30 Jan 2016

Think of the Children

Helen Lovejoy: The Simpsons 


Throughout the European migrant crisis, the Helen Lovejoys and Corbynistas of this world have continually beseeched us to think of the children in an attempt to negate all serious discussion of what is an urgent political problem without any easy solution. 

Via the use of distressing images and necro-emotive language, powerfully compelling in its stereotypic consistency, campaigners who wish to welcome all refugees into Europe have transformed a complex question into a simplistic moral issue about which right-minded people everywhere must surely be in agreement. 

Bereft of any argument as to how Europe might accommodate (never mind assimilate) millions of people from very different cultural backgrounds - many of whom are fundamentally opposed to the values (or lack of values) of the West - humanitarians have simply pointed to the suffering and demanded Europeans share in it and, indeed, accept a large part of the blame for it; we are expected to feel not only pity and compassion, but guilt.     

The strategic use, however, of sentiment and stereotype to fill the void in thought is always suspect and all forms of logical fallacy and opportunism should surely be exposed as such.

Ultimately, we should think of the children - though not in that sticky, ideal manner in which perceived vulnerability is equated with innocence. But this should also include children who are native Europeans and not just young migrants. For presumably they too have the right to a secure and prosperous future on a continent that has its own distinctive history, culture, and destiny.

One really doesn't want to fall back into the Nazi rhetoric of blood and soil - and Europe is, I think, more than an ethno-geographical space - but current events force one to think about race, demographics, territory, borders, identity and notions of otherness, etc. That is to say, all those politically contentious subjects that seem to come to the fore in times of crisis and Völkerchaos.  

Godwin's law is, it appears, far wider in its application (and has far greater explanatory power) than some people imagine. And, somewhat paradoxically, fascism marks not only the end of all serious debate, but the beginning too. It's certainly fair to say that most of the really provocative political thinking today is carried out by those on the far right.

And this, says Baudrillard, is precisely because everything moral, orthodox and conformist - everything which was traditionally associated with the right - has now passed to the once radical left, stripping the latter of its political and intellectual energy. You only pathetically think of the children when you have nothing better to do.  


29 Jan 2016

On the Poetry and Politics of Modern Advertising



One of the more surprising things about Lawrence is his admiration for the writing skills of Jazz Age American advertisers, who discovered how to seduce consumers via a dynamic use of language. Anticipating by three decades Roland Barthes's mythology on detergents and Omo euphoria, Lawrence argues that some of the cleverest literature today is contained in ads for washing powders: 

"These advertisements are almost prose-poems. They give the word soap-suds a bubbly, shiny individual meaning which is very skilfully poetic, would, perhaps, be quite poetic to the mind which could forget that the poetry was bait on a hook."

He doesn't go so far as President Coolidge, who, in a speech three years earlier (1926), declared that advertising ministers to the spiritual side of trade and serves not merely to sell the American Dream, but inspire, ennoble, and redeem mankind, but Lawrence does concede that the commercial world has found a way to bring forth a genuinely imaginative reaction from its customers, just as modern poetry was losing its ability to do so.

Of course, Lawrence being Lawrence, he can't leave things there; can't resist - regrettably in my view - expressing his rather tired and tiresome contempt for the public who are, apparently, passively manipulated by advertising, failing to see or even feel the hook as it catches hold of them:

"The public, which is feeble-minded like an idiot, will never be able to preserve its individual reactions from the tricks of the exploiter. The public is always exploited and always will be exploited. The methods of exploitation merely vary. Today the public is tricked into laying the golden egg ... into giving the great goose-cackle of mob-acquiescence. ... The mass is forever vulgar, because it can't distinguish between its own original feelings and feelings which are diddled into existence by the exploiter."

This, as we now know, is a simplistic view of advertising and of the role played by the consumer. A view born of Lawrence's naive understanding of modern capitalism and the fact that he insists on subscribing to what Foucault terms a repressive hypothesis in which power is viewed negatively, in terms of oppression, rather than considered as a productive network which circulates throughout the entire social body and which is linked to pleasure by many complex mechanisms (not just poetry).  


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, 'Pornography and Obscenity', essay in Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 233-53. Lines quoted are on p. 238.

See also: Roland Barthes, 'Soap-Powders and Detergents', in Mythologies, selected and trans. by Annette Lavers, (Paladin Books, 1973), pp. 40-2. In this short but brilliant piece, Barthes discusses the poetry, politics, and psychology of advertising.

