide seldom be absent from the mind of the lover? The Oscar Wilde cliché “All men kill the thing that they love” is a propos to this context.

If you would allow me to quote myself, I would like to quote an essay that I wrote entitled “Dennis Cooper and the Demythologization of Love”:

It is perhaps the case that what is called “love,” the most intense form that desire may take, draws out the deeper dimensions of human selfhood. It exposes, perhaps, our most profound valences; it makes apparent our drive toward aggression, our desire for domination, our wish (whether conscious or unconscious) for the annihilation of the beloved.

So: Love is intimately bound to death. The idea that love is the absolute good is a myth. Love is an obsession, a fascination, and it is a form of psychosis.

Love flows into death, in this play. Love travels down a descending scale that results in death.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

[i] “Tell [Caesar] I am prompt / To lay my crown at’s feet, and there to kneel / Till from his all-obeying breath I hear / The doom of Egypt” [III:xiii].

 

[ii] Some of her apprehensions: “Shall they hoist me up / And show me to the dull varletry / Of censuring Rome?” [V:ii]. Cleopatra learns from Dolabella that Caesar Octavius will “lead” her in “triumph” [Ibid.].

[VIDEOS] Nietzsche’s ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALITY: Three Video Lectures

 

Nietzsche’s ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALITY: Three Video Lectures

by Joseph Suglia

 

The following is a partial transcript of three video lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, also translated as On the Genealogy of Morals. In the German, the title is Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift. The videos were published on YouTube in June 2020.

 

VIDEO ONE

All of the idols are devils, and “Good” is “Evil.” Morals are already vices—and our so-called “vices” aren’t so bad. These are corollaries that we may derive from the writing of Nietzsche.

This is the first video in the series in which I will be lecturing on Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, translated as On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic by Friedrich Nietzsche, published in 1887.

My name is Joseph Suglia.

This is the very opening of the Preface, Paragraph One: “We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers,” Wir sind uns unbekannt, wir Erkennenden

That is to say: The core of the human beast goes beyond the perceptual scope of the human beast; the essence of the human beast is inaccessible to the human beast.

No one knows oneself, but free spirits are the ones who know that they do not know ourselves.

Consciousness is only a part of the mind; it is not the entire mind. Indeed, the preponderance of all mental activity is unconscious. The “I,” the Ego, is an illusion—the Ego, which is the self-preserving idealization of the self, is an illusion. What I think that I am is not what I actually am. I might tell myself that I am unconditionally compassionate, but I might not be unconditionally compassionate. The core of my selfhood is inaccessible to my Self. We are all strangers to ourselves, for the core of the human being is the unconscious mind.

In Paragraph Three of the Preface, Nietzsche tells us that, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he playfully described God to be the father of Evil in a schoolboy writing exercise. But later, he tells us, he learned that Good and Evil are inventions, fabrications, human concepts that are not prescribed and preinscribed in the world by the divine. Nietzsche writes, “I no longer searched for the origin of evil beyond the world,” [ich] suchte nicht mehr den Ursprung des Bösen hinter der Welt.

So, Nietzsche’s a priori, his axiom, his absolute premise and presupposition, is that Good and Evil are not objectively given in the world. Now, there are those who are stuck at this stage and believe, because of inherited faiths which they cannot disinherit, that Good and Evil are not confabulations but are objectively real. Nietzsche, of course, does not, and this is his point of departure.

“Good” and “Evil” are much like general customs. Offering water to guests in one’s home is a general custom is certain places of the world. In India and Pakistan, water is offered to guests. But in Pakistan, children give garlands to guests who pass over the threshold of their home. Just as not every culture offers garlands to visitors, not every Good is a Good for every culture.

For instance: Suicide in Ancient Rome was considered as an act of the noble and therefore a “Good”—we prohibit suicide and consider it an “Evil.”

So, this book seeks to answer two questions that English psychologists never pose or pursue, two questions which German psychologists never pose or pursue, including Paul Rée, Nietzsche’s former friend and current enemy, the man who absconded with the woman Nietzsche fell in love with. Paul Rée and Nietzsche had a falling out in 1882 over the woman they both loved, Lou Andreas-Salome. One year after Nietzsche died, Rée died. Rée went hiking in the Swiss Alps, precipitated from a slippery precipice and tumbled into a gorge.

In any event, the book seeks to answer two questions: 1.) Where do moral concepts, such as Good and Evil, come from? 2.) What is the value of moral concepts? In other words, do moral concepts, such as Good and Evil, promote life? Do they intensify life? Do they enhance life? Or are these concepts that are anti-life? Would we be better off without these concepts? Should we dispense with these concepts altogether and think in different categories? In a different language?

The second question puts Nietzsche is close proximity to Aristotle, who believed that what is moral is what promotes human flourishing, eudaemonia.

In Paragraph Five of the Preface, Nietzsche takes a distance, again, from the morality of pity.

Schopenhauer believed that the fundamental proposition of morality, in his 1840 essay “On the Foundations of Morality,” is: “hurt no one, and help others whenever you can.” Schopenhauer regarded pity to be the fundamental affect of morality.

Now, this terrible translation (The Cambridge University Press translation) renders the word Mitleid as “compassion.” The correct translation is not “compassion”; it is “pity.”

What is wrong with pity? Why does it make no sense to make pity the basis of moral judgments? Well, to begin with, asserting one’s superiority over other human beings is a form of cruelty. If you pity someone, you are implying, in a sanctimonious way, that the person you pity is beneath you. We don’t pity our equals; we pity those we consider to be subjacent to us, below our level. We pity wounded dogs, wounded cats, college professors, organisms we think are worthy of our pity and who are therefore not even powerful enough to wound us. The pitiful are incapable of hurting us; they are regarded as being unworthy of becoming our adversaries. Those who are pitied are viewed as undignified by those who think of themselves as dignified enough to bestow pity. And if you have the ability to bestow pity, you also have the ability to withhold pity or to revoke pity.

So, “hurt no one”? Neminem laede? That sounds good on the surface, but if you pity someone, you are hurting the person you are pitying, and the person who is being pitied probably knows it. It is insulting to be pitied.

Even worse, the pitier takes pleasure in pitying the pitiful.

Now, Kant has a different problem with making pity the basis of morality—Nietzsche cites Kant as a philosopher who thought that pity may not be the basis of morality.

According to Kant, whenever we are making moral decisions, reason must refer to itself absolutely, it must give itself its own law (such is the autonomy of reason: reason legislates independently, purely). The affect of pity is external to pure reason.

In order for any action to be moral, it must be performed without the interposition of any feeling, except for the one pure feeling, which is respect (Achtung), according to Kant.

Again, Nietzsche will be addressing two questions in this book: What are the origins of the fabrications “Good” and “Evil”? Secondly, what is the value of the concepts “Good” and “Evil”—if they have any value at all?

Why choose “Good” over “Evil”? Is “Good” always good? Is “Evil” necessarily “evil”? Are there cases in which what is called “Good” is not good? Are there cases in which “Evil” is not necessarily evil?

Nietzsche is not some Mephistopheles who comes from the abysses of the underworld and declares, “Let Evil be my Good!” He is wondering, from a place of disequilibrium: Why are the most vigorous, life-affirming, and creative human beings nominated as “evil”? Are they necessarily evil? Why are the meekest, weakest, and the most passive called “good”? Are they necessarily good?

Killing is wrong, most would agree, but would it have been wrong to kill Hitler before he became dictator?

Is obedience to authority always an absolute good? Is obedience a universal and necessary good? “Universal” meaning “occurring everywhere” and “necessary” meaning “occurring at all times.”

Is it thinkable, could it be the case that morality is preventing humankind from vaulting to and reaching its highest heights, from evolving into overhumanity, der Übermensch? Is conventional morality (and is there any kind of morality other than the conventional variety?) restraining humanity in the way that the swingletree restrains the horse?

* * * * *

In the first essay, Nietzsche sets up a typology between two kinds of dominant morality, two moralities: There is patrician morality, and there is plebeian morality. The patricians are the rulers of a society; the plebeians are the commoners, the common people, the common run of humanity.

The patricians are those who belong to the ruling classes, they belong to the dominant and often domineering classes. They name themselves “good.” So, “Good,” in Greek and Roman Antiquity, means “dignified,” “distinguished,” “distinctive,” “elegant,” “sophisticated,” “noble.”

In Paragraph 45 of Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Menschliches allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freigeister, we learn that the hierarchical class, the aristocracy, is “good” because it nominates itself as “good”—but the enemy of the Good is not evil because the enemy can requite the good. The enemy is our equal and therefore good, insofar as the enemy also comes from another ruling class. So, the Ancient Greek did not regard the Trojan as “evil,” but as “good,” even though the Trojan is the enemy of the Ancient Greek. In the Corinthian War, the Spartans did not describe the Athenians as “bad,” even though the Athenians were the adversaries of the Spartans. The Spartans recognized their Athenian adversaries as “good” in the same way that they recognized themselves as good. Aristomenes of Messenia was the supreme enemy of Sparta, but I doubt that the Spartans characterized him as “bad,” much less as “evil.” Aristomenes was of high enough standing to be named the enemy of Sparta, which made him not “bad,” but “good.”

The enemy, the opponent, the competitor, the rival, the adversary is good because she or he is our equal. What was considered “bad” in Greek Antiquity was whatever or whoever was regarded as lowly, contemptible, dust under the feet of the hierarchical, ruling classes. The plebeians were considered “bad” because they were ignoble, low, undistinguished, servile, undistinctive, unvornehm.

For the first time in my brief YouTube career, I will deploy a visual aid.

 

Sie kleiden sich schlicht. = They dress simply (or plainly or modestly).

Sie kleiden sich schlecht. = They dress badly.

 

Sie sprechen schlicht. = They speak simply (or plainly or modestly).

Sie sprechen schlecht. = They speak badly.

 

Schlicht (“plain,” “modest,” “unassuming,” “unadorned,” “unembellished”) is etymologically related to schlecht (“bad”).

Nietzsche also mentions schlechtweg (“plainly”) and schlechterdings (“simply”), but he does not mention schlechthin (“as such,” “per se,” “as it is”), for some reason.

 

The aristocracy will be replaced by the priestly caste, the clerical class.

Nietzsche does not specifically name Byzantium, but I surmise that he is thinking partly of Byzantium, which was rechristened by the Emperor-Pope Constantine in the year of 330 C.E. as Nova Roma, The New Rome. Byzantium was a theocratic, caesaropapistic state—a state in which religion and politics were one.

Arguably, the priest is the most significant figure in this book. The book begins with the priest and ends with the priest, approximately speaking.

The priest is the one who transforms the previous morality. What is “good” becomes “evil,” and what is “bad” becomes “good.”

The sneering unconcernedness of the patrician, the blithe, ironic indifference of the patrician, the worldliness of the patrician—all of these qualities are now decried as “evil” by the priest. The priest is the megaphone of the mob.

The patrician is hated because she or he is preponderant and she or he displays one’s preponderancy, one’s superiority, one’s sovereignty, one’s majesty, one’s prestigiousness, one’s transcendence in relation to the plebeian. This is reason enough to hate anyone, I suppose—the ostentatious self-display of the patrician’s magnificence.

Here is a citation in which Nietzsche makes this point clear (in Essay One, Paragraph Two):

“The pathos of distinction and distance… the continuing and dominating feeling of complete and fundamental superiority of a higher ruling kind in relation to a lower kind, to those ‘below’—that is the origin of the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad.’”

In German:

Das Pathos der Vornehmheit und Distanz… das dauernde und dominirende Gesammt- und Grundgefühl einer höheren herrschenden Art im Verhältniss zu einer niederen Art, zu einem “Unten”—das ist der Ursprung des Gegensatzes “gut” und “schlecht.”

The priest, fraught with hatred, hates the aristocrat, hates the patrician. What is distinguished is now diabolized, as if to say: “You might have worldly power, O rich man, but you will be poor in the underworldly afterdeath!”

What is sophisticated is demonized, and what is mediocre is angelized.

And the mediocre shall inherit the Earth.

The priest inverts the values of the noble classes—this the famous Nietzschean inversion of values or transvaluation of values. Now, the common, the plebeian, the undifferentiated, and the unindividuated are valorized, and the exceptional, the patrician, the distinguished, and the individuated are deposed.

Nietzsche clearly sides with the distinguished, the vornehm, which he associates with creativity, fertility, strength, vigorousness. Again, the distinguished, the patrician, the intelligent, the complexly minded are codified as “evil” with the rise of the priestly classes.

What is “good” today is not what was “good” yesterday, and what is “good” tomorrow will be different from today’s “good.” Of course, if Nietzsche had his way, there would be neither “Good” nor “Evil”; we would think in a different language altogether.

The “good” are now the meek, the mediocre, the ordinary, the boring, the unintelligent, the simple and the simple-minded simpletons. This does not mean that the common people are unintelligent and that the rich are intelligent. It does mean that unintelligence is praised as a virtue in plebeian morality, however. Why? Because there is only so much intelligence to go around. Genius is rare; therefore, genius cannot be a common value.

No value can be common, for value is based on scarcity.

According to Nietzsche, most human beasts are herd beasts, “mobsters,” if you like, members of the mob. Crowd animals. For that reason, they identify the “Good” with the “Plain,” the “Unassuming,” the “Unremarkable,” the “Mediocre.”

Again, according to the patrician, what is plain is bad.

The hieratic class emerges as regnant and with it, plebeian morality.

How destructive does Nietzsche think the priest is? To cite the text directly:

“Priests make everything more dangerous,” Bei den Priestern wird eben Alles gefährlicher [Essay One, Paragraph Six].

Why is this? Why does everything become “more dangerous”? Because the concept of Evil comes in the world for the first time through the mediacy of the priest, through sacerdotalism.

It was the priest who upholds “that shuddering paradox of a god on the Cross,” jener schauerlichen Paradoxie eines ‘Gottes am Kreuze,’ as Nietzsche phrases it in Book One: Paragraph Eight. It is the priest who espouses the concept of kenosis—that is to say, the humanization, finitization, and mortalization of the Christian God.   The encarnalization of God.

(This is something that Karl Barth writes about in his magisterial book The Epistle to the Romans.)

So, this is the revenge of the priest: The priest endorses undignified self-debasements and self-annihilations before the divine. But this is nothing more than the attempted display of the priest’s holiness! This, again, is the revenge of the priest. The patrician will be from now on described as “evil.” The revenge of the priest is the hatred of the powerless for the powerful. It is ressentiment.

Now, at American colleges and universities, Nietzsche’s phrase “man of ressentiment” is often garbled as “man of resentment.” But ressentiment does not mean “resentment” or “resentfulness.” The man of ressentiment is not a man of resentfulnesss.

Resentment is spiteful, envious bitterness.

So, what is ressentiment?

Ressentiment is a deep, tarantula-like, pathological desire for revenge on the dominating classes who equate goodness to distinguishedness and who equate distinguishedness to beauty and happiness. Ressentiment is the aggrievement of the mediocre. Ressentiment goes beyond mere grudge-holding, bitterness, and envy. Ressentiment is the revengefulness of the weak or, to phrase it slightly differently, the will to exact revenge on the strong.

The person of ressentiment cannot let anything go. One’s every action is a reaction to the words and the acts of the powerful.

This is precisely what Nietzsche writes: Plebeian morality needs external stimuli in order to act at all—“its action is basically a reaction,” ihre Aktion ist von Grund aus Reaktion [Essay One: Paragraph Ten].

The person of ressentiment adheres to, clings to, gloms on to the “It Was,” the Before, the Used-to-Be, one’s youth, one’s past-life. Because the Before is irrecoverable, is irretrievable, is beyond the scope of his mastery. One might be able to do almost anything one pleases, but one lacks the ability to revise or to recover the past. One cannot alter one’s youth or the errors that one made in one’s youth. The person of ressentiment is the first one who would reject the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. The Spirit of Revenge comes from the feeling of impotence that we have from changing the past; the way of emancipating oneself from the past is by joyfully affirming the past and wishing to repeat it endlessly. This is the Nietzschean categorical imperative: “Act in such a way that your actions will recur eternally.”

The man of ressentiment finds his meaningfulness through those who are superjacent to him. He is the fragile, priestly type who is dependent on the strong and the sophisticated. He requires the recognition of the patrician in order to love himself. Nietzsche, through his Zarathustra, teaches us to love ourselves, and self-love gives meaningfulness—and that is all that matters.

The man of ressentiment seeks causes of offence in advance.

The real problem is when the man of ressentiment turns creative and invents values. These values are known as “virtues.” Why do virtues exist? Virtues exist to make human beings tame, to turn them into domesticated, submissive, slavish herd beasts. Consider the virtues of obedience, chastity, piety. If you consider obedience, obedience exists in order to restrict the self-assertion of the self and to keep people in line. Chastity is a war against one’s natural impulses. Piety is the negation of the self in relation to God; instead of learning to love oneself, one loves God and exists in a state of undignified self-debasement in relation to God. Self-control is also a virtue, but so is modesty. What are these but forms of self-minimization, perhaps even forms of self-hatred? Passivity, meekness, modesty—these are virtues. Virtues actively negate human self-esteem, human self-worth. Self-rapture is certainly not a conventional virtue.

To summarize:

Patrician morality is the morality of the ironically and playfully unconcerned, the morality of the distinguished, the active, the spontaneous, the creative, the fertile, the self-sufficient.

Plebeian morality is the morality of the passive, the dependent, the reactive; essentially, it is the morality of the crowd.

The concept of “Bad” is an invention of patrician morality; the concept of “Evil” is an invention of plebeian morality. The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is not the same concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Evil.” The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is distinguishedness, die Vornehmheit. The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is commonness, die Gemeinheit.

In Paragraph Thirteen of Essay One, Nietzsche gives us his own fable of a little lamb, which represents the man of ressentiment, and the raptor, the bird of prey, which represents the patrician, the person of distinction.

To quote the text: “It is not strange that the lambs should bear a grudge against the great birds of prey, but that is no reason for blaming the great birds of prey for snatching up the little lambs. And when the lambs say among themselves, ‘These birds of prey are evil, and whoever is as far removed from being a bird of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb—is that lamb not good?’ then there is nothing to cavil at in the setting up of this ideal, though it may also be that the birds of prey will regard it a little sneeringly, and perchance say to themselves, ‘We bear no grudge against them, these good lambs, we even like them: Nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.’”

To quote the German: Dass die Lämmer den grossen Raubvögeln gram sind, das befremdet nicht: nur liegt darin kein Grund, es den grossen Raubvögeln zu verargen, dass sie sich kleine Lämmer holen. Und wenn die Lämmer unter sich sagen “diese Raubvögel sind böse; und wer so wenig als möglich ein Raubvogel ist, vielmehr deren Gegenstück, ein Lamm,—sollte der nicht gut sein?” so ist an dieser Aufrichtung eines Ideals Nichts auszusetzen, sei es auch, dass die Raubvögel dazu ein wenig spöttisch blicken werden und vielleicht sich sagen: “wir sind ihnen gar nicht gram, diesen guten Lämmern, wir lieben sie sogar: nichts ist schmackhafter als ein zartes Lamm.”

The point here, I think, is that the raptor is not responsible for its predations; nor is the lamb responsible for its desire for revenge on the raptor. Both the person of ressentiment and the patrician are nodal points of the will-to-power. The will-to-power precedes the individuals through which it manifests itself.

In other words: It is a linguistic seduction to personalize the predation. There is no reason to say that the raptor is responsible for its predation or that the lamb is responsible for resenting the raptor. Predation is not the deed of a subject; it is a pure doing without a doer.

To elucidate what he means, Nietzsche gives us the famous example of lightning. Excuse me, who is doing the lightninging? Lightning is an asubjective phenomenon. There is no subject who is responsible for the lightning. Es blitzt, IT is lightninging.

Nietzsche writes, in Essay One: Paragraph Thirteen: “Just exactly as the people separate the lightning from its flash, and interpret the latter as a thing done, as the working of a subject which is called lightning, so also does the popular morality separate strength from the expression of strength, as though behind the strong person there existed some indifferent neutral substratum, which enjoyed a free position as to whether or not it should express strength. But there is no such substratum, there is no ‘being’ behind doing, working, becoming; ‘the doer’ is a mere appendage to the action—the action is everything.”

