Nietzsche and me

26 01 2011

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From Slate

The attraction of Nietzsche to socially maladjusted young men is obvious, but it isn’t exactly simple. It is built from several interlocking pieces. Nietzsche mocks convention and propriety (and mocks difficult writers you’d prefer not to bother with anyway). He’s funny and (deceptively) easy to read, especially compared to his antecedents in German philosophy, who are also his flabby and lumbering targets: Schopenhauer, Hegel, and, especially, Kant. If your social world fails to appreciate your singularity and tells you that you’re a loser, reading Nietzsche can steel you in your secret conviction that, no, I’m a genius, or at least very special, and everyone else is the loser. Like you, Nietzsche was misunderstood in his day, ignored or derided by other scholars. Like you, Nietzsche seems to find everything around him lame, either stodgy and moralistic or sick with democratic vulgarity. Nietzsche seems to believe in aristocracy, which is taboo these days, which might be why no one recognizes you as the higher sort of guy you suspect yourself to be. And crucially, if you’re a horny and poetic young man whose dream girl is ever present before your eyes but just out of reach, Nietzsche frames his project of resistance and overcoming as not just romantic but erotic…

So does that make Nietzsche and Jared Lee Loughner philosophical brethren after all, joined in the same fanatical fight against nihilism? In a word, no, and Loughner’s pathological fixation on the meaning of words is the giveaway. One way of looking at Nietzsche’s project is that he set out to teach himself and his readers to love the world in its imperfection and multiplicity, for itself. This is behind his assaults on religion, liberal idealism, and utilitarian systems of social organization. He saw these as different ways of effacing or annihilating the world as it is. It is behind his infamous doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence—in which he embraces the “most abysmal thought,” that the given world, and not the idealizing stories we tell of it, is all there is, and he will affirm this reality even if it recurs eternally.

I must admit that the first authors that I got into as an adolescent were Nietzsche and the existentialists. I think any bookish boy needs to have such a phase, but could I read Nietzsche with a straight face now? Or Sartre for that matter? There is something self-absorbed and frustrated about what they write. There is something angry and at the same time envious in all of their prose. Content with life as it pretty much is now, I give very little weight to Nietzsche and Co. If anything, I am becoming more pro-Hegelian and pro-Marxist by the day. The best way to subvert the social order is perhaps not to cynically stand against it, but to take it seriously. Growth in maturity is a product of being able to accept hypocrisy without much comment.


25 01 2011

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Here is a good post from a guy who I think I have had online scuffles with:

…I’m referring to is the very common run of the mill NFP promotions that see NFP as properly belonging to every marriage because the very use of NFP naturally enhances and perfects marriages, so that all marriage before the advent of NFP, and all those now who don’t use NFP are in marriages which are suffering from not using NFP…

So that what has occurred is the machine has been substituted for the natural in a kind of a machine ordered cult. An error which appeals to machine ordered societies, where solutions are seen as involving some type of gadget. Where the interior life has been given over to the sensible, where our perfection comes from without.

Which is a common enough occurrence where happiness is the next gadget purchase away.

The first time as tragedy…

20 01 2011

Lately, I have been seeing a trend in Catholic discourse. Maybe it’s just me, but I really do think certain people are heeing and hawing back their way to the pre-Vatican II Church. First, of course, there is the whole Latin Mass movement. Interesting, but barely a blip on the radar screen in the real world. Then, there was Tuesday’s post about a bishop in Kazakhstan (who do you have to piss off to get stationed in Kazakhstan?) calling for a new Syllabus of Errors. Then it was some convert professor bemoaning the death of a homogenous Catholic philosophy, as they had before the Council. And finally, and most bizarrely of all, some right wing canonist is saying that permanent deacons on the books are supposed to be celibate, as are all of the other married men ordained to orders without having to put away their wives.
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Necessary lies

19 01 2011

Continuing with my man crush of Zizek:

In one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks Putin and Medvedev are compared to Batman and Robin. It’s a useful analogy: isn’t Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s organiser, a real-life counterpart to the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? In the film, the district attorney, Harvey Dent, an obsessive vigilante who is corrupted and himself commits murders, is killed by Batman. Batman and his friend police commissioner Gordon realise that the city’s morale would suffer if Dent’s murders were made public, so plot to preserve his image by holding Batman responsible for the killings. The film’s take-home message is that lying is necessary to sustain public morale: only a lie can redeem us. No wonder the only figure of truth in the film is the Joker, its supreme villain. He makes it clear that his attacks on Gotham City will stop when Batman takes off his mask and reveals his true identity; to prevent this disclosure and protect Batman, Dent tells the press that he is Batman – another lie. In order to entrap the Joker, Gordon fakes his own death – yet another lie.

The Joker wants to disclose the truth beneath the mask, convinced that this will destroy the social order. What shall we call him? A terrorist? The Dark Knight is effectively a new version of those classic westerns Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which show that, in order to civilise the Wild West, the lie has to be elevated into truth: civilisation, in other words, must be grounded on a lie. The film has been extraordinarily popular. The question is why, at this precise moment, is there this renewed need for a lie to maintain the social system?

