December 14, 2004

Dionysus and the crucified: oblivion, eros and agape

There are a number of other reasons I find what Simon is saying deeply problematic.

One goes back to his typology of drugs in Energy Flash. In a moment of neologisticonceptual genius, Simon divides the drugs that have driven the rave engine into two groups: utopiates, which deliver users into an egoless bliss, or obliviates, which snuff out consciousness altogether.

Simon has long drawn upon Nietzsche’s distinction between the Appolinian and the Dionysian. Apollo, god of measure and moderation; Dionysus, demi-animal demon of excess and ecstasy. Now, this clearly is not intended to map onto the distinction between utopiates and obliviates, because both of these offer different varieties of Dionysian intoxication. (In other words, Simon’s hardcore continuum is an intensive scale with total ‘utopiation’ and one end and total oblivion [presumably death] at the other. By contrast, the Appolinian in pop is represented by Kraftwerk and one of their principal influences, The Beach Boys).

It’s worth remembering, by the way, that, contrary to popular misapprehension, the Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy is not of the party of Dionysus. Rather, what Nietzsche celebrates is the tension between Apollo and Dionysus; it is this tension that Socrates allegedly terminates by instituting ‘Western’ philosophy.

At the end of his life, Nietzsche, his mind going into final meltdown, began to sign himself ‘Dionysus or the Crucified’. The crucified is what the third term that breaks into Nietzsche’s pagan dyad. (And the image of ‘God on the cross’ is something that haunts and agitates Nietzsche. It’s an image of a humiliated god that would have appalled every religious believer prior to Christianity’s reversal of all values, Nietzsche claims, aghast, fascinated. It’s also an image, as Ginzburg pointed out last week, that haunted Bataille.)

As John Gray points out in Straw Dogs, Nietzsche was a thinker who was unable to leave Christianity behind. Unlike Schopenhauer, who renounced the world (and with it will and representation), Nietzsche retained faith with the Christian injunction to be positive, relentlessly positive, about this wonderful Garden of Delights into which we are so casually thrown. Erroneously calling Christianity ‘Platonism for the people’ (when, as Ray points out, non-Gnostic Christianity is actually ‘Aristotleanism for the people’), Nietzsche set about the reversal of Plato. Now, being imprisoned in the Cave-Matrix-Simulation of fleshly carnality is good (or at least, there is no point saying it is not good, because it is all there is); there is no ultimate truth, and even if there were, it is a random act of evaluation that prefers reality to appearance.

And so Nietzsche builds the commonplaces from which postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism, will be assembled. It no longer matters that the Cave-Matrix-Simulation gives us a partial picture of reality. Partiality is all there is. Perspectivism is the basic condition of all life. Plato’s yearning for a pure, abstract knowledge untainted by carnalist localism is a sad and oppressive pipe dream. Yes, C-M-S is illusory and delusory, and yes we know that, but we must continue to live in it. More than that, we must celebrate it!

A crucial scene for Nietzsche the Neuromantic.

Gibson’s Neuromancer. Neuromancer, the anthropomorphic AI, traps Case in a wrap round simulation constructed from his own memories. He is with his former lover Linda Lee, who in meatworld is dead. The great postmodern temptation – do you identify with the techno-externalised products of your own mind (even while recognizing that your ‘own’ ‘mind’ is a techo-externalised projection of/ from the interior walls of Cave-Matrix-Simulation)? Vertigo, Solaris, Sphere.

What would Nietzsche’s advice to Case have been? Why, he would advise exactly as Neuromancer does. Stay inside C-M-S, enjoy it. It will be as if real, and that’s all you can expect.

So why does Nietzsche sign himself the Crucified at the end, then?

Is his invocation of the crucified some sickbed confession, a last-moment-of-lucidity succumbing to the oppressive forces that he had fought all his life but which in the end were too strong for him? Is the Crucified nothing but the Anti-Antichrist?

I prefer to read it as a failed breakout than as an incipient breakdown.

