21 Jul 2018

Diversity: What Would Nietzsche Think?

Image: Scotty Hendricks (2018)  


The word diversity is frequently used today, particularly by those who regard it as a value and like to signal their politico-moral correctness even if that means denigrating or disprivileging their own people, culture and history.

In order to illustrate this latter point, one might refer to the recent case of students at the University of Manchester who painted over a mural of a poem by Rudyard Kipling and replaced it with a verse by the African-American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

This was done in the name of anti-racism - for Kipling, a well-known British imperialist, was said to dehumanise people of colour - and in order to celebrate the diversity of a student body looking to reclaim history by - quite literally - whitewashing it.            

I don't here wish to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of either Kipling's or Maya Angelou's work; nor do I want to express my concerns about historical revisionism and literary censorship. But I would like to say something further about diversity and the idea of multiculturalism, from a post-Nietzschean perspective ...


If confronted with a world in which everyone was retreating to their own safe space from which to assert an identity (on the basis, for example, of sex, gender, race or religion) whilst, at the same time, speaking about the benefits of ever-greater diversity within society and culture, I suspect that Nietzsche would feel himself compelled as a philosopher to argue that greatness belongs only to the individual or the people who find a way to stylise chaos and give birth to a dancing star - the latter being a sign of unity within diversity.

Nietzsche loves words like difference, plurality and multiplicity; he thinks of the will to power as composed of a large number of competing forces, flows, and desires. But - and this is important to understand - he doesn't affirm diversity as a good in itself nor as a goal to be aimed at.

On the contrary, Nietzsche insists that culture, for example, has to be unified; that the only alternative to such is a civilization based upon a barbarism of styles and tastes and incapable of ever producing art or sovereign individuals. Nietzsche opposes the systematic anarchy, the aggressive philistinism, and the Volkerchaos that characterise European modernity and are the symptoms of culture's extermination.

Thus, whilst he may have announced the death of God and thereby decentered and demoralised the world, he still believes in shared ethical bonds between people. His nihilism is not the same as the nihilism of those who devote themselves to free markets and money-making, or to the neo-Platonic fantasies of science and technology; those who lack the ability to act under the constraint of a single taste or - as Heidegger would say - to dwell poetically upon the earth.


Deleuze is right to say that, for Nietzsche, history can be read as the process by which "reactive forces take possession of culture or divert its course in their favour". That the will to diversity can therefore be understood as part of an ongoing slave revolt in morals and the overcoding of active forces by the modern State - that coldest of all cold monsters that thrives at the expense of culture and sucks the life out of people in the name of human rights and globalism.

Nietzsche is aggressively opposed to all this and when faced with the ways in which societies become decodified and unregulated, makes no attempt at recodification. But, again, we must be careful here. For whilst Nietzsche makes no attempt to recodify along old lines or patch the holes ripped in the great social umbrella, he very much wants to bring together newly liberated forces onto what Deleuze terms a plane of consistency and regain mastery over the chaos that has been released.

Why? Because for Nietzsche culture is above all unity of style in all the expressions of a people and this requires harmonious manifoldness - not fake diversity built upon idiotic identity politics and an ugly jumble of all styles and peoples. Multiculturalism is not just a failed experiment, it's an absurd fallacy.

Of course Nietzsche's thinking has anti-democratic and illiberal implications - and he wasn't shy about saying so. But I would suggest we need to urgently think about these questions and not simply attempt to close down conversation by calling anyone who does so a fascist or a supporter of the alt-right. 


Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, (The Athlone Press, 1992), p. 139.

19 Jul 2018

D. H. Lawrence: Priest of Kink

Ooh, he was awful - but I like him!

In a famous letter written to Sallie Hopkin on Christmas Day, 1912, Lawrence insists that once you know what love can be, then - even if the skies have fallen - "there's no disappointment anymore, and no despair". He then announces that his future task as a writer will involve "sticking up for the love between man and woman".

And, in the years and books that followed, he did indeed posit heterosexual coition as central to his erotics and defend what he called in his late work phallic marriage, i.e., marriage founded upon complimentary gender opposition, the seasonal and sacred rhythm of each calendar year, and a penis that only ever ejaculates inside a vagina.  

