The Erotic Dimension of Pedagogy

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As Bertram has shown in some splendid pages, we encounter the tradition of Socratic Eros and the educative daimon in Nietzsche. According to Bertram, the sayings sum up perfectly this erotic dimension of pedagogy. One is Nietzsche himself: “The deepest insights spring from love alone.” Another is by Goethe: “We learn only from those we love.” Finally, there is Hölderlin’s dictum: “Mortal man gives his best when he loves.” These three maxims go to show that it is only through reciprocal love that we can accede to genuine consciousness.

Pierre Hadot
The Figure of Socrates
Philosophy as a way of life

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter. Some of the links to PDFs disappear quickly so download them promptly.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

The Signifying Corpse: Re-Reading Kristeva on Marguerite Duras by Karen Piper [PDF]: “Moderato cantabile, far from the sweet and melodious story the title suggests, is centred around the sound of a scream.”

A Dictionary of Borges [PDF] by Evelyn Fishburn and Psiche Hughes (Forewords by Mario Vargas Llosa and Anthony Burgess).

One of my favourite of JG Ballard’s short stories: The Concentration City [PDF].

Jonathan McCalmont’s perceptive analysis of the ambiguities of the brilliant film Fish Tank.

Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex [PDF] by Judith Butler. “In fact, we can see in The Second Sex an effort to radicalize the Sartrian program to establish an embodied notion of freedom.”

A Writer from Chicago [PDF] by Saul Bellow. “Neither in brash, and now demoralised, Chicago nor in New York, the capital of victorious mass culture (American culture is the culture of the TV networks), will any writer try to live like an artist. If he is a person of any degree of seriousness, why would he want to?”

James Joyce’s sublime A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [PDF-Full].

Complete Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in PDF – 3 books. This is Longfellow’s translation.

The Library of Babel [PDF] by Jorge Luis Borges.

A wonderful Anne Carson essay, Contempts [PDF] .

Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die [PDF] by Margot Demopoulos.

Gabriel Josipovici’s brilliant Kafka essay: Why we don’t understand Kafka.

James Joyce’s essential Ulysses [PDF-Full].

Two by Friedrich Nietzsche: my favourite Ecce Homo (How One Becomes What One Is) and The Antichrist (A Curse on Christianity) [PDF]. A new translation by Thomas Wayne.

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

Diane Ackerman on the natural world, the world of human endeavor and connections between the two: A Little Night Music.

Paul Valéry, The Position of Baudelaire (1924). La Situation de Baudelaire was translated by William Aspenwall Bradley and excerpted from the book Variety: Second Series, New York: HBJ, 1938.

The Dream of the Audience – Artist’s Books by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.

Solid Quarter – Narcissism, Madness & Alters: Nicki Minaj and Unica Zürn (Part 1).

Virginia Woolf – Monk’s House photograph album.

Reach back, even prior to the modernism of Pound, to Yeats again and discover the poetry of Madeline Gleason.

Bringing Back Mina Loy.

Mapping the Lost Paris of Anaïs Nin.

Nightwood, A Hymn To The Dispossessed by Siri Hustvedt (on Djuna Barnes).

Walter Kaufmann’s brilliant lectures on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre (1960).

The Object is Always Magic: Narrative as Collection – delightful essay by Gregory Howard.

Thea Lenarduzzi’s TLS review of the Stories and Essays of Mina Loy.

Anne Carson’s devastating, glorious The Glass Essay.

Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground: A List of Ten

Fyodor Dostoevsky

  1. Nabokov often displayed his contempt for Dostoevsky (whom he nicknamed Dusty) categorising him as one of the mediocre and overrated people.
  2. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I read as a teenager, a dozen times, remains one of my favourite books.
  3. Having read Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Gambler as a teenager, I associated Dostoevsky with my youthful reading history. I’ve waited far too long to return to his work.
  4. Notes From Underground which I’ve read twice this week might be my favourite Dostoevsky but that could just be post-literal glow.
  5. Howard Devoto based Magazine’s Song From Under the Floorboards on Notes From Underground.
  6. Viktor Shklovsky suggested that the nameless hero of Notes From Underground is nameless because ‘I’ is all of us.
  7. Structurally Notes From Underground is possibly perfect. That is why an immediate second reading felt  essential, to try to unravel how Dostoevsky composed this extraordinary novel.
  8. The counterbalance of despair and the blackest humour in Notes From Underground is deceptively brilliant. It reminds me equally of Sartre’s Nausea, and Rémy Belvaux’s satirical film Man BItes Dog (1992).
  9. Nietzsche read Notes From Underground in French translation, and was a self-declared Dostoevsky fan.
  10. Notes From Underground is one of the books regularly credited with marking the beginning of the modernist movement in literature.

Nothing Will Have Happened

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Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of ‘world history’, but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. – One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened.

Nietzsche
On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense from Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870s

Quoted in Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

The unshackled cultivation of Rimbaud

Unsettling collection of photos of life in a 1938 psychiatric hospital

“Ridiculously beautiful locations are tough…”

The Paris massacre that time forgot, 51 years on

The TLS try to classify the ‘unclassifiable’ Clarice Lispector

Guy Debord’s letters (1957-60)

English translations of all 12 journals of the Situationists

Collection of photos of the uprising and general strike in May 68 in France

“Katie Kitamura has earned comparison to great writers like Nadine Gordimer and Herta Müller.”

Melville House is republishing Mary Maclane’s ‘I Await the Devil’s Coming’

Surrealism and the Literary Imagination: A Study of Breton and Bachelard

AM Homes is a ‘social arsonist’ (as opposed to an anti-social arsonist?)

Simon Critchley – 8 part series on Martin Heidegger & Being and Time

“if I can’t have womb tanks I don’t want your revolution.”

Read the first chapter of César Aira’s new novel, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

Nietzsche, Ecce Homo and Biography

Nietzsche, like Jean-Paul Sartre, TS Eliot and the films of Martin Scorsese, is best discovered before you hit your twenties. His writing is accessible to early interpretation and uncorrupted by the language of the academy. I remember so clearly the combustive impact of reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s books, one after the other as he laid waste to Christian morality. After reading Nietzsche, the world expanded, less mysterious but cleaner, more chaotic. Nietzsche, like Sartre, is best reread every ten years.

When I first read Nietzsche, probably under the baleful influence of TS Eliot, I abjured biography. All that mattered was the text, so I disdained to read Ecce Homo, Nietzsche’s autobiography (of sorts). As I learnt from the introduction to Benoît Peeters’ Derrida biography, Derrida did not consider philosopher’s lives as extraneous to their philosophical work. On Nietzsche, Derrida wrote:

We no longer consider the biography of a ‘philosopher’ as a corpus of empirical accidents that leaves both a name and a signature outside a system which would itself be offered up to an immanent philosophical reading – the only kind of reading held to be philosophically legitimate […].

In a late interview on “the question of biography”, Derrida insisted:

I am among those few people who have constantly drawn attention to this: you must (and you must do it well) put philosophers’ biographies back in the picture, and the commitments, particularly political commitments, that they sign in their own names, whether in relation to Heidegger or equally to Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, Sartre, or Blanchot, and so on.

Taking inspiration from Derrida and Kate Zambreno’s initial FFIMS post I tackled Ecce Homo for the first time. I now suspect it will become my favourite Nietzsche book, though I am long overdue a rereading of his works.