28 Jan 2016

On Reading between the Lines

Smart Women Read between the Lines: A Reader's Journal
by Julie Hellwich and Haley Johnson, (Chronicle Books, 2007)


A friend writes to say how much she enjoyed a recent post, but then adds that in order to understand it fully she was obliged to read between the lines - a skill which, apparently, smart women everywhere are highly accomplished in, but a notion which I find problematic.

For whilst I might be persuaded that the silence and purity of the blank page is the very space of literature and would certainly concede that all good writing has a symbolic aspect in which meaning is often wilfully disguised via the use of rhetorical techniques such as irony and insinuation, I’m nevertheless wary of those crypto-theologians who insist that the truth of each and every text is always concealed beneath the words themselves (esoterically addressed to that discerning reader who has managed to divine authorial intent).

And, ultimately, I worry that, in reading between the lines and searching for an invisible logic, Miss Sherwood is simply taking what Henry James identified as the easier option. In other words, sometimes the careful analysis of what is actually written on the page is harder than the hermeneutic interpretation of the void between words, or the imaginative exploration of subliminal depths.


23 Jan 2016

Picture This (On the Evil Genius of the Image)


There is a great affectation in ascribing meaning to the photographic image. 
To do so is to make objects strike a pose. - Jean Baudrillard


I have recently developed a liking for taking photographs, though perhaps it would be better to call the images produced visual fragments (or simply snaps). 

For photographs are taken by photographers and refer us to an aesthetic practice with its own history, and I'm not a photographer. Nor do I know much (or care much) about photography as an art form or technical pursuit. 

I simply enjoy taking random snaps of objects that have in some mysterious manner captured my attention and, as it were, revealed something of themselves. This aspect is crucial: I don't choose the objects or imagine the world (in the same way that I don't speak language). There's nothing imaginary about the production of images or subjectively predetermined.

Pictures - the very rare ones that work at any rate - are not merely representations of something else which can immediately be understood and discussed in conventional and critical terms. Rather, they are fatal objects in their own right which allow an impersonal and inhuman reality to shine through in a way that is untainted and unmediated; what Baudrillard refers to as the transparency of evil (the showing-through of the world as is, rather than as we would have it).  

When you see a picture of this kind, there's nothing to say about it, nothing to know. Any attempt to drape meaning over it or identify the author of the image as if that will tell you something essential, is futile and inappropriate. A great image, in other words, renders silent and is the site of disappearance (the fact that so much has been written on photography is therefore somewhat ironic). 

Now, this is not to say or imply that any of my snaps are rare in this sense. But, in their naivety and imperfection - in their lack of title and date - perhaps a small number have something diabolical about them ... 


22 Jan 2016

On the Question of Ooze and Intelligence



The modern word ooze derives from an Old English noun (wōs) for a thick, often unpleasant liquid; at best, think tree sap - at worst, think pond scum or pus. 

Its use as a figurative verb, however, is more recent; people have only been oozing certain qualities since the period of late Middle English. Today, people are said to ooze all sorts of thing - confidence, charm, sex appeal ... - but I have never heard before this week someone say of another person that they oozed intelligence and I have to admit the idea has troubled me ever since. 

For I suppose, despite my libidinal materialism and background in Lawrence (who famously writes on this question in terms of blood), I've always thought of intelligence as a form of Geist or animating spirit that irradiates from an individual rather than oozes, lighting up their features and quickening their movements.

Now, I know that this is to reinscribe spirit back into an oppositional determination (and thus to fall back into metaphysics) - but there you go! Metaphysics invariably comes back to beset us whenever we attempt to address this question of mind or intelligence; Geist is always haunted by Geist, as Derrida puts it. 

I suppose, ultimately, the reason that I find the use of the word ooze objectionable in relation to intelligence is because I don't see the latter as some form of corruption and don't mistrust or dislike intelligent people - as I suspect the speaker does.

On the contrary, I'm very much attracted to individuals who are fast-thinking and quick-witted; men and women who are like little silvery streams racing over the rocks, rather than those clots who seem to pride themselves on their moral and intellectual stagnancy and ooze disdain for everything free-flowing and alive.     


Note: the image used for this post is taken from the cover of Ben Woodward's Slime Dynamics (Zero Books, 2012), a work that interestingly argues that slime is an essential element of a realist bio-philosophy free from anthropocentric conceit. For me, the image also illustrates how the stupid secretly conceive of intelligence; i.e. as something monstrous, threatening, and excrescent; something that might be said to ooze ... 