Consider too the renewed popularity of Leo Strauss: the aspect of his political thought that is so relevant today is his elitist notion of democracy, the idea of the ‘necessary lie’. Elites should rule, aware of the actual state of things (the materialist logic of power), and feed the people fables to keep them happy in their blessed ignorance. For Strauss, Socrates was guilty as charged: philosophy is a threat to society. Questioning the gods and the ethos of the city undermines the citizens’ loyalty, and thus the basis of normal social life. Yet philosophy is also the highest, the worthiest, of human endeavours. The solution proposed was that philosophers keep their teachings secret, as in fact they did, passing them on by writing ‘between the lines’. The true, hidden message contained in the ‘great tradition’ of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke is that there are no gods, that morality is merely prejudice, and that society is not grounded in nature.

Read the rest here

Found via Titusonenine

P.S. I thought that Dark Night movie sucked.

A new Syllabus?

18 01 2011

Found at Vox Nova, this article was very much of interest to me, in that I think there is a profound forgetfulness as to why Vatican II happened in the first place. Calling for a new Syllabus of Errors strikes me as one of those paradoxical statements, such as “no freedom for the enemies of freedom”. For a council that explicitly aimed to convince rather than condemn (seen in the tragicomic governing style of John Paul II – except if you were a Marxist), the final farcical act would be to use authority for anti-authoritarian purposes (“I said be convinced about our communion of love, dammit, or you’re out of the Church!”) I guess I may have been right about Papa Ratzinger’s reign as being the “Thermidor of Vatican II”. Only this time, I think the Napoleon preceeded Thermidor. Hey, these things never work themselves out like we think they will. Maybe we should now wait for the 1848 of the Church, or even the 1917.

Richard Rodriguez on our current situation

18 01 2011

Via the Western Confucian:

I am about to make a point so simple that I am astonished few in what we used to call the American Left, have bothered to say it. In fact, it is corporate America that is profiting mightily from the uncivil war Americans are waging against each other. The real players in the game are up in the luxury boxes. And they are not named Glenn Beck or Jon Stewart. They are executives at News Corp. and GE and Disney and Comcast (which will soon own NBC)…

Fox News also sent the indomitable patriot, Sean Hannity, to the border to reinforce support for the valor of Minutemen who train their gaze southward. What Hannity did not discuss, during his stint on the border, was the way American drug addiction has destabilized various countries in the world, including Colombia, Afghanistan and, of course, Mexico…

The reason the Right is noisier than the Left in this strange game we are all forced to watch or hear is that the Right has big-balloon figures – shouting radio personalities and politicians with gams. The dour Left has no big balloons, just plenty of grump. Ironically, the Left ends up as obsessed as her devoted fans seem to be, albeit negatively, with a cartoon creature like Palin.

Read the rest here

Of course, I also liked his swipe against “Chicano education” as ethnic tribalism. As my days as a Trotskyist taught me, ethnic nationalism is one of the preferred rhetorical lifeboats of the bourgeoisie.

Anti-romanticist romanticism

11 01 2011

Sometimes it is good to look at what you think from another angle. I do so over and over again. Indeed, most of my projects are games of “let’s turn this on its head and see what it looks like.”

In this case, I would like to analyze why I have been so adverse to romanticism of all stripes. I have concluded that this sentiment is due to a mind blinded by romanticism. Indeed, is that not the essence of cynicism: a profound disappointment with things as they are? Are not cynics idealists who have just given up? Perhaps that is the reason that I can’t sit through a piece by Liszt and keep a straight face. There is a voracious totalitarianism at work in romanticism: an attempt to swallow reality in the emotional gaze, an attempt to absorb all mysteries of thought into the great well of passionate reason.

Why then resist? I have preferred artforms that have “left me alone”, so to speak; philosophies that explain the least but speak the most. But perhaps the best anti-romanticism is to own one’s romanticism. To not want to be “pegged down” to a certain position is the failure to accept failure itself. But the human condition is failure. To own up to systems that fail, to beliefs that are not perfect, is the greatest feat of superhuman realism. Yes, one perhaps will roll one’s eyes from time to time. But ideology may know better than we do, or the only way to beat it at its own game is to accept it as is, warts and all.

The sound of my essay going over people’s heads

4 01 2011

See here. I thought I would make some people’s heads explode with this one, but nothing going. Notice I never really condemn the Jansenist miracles, rolling with my contention that “hey, shit happens”.

The Green Table

31 12 2010

Maria Lionza and the future of religion

15 12 2010

Many thanks to this blog for linking to one of my articles on Maria Lionza, the nationalist syncretic cult of Venezuela. And thanks to its further research, I found two more links to be taken into consideration regarding this phenomenon:

A Blood-Spattered Interview with a Viking

The Cult of Maria Lionza: Summoning the Spirit of Venezuela

Both center on the bloody happenings at Sorte Mountain, the legendary home of the indigenous mother goddess, Maria Lionza. The most fascinating thing I learned was concerning the strangest group in the pantheon of this modern religion: the Viking Court. Apparently, there was a Viking-oriented television show in Venezuela in the 1970’s, and in a sort of cargo-cult transformation, these Vikings, including Erik the Red, regularly take possession of mediums to cure people and expel their demons. (This is somewhat similar to the possession of mediums by Pancho Villa in northern Mexico in the 1950’s, who would regularly expel demons by shouting obscenities at them.) The cult to the Vikings is by far the most bloody, resembling the painful bloody rituals of Voudoun and of various holy places of India. It is also indicative of my positing of the divine as completely contingent. “Incarnation” is not the Ideal manifesting itself in the contingency of history, but the means by which the contingent becomes the Ideal. In this process, a head of garlic, a statue of the Grim Reaper, a card game, or a television program can become the center of the sacred; the embodiment of god itself. More on that a little later.
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