In the German: Ebenso nämlich, wie das Volk den Blitz von seinem Leuchten trennt und letzteres als Thun, als Wirkung eines Subjekts nimmt, das Blitz heisst, so trennt die Volks-Moral auch die Stärke von den Äusserungen der Stärke ab, wie als ob es hinter dem Starken ein indifferentes Substrat gäbe, dem es freistünde, Stärke zu äussern oder auch nicht. Aber es giebt kein solches Substrat; es giebt kein “Sein” hinter dem Thun, Wirken, Werden; »der Thäter« ist zum Thun bloss hinzugedichtet,—das Thun ist Alles.

Let me adduce my own example of a subjectless statement that is more common in English: “It is raining”

Who is doing the raining? No one! It is raining, es regnet.

Both the man of ressentiment and the patrician belong to the pure willing of the will-to-power. They are not free agents; they are not autonomous subjects.

So, what is the will-to-power? That will have to wait for another video.

One of the fundamental lessons of Essay One of On the Genealogy of Morality is that nothing on Earth has ever been given its rightful name. Let me say that again.

Nothing on Earth has ever been given its rightful name.

 

VIDEO TWO

Follow your natural inclinations, and you will be tormented by an incubus of the conscience.

Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia, and I will lecturing today on Essay Two of On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift by Friedrich Nietzsche.

The dominant questions of Essay Two are the following (this is my own language): 1.) How are responsible subjects constructed? 2.) Secondly, how is it that irresponsible, unrestrained, untrammeled subjects come into the world?

There is a new typology that is set up in Essay Two: There is, on the one hand, the reactive human animal and, on the other hand, there is the spontaneous human animal.

Let me begin by discussing the reactive type of human beast.

The reactive type is obligated to keep promises. This kind of person is geared not toward the past, but toward the future. The point is that the reactive human being is trained to keep promises and thus is turned into a servile, subservient, manipulated herd animal.

The reactive human being is trained, manipulated, into obeying the norms of culture and the laws of society, whatever society that might be.

So, if I am a reactive human animal, I must keep my promises in the future—I will have been obligated. I promise to avoid transgressing social laws and cultural norms, and it is incumbent upon me to do so.

How do society and culture train the individual subject to be submissive, subordinate, servile, subjugable, obedient?

How do society and culture compel the reactive type to obey their laws and norms?

By imprinting their laws and norms on the body of the human animal (all human beings are animals). “Justice” is implemented by means of punishment.

Hideous techniques of torture have been employed for centuries to inculcate plebeian morality within the reactive subject. The scar of “I don’t want to,” ich will nicht [Essay Two: Paragraph Three] is indelibly imprinted in the body and in the memory by means of torture: “I do not want to steal because if I steal, somebody is going to torture me. I will be tortured because my thieving ancestors were tortured.” Centuries of torture—centuries of religious cruelty and legal cruelty—have evolved the responsible human subject. Nietzsche is a forerunner of evolutionary psychology as we know it today.

(Why do we feel a chill of apprehension when we enter an unknown, dark, cavernous space? Because our ancestors lacked artificial coruscation. Why are so many of us afraid of snakes, even though the preponderance of snakes are non-venomous? Because our ancestors were ophidiophobes, perhaps for good reason.)

Centuries of religious and legal cruelty have trained us to be “good,” docile subjects.

“Keep your promise to be lawful, or you will be tortured”: Generations of human beings have been trained, manipulated, programmed to think in this reactive fashion.

So, the reactive type unconsciously, physically, corporeally knows the logic of equivalence between transgression and penalty, “the idea of equivalence between injury [to society] and pain” [Essay Two: Paragraph Four]: “If you transgress the law, you will suffer a penalty.” But the body of the human animal is trained to know this; it is a physiological knowledge, not a conscious knowledge.

A relationship between creditor and debtor is installed. The reactive human beast is the debtor; society is the creditor.

So, turn the subject into a debtor—one who owes society, one who is responsible for paying back to society what one owes. I am thinking of, for example, military conscription, in which young people are willing to pay the ultimate debt to the societies into which they were born. I am thinking, as well, of taxation, suffrage, census completion, volunteerism, civil service. I am thinking also of the ideology that expects the young to become married and produce a family.

The human animal is perpetually in debt to society—and the word for “debt” in German is Schuld, which also means “guilt.”

So, the reactive obedient subject is instilled with the consciousness of guilt, the memory of guilt, and is forced into the position of debtor—the one who is indebted to the laws of the society.

Thus, the feeling of guilt is what powers the responsible subject to follow the laws of society and the norms of culture—you will feel guilty if you do not do so, and the feeling of guilt is the affective mark of the indebtedness of the responsible subject to the society to which one belongs.

Is the feeling of guilt, the feeling of indebtedness, connatural? For Nietzsche, it certainly is not. It is a feeling that is inculcated within us, after centuries of breeding.

Who invented guilt? Nietzsche gives us an answer rather late in the second essay.

It was the person of ressentiment who invented guilt, the reactive sentiment par excellence. Justice comes from the active individual, to whom we shall soon return, not from the person of ressentiment, who is seething with the lust for revenge.

Nietzsche has changed his mind about justice. In Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885), Nietzsche believes that justice is the sublimation of revenge. Justice is just another name for revenge. Strangely, in 1887, Nietzsche no longer believes this. In 1887, with On the Genealogy of Morality, his thought has undergone a change. The 1887 Nietzsche does not think that justice is derived from the sphere of ressentiment, from the sphere of revengefulness.

The person of ressentiment invents guilt and the bad conscience, not justice.

How is indebtedness to society enforced? How is the reactive subject made responsible? (The self-responsible subject will be discussed later; the reactive subject is not the self-responsible subject.)

When the criminal breaks one’s promise to society, the consequence is punishment.

The origin of the concept of responsibility is blood.

The history of responsibility is drenched, bedraggled, supersaturated with blood.

If you do violence to the creditor, which is society, you are not keeping your promise—and the penalty is pain. (First, it is corporeal pain; then, the pain will become psychological.)

“If you break your promise, you will feel pain”: This is the message that is indelibly burned into the mind of the responsible subject—but also:

The legislators and administrators of pain must take pleasure in inflicting pain in order for the programming of the responsible subject to be effective.

The creditor takes pleasure in exacting repayment from the debtor. The creditor takes pleasure in inflicting the pain of punishment. If there were no pleasure, the system of justice would fall apart.

The pain that is inflicted on the responsible subject is not the effect of an act of revenge—it is a positive, active, formative pleasure in the spectacle of suffering. Judiciary pleasure comes from the eroticization of pain—the pain of the criminal, who is the promise-breaker.

This is Nietzsche’s a priori supposition, and it runs throughout all of his works: Human beings have an innate taste for cruelty. We can see this in the love that so many have for horror films, for tragedies and tragic dramas, we can see it in the Crucifixion of Christianity and in the crucifixion of thousands of slaves in Roman Antiquity, we can see it in the Roman Circus, we can see it in tauromachy (bullfighting), we can see it in the televisual sadism of “Reality Television,” we can see it in the videographic sadism of “fail” and “cringe” videos on YouTube, which have millions of views. Why else is it that so many take delight in the misfortunes of others? Why is the spectator so often a malicious, spiteful spectator?

Human beasts are not merely pleasure-seekers, though we are.  Human beasts are pain-seekers, as well.

There is a festive atmosphere that surrounds the punishment of the criminal. As Nietzsche writes in Essay Two: Paragraph Six: “No cruelty, no feast,” Ohne Grausamkeit kein Fest.

The reactive type of human, however, turns the impulse to be cruel against itself. So, the drive toward cruelty is reintrojected, is interiorized, by the reactive type. The reintrojection of cruelty, which is naturally directed outward, conduces to the invention of the soul, which is the imaginary seat of the bad conscience, which is also imaginary. Permit me to quote the text directly. Nietzsche writes in Paragraph Sixteen of the second essay: “All instincts that are not discharged outwardly turn inwards—this is what I call the internalization of man: with it, there now evolves in the human being what will later be called its ‘soul,’” Alle Instinkte, welche sich nicht nach Aussen entladen, wenden sich nach Innen—dies ist das, was ich die Verinnerlichung des Menschen nenne: damit wächst erst das an den Menschen heran, was man später seine “Seele” nennt.

The bad conscience is the spiritualization of torture. The impulse to enjoy spectacles of cruelty is transformed into self-torment, which is legitimated as the “bad conscience.”

This is how responsible subjects are constructed—the reactive types are trained, disciplined, manipulated into feeling that they owe everything to society. The responsible, reactive type is programmed and indoctrinated into fulfilling one’s imaginary debts to society.

Again, the criminal is the one who breaks his promise to society to be a responsible, passive subject. But why do the police have no bad conscience about what they do? As Nietzsche points out, quite rightly, the police and police detectives spy, they dupe, they bribe, they set traps [Essay Two: Paragraph Fourteen]. Both criminals and the police are two sides of the same paper take-out menu. Both criminals and the police are attracted to the same thing: criminality. And both use criminal tactics. It is just that the police are able to use criminal tactics with impunity, with legitimacy.

The spontaneous, sovereign individual emerges at the final stage of a society; s/he is the “ripest fruit on the tree” reifste Frucht an ihrem Baum [Essay Two: Paragraph Two]. The reactive type is disciplined and manipulated until the sovereign individual blossoms.

The final stage of society, and the final product of society, is the blossoming of the autonomous, sovereign individual.

Who is the sovereign individual?

The sovereign individual is a spontaneous, self-responsible, self-mastered self-legislator: One makes laws and then might choose to follow those laws. But only the sovereign individual is permitted to follow those laws—or to forbear from following them.

The sovereign individual is not moral but is also neither immoral nor amoral. The sovereign individual is extramoral—that is, outside of conventional, plebeian morality, beyond Good and Evil.

Now, the spontaneous, autonomous human being is not obligated to keep promises. The spontaneous human being is alone a promising human being. Only the spontaneous human being is allowed to make promises.

Promises are made for the reactive type; memories are made for the reactive human being. The reactive human being is obligated to keep promises, whereas only the spontaneous, sovereign, self-mastered human being is authorized to make promises.

We learn at the beginning of the second essay that the human animal is the only animal that is bred in order to have the right to make promises. To quote the opening directly: “To breed an animal that is permitted to make promises—is this not exactly the paradoxical task which nature has set up for itself in relation to humankind? Is this not the proper problem of humankind?” Ein Tier heranzüchten, das versprechen darf—ist das nicht gerade jene paradoxe Aufgabe selbst, welches sich die Natur in Hinsicht auf den Menschen gestellt hat? Ist es nicht das eigentliche Problem vom Menschen? Nietzsche is not alluding to the common, reactive human animal. He is alluding to the sovereign human individual. That is to say, the sovereign individual human being is the only animal that is authorized to make promises, the only animal that is entitled to make promises. Only the sovereign individual has the prerogative to make promises, whereas the reactive type has no such privilege.

The sovereign individual blocks out, shuts out the memory of plebeian morality. This what Nietzsche calls die aktive Vergesslichkeit, active forgetfulness. So, oblivion, forgetfulness, amnesia is not a negative or passive faculty, for Nietzsche.

While you are eating a cheeseburger, do you think intensely of the cow that you are devouring? Probably not, which is why French Latin is used (in English) to camouflage what we are eating. We do not say that we are eating “cow flesh” (which would be German, which has a much closer proximity to the referent). We say that we are eating “beef,” which is French Latin, which camouflages the reality of what we are ingurgitating.

Forgetting is an active faculty that permits us to ignore the disagreeableness of reality—and hence to live.

Let us remember that morality is dependent on memory, according to the Nietzsche of Morgenröthe: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile, Daybreak: Thoughts on Moral Prejudices. To be moral, you have to have a good memory. And if your mnemonic faculties are defective, how could one expect you to be moral? We are given an armamentarium of mental and physical faculties, and whether or not we are “moral” depends on the congenital equipment that we have been given.

The sovereign individual is a voluntarily oblivious, an actively forgetful beast who can suspend forgetfulness when the individual chooses to make a promise.

Again, it is not incumbent upon the sovereign individual to keep any promise.

This is known as the “I shall do” of the sovereign individual. The “I shall do” is an original formative act. It is antithetical, antipodal to the Kantian “You Must Do It,” the Du solltest, the “You Have to Do It” of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The sovereign individual says, in effect, “I will make a promise, and I will keep a promise, if I choose to do so.”

The promising, sovereign individual is not reactive, but active. S/he WILLS to obey. But then again, s/he might will not to obey. The self-mastered, spontaneous individual actively wills, actively desires—s/he has what Nietzsche calls “a will to remember,” ein Gedächtnis des Willens [Essay Two: Paragraph One]. S/he alone has the will to not invent a law.

The sovereign individual is accountable to no one but oneself. S/he is emancipated, liberated, free from conventional plebeian morality. The sovereign individual has an “instinct for freedom,” Instinkt der Freiheit [Essay Two: Paragraph Eighteen].

The artist—the genuine artist—is a sovereign individual. The artist is free from the manacles of conventional plebeian morality; everyone knows this. Artists are weightless, irresponsible, guiltless—and not afflicted by the bad conscience or the Spirit of Revenge (der Geist der Schwere).

(Milan Kundera, a Nietzschean novelist, derives his conceit of “the unbearable lightness of being” from Nietzsche. Hermann Hesse and D.H. Lawrence are also Nietzschean novelists. Hesse is Kundera’s superior, and Lawrence is Hesse’s superior.)

Artists practice violence, but not violence in the literal sense of the word. They discharge creative violence, they release stylistic violence in their works of art. Art is beyond Good and Evil; it is extramoral [Essay Two: Paragraph Seventeen].

Whereas the reactive type is like a non-holonomic robot that is programmed to be responsible, the spontaneous individual might choose to be responsible. The sovereign, spontaneous individual exercises the privilege of self-responsibility; one is the legislator of value.

If you have seen and listened to the first video in this series, or read Essay One, you will know that there are two inversions in the first essay. “Good” becomes “Evil,” and “Bad” becomes “Good.”

Now, in the second essay, there is also an inversion. Firstly, at the reactive stage of humankind, society is above the individual.

Secondly, with the appearance of the spontaneous individual, the individual is situated above society.

The sovereign individual affirms the will-to-power from an extramoral perspective.

But it is not yet time to speak about the will-to-power. That will have to wait for a future video.

 

VIDEO THREE

If you want demons to stop existing, all you must do is stop believing in them.

Nietzsche never actually writes this. That sentence is a thought that struck me as I was reading Essay Three of Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, written by Friedrich Nietzsche, on which I will be lecturing today.

Essay One is schematic and quite simple. Essay Two is extraordinarily complex and gruesomely unpleasant. Essay Three is rather delightful and charming, by contrast.

I read the third essay with undisguised delight.

Essay Three concerns asceticism, which is the renunciation of all sensuousness. Sensuousness means whatever is worldly, whatever strikes the sensorium, whatever can be perceived. In particular, whatever delights the senses.

Asceticism is the surrender of worldliness, physicality, corporeality.

According to Nietzsche, morality is useless to the artist, except, perhaps, as a subject of art. Art is not moral—it exists in a sphere beyond Good and Evil. Artists are irresponsible, extramoral, irrespective of whatever moral opinions the artist might have. This is why Nietzsche asserts the division between the artist as a human being and the artist as a maker of art. If Shakespeare were the Prince of Denmark, it would have been impossible for him to have created the Prince of Denmark. It is true that novelists, for example, have characters inside of them, but let us not forget that characters are internal to the novelist and external to the novelist at the same time. A novelist is no more one’s character than a mother is her son—the creator is not the creature. The artist is the manure, and the work of art is the flower that blossoms from the manure.

This is one of the reasons that Nietzsche is ironically hopeful that Richard Wagner’s final opera Parsifal (1882) is a joke, is a parody of Christian tragedy rather than the ponderous, portentous Christian tragedy that it appears to be. The subject of Wagner’s Parsifal is the sacrifice of sensuality. If the work is a serious one, Nietzsche suggests, it is precisely the palateless, overblown, unintentionally ridiculous abomination that it appears to be. In other words: If Parsifal is a work that is born from asceticism, then it is bad art, for art and asceticism are incommensurable.

The artistic genius is not what Nietzsche’s unofficial mentor Schopenhauer thinks that an artist is. Schopenhauer believes that the artistic genius is a hypertemporal and hyperspatial genius, an entity that is constrained neither by space nor by time. It is as if the artist were somehow outside of the world when one creates art.

Schopenhauer calls the artist “the pure subject of knowledge,” by which he means that the artistic genius is free from all individuality, from all particularity. This is, of course, nonsense. Does this mean that the artist is not subject to the will-to-life? Does the artist not want one’s works to perdure? Even if the artist is celibate, the artist wants one’s works to survive beyond the artist.

Art, for Schopenhauer, would then be an an-aesthetic.

Now, Nietzsche identifies Schopenhauer’s will-to-life with the libido. So, these reflections are those of a twenty-six-year-old man who wants to contemplate life purely without the intervention of his insistently bothersome libido. Schopenhauer wants to “free himself from torture,” von seiner Tortur loskommt [Essay Three: Paragraph Six]—that is, from the torture of the libido, the daemon that pursued Sophokles until old age. I don’t believe that the Will in Schopenhauer is equatable to the libido, exactly, though the libido is a form that the Will does take. However, the point remains: Schopenhauer thinks that the artistic genius is unshackled by all sensuousness and sensuality. He is wrong, of course. Artistic production is of the body and is traceable back to the cravings, to the graspings and the gaspings of the body.

But this attitude toward art, too, is asceticism, which is why Nietzsche is giving it to us as an example thereof.

Likewise, Kant is wrong about art, which he only conceives from the perspective of the spectator, not the artist. In Die Kritik der Urtheilskraft, The Third Critique, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, Paragraph Two, Kant writes:

“Das Wohlgefallen, welches das Geschmacksurtheil bestimmt, ist ohne alles Interesse.”

Translation into English: “The pleasure which is determined by judgments of taste is without any interest.”

Kant considers aesthetic judgment to be without interest—that is, it suppresses the hungers of the body. Aesthetic judgment would be, for Kant, the suspension of the human appetites.

Now, this is nonsense. How could one judge something, anything, without being interested in it?

Is this “uninterestedness” the case for judgments of all representations of human beauty?

Are people supposed to look at paintings and sculptures and feel nothing physical at all?

If Botticelli’s Venus or Michelangelo’s David stir up sensual feelings in the spectator, does this mean that they are not works of art, according to Kant? If one looks at a beautiful vista in the work of Caspar David Friedrich and a feeling of exhilaration is stirred up within the spectator, is that work then not beautiful?

By contrast: Aesthetic judgment, for Nietzsche, is somatic, physiological, by no means free from interestedness. If you judge a work of art, you are interested in that work of art. Indeed, the concept of disinterested judgment is paralogical, that is, it is a fallacy. There is no such thing as a “disinterested judgment,” and even the very concept is self-contradictory.

Philosophy is riddled with ascetic ideals, with moralistic prejudices. The most basic ascetic ideal is: Hate the world, hate life, sacrifice the flesh. So, asceticism is the renunciative position toward life; it is a repudiation of all sensuousness and sensuality. Nietzsche does psychologize here—why is it, he wonders, that philosophers such as Kant, Leibniz, and Schopenhauer never got married? (He never wonders in writing why he never got married.) Why is it that classical philosophy is generally so antagonistic toward the body?

I want to highlight Nietzsche’s overall argument by citing the following sentence: “Every animal, including la bête philosophe, instinctively strives toward an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can completely release its force and attain its maximal feeling of power,” Jedes Thier, somit auch la bête philosophe, strebt instinktiv nach einem Optimum von günstigen Bedingungen, unter denen es seine Kraft ganz herauslassen kann und sein Maximum im Machtgefühl erreicht [Essay Three: Paragraph Seven].

One of the ways in which the human animal attains its maximal feeling of power is self-sacrifice.

Giving up is giving over to. Renunciation is access.

Yes, the ascetics give up life, but they do so in order to affirm their own will-to-power, which is life itself.

The ascetic gives up life in order to intensify, to enhance, to augment one’s own feeling of life.