21 Jan 2016

Blurred Lines (In Praise of Plagiarism)

Photo of Helene Hegemann by Leonie Hahn (2013)

I steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels my imagination … because my work and my theft are authentic as long as something speaks directly to my soul. It's not where I take things from - it's where I take them to that matters. 


The bourgeois concepts of intellectual property and copyright - not to mention the romantic fantasy of individual originality - are increasingly made to look ludicrous and untenable in this digital age of hyperlinks, file-sharing and promiscuous information exchange.

Cutting and pasting, copying and sampling, and other forms of postmodern pastiche and plagiarism have changed the way a generation conceive of authorship and their own relationship to a text or image. In the utopia of cyberspace, everything is freely available and all lines between what is and is not permissible are blurred.

We live in a world of simulacra and simulation and I’m cool with it: I’m not concerned, as a writer, with presenting myself as a unique identity who speaks with a distinct and singular voice; I don’t see the problem with wearing masks and mimicking those writers I admire, trying on different personas and playing with ideas that I don’t necessarily understand or believe in. Artists have always been magpies, happy to steal things that catch their eye - that’s the very essence of inspiration. Even cave painters copied one another.

Those with a moral objection to plagiarism - such as publishers and professors - arguing, for example, that it promotes intellectual laziness and ultimately stifles creativity, are simply subscribing to what Malcolm McLaren termed a greengrocer mentality; they want to protect their own little patch and feather their own little nest, beneath a nice sign that proudly proclaims the family name. They want to sell their goods, not share them.

In sum: the creative process always involves some form of borrowing, theft, imitation, or recontextualization. Ideas don’t belong to anyone and there’s no such thing as an original thought; we all stand on the shoulders of others. The only proviso I would add is that when one takes an idea, one has a duty to do something new and interesting with it; mutate it, redirect it, produce a bastard child or a monster - not simply a clone.


Note: this post was suggested by Maria Thanassa to whom I am grateful. 


16 Jan 2016

Taharrush Gamea

Milo Moiré protesting outside Cologne Cathedral. 
Her sign reads: Respect us! 
We are not fair game even when we are naked!!!


Taharrush gamea is an Arabic term [تحرش جماعي‎] that refers to the coordinated sexual harassment and public assault of young women by groups of men, involving verbal abuse, obscene gesturing, groping, violence, robbery and rape, that frequently takes place under the protective cover provided by large gatherings at mass events, including rallies, concerts, and public festivals.

It's a term and a practice which - like halal food, holy war, and sharia law - we in the West are suddenly having to familiarise ourselves with; not least of all the German police, who were so slow to react in Cologne (and elsewhere) to the outrageous incidents of New Year's Eve teasing carried out by mostly North African migrants.

If the German polizei were as unsure what it was they were witnessing and expected to deal with as everyone else on this occasion, including the news media, there can surely be no excuse (or attempted cover-up) next time. This imported phenomenon, which can legitimately be ascribed to rape culture, is one which needs to be addressed with full legal and political seriousness.

For alas, the courageous protest by Swiss performance artist, Milo Moiré, naked in front of Cologne Cathedral with a sign demanding that women be respected, will not be enough when dealing with thousands of men who do not care about women's rights, notions of consent, or the semantics of the word 'No' ...


15 Jan 2016

On the Triumphant Return of Small Breasts




Good news for those who have an erotico-aesthetic preference for women with small, pert breasts and are troubled by tits grotesquely inflated with silicone which have dominated the cultural imagination for decades - there's been a sharp decline in the number of young women consenting to cosmetic surgery and conforming to an ugly porno-plastic ideal.

In fact, figures from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reveal a 20% fall in numbers of women having breast augmentation in 2015 compared to the year before. Even Jordan, the unofficial poster girl of implants, is downsizing and opting for a vaguely more natural look (in the hope, apparently, that she’ll be taken more seriously).

The era of boob-jobs is, seemingly, coming to an end. And this is, I think, a good thing - even if the cause is (from a feminist perspective) a little disappointing. For whilst one would like to believe it demonstrates increased female confidence - the realisation that self-esteem should rest on more than bra size and one’s attractiveness to men - it’s probably just a generational and a fashion thing; younger women no longer find it desirable or stylish to resemble a transsexual caricature of womanhood, instead they admire and want to look like those ‘A’ List celebrities who are also ‘A’ cup sized.

It's the triumph, we might say, of Kate Moss over Katie Price. Or, as the editors of numerous women's magazines would have it: small boobs rock! and bee-stung beauties are the hottest girls in the world right now.


