18 Jan 2019

Miss Alba Banana: What's Not to Love?



She's French ☑

She lives in Paris ☑

She loves vintage fashion ☑

She's very beautiful ☑

She has an amusing name ☑

She appreciates that truth is a sophisticated play of appearances  ☑

She knows, like Nietzsche, that the greatest and rarest of arts is to give style to one's character ☑


16 Jan 2019

Notes on Nietzsche's Philosophical Naturalism

Nietzsche (detail) by Robberto
from the personal collection of Naima Morelli
click here for more details 


I think it's fair to characterise Nietzsche's philosophy as a kind of augmented naturalism, that is to say, one that comes with some surprising additional features; or what my mother would describe as naturalism with knobs on.

This is why Nietzsche can never quite bring himself to fully endorse modern science or accept that there is an objective, mind-independent reality governed by natural laws, etc. Hard realism and mechanical materialism aren't quite frölich enough for his tastes.      

Nevertheless, Nietzsche does like to speak of translating man back into nature [BGE 230] and to conceive of culture in terms of physis. So he's basically a 19th-century naturalist and both his atheism and his monism (the world is will to power - and nothing besides) are rooted in this intellectual tradition. 

What's interesting, however, is how Nietzsche relates his naturalism to his wider project of revaluation. Arguing that morality is a method for exercising power over wild nature - including the animal man - he suggests that we can now use the same method to elevate and strengthen, rather than tame and make sickly.    

In other words, having gained mastery of the earth and produced the human being, we can now begin work on the creation of an enhanced nature and a transhumanity: Übernatur und Übermensch, with the latter conceived as a strange and exquisite plant.

In sum, Nietzsche's moral naturalism is an attempt to translate values that many philosophers like to think of as transcendent ideals back into the world as a monstrous phenomenon of will to power and to life in all its splendid immorality. It is preferable, he says, to live as a satyr rather than a saint - and homo natura comes with horns upon his head rather than a halo of light floating above it.

However, we should note that the breeding of such a figure would require cultural and social conditions that are entirely alien to our age, which is why Nietzsche's politics cannot easily be squared with liberal humanism and why to think beyond good and evil remains such a dangerous (and intriguing) proposition.


Note: I also discuss Nietzsche's concept of translating man back into nature (with reference to the work of contemporary artists Willy Verginer and Orly Fayer) in two other recent posts: click here and here.
  
This post is dedicated to Keith Ansell-Pearson for 25 years of Nietzschean inspiration, friendship and support.  


14 Jan 2019

Further Thoughts on the Art of Translating Man Back Into Nature (with Reference to the Work of Orly Faya)

Image by Orly Faya 
orlyfaya.com 


Italian sculptor Willy Verginer - whom I recently wrote of here - isn't the only artist to have made an all-too-literal interpretation of Nietzsche's idea of translating man back into nature ...

Orly Faya, for example, is a body-painting visionary, ecotherapist, and activist from Down Under who also wishes to facilitate some sort of healing of mankind by reminding us that the source of all wellbeing and creativity is the Earth itself.

How does she aim to do this?

By asking models to strip so that she might then merge* them into the natural environment with a clever use of colour; a process she describes as a transformation into the transpersonal - which sounds like fun and philosophically quite intriguing, until we realise this simply means affording individuals the opportunity to discover themselves as authentic human beings via an experience of otherness.

In other words, Ms Faya encourages us to lose ourselves so that we may at last find our true selves; become-other so that we may broaden - not shatter or dissolve - our intellectual and cultural horizons. There's no real abandonment of identity or becoming here - and no real translating of man into nature, which, for a Nietzschean, means rather more than camouflaging subjects into the landscape, be it a forest, desert, or beach.**

Ultimately, rather than transport us beyond good and evil, Orly offers us the same old hippie idealism - born of anthropocentric conceit and middle class privilege - that we encounter all too often in the art world. And that's disappointing to say the least ...   