Asceticism is not a repudiation of life; life is not cancelled out by asceticism.

Yes, most classical philosophers surrender the physical world and the body in particular, but that is in order to discharge their own philosophical will-to-power.

So, the ascetic philosopher gives up marriage in order to optimize one’s philosophy.

The philosopher secludes oneself from noise—Schopenhauer had a pathological hatred of noise—in order to create optimal conditions for his philosophizing.

Schopenhauer hated marriage and noise, not because he thought that celibacy and quietude are virtues, but because he considered marriage and noise to be hostile to his philosophy. And his drive to philosophize is superior to his drive toward companionship and sociability.

So, the renunciative process is not a virtuous one. The ascetics might give up sensuousness (it might be tautologous even to say this), but they are still exercising their will-to-power.

Literary artists and philosophers want to give birth not to literal children, but to books. Children are a form of non-literature.

Writers and philosophers are pregnant with books. They fear living an unmediated existence—an existence in which they would live in order to die, without producing a work of literature or philosophy that might survive them.

And this desire for survival, long after their death, is an instantiation of the will-to-power, which, again, is life itself.

So, again, asceticism optimizes philosophical reflection. There is an exchange of interest here: You give up one thing in order to get something else in return.

The argument in Essay Three really begins with the analysis of the mind of the ascetic priest. This is a characterology; Nietzsche is at his best when he gives us characterologies. Now, here, I want to underline the point that life must have a reason for allowing the ascetic priest to exist.

Why are there so many ascetic priests on the Planet Earth—despite the fact that they are so anti-life? To the point that, if an alien species were to come to the Planet Earth, the extraterrestrials would think that Earth is the Planet of the Ascetic Priests so teeming is the planet with ascetic priests, who are aswarm everywhere.

Here I want to highlight Nietzsche’s central argument: Yes, the ascetic priests desensualize themselves and try to impose their will on everyone else.

They are ragingly antagonistic toward sensuousness.

However: Even as the ascetic priest is giving up the pleasures of the flesh and demanding that everyone else to do the same, he is still exercising his fleshly impulses.

And the ascetic priest belongs to the economy of life—so, even he contributes to the economy of the human species and conserves the human species as he serves as a kind of toxic agent. In the same way that some poisons are curative and serve to drive out other poisons.

The ascetic priest is nauseated by life, he is sick from life and sick of life, and, like any person of ressentiment, wants everyone around him to be as unhappy as he is. He looks discontentedly at those who are happy, at those who enjoy living. He wants to exact revenge on the happy, basically. As Huysmans writes (to paraphrase), those who are miserable do atrocious things—so that everyone else will be as miserable as they are. He is a doctor, but a sick doctor—and a doctor who wants to sicken everyone with whom he comes into contact and even those with whom he does not come into contact.

The ascetic priest is a bit like Malvolio, if you’ve ever read Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will by Shakespeare. If you know the play, you will remember that Malvolio is anti-fun, a person of ressentiment. He says to the happy characters of the play, in Act Five: Scene One: “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.”

The ascetic priest is like a doctor who is sick himself and who wants to sicken everyone around him—especially the vigorous, the life-affirming, the strong, the creative.

To cite the text: “The ascetic priest must be accepted by us as the predestined savior, herdsman, and champion of the sick herd: thereby do we first understand his awful historic mission. The lordship over sufferers is his kingdom, to that points his instinct, in that he finds his own special art, his master-skill, his kind of happiness. He must himself be sick, he must be kith and kin to the sick and the abortions so as to understand them, so as to arrive at an understanding with them; but he must also be strong, even more master of himself than of others, impregnable, forsooth, in his will for power, so as to acquire the trust and the awe of the weak, so that he can be their hold, bulwark, prop, compulsion, overseer, tyrant, god. He has to protect them, protect his herds—against whom? Against the healthy, doubtless also against the envy towards the healthy. He must be the natural adversary and scorner of every rough, stormy, reinless, hard, violently-predatory health and power,” Der asketische Priester muss uns als der vorherbestimmte Heiland, Hirt und Anwalt der kranken Heerde gelten: damit erst verstehen wir seine ungeheure historische Mission. Die Herrschaft über Leidende ist sein Reich, auf sie weist ihn sein Instinkt an, in ihr hat er seine eigenste Kunst, seine Meisterschaft, seine Art von Glück. Er muss selber krank sein, er muss den Kranken und Schlechtweggekommenen von Grund aus verwandt sein, um sie zu verstehen,—um sich mit ihnen zu verstehen; aber er muss auch stark sein, mehr Herr noch über sich als über Andere, unversehrt namentlich in seinem Willen zur Macht, damit er das Vertrauen und die Furcht der Kranken hat, damit er ihnen Halt, Widerstand, Stütze, Zwang, Zuchtmeister, Tyrann, Gott sein kann. Er hat sie zu vertheidigen, seine Heerde – gegen wen? Gegen die Gesunden, es ist kein Zweifel, auch gegen den Neid auf die Gesunden; er muss der natürliche Widersacher und Verächter aller rohen, stürmischen, zügellosen, harten, gewaltthätig-raubthierhaften Gesundheit und Mächtigkeit sein [Essay Three: Paragraph Fifteen]

How does the ascetic priest act as if he were a doctor? Well, he sets as his mission the anaesthetization of pain.

How does the ascetic priest anesthetize pain?

He anesthetizes pain by excessive emotion. By stirring up excessive emotion in his “patients.”

In doing so, in numbing the pain of his “patients,” he enlarges their wounds.

Self-dissatisfaction is common. Most people are dissatisfied with themselves. What the ascetic priest does: He enlarges the wounds of his “patients” and parlays their wounds to his own advantage. He magnifies their feelings of self-discontentment and thus minifies their feelings of self-worth.

What is the analgesic for the pain of his patients? The ascetic priest narcoticizes his “patients” by changing the direction of their pain. The patient would naturally say, “I hate the person who hurt me.” The ascetic priest has a different opinion. “The person who hurt you is not responsible for your pain,” the ascetic priest says. “You are responsible for your own pain!”

In other words, the ascetic priest narcoticizes the pain of his flock by inflicting them with the feeling of guilt. This is the watchword of the ascetic priest: “Torment yourself with paroxysms of guilt! The more intense, the fierier, the more fervid the feeling of your own guilt, the less pain you will feel.” The “patients” of the ascetic priest are enraptured with paroxysms of guilt and the feeling of their own lowliness—which, in itself, is a manifestation of the will-to-power, for self-denigration, in a paradoxical manner, is the exercise of control over oneself.

The result, of course, is that the human animal feels worthless, and this leads to the self-minimization of the whole of humanity.

The mass feeling of guilt has calamitous effects on the human species.

To summarize:

Asceticism is life turning against life—but it is still a propulsion of life. We mustn’t deceive ourselves into believing, falsely, that asceticism has nothing to do with life.

Negation is affirmation.

Devitalization is revitalization.

Those who seek to devitalize life unwittingly affirm life.

* * * * *

Let us now discuss the amazing opening and closing of the third essay: “The human being would rather will nothingness than not will at all…” Lieber will noch der Mensch das Nichts wollen als nicht wollen… [Essay Three: Paragraph Twenty-Eight].

This statement is written at the beginning and at the ending of Essay Three.

Now, I believe that this statement is indebted to a novel by Goethe, to Goethe’s last novel, which he told a female railway passenger was his “best book” after she claimed that she disliked it.

“Damn it, that is my best book,” Schade, das ist mein bestes Buch, Goethe said.

That is Elective Affinities, Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809).

Goethe fashioned three novels: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, Wilhelm Meister (which is a book in two parts), and Die Wahlverwandtschaften.

A character named Charlotte says to her husband Eduard, at the end of the first chapter:

“Und doch ist es in manchen Fällen… notwendig und freundlich, lieber nichts zu schreiben, als nicht zu schreiben.”

My English translation: “And indeed, it is, in many cases… necessary and friendly, to write nothing instead of not writing at all.”

This, I believe, is the literary precursor of Nietzsche’s statement.

What does Nietzsche’s statement mean?: “The human being would rather will nothingness than not will at all…”

When Nietzche writes, “the will,” he means “the will-to-power.” The will-to-power has a horror vacui, a horror of the vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, as every schoolchild knows.

Meaninglessness is intolerable to the human animal, which is determined by its will. Because the human animal cannot tolerate the idea of a senseless existence, a shabby logos is better than no logos at all. As far as we know, the human animal, the inbestial animal, is the only animal that requires meaning and which prefers meaning to non-meaning.

The will confers significance, the will introjects meaning into every vacuity. We interpret not when there is something that is explained for us but when there is nothing which is explained.

Even the ascetic-pessimistic will is an instantiation of the will-to-power. The pessimistic will is the world-negating will, it is the will that hates the world and desires the annihilation of the world. The pessimistic will, even the nihilistic will, is a manifestation of the will-to-power. The will-to-power is the living itself, which means that all of life is bound up with relativities of power. Each living organism has the irreversible desire to become tyrant of the whole of existence. Even the will to demolish oneself, to annihilate oneself in the face of the imaginary divine, is an instantiation of the will-to-power. Because the self is assuming that it has the power to negate itself. By pretending to negate itself, it gives itself the feeling of the enhancement of its own power.

The will-to-power is irreducible, it is fundamental.

Joseph Suglia

 

[VIDEO] WHAT DOES NOT KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

WHAT DOES NOT KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

by Joseph Suglia

 

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

 

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

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

Let me begin by expatiating on the title.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Nietzsche mean by this, precisely?

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

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

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

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

What does not kill me kills me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance: Rationalized love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is love in the Nietzschean sense?

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

All is purposeless yet necessary.

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

False Idol Three: Imaginary causes are real causes.

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

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

False Idol Six: Life has a transcendent purpose.

False Idol Seven: Humanity is progressively improving.

Fin.

Joseph Suglia

Why I Hate Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE [VIDEO]

Why I Hate Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE [VIDEO]

Joseph Suglia

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The corpse-heads are glowering at Pericles from above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

The crane descends, and the god saves the misfortunate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Suglia

 

[VIDEOS] SHAKESPEARE THE PUNK

 

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

by Joseph Suglia

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Suglia

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIBERTY OF MACBETH

by Joseph Suglia

 

“Hitler’s hands trembled.  He stooped.  He stared fixedly.  His eyes had a tendency to bulge and were dull and lusterless.  There were red spots on his cheeks.  He was more excitable than ever.  When angered, he lost all self-control.”

—General Heinz Guderian on Adolf Hitler shortly after the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad

 

“Hitler wakes at night with convulsive shrieks.  He shouts for help.  He sits on the edge of his bed, as if unable to stir.  He shakes with fear, making the whole bed vibrate.  He shouts confused, totally unintelligible phrases.  He gasps, as if imagining himself to be suffocating…  Hitler stands swaying in his room, looking wildly about him.”

—Hermann Rauschning, Hitler Speaks

 

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

 

WHERE IT WAS, THERE I SHALL BE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE HERMAPHRODITIC TERRORIST CELL

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

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

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

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

In his unfadable essay on the play, “Notes on Macbeth,” Coleridge describes the weïrd sisters as “the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, the lawless of human nature—elemental avengers without sex or kin.”  Elemental avengers, indeed: The weïrd sisters are pettily revengeful and use the elements of nature to exact their revenge.  Coleridge is right on that point.

One example of the witches’ petty revengefulness: A sailor’s wife refuses to give in to the demand of the First Witch—to give the witch the chestnuts on which she is munching.  To exact revenge on the woman, the first Witch intends to journey in a sieve to the ship in which her sailor husband is sailing and savage, ravage, and ravish him.  The First Witch makes the threat: “I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do” [I:iii].[ix]  When she declares her intention to do, to do, to do, the First Witch is likely alluding to a violent sexual appropriation.  She is probably alluding to a taboo-yet-common sex act.  It is likely that the First Witch intends to perform fellatio upon the sailor husband of the chestnut-hoarding woman.  “I’ll drain him dry as hay” [Ibid.], the First Witch threatens, referring to the sailor husband.  She intends, it seems, to sap, to drain the sailor dry with her skinny-lipped mouth.[x]

Terroristic ventilators, the witches summon winds.  They summon winds to hammer their enemies and to propel the First Witch on her raping adventure.[xi]  The Second Witch proposes whipping up a wind to drive the First Witch’s sieve: “I’ll give thee a wind” [I:iii].  The Third Witch seconds the offer: “And I another” [Ibid.].  Though the witches admit that they cannot wreck the sailor’s craft, The Tiger (pointing to a gap in the witches’ prepotency), they can, they claim, hammer the vessel with their conjured winds.[xii]

We see the witches tumbling umbles into their hellish cauldron while incanting a malevolent spell.  They boil and bake exotic-market animals that could easily spawn a novel Coronavirus—a Filet o’ Snake, the eye of a newt, the toe of a frog, the wool of a bat, the tongue of a dog, the forked tongue of an adder, a slowworm, the leg of a lizard, the wing of an owlet [IV:i].  Throw in a civet and a pangolin, and you will have a zoonotic plague far worse than COVID-19.  Assuming that the witches are brewing beasts for malicious purposes, they are biological terrorists, as well.

However, Coleridge is wrong when he writes that the witches are sexless—“without sex or kin.”  When Macbeth asks, “[W]hat are you?” [I:iii] it is almost as if he were asking, “What sex are you?” or “What gender are you?” or “What are your pronouns?”  The answer appears to be that the witches belong to no determinate sex or gender at all.  The witches are gynandromorphic, showing both feminine and masculine traits.  Each of the witches “lays” a “choppy finger… [u]pon her skinny lips” [Ibid.].  The choppy finger is a phalliform figure, the lips are obviously figural of the feminine.  Macbeth to the witches: “You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so” [Ibid.].  The witches are not sexless; each has a double sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE UNSEXED AND RESEXED LADY MACBETH

Lest this be thought of as Shakespearean misogyny or gynophobia, let us consider the textual evidence that neither the weïrd sisters nor Lady Macbeth is female.  Lady Macbeth desexualizes herself, and the weïrd sisters, again, are hermaphroditic to begin with.

Lady Macbeth is only given one sentence in Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577), the source from which Shakespeare derived the lineaments of The Tragedy of Macbeth.  She is described merely as a woman who is “burning in unquenchable desire” to become the Queen of Scotland and who therefore urges her husband to kill the King.[xv]  Shakespeare incarnates her character considerably by disincarnating her character: In Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth desexualizes and resexualizes herself.  “[U]nsex me here,” she says to the “spirits / [t]hat tend on mortal thoughts” [I:v].  Defeminize me, in other words, and then masculate me—manify me by making “thick my blood” [Ibid.].  I don’t know how the preternaturally prescient Shakespeare knew this, but it is a scientifically demonstrated fact that men do, indeed, have more red blood cells and hemoglobin than women do, on average.  As Freud observes, Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is “prepared to sacrifice even her womanliness to her murderous intentions, without considering what a crucial role that womanliness must play once it comes to defending the position achieved by criminal means, the goal of her ambition.”  One might object to Freud’s “essentialism”—perhaps Freud did believe in a factitious “essence of womanhood”—but this does not negate the basic point that Lady Macbeth expresses the desire to sacrifice her womanliness, expresses the desire for her own defeminization.  Whether the sacrifice of her womanliness is the reason that she falters as a wife beginning in the first scene of the fifth act of the play depends on the reader or spectator and one’s projective preconceptions.

The role that Lady Macbeth plays in the murder of Duncan is phantasmically illuminated in the painting of Henry Fuseli, who translated the text into German while a student in Switzerland (Fuseli spent his adult life in Great Britain).  Despite its title, Fuseli’s painting Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers (1812) does not actually show Lady Macbeth seizing the daggers with which her husband has killed the King of Scotland.  Phantasmal, seething with rage, the new Queen is lunging at her reedy, blanched, wraith-like husband, demanding that he hide the instruments of the crime.  Fuseli knew that it is the weïrd sisters and Lady Macbeth who propel the action of the play, not Macbeth.  In Holinshed, Macbeth and Banquo collude and murder Duncan; in Shakespeare, Macbeth allies himself only with his wife.  In both Holinshed and Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth is the impeller, the propellant of the play’s epitasis.  The idea to murder Duncan, to commit regicide, is Lady Macbeth’s, not her husband’s.  She is the impulse behind the regicidal decision, which, in turn, leads to more and more killing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite all of her aggressiveness, so guilt-afflicted is Lady Macbeth post-deed that she becomes vegetabilized and then takes her life.  After the suicide of his wife, Macbeth does what any husband would do in the same situation.  He philosophizes.  He philosophizes in a sequence of metaleptic substitutions: “Life” becomes a “brief candle,” which becomes a “walking shadow,” which becomes a “poor player,” which becomes “a tale / [t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury / [s]ignifying nothing” [V:v].  Metalepsis, in the rhetorical sense, is the substitution of one metonym for another.  Here is my own example: “That is not the mole hill that I wish to die on,” which synthesizes two metonyms, “That is not the hill that I wish to die on” and “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

Childless Macbeth is as a child to Lady Macbeth.  I see Macbeth’s childlessness as an abdication of the parently role and as the continuation of childlikeness.  Unable to procreate, he is infantilized.  For Macbeth is indeed a child—he is powerless, which in the deepest sense is what a child is.  He is buffeted by windy forces (the witches, Lady Macbeth) that he cannot harness.

 

INTIMATE DECAPITATIONS

The Tragedy of Macbeth ultimately concerns the spasms of tyrannomania, the psychopathogy of the tyrant.  And is Macbeth not a precursor of Adolf Hitler?  The most frightening thing about Hitler is that he was humanly human.[xviii]  I mean to suggest: Hitler was likely the worst human being who ever lived—and yet he was a human being!  He was nervously neurotic and neurotically nervous.  He took amphetamines to bring himself up and depressants to bring himself down.  He suffered from insomnia and panic attacks.  Anyone who reads the 1943 Office of Strategic Services-commissioned report on the psychology of Hitler will infer inductively that the German tyrant was a self-hating, insecure weakling and neurotic—and his self-hatred was, of course, legitimate.  The case study fertilizes my suspicion that all tyrants undergo paroxysms of paranoia; they are all neurotics.  The play of Shakespeare evokes the neuroticism of tyranny and the discomforting thought that all wrongdoers are the sufferers of illnesses.

Macbeth is not the only character who is not in control of what s/he does.  Commentators of the play have seldom given sufficient attention to Malcolm, perhaps the most woman-obsessed erotomaniac in the whole of Shakespeare—even more libertine than Lucio of Measure for Measure.  Malcolm is a lickerish lecher.  It is Malcolm who says that his wantonness is fathomless: “[T]here’s no bottom, none, / In my voluptuousness” [IV:iii].  It is Malcolm who suggests that husbands should keep their wives, daughters, matrons, and maids far away from him and from his carnal desires: “Your wives, your daughters, / Your matrons and your maids could not fill up / The cistern of my lust” [Ibid.].  The lechery, the lickerishness, of Malcolm implies that he has no free will, no way of controlling his erotic impulses and therefore should never be raised to the sovereign of Scotland.  I bring this up because Macbeth, much like Malcolm (yet another character whose name begins with the letters M and A), similarly has no control over his impulses.  He is no more his own creation than is Macbeth.  Both are docile, trained and entrained.

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

Roman Polanski’s 1971 cinematic interpretation of the play culminates in a spectacular decapitation.  I am filled with shuddering admiration for the hallucinatory lugubriousness of Polanski’s film, which is indeed a great Roman Polanski film.  However, it has to be stated: Polanski’s Macbeth is a magnificent work of cinema that has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare.

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

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

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

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

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

Macbeth would infuriate time’s whiteness, time’s blankness.

 

Joseph Suglia

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[xviii] To clarify my argument: Arguably the evilest organism ever to have lived is Adolf Hitler.  And yet he was all-too-human, with his night sweats, with his paroxysmal fevers, with his aesthetic and sexual impotencies, with his neuroticisms, with his dreads.  Macbeth and Hitler are/were human.

 

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

 

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

The Unreadability of Hamlet

THE UNREADABILITY OF HAMLET

by Joseph Suglia

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

—Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay

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

—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodnight, ladies, goodnight.  Sweet ladies, goodnight, goodnight” [IV:v] has been demoted to the final song on Transformer (1972), Lou Reed’s worst album, which is really a bad David Bowie album (Bowie was its producer).  The line does also reappear in intentionally, floridly bastardized form in “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot—a poem that concerns the cheapening, the coarsening, of literary values in the mass culture of the European twentieth century.