14 Jan 2016

In Praise of Sleep

Man Ray: Sleeping Woman (1929) 
Museum of Modern Art, New York


What can one do, asks Nietzsche, when one succumbs to ennui and feels sick and tired of everything and everyone, including oneself -?

Some recommend drugs; others a stroll in the park. Still others say you should turn to Jesus.

Nietzsche, however, believes the best thing to counteract that awful mixture of boredom, fatigue, and depression is plenty of sleep – both real and metaphorical. Philosophy, a discipline born of idleness, teaches the importance of knowing how to nod off, in either sense, at the right time and in the right way.

Speaking as someone who has regularly compromised their sleep over the years, let me also affirm the vital necessity of a good night’s rest - and, indeed, of daytime naps. Sleep not only sharpens the mind and the senses, as neuroscientists confirm, but it makes happier, healthier, and more creative.

I was once rather disparaging about Tom Hodgkinson (click here), but I agree entirely with him that it’s an absolute certainty that in paradise, everyone naps.


Notes 

Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge University Press, 1982), IV. 376.

Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Idle, (Penguin Books, 2005); see in particular the sections on morning lie-ins, afternoon naps, and the joy of finally retiring to bed at the end of each day. 


The Case of Thomas Townsend (Germ Free Adolescent)

Your deodorant smells nice ...


An inquest into the recent death of 16-year-old Thomas Townsend found that he died from the effects of butane inhalation, following excessive use of spray-on deodorant.

The Kent teenager, concerned about body odour but unwilling to shower, used multiple cans of deodorant in order to stay fresh smelling, if not actually clean. Investigators at the scene of his death found over forty aerosols in his room, many of them empty.

The inquest heard that Thomas, a resident of a children’s care-home in Kent, was troubled and had a history of self-harm, but had expressed no desire to take his own life. Nor had he shown any interest in substance abuse (pathologists found no drink or drugs in his system). He simply didn’t want to stink as nature intended, nor be reliant upon such a primitive and bothersome solution as soap and water. And so he turned to science to counteract the bacterial breakdown of perspiration.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner declared that Thomas had simply succumbed to the effects of the gas. But surely we might say a bit more than this. For, if nothing else, his case illustrates perfectly the modern obsession with hygiene as a form of commercial and cosmetic artifice which, when taken to an extreme, becomes fatal; something which punk rocker Poly Styrene was singing about almost forty years ago and which Jean Baudrillard also often commented on with characteristic brilliance.

In the words of the X-Ray Spex front woman, Thomas aspired to be a germ free adolescent - one who, sadly, allowed his teenage anxieties and antiseptic fantasies to get the better of him to the point that he literally sprayed himself out of existence, leaving behind nothing but a nice smelling corpse.


Note: Those readers who wish to hear Germ Free Adolescents, by X-Ray Spex, should click here, for a TOTP recording from 1978 conveniently uploaded to YouTube.   


9 Jan 2016

Like the Circles That You Find in the Windmills of Your Mind



According to recent research, how you see the above geometric shape reveals your political personality: if you see it as a circle (more or less), you are inclined to be liberal in your thinking (inclusive, tolerant, non-judgemental, etc.); if, on the other hand, you see it as it is and describe it as such - an imperfect or irregular ellipse - then you are more likely to be conservative in your thinking (sensitive to difference, wary of deviance, disturbed by things that don't quite fit, etc.).

This tells us something crucial about moral humanists and how they view the world - mistakenly. Or, more accurately and ultimately more dangerously, they see things not as they are, but as they would ideally wish them to be. Liberals are almost wilfully blind to any facts that don't coincide with or reinforce their own political wisdom and moral prejudice. 

And this, as Rod Liddle notes in his own inimitable manner, means they suffer from a severe mental impairment - one that effectively makes them self-deluded morons

I was reminded of this when, shockingly - but not surprisingly to those of us who don't fantasise a great Family of Man all happily holding hands in a circle - news began to slowly emerge of the New Year's Eve events in Cologne, involving large gangs of non-German males systematically and violently assaulting young women. 

Because idealists like Mrs Merkel refused to listen to those who voiced legitimate concerns about admitting over a million immigrants from the Islamic world and refused to acknowledge that not everything in this world is perfectly smooth, perfectly round, and perfectly compatible with life in a modern, secular society, female friends of mine in cities across Germany now feel concerned for their safety and for the future. And, to be honest, I don't blame them ...


Notes

For those interested in reading the study by Tyler G. Okimoto and Dena M. Gromet on how 'Differences in Sensitivity to Deviance Partly Explain Ideological Divides in Social Policy Support', should pick up a copy of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (American Psychological Association, Nov. 16, 2015).  