Notes

*According to Ms Faya's website:  "Merging Ceremonies are a Unique Opportunity to become ONE with yourself and the earth in a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory way [...] to experience ourselves beyond the physical body, unified with nature [...] internalised with light and love and eternalised via photographic art." So it's not just about getting naked, having a quick paint job and then posing for a slightly saucy snap.   

**It's important to understand that when Nietzsche writes of translating man back into nature he is not advocating a Romantic or reactionary return to some primal and pristine state of being, so much as the future overcoming of man as interpreted within modern history and society. In other words, it's a call for a creative rescripting of the self via a becoming-woman rather than a becoming-animal or becoming-plant - for, paradoxically, homo natura is ultimately a question of style. See Beyond Good and Evil, section 230.


13 Jan 2019

Traducendo l'uomo nella Natura: Thoughts on the Work of Willy Verginer

Willy Verginer: Komm, lieber Mai, und mach ... (2015)
Lindenwood and acrylic colour (147 x 107 x 60 cm)


The carved wooden works of Italian sculptor Willy Verginer, with their often dramatic zones of colour, certainly arouse my interest, but, not knowing very much about him, I hesitate to say what his philosophical project is.

It seems, however, to involve translating man back into nature, if I might borrow a phrase from Nietzsche. That is to say, he wishes to show how human being and human culture and society - even at its most technologically advanced - remains part of the natural world.

Verginer does this by demonstrating how vibrant colour can be born from industrial grayness and how, as Lawrence writes, even iron can put forth. Further, Verginer imagines a future in which young bodies begin to (quite literally) blossom in new and different ways, forming delicate contacts between themselves and evolving an intuitive sensitivity, as they become plant.

This idea of a floral or botanical becoming perhaps explains why the faces of Verginer's figures look so blank; for whilst plants have passions and desires, they're not human passions and desires and, as Wilde noted, the beauty of flowers is ultimately rooted in the fact they have no souls. 

Of course, there will be those who will not only find the idea strange and insane, but point to the paradox of translating man into nature via a series of unnatural participations.

As Deleuze and Guattari argue, however, such queer nuptials and unholy alliances are in fact fundamental to nature; for nature should not be thought of as a united kingdom, but rather a perverse multiplicity made up of heterogeneous terms and combinations (or interkingdoms).




Notes

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Penguin Books, 1990), section 230.

D. H. Lawrence, 'Almond Blossom', The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 259.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, (The Athlone Press, 1996).

For a follow up post to this one, click here.


12 Jan 2019

The Silver-Studded Blue Butterfly Post



If there's one thing I love almost as much (perhaps even more) than a blue flower, it's a blue butterfly: from the smallest of small blues to the largest of large blues, and including the common blue, holly blue and the brilliant Adonis blue, I find them all extraordinarily beautiful to behold (even if only ever seen in photographs).    

I think my favourite, however, is the silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus), found gaily dancing amongst the heather during the long summer months and befriending the black ants that protect their eggs and larval young. Although the females are far less splendid than the male - blueness giving way to a drab brown colour - they do retain the distinct silver spots on their hindwings.

Of course, numbers of both sexes have undergone a major decline during recent decades across most of its (restricted) range in the UK, thanks to all the usual causes; habitat loss, agricultural practice, landscape development, etc.
  
This, to me at least, is a genuinely depressing fact. I really don't think I would want to live in a world without blue butterflies, blue flowers, blue birds, and what Lawrence terms the blueness of the Greater Day that, in a sense, these things embody and symbolise, existing as they do beyond the everyday beauty of things that belong solely to the yellow sun.  


See: D. H. Lawrence, 'The Flying-Fish', Appendix II, St. Mawr and Other Stories, ed. Brian Finney, (Cambridge University Press, 1983). 

For a sister post on the blue flower, click here.


11 Jan 2019

The Blue Flower Post



I.

Even though some floraphiles like to parade their knowledge of its modern Latin name - derived from the Greek terms mēkōn and opsis - and insist that the Himalyan blue poppy is not a true poppy at all, it's always been one of my favourite flowers and there's surely no denying the beauty (and authenticity) of its colour. 