“A fellow of infinite jest” [V:i] is no longer a phrase that Hamlet uses to praise his father’s jester Yorick, who is now dead and whose skull Hamlet is holding.  It is now the title of one of the most execrably written books ever published, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

“[T]he quick and dead” is now the 1995 film The Quick and the Dead, directed by Sam Raimi.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” [V:ii] is now the title of Tom Stoppard’s not-always-bracing postmodernist, auto-reflexive play.  It has also been resurrected as the 2009 American independent film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

* * * * *

As the snapshots of popular culture above demonstrate, popular culture has vulgarized and continues to vulgarize the play, for popular culture vulgarizes all art, degrading it until it becomes something other than art, something baser than art.

Each popular-cultural citation leaves a residue.  Of course, there would be no “pure” text beneath the accrual of sedimentation.  However, I am arguing something else: The text is even less pure than it would be otherwise, so buried is it under a mountain of kitsch, a garbage mountain of clichés in an ever-compounding media landfill.

We deviate from the text at hand.  We are force-fed bowls of fuzz-word salad.

If I were able to approach the text in its “nudity”: My own approach to the text would be to examine it through the speculum of the question of the free will.  Multiple essays have already discussed the question of free will in Hamlet, but none, as far as I know, have argued that the play is suggesting that free will is a delusion from which we would do well to disabuse ourselves.  If the play is about anything at all, it is about the impossibility of anything like a free will.

The crux of the play, its pivotal question, is why does Hamlet delay?  Why is Laertes a swift avenger whereas Hamlet is a sluggardly avenger?  Whereas Laertes is undiscouraged and rushes headlong toward vengeance—Laertes, who all but breaks down the door to slaughter Hamlet, whom he blames for his father Polonius’ death—Hamlet is unnimble and delays the exaction of revenge for the murder of his father.  Hamlet’s hesitancy, his hesitantism, has nothing to do with will, for Hamlet is consciously committed to exacting revenge for his father’s death “with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love” [I:v].

The answer is that Hamlet’s will is not his own, as Laertes himself says in the third scene of the first act to Laertes’ sister Ophelia.  He has no free will for no one has freedom of will.  Our decisions emerge from the abysses of the unconscious mind.  The source of decisions is not consciousness; we are only free to choose what our unconscious minds have chosen for us.

We see that Hamlet believes in the mirage of the free will when he commands, “About, my brains!” in the all-important soliloquy of Act Two: Scene Two, a soliloquy that is far more significant than the To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy.  “About, my brains!” means “Get to work, my mind!”  Or: “Activate, my mind!  Impel me into action!”  Hamlet (his consciousness and the Ego which is the nucleus of his consciousness) is commanding his brain (his unconscious mind, the hinterbrain) to prompt him to action.  And yet Hamlet’s “I” (the Ego, the idealized and self-preserving representation of the Self) remains unprovokable.  The “I” commands the brain to act—Hamlet apostrophizes his brains.  It is a dialogue or a duologue between consciousness and the unconscious mind.  Hamlet is both talking-to-himself and listening-to-himself-speak.  The play is suggesting that action does not issue directly from the “I” but from the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Hence, it is a critique, in dramatic form, of the misbegotten concept of the free will.

It is only within the final scene of the play that Hamlet learns that all human thinking and acting is necessary, involuntary, inadvertent, unwitting: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” [V:ii].  He learns to leave things as they are, in a manner similar to stoicism or Heideggerean Gelassenheit: “Let be,” Hamlet says.  “Let be”: Let things be in their being.  Accept things as they are, instead of tyrannizing nature and expecting life to follow according to one’s subjective volition.  Adjust to the swirl of experience, which is beyond anyone’s conscious control.

None of this will appear to readers and spectators of the play, so dumbed down has the text become by ordinary language and the stupiditarians of the entertainment industry.  Language does change over time, as the descriptivists repeatedly claim to justify their unreflective assertion that language speakers do not need to be told what the rules of that language are.  It is as if the descriptivists were calling out: “Let chaos reign!” and “All hail disorder!”  I would say, in rejoinder: Language becomes more and more stupid over time.

Ultimately, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has become a cliché-manufacturing factory—generative of clichés that are more enduring than the Prince of Denmark’s sweaty vacillations and testy temporizations.

Joseph Suglia

A Fragmentary Analysis of TIMON OF ATHENS (Shakespeare) by Joseph Suglia

A Fragmentary Analysis of TIMON OF ATHENS (Shakespeare)

by Joseph Suglia

“Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but death chiefly, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.”

—Epictetus, The Enchiridion

“A friend asks only for your time and not money.”

—From a fortune cookie.  Chinatown, Chicago, 2019

 

Athenian lord Timon has an embarrassment of wealth, and he doesn’t seem in the least embarrassed about it.  He is generous—absurdly, promiscuously generous, prodigal to the point of profligacy.  His Lucullan feasts are well-attended.  Of course, he is parasitized by the mob—by the mob of disgusting parasites who call themselves his “friends.”  As if they were a pack of baphometic daemons, his “friends” eat up his money until he has nothing left.  When the creditors demand repayment, Timon has nothing to give them.  None of his “friends” helps Timon in his time of need; the pseudo-friends to whom he appeals for money—Lucullus, Lucius, and Sempronius—refuse his entreaties, even while they are wearing the jewelry that Timon gifted them.  Timon is soon on course for self-immolation.  He is so aggrieved that he spends the rest of his life in a wasteland, where he execrates the whole of humanity.

So goes the epitasis of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens (circa 1605-1608), largely based on Plutarch’s life of Antony and Lucian’s dialogue on Timon.  It is an allegory of language (this is not something that I will pursue in depth here) and an allegory of misanthropy and sounds particularly allegorical when Timon declares dismally to Alcibiades: “I am Misanthropos and hate mankind” [IV:iii].  It is clear that Timon is allegorizing misanthropy in the general and in the abstract.  However, Shakespeare’s great play, one of the most underestimated in the Western literary canon, is not a misanthropic play, despite appearances, but a subtle critique of Timonian misanthropy.

 

TIMON IS NOT APART FROM HUMANITY; HE IS A PART OF HUMANITY

Timon retreats to the wasteland in order to avoid human contact and to correct the errors of his personal past, to correct the mistakes that he made when he was rich (profligate liberality, exploitability).  And what does he do while in the wasteland?  He socializes still!

Even while wasting away in the wasteland, Timon is thronged by other human beings.  In the same way that the Forest of Arden in As You Like It is an overpopulated desert, there are too many people in the wasteland, and Timon can’t escape contact with them.  Timon curses Alcibiades for approaching him: “The canker gnaw thy heart / For showing me again the eyes of man!” [IV:iii].  He withdraws from humanity and yet draws humanity to him at the same time.

The obvious question floating in my mind: If Timon wishes to be left alone, why does he ask Apemantus[1] to report to Athens that Timon has money: “Tell them there I have gold” [IV:iii].  He knows well, and Apemenatus tells him as much, that he will soon be thronged with Athenians.  Apemantus even affirms that the rogues of Athens will come for him, seeking money: “I’ll say thou’st gold: / Thou wilt be thronged to shortly” [IV:iii].  This is a strange paradox or a koan: If he wants to be left alone, why does Timon send Apemantus as a messenger to Athens?  And why is the message that Apemantus carries, in effect, “I have money.  Come to see me!”?

Apemantus and Timon are paradoxes: both misanthropes and social animals at the same time.  If Apemantus dislikes humanity so much, why does he attend Timon’s well-attended dinners?  He doesn’t eat the food that is prepared; he instead show-offily eats roots and drinks water.  Why even go to one of Timon’s parties if he is not there for the food?  Apemantus does relish piercing the revelers with caustic insults.  Everyone appears to know who he is, and he interacts with the partygoers.

The most interesting thing about Shakespeare’s punk-rock play is that it is a condemnation of the whole of humanity—and of Timon along with it!  This condemnation extends to misanthropy.  Timon’s misanthropy does not go far enough; it leaves Timon immune.  Timon is not apart from humanity; he is a part of humanity, even after he renounces it.  The play suggests the impossibility of liberating oneself from humanity, the impossibility of ever being alone while being alive, something that brings the work—the strangest, darkest, most nihilistic, most heterodox work in the Shakespearean canon—in close proximity to the shocking literature of Roland Topor.  Timon the Misanthrope thinks that he is soaring over the unhuman crowd, but he is one of them; he is a member of the crowd.[2]

 

WHEN HIS LANGUAGE ENDS, ALL LANGUAGE SHALL END

Timon of Athens is an allegory of language.[3]  It suggests that language is empty.  Timon’s parasitical “friends” make empty promises and justify the non-performance of their promises with empty words.  Timon spends more money than he has and thus defaults on his loans.  The Poet promises to craft a poem in honor of Timon that he will never present, the Painter promises to paint a likeness of Timon that he has no intention of completing, etc.  Flavius claims that “the world is but a word” [II:ii], the world only extends as far as language does, and that the “breath is gone whereof this praise is made” [II:ii].

It is no wonder that Timon looks forward to the apocalyptic death of language, the reduction of human words to muteness, to silence.  Ultimately, all we have are words.  When human language dies, humanity dies—and this is something that Timon welcomes in his final words, as if the language of humanity will die when his language dies: “Lips, let sour words go by, and language end” [V:ii].  When his language ends, Timon suggests, all language shall end.

 

HE IS EITHER GENEROUS TO EVERYONE OR GENEROUS TO NO ONE

Timon moves from indiscriminate generosity to indiscriminate human-hatred.  Life is a zero-sum contest, for Timon.  He knows only absolutes.  Much as Coriolanus, another one of Shakespeare’s simpletons, either loves his motherland Rome or hates Mother Rome, Timon either loves Athens or hates Athens.

Timon is either a profligate prodigal or a human-hater.  There is no middle ground for him.  He is a quasi-borderline, as if he were afflicted with a version of Borderline Personality Disorder.  He absolutely loves or absolutely hates—not one individual, but the totality of humanity.

Note Timon’s use of the word “therefore,” as if he were drawing a logical conclusion:

There’s nothing level in our cursed natures,
But direct villainy.  Therefore, be abhorr’d
All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!
[IV:iii][4]

He proclaims that he holds no brief for human beings and their communities and rituals, holds no brief for those who compose the human species because they are unequal (it is as if he were attempting to refute Hobbes, whom Shakespeare certainly read, and read with great admiration, according to Ben Johnson).  Allow me to paraphrase further: “Human beings are unequal except that they are equal in villainy; therefore, all of human society should be hated!”

Again, Timon is either generous to everyone or generous to no one.  As we have known at least since Hegel, opposites interpenetrate.  Opposites are inwardly connected; they belong to the same system.

Leftism is nothing more than the inversion of rightism, and Satanism is nothing more than the obverse of Christianity.  An opposite is not completely different from the original term.  The opposite of something is related to that thing.

Timon, a man whose fortune suddenly changes to misfortune, is not a genuine misanthrope at all.  For he only hates humanity after he has been exploited.  Had he not been exploited, as Apemantus suggests, he would never have converted to misanthropy.  As Apemantus phrases it, Timon’s misanthropy is forced: “This is in thee a nature but affected” [IV:iii].  Timon’s human-hatred is a pre-reflexive, ungenuine, affected misanthropy.  It is an immature misanthropy.

Apemantus, who, in many respects, is the raisonneur of the play, is suggesting, quite rightly, that Timon’s rejection of sociality is the mere opposite of promiscuous sociality.  Apemantus says, in prose: “The middle of humanity thou never knewst, but the extremity of both ends” [IV:iii].  Apemantus has a more nuanced view of humankind than Timon does.

Jonathan Swift knew that Timon’s misanthropy is naïve and simplistic.  This is likely why Swift refuses to identify as a Timonian human-hater.  Swift acknowledges that he is a misanthrope, but not a misanthrope in Timon’s manner (see Swift’s letter to Alexander Pope, 29 September 1725).  Timon’s misanthropy is not intelligent enough for Swift.

Similarly, in Paragraph 379 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche distances himself from Timonian misanthropy.  Nietzsche knew not the love of hatred, but contempt.  Contempt is hatred’s icy cousin, and Nietzsche knew well the aristocratic pleasures of contempt, as he knew well that hatred is an all-enmeshing obsession.

 

HE MOCKINGLY IMITATES THE MOCKING IMITATORS

Timon’s attitude toward art undergoes a change.  First, he believes that art is almost the direct representation of human nature: “The painting is almost the natural man” [I:i].  Art is like reality itself; it shows things as they are: “[T]hese penciled figures are / Even such as they give out” [I:i].  He is naïve, again, and has a naïve, pre-reflexive attitude toward art.  At the beginning of the play, he actually believes that art is honest!

In the fifth act of the play, Timon considers art to a sham, a kind of fakery, a confidence trick, a lie.  The Painter is said to draw “counterfeit” and the Poet is said to compose “fiction” [V:i].  Timon mockingly imitates the mocking imitators.

What Nietzsche writes about Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar may also be written about Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens: Shakespeare slyly ridicules poetry and all other forms of art.  There is in Timon of Athens the playful disparagement of poetry as a kind of frivolity (see Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Paragraph Ninety-Eight).

 

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

Timon is a misanthrope, it is true, but it is also true that he misanthropizes himself.  His misanthropy comes from his autolatry, his self-worship, his narcissism, and his inability to forgive himself for his prodigal liberality.  It is for this reason that Flavius says of Timon: “[H]e is set so only to himself” [V:ii]

Timon, or Timonian misanthropy, presages the cultural movement in this century known as the “incel” movement.  “Incel” is a portmanteau abbreviation of “involuntary celibate.”  “Incels” are sexually disappointed young men, men who cannot find sexual release with women and who despise these same women for rejecting them.  Often, “incels” are “black-pilled,” which seems to mean that they are anticipating a dreary, hopeless future for themselves and, often, for everyone else.

I see the similarity in that “black-pilling” involuntary celibates transfer their self-hatred onto a world that does not bend to them, much in the way that Timon transfers his self-hatred onto a world that is indifferent to him.

Misanthropy is founded on narcissism and on narcissistic self-hatred.  Misanthropes project their hatred of themselves onto the numberless faces that they will never see.

Misanthropy is an immature response to the venality of humanity.  Rather than inventing more nuanced, cleverer ways of dealing with people, the misanthrope thinks: “Because a small group of people mistreated me, all of humanity should be condemned.”  It is as if the misanthrope were saying: “Because I was exploited and because no one helped me when I was abject, die, everyone, die!”

It is important to highlight that this play is critical of Timon’s liberality and his misanthropy.

HE REINTERPRETS HIS PERSONAL EXPLOITATION AS INFECTION BY PESTILENTIAL HUMANITY

In his final words, Timon says, dismally: “My long sickness / Of health and living now begins to mend” [V:ii].  Dying is the healing, the “mending,” of the sickness of life, the remedying of that disease which is life.  Timon reinterprets his personal exploitation as infection by pestilential humanity.

Timon is someone who seems endlessly fascinated by Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), to the extent that I would describe him as a syphillographer, a syphillologist, and a syphillophile.  This makes perfect sense when we consider that Timon associates venereal disease with human life, since, after all, human life is a Sexually Transmitted Disease.

ONE IS THE CANNIBAL AND THE OTHER IS THE CANNIBALIZED

Timon of Athens sets forth the dreariest vision of humankind of any Shakespearean play.  In the fourth line of the text, the Painter says that the world “wears… as it grows” [I:i]: that is, the world is progressively wearing itself down, depleting itself, exhausting itself, decomposing, rotting, putrefying, in the same way that Timon’s fortunes are shrinking and shriveling.

Human relations are anthropophagous relations, the play is suggesting: In every relationship between any given two human beings, one is the cannibal and the other is the cannibalized, one is dominant and the other submissive.  Alcibiades looks forward ghoulishly to a “breakfast of enemies” that would be “bleeding new” [II:i].  Apemantus knows that wherever two human beings meet, one is the predator and the other is the prey, one is more active and the other is more passive: “What beast couldst thou be that were not subject to a beast?  And what a beast art thou already that seest not thy loss in transformation!” [IV:iii].  In other words, humanity has devolved into the purely bestial: “The strain of man’s bred out into baboon and monkey” [I:i].  Apemantus asks, rhetorically “Who lives that’s not depraved or depraves?” [I:ii], and it is the clear that Apemantus knows well that Timon’s friends are devouring him: “It grieves me to see so many dip their meat in one man’s blood” [I:ii].

The distinction between eater and eaten runs throughout the play.  Timon’s friend-enemies are feeding upon him, eating his flesh, slicing him up: “Cut my heart in sums—” [III:iv], Thomas cries out as the creditors come for him.  Flavius declares that the creditors ate of his “lord’s meat”; “they could smile and fawn upon his debts, / And take down th’interest into their gluttonous maws” [III:iv].  This is an interesting use of antiprosopopoeia (the representation of human beings as objects): Timon is represented as the meat on which his “friends” feast.  The creditors come, demanding payment and charging interest—they are metaphorically ingesting Timon.

Timon is preyed upon by creditors who wear the jewels that Timon has given them.  The “strange event,” Titus says of his master, is that “he wears jewels now of Timon’s gift / For which I wait for money” [III:iv].  Here is the sickening cosmic irony: Timon has given gifts to recipients who now demand payment for those same gifts.  In the very diagesis in which he claims to have warned Timon about keeping a tighter purse, Lucullus says that he ate Timon’s food!: “Many a time and often I ha’ dined with him, and told him on’t, and come again to supper to him of purpose to have him spend less…” [III:i].  The “friends” who are wearing Timon’s gifts refuse to lend him any money and charge Timon for the gifts that he has given them.

It is as if Shakespeare were canalizing Machiavelli, whom Shakespeare might have read and who claimed, in The Prince, that human beings are, in general, “ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous.”  One might add, according to the metaphorics of Shakespeare’s underestimated play: self-interested, swinish, gruesome, callous, lazy, unreliable.

 

THE REAVING THIEVES AND THE WATERY NOTHINGNESS OF THEIR WORDS

At the end of the third act, Timon feeds the parasites lukewarm water.  He tosses the water at the false friends and tosses them out of his house.  “Smoke and lukewarm / water / Is your perfection” [III:vii], he declares.  As Jesus evicts the money changers and the dove hawkers from the temple, Timon evicts the false friends from his house, baptizing them with tepid water, a kind of reverse christening.

Why water?  Why smoke?  The smoke is the vapor emanating, paradoxically, from the lukewarm water—and the vaporous, lukewarm water is the perfect metaphor for the reaving thieves and the watery nothingness of their words.  Water literalizes the metaphor of friendship as liquid—that is to say, as not solid, not trustworthy, not constant.  As Flaminius asks, rhetorically, “Has friendship such a faint and milky heart / It turns in less than two nights?” [III:i].

Liquid metaphors drench the text.  Apemantus is a root-eater and water-drinker, and water, as I will explain below, symbols the reversion to nature and the desertion of fortune.

 

HE DIGS IN THE EARTH

Fortune overtakes nature, as it always does in Shakespeare.  Timon tells us, recalling As You Like It (written around ten years earlier), that brothers who are twins by nature will fight against each other as soon as one brother grows more fortunate than the other: “Twinned brothers of one womb / Whose procreation, residence and birth / Scarce is dividant, touch them with several fortunes, / The greater scorns the lesser” [IV:iii].

It is no wonder that Timon favors nature to fortune.  It is no wonder that Timon reverts to nature, to eating roots and drinking water: “Earth, yield me roots” [Ibid.].

The stage direction makes it plain: Timon digs in the earth [Ibid.], excavating for roots, much in the way that his model Apemantus does—Apemantus, the ape man whom Timon is aping.  Timon, then, turns against fortune and turns toward nature, for he knows well that fortune quickly converts into misfortune.

 

HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS DESTRUCTION

Only a coarse and lazy reading of the play would suggest that Timon is innocent of his exploitation and eventual destruction.  Sharper, more careful readers will not think of Timon as an innocent victim.  Both meanings are supportable: His friends are parasitical, and Timon is complicit in his demolition.

