Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia: Table of Contents

SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS by Joseph Suglia

My novel TABLE 41

My Guide to English Usage

My YouTube Channel

VIDEO ESSAYS

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

VIDEO: Jacques Derrida Is Overrated

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

VIDEO: My Neighbors Are Bothering Me

VIDEO: Reading My ENTIRE Novel TABLE 41 for You

VIDEO: What Is the Meaning of Life?

VIDEO: Why I Hate Shakespeare

VIDEO: My Screenplay Was Made Into an Audio Play

VIDEO: Sam Harris Is Overrated

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

VIDEO: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

VIDEO: CHANGE TITLE [ADD VIDEO]

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

VIDEO: SHAKESPEARE THE PUNK

VIDEO: WHAT IS THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE OF THE SAME?

Table of Contents

SQUIBS

Aphorisms on Art

Aphorisms on Consumerism and Genius

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

Aphorisms on Libertarianism, Criticism, and Psychoanalysis

My Favorite Writers, My Favorite Music, My Favorite Films

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

Three Aperçus: THE NEON DEMON (2016) and Envy

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

The Red Pig 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

Two Haiku

David Foster Wallace and Macaulay Culkin: Two Aperçus

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

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

Jimmy Carter

Emo Island

Coronavirus Poem and Cruise Ship Poem

THE NIETZSCHE COMMENTARIES

HUMAN, ALL-TOO-HUMAN / MENSCHLICHES, ALLZUMENSCHLICHES

DAYBREAK / MORGENRÖTHE: GEDANKEN ÜBER DIE MORALISCHEN VORURTHEILE

THE GAY SCIENCE / DIE FRÖHLICHES WISSENSCHAFT

THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA / ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA

BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: PRELUDE TO A PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE / Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft

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

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

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] 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 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 has been too easily and too often made before (most notably, by Nicolas Carr in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”).  My argument is not that the webware of our minds has been redesigned and redrawn—something that I have accepted as an immovable fact long ago.  Yes, I know that most are distractible.  I have known this for years.  My argument is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodnight, ladies, goodnight.  Sweet ladies, goodnight, goodnight” [IV:v] has been demoted to the final song on Transformer (1972), Lou Reed’s worst album, which is really a bad David Bowie album (Bowie was its producer).  The line does also reappear in intentionally, floridly bastardized form in “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot—a poem that concerns the cheapening, the coarsening, of literary values in the mass culture of the European twentieth century.

“A fellow of infinite jest” [V:i] is no longer a phrase that Hamlet uses to praise his father’s jester Yorick, who is now dead and whose skull Hamlet is holding.  It is now the title of one of the most execrably written books ever published, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

“[T]he quick and dead” is now the 1995 film The Quick and the Dead, directed by Sam Raimi.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” [V:ii] is now the title of Tom Stoppard’s not-always-bracing postmodernist, auto-reflexive play.  It has also been resurrected as the 2009 American independent film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

* * * * *

As the snapshots of popular culture above demonstrate, popular culture has vulgarized and continues to vulgarize the play, for popular culture vulgarizes all art, degrading it until it becomes something other than art, something baser than art.

Each popular-cultural citation leaves a residue.  Of course, there would be no “pure” text beneath the accrual of sedimentation.  However, I am arguing something else: The text is even less pure than it would be otherwise, so buried is it under a mountain of kitsch, a garbage mountain of clichés in an ever-compounding media landfill.

We deviate from the text at hand.  We are force-fed bowls of fuzz-word salad.

If I were able to approach the text in its “nudity”: My own approach to the text would be to examine it through the speculum of the question of the free will.  Multiple essays have already discussed the question of free will in Hamlet, but none, as far as I know, have argued that the play is suggesting that free will is a delusion from which we would do well to disabuse ourselves.  If the play is about anything at all, it is about the impossibility of anything like a free will.

The crux of the play, its pivotal question, is why does Hamlet delay?  Why is Laertes a swift avenger whereas Hamlet is a sluggardly avenger?  Whereas Laertes is undiscouraged and rushes headlong toward vengeance—Laertes, who all but breaks down the door to slaughter Hamlet, whom he blames for his father Polonius’ death—Hamlet is unnimble and delays the exaction of revenge for the murder of his father.  Hamlet’s hesitancy, his hesitantism, has nothing to do with will, for Hamlet is consciously committed to exacting revenge for his father’s death “with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love” [I:v].

The answer is that Hamlet’s will is not his own, as Laertes himself says in the third scene of the first act to Laertes’ sister Ophelia.  He has no free will for no one has freedom of will.  Our decisions emerge from the abysses of the unconscious mind.  The source of decisions is not consciousness; we are only free to choose what our unconscious minds have chosen for us.

We see that Hamlet believes in the mirage of the free will when he commands, “About, my brains!” in the all-important soliloquy of Act Two: Scene Two, a soliloquy that is far more significant than the To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be soliloquy.  “About, my brains!” means “Get to work, my mind!”  Or: “Activate, my mind!  Impel me into action!”  Hamlet (his consciousness and the Ego which is the nucleus of his consciousness) is commanding his brain (his unconscious mind, the hinterbrain) to prompt him to action.  And yet Hamlet’s “I” (the Ego, the idealized and self-preserving representation of the Self) remains unprovokable.  The “I” commands the brain to act—Hamlet apostrophizes his brains.  It is a dialogue or a duologue between consciousness and the unconscious mind.  Hamlet is both talking-to-himself and listening-to-himself-speak.  The play is suggesting that action does not issue directly from the “I” but from the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Hence, it is a critique, in dramatic form, of the misbegotten concept of the free will.

It is only within the final scene of the play that Hamlet learns that all human thinking and acting is necessary, involuntary, inadvertent, unwitting: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” [V:ii].  He learns to leave things as they are, in a manner similar to stoicism or Heideggerean Gelassenheit: “Let be,” Hamlet says.  “Let be”: Let things be in their being.  Accept things as they are, instead of tyrannizing nature and expecting life to follow according to one’s subjective volition.  Adjust to the swirl of experience, which is beyond anyone’s conscious control.

None of this will appear to readers and spectators of the play, so dumbed down has the text become by ordinary language and the stupiditarians of the entertainment industry.  Language does change over time, as the descriptivists repeatedly claim to justify their unreflective assertion that language speakers do not need to be told what the rules of that language are.  It is as if the descriptivists were calling out: “Let chaos reign!” and “All hail disorder!”  I would say, in rejoinder: Language becomes more and more stupid over time.

Ultimately, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has become a cliché-manufacturing factory—generative of clichés that are more enduring than the Prince of Denmark’s sweaty vacillations and testy temporizations.

Joseph Suglia

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].

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 fan base.  chuckpalahniuk writes under the heads of his sixteen-year-old target audience.  Sadly for him, those sixteen-year-old sheep are now twenty-four.  chuckpalahniuk is irrelevant, and the responses to his most recent work demonstrate this.

* * * * *

Those who write according to deadlines inevitably generate dead lines.  It should surprise no one, then, that chuckpalahniuk’s tired, labored contractual offering, Tell-All (2010), is a concatenation of lifeless sentences.  I’ve always felt–and clearly I’m in the minority these days–that words should bleed from the page, that one should write with one’s blood, as Nietzsche would say.  Well, Palahniuk’s pages don’t bleed; they suppurate.  A genuine writer composes electric prose, nothing but electric prose.  There is no electricity here, no artfulness.  But to claim that chuckpalahniuk writes artlessly would be to say too little.  Every sentence, every phrase, every word in this book is spoken by a voice from the grave.  Consumerist fiction is never vivacious.  You don’t believe that Palahniuk is a “literary” entrepreneur?  Here is his advice to a young poet: “Don’t expect to make any money off [poetry].”

The “plot,” such as it is, regurgitates All About Eve (1950), with Hazie Coogan reassuming the role of Eve and Katherine Kenton reincarnating Margo.  Every name is embossed in bold type, which makes the book as appealing to read as a telephone directory.  The weakest elements in Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are his lists.  One needn’t know how to write in order to compile lists of indiscriminate items.  Here, the entire novel is a list–a list of proper nouns.  Reading this drivel is exactly like being jabbed incessantly in the ribs by an idiot savant who recites name after name in a narcotizing monotone, giggling after each jab.

The prose is irritatingly incompetent.  Should we forget that all German nouns are capitalized?  Are we supposed to think that “bile-ography” [32], “fossilidealized” [46], “laud mouthing” [58], and a “jury of sneers” [147] are clever neologisms?  Should we forget that hipster Dave Eggers popularized self-reflexivity (though he did not invent it–such a practice can be found in Ludwig Tieck and Shakespeare, to cite but two names) and that the use of it is no longer particularly “experimental”?  Should we ignore the fact that the phrase “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” is used no fewer than four times in this novel [on pages 3, 79, 129, and 177] and that such mindless repetitions are excessively fatiguing?

[After writing this review, I learned that the terms “bile-ography,” “to fossilidealize,” “to laud-mouth,” a “jury of sneers,” and “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” (not capitalized?) are not of chuckpalahniuk’s contrivance.]

chuckpalahniuk’s knowledge of his subject is as limited as his vocabulary.  “That vast wealth of 50’s [sic] film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard,” chuckpalahniuk announced to Amazon.  Silliness abounds.  Are we to allow that Samuel Beckett was a “celebrity” [2] who attended opulent parties at Hollywood mansions?  Beckett recoiled from the entertainment industry as if it were a cancerous polyp (though he was not entirely indifferent to fame: See Stephen Dilks, Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace).  Are we credulous enough to believe that folk singer Woody Guthrie composed music and lyrics for Broadway shows when he never did–and would have probably found the very idea of doing so repellent?  Should we be persuaded that the great French filmmaker Alain Resnais “saddled humanity” [109] (with what, precisely?), when he has given us so many strikingly beautiful, provocative, and groundbreaking works of art–something that chuckpalahniuk has never been able to do?  Though Resnais opened up a new way of seeing, most of humanity has ignored his oeuvre.  Muriel (1962), his masterpiece, is almost completely obscure.

chuckpalahniuk’s opera minora belong to a genre we might term “moron fiction,” fiction intended for readers who hate books.  One suspects that chuckpalahniuk hates books himself, given how little effort he invests in reading and creating them.  Tell-All is a nonliving entity, a throwaway, a trifle, a triviality, a little slice of nothing.

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 generic distinction.  Yes, it is a work of history–there are copious end notes and a substantive bibliography; its research seems historiographically sound (though it is not; read Adam Seltzer’s book H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil); every direct quotation is taken from an imposing armature of sources.  And yet it reads as if it were a novel.

The book is concerned with two figures who are said to be diametrically opposed to each other: Daniel Burnham, one of the chief architects of Chicago’s World Fair, and H.H. Holmes, murderer of young women (despite Larson’s claims, Holmes was a serial failure; he even failed at being a serial killer).  Both are said to be emblematical of the Gilded Age, that is, late nineteenth-century industrial America.  And both are said to have converged at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The book’s premise seems to be that, in America’s Gilded Age, two polar energies were at work: that of technological construction and that of destabilization, the grandeur of architecture and what erodes stability and what reverses progress.  Larson further qualifies this opposition in his introductory “Note”: “[I]t is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.”

But are architecture and destructuring, “good” and “evil” parallel oppositions?  Where can “good” and “evil” be seen in the Gilded Age outside of these two isolated figures?  Are architecture and destructuring indeed opposed to each other?  Where else was this vague disassembling at work in the Gilded Age?  Outside of a description of what Holmes and Burnham did and said, Larson does not provide answers to these questions.

The “voice” of the work is that of the grandfatherly storyteller.  Nearly every sentence is bloated with hoary bombast.  Patiently, bombastically, the author recounts the stories of the murderer and the architect.  And yet what is the meaning of it all?  Does this book have a clear and defensible thesis?

The Devil in the White City never affords its readers access to the killer’s mind.  In the section of book entitled “Notes and Sources,” Larson concedes, “Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known.”  He defers to “what forensic psychiatrists have come to understand about psychopathic serial killers.”  But should forensic psychiatry be given the last word?  Is the dossier then closed after they have spoken?

What, exactly, is the relationship, for Larson, between the architect and the murderer?  Is Larson suggesting that Holmes’s desire for “dominance and possession” was also the desire of Burnham?  Does Burnham merely wear a more socially acceptable mask?  Do they represent two variations of the same impulse?  Regrettably, Larson never pursues any of these questions.

Joseph Suglia

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR by William Shakespeare

A review of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (William Shakespeare)
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

You know the rumor already: Queen Elizabeth commanded Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor (circa 1596) in two weeks.  Well, not The Merry Wives of Windsor specifically, but a play in which the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most developed creations, falls in love.  This rumor was first set down by John Dennis (1702), over one hundred years after the play was composed.  For three centuries, Shakespeare scholars have debated the question: “Did Queen Elizabeth ever issue such an edict?  Did she command the poet to write his play in two weeks, for Her pleasure?”

The answer is, who cares?  You may either buy the royal-command hypothesis or reject the royal-command hypothesis.  Either way, the play seems to have been written for money, and it seems to have been written in two weeks.  As every conscientious writer does, Shakespeare reserved his genius lines and genius staves for his stronger plays.  The wordplay here is less than dazzling; there is not a single memorable line in the entire play (though the play does have the virtue of having contributed to Orson Welles’ masterly Chimes at Midnight (1965)).

Whenever he wants to make fun of one of his characters, Shakespeare has that character make fritters of the English language.  Clearly, Shakespeare valued English more highly than he did anything else.  It is a pity that his love for English isn’t particularly legible in this work.  There are some amusing countrified insults: “cony-catching rascals” [I:i]; “Banbury cheese” [ibid.]; “Let vultures gripe thy guts!” [I:iii]; “jack-a-nape” [I:iv]; “his guts are made of puddings” [II;i]; “mechanical salt-butter rogue” [II:ii]; “your cat-a-mountain looks” [II:ii]; “jack-an-ape” [II:iii]; “Jack dog” and “John ape” [III:i]; “Jack-a-Lent” [III:iii]; “polecat” [IV:ii].  Characters liken one another to animals and food products.  Contemporary readers of the play might begin insulting their irritating neighbors by calling them “Banbury cheese.”