What Nietzsche lacked of course was Anti-Oedipalism. His vehement loathing of Christianity betrayed precisely the resentment that he identified as the defining psychological feature of his object of hatred. His disavowed love of Christianity (or the love of Christianity that he demonstrated through his disavowal of it) was manifested not only in his translation of its ethical injunctions into (this) worldly terms (no longer love God, but love life, no longer worship the Creator, but worship creativity) but also in his inversion of its values (no longer compassion, softness and love but harshness, hardness, hatred….)

Anything so long as you are excited.

And – ask Marilyn Manson – attacking Christianity is very exciting. No question about it.

What is left out of Nietzsche’s picture is the strength and power of Christian agape. There seems to be no good translation of agape. ‘Love’ or ‘charity’ are words so overcoded, so hackneyed, so encrusted with hippy yucky muck and Methodist jumble sale piety as to be near unrecoverable. But what is crucial in Saint Paul’s account of Agape is its clear differentiation from Eros. Agape is disinterested, a kind of calm, impassive affection offered, without fear or favour, to all. Eros is passionately self-involved, a narcissism made for two in which your love for the other depends upon their feeling for you. A hideously beguiling machine for mutual torture. ‘I will let you hurt me/ because I know it hurts you,’ as Howard Devoto, one of the most cold-eyed observers of this monstrous machine observed. ‘You want to hurt and crave again….’

Nietzsche excoriates Paul, as he excoriates philosophers such as Spinoza, Kant, and the stoics, for preaching indifference. Indifference is impossible, Nietzsche proclaims, all blood draining away from his head to feed the engorged theoretical phallus of his excitation. Paul is a life-denier, a life-hater, because he denies perspectivity, the basic condition of all life!

We must credit Alain Badiou with rescuing St Paul from his reputation as the architect of corrupt, politically compromised, misognynistic Catholicism. Astonishingly, on Badiou’s reading, Paul appears as a figure whose theology is only a hair’s breadth away from that of the Gnostics. (By the way, if you suspect that Badiou’s Paul is some kind of hyperfictional postmodern construct, read the books attributed to Paul in the New Testament. They really are every bit as radical as Badiou and Zizek say they are, yet another proof that the strata reterritorialize on the most deterritorialized elements.) Jahweh and the worldly are to be rejected in favour of the single ethical injunction to love others and to love God as you love yourself.

To return then to Simon’s typology. What is missing from Simon’s drug typology – which I, as a ‘proletarian puritan’ (Infinite Thought), prefer to read as a typology of affects (‘what you can do with drugs, you can do by other means’ – Burroughs) – is precisely the non-Dionysian, anti-Nietzschean, affect: agape. Yes, ecstasy is famously a luvved up drug, but – I’ve never taken it, someone will have to tell me – isn’t its high a kind of oceanic flowing postitivity? In other words, such love is still within the province of Eros, whereas, much like Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, agape is intellectual love.

And if my number of posts on sonic culture has declined, this certainly does not reflect any lessening of the importance of sonix in my life. On the contrary, I always know that I am recovering from being sick when sound starts to affect me. It’s the only drug I have ever needed, very precise, very reliable. But its effect on me is precisely not Dionysian intoxication. At its best, it can make me more receptive to, more capable of expressing, agape.

Agape is a sober affect, whereas everything Nietzsche tries to force upon us is an intoxicant. Agape precisely entails a harshness more demanding than anything Nietzsche’s onansitic fantasies about warrior men ever come close to. The Crucified must mortify themselves in order to kill the death of carnality, the organic intensive death that your members feed upon and crave.

It is a love that entails not the dissolution of the self that Romantics everywhere, from Nietzsche himself to Theweleit’s Freikorps soldiers, have destroyed others and themselves in pursuit of, but the patient dismantling of the self. This is very far from being an academic project for me. At work, I am confronted with students engaged in every form of self-destruction, from frittering away their time on footling hedonism, to literal self-laceration and suicide attempts. The task of finding a way of interrupting the circuit of aubse begetting abuse, of destruction begetting self-destruction couldn’t be more urgent. Cold Rationalism is that circuit breaker, the escape route from the dreary prisonhouse of the human.

Posted by mark at December 14, 2004 04:16 PM | TrackBack