 

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

Timon refuses to allow the recipients of his gifts to give him anything of equal value.  It might be tempting to describe his gifts as a kind of potlatch, but let us remember that (according to Mauss and Bataille) potlatch places the recipient of the gift in the uncomfortable position of having to out-give the original giver.  This is not the case here.  Timon does not accept the repayment of debts—in that sense, Timon does not loan money; he gives it.  He refuses Ventidius’ offer to repay the money that Timon has given him.  Timon’s response is that gifts should be given freehandedly: “[T]here’s none / Can truly say he gives if he receives” [I:ii].  He gives promiscuously, but not entirely without the reciprocity of interest (I will discuss this matter later on).

Not only that: Timon cannot accept a gift without giving something to the giver in exchange.  When Lucullus gives Timon two brace of greyhounds, Timon’s response is that they should not be received “without fair reward” [I:ii].  As the Second Lord phrases it: There is “no meed but [Timon] repays / Sevenfold above itself, no gift to him / But breeds the giver a return exceeding / All use of quittance” [I:i].  In other words, Timon has the tendency of giving beyond compensation, beyond remuneration.

More so: Timon gives excessively.  He gives more than is asked for and then grows spiteful when his largesse is not returned.  He ransoms Ventidius from debtor’s prison—and even offers to support him financially after he is freed: “’Tis not enough to help the feeble up, / But to support him after” [I:i].  Timon is too trusting, too naïve, too credulous, and gives too readily, too quickly to the firstcomer; he guarantees more than is requested.  (When Timon is down in a financial hole, incidentally, Ventidius does not come to his aid.)

Worst of all, Timon is financially illiterate; indeed, his knowledge of money is at best lineamental.  He is not financially hyperopic enough to see that his lavish expenditures exceed his income.  When Timon complains that Flavius never warned him about the rapid decrease in his funds, the servant says: “You would not hear me: / At many leisures I proposed—” [II:ii].  Timon interrupts Flavius before Flavius can conclude his sentence of explanation, inadvertently proving Flavius’ point: Timon is a terrible listener and hence a terrible learner.  When, in his previous life, Timon is overly generous to those around him, he speaks of a “bond in men” to “build [the] fortune” of others [I:i; emphasis mine].  He uses this word—bond—as if it were a divine commandment to give his servant Lucilius a massive raise.

 

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

Timon seems to be a selfless giver—“more welcome are you to my fortunes / Than my fortunes to me” [I:ii], he says to Ventidius—and yet Timon does expect compensation.  He just doesn’t expect monetary compensation.  As Nietzsche reminds us, no one gives without expecting a reward.

Timon is every bit as parasitical as his so-called “friends.”  Timon says: “[W]hat need we have any friends, if we should ne’er have need of ’em?” [I:ii].  He is saying, in effect: “Because I give to you, you will give to me, if I ever need you!”  But this does not follow logically; it is an argument that contains false inference.  Timon discovers his non sequitur too late.

He is an exploiter in a culture of exploitation—he is as much of an exploiter as the flattering parasites who fawn over him.

 

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

Unfortunately, there is one thing about Timon that only changes very late in the play: Even while in self-imposed exile, even after renouncing and repudiating humanity, Timon gives away his money!

He gives money to Alcibiades (“There’s gold to pay thy soldiers—” [IV:iii]), he throws gold at the prostitutes without getting or asking for anything in return (“There’s more gold” [Ibid.]), he squanders money on thieves.  His gives money to everyone besides the Poet, the Painter, and the Senators.  What, then, has changed about Timon—if anything?

(Interestingly, one of the prostitutes is named Phrynia, a name which almost certainly is an allusion to Phryne, the high-end batrachian call girl of Ancient Greece.  And as deep readers of Greek history will know, the historical Alcibiades was a kind of prostitute himself.)

Has he changed at all?  He gives now out of spite, not out of love—but the ridiculous excessive liberality has not changed.  He gives out of different motives than he gave before, but he still gives—indeed, squanders—what he has.  “More whore, more mischief first—” [IV:iii], he says to the prostitutes, whom he pays to sow discord, and pays Alcibiades to wage war against the Athenians.  But he is still Timon the Spendthrift.  As far as the thieves are concerned: Timon might curse them, but the thieves might as well say, in contemporary American English slang, “I still got your money, dude.”

Has Timon truly changed?  Even while wasting away in the wasteland, Timon still gives money to the unworthy.  If I were to be even more curmudgeonly, I would like to suggest that Timon hasn’t learned his lesson: He is still giving to the parasites who are feeding upon him.

THEOREM

Timon of Athens is the complex character study of a misanthrope who never succeeds in hating humanity as much as humanity deserves to be hated.

Joseph Suglia

[1] Much like Thersites in Shakespeare’s earlier Troilus and Cressida, Apemantus is a cynical philosopher.  In the fourth act, Timon has transformed himself into the likeness, into a grotesque burlesque of Apemantus, the ascetic who eats nothing but roots and who drinks nothing but water (perhaps in denial of the opulent pleasures of affluence).  A defensible reading of Apemantus’ name would be Ape-mantus: the Ape Man, as well as the Man Who Is Aped.  He is an ape man, and he recognizes that other human beings are apes.  And he is aped by Timon, who takes on Apemantus’ misanthropy.  There is a flaw in Timon’s imitation of Apemantus, however.  Though Timon takes on the human-hating position of Apemantus, there is something forced, something affected in Timon’s misanthropy.  Apemantus is not a hater of the whole of humankind.  It would be accurate to say that Apemantus has contempt for humanity, but there is no evidence that he is gripped and entangled by that obsession which is called “hatred.”  Apemantus seems to approach Timon in the desert only in order to torment him further and to prevent him from copying his mannerisms: “Do not assume my likeness” [IV:iii].  Timon and Apemantus are not pleased to see their doubles.  It would not be relevant for me to pursue a sustained comparison between Thersites and Apemantus here.

[2] Here is another of the play’s cosmic ironies: In the sixth scene of the third act, Alcibiades pleads to the senators for the life of one of his rogue soldiers.  They banish him for his alleged impudence.  At the end of the play, these same senators will plead for their lives with the grinning submission of passive chimpanzees when confronted by a dominant chimpanzee.  The Third Senator proposes “decimation and a tithed death” [V:v] for the Athenian people.  “Decimation” does not mean “destruction.”  It means “the killing of every tenth being.”

[3] The thrust and the tenor of this essay is not to explore the ways in which the play is an allegory of language (I am more concerned here with the ways in which it is an allegory of misanthropy), but let me give some indications of how such an analysis would proceed.  There are apostrophes, in the rhetorical sense, throughout the text.  A (rhetorical) apostrophe is an address to someone or something that is absent.  Here is a partial list of apostrophizing in the text: The Poet addresses an absent Timon as “Magic of bounty” [I:i].  Both the Poet and the Painter frequently speak of Timon in absentia.  Flavius apostrophizes Timon in his lord’s absence: “My dearest lord…” [IV:ii].  Timon apostrophizes money: “O thou sweet king-killer…” [IV:iii].  In the third scene of the fourth act, Flavius apostrophizes the gods (“O you gods!”).

[4] This statement is every bit as insane as when Timon says to Apemantus: “[T]hou’rt an Athenian, therefore welcome” [I:i; emphasis mine].

Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park

“Ordering a Pizza at the Standard Market Grill in Lincoln Park” by Joseph Suglia

On Friday, 21 November 2014 at 5:05 p.m., I ordered a cheese pizza at the Lincoln Park location of the Standard Market Grill.  The clerk who took my order is named Nicolette.  This pizza was “to-go.”

When I arrived home, I opened the cardboard box in which the pizza was contained and discovered to my horror that there was not a single fleck of red on the entire pizza.  I looked more closely at the pizza.  No, there was not a single lineament of tomato puree on the gobbets of cheese that bedecked the pizza disc.  Nor was there any tomato puree on the bready background.  I called the restaurant at 5:27 p.m.; Nicolette answered the telephone.  I explained to her that tomato purée was absent from the pizza that I ordered, and Nicolette insisted that there was tomato sauce on the pizza, “even if there wasn’t enough for [my] liking.”  I insisted, in turn, that there was no tomato sauce on the pizza.

I extracted the web of cheese from the pizza disc.  Not a single trace of tomato purée was uncovered.  There was no red on the underside of the cheese web, either.  I ate a slice–which was all that I could stand, since the pizza was flavorless–and, no, I did not sense the unmistakable taste-datum that had been inscribed into my consciousness, the tangy tomato purée with which the Standard Market Grill has slathered all of the many pizzas that I have ordered in the past.  The sponginess of the bread did not compensate for the untastiness of the pizza-complex.

If Nicolette was correct, and she wasn’t, and there WAS tomato sauce on the pizza, then why was the pizza sauce both invisible and untasteable?  Again, I have ordered many pizzas from the Lincoln Park location in the past, and all of them were blessed with a tomatoey tang.

I wrote the management on this matter and never received a response.  This is the level of customer service that I have come to expect from the Lincoln Park branch of the Standard Market Grill.

444 West Fullerton Parkway is a challenging space for any business to occupy.  In my ten years of living in Lincoln Park, I have seen four businesses at 444 West Fullerton Parkway flounder and founder, fail and flail.  The Standard Market Grill is struggling, and it will not stand.

Joseph Suglia

TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk / Negative Review / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

A review of Tell-All (chuckpalahniuk) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

INTRODUCTION

chuckpalahniuk’s followers have grown older and are now turning against the one they once adulated as their master.  How could they not be insulted?  They have been treated with contempt by a writer who dumbs everything down for them.  They read more widely now and have come to recognize that the idealism that they once saw in their leader is false, and they despise him for his blatant opportunism.  This is a man who has no interest in knowledge or language, but who merely wants to make as much money as possible.  (chuckpalahniuk said: “I don’t care what they do with my book, as long as the f****** check clears.”)  They resent him for simplifying ideas that he has stolen from more sophisticated writers–and from his own fanatical base, his base of worshippers.  chuckpalahniuk writes under the heads of his sixteen-year-old target audience.  Sadly for him, those sixteen-year-old sheep are now twenty-four.  chuckpalahniuk is irrelevant, and the responses to his most recent work demonstrate this.

* * * * *

Those who write according to deadlines inevitably generate dead lines.  It should surprise no one, then, that chuckpalahniuk’s tired, labored contractual offering, Tell-All (2010), is a concatenation of lifeless sentences.  I’ve always felt–and clearly I’m in the minority these days–that words should bleed from the page, that one should write with one’s blood, as Nietzsche would say.  Well, Palahniuk’s pages don’t bleed; they suppurate.  A genuine writer composes electric prose, nothing but electric prose.  There is no electricity here, no artfulness.  But to claim that chuckpalahniuk writes artlessly would be to say too little.  Every sentence, every phrase, every word in this book is spoken by a voice from the grave.  Consumerist fiction is never vivacious.  You don’t believe that Palahniuk is a “literary” entrepreneur?  Here is his advice to a young poet: “Don’t expect to make any money off [poetry].”

The “plot,” such as it is, regurgitates All About Eve (1950), with Hazie Coogan reassuming the role of Eve and Katherine Kenton reincarnating Margo.  Every name is embossed in bold type, which makes the book as appealing to read as a telephone directory.  The weakest elements in Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are his lists.  One needn’t know how to write in order to compile lists of indiscriminate items.  Here, the entire novel is a list–a list of proper nouns.  Reading this drivel is exactly like being jabbed incessantly in the ribs by an idiot savant who recites name after name in a narcotizing monotone, giggling after each jab.

The prose is irritatingly incompetent.  Should we forget that all German nouns are capitalized?  Are we supposed to think that “bile-ography” [32], “fossilidealized” [46], “laud mouthing” [58], and a “jury of sneers” [147] are clever neologisms?  Should we forget that hipster Dave Eggers popularized self-reflexivity (though he did not invent it–such a practice can be found in Ludwig Tieck and Shakespeare, to cite but two names) and that the use of it is no longer particularly “experimental”?  Should we ignore the fact that the phrase “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” is used no fewer than four times in this novel [on pages 3, 79, 129, and 177] and that such mindless repetitions are excessively fatiguing?

[After writing this review, I learned that the terms “bile-ography,” “to fossilidealize,” “to laud-mouth,” a “jury of sneers,” and “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” (not capitalized?) are not of chuckpalahniuk’s contrivance.]

chuckpalahniuk’s knowledge of his subject is as limited as his vocabulary.  “That vast wealth of 50’s [sic] film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard,” chuckpalahniuk announced to Amazon.  Silliness abounds.  Are we to allow that Samuel Beckett was a “celebrity” [2] who attended opulent parties at Hollywood mansions?  Beckett recoiled from the entertainment industry as if it were a cancerous polyp (though he was not entirely indifferent to fame: See Stephen Dilks, Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace).  Are we credulous enough to believe that folk singer Woody Guthrie composed music and lyrics for Broadway shows when he never did–and would have probably found the very idea of doing so repellent?  Should we be persuaded that the great French filmmaker Alain Resnais “saddled humanity” [109] (with what, precisely?), when he has given us so many strikingly beautiful, provocative, and groundbreaking works of art–something that chuckpalahniuk has never been able to do?  Though Resnais opened up a new way of seeing, most of humanity has ignored his oeuvre.  Muriel (1962), his masterpiece, is almost completely obscure.

chuckpalahniuk’s opera minora belong to a genre we might term “moron fiction,” fiction intended for readers who hate books.  One suspects that chuckpalahniuk hates books himself, given how little effort he invests in reading and creating them.  Tell-All is a nonliving entity, a throwaway, a trifle, a triviality, a little slice of nothing.

CONCLUSION

Being taught how to write fictionally by chuckpalahniuk is exactly like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.

Joseph Suglia

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson / An Analysis of THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (Erik Larson)

An Analysis of The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson) by Joseph Suglia

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003) is an unclassifiable book.  It seems to tolerate no genre but its own.  Yes, it is a work of history–there are copious end notes and a substantive bibliography; its research seems historiographically sound (though it is not; read Adam Seltzer’s book H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil); every direct quotation is taken from an imposing armature of sources.  And yet it reads as if it were a novel.

The book is concerned with two figures who are said to be diametrically opposed to each other: Daniel Burnham, one of the chief architects of Chicago’s World Fair, and H. H. Holmes, murderer of young women (despite Larson’s claims, Holmes was a serial failure; he even failed at being a serial killer).  Both are said to be emblematical of the Gilded Age, that is, late nineteenth-century industrial America.  And both are said to have converged at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The book’s premise seems to be that, in America’s Gilded Age, two polar energies were at work: that of technological construction and that of destabilization, the grandeur of architecture and what erodes stability and what reverses progress.  Larson further qualifies this opposition in his introductory “Note”: “[I]t is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.”

But are architecture and destructuring, “good” and “evil” parallel oppositions?  Where can “good” and “evil” be seen in the Gilded Age outside of these two isolated figures?  Are architecture and destructuring indeed opposed to each other?  Where else was this vague disassembling at work in the Gilded Age?  Outside of a description of what Holmes and Burnham did and said, Larson does not provide answers to these questions.

The “voice” of the work is that of the grandfatherly storyteller.  Nearly every sentence is bloated with hoary bombast.  Patiently, bombastically, the author recounts the stories of the murderer and the architect.  And yet what is the meaning of it all?  Does this book have a clear and defensible thesis?

The Devil in the White City never affords its readers access to the killer’s mind.  In the section of book entitled “Notes and Sources,” Larson concedes, “Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known.”  He defers to “what forensic psychiatrists have come to understand about psychopathic serial killers.”  But should forensic psychiatry be given the last word?  Is the dossier then closed after they have spoken?

What, exactly, is the relationship, for Larson, between the architect and the murderer?  Is Larson suggesting that Holmes’s desire for “dominance and possession” was also the desire of Burnham?  Does Burnham merely wear a more socially acceptable mask?  Do they represent two variations of the same impulse?  Regrettably, Larson never pursues any of these questions.

Joseph Suglia

CRASH by J. G. Ballard / An Analysis of CRASH by J. G. Ballard

An Analysis of Crash (J. G. Ballard) by Joseph Suglia

“How does it feel / to be driven away from your own steering wheel?”
–Captain Beefheart

“If I can count six steeds,
Is their power not also my own?
I run forward and am a genuine man,
As if I had twenty-four legs.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I

An obsession, unless derailed, might be infinitely protracted.  J. G. Ballard’s Crash (1973) is the record of an endlessly self-perpetuating obsession.  Its sole, intense preoccupation is with the point at which orgasm and automobile wreck merge: a new form of eroticism that would not be based upon, or governed by love, jealousy, passion, or the causality of reproduction.  In a consumerist society in which every form of sexual gymnastic has seemingly been exhausted, the automobile disaster is the one orgasmic event that could rupture the everyday and multiply sexual possibilities; it opens up the possibility of a stylized and formalized, violent sexuality, “divorced from any possible physical expression” (35); it gives birth to new conceptualized sex-acts “abstracted from all feeling,” from “carrying any ideas or emotions with which we cared to freight them” (129).  But this is not to say that the book’s focus is exclusively or primarily sexual.  Automobile-disaster eroticism in Crash serves as a metaphor that exceeds the dimensions of sex: It stands for the amorality of the experiences of the body mediated by technology.

Crash envisions the amorality of the becoming-body of technology and the becoming-technological of the body.  As the obsessive martyr of automotive sexuality (a sexuality that is inseparable from photography and cinematography–in other words, cinematic scopophilia), Dr. Robert Vaughan, former computer scientist and minor television celebrity, charts out the manner in which the automobile reshapes and instrumentalizes the human body.  Listening to police broadcasts on the radio to disclose the locations of accident sites, Vaughan moves breathlessly from one scene of metallic destruction to the next, witnessing the aftermath of careening vehicles that have coupled with one another, hoping to unveil the amorality of the body in an age of all-embracing technologization.  Vaughan sexually experiments with and within automobiles, both “whole” and “distorted,” visualizing and staging infinite permutations of the car-collisions that he witnesses.  He compiles an almanac of wounds inflicted by automobile accidents, “the keys to a new sexuality born from a perverse technology” (13).  Vaughan, a scientist of automotive eroticism, is attracted to the scars, deformities, and disfigurements of car-crash victims.  Vaughan maniacally follows every car-crash victim in the novel–particularly the narrator and his wife, Catherine–with camera equipment, photographing them.  What interests Vaughan, however, is not the historical existences of these characters, but the amoral relationship between anonymous individuals and automobiles.  A visionary prophet and pioneer, he heralds an “autogeddon” in which humanity would be simultaneously destroyed in a global car wreck.

Vaughan’s project is not merely to reach the ultimate pinnacle of erotic excitation, but to envisage the “experience” of his own mortality–an event that would presage the destruction of Western civilization–in a spectacular automobile accident.  His single-minded fanaticism impels him to rehearse his own death in collisional union with a limousine transporting Elizabeth Taylor, a death that would jaunt him into a spectacular space in which his body would become pure image.  Through his death, Vaughan dreams of derealizing and reincarnating himself by merging with the time and space of the image: the counter-world to all lived engagements which the Situationist philosopher Guy Debord described as “the society of the spectacle.”  All lived experience in contemporary society, Debord argues, exists only to be transformed into an image.  A homogeneous stream of images constitutes a world correlative to our own, an autonomous sphere of “objectivity.”  Vaughan projects himself into the counter-world of the spectacle in order to remerge in it, mediating his dreams of a violent new sexuality.

Vaughan’s gospeller is the narrator, James Ballard, whose car collides with that of a woman, Dr. Helen Remington, with whom he later has a sexual liaison.  The car-crash jolts the narrator out of his everyday world and transformatively resexualizes his experience of the world: “This obsession with the sexual possibilities of everything around me had been jerked loose from my mind by the crash” (29).  Certainly, the crash has released the possibility of new pleasures through its projection of a futural technologized sexuality (boredom weighs heavily on the existences of the characters).  But more to the point, the crash frees the narrator up for a vigorous engagement with his own body as an automobile (he effectively “dates” his car experienced as his body).  When Ballard claims, unforgettably, that the “crash was the only real experience” that he “had been through for years” (39), he intends an experience of auto-affection that transcends sexuality in the restricted sense of the word.  A “new junction” between his “own body and the automobile” [55] is formed.