However, despite his own sexual politics forever oscillating between the romantic and the reactionary, Lawrence's work also provides us with an explicit A-Z of perversions, paraphilias and fetishistic behaviours, obliging readers to think about subjects including adultery, anal sex, autogynephilia, cross-dressing, dendrophilia, female orgasm, floraphilia, gang rape, garment fetishism, homosexuality, lesbianism, masturbation, naked wrestling, objectum-sexuality, podophilia, pornography, psychosexual infantalism, sadomasochism, and zoophilia.       

One is almost tempted to suggest that Lawrence was, in fact, a priest of kink ...

See: The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. I, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 492-3. 

See also Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence, (Oxford University Press, 1991). I am very much in agreement with Dollimore when he writes that there is a perverse dynamic at work within Lawrence's text and that he audaciously eroticises (and queers) Western metaphysics. Certainly, Lawrence is far more than a prophet of heterosexual experience conceived in a conventional manner and ultimately he deconstructs his own phallogocentrism; thus his continued importance and interest as a writer. 

17 Jul 2018

The Broken Heart Knows No Country

A short guide to D. H. Lawrence country
by Bridget Pugh (Nottinghamshire 
Local History Council, 1972)

I. The View from Walker Street

In a letter to Rolf Gardiner written in December 1926, Lawrence provides a fairly detailed description of the East Midlands landscape in which he grew up; the so-called country of his heart - a phrase much loved by those who would forever tie Lawrence to Eastwood and fix his work within a literary tradition of English Romanticism.  

It is, for me - as for all those who prefer to think of Lawrence as a perverse European modernist, writing after Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud rather than Byron, Shelley and Keats - another of those deeply unfortunate expressions.

Like his self-description as a priest of love, I really wish he'd never said it. But, say it he did. And so let's examine this phrase and see if we can interepret it in a manner that doesn't serve a depressingly provincial purpose - as if the view from Walker Street was the only one that shaped Lawrence's perspective upon the world.

II. The Savage Pilgrimage

As is clear from much of his writing - particularly his letters - one of Lawrence's driving obsessions was to stage an angry engagement with England, whilst also making good his escape from the place of his birth in all its perceived dullness. 

His savage pilgrimage is usually said to begin after the War and refer to a period of voluntary exile. And whilst it's true and important to recall the fact that Lawrence left Britain at the earliest practical opportunity - only returning for brief visits, the last of which was in 1926 - I think we find this schizonomadic desire to flee from the suffocating familiarity of home from the start.

The fact is, Lawrence always hated Eastwood and couldn't wait to get away - first to Nottingham, then to London and to Cornwall, before drifting with Frieda around Europe, America and Australia. In 1913, he once confessed as much to his sister Ada, telling her that he should be glad if the town were one day blown off the face of the earth. 

We shouldn't forget that nostalgia is a type of disease - not a sign of health - and that if Lawrence occasionally displayed symptoms of homesickness he was essentially sick of home: 

"It always depresses me to come to my native district. Now I am turned forty, and have been more or less a wanderer for nearly twenty years, I feel more alien, perhaps, in my home place than anywhere else in the world. I can feel at ease in ... Rome or Paris or Munich or even London. But in Nottingham Road, [Eastwood], I feel at once a devouring nostalgia and an infinite repulsion."

That's the Lawrence I admire: refusing to belong to any community or region; a singular individual who is no longer their Bert - and probably never was.

And as for the heart to which memories of childhood landscapes are said to belong, well, like Lawrence, I would prefer for it to be broken rather than preserved in formaldehyde; for it's wonderfully liberating to abandon the past and to find new things to treasure, new people and places to love, within the dawn-kaleidoscopic loveliness of the crack.


D. H. Lawrence, letter to Rolf Gardiner, 3 Dec. 1926, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. V. March 1924 - March 1927, ed. James T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey, (Cambridge University Press, 1989).

