In terms of his social and political views, Peter Sloterdijk is sometimes described as a conservative thinker. Is that right? Is Sloterdijk a conservative? That question itself depends upon the hermeneutic question: What do you mean by “conservative”? He’s definitely not a neocon or a paleocon. He’s not a Reagan conservative. But he’s not exactly a social democrat, progressive, or libertarian either. He doesn’t easily fit into conventional definitions of political positions, as he interrogates, displaces, and redesigns those positions. So, is Sloterdijk a conservative? I’d suggest that he can be described with the same phrase he uses to describe Theodor Adorno, an “ambivalent conservative” (Foams, 630). A crucial difference between him and Adorno is that Sloterdijk aims to carry out a transition from critical theory to a more affirmative theory of General Immunology (by way of a Nietzschean-Deleuzian sense of affirmation). Of course, the idea that he’s a conservative who wants to protect immune systems (Whose? How?) does not necessarily inspire confidence. It demands some explication. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Nietzsche
Kant, like many philosophers, is notoriously difficult to read. Some people blame his proclivity for pedantic exuberance. That’s not totally inaccurate, but for me, the specific cause of the difficulty in my reading of Kant is that he is so wrong, more specifically, so incapable and comprised. It reminds me that, in British English, Kant and “Can’t” are homophones. Continue reading
Below you’ll find the summary and a few blurbs: Continue reading
Bruno Latour articulates a wonderful idea in An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence, where he argues that morality is in the world, not just in humans. For anything to exist it must persist in its being: everything emits “must,” like a musty smell. To be is to emit value, to evaluate. It is value all the way down. Here’s what Latour has to say:
We have to go down long lines of Bifurcators before reaching Kant, who expects humans deprived of world to “add” values to beings “deprived of ought-to-be.” Before him, and in the rest of the world, there hadn’t been a single existent that had failed to exclaim: “It must,” “It mustn’t,” measuring the difference between being and nonbeing by this hesitation. Everything in the world evaluates, from von Uexküll’s tick to Pope Benedict XVI—and even Magritte’s pipe. Instead of opposing “is” to “ought to be,” count instead how many beings an existent needs to pass through and how many alterations it must learn to adapt to in order to continue to exist. On this point Nietzsche is right, the word “value” has no antonym—and especially not the word “fact.”
Just as a geologist can hear the clicks of radioactivity, but only if he is equipped with a Geiger counter, we can register the presence of morality in the world provided that we concentrate on that particular emission. And just as no one, once the instrument has been calibrated, would think of asking the geologist if radioactivity is “all in his head,” “in his heart,” or “in the rocks,” no one will doubt any longer that the world emits morality toward anyone who possesses an instrument sensitive enough to register it. (pp. 453, 456)
This means that the task of ethics is aesthetic—becoming sensitive to the ethical emissions of things, cultivating something like Humean sympathies for the values of different modes of existence. However, Latour expands on Hume by making ethics cosmological in scope. Everything has value, everything matters. This is similar to something Karen Barad says in Meeting the Universe Halfway. “A delicate tissue of ethicality runs through the marrow of being. There is no getting away from ethics—mattering is an integral part of the ontology of the world in its dynamic presencing. Not even a moment exists on its own. […] We need to meet the universe halfway, to take responsibility for the role that we play in the world’s differential becoming” (p. 396).
For about a year, I’ve been slowly developing a pop analysis (Deleuze and Guattari) of the music of Tool, particularly with reference to Nietzsche’s hope for a Dionysian future of music. The good people at Nomos Journal have published a short piece I wrote on that topic (thanks, Seth). You can find it HERE.
Nietzsche’s practical teaching is that difference is happy; that multiplicity, becoming and chance are adequate objects of joy by themselves and that only joy returns. […] The death of God needs time finally to find its essence and become a joyful event. Time to expel the negative, to exorcise the reactive—the time of a becoming-active. This time is the cycle of the eternal return.
The negative expires at the gates of being. Opposition ceases its labour and difference begins its play.
Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (Columbia UP, 2002), p. 190.
Drag queens flaunt their perversions and incite our laughter at them. [….] In the moment of laughter, there is transparency among individuals, as if the outburst of laughter gave rise to a single torrent surging within them.
Thus drag queens are the paragons and forgers of public morality.
Laughter freezes when someone who brings death to our friend or to a whole people gets away with it. Yet Nature does get away with it: the wind sputters through the eyes and jaw of a skeleton. We understand that we can laugh in the face of death. We catch sight of the possibility of seeing our death as a joke. We understand that we can die laughing.
You see our planet set in the orbit of the Sun, which is burning out as fast as it can. You see our Sun swirling in the cosmic maelstrom of the Milky Way galaxy. You see innumerable galaxies exploding toward immensities and distances that telescopes are not yet able to track. New telescopes and spaceship journeys into outer space will extend your vision of the universe ever further beyond the radius of our managed environment. It will direct our minds with material entities—stars, novae, and black holes—more alien and more forceful than any gods that we had imagined.
Alphonso Lingis, Body Transformations: Evolutions and Atavisms in Culture (Routledge, 2005), pp. 98, 123.
In Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche declares his “tremendous hope” for “a Dionysian future of music,” in which music would free itself from moralizing and rationalizing tendencies and creatively affirm the boundary-dissolving experiences that accompany states of ecstasy. In the twentieth century, many forms of popular music have contributed to the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s Dionysian hope. I’m interested in adapting the poststructuralist method of “pop analysis” developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to consider how Dionysian religious impulses are at work in the genre of rock music, with specific attention to the music of Tool, a contemporary American rock band comprised of a vocalist, drummer, guitarist, and bassist. Tool’s music connects with religious elements of personal transformation, ritual ecstasy, and esotericism while also harboring a critique of authoritarian religious beliefs and institutions.
A full analysis must wait. In the meantime, an outline will suffice. There are at least three main points to discuss: 1) Nietzsche’s critique of Western music and his proposal for a more Dionysian music, 2) the Dionysian religiosity of popular music, and 3) the religious elements present in the lyrical, instrumental, and performative dimensions Tool’s music.
1. Nietzsche’s critique of Western music can be understood as a critique of logocentrism, according to which music is subordinate to the clear boundaries drawn by rationality and discourse. This logocentrism is evident in Plato, including his Republic, where the ideal city is described as one in which songs should be arranged in a hierarchy that subordinates their harmony and rhythm to their verbal element, their logos. This logocentric subordination of rhythm and instrumental harmony also occurs in Christian religious music (e.g., plainchant and liturgical music), where logos is Christ. In a modern secular context, one can notice this subordination of music to logos in Rousseau’s essay “On the Origin of Languages,” according to which music arises out of imitations of language, not experiences of sound or hearing.
For Nietzsche, the logocentric domination of music is a life-negating habit that should be overcome by a life-affirming sense of music, a Dionysian music wherein the intense and boundary-dissolving power of rhythm and sound is encountered as a wellspring of creative enchantment. Moreover, by invoking Dionysus, Nietzsche indicates that this life-affirming music occasions ecstatic states not unlike those experienced by participants in ancient Dionysian rituals.
2. Many forms of twentieth-century music contributed to overcoming logocentrism (e.g., Schoenberg’s atonal pieces, Cage’s aleatory and silent compositions), however the music that has been most Dionysian emerged not in classical or art music but in popular music. As the pop analysis developed by Deleuze and Guattari suggests, becoming heterogeneous and minoritarian is the only way to effectively escape the master signifiers and major identities that dominate music, and that is precisely what pop music and pop culture accomplish. Whether rock, country, or hip-hop, popular music spreads through mainstream culture in the horizontal networks of subcultural and countercultural trends, thus engaging while also subverting the standards and authorities that mark the proper boundaries of music as a “fine” or “high” art.
Lyrics in popular music use local dialects and diverse idioms that transgress proper grammar. The rhythms and melodies are extremely repetitive, designed not to express a clear development of musical motifs but to provoke uninhibited dancing, community building, sexual activity, and ecstatic states. The live performances of popular music are very loud, and the behavior of audience members includes acts that are not welcome at a classical music venue (e.g., enthusiastic screaming, singing along with the performers, nudity, and drug use). In short, the lyrical, instrumental, and performative dimensions of popular music enact Dionysian modes of becoming that escape the logocentrism of Western music. This is particularly apparent in the music of Tool.
3. Tool was founded in the 1990s and is still performing and releasing new music. Tool fits in the genre of rock, but is also closely connected to metal, punk, and progressive genres. Their lyrics express critiques of religion, as in songs like “Opiate” and “Eulogy,” which satirize religious claims to authority or leadership and the weakness of those who follow that leadership. Amidst the critique of religion, the lyrics also express commitments to personal transformation and the realization of the divine potential of humanity, specifically using images and symbols from esoteric traditions of hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and ritual magic. Some language is more explicitly religious, for instance, singing of embodied existence as a “holy gift” (“Parabola”) in which one can realize one’s “divinity and still be a human” (“Lateralus”).
The Dionysian character of the lyrics shows up forcefully in the use of profanity in the lyrics, the use of screaming in the vocal melody, and multiple allusions to drug intoxication, disorder, transgressive sexual acts, and death-rebirth experiences. Furthermore, the lyrics are not the dominant part of the music. The rhythms and instrumental harmonies of the guitar, bass, and drums are not mixed into the background but are just as prominent as the vocals. The distorted and electronically altered sounds of the guitar and bass contribute much emotional and chaotic intensity to the music.
The beats played by the drums frequently make use of polyrhythms, wherein multiple meters occur simultaneously. Not incidentally, polyrhythms are a defining trait of the ritual music of African diaspora traditions, where the mixture of meters corresponds to the mixture of divinity and humanity that occurs in the spirit possession states that the music occasions. Tool’s drummer makes conscious use of polyrhythms, and he uses hermetic correspondences to arrange his drum set. The Dionysian religiosity of Tool’s music is apparent at the live performances, where the stage is often decorated with the psychedelic artworks of the visionary painter, Alex Grey, and audience members encounter drug use, nudity, dancing, moshing, and various boundary-dissolving states of consciousness.
In short, Tool’s music fulfills Nietzsche’s Dionysian hope and thereby engages in a wildly experiential version of what John Caputo calls “religion without religion,” with lyrics, harmonies, and rhythms enacting a creative dissolution of boundaries while overcoming the life-negating logocentrism and authoritarianism of Western music and religion.