When you think of the cockatoo, think of me…
Part I – The Bacchae. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, writing in his Birth of Tragedy (1871), Euripides (480 – 406), whose main activity coincided with the nihilistic destructiveness of the Peloponnesian Wars, betrayed “the public cult of tragedy,” to whose canons he merely pretended to adhere, while secretly doing everything he could to subvert them. The power of myth attained its “most profound content,” Nietzsche writes, in the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and its “most expressive form.” Then Euripides intervened, imposing the withering literalistic interpretation of “the typical Hellene” or paltry rationalist on the properly mythic material of the most sublime of poetic genres. “What was your wish,” Nietzsche proposes rhetorically, “when you tried to force that dying myth into your service once more.” Nietzsche means the Myth of Dionysus, which, as he addresses directly the playwright, “died beneath your violent hands.” Euripides, so Nietzsche claims, sacrilegiously “abandoned Dionysus,” substituting “sophistical dialectic” for the ancient Dithyramb, and giving to his characters “counterfeit, masked passions” and “counterfeit, masked speeches.” Nietzsche’s accusatory phrase, “violent hands,” works a bold verbal legerdemain, especially considering Euripides’ final play, The Bacchae, which concerns itself with the same deity in whose cult and celebrations tragedy had its birth. With his second person formal, his “you,” Nietzsche assumes the stance of a public prosecutor, pointing his finger of indictment at the defendant and calling out the cultural equivalent of a capital crime. That crime is sacrilege. Nietzsche even compounds his indictment: “Through [Euripides] everyday man pushed his way through the auditorium on to the stage.” Euripides, a kind of coward and panderer, stirred the mob into profaning the sacred scene, so that he might deflect guilt from himself. The district attorney knows better. He will bring home his charge.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth speaks the following lines:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Ironically, these lines, as despairing as they are, are also beautiful, and beauty has immense value. Shakespeare was no nihilist. His famous tragedies, Macbeth and Hamlet, reveal the futility and ugliness of revenge; not the pointlessness of all human life. Macbeth’s speech, as one of the most memorable and quotable in the play, is taken out of context by that very fact, as though it summed up the author’s worldview, which it does not. Continue reading
Friedrich Nietzsche is a strange mixture of conflicting impulses; so chronically sick that writing was a physical agony for his eyes and his stomach permanently bothered him, yet he wrote paeans to the strong and mighty. A brilliant analyst of resentment, he had every reason to feel ignored being unread during his lifetime and self-publishing books that he mostly could not sell. He admired Dostoevsky, which itself is admirable, writing in Twilight of the Idols that Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn. Nietzsche first stumbled upon Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground in a bookstore in Nice in the winter of 1886-87 and immediately loved it, though Dostoevsky never knew of Nietzsche. Notes from Underground is psychologically and anthropologically penetrating, exploring themes of mimesis and resentment that were of immense interest to Nietzsche.
Unlike Dostoevsky, there is something perennially adolescent about Nietzsche, perhaps because young adults are often trying to decide what values they should hold, often temporarily in contradiction to their parents, as they prepare to make their way in the world on their own. Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” fits this model nicely. There used to be a certain kind of young man magnetically drawn to Nietzsche’s mixture of cleverness, perversity, sense that he had a secret understanding of things, and man alone and against the world demeanor, and perhaps there still is. Continue reading
Easter is the only reason to be optimistic. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then no man can be resurrected. In that case, death will certainly and totally consume all the things we care about. Life might go well for a time, to be sure. But it will all end in sorrow; and that end, that sorrow and pain, will be permanent, and incorrigible, and total. It will take all of us, and all our works. None of it will come to anything. All will be lost.
A client wrote me over the weekend, asking if I thought recent news of apparent flattening of the curve of new infections of Chinese Flu in Italy, Spain and, perhaps, even New York City, portended incipient prevalence over the virus. I responded:
The prolific authorship of the late Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013) began with the publication in 1956 of The Outsider, a phenomenological study of the alienation theme in the modern novel, and continued unto the year of his death, and even beyond, thanks to the activity of his literary executors. With Stuart Holroyd and Bill Hopkins, Wilson constituted a peculiar hiccough in the British literary and cultural scene of the 1950s. The three writers thought of themselves as having established a right-leaning English school of Existentialism that rejected the materialist orientation and politicized cynicism of the French school. Although critics tended to lump the trio together with the distinctly leftwing coterie dubbed the Angry Young Men, Wilson and his two fellow writers could hardly have differentiated themselves more from such as John Osborne, Kenneth Tynan, Kingsley Amis, and the other “Angries.” Wilson and the two others were decidedly intellectual, their early fiction and non-fiction alike rightly deserving the label philosophical. The “Angries” by contrast revolted, in an all-too-contrived manner, against any disciplined phronesis. Finding himself suddenly a celebrity on the basis of The Outsider, Wilson followed up with Religion and the Rebel (1957), The Age of Defeat (1958), and three other titles that would eventually add up to a coherent “Outsider Cycle.” Wilson also produced a steady stream of occasional work for a wide variety of journals and reviews. Some of these found their way in Wilson’s lifetime into single-author anthologies – Eagle and Earwig in 1965 and The Essential Colin Wilson in 1985, among others. The former was for a long time the most elusive of Wilson’s titles; the latter constituted one of the best introductions to Wilson’s thought, as he, himself, had selected the contents.