D. H. Lawrence, [Return to Bestwood], Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 15. 

Punk bonus: Stiff Little Fingers: Gotta Gettaway (Rough Trade, 1979): I'm sure this is how the young Lawrence felt (it's certainly how I felt at 16): click here to play on YouTube.

15 Jul 2018

In Memory of Hypatia

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia in the 2009 film  
Agora (dir. Alejandro Amenábar)

I. Hypatia: The Spirit of Plato and the Body of Aphrodite

Whether we choose to think of her romantically as the last of the Hellenes, or as the first early-medieval woman to be murdered for practising the pagan arts of science, mathematics, and philosophy (things regarded as suspiciously close to heresy and to witchcraft within the Christian imagination), Hypatia was an astonishing figure; virtuous, tolerant, and highly intelligent. Whilst no ancient depictions of her have survived, she was also said by Damascius to be exceedingly beautiful and fair of form.

II. Hypatia: From Philosophical Martyr to Feminist Icon 

Born in 4th century Alexandria, Hypatia was a prominent Neoplatonist and renowned teacher, who, in her later life, advised the Roman prefect Orestes, who was then feuding with the anti-Semitic Christian bishop of Alexandria, Cyril.

This would prove to be fatal: for - as we shall discuss in more detail below - Hypatia was accused by Cyril's supporters of deliberately sowing discord and preventing any reconciliation between the latter and Orestes. In March 415, she was murdered by a brotherhood of fanatic monks known as the parabalani, under Cyril's command.

The particularly brutal nature of her death - Hypatia was flayed alive by the monks who scraped the flesh from her bones using razor sharp oyster shells - caused shock waves throughout Byzantium and she was honoured, like Socrates, as a martyr by her fellow philosophers who became increasingly dismayed by the moral fanaticism that characterised early Christianity.

Many centuries later, Hypatia was celebrated as an embodiment of reason and freedom of thought; Voltaire declaring her to be a universal genius. In the 20th century, she was also regarded as a feminist icon; Judy Chicago giving her a prominent place at the triangular table in her famous installation The Dinner Party (1974-79).

And still, today, in the 21st century, Hypatia's life continues to fascinate many scholars, writers, and artists. Most recently, for example, we were treated to the 2009 film, Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar and starring Rachel Weisz. Despite its numerous historical inaccuracies, the film should be commended for identifying religious fundamentalism as the great curse or blemish upon mankind, then as now.     

III. Hypatia Versus the Crucified

When Cyril succeeded his uncle, Theophilus, as the bishop of Alexandria, it was obvious there was trouble ahead for Hypatia. For whilst Theophilus was strongly opposed to Neoplatonism, he was prepared to tolerate Hypatia, whom he admired. But not so Cyril - a man happy to persecute his enemies and put his prejudices into practice. In 414, for example, he closed all the synagogues in Alexandria and confiscated all property belonging to the Jews before expelling them from the city.

This action appalled Orestes and he sent a scathing report to the emperor. The conflict between these two men quickly escalated and the parabalani made an attempt on the life of the Roman prefect who, as noted, frequently consulted Hypatia for advice - much to Cyril's irritation. Thus, despite her universal popularity, Cyril set out to discredit Hypatia and undermine her reputation; he alleged, for example, that she had engaged in occultism and beguiled people through her Satanic wiles.       

Things came to a bloody head when, during the Christian period of Lent, the parabalani attacked Hypatia's carriage as she was travelling home. She was dragged into a nearby church, stripped, tortured, and killed. Not only was she flayed alive, as previously mentioned, but her body was dismembered and the limbs burnt.

So much, then, for the religion of Love ... Hypatia's vain hope that Neoplatonism and Christianity might peacefully coexist and cooperate was now seen as an impossibility by philosophers, who now regarded the followers of Jesus with contempt and proudly emphasised the noble Greek origins of their ideas.

As Nietzsche would say, the battle lines were drawn: Dionysus versus the Crucified ...      

12 Jul 2018

D. H. Lawrence: The Hammer of Love

19th-century wooden poacher's priest

In a letter written to Sallie Hopkin on Christmas Day, 1912, Lawrence declared: I shall always be a priest of love.  