For those interested in reading Rod Liddle's article in The Spectator (2 Jan 2016) in which he discusses the 'political wisdom of people who don't even know what a circle is', click here.  


On Archaic Human Interbreeding

Photo credit: Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany)


As regular readers of this blog will know, torpedo the ark means (amongst other things) destroying the inbred and incestuous ideal of purity and celebrating the enhanced effects of diversity, deviance and hybrid vigour.

Thus I'm always interested to read studies that lend support to the possibility of sexual shenanigans (and thus genetic exchange) between different archaic human populations; i.e. of homo sapiens copping off with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and who knows who (or what) else in the promiscuous, prehistorical past. It's rather nice to think that the modern human genome carries a small percentage of DNA from now extinct species that were pretty much but not quite human in the same way as us.

Of course, I'm aware that some researchers like to argue that observable genetic affinities between archaic and modern human populations are in fact explainable in terms of common ancestral polymorphisms - and not admixture - but even they cannot rule out the possibility of introgressive hybridization due to some degree of fucking around and that thought makes me smile. 

However, just to be clear, I'm not saying that all passionate encounters with strangers make happy or that heterosis always makes healthy. It's now thought, for example, that modern man's proneness to allergies is due to the presence of three genes picked up from Neanderthal lovers - that hay fever is a sign not so much of our own hypersensitivity, but of the brute in us!

But inbreeding is far more likely to end in depression and reduced biological fitness than mixing things up a little; even the three genes mentioned above that cause some of us to itch and sneeze every summer, must also have conferred some evolutionary advantage (probably boosting the immune system, since they are involved in the body's defence system against pathogens).

So, to conclude: we should be grateful to our ancient ancestors who took the risk of loving those outside their own family, tribe, race, or species. Without such pioneers in perversity, we wouldn't be where we are today ...


This post was suggested to me by Dr Andrew Greenfield, to whom I am very grateful.


8 Jan 2016

Torpedo the Ark: A Disclaimer



I've already indicated elsewhere on this blog that the contents should all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel. I had hoped that this borrowing from Barthes would serve not only as a kind of key to what I'm attempting to do here, but also as an effective disclaimer.

Unfortunately, for some readers this is clearly insufficient and I have been asked to be a little clearer. So, for these readers, let me now say this:

Torpedo the Ark is first and foremost the opening up of a literary space and the posts should be read as fragments of theory fiction. Where and when they seemingly refer to real people, real places, or extratextual events, it needs to be kept in mind that these things have been creatively transposed into an aesthetic virtual environment.

Thus, any similarity is - if not quite coincidental - nevertheless residual and irrelevant; all names, characters, and incidents are in a very real sense fabricated and no identification with actual persons, places, products, or events should be inferred or naively insisted upon. This equally applies to the author and/or narrator of the blog, who is also a simulated effect and function of the text and not its origin or limitation.  

Those who imagine they see themselves negatively portrayed in this or in any work of literature are profoundly mistaken; for art has no interest in damaging (or, for that matter, enhancing) reputations, any more than it wants merely to imitate or represent the real. Libel, one is almost tempted to say, exists only in the mind of the humourless, thin-skinned reader who takes everything too personally and too seriously.    


7 Jan 2016

On Haematolagnia, Feelings and Freethinkers



According to Lawrence, who posits some kind of instinctive and pristine form of blood-knowledge, the intellect is always suspect and we can easily go wrong in our minds. Thus, we should always trust our feelings, rather than our ideas. What the blood tells us, writes Lawrence in a letter to Ernest Collins, is always true. This libidinal irrationalism underlies Lawrence’s hostility towards modern science and forms the basis of his critique of Freudian psychoanalysis.

However, according to Nietzsche - at least during his mid-period, before he too started to develop something of a blood fetish - our feelings are no more original or authentic than our ideas. For behind even our deepest feelings stand inherited values, inclinations, and judgements. Thus to trust one’s feelings - to listen to one’s blood as Lawrence would have it - means no more than paying respectful obedience to our ancestors, rather than to “the gods which are in us: our reason and our experience”.

Ultimately, freethinkers are individuals who break from the morality of custom and traditional ways of behaving, evaluating, and feeling; men and women determined to rely upon their own intellectual resources, rather than sink down into the blood, into the past and into impersonal stupidity.

It’s a sad fact, says Nietzsche, but we must constantly be on guard against the feelings; particularly those higher feelings, “so greatly are they nourished by delusion and nonsense”.