By presenting this junction, Crash invites the reader to think of technology not as an instrument exterior to the body, but as a supplementary extension of human flesh: the super-sexuality of the automobile disaster expands the dimensions of the human body and widens the self’s spheres of activity.  The metaphor of extension, however, is ultimately not adequate to describe this expansion.  The human body melds with the vehicle that would carry it along and is reconstituted in the process: The vehicle supersedes the authority of the driver.

Beyond its science-fictional dimensions, Crash is a Nietzschean novel that projects a culture which would be beyond Good and Evil.

The world of Crash is one in which human beings are not the most important landmarks or points of orientation: “I realized that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its keys to the borderzones of identity” (48).  Technology reforms the human body, opening up new chains of erotic signification and new avenues of pleasure; technology reappears as the core of human nature, not as “something” divorced from, and appended to nature.  New apertures are formed.  New flows and fluids spurt.  Now the body is reconceptualized in terms of somatic possibilities, a pathology of never-before-imagined sensations and experiences.  One may no longer conceive of the wounds that sprout on the car-crash victim as forms of deformation.  After Ballard’s car collides with and kills the husband of Dr. Helen Remington, the impact of the collision is defined in Ballard’s “wounds, like the contours of a woman’s body remembered in the responding pressure of one’s own skin for a few hours after a sexual act” (28).  The instrument panel impresses itself upon his torso; his body is stamped by the car’s metallic sheath.  We see that the car-crash marks the human body in an essential way, allowing it to expand in all directions.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in the description of Gabrielle, a character Ballard never clearly delineates in the novel.  A shadowy figure born from the conjunction of sex and technology, Gabrielle blooms new sex-organs that afford her new pleasures.  The narrator unshackles her leg and spinal braces, the physical marks of her initiation into technologized sexuality.  He runs his fingers along the “deep buckle groove” and the “depression on her thigh, the groove worn below her breast under her right armpit by the spinal brace.”  (In David Cronenberg’s film version (1996), Gabrielle (played by Roseanne Arquette) has a gaping orifice on her thigh.)  These wounds are for Ballard “the templates for new genital organs, the moulds of sexual possibilities yet to be created in a hundred experimental car-crashes” (177).  The narrator visualizes accidents that would multiply the lamellae of the human body, wounds that would be born from future technologies.  The ordinary coordinates of heterosexuality are displaced (“[T]he nominal junction points of the sexual act… failed to provide any excitement for us” (178)) and replaced with new zones of pleasure.

At the end of the novel, Ballard’s own vital fluid baptizes Vaughan’s crushed automobile in the name of “auto-eroticism,” heralding a new age in which the soul would be substituted for undreamed-of forms of technicity, an epoch in which technology would install its machinery into the human body in order to reconceive it entirely: “With the semen in my hands I marked the crushed controls and instrument dials, defining for the last time the contours of Vaughan’s presence on the seats…  Catherine and I stood back, watching these faint points of liquid glisten in the darkness, the first constellation in the new zodiac of our minds” (224).  When Ballard smears his own fluid, which emanated from his wife Catherine, onto Vaughan’s demolished vehicle, it is clear that the transmission of his messiah’s gospel is represented by this christening.

This is the gospel that is everywhere implicitly articulated in the novel: Technology opens a neutral realm, an affectless, guiltless, non-moral arena.  The decision to move a steering wheel to the left or to the right is not a moral decision.  Indeed, all technological decisions are amoral decisions, and the total englobement of human life by technology opens the terrifying possibility of a technologically mediated psychopathology.  The logical consequence of inhabiting a culture dominated by technology is the eroticization of this same technology.  As the fruit of this culture, the traditional morality that serves it can only represent this eroticism under the rubric of perversion.

To write it once more, as directly as possible: J. G. Ballard is a satirist, and in this novel, he is satirizing the envelopments of technology and the psychosocial consequences of these envelopments.  All-englobing technologization leads to what I call “the technological hypothesis”: Whatever is technologically possible will eventually become technologically actual.  Unhappily, this forgoes ethics, which is what Ballard’s Crash is about.

Joseph Suglia

P. S. Crash is not Ballard’s greatest literary work–that distinction goes to his short stories (including those collected within The Atrocity Exhibition) and Kingdom Come, his great final novel.  The vocabulary of Crash (“geometry,” “stylised,” etc.) and its metaphors are repetitious.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR by William Shakespeare

A review of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (William Shakespeare)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

You know the rumor already: Queen Elizabeth commanded Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor (circa 1596) in two weeks.  Well, not The Merry Wives of Windsor specifically, but a play in which the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most developed creations, falls in love.  This rumor was first set down by John Dennis (1702), over one hundred years after the play was composed.  For three centuries, Shakespeare scholars have debated the question: “Did Queen Elizabeth ever issue such an edict?  Did she command the poet to write his play in two weeks, for Her pleasure?”

The answer is, who cares?  You may either buy the royal-command hypothesis or reject the royal-command hypothesis.  Either way, the play seems to have been written for money, and it seems to have been written in two weeks.  As every conscientious writer does, Shakespeare reserved his genius lines and genius staves for his stronger plays.  The wordplay here is less than dazzling; there is not a single memorable line in the entire play (though the play does have the virtue of having contributed to Orson Welles’ masterly Chimes at Midnight (1965)).

Whenever he wants to make fun of one of his characters, Shakespeare has that character make fritters of the English language.  Clearly, Shakespeare valued English more highly than he did anything else.  It is a pity that his love for English isn’t particularly legible in this work.  There are some amusing countrified insults: “cony-catching rascals” [I:i]; “Banbury cheese” [ibid.]; “Let vultures gripe thy guts!” [I:iii]; “jack-a-nape” [I:iv]; “his guts are made of puddings” [II;i]; “mechanical salt-butter rogue” [II:ii]; “your cat-a-mountain looks” [II:ii]; “jack-an-ape” [II:iii]; “Jack dog” and “John ape” [III:i]; “Jack-a-Lent” [III:iii]; “polecat” [IV:ii].  Characters liken one another to animals and food products.  Contemporary readers of the play might begin insulting their irritating neighbors by calling them “Banbury cheese.”

Shakespeare seems to have disobeyed the queenly command (if one was ever given).  Falstaff doesn’t actually “fall in love” with anyone.  He has a purely financial interest in the merrily sadistic wives of the title, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford.  He attempts to seduce and exploit both of the women for money–unsuccessfully, of course.  I write “seduce” but should qualify that Falstaff appears to have no erotic desire for the wives, nor for anyone else.  Mistress Page and Mistress Ford quickly disclose Falstaff’s scheme and dispatch the fat old knight.

In the Arden edition, the editor makes the incisive claim that The Merry Wives of Windsor is not a humorous comedy at all.  I partially concur with this assertion.  Approaching the text as a black comedy is probably the best way of going about it.  A “black comedy” in the sense that Andre Breton defined the term (in relation to Jonathan Swift): a comedy that provokes the audience to laugh, even though the author is never laughing.

The play has the shape and the style of an erotic nightmare.  If you know the early films of Peter Greenaway–particularly, The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and Drowning by Numbers (1988)–you have some idea of what to expect.  The resemblance between these two excellent films and The Merry Wives of Windsor is uncanny.  To truly appreciate what Shakespeare is doing, I would recommend viewing both of these films before reading the play.

Mistress Page and Mistress Ford gang up on poor Falstaff.  He is thrown into a laundry basket and tossed into a river.  He nearly suffocates in the laundry basket and nearly drowns in the river.  He is dressed up as a woman–feminization is a classic form of humiliation in the vocabulary of sadism and perhaps also in the vocabulary of masochism, though not in the writings of Sacher-Masoch–and beaten with a cudgel.  Antlers are mounted on his head.  He is pinched and burned.  He becomes a sacrificial figure.

This last form of torture and humiliation does fascinate me, I must confess.  The antlers give to the play an even darker valence.  In at least three ways: 1.) We learn that Falstaff is a deer-stealer in the first act–the antlers thus create a cosmic irony.  2.) What Falstaff said he would do to Mr. Ford (literal cuckoldry) is done to Falstaff instead (metaphorical cuckoldry).  3.) Falstaff is an Actaeonian figure.

The myth of Actaeon is alluded to implicitly and explicitly throughout the play.  The name ‘Actaeon,’ in fact, appears twice in the text: “Like Sir Actaeon he, with Ringwood at thy heels” [II:i]; “divulge Page himself for a secure and wilful Actaeon…” [III:iii].

The myth is simple and powerful.  Actaeon spies on the naked bathing goddess, Diana.  Since the goddess is not containable in any human form, Actaeon stares at an empty appearance, a simulation.  A rustling in the bushes reveals all.  Diana raises herself in her divine nudity and screams at the voyeur: “Tell that you saw me bathing here naked–if you can tell at all!”  The hunter is transformed into a stag and ripped into pieces by his own hounds.

What we are given here is a sadistic fantasy, a masochistic fantasy, or a sadomasochistic fantasy.  The play culminates in a ritual persecution in which a human being is sacrificed.

Of all the many attempts to ideologize Shakespeare and to press him into the service of a sexual-political cause, this might be the best play to use as a vehicle.  And yet the play has been strangely ignored both by specialists in Gender Studies and Shakespearean scholars in general.  An Emeritus Professor of Renaissance Literature wrote a book entitled Shakespeare on Masculinity without ever so much as mentioning The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The play does have a great deal to say about disgraced masculinity.  Every full-grown man in this play is a puddinghead–even Mr. Ford, who is cuckolded without being cuckolded and who commits adultery with his own wife (prefiguring All’s Well that Ends Well).  The women are the crafty ones.  Whether this vision of hell is making an ontological claim about the differences between men and women is ambiguous; whether this vision of hell is misogynistic, misandristic, or both is non-obvious.  Reading the play is rather like watching two cackling little girls flinging apples at an old lion in the zoo.

Reading over what I have written so far, I see that I am making the play appear more interesting than it actually is.

Joseph Suglia

On the distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

Dedicated to Lena Rita Voll and Professor Unrat

1.) A boulevardier drinks in the fashionable atmospheres; a flâneur drifts like a ghost through fashionable spaces, which are less remarkable to him than emptied factories.

2.) A flâneur takes pictures in the mind of landfills; a boulevardier takes pictures of tourist attractions.

3.) A flâneur is a seer; a boulevardier is a sightseer.

4.) A boulevardier strolls down prescribed paths; a flâneur is a mapless wanderer.

5.) A boulevardier walks to be seen; a flâneur walks to see.

Joseph Suglia

THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold / A Negative Review of THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

An Analysis of The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) by Joseph Suglia

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002) is the type of book that effortlessly mounts American bestseller lists.  It is impossible to deny that the book serves as a symbolic reaffirmation of the traditional values of the now-vanished American middle class.  Any sober analysis of the book must take this into account.

Much like other smash-hit novels, the book fetishizes children / younger teens and their alleged innocence.  When readers first encounter the novel’s protagonist, fourteen-year-old girl Susie Salmon, she has already been raped and murdered and is gazing down on the earth from the Bel-Air comfort of her personal Heaven.  During the recreation of Susie’s murder, the narrative oscillates between Susie’s violation and killing and a description of charming details from Susie’s life.  While this tactic might seem emotionally manipulative, there is no question that Ms. Sebold is shrewd.  Only the toughest eyes will be able to hold back their tears.

Ms. Sebold recreates the voice of a fourteen-year-old girl exceptionally well at the beginning of the novel.  Her character’s syntax and diction become more sophisticated as the novel spins along.  The voice is emotionally manipulative perhaps, but not everyone can psychologically maneuver little lambs via the written word.

Not merely is the book’s milieu white, American suburbia.  Its norms are also very suburban, very white, and very American.  Unsurprisingly, the book’s Heaven (a place where every little girl’s dreams come true) resembles an upper-middle-class country club, with “soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin.”

The slobbering enemy of the work–Susie’s butcher, Mr. Harvey–is what critical theory used to call (and sometimes still does) “the Other.”  He is an outsider to the world that Susie and her family inhabit, the kind of man who “never married and ate frozen meals every night and [was] so afraid of rejection that [he] didn’t even own pets.  The kind of man you read about in health class.”  Such is the novel’s attitude toward anyone who falls too far outside of its particular status quo.

Those of foreign descent are welcome in the novel’s world, on the proviso that they support its middle-class values.  Susie’s former boyfriend, Ray Singh, for instance, is Indian and yet gives a guest lecture at the University of Pennsylvania on “Suburbia: The American Experience.”  It does seem rather odd that an Indian teenager would care very much about this topic.  And since when are teenage boys arbitrarily invited to give lectures at major American universities?

The novel also displays an uncharitable attitude toward other-sexual male desire.  Looking down from Heaven on her former friend Clarissa, Susie is disgusted by what she sees: a young boy palming the girl, groping for “a little mound of love.”  The book presents the sexuality of men as if all male lust were despicable or homicidal.

How did Mr. Harvey become Mr. Harvey?  Was Mr. Harvey violated as a young boy?  If Susie Salmon survived, would she have transformed into someone like Mr. Harvey?  Victims of abuse too often become abusers themselves.  The Lovely Bones does not explore these seamy depths.  If it did, it would not be an Alice Sebold novel.

Joseph Suglia

BRET EASTON ELLIS: ESCAPE FROM UTOPIA / Analyses of LESS THAN ZERO, THE INFORMERS, AMERICAN PSYCHO, GLAMORAMA by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis: Escape from Utopia

by Joseph Suglia

America is a utopia.  A placeless “place” in which all desires are answered even before they are articulated.  A non-place without a history and without horizons.

The “America” to which I refer is less the nation that bears this name than that nation’s ideal, one that posits a world which is seemingly disconnected from the contingencies of time and space.  One could object, of course, that America is hardly “utopian” or paradisaical: There is, after all, misery everywhere.  And yet utopianism does not exclude the possibility of misery.  Like all ideological constructions, the image of America contradicts the existing conditions of its societies.  America interprets itself as a locus of absolute plentitude, overflowing with whatever one may need/desire; it presents itself as a space that is anti-spatial, anti-temporal and anti-historical, a non-place in which desires are quickly converted into needs and in which “new” desires proliferate infinitely.

It is America’s utopianism that Bret Easton Ellis addresses in his fiction.  His novels are populated by those who, theoretically, have everything–except “something to lose” (Less Than Zero).  They are the illiterate glitterati–ridiculously stupid and narcissistic people who say ridiculously stupid and stupidly ridiculous and narcissistic things (e.g., “She wasn’t looking at my abs, but she wanted to,” from The Rules of Attraction; “You’re tan, but you don’t look happy,” from The Informers).  Members of the “beautiful elite,” each of his “characters” (if this word even applies–the personages have no identity) is vapid and vacant precisely because their desires are produced by mainstream consumer culture–a culture that is fundamentally shallow.  Although they numb themselves with drugs and sex, they cannot even be called “hedonistic” because they don’t enjoy themselves.  The majority of Americans would say that Ellis’s “characters” are without problems: After all, most are rich, gorgeous, and young.  But the absence of problems is, in itself, a problem.

In Ellis’s first truly “political” literary work, his aptly titled third novel, American Psycho (1991), the white, rich, and impossibly handsome Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman is, strictly speaking, the “perfect” American–and the “perfect” representative of a “perfect” world.  He has no flaws.  He’s a trust-fund baby with an immensely well-paying job that seemingly requires no effort; women fall for him wherever he goes; he is young and beautiful.  He lives at the center of American culture and, for this reason, wants for nothing.  And yet the tragedy of his (and of all) “perfection” is that it must constantly reestablish itself: No one who is “perfect” can afford not to be vigilant.

Patrick Bateman is “perfect”–and also perfectly vicious.  He is a murderer–and also at the center of American culture.  These statements are not contradictory.

The following question plagues the readers of American Psycho: How is it that others are seemingly unaware of, or indifferent to the murders that Bateman commits?  The answer is obvious.  There is nothing extraordinary about homicide; indeed, homicide has become completely normalized.  Whether one has committed homicide is less significant than whether one wears Armani.  Throughout the novel, descriptions of dismemberment occur in the same paragraph as discussions of insipid, 1980s pop-music kitsch.  In fact, much of the book is a recitation of such trivia interspersed with gruesome descriptions of the mutilation of women.  What is one to make of this?  Is Ellis a violent misogynist, as many have claimed?

On the contrary, American Psycho is the perhaps most radical critique of American culture in general–and of American misogyny, in particular–in novelistic form.  American culture is “evil,” the novel suggests, because “evil” no longer matters.  One’s moral value is insignificant in relation to one’s physical appearance and the size of one’s bank account.  The smug, self-preening Bateman is able to commit the most ghastly and monstrous acts imaginable with impunity, precisely because he looks good and has a hierarchical position in society.  When Bateman dissects his victims–who, for the most part, are homeless people, prostitutes, and ethnic minorities–the reader should remember that such acts are “business as usual” in the United States.  There is nothing unusual about anything that Bateman does; his murderous behavior is representative of the mainstream.  If he gives a disquisition on the greatness of post-Peter Gabriel Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, or Whitney Houston before slicing up a prostitute, this is because there is no essential difference, the book suggests, between the stupidity of American pop culture and the monstrosity of evil.  “Evil,” the book suggests, is not some Mephistophelean figure that springs up from the depths of Hell.  Nor may be it explained by the Kantian concept of “radical evil,” in which the senses are maximized and elevated to the basis of moral decisions.  No, for Ellis, “evil” is the money-sucking, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic yuppie businessman: the axis and apotheosis of American culture.

Bateman, the “American psycho,” is perfect, and perfection is the American psychosis.  More specifically, the American psychosis is the drive to be perfect, to have an apartment more expensive and better situated than Paul Owen’s.  Anyone outside of the sphere of perfection is regarded as trash.  “You are not … important to me,” Bateman says to his equally superficial and vacuous fiancée: Such is the ethos of the Reaganite 1980s.  And it is precisely this maxim of conduct that Ellis represents in American Psycho.

The eerily open-ended “conclusion” of American Psycho ominously hints at the impending apocalypse of heterosexual white upper-class male domination.  A Middle-Eastern taxi cab driver and a homeless woman–evocative of the disenfranchised minorities killed off by the hard-hearted yuppie earlier in the novel–take their symbolic revenge on the majoritarian Bateman.  As he enters his twenty-eighth birthday, he faces the inexorable demise of his regime and his self-deceptions.

* * *

Ellis’s next experiment, The Informers (1994), seems, at first glance, to be nothing more than a collection of short stories and drafts for Ellis’s more ambitious novelistic projects (“The Secrets of the Summer,” for instance, reads as if it were an early version of American Psycho).  It is far more than that, however.  Each story connects with all of the others; the book has an inner continuity that is strikingly intricate.  There are complicated interchanges between the “characters”; each one of them is absolutely interchangeable with everyone else.

The Informers is set in Los Angeles in the 1980s.  No one in the book has an individuated personality, if by “personality” we mean a distinguishable set of preferences, disinclinations, and verbal expressions.  All of the characters take Valium and drink Tab.  All of them say the same things and have the same desires and aversions.  Indeed, all of Ellis’s “characterologies” are the same.  This is not a flaw in his novelistic practice.  It is, rather, a sign of his writerly strength.  In “The Up-Escalator,” a middle-aged woman cannot distinguish her son, Graham, from any of the other tall, blond boys that populate the novel.  In “In the Islands,” William cannot distinguish his son, Tim, from Graham.  One stoned pool boy is identical to another stoned pool boy.

“Perfection,” it would seem, may be bought and sold in mass quantities.  According to the metaphorics of the work, one’s identity is founded upon the products that one buys.  Because products are available in mass quantities, identity is also available in mass quantities.  If commodities are equivalent to one another (through the medium of money), there is no reason that identities should not be posited as equivalent, as well.  It is the logical consequence of living in a culture that valorizes consumerist equivalence that its citizens should also be indistinguishable from each other.  The most dominant figure of The Informers is the destruction of individuality by the exchange of equivalents.