In fact, I'm very fond of all blue flowers - from the palest of pale forget-me-nots and delicate little alpine plants that glory in the snow, to those large Bavarian gentians that Lawrence described as darkening the day with a smoky-blueness belonging to the underworld.   


II.

Simon says all this reveals the Romantic aspect of my character. And perhaps he's right: for the Romantics were certainly enchanted by die blaue Blumen and gave it crucial symbolic meaning within their aesthetics and wider philosophy.

Novalis, for example, the 18th-century German poet and mystic who preached a Liebesreligion based on his reading of Fichte, used the symbol of the blue flower in his unfinished novel entitled Heinrich von Ofterdingen based on the life of the fabled Middle High German poet of that name.

In the book, the blue flower betokens man's metaphysical striving for the infinite whilst also symbolising the importance of remaining true to the natural world, for, according to Novalis, the development of the human self - and the ideas and emotions experienced by that self - is also a form of miraculous flowering. 


III.

Having conceded my own Romanticism, it's important to note that, ultimately, I'm not a Romantic; that I am, in fact, anti-Romantisch. I wouldn't go so far as to shout: Schlagt die Germanistik tot, färbt die blaue Blume rot!, but I agree with Walter Benjamin that it's become impossible to share the intense longing for transcendence that marked the true Romantic, or remain an uncritical devotee of the blue flower (as a symbol, not as an actual blossom).         

As Benjamin nicely noted: "No one really dreams any longer of the Blue Flower. Whoever awakes as Heinrich von Ofterdingen today must have overslept."


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, 'Bavarian Gentians', The Poems, Vol. I, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 610-11. This verse can be read online by clicking here

Friedrich von Hardenberg, (aka Novalis), Heinrich von Ofterdingen, unfinished work written in 1800 and first published a year after his death in 1802. An English translation of this work is available to read as a Project Gutenberg eBook by clicking here.   

Walter Benjamin, 'Dream Kitsch', in The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, and Others, (Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 236. Click here to read the essay online. 

For a sister post on the silver-studded blue butterfly, click here.


8 Jan 2019

His Bowels Did Yearn Upon His Brother (Notes on Ganymede, by Daphne du Maurier)

Zeus küsst Ganymed (1758)
Fresco by Anton Raphael Mengs and Giovanni Casanova.*
(Palazzo Corsini, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.)


I. 

One of the distinguishing traits of the true pervert is that they have a very active imagination, one that is often informed as much by classical scholarship as by their sexual proclivities. They never quite see the world as it is, or the people in it - including themselves - as they are. They have what Lawrence terms glimpses. That is to say, they see in the faces and forms of young adolescents something divine as well as erotically fascinating:


[...] when lads and girls are not thinking,
when they are pure, which means when they are quite clean from self-consciousness,
either in anger or tenderness, or desire or sadness or wonder or mere stillness,
you may see glimpses of the gods in them.    
- D. H. Lawrence, 'All sorts of gods'

Thus it is that when the fastidious academic who is the narrator of Daphne du Maurier's third tale in her astonishing collection The Breaking Point (1959) goes on holiday to Italy, he quickly finds himself besotted with a youth and in a whole heap of trouble ...


II.

Arriving in Venice, our anonymous protagonist immediately feels as if he has entered an extratemporal space "outside the rest of Europe and even the world". This was Venice as an electrifying inner experience rather than actual location on a map. One that existed, magically, for him and for others who shared his tastes and were susceptible to the same secret enchantment. 

His excitement as he strolls the streets was "intense, almost unbearable", but it's as nothing compared to the moment when he first sees a young waiter, aged "about fifteen, not more", working at a café on the piazza:

"I told you I was a classical scholar. Therefore you will understand - you should understand - that was happened in that second was transformation. The electricity that had charged me all evening focused on a single point in my brain to the exclusion of all else; the rest of me was jelly. I could sense the man at my table raise his hand and summon the lad in the white coat carrying a tray [...] and this self who was non-existent knew with every nerve fibre, every brain-cell, every blood corpuscle that he was indeed Zeus, the giver of life and death, the immortal one, the lover; and that the boy who came towards him was his own beloved, his cup-bearer, his slave, Ganymede. I was  poised, not in the body, not in the world, and I summoned him. He knew me, and he came. 
      Then it was all over. The tears were pouring down my face and I heard a voice saying, 'Is anything wrong, signore?'"