Colin Stanley and Gary Lachman, both of them scholars of Wilsoniana, have collaborated to bring Eagle and Earwig back into print, but under the name that Wilson originally gave it before his publisher made an alteration: Eagles and Earwigs, in the plural. The book carries the subtitle Essays on Books and Writers. Lachman, author of a critical biography of Wilson (Beyond the Robot ), supplies a new Preface, which supplements Wilson’s original Introduction to the volume. Lachman writes that he first encountered Eagle and Earwig in the library of the British Museum in the mid-1980s – and that it impressed him vividly. Commenting on the book’s fugitive quality, Lachman remarks that “there is something about finding a much-sought after book in a second-hand book-shop that carries its own magic, as rare as that is these days”; nevertheless, as he adds, in forty-two years of inveterate bibliophile questing, no copy of it ever came into his hands. Lachman puts his finger on the appeal of Wilson’s literary essays, especially for a contemporary reader of the Twenty-First Century. Wilson’s “existential criticism” concerns itself, in Lachman’s words, “with how a writer sees the world, his actual perception of it, and with his or her qualifications for making general assessments about that mysterious thing, life.” Existential criticism exercises the primary criterion of visionary quality in establishing its hierarchy of writers and books. It has little patience with ideological tendencies and rejects hackneyed formulas.
My prediction in 2013 that the androsphere was ripe for conversion to Traditional, orthodox Christianity, or else to nothingness – are there any real alternatives to these two ultimate destinations, ever? – was controversial. Our friend Dalrock was then already one of the three or four most important sex realist bloggers, and wrote from an overtly and stoutly conservative Christian perspective (his guest post here is the fifth most read in our history). And there have been other like-minded bloggers in the androsphere. But most of that sphere was then dominated by purely secular pick up artists, interested to understand the sexes – especially the female sex – only as a way to manipulate as many women as possible into fornication of some sort. So my prediction met with a fair degree of skepticism.
Nicholas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), The Philosophy of Inequality (1918; published in 1923 – translated by Father Stephen Janos): Berdyaev appends an elaborate subtitle, Letters to My Contemners, Concerning Social Philosophy, and indeed the book avails itself of the epistolary style, addressing the “contemners” directly via the second person plural. (The translator makes deliberate use of the archaic Ye.) Written during Berdyaev’s ordeal under incipient Bolshevism, but published only after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, which occurred in September of 1922, The Philosophy of Inequality consists of fourteen letters on a carefully calculated sequence of topics, beginning with “The Russian Revolution” and ending with “The Kingdom of God.” With The Philosophy of Inequality, Berdyaev achieves a rhetorical tour-de-force. In the age of Leftwing “wokeness,” Berdyaev’s book reacquires its knife-edged relevancy, conveying to its readers, among many other things, that while the revolutionary mentality might justify itself in its vaunted progress, it remains mired in the dreary slogans of 1848, which themselves in their day never rose above the crassest ressentiment. “The world is entering upon such an arduous and answerable time,” Berdyaev writes in the opening of the First Letter, “in which religiously there has to be exposed everything duplicitous, twofold, hypocritical and unenduring.” The proper instrument for this exposure is “the sword that Christ has brought.” According to the philosopher, “By the spiritual sword [there] has to be a cleaving apart of the world into those standing for Christ and those standing against Christ.” Under Berdyaev’s conviction, Christ stands not with the advocates of equality. He stands rather with those who first acknowledge and then strive to realize His redemptive gift of the person. In the Second Letter, Berdyaev writes of the insurrectionists how, “Ye deny and ye destroy the person, all ye proclaimers of materialistic revolution, socialists and anarchists, radicals and democrats of various stripes, leveling and making a hodge-podge of all, ye proponents of the religion of equality.”
I do what I know I should not, and I fail to do what I know that I should. I am tempted to sin, even though I know it to be sin, and thus both wrong in itself and so also bad for me. Why?
Such is concupiscence: the inclination to sin, indeed literally the strong desire to sin.
If we – even we who have been washed by the waters of Baptism and the Blood of the Lamb from all taint of our Original Sin – know that sin is sinful, why would we desire to sin? Why should there be such a thing as temptation, at all?