Another of the novel’s obsessions is the effect of a highly technologized media culture on social relationships.  Rather than bringing the “characters” together, audio-visual technology drives them further apart.  One person can only relate to another by relating him/her to a media image.  While on a plane to Hawaii, William and Tim both listen to headsets, each playing a different kind of music; they can only endure each other through the magic of technological “communication.”  In “Another Grey Area,” Graham identifies his father’s corpse by likening it to Darth Vader.  His “friend” Randy drapes his own face with a copy of GQ and effectively becomes John Travolta, whose image is featured on the cover.  One character, Ricky, is murdered on the night of a Duran Duran lookalike contest, which is a propos because everyone in The Informers participates, whether intentionally or not, in a celebrity-lookalike contest.  In “Sitting Still,” Susan dislikes her father’s fiancée (partly, at least) because the latter likes the film Flashdance (1982).  Most pitifully, in “Letters from L.A.,” Anne is slowly swallowed up in the media culture of Los Angeles–a culture that she once disdained.

* * *

Ellis’s most recent novel, Glamorama (1998), is a departure for the author, insofar as it does not merely concern the hollowness and superficiality of American culture, but also the way in which the whole of reality is structured within the context of this culture.  In Glamorama, the entire structure of reality is choreographed.  It is impossible to tell, throughout the work, whether a character is in a “real” scenario or whether that scenario has been rehearsed, scripted, and staged.  In Glamorama, the surface of things overtakes all depth.  We have reached, Ellis seems to suggest, a hyper-Kantian moment in which appearances are finally liberated from the things that they would represent.  Indeed, the novel “itself”–a panorama of hollow, glitzy appearances–is an endless play of surfaces without profundity.

The “star” of Glamorama, semi-model Victor Ward, is photographed at film premieres and fashion shows that he never attended; these photographs take on the status of the “truth.”  Only that which is mediated by the media, the novel seems to imply, is regarded as “real” in American culture.  The “characters” of Glamorama–models and celebrities and those who serve them–can only recognize something as “true” to the extent that it is simulated.  In particular, for the lovable idiot Victor, the “living” instant exists only for the sake of its media duplication: That is to say, he can only recognize something as significant insofar as it recalls a popular song lyric, television show, or film.  A human being has value for him except inasmuch as s/he resembles an actor/actress such as Uma Thurman or Christian Bale (“You’re looking very Uma-ish, baby” is a typical remark).  Like all of Ellis’s mannequin figures, Victor is vacant, a media sponge, a mediator of transitory sound-bytes.  In the first and second sections of the novel, for instance, Victor is nothing more than a vehicle for the words of others (a running joke throughout Glamorama is Victor’s tendency to respond to questions, inanely, with decontextualized popular song lyrics).  It is his emptiness of meaningful content that allows him to become the scapegoat of various political factions, who exploit his naïveté for their own programs.  Victor becomes entangled with fashion-model terrorists who are even more surface-fascinated than him and who “teach” him that a world of pure surfaces is a world without ethical limits.

A Bildungsroman for the early twenty-first century, Glamorama charts Victor’s gradual transformation into a person of substance.  At the end of his metamorphosis, Victor fastens his mind on the image of a mountain that he must “ascend” in order to escape from the world of self-referring resemblances.  An agent of “the real,” Victor yearns to break free from the network of appearances that constitutes American culture.  He yearns to break free from his culture (“Have you ever wished that you could disappear from all this?” an MTV journalist asks Victor in an interview) precisely because it is utopian.  Only after the traumas of the latter sections of the novel does Victor become aware of the drawbacks of America’s utopianism.  He is “[o]n the verge of tears–because [he is] dealing with the fact that we lived in a world in which beauty was considered an accomplishment.”  A world in which “supermodels” are automatically qualified to be actors, filmmakers, artists, writers, representatives of the United Nations–and terrorists.  A world in which physical appearance and money are the only significant power-categories.

Ellis’s equation of beauty with terror might strike one as capricious.  It is not.  In America, it is not surprising to see the televised image of a “supermodel” such as Claudia Schiffer wearing a T-shirt that reads “EVIL” or to learn that a popular fashion-designer (Von Dutch) was a Nazi.  Fascism intersects with fashion at multiple points.  Fashion makes raids on human consciousness no less damaging than terrorist initiatives.  Both assault memory and self-perception.  Both destabilize one’s sense of security and well-being.  Ellis demonstrated the conjunction of terrorism and performance before the attacks of September 11, 2001.  In its conflation of fashion with fascism, Glamorama recalls Stockhausen’s callous but nonetheless accurate remark that the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center constituted a work of performance art.  An accurate statement, insofar as the terrorist interventions of September 11, 2001 would not have existed were it not for the spectacle of television.

There is nothing new about any of this.  Indeed, fascism has traditionally used aesthetic means to take hold of the human imagination and exert its dominion over human life (Italian futurism is one example of this).  Such is the meaning of the Nazi swastika on the ceiling of Victor’s New York nightclub and the Hitler epigraph at the beginning of the novel: “You make a mistake if you see what we do as merely political.”  By way of the epigraph and the figure of the swastika, Ellis suggests that fascism is not merely a political, but also an aesthetic movement.  But the reverse is also true, according to the logic of Glamorama: What once appeared as merely aesthetic reveals itself as a political movement.

Victor, then, wants to escape from utopia.  It is this swerve away from shallow phenomenality that leads one to believe that Ellis is not a “postmodern” novelist–that is to say, one who has resigned himself to the omnipresence of empty images.  Far from it.  Indeed, as a novelist, Ellis traces the limits of postmodernism.  There is, Glamorama suggests, a space beyond postmodern culture–a culture in which image ceaselessly passes into image, in which signs have no order except for that constituted by their own formal arrangements.  Ellis beckons away from the image sphere toward the space-time of consumption.  In terms of the “society of the spectacle” (following Guy Debord, a philosopher to whom Ellis alludes at least once in Glamorama), reality exists only insofar as it is converted into an image.  Ellis’s Glamorama suggests that it is still possible to engage with “the real” outside of the sphere of simulation.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once said of America: “This country is without hope.”  In a typically American fashion, Ellis refuses to resign himself to hopelessness.  He is a writer who relates to his own culture (a culture with which he also, to a certain extent, identifies) by ridiculing it mercilessly.

A satirist with a laser-sharp wit, Ellis opens up the imaginary possibility of liberating ourselves from the space in which each of us is imprisoned.  But Ellis is not a politician, only a writer.  He seems to have no program for radical social change, and that is refreshing.  Ellis relinquishes utopian alternatives to America’s utopianism.  He merely presents American culture through the distorted speculum of his own fun-house mirror.  By doing so, he ventures further than any of his contemporaries have dared.

Joseph Suglia

A Critique of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell / A Negative Review of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

An Analysis of BLINK (Malcolm Gladwell) by Joseph Suglia

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) is not a meticulously researched book.  Nearly all of its ‘research’ was derived from studies in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In the book’s Notes (a mere seven pages in length), you will count fifteen references to that journal and a few references to other sources.

It seems appropriate that Gladwell’s research is so slipshod.  After all, Blink is like a war machine pitted against research in all forms.  There simply isn’t time to investigate and deliberate, after all.  And the more you research, the less you will know.

The more you think, the less you will know.

Blink celebrates and affirms pre-knowledge, the uncritical reflex, the snap judgment, the spur-of-the-moment decision.

Our initial perception of things is always correct, according to Gladwell, unless our minds are led astray by some extraneous matter.  All of us would come to the same conclusions, as long as we were to refine our “thin-slicing” skills. “To thin-slice,” in this context, means to extract the salient meaning from an initial impression.  All of us are afforded an immediate and direct insight into the atemporal essences of things.

All of this is ‘argued’ anecdotally.  As I mentioned in the opening of the review, nearly all of the anecdotes were stolen from a single source.  And in many cases, misappropriated.  Gladwell tells us that students can instantly judge a teacher’s effectiveness as soon as s/he walks into the classroom.  What Gladwell doesn’t tell us is that the article from which he derived this ‘truth’ concerns the impact of a teacher’s perceived sex appeal on course evaluations.

How the ‘glimpse’ actually works is never explained; we are told, in several places, that instantaneous intuition “bubbles up” unbidden from the recesses of the “adaptive unconscious.”  “The” adaptive unconscious, mind you, as if there could only be one.  This is, of course, monism, and Gladwell believes in absolutes.

Of course, one’s initial impressions might yield profitable results.  But to say that one’s immediate intuition of the world is inherently superior to slow and careful thinking is madness.  One should beware of any form of mysticism, and Gladwell’s blank intuitionism could easily be put in the service of a fascistic Wille zur Macht.

Blink’s target audience is composed of Hollywood producers, literary agents, advertisers, and military strategists.  You will learn in this book that films that exhibit Tom Hanks are superior to those that do not, that margarine tastes better when packaged in foil, that music sounds better when marketed the right way to the right people, that military strikes should be carried out without discipline or forethought.  The surface impression is everything.  Submit to your impulses!

Blink is American pop-culture’s defense of its own stupidity.

Joseph Suglia

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

Dennis Cooper and the Demystification of Love

Dennis Cooper and the Demystification of Love

by Joseph Suglia

The definitive psychopathology of love has yet to be written.  Perhaps it never will be.  Love has been praised as a virtue, as the affirmative emotion par excellence at least since Petrarch; indeed, it is quite possibly, along with the concept of freedom, the most dominant ideal in Western culture.  (Is it even logical to make of an emotion an “ideal”?).  Nonetheless, we have yet to understand (or at least to conceptualize) all of the valences that comprise this strange emotion.  It could be argued that love throws us into our more profound dimensions, that love, far from being merely the affirmation of the in-amorata, impinges upon much darker affects.  When Christianity orders us to “love one another,” “love” seems to be conceived as a form of harmonization.  But doesn’t love also call forth division, antagonism—even violence?

Dennis Cooper’s fiction offers a discomforting interpretation of the phenomenon of love (particularly, erotic love and filial love).  Let us say a “punk” interpretation, precisely in the sense that he gives to this word in his breakthrough collection of short stories, Closer (1989): “Punk orders us to demystify everything in the world or we’ll be doomed to a future so decadent, [sic] atomic bombs will seem just one more aftershave lotion and so on.”  Dispensing with all literary artifice, his savage fiction desublimates one of the West’s most influential values.  There is in his work a demythologization of love, a kind of “punk” reductionism of an affect that is relentlessly praised in most arenas of Western culture.  “Love” is portrayed, rather, as a form of submission and of domination, of cruelty and of brutality.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Cooper’s most challenging work of fiction, Frisk (1991).  The crux of the narrative is as follows: As a young boy, the book’s protagonist, Dennis rifled through hardcore pornographic magazines at Gypsy Pete’s, a storefront run by an aged, unshaven alcoholic.  Gypsy Pete introduces Dennis to even more subterranean publications, some of which contain what appear to be images of necrophilic sex.  From this moment on, Dennis links desire with destruction, love with assassination; sexuality appears intimately bound to murder.  As he grows older, Dennis finds himself attracted to the same type of boy that he saw in the magazine, with the same hairstyle, the same bedazzled expression in his eyes, the same “look.”  He careens from one impersonal tryst to another, seemingly in order to master his original experience.  He “loves” his conquests “according to [his] loose, personal definition of the word”—which seems to be, to quote Dennis’ counterpart, Julian, “what you feel for someone you don’t know very well, if at all”:

‘Christ,’ Julian groaned.  ‘Are you one of those guys who think love’s … whatever, sacred?’  Henry shook his head.  ‘Good, because as far as I’m concerned, love’s what you feel for someone you don’t know very well, if at all.  Maybe I was ‘in love’ with your body when you were over there studying Jennifer and me.  Now I’m just, uh … hungry, you could call it.  You being my… meal …’

No, love is not “sacred”; one may say that it is, rather, a mode of desecration.  A form of cannibalism, if you will.

The narrative takes an even darker turn when an older version of Dennis teams up with two Germans.  They move from one scene of human destruction to the next, murdering young boys and having sex with their dead bodies.  In one especially disgusting scene, the narrator inserts one of his body parts into the mouth of a corpse.

What is particularly striking is the way in which these necrophilic encounters mirror all other forms of sexual relation.  Desire for the beloved, in this body of work, is indistinguishable from the desire to kill that person.  Take the following scene as an example.  While traveling on a train through Holland, Dennis stares at a young Dutch boy lying across from him and fantasizes about the things that he would like to do to the latter’s body: “I’ve filled the Dutch boy’s lips with the words, ‘Kill me, Dennis.’”  Whether or not one should kill the person one desires or loves is never a question in Cooper’s fiction: Indeed, the ultimate, poisonous destination of all love is here the slaughter of the one whom one loves.  The novel (if it is one) suggests that love brings us to such extremes.  His main character precipitates down the descending scale of desire until he reaches the end point, which is death.

It is not merely the case, however, that the lover is violent.  What most readers find troubling about Cooper’s books is their suggestion that the victims are complicit in their own destruction, that they willingly lower themselves to the status of dead meat in order to complete the desires of their tormentors.  Such is indeed the intense fascination that exists at the heart of all of Cooper’s work: a fascination with young boys who allow themselves to be exploited and violated—sometimes even killed—in order to recognize the desires of their tormentors as belonging to the sphere of love.  A fascination with young boys who permit themselves to be, to use an over-used word, objectified.  Objectification (the reduction of a human being to the level of an object), Cooper seems to suggest, is essential to the erotic process.

Let me refer to another representative text to make my point clearer.  Ziggy, the dazed protagonist of Cooper’s most formally sophisticated work, Try (1994), is sexually manipulated by both of his male parents to the point at which he can no longer distinguish love from erotic exploitation.  While his stepfather obsessively roots around in his stepson’s body as if he were a hound in rut, Ziggy, stoned and stupid to all sensation, submits to his protector’s will, as if the invasion of his body were the parental prerogative, as if the impossible completion of the love process were an act of intercourse performed by the man responsible for the cultivation of his person.  A transformation, again, of consciousness into object.  A sexuality that ends in the “death”—the making-object—of the loved one.

It would perhaps not be superfluous to pause over the philosophic import of relationship of sexuality to death.

The end of all desire, it may be said, again, is destruction.  Why else would thoughts of suicide and even murder be seldom absent from the mind of a lover?  The Oscar Wilde cliché “All men kill the thing they love” is a propos to this context.  What drives us crazy is that in the object of desire which is free from our desire, that part of the other human being which escapes us infinitely; the absolute self-sufficiency of the other person brings us into a frenzy.  No one can control, absolutely, what the other person thinks, says or does; s/he can always respond negatively to any possible affirmation on our part, or vice versa.  Insofar as s/he is infinitely and absolutely free, the other person forces us to experience the limits of our own presumptions.  This inevitably converts the desire that we have for the other person into the desire for his/her destruction—that is to say, the desire to reduce that person to ourselves, to nullify that person’s “otherness,” the desire to turn that person into nothing.

It is perhaps the case that what is called “love,” the most intense form that desire may take, draws out the deeper dimensions of human selfhood.  It exposes, perhaps, our most profound valences; it makes apparent our drive toward aggression, our desire for domination, our wish (whether conscious or unconscious) for the annihilation of the beloved.

Baudelaire wrote in his journal: “Even though a pair of lovers may be deeply devoted, full of mutual desires, one of them will always be calmer, or less obsessed, than the other. He or she must be the surgeon or torturer; the other the patient or victim.”  That is, in love, one partner is absolutely passive; the other is absolutely aggressive.  This same zero-sum relation is apparent everywhere in Dennis Cooper’s fiction.  The rapists and murderers that populate his work are needed by their younger victims; these same victims are needed by their older predators.  The interdependence of victim and victimizer is what is most uncomfortable in this reading experience–a relationship which is not reducible to the psychological categories of perversion or depravity; its all-pervading status incites one to believe that it is, in fact, absolutely normalized.  Cooper’s world is one in which the pebble is substituted for the clod (to refer to Blake), a world in which the consciousness of the beloved is reduced to mute matter.  Love, then, is not equated with affection in this oeuvre.  The perfect expression of love, in this body of work, is the Rim Job.

One could, of course, dismiss such an equation as the agitprop of a “transgressive” novelist.  Soberer minds will recognize that the same thought is pronounced throughout the history of classical literature–most precisely, perhaps, in the later verse of William Butler Yeats: “Love has pitched his mansion/In the place of excrement.”

Unfortunately, I must add that Dennis Cooper has a thudding, awkward prose style.  I find his writing nearly unreadable and sloughing my way through his novels was a burden and a chore.

Joseph Suglia

Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen / Werner Herzog

Theses on AUCH ZWERGE HABEN KLEIN ANGEFANGEN (1969), a film directed by Werner Herzog

1.) No film is more subversive, more revolutionary.

2.) A film that goes wild, a world without a head.  Midgets run amuck, perform an insurrection, razing buildings and trees to the ground.  A Lilliputian assault: The dwarves take revenge on the tall people who once dominated them.

3.) Not so much a film about violence as a cinematic act of violence against society.

4.) A paedophobic nightmare: The children of the world revolt against the world of adults.

5.) Reason’s nightmare.  Typewriters are smashed, telephone lines ripped down, flowers set ablaze.  The revolt of the dwarfs is a symbolic one: Everything that is pure, everything that is sacred, everything that is dignified is brought down into the mud.  Absolute de-rationalization, de-intellectualization, de-idealization.  A camel–a symbol of piety, nobility, and grace–is repeatedly forced to kneel.  A dwarf’s psychotic laughter fills our ears.  The revolt against reason.  Social anarchy.  The smashing of plates, the throwing of food.  The end of all propriety.  The absence of limits.

6.) The viewer loses all sense of perspective, proportionality, and distance.  Spectators are forced to identify with the dwarfs.  It is the world that has lost its balance; the dwarfs are normal.

7.) And yet the dwarfs are nonetheless grotesque.  The dwarfs who massacre the pig are completely unsympathetic.  Unsympathetic, and yet we are forced to identify with them.  A reconceptualization of what it means to be human.

8.) A corruption of the sacred, a besmirching of all that is holy.  Ridiculing all that is pious.  The inversion of all relations.  The crucifixion of a monkey.  One chicken cannibalizes another.  A dead sow is fed upon by her piglets.

9.) Meaninglessness, absolute infantilism, irrationality, chaos.  But like the student rioters of May 1968, are the dwarfs searching for a new master?  One must take into account where the revolt takes place: an educational institution that resembles a penal colony.  Public institutions demand their own infringement, their own violation.

10.) A remake of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932).  We lock away the freaks, rejects, mutants of the world; they are the strangers, the foreigners, “the Others.”  But in this film, we the spectators have no sense of what we would usually consider “the norm.”  Are we not like the dwarves?  Only a few steps away from being freaks ourselves.  “We will make her one of us, one of us, one of us…”  The nightmare of the normal people.

11.) In a profound sense, the film is anti-humanist; the human animal appears as absolutely grotesque.  The viewer loses his bearings: “Am I large? Are they truly small?”  The world moves out of whack.

12.) The subversion of logos, narrative, language.

13.) Midget sexuality.  The dwarfs lust after tall women.

14.) A real live homunculus gangbang, smashing a century of Hollywood cinema to pieces.

Joseph Suglia

STRANGER THAN FICTION by Chuck Palahniuk / Negative Review / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

A Review of STRANGER THAN FICTION (Chuck Palahniuk) by Joseph Suglia

Is one permitted to write a less-than-obsequious review of a chuckpalahniukbook?  Because chuckpalahniukbooks make so much money, to say something unflattering about them is seen as a sin against consumerism and capitalism, an offence as grave as blasphemy.  We must conform, it is suggested, and worship chuckpalahniuk as a god.

If chuckpalahniukbooks have gained a huge audience among unintelligent teenagers, that is precisely because chuckpalahniuk writes on the level of an unintelligent teenager.

Nonetheless, his book of “essays,” the tritely titled Stranger Than Fiction, risks alienating his Hitler-Jugend-sized fan base.

The clichés begin with the title and get worse from there.  Stranger Than Fiction is essentially a haphazard collection of hastily written notes.  Some of them concern chuckpalahniuk’s fame and the good things about it.  Others concern celebrities chuckpalahniuk knows personally and who know him (it?).

chuckpalahniuk celebrates himself (itself?) with all of the enthusiasm of an out-of-work D-list actor.  He tells us that he “SO writes” in order to meet people who look like Uma Thurman and J.F.K., Jr.: “This is SO why I write.”  How noble!  Unfortunately or fortunately, Uma Thurman, who would not consider herself a writer, is infinitely more eloquent and thoughtful than the writer chuckpalahniuk.