It's significant how quickly he persuades himself that the blue-eyed boy is fully aware of the strange scene unfolding between them; how when the latter gives a smile and a little bow after the bill has been paid, the former takes this as a sign of Ganymede's knowing complicity.

The next night, he returns to the café and this time the glimpse goes beyond the first instantaneous flash:

"I could feel the chair of gold, and the clouds above my head, and the boy was kneeling beside me, and the cup he offered me was gold as well. His humility was not the shamed humility of a slave, but the reverence of a loved one to his master, to his god." 

The pursuit - the grooming - of Ganymede continues, despite an early premonition of danger; indeed, doesn't danger merely add spice to the game for an illicit lover? Of course, the affair quickly turns sour as reality begins to intrude: Ganymede is actually a very ordinary boy, of whom one could not expect too much, more interested in the latest rock 'n' roll records than he is in Shakespearean sonnets.

Just as well then, since he was bound to disappoint, that Ganymede is killed in a water-skiing accident. He may have been "beautiful as an angel from heaven", but he would soon have grown fat, grown ugly, grown old.

Besides, whilst the accident had been terrible - "a mass of churning water, of tangled rope, of sudden, splintering wood", and the young body of Ganymede drawn into the suction of the speedboat's propeller blades, turning the sea crimson with his blood - the horror soon passes and one comes to accept even the unfortunate consequences of such an affair, such as being forced to resign from one's job.   

At least that's true for du Maurier's cultured paedophile in this tragic tale. Having lost his old life and old friends and colleagues, having moved to a different part of town (the area near Paddington known as Little Venice), he happily adapts to a new regime of existence. At seven o'clock each evening, for example, he goes to his favourite local restaurant:

"The fact is, the boy who is training there as a waiter celebrates his fifteenth birthday this evening, and I have a little present for him. Nothing very much, you understand - I don't believe in spoiling these lads - but it seems there is a singer called Perry Como much in favour amongst the young. I have the latest record here. He likes bright colours, too - I rather thought this blue and gold cravat might catch his eye ..."  


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, 'All sorts of gods', The Poems, Vol. I., ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 579. 

Daphne du Maurier, 'Ganymede', The Breaking Point, (Virago Press, 2009), pp. 83-123. All lines quoted and paraphrased above are from this edition. 

*Amusingly, the work was an imitation of an ancient Roman fresco, created to fool the famous archaeologist and art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, well-known for his interest in pederasty.

For a sister post to this one on du Maurier's tale 'The Blue Lenses', also in The Breaking Point, click here

6 Jan 2019

On Miracles and Absolute Contingency in the Work of Daphne du Maurier and Quentin Meillassoux



I.

The opening tale of Daphne du Maurier's astonishing and disturbing collection of short stories entitled The Breaking Point (1959), is not so much a whodunnit as a who did what and reveals what she describes as "the lovely duplicity of a secret life" [22] and it's potential for tragedy.

But, whilst the latter is a fascinating notion - explored at length by Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray - what really caught my interest is the moment of revelation at the very beginning of the story when James Fenton realises that miracles can happen at any moment and dramatically mark the end of one's old life. This liberating thought had never come to him before:

"It was as though something had clicked in his brain [...] time had ceased [...] everything had changed [...] he had stepped out of bondage into a new dimension." [2-3]

What's more, Fenton feels himself strangely empowered, as if he had become a miracle-worker himself; i.e., an instrument of fate capable of altering the lives of strangers with a single gesture, be it a random act of kindness, or one of sadistic cruelty.


II.

In some ways, it's nice to know that miracles, far from being rare or unusual, are actually the natural unfolding of things and events and can not only happen at any time, but are, in fact, happening all of the time. For one thing, it releases us from the grip of absolute necessity or what's known within philosophical circles as the principle of sufficient reason (i.e., the metaphysical insistence that the world is at is with good cause and could only be as it is).  