This self-description has proved very popular with his devotees and has served as the title for a critically acclaimed biography of the author by Harry T. Moore and a film of his life, based on Moore's biography, produced and directed by Christopher Miles. Personally, however, I have always rather regretted the phrase and the way in which it's been interpreted by those who insist on viewing Lawrence's work as a type of moral idealism - which, let's be clear, it isn't.       

For whilst Lawrence may have had a beard and been steeped in the language of the Bible, he wasn't a Christian and his understanding of love is radically different from the Love of Christ founded upon self-denial and self-sacrifice and invariably leading us to the Cross.

For Lawrence, this ideal model of love should be regarded as a disease that turns a healthy process of the human soul into something malignant. Altruistic values of pity and equality, which lie at the heart of Christian teaching - and the secular humanism that has grown out of such - are anathema to Lawrence; he believes that such ideals have to be abandoned, allowing us to know one another, as Richard Somers tells Kangaroo, at a deeper level than love.

When the latter lies dying in a hospital bed and insists that there is nothing more essential or greater than love, Somers silently refuses to agree. Not because love isn't an important part of life, but because it is only a part and can never become an "exclusive force or mystery of living inspiration". There is always something else. And this something else is power: that which love hates.   

To argue for love as an absolute - something universal and unbroken, binding all things into Oneness - results ultimately (and ironically) with a recoil into hate and war. Thus, whereas for Freud all that doesn't conform with Eros is permeated with a death instinct, for Lawrence - as for Nietzsche - it is Love with a capital 'L' that expresses a nihilistic will to negate life's difference and becoming.

Those who think that love is all you need fail to understand that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. It's because love cannot recognise limits that it ends in tears if allowed to progress too far; men cause or accept death not because they love too little, but too much, says Lawrence. It's important to always remember that above the gates of Hell - and every concentration camp - is a sign that reads: Built in the name of Love.

In sum: Lawrence didn't love Love or posit even his own rather queer model of Eros as his highest ideal, even if he declared himself to be a priest of such.

Indeed, we might even interrogate this term: for is it not possible that Lawrence - who had a penchant for gamekeepers and a familiarity with the tools of their trade - was punning on the word priest and thinking of himself not as a religious figure, but as a blunt instrument who would hammer home his own philosophy and knock the great lie of Love on the head once and for all ...?   


D. H. Lawrence, Letters, Vol. I, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 492-3.

D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 134.

10 Jul 2018

George is Getting Upset! (Notes on Illeism)

There are doubtless reasons why some people refer to themselves in the third person. But outside of books, where it's sometimes used as a literary device, I'm not sure there's ever a good reason to do so. For it makes the speaker sound (at best) like an idiot; or, more worryingly, like someone with mental health issues (a sign perhaps of dissociative identity disorder).

Thus, whilst not encouraging anyone to use 'I' other than sparingly and ironically, I would strongly advise those who frequently practise third person self-referral without embarrassment or any comic intent, to reconsider - unless, that is, they don't mind being thought to have a borderline personality (like Donald Trump, for example, who frequently refers to himself in the third person).

Having said that, I'm told by someone who understands more about this subject than I do, that some individuals find speaking in the third person helps improve their self-esteem, better manage their thoughts and feelings, and successfully navigate their way through complex or stressful social situations.

In other words, a little psychological distancing from oneself (and one's anxieties) can be a very positive thing. Stephen didn't know that - but it seems to be common knowledge within certain Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, where it's viewed as a sign not of madness, but enlightenment. Jnana yoga practitioners, for example, are actively encouraged to refer to themselves in the third person; for wisdom, it is said, results from the mind's transcendence of ego.    

9 Jul 2018

Waxing Philosophical on Insincerity

Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

As a writer, one lives more in fear of being taken seriously than being thought superficial and fraudulent. Thus, like Wilde, one greatly values insincerity ...

If sincerity is the ideal virtue of speaking clearly in accordance with one's true feelings and genuine beliefs, then insincerity is the demonic gift of speaking in tongues and a method for multiplying our personalities and proliferating perspectives.

Insincerity is, therefore, one of the crucial components of art, which, of necessity, is an impure and unhealthy practice; that is to say, a form of decadence that is the very opposite of sincerus. And yet, there are surprisingly many writers who deny this and defend sincerity in all spheres, including artistic sincerity.

Orwell, for example - whom we might regard as the the anti-Wilde - argued that insincerity gives rise to muddled thinking and that this in turn has pernicious (sometimes fatal) political consequences. He condemns writers who seek to disguise their real thoughts and authentic selves by using complex metaphorical language and long words, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.          

But as Nietzsche pointed out, plain speaking Englishmen are the least philosophical creatures on earth and hardly deserve even to be considered as artists, lacking as they do the imagination to lie and the immoral playfulness of those who delight in wearing masks.  

The problem, ultimately, is that sincerity requires perfect knowledge of self - and that isn't possible; not even for philosophers, who remain (of necessity) strangers to themselves just like the rest of us. It's because - as Nietzsche says - Jeder ist sich selbst der Fernste that we remain beings born of insincerity ...


The line from Nietzsche that reads in English 'everyone is furthest from himself' is found in the 'Preface' to On the Genealogy of Morality. See p. 3 of the Cambridge University Press edition, 1994, ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson and trans. Carol Diethe. 

For a sister post to this one on the ethics of ambiguity, click here  

8 Jul 2018

On the Ethics of Ambiguity

Jastrow's ambiguous figure of the duck-rabbit made famous by 
Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (1953), II, §xi

As a writer, one lives more in fear of being understood than misunderstood. Thus, like Nietzsche, one greatly values ambiguity ...

Ambiguity enables one to appear transpositional and to create an open text in which meaning is always subject to interpretation and, ultimately, deferral; i.e., it allows one to have it not only both ways, but all ways and no way.

(I suppose that's why criminal defence lawyers also like ambiguity. Only prosecutors hoping for a conviction or judges looking to pass sentence, worry about certainty and establishing the facts of a case beyond a reasonable doubt.)    

It's naive, of course, to think that meaning can ever be fully determined; for language is never innocent. Not only does it lack transparency, but ambiguity is built into every word. If grammar is the presence of God within language, then ambiguity is the devil hiding behind every sentence.
Thus it is that man - a being who dwells within language - is the ambiguous animal par excellence. Even if we faithfully dot our i's and cross our t's, our relationship to the world, to others, and to ourselves is never straightforward.

Sartre famously follows Heidegger here and, interestingly, Simone de Beauvoir attempts to base an entire ethics on ambiguity, arguing that we need to accept the latter and, indeed, learn to love our fate: 

"Since we do not succeed in fleeing it, let us, therefore, try to look the truth in the face. Let us try to assume our fundamental ambiguity. It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our life that we must draw our strength to live and our reason for acting."

Ethics, she goes on to say, cannot be based on the mathematical certainty of science and the attempt to think the world and ourselves in such clear and absolute terms invariably leads to fascism and to genocide. It's not grey uncertainty but black-and-white conviction that should trouble us.

Thus we should learn to love those philosophers who privilege the dangerous perhaps; for it expresses not only vagueness concerning the present, but future possibility - which is why, of course, ambiguity is also the basis of creativity.       


Joseph Jastrow's duck-rabbit (or, if you prefer, rabbit-duck) illustration originally appeared in 'The Mind's Eye', Popular Science Monthly, Issue 54, (1899), pp. 299-312.

Simone de Beauvoir's, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman, (Citadel Press, 1949), can be read online by clicking here.
Nietzsche speaks of Philosophen des gefährlichen Vielleicht in Beyond Good and Evil, Pt. 1. 2. 

For a sister post to this one waxing philosophical on insincerity, click here.

7 Jul 2018

Reflections on the Death of Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko: self-portrait (1964)
The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

Regarded by many as a thinking man's Jack Kirby, American comic-book artist and co-creator of Spider-Man, Steve Ditko, has just been announced dead, aged 90. 

To be honest, I wasn't a great fan of his work; it was a little too weird for my rather conservative and conventional tastes as a child. But I'm perfectly happy to concede his genius to those who insist upon such and know better than I.

As always when someone dies, I can't help thinking about what happens to the corpse. The immortal soul of man conceived in spiritual-personal terms is of zero interest to me. But, as a thantologist, I'm fascinated by the body's shipwreck into the nauseous and the cosmo-molecular dispersal of atoms and their eventual recycling into all kinds of things, including new life forms.   

Interestingly, it just so happens that Ditko was an Objectivist (i.e., a devotee of Ayn Rand), so he would probably have agreed that there is no supernatural or spooky-mysterious aspect to death. There are physical processes and sub-atomic particles, but no heaven, no angels, and no life-after-death as theists conceive of it.

And to imagine that the mind might somehow transcend the demise and destruction of the body is just a ludicrous fantasy. Once your brain has liquidised and dribbled like snot out of your nose, you'll not be able to worry about it. In death, one does not exist; it's not the end of the world, but it is the end of the world for you ...

And so, after a long life of approximately 780,000 hours, Ditko's atoms are in the process of ending their happy affiliation and he's about to get a whole lot skinnier ...

5 Jul 2018

Hurrah for the Horta! (Notes on the Possibility of Silicon Based Life)

The Horta: 'The Devil in the Dark'
Star Trek: The Original Series (S1/E25, 1967)
Image: startrek.com

I. C (6)

Carbon - as everybody knows - is the key component of terrestrial life and it's commonly assumed that, if there is life elsewhere in the universe, then it too will be carbon-based.

The reason for this, explains astronomer and popular science writer David Darling, "is not only carbon's ability to form a vast range of large, complicated molecules with itself and other elements, especially hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, but also its unique facility for maintaining the right balance of stability and flexibility in molecular transformations that underlie the dynamic complexity of life".

Nevertheless, this is an assumption and Darling concedes that we may - as carbon-based life-forms ourselves - suffer from what Carl Sagan termed carbon chauvinism; i.e., a form of prejudice that prevents us from seriously considering viable alternatives. And so, whilst it's true that scientists have yet to find anything in the chemistry of other elements that suggests they might be able to give rise to organic compounds, we shouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand.

Indeed, it seems to me perfectly legitimate to consider silicon, for example, as a possible basis of alien life. For not only is silicon a similar element to carbon, but it's also an important constituent of many living cells. In fact, silicon is the great white hope of many astrobiologists and science fiction writers who dream of strange and beautiful possibilities of being ...

II. Si (14)

People began speculating on the suitability of silicon as a basis for life at the end of the 19th century and they have continued to do so to the present day. In 1894, and drawing closely on the ideas of his time, H. G. Wells wrote:

"One is startled towards fantastic imaginings by such a suggestion: visions of silicon-aluminium organisms - why not silicon-aluminium men at once? - wandering through an atmosphere of gaseous sulphur, let us say, by the shores of a sea of liquid iron some thousand degrees or so above the temperature of a blast furnace."

Over sixty years later, American screen-writer Gene L. Coon conceived of a silicon-based entity called the Horta in an episode of Star Trek.

Basically a living rock, the Horta was both sentient and sensitive - a bit too touchy-feely for me, as a matter of fact - and moved through rock like a hot knife through butter, shitting bricks as it went, thereby solving one of the main problems that would face siliceous life (one of the flaws in silicon's biological credentials is that the oxidation of silicon yields solid waste material that would be difficult - to say the least - for a creature to excrete). 

Sadly, even if silicon has had a part to play in the origin of life, the astronomical evidence suggests it's unlikely we're going to be encountering any silicon-aluminium organisms, or mind-melding with Horta, in the near future. For as Darling notes:

"Wherever astronomers have looked - in meteorites, in comets, in the atmospheres of the giant planets, in the interstellar medium, and in the outer layers of cool stars - they have found molecules of oxidized silicon (silicon dioxide and silicates) but no substances such as silanes or silicones which might be the precursors of a silicon biochemistry."


David Darling, entry on carbon in his online encyclopedia of science: click here

David Darling, entry on silicone-based life in his online encyclopedia of science: click here

H. G. Wells, 'Another Basis for Life', Saturday Review, (December 22, 1894), p. 676.