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. 1, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), Letter number 539, (17 January, 1913).

Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge University Press, 1982), Book I, Sections 35 and 33.


2 Jan 2016

Honey for Everyone

Carmen Dene on the cover of SpanIssue 101, 
(Town and Country Publications, Jan, 1963)


There are many reasons to enjoy The Avengers episode entitled 'Honey for the Prince' [4/26] - the lovely opening scene with Steed and Mrs Peel returning home from a party in a gay and flirtatious mood as dawn breaks, for example, or Emma wearing a revealing harem costume and dancing the dance of the seven veils before then fighting a would-be assassin - but, for me, the really exciting thing is the kinky cameo appearance of Carmen Dene in the role of a sexy masseuse to the sleazy villain of the piece (played by Greek character actor, George Pastell).

Although Miss Dene, born in Liverpool, 1944, to a Spanish mother, had minor roles in several major films in the 1960s, including Goldfinger (1964), Genghis Khan (1965), and Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) - often being cast for her Mediterranean good looks - she is perhaps most fondly remembered by those in the know as a regular model in the trio of pin-up magazines published by Town and Country during the 1950s, '60s and early-to-mid '70s - SpickSpan and Beautiful Britons.

This is not, unfortunately, the time or place to outline a full history of these publications, but readers who are interested in such are encouraged to visit the invaluable site Vintage Fetish Magazines, by clicking here. I would, however, like to put on record my love for these magazines and the numerous models featured therein; girl-next-door types, posing in their underwear in the somehow reassuring (if slightly shabby and sexless) suburban settings of Post-War Britain, thus allowing those with no interest in glimpsing stocking tops and directoire knickers, to admire the furniture and upholstery of the times, or simply stare at the wallpaper.

Ultimately, if given the choice between today's explicit, charmless, full-colour pornography and this lost black and white world of erotica and home decor, full of girls who haven't been surgically or digitally enhanced and interiors that haven't been designed with so much coolness and good taste that all the joy has been drained from them, then I know which I'd choose.

As one gets older, it seems, one becomes increasingly nostalgic for - and seduced by - naivety and queer signs of life. One wants a world in which it is still possible to dream and to play and there's honey for everyone ...


1 Jan 2016

Flappers

The playful flapper here we see, 
the fairest of the fair.


One of the reasons that I still very much love the flappers is because they continue to piss off puritans of all stripes who, as the critic H. L. Mencken put it so wonderfully, are those persons forever gripped by the terrible fear that someone, somewhere may be happier or having more fun than they are.

Unfortunately, this seems to include followers of D. H. Lawrence, one of whom wrote in response to a question I asked about the latter’s antipathy to the young women of the Jazz Age, that flappers were almost as bad as bunny girls. When pressed to explain this rather surprising comparison, this former editor of the D. H. Lawrence Society Newsletter sent the following text:

"Flappers are ridiculous and degrading. Lawrence hated them as he (rightly) hated the vulgar songs of Bessie Smith. Who wouldn’t look on flappers as anything but women exploiting their sexuality and being exploited? Essentially, it’s the absurd falsity of them that is so objectionable. They have been industrialised; mass produced – it’s repulsive! And all that phony joie de vivre is equally nauseating; I don’t for a second believe in their kind of good time. I won’t even mention their physical appearance – the boyishness that Lawrence commented on and so despised."

Where does one begin with this astonishing attempt to channel the spirit of Lawrence at its most malevolently misogynistic?

Well, firstly, it’s true that Lawrence on one occasion became so incensed with Frieda repeatedly playing a recording by the great American blues singer Bessie Smith, that he smashed the gramophone record over her head in an act often portrayed by commentators as violent domestic comedy, but which might better be construed as humourless domestic violence.

I also have to admit that the writer of the above pretty much manages to summarise the main reasons for Lawrence’s antipathy towards the flappers: their independence, their hedonism, their promiscuity, their artificiality and their superficiality (in dress, manner, and behaviour).

I think the really crucial point, however, is the one he leaves to last and wishes not to mention - but nevertheless can’t help mentioning: what Lawrence most dislikes about the flappers is their physical appearance. And by this we refer not so much to the short skirts they liked to wear (though doubtless Lawrence objected to these too), but to the actual bodies of the flappers, in shape, in size, and in their somewhat androgynous character.

In brief, the flappers, with their bobbed hair, flattened chests, narrow hips, and pert little bottoms, weren’t womanly enough for Lawrence, who, as is evident from his choice of wife, his descriptions of Constance Chatterley, and his paintings, clearly had a penchant for plump, curvaceous, fleshy females.