To think in terms of miracles, the unfolding of fate, and what Quentin Meillassoux terms unreason, is to enter a world of absolute contingency in which there is no reason for anything to be as it is or to remain so; everything - including the laws that govern the world - could be otherwise:

"Everything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to logical laws; and this not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but by virtue of the absence of any superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing." [53]

For Meillassoux, this is the only absolute: a kind of hyper-chaos that du Maurier, at the point of breakdown - when reality must be faced - discovered for herself. Thus, when her protagonists suddenly step outside the gate, what they encounter is:

"a rather menacing power - something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses [...] a power with neither goodness nor wisdom, ill-disposed to reassure thought about the veracity of its distinct ideas." [64]

Further, whilst conventional time ceases, they observe something akin to it - an uncanny form of time that is:

"inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity [...] even God. This is not a Heraclitean time, since it is not the eternal law of becoming, but rather the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law. It is a time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death.” [64]


Notes

Daphne du Maurier, 'The Alibi', in The Breaking Point, (Virago Press, 2009).

Quentin Meillassoux, After Infinity, trans. Ray Brassier, (Continuum, 2009).

For a semi-related post to this one on miracles understood from a Deleuzean perspective in terms of the fold, click here.


5 Jan 2019

A Brief Note on How Miracles Unfold as a Form of Cosmic Origami



A miracle is an object or event that not only obliges us to reflect with wonder upon phenomena that seemingly transgress or suspend natural and scientific laws, but has a radically transformative effect upon our lives.

Although often attributed to a deity or demon, I prefer to think of miracles without agency and as part of a materialist metaphysics vaguely based upon Deleuze's work on the potential of things to differ from themselves.

In other words, I conceive of miracles as:

(i) A fateful inward folding of the outside ...

Like Deleuze, I regard the entire universe as an origamic process of folding and unfolding that creates an interior that is a doubling of the outside, rather than something that develops autonomously and separately from that which is external to it.

And this is true also, one might note, of the way in which the self is formed; the concept of the fold allowing Deleuze to think not only about the production of human subjectivity in a non-essential manner, but also about inhuman possibilities of becoming. 

(ii) A momentary actualisation of virtual chaos that shatters the parameters of the everyday, thereby allowing all things - good and evil - to become possible ...

To think of miracles only in terms of what benefits mankind or as the work of a heavenly Father, is a laughable mix of anthropocentric conceit and moral stupidity. Ultimately, the great advantage of thinking in terms of the miraculous and loving fate is that one no longer has to believe in such a loving God or subscribe to a model of sentimental humanism.


Note: readers interested in this area of Deleuze's work might like to see The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley, (University of Minnesota Press, 1992) and 'Foldings, or the Inside of Thought (Subjectivation)', the final section of Foucault, trans. and ed. by Seán Hand, (The Athlone Press, 1988).


2 Jan 2019

Reflections on a Rose and a New Year's Resolution

SA/2019


New Year's Day: the world of my little garden forever undying. Roses, stained with the blood of Aphrodite, bloom and make happy. Sometimes, I think it would be nice to remain alone with the flowers and do nothing but quietly reflect upon their perfection.

But then, after a few minutes, I realise that not only is such a life impossible, it's also undesirable; that one's main duty as a Lawrentian floraphile is to actively shelter the rose of life from being trampled on by the pigs.      

Thus, in 2019, I resolve to "go out into the world again, to kick it and stub my toes. It is no good my thinking of retreat: I rouse up and feel I don't want to. My business is a fight, and I've got to keep it up." 

In other words, I shall continue in my attempts to torpedo the ark ...


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, 'The Risen Lord', Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 271. 

D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VI, ed. James T. Boulton and Margaret H. Boulton with Gerald M. Lacy, (Cambridge University Press, 1991), Letter 4034, to Earl Brewster (28 May, 1927), pp. 71-73.