The first thought on reading Ecce Homo is the cavernous confidence of the text, bordering on arrogance, or what Thomas Steinbuch, in his commentary on Ecce Homo calls megalomania:

The chapters of Ecce Homo are composed as answers to the questions posed in their titles: “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” “Why I Write Such Good Books,” and “Why I Am a Destiny.” The titles seem to be naked expressions of self-importance, of egotism, from the simple hubris of “I am wise” to the megalomania of “I am destiny,” as if in writing these titles Nietzsche had reared up before the world demanding its acknowledgement, tragically presaging the madness that was soon to engulf him. This is not so. Egotism in the sense of self-importance, as belonging to the psychology of domination, is not part of Nietzsche’s life or work. If an ideology of affirming self-importance has been found here, this is only the projection of an authoritarian society’s own obsessive focus on figures of domination and its need to believe in the monolithic action of authority. Indeed, we shall see below that constructing the other as a “self-of-importance” belongs to the psychology of competition. It is simply true that Nietzsche’s role in the history of life was tremendously important as the dialectical counter to décadence. Sooner of later we need to come to terms with the problem of décadence in ourselves, and at that moment the one we will find is Nietzsche-this is what he meant by declaring himself a destiny.

So, not egotism or megalomania but the Dionysian overcoming of decadence to find the order concealed in the chaos. A bit self-helpy perhaps, or more generously where Nietzsche joins forces with Buddhism to destroy individuality. But this is why Nietzsche has always appealed; he is a philosopher, like Sartre, that changes the prism through which you see life, and therefore changes your life. Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous seem to offer the same opportunity, though need far more effort.

Enough rambling. Can anyone recommend a reliable Nietzsche biography? Thanks to a conversation with flowerville, I’ve been reading up on Thomas Brobjer. I like the look of Thomas Brobjer’s Nietzsche’s Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography.  Ecce Homo is very fine but suffers the flaw of any autobiography, that it is essentially a fiction. The best Nietzsche “biography” I’ve read is this thrilling chronological list of “not only the books which Nietzsche read throughout his life, but also lectures he attended as well as professorial work he was engaged in, the music he listened to and composed, and, finally, denotes when and where he wrote his philosophical works.”

The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi by Alex Stein

Alex Stein, essayist and aphorist, is the author of Made-Up Interviews With Imaginary Artists. In The Artist as Mystic, Stein interviews Yahia Lababidi, essayist, aphorist and poet. Does Lababidi exist? Is the interviewer imaginary? In these post-postmodern (or neo-modern) times, do such distinctions matter? As David Shields wrote in his manifesto, “Once upon a time there will be readers who won’t care what imaginative writing is called and will read it for its passion, its force of intellect, and for its formal originality.”

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #565: On three walls, continuous forms with alternating… (1988)

As Sol Lewitt said, “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” Or as Alex Stein puts it, they “hold something more dear than one’s own happiness.” With one exception, the artists chosen as subjects for these literary interviews are those that have accompanied me from early on: Kafka, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Rilke and Kierkegaard.

Beyond Stein’s introductory essay the book is structured, as the title suggests, as a series of interviews with Yahia Lababidi. Stein fades away, as Lababidi discourses about literature. Lababidi wears his erudition lightly during these interviews with a discursive style that is undemanding but whose allusions circle a fraternity of Modernist thinkers. Of Kafka, Lababidi says:

Kafka is us, without lying.

Shouldn’t that change the way I read him? It should. And it does. It ups the volume on everything. Even if he only clears his throat, it rings like thunder. Because the fact of the matter is he has something thunderous in him to say, and the fact of the matter is we know that he does. That is the point. Some of this stuff, sure, it can be more navel gazing, more convolutions, but what we cannot fail to recognise in Kafka is that this is a guy who is wrestling with his angel, and that commands our attention. What he is up against, so are we up against.

The passion that Lababidi brings to his reflections on what he terms The Exquisites revitalizes and never fails to offer some fresh perspective. This is a short text, that I read in a single sitting, which I hope generates a sequel.

Vilhelm Ekelund

I left hanging above the exception, Vilhelm Ekelund, of whom Lababidi says:

He practised a kind of literary soul-gazing. “Books must be lived to be read,” he writes. He saw into the writers he read in ways that others don’t. He composed essays and aphorisms.

Another essayist and aphorist? Having verified that Ekelund is not imaginary I shall seek out his work.

Born Fascist

Michael Howard’s Liberation or Catastrophe (Reflections on the History of the Twentieth Century) is bracing. I find myself disagreeing with the thrust of his political interpretation but edified by his historical perspective, