Friday, 15 November 2019 at 10:25
Peter Sloterdijk’s point is that the humanistic tradition is the literary canon - within a nation state. Everyone in that state reads the same texts and community results.
But from World War 1, mass culture ruptured this humanistic tradition with radio, television and more lately the internet.
Thus his thesis that modern societies can produce their political and cultural synthesis only marginally through literary, letter-writing, humanistic media.
He makes another point that humanistic texts have a taming effect upon individuals, leading them away from barbarism.
How a person can become a true or tamed human being becomes unavoidably a media question.
We are now in a post-literate age, a post-humanistic age influenced by disinhibiting media, (akin to Roman bread & Circuses).
The book is giving way to the sports stadium, or the same spectacle on screen.
Sloterdijk turns to Heidegger for a philosophical bolstering of his position.
Heidegger wanted to replace humanism with an onto-anthropology
Heidegger believed that the humanistic tradition led to the problems of the 20th C. i.e. the logocentric tradition that places man, the rational animal that understands the truth, at the centre of all things.
Instead of humanism, Heidegger argued, we need a tradition in which the human being listens to being and does not dictate to being. Man should be the shepherd of being.
The place where this happens is the Clearing
Heidegger wishes man to be more submissive/obedient than a mere good reader would be.
There can be no public canon of manifestations of Being.
This demands a passive rather than an active frame of mind.
Sloterdijk points out that you cannot construct a community out of this attitude. It will result in a construction of monk-like separate individuals.
He moves on to Nietzsche for further clarification, particularly on the subject of human taming. Of the humanised Nietzsche wrote:
…They are uniform, decent and kind among themselves, as grains of sand are uniform, conforming and decent with each other. Modestly accept a kindness--that means, submit! Basically they want only one thing: that no one harm them…
Individuals have been minimised by this dwarfing process.
This is the root of the basic conflict Nietzsche postulates for the future: the battle between those who wish to breed for minimisation and those who wish to breed for maximisation of human function, or as we might say, a battle between humanists and super-humanists.
We are rushing headlong into a void. The decline of the book is concomitant with the rise of the stadium and disinhibiting media.
Humans are regressing back to a state of barbarism in which books are no longer needed and are instead archived, to be the preserve of experts.
Whois controlling this human zoo? asks Sloterdijk. He does not even pretend to have an answer, merely ‘the realisation… that our lives are the confused answer to questions which were asked in places we have forgotten’.
© John Dunn.
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 at 20:59
‘All society makes one somehow, somewhere, or sometime, common’, wrote Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil.
It was bad enough in Nietzsche’s day - but now that we swim in the medium of the internet… Nietzsche’s words must be amplified a hundred times and more to have relevance.
‘Wherever is the crowd is a common denominator of stench.’
Amplify the above words and you will only approximate to something like the truth. The words are a paraphrase of:
Books for the general reader are always ill-smelling books, the odour of paltry people clings to them. Where the populace eat and drink, and even where they reverence, it is accustomed to stink. One should not go into churches if one wishes to breathe pure air. (Beyond Good and Evil)
At no other time in history has the pressure to be ‘common’ been greater than at present. The controllers of the human zoo secrete their bile of inclusiveness, togetherness, oneness and sameness, which is realised in phenomena such as:
The crushing of diversity.
The religion of ecologism, with its ‘saints’, asceticism and self-denial.We live in the age of self-denial and idolatry.
God is alive.
The self is dead.
© John Dunn.
Superman out of time
Sunday, 10 November 2019 at 17:18
Superman status is not for everyone. Nietzsche was not arguing that you or I might achieve such an exalted status right now.
It is not about now, according to Nietzsche, it is about the future, and it is the future seen from the standpoint of an extreme social Darwinist.
Nietzsche dismissed social mores that still hold sway today, i.e. the individualistic morality along with the collectivistic, since the former, like the latter, fails to recognise an order of rank among men and wants to give equal freedom to all. Such views, Nietzsche implied, will lead mankind into an evolutionary cul-de-sac.
His thoughts turned rather on the degree of power that one or other person may exert over others or over all, and on how far a sacrifice of freedom and virtual enslavement may be forced towards the end of bringing forth of a higher type in the future.
Put in the crudest way, to what extent could the strong force us to sacrifice our lives towards the development of a higher type than man into existence? Nietzsche’s concept of such a type was the superman.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a major influence upon Nietzsche’s social Darwinian theories, even though he died years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species.
Fichte, a major influence upon Nietzsche, contended that cultural cohesion must be total, demanding a moral commitment from everyone.
It is the duty of every one, not only to endeavour to make himself useful to society generally; but also to direct all his efforts, according to the best knowledge which he possesses, towards the ultimate object of society - towards the ever-increasing ennoblement of the human race; that is, to set it more and more at freedom from the bondage of Nature. (Vocation of the Scholar)
This call for sacrifices now toward the ennoblement of mankind in the future was the precursor of Nietzsche’s demand for action now to prepare the way for the superman. Fichte offered the keys to Paradise in return for a societal commitment that passed down the generations into Eternity.
That which men call Death cannot interrupt my activity; for my work must go on to its completion, and it cannot be completed in Time; - hence my existence is limited by no Time, and I am Eternal: - with the assumption of this great task, I have also laid hold of Eternity. (Vocation of the Scholar)
Fichte postulated the conditions under which the human race would best pursue its moral destiny. He spelt out a specific, all‐transforming, intervention into history, advocating a socialist utopia that emphasised a shared language, culture and moral destiny.
© John Dunn.
Friday, 8 November 2019 at 10:42
Intoxication is another metaphor used by Nietzsche for the arousal characteristics of sex and art:
Without intoxication to intensify the excitability of the whole machine, there can be no art....Above all, the intoxication of sexual excitement, the most ancient and original form of intoxication. There is also an intoxication that comes in the wake of all great desires, all strong affects; an intoxication of the festival, the contest, of the bravura of performance, of victory, of all extreme movement the intoxication of cruelty; intoxication in destruction...or under the influence of narcotics....The essential thing about intoxication is the feeling of fullness and increasing strength. (Twilight of the Idols)
The intoxication of sexual excitement induces feelings of ‘fullness and increasing strength’ counteracting the suicidal horror that the terrible truths hold.
The drunk sobers up to realise perhaps even more clearly the terrible truths about existence. If aesthetic pleasure is transient how can it restore a lasting attachment to life? The answer is that Nietzsche envisaged lasting and all-pervasive aesthetic qualities that become paradigmatic.
However, it takes genius to establish a new paradigmatic aesthetic.
Nietzsche’s critique of society was that in a culture in which moral norms prevail, nascent creative geniuses like Goethe and Beethoven will not realise their potential: altruism, pity, egalitarianism are incompatible with the emergence of artistic genius.
This was exactly Otto Weininger’s point when he decried the lack of originality in the modern world, labelling it unheroic, feminine and Judaic in its inducement of passivity.
And if Goethes and Beethovens fail to realise their potential, then we shall be deprived of the original outpourings of human achievement that induce aesthetic temperament in the widest socio-cultural context.
The paradigmatic aesthetic produced by a Beethoven or Napoleon is not transient, but all-pervasive, defining the character of an age; one lives in the ‘age’ of Beethoven, or the ‘age’ of Napoleon.
To live in the aesthetic milieu of Beethoven is to live through the genius of another - and the suffering of another. We see through the eyes of the genius and not our own. We live passively.
But does not the genius also offer a role model to which we should aspire… i.e that we should each struggle to create our own ‘age’ through which to live.
And, as Dante understood, we must pass through our own stages of suffering for this to happen individually.
For both role models of genius, Beethoven and Napoleon, suffering was essential: in Beethoven’s case, artistic struggle was central to his creative achievements, and for Napoleon it was essential to his achievements themselves that they inflicted suffering.
Altruism, pity, egalitarianism set out to alleviate suffering. In stifling genius they destroy our attachment to life. They destroy at the seed stage any prospect of our own ‘age’ blossoming and coming to fruition.
Nevertheless, a terrible truth remains - that the paradigmatic aesthetic, be it our own or another’s, can only ever mask the terrible existential truths.
© John Dunn.
Art of arousal
Saturday, 2 November 2019 at 18:07
According to Nietzsche, the priests gave meaning to suffering, expunging at a stroke the nihilism of existence. They also gave hope that suffering and penance now will produce rewards in the future. Meaning and hope overcome the suicidal response to the terrible existential truths.
The meaning that the priests offer is that the terrible existential truths arise out of human failure. It is a failure to pay due homage to the predetermined idol of truth or God. It is a failure to live up the ascetic ideal associated with this idol worship. They give meaning to human suffering by explaining it as a consequence of our own moral inadequacies.
Critiquing the priestly promises, Nietzsche argued that art achieves what homage to the ascetic ideal achieves, namely 'seducing one to a continuation oflife' (Birth of Tragedy). But how?
Nietzsche made the connection between aesthetic and sexual arousal:
The peculiar sweetness and fullness characteristic of the aesthetic condition might have its origins precisely in…sensuality [Sinnlichkeit] (though it is now) transfigure[d] and no longer enters consciousness assexual stimulus (Genealogy of Morals).
Is all art arousal? And how is it an alternative to the idol worship that he despised? How is it better? Is it simply more pleasurable?
If art maintains our attachment to life through essentially pleasurable, quasi-sexual arousal, then this is to reconfigure art as a form of distracting and anaesthetising pornography. I’m intrigued and will explore more.
© John Dunn.
Sunday, 20 October 2019 at 21:18
Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Salomé
Lou Salomé’s question in the last weeks of her life:
I've worked my whole life, worked hard, and just worked - why, why?
She had chosen art and theory over love. She saw form first and love second in Rilke’s love poetry.
Nevertheless, Salome’s domineering attitude caused Rilke to grow as an artist.
Rilke wrote in his Florence Diary, which he kept for Lou in 1898, a year into their relationship:
I hated you. You were overwhelming. It was my turn to play the rich man, the philanthropist, the businessman, the aristocrat, and you should accept my concern and love, and indulge in my generosity. But when I confronted you I became the smallest beggar, dependent on you, reliant upon you as a pillar of strength.
We witness the struggle of the love-sick youth to find his own voice, which he so desperately wanted to present to his protector and mentor, who was older than him by fifteen years.
Nietzsche went before him of course, artistically and philosophically, but also as Salomé’s lover and confidante. Rilke was preoccupied by this.
By the time of Rilke’s first encounter with Salomé in 1897, she had already written a book about Nietzsche, such was the intellectual and sexual chemistry between the philosopher driven insane and the obsessively independent domitrix.
She who tamed and subdued both men must have transferred her intellectual influence over them also.
Nietzsche died in 1900.
One year later, Salomé became fearful of Rilke’s over-dependence and asserted her infamous independence, breaking off their love relationship along with any form of contact for four years.
Nietzsche and, for now, Salomé were gone.
The freedom imposed upon Rilke was not accepted. He would always write for Lou.
Rilke’s encounter with Salomé had been one with Nietzsche also.
Rilke would carry the scars of the encounter for the rest of his life, hopelessly trying to forge a similar (meaning dependent) relationship with other women.
He may have viewed Nietzsche as a fellow willing-sufferer at the hands of Salomé. He certainly carried forward the Salomé-Nietzsche chemistry intohis own poetry.
© John Dunn.
Monday, 14 October 2019 at 10:53
Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Salomé
First line of Rilke’s Eighth Elegy.
The creature gazes into openness with all its eyes.
But our eyes are as if they were reversed…
Rilke drew here upon Nietzsche’s understanding of the ‘internalisation of man’ as a sickness.
In his On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche asked the question:
…how should such a courageous and richly endowed animal not also be the most imperilled, the most chronically and profoundly sick of all sick animals?
The most profound symptom of this sickness is the internalisation of man
All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward – this is what I call the internalisation of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his ‘soul.’
In the Eighth Elegy,Rilke wrote as though the animals are doing something right, something healthy, and that man has lost this rightness in the descent to something that is unhealthy.
And the connecting link between Nietzsche and Rilke? She was Lou Salomé, who notably worked too with that other explorer of the interiority of man, Sigmund Freud.
What was original to Salomé or Nietzsche, and what product of the Nietzsche-Salomé relationship was passed on to Rilke and Freud, remains a topic of continued study. What seems common to all of them, and remains a symptom of our times, is the diminishment of humanness to a sickness that is to be overcome in some way.
© John Dunn.