His attempt to body shame the flappers - something that, shockingly, is still being carried on by some of his followers even today - is rooted therefore not only in his puritanism and problematic gender politics, but also in his own sexual preference for BBW.

Ultimately, the slim and sophisticated figure of the flapper left him limp - and Lawrence resented them for it.


On Courage, Conviction and the Necessity of Change



A tadpole that has so gaily waved its tail in the water must feel very sick when the tail begins to drop off ... The tail was its dearest, gayest, most active member ... but the little green frog in the grass is a new gem after all. 
- D. H. Lawrence 


As Nietzsche says, it’s a common error to suppose that a person of conviction is courageous because they stick to their guns, their ideas, beliefs and principles, no matter what. This might be a method of establishing a solid reputation and of being recognized as dependable, like a trusted tool, within a society dominated by slave morality, but it takes a certain plucky insouciance to lack conviction, adopt brief habits, and hold one’s views lightly.

That is to say, the brave individual is one who regularly sheds his ideals like a snake sheds its skin; not because he changes his mind - for what kills all that is old and redundant within us is not a victory of reason, rather, it’s a form of vital energy. We shed skins and negate our former selves because new life bubbles up inside us and produces new feelings and, indeed, in certain species, entirely new forms of being. If the caterpillar had conviction, it would never become a butterfly; if the tadpole insisted on continuity and self-preservation, it would never sprout little legs with which to leap into the future as frog.

Like Nietzsche, Lawrence fully understands the importance of this and develops the idea of change as a vital necessity in a late article entitled ‘The State of Funk’.

There is, he admits, a certain justification for fear when change is upon us; because change of any sort can be dangerous and involve an element of suffering. But - having conceded that change often brings pain and uncertainty - there’s still no excuse for what Lawrence calls funk. Rather, it’s the duty of men and women when confronted by new and problematic conditions to face up to things with a little courage and good humour; not retreat behind well-known and well-worn positions and make a blustering display of their moral certainties, or offer ready-made solutions:

"There is no ready-made solution. Ready-made solutions are almost the greatest danger of all. A change is a slow flux, which must happen bit by bit. ... You can’t drive it like a steam-engine. But all the time you can be alert and intelligent about it ... Patience, alertness, intelligence, and a human goodwill and fearlessness, that is what you want in a time of change. Not funk."

Lawrence goes on to argue that it is in our power to change, our capacity to adapt, and our readiness to admit and fulfil new needs that our best hope and greatest strength resides. To be firm is one thing. But to be secretly full of fear and of petrified opinion is something else; something that leads to bullying and, ultimately, has disastrous consequences.

In sum: change is inevitable - not merely because external conditions change, but because we change and change vitally as the years pass: "New feelings arise in us, old values depreciate ... Things we thought we wanted most intensely we realise we don’t care about. The things we built our lives upon crumble and disappear, and the process is painful."

Painful, but not tragic; for we can live without conviction - and perhaps even live more gaily.


Notes

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974), IV. 296, 307.

D. H. Lawrence, ‘The State of Funk’, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 218-224. Lines quoted are on pp. 220 and 221.


On Nietzsche's Hypomania

Nietzsche Burst! Designed by by Rev. Shakes (2014) 
Available on numerous gift items from www.zazzle.ca


If there's one thing I hate, it’s being told to cheer up or to smile, by strangers possessed by a will to happiness; fascists of optimism and positive thinking, always looking on the bright side and finding strength through joy.

Nor, come to that, do I want eternal bliss or a perpetual feeling of euphoria and I don’t trust those who fantasise about elevated moods and this, regrettably, includes Herr Nietzsche, whose writing is at its least convincing, least interesting, and least readable when he indulges his poet's taste for ecstasy and utopian fantasy.

That Nietzsche should find the prospect of a future humanity embodying a single great feeling and resting on clouds something delightful, is deeply disappointing and depressing. Like Anna Brangwen, I prefer to let many feelings come and go - even negative ones - and to keep my feet firmly on the ground. I love those things which save me from being swept up into any Absolute and spit on the idea of man's perfectibility.        

If we need to get over our humanity, then it's for the same reason and in the same manner we need to get over an illness, or a broken heart. Ultimately, it's a question of recovery and convalescence, not transcendence or salvation. It takes time and it can be a painful process. It requires patience and perhaps a prolonged period of silent reflection; it's not something to excitedly sing and shout about (like a madman).

Sometimes, in his hypomania, Nietzsche seems to misunderstand his own project and betray his own attempt at a revaluation of all values ...