There are “essays” on Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis that contain nothing but quotations from Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis.

In the “essay” “Brinksmanship,” chuckpalahniuk laughs at his readers, telling them that what he is writing is “rushed and desperate.”  But, he also seems to say, “You’ll read it anyway. After all, I’m a big name now.”  In other words, the writer spits out garbage on the page, and we have to spend our valuable time reading his drivel, while he laughs and laughs and laughs…

There is an entire “essay” on Brad Pitt and his super-gorgeous lips.  Oh, no, don’t be fooled, Gentle Reader!  chuckpalahniuk assures us that this isn’t mere tabloid celebrity gossip.  No.  Don’t be deceived!  As chuckpalahniuk remarks, “This wasn’t really about Brad Pitt. It’s about everybody.”  Really?  You don’t say!

When chuckpalahniuk makes cursory references to serious writers (i.e. those who are not merely celebrities), such as Heidegger, Venturi, or Derrida, it seems unlikely that he spent more than fifteen minutes reading them.

The prose is not simple; it is simplistic.  Minimalism is a powerful literary device, but this is not minimalism.  It is infantilism.  Minimalism only seems simple; there is profundity in its cadences and silences.  There is no depth beneath this book’s middle-school-level prose.

I am not exaggerating when I say that chuckpalahniuk writes as if he were a subnormal, unintelligent teenager.  Here is what he writes in his correspondence with Ira Levin (whose Rosemary’s Baby he pilfered in Diary): “That’s very, very creepy, Mr. Levin!”

chuckpalahniuk seems to believe that his life is interesting and that we will find his life interesting, as well.  A writer’s life, however, is not a source of significance.  Language and the imagination are the sole springs of literary value.

Witheringly boring, agonizingly self-glamorizing, and virtually unreadable–unless you are Mick, Chick, or Chimp, of course.

Joseph Suglia

THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare / THE TEMPEST Shakespeare / THE TEMPEST analysis / THE TEMPEST analysis Shakespeare / Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST analysis / THE TEMPEST commentary / Shakespeare commentary THE TEMPEST / THE TEMPEST interpretation Shakespeare / An Interpretation of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST / THE TEMPEST Shakespeare interpretation

THE TEMPEST (William Shakespeare)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

George Bernard Shaw inked the following (in 1913, “The Quintessence of Ibsenism”):

“Reflective people are not more interested in the Chamber of Horrors than in their own homes, nor in murderers, victims, and villains than in themselves; and the moment a man has acquired sufficient reflective power to cease gaping at waxworks, he is on his way to losing interest in Othello, Desdemona, and Iago exactly to the extent to which they become interesting to the police.”

George Bernard Shaw is making the excellent point that Shakespeare’s plays keep the spectator in the jury box.  I endorse this thesis 100%.  Shakespeare never inflicts guilt on the spectator.  I feel guilty, at times, while reading Strindberg.  I sometimes feel guilty while reading Ibsen.  There are passages in Shaw that fill me with guilt.  There are guilt-inflicting and -afflicting scenes in the films of Ingmar Bergman.  But Shakespeare?  Shakespeare is incapable of infusing anyone with guilt.  There are enchantments, entertainments, and enticements in Shakespeare, but there is never a guilt-inspiring moment.  Guilty characters (think of Alonso in The Tempest or of Lady Macbeth).  But no guilty spectators, ever.  At least, the probability of a guilty spectator seems an improbability to me.

* * * * *

The plot of The Tempest, such as it is, should already be familiar to most.  It is centered on Prospero, thaumaturge and erstwhile Duke of Milan, who is marooned on an island–more than likely, one of the Bermudas, which were explored by the English in the early seventeenth century, the time of the play’s composition.  A shipwreck brings phantoms from Prospero’s past, the promise of revenge and reinstatement to Prospero, the promise of freedom to Prospero’s slaves, Ariel and Caliban, and the promise of marriage to his daughter Miranda.  Revenge comes swiftly and easily, Prospero’s dukedom is restored, freedom is won, and marriage is inevitable.  Since all of the protagonist’s desires are fulfilled, The Tempest is a comedy in the Shakespearean sense.  There is very little struggle and thus very little worry over the outcomes.  I will return to this point below.

It might be useful to survey some of the dramatis personae.

Caliban is a cheetah-speckled fish-beast and the Earth-Spirit of the play.  His name is anagrammatical of “can(n)ibal.”  Shakespeare read of South Seas cannibals in Montaigne, and the English of the early seventeenth century did believe that the South Seas islanders were cannibals, devils, evil spirits, fantastic creatures.  Caliban is the whelp of the North African witch Sycorax; his god is Setebos.  “Setebos” is the name given to a Patagonian “devil” by one of Magellan’s companions.  One can see that this is indeed a text that reflects the age of the European seafaring expeditions, the Age of Exploration.

Caliban is not merely uneducated–he is not educable, not civilizable, not humanizable.  His naturalness, his earthiness, his childish stupidity are what make him dangerous.  It does seem that he is the one character who escapes, if only for a moment, Prospero’s power; thus, Prospero’s power is not absolute.  The ex-Duke is so unsettled by the breach in his power that he takes a walk to clear his head.  Then again, Prospero’s dazedness is nothing more than an interlude of impotence, an interruption of senescence or senility.  As Miranda says of her father: “Never till this day / Saw I him touch’d with anger so distemper’d” [IV:i].

No one has ever seemed to notice before that Caliban’s desires mirror Prospero’s own desires.  Caliban expresses his desire to burn Prospero’s books [III:ii]; Prospero drowns his own books (or “book”) toward the close of the play.  Caliban expresses the desire to violate Miranda.  Does Prospero have the same desire?  Am I alone in believing that Prospero has incestuous feelings for his own daughter?  Here is what the magus says about Miranda:

“…I visit / Young Ferdinand, whom [his fellows] suppose is drown’d, / And his and mine lov’d darling” [III:iii].

In the lines quoted above, Prospero does not separate his fatherly feelings from Ferdinand’s erotic feelings for Miranda.

Ariel is the air sprite who does nothing without Prospero’s directive, but it also might be said that Prospero does nothing without Ariel’s assistance.  Ariel’s name means “The Lion of God” in Hebrew.  Despite what Harold Bloom says, the etymology is neither accidental nor irrelevant to the pith of the play.  Ariel releases a leonine roar in the second act and is the serf of Prospero, who is indeed the deific figure of the island.  Ariel is endlessly promised a freedom that seems to be forever denied to him.

Miranda means “She Who is Admired.”  Before she meets Ferdinand, her soon-to-be-husband, the only man she knows is Prospero, unless we consider Caliban to be a “man” (he is, again, a hybrid of man and fish, a fish-man or a man-fish.  As Trinculo says, Caliban is “[l]egg’d like a man, and his fins [are] like arms” [II:ii]).  Prospero is more than mother and father to Miranda–he is the very model of manhood.  And of womanhood.

Miranda is a gift–perhaps a potlatch–from the former Milanese duke to the presumptive King of Naples, Ferdinand.  It is the gift of his daughter that will lead to the restoration of Prospero’s lost dukedom.  Marriage is always a political transaction, in Shakespeare:

[T]hou shalt find she will outstrip all praise,
And make it halt behind her…
[A]s my gift, and thine own acquisition
Worthily purchas’d, take my daughter [IV:i].

Note the nastiness that Prospero showers on his daughter in absentia, discussing her as if she were a horse.

Ferdinand is a big beefy beefhead.  He is a Joe Rogan type.  In fact, Joe Rogan was most likely born to play the role of Ferdinand.  This is how he describes himself (to his fiancee):

“[F]or your sake / Am I this patient log-man” [III:i].

He Log Man lift logs good.

* * * * *

The play was first performed for the amusement and bemusement of James I in November 1611.  This explains why usurpation is one of the play’s leitmotifs and why it contains a wedding masque in the style of Ben Jonson.  The presence of the wedding masque is not accidental: The Tempest is itself a masque and has nothing in its pretty little head other than the desire to beguile, to enchant, to entertain, and to reassure the King, his minions, and the groundlings of the Globe that the King shall always prevail.  The usurping of Prospero’s power by Antonio is the antimasque; the fifth act represents the restoration of the Duke’s (and the King’s) power.  In Ulysses, usurpation takes on a world-historical AND a personal significance–here, it is nothing more than a regal anxiety to be pacified.

There is beautiful poetry to be found in the play, but also some very lenient and lazy writing.  Take, for instance, the following.  Gonzalo, the court lawyer, intones at the close of the first scene of the first act:

“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground–long heath, brown furze, any thing. The wills above be done, but I would fain die a dry death.”

Well, that is a wasted bit of dialogue, isn’t it?  Who wouldn’t want to die on dry ground rather than in a shipwreck, as the ship one is in is wrecking?

And here is one of Ariel’s excruciatingly stupid songs:

Before you can say ‘come’ and ‘go,’
And breathe twice, and cry ‘so, so,’
Each one, tripping on his toe
Will be here with mop and mow.
Do you love me, master? No? [IV:i].

I could quote more senile singsong, but my tolerance is limited.  There are those who could read such lines and still consider all of Shakespeare, the paper Shakespeare, to be perfect.  I am not one of them.

There is too much tawdry bawdry in the play, too much of what we would call today “comic relief.”  With the exception of a botched assassination attempt, the entire second act is wasted on laughless comedy.  The comedy is the poetic nadir of the play.  It is not that the raillery is dated, nor that it has long since been drained of any humor it might have had.  The problem is that it is fluff, filler–empty pages and too much empty time, time wasted idly and emptily on the stage.

* * * * *

Why, exactly, should we believe that Prospero ought to be reinstated as the Milanese duke?  Prospero was disgracefully inept as a duke.  He explains to Miranda how his brother, Antonio, usurped control of the Milanese dukedom:

The government I cast upon my brother
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies…

I thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retir’d,
O’er-priz’d all popular rate, in my false brother
Awak’d an evil nature… [I:ii].

The neglectful and inadvertent duke, absorbed in the dark arts, loses his material power. We won’t have to wait very long before he wins it back again. Despite all of his flaws, and of these there are many, Prospero emerges as “The Favored One,” as his name implies.  He does this so effortlessly and smoothly that there is no space to wonder about the outcome.  Prospero wins, without even trying to win, a game that is rigged in advance, and this (as I stated earlier) is what makes The Tempest a Shakespearean “comedy.”

A Shakespearean comedy is not a play that makes us laugh, but a play in which the (sometimes unlikable) main character is easily victorious and the principals are married off, even if they don’t want to be married off.

All Shakespearean comedies project utopias.  They are not frictionless utopias, to be fair.  There are discordances in every one of Shakespeare’s utopias.  Antonio, the usurping brother, and Caliban, the rebel slave, provide the discordances in The Tempest.  And yet these disharmonies, these frictions, only exist in order to make the triumph of favored Prospero all the sweeter.  The Duke is deposed, then reinstated.  The Duke is dethroned, long live the Duke!

Some commentators have mused: Why are Prospero’s adversaries so threatened by the thaumaturge after he abjures his art?  Why don’t they rise up and slit his throat (which Caliban intended to do earlier)?  That they do not do this is nonplussing.  On the contrary, they stand in fear of the demystified mage.  Even after the abjurement of his magic, Sebastian says that the “devil speaks” in Prospero and Caliban worries that his master will “chastise” him [V:i].

It is difficult to say why Prospero’s enemies are meekened and weakened at the close of the play.  Perhaps, as Harold Bloom proposed, the magus does not need any of the external signs of magic.  Perhaps he has interiorized all of his powers.  He can break his staff, drown his book, and shed his mantle, for his power now comes from within.  Or is it merely the case that Prospero’s enemies–Sebastian, Antonio, Caliban, Stefano, Trinculo–are unaware that the magus has abjured his art?

While reading the play, there will be pleasantly unpleasant thought that more mischievous readers will not be able to suppress: They will wish that Caliban would rise up and devour all of the inhabitants of the isle.  This is more or less what happens in Peter Brook’s dramatization.  But no, instead, Prospero wins and forgives every one of his adversaries in the proto-Nietzschean affirmation of his power.

Indeed, forgiveness is the final phase of Prospero’s revenge plot.  Prospero calls his perfidious brother “wicked” and “unnatural” in the very sentences through which he forgives him:

“I do forgive thee, / Unnatural though thou art” [V:i].

The “rarer action” [Ibid.] is to forgive rather than to avenge.  But my question is thus: Can forgiveness not be a form of vengeance?

* * * * *

In the Epilogue, the actor who plays Prospero steps onto the stage one last time to beg for applause: “[R]elease me from my bands / With the help of your good hands.”  He asks for the spectator’s “indulgence.”  He says that his project was to “please.”  Only applause can free the actor from the isle of mirages over which the mage presides.

Here we have a pitiful plea for approbation from an attention-hungry actor-dramatist.  It is a Pathetic Appeal in two senses of the term: On the one hand, it is the attempt to stimulate the pity of the spectators and to provoke within them the pity-driven need to clap.  On the other hand, it is an appeal that is, well, pathetic, in the colloquial-American sense of the word.  But then, the Actor himself is yet another mask.  One mask conceals another mask conceals another mask conceals another mask, and so forth ad infinitum.

Here we have the Shakespearean conceit that life is theatre and theatre, life.  The island is an island of illusions where no man is his own [V:i].  The characters on the stage, of course, are nothing more than dramatic illusions–and are themselves illusioned.  We–the audience, the spectators, we human beings–we ourselves are illusions, according to Shakespeare: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep” [IV:i].  Each character is seduced by simulations or seduces by simulation: The shipwreck is described as a “spectacle”; Ariel assumes the shape of a water-nymph and then a harpy; Prospero camouflages himself throughout the play in various disguises; Caliban, Trinculo, and Stefano are seduced by garments hanging from the bough of a tree, etc., etc.

To please the audience, to appease the audience, to entertain the audience is also Shakespeare’s only goal in The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s most overestimated plays.  I should here make the point that Shakespeare was, in the non-problematic comedies, a panderer, a jongleur of the court.  His non-problematic comedies always pander.  They seek to assuage their audiences’ fears.  They never provoke their audiences.  To return to my opening point: No one has ever been made to feel guilty by a Shakespeare play.

At the end of the day, The Tempest does bear one redeeming facet: The play sparked some of the most exciting works of literature of the twentieth century.  The hallucinatory wonderlands of J. G. Ballard, for instance (by way of Joseph Conrad) would have been unthinkable without the tempestuous bluster of The Tempest, a play that never shakes the pear tree of the audience’s expectations.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

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

An Analysis of ROBERTE CE SOIR and THE REVOCATION OF THE EDICT OF NANTES (Pierre Klossowski) by Joseph Suglia

Roberte ce soir and The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes: two religious-erotic/erotic-religious novels from one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, Pierre Klossowski.

Roberte ce soir: Who is Roberte?  To her nephew, Antoine, she is an austere and prepossessing older sister.  To her husband, Octave, she is an infuriatingly beguiling hostess.  To any guest who traverses the threshold of their home, she is an open receptacle for virility–strangely inaccessible and accessible at once.  But Roberte is nothing, strictly speaking, in herself: She is a ceaselessly multiplying play of masks.  Her self-multiplications enlarge infinitely.  Purely mutative, purely transformative—who is she, really, in herself, if not a series of duplicates?  To every man she encounters, she is the replica of his desires.

Her sin, according to Octave (and the narrative!), is to have separated the spirit from the body.  She is both atheist (exclusive of the spirit) and a censor (exclusive of physicality).  Quite appropriately, the prose is, at times, erotically informed (emblematical of the body); at others, theologically informed (emblematical of the spirit).

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes: In this second novel, Roberte speaks in her own language.  We see her free from the one-sided interpretations that men have imposed upon her.  No, she never separates the word from the flesh.  She is word and flesh at once; like Klossowski’s God, she is eminently communicable, absolutely self-transformative, the hypostatical union of three-in-one.  And she never denied God, only the idol that men have made of God (God as an immutable and incommunicable substance).

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes revokes every hypothesis that might be imposed on Roberte, Klossowski’s muse and God.  Like a tableau vivant (a living painting, a human sculpture), she dangles silently in space.

In both of these absolutely remarkable books, theological digressions and eroticism dovetail into a seamless flow of language.  Together, they form a metaphysics of the flesh.

Klossowski, my neighbor.

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

NOSFERATU (1979) by Werner Herzog

An Analysis of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)

by Joseph Suglia

Was aus Liebe getan wird, geschieht immer jenseits von Gut und Böse.

“Whatever is done out of love always occurs beyond Good and Evil.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft / Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979) is less a film about the struggle between Good and Evil than it is a film about the triumph of all-consuming Eros over theology.  Each of the film’s personages–Count Dracula, Lucy, Jonathan Harker–are seized by a destructively violent passion.  Their desires are one.  They are victims of a violent desire that exists on the other side of mortality, on the other side of Good and Evil.

All three characters mirror each other at certain crucial points.

Kinski’s Nosferatu is He-Who-Desires: an incarnation which is curiously effeminate but also strangely virile, virtually androgynous, neither man nor woman.  His vampire is leech-like, parasitical, much frailer and sicklier than other, more robust screen vampires (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, etc.).  When Jonathan eats his dinner, Nosferatu stares at his quarry’s neck like a hound in rut.  He has no existence outside of the living beings upon whom he feeds.  So intensely enamored of Lucy’s neck is Nosferatu that he is willing to leave his castle in Transylvania just to be near her.  And when Nosferatu comes to Bremen, he brings the plague with him.  His untrammeled desire for Lucy is pestilential, a cloud of rats.  His all-enveloping love, his polymorphic attraction, is what brings the pestilence.  Sexual desire is the plague.  In this film, desire is figured as disease.  A plague that ends in the “festive” destruction of Western civilization, a round dance in which animals and humans mingle, a joyful plague of “perverse” sexuality.

Jonathan Harker is Nosferatu’s double–willing to give up everything, willing to risk death, to go any extreme for the sake of his beloved, Lucy.  And at the eerily open-ended conclusion of the film (and this is Herzog’s most drastic departure from the original), Jonathan assumes the vampire’s role completely.  He effectively becomes his nemesis.  There are no end credits; the film continues infinitely.  The final image is of a spreading desolation, the reign of negativity and the annihilation of civilization (which, as usual in Herzog, is affirmed as a joyous event—from what we see of civilization in this film, it doesn’t appear worth saving; the annihilation of all social laws is here seen as something positive).  Nosferatu nowhere dies in the space of the film.  Indeed, Nosferatu’s tragedy is not death but the impossibility of death.

In her conversation with Nosferatu, Lucy makes a startling proclamation: She is willing to refuse to God the love that she gives to Jonathan.  Her unreserved, unholy desire for Jonathan surmounts her piety, her faith in God.  Does this not bind her intimately with Nosferatu, the force of entropic negativity?  By refusing God the love she gives to her man, she migrates to the country of darkness.  With her spectral pallor, she is uncannily resemblant of Nosferatu.  When he visits her in the bedroom, she embraces him, her dark lover, pulling him to her neck.  Is this nothing more than a self-sacrifice for the sake of the people of Bremen?  For Jonathan’s sake?  Perhaps.  But after Nosferatu is vanquished, why does the blood rush to her cheeks?  And why, after Nosferatu has sapped her blood, why does she bask in what seems to be a post-coital glow?

Each of these characters is a victim of the suicidal character of all sexual desire.

There are so many details in this film that will haunt your mind.  Kinski’s ghastly rat-like features, the murine parasite.  The way in which the camera makes you his victim, fresh for vampirization.  The way in which all relations are inverted.  Sickness surmounts health.  Survival surmounts both death and life.

Unlike F.W. Murnau’s 1922 original, the images in Herzog’s film are not symbolic–that is, they do not subserve character or language.  The images are restored to their purity and form a pre-conceptual, pre-rational, pre-critical visual language all their own.

Ultimately, Nosferatu‘s (1979) greatest virtue is that it includes an acting performance by one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, someone who is never acknowledged as one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century.  His name is Roland Topor.

Joseph Suglia