Shakespeare seems to have disobeyed the queenly command (if one was ever given).  Falstaff doesn’t actually “fall in love” with anyone.  He has a purely financial interest in the merrily sadistic wives of the title, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford.  He attempts to seduce and exploit both of the women for money–unsuccessfully, of course.  I write “seduce” but should qualify that Falstaff appears to have no erotic desire for the wives, nor for anyone else.  Mistress Page and Mistress Ford quickly disclose Falstaff’s scheme and dispatch the fat old knight.

In the Arden edition, the editor makes the incisive claim that The Merry Wives of Windsor is not a humorous comedy at all.  I partially concur with this assertion.  Approaching the text as a black comedy is probably the best way of going about it.  A “black comedy” in the sense that Andre Breton defined the term (in relation to Jonathan Swift): a comedy that provokes the audience to laugh, even though the author is never laughing.

The play has the shape and the style of an erotic nightmare.  If you know the early films of Peter Greenaway–particularly, The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and Drowning by Numbers (1988)–you have some idea of what to expect.  The resemblance between these two excellent films and The Merry Wives of Windsor is uncanny.  To truly appreciate what Shakespeare is doing, I would recommend viewing both of these films before reading the play.

Mistress Page and Mistress Ford gang up on poor Falstaff.  He is thrown into a laundry basket and tossed into a river.  He nearly suffocates in the laundry basket and nearly drowns in the river.  He is dressed up as a woman–feminization is a classic form of humiliation in the vocabulary of sadism and perhaps also in the vocabulary of masochism, though not in the writings of Sacher-Masoch–and beaten with a cudgel.  Antlers are mounted on his head.  He is pinched and burned.  He becomes a sacrificial figure.

This last form of torture and humiliation does fascinate me, I must confess.  The antlers give to the play an even darker valence.  In at least three ways: 1.) We learn that Falstaff is a deer-stealer in the first act–the antlers thus create a cosmic irony.  2.) What Falstaff said he would do to Mr. Ford (literal cuckoldry) is done to Falstaff instead (metaphorical cuckoldry).  3.) Falstaff is an Actaeonian figure.

The myth of Actaeon is alluded to implicitly and explicitly throughout the play.  The name ‘Actaeon,’ in fact, appears twice in the text: “Like Sir Actaeon he, with Ringwood at thy heels” [II:i]; “divulge Page himself for a secure and wilful Actaeon…” [III:iii].

The myth is simple and powerful.  Actaeon spies on the naked bathing goddess, Diana.  Since the goddess is not containable in any human form, Actaeon stares at an empty appearance, a simulation.  A rustling in the bushes reveals all.  Diana raises herself in her divine nudity and screams at the voyeur: “Tell that you saw me bathing here naked–if you can tell at all!”  The hunter is transformed into a stag and ripped into pieces by his own hounds.

What we are given here is a sadistic fantasy, a masochistic fantasy, or a sadomasochistic fantasy.  The play culminates in a ritual persecution in which a human being is sacrificed.

Of all the many attempts to ideologize Shakespeare and to press him into the service of a sexual-political cause, this might be the best play to use as a vehicle.  And yet the play has been strangely ignored both by specialists in Gender Studies and Shakespearean scholars in general.  An Emeritus Professor of Renaissance Literature wrote a book entitled Shakespeare on Masculinity without ever so much as mentioning The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The play does have a great deal to say about disgraced masculinity.  Every full-grown man in this play is a puddinghead–even Mr. Ford, who is cuckolded without being cuckolded and who commits adultery with his own wife (prefiguring All’s Well that Ends Well).  The women are the crafty ones.  Whether this vision of hell is making an ontological claim about the differences between men and women is ambiguous; whether this vision of hell is misogynistic, misandristic, or both is non-obvious.  Reading the play is rather like watching two cackling little girls flinging apples at an old lion in the zoo.

Reading over what I have written so far, I see that I am making the play appear more interesting than it actually is.

Joseph Suglia

On the distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

On the Distinction between the flâneur and the boulevardier

1.) A boulevardier drinks in the fashionable atmospheres; a flâneur drifts like a ghost through fashionable spaces, which are less remarkable to him than emptied factories.

2.) A flâneur takes pictures in the mind of landfills; a boulevardier takes pictures of tourist attractions.

3.) A flâneur is a seer; a boulevardier is a sightseer.

4.) A boulevardier strolls down prescribed paths; a flâneur is a mapless wanderer.

5.) A boulevardier walks to be seen; a flâneur walks to see.

Joseph Suglia

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

TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer / A Negative Review of TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk

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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.  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

GO HERE to watch and listen to my YouTube videos on literature and philosophy: GO HERE!

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

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 pregnant 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 like 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