See: Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974), IV. 288.      


In Praise of Modern Science



For those overexcited vitalists who like to pretend that everything is alive, science deadens existence. Similarly, for those conceited anthropocentrists who like to imagine that Man is at the heart of the universe, science displaces and dehumanises.

Thus, for many people - not just poets and priests, but, regrettably, a significant number of philosophers - hostility towards science is second nature and they long for a re-enchantment of the world; to see things once more with the eyes of children, primitives, or the practitioners of occultism.

But, of course, not only would it be extremely foolish to try and return to an earlier, pre-scientific age of superstition and sorcery, but one might challenge the very presumption that knowledge kills. For in fact, knowledge does no such thing; on the contrary, it stimulates a taste and a desire for ever greater understanding and, as Nietzsche writes, the will to truth is ultimately what distinguishes men from animals and higher human beings from the lower; "the former see and hear immeasurably more, and see and hear more thoughtfully" [301].

Of course the world of rational enquiry is indebted to its religious inheritance - Nietzsche happily admits that the modern sciences would never have developed if the way had not been prepared by "magicians, alchemists, astrologers, and witches whose promises and pretensions first had to create a hunger ... for hidden and forbidden powers" [300] - but it's natural science and not supernatural fantasy that makes the world ever fuller, ever more complex, ever more wondrous.

The fact that many people refuse to see this is ultimately because the severity of science - what Nietzsche describes as its inexorability in all matters great and small - makes the uninitiated feel dizzy and afraid. They can’t catch their breath in the rarefied atmosphere created by those who have left the muddy waters of myth and religion behind.

But for those of us who have become accustomed to the discipline of science and its experimental practice, there is no place we'd rather live than in this "bright, transparent, vigorous, electrified air" [293].


See: Nietzsche; The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974). The numbers in the body of the text refer to sections, not pages.


On the Architecture of the Future



In response to a growing population and a resultant shortage of housing, it seems that every available space is now being built on in London and the surrounding suburbs. But whenever I see a new development, I always recall what Nietzsche wrote on the subject of high density housing and overcrowded city streets:

"One day, and probably soon, we need some recognition of what above all is lacking in our urban areas: quiet and wide, expansive places for reflection."

We need to build not just shopping centres, apartment blocks, and corporate skyscrapers, but sites free from commerce, traffic, and endless human noise (where good manners would prohibit even the use of mobile phones); public squares, parks and even rooftop fields that would afford men and women the opportunity to step aside, to breathe, and to briefly experience the joy of the vita contemplativa (for like other herd animals, man too is a ruminant).

Places that, as Nietzsche puts it, allow us to take a stroll round ourselves. And so the question is: where are the architects of the future who have the know-how and the vision to create such an environment; a home fit for men and cows.


See: Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974), IV. 280. Note that I have slightly modified Kaufmann’s translation.


Sanctus Januarius: A Nietzschean New Year Message

Portrait of St. Januarius, by Caravaggio (1607)


Granting himself the right to do so in accordance with popular custom, Nietzsche famously opens Book IV of The Gay Science, written in January 1882, with a new year's resolution:

"I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation ... I wish to be only a Yes-sayer." [276] 

This section, one that I often return to, might be regarded as an essential thought for me; fundamental to the philosophy of Torpedo the Ark which is all about having done with judgement and the assigning of blame, or subscribing to what Nietzsche elsewhere terms a hangman's metaphysic.

But, although a short and seemingly straightforward passage, one has to be careful not to misunderstand what Nietzsche is saying here: 

Firstly, he is absolutely not saying that life is beautiful and attempting to fob us off with a feel good philosophy built upon false idealism. For Nietzsche, life is monstrous and inhuman and what is necessary in things (that is to say, fateful), is what most people would describe as morally repugnant or evil

Secondly - and even more crucially - Nietzsche not only wants to see what is necessary in things as beautiful (even when, in fact, it's often repulsive or malevolent in nature), he wishes to affirm this aspect as belonging to what he terms an economy of the whole in which all things are entwined. 

Thirdly, to love fate is not merely to resign oneself to the facts; but, rather, to interpret the latter and struggle to find new perspectives and create new ways of living.

Saying Yes, in a Nietzschean manner, doesn't therefore mean one must become a nodding donkey; one's No is contained in this affirmation and one learns how to actively negate the negative simply by turning one's face with aristocratic disdain upon those things (including those people and those gods) who demand worship, obedience, and submission. 

Happy New Year to all readers.


See: Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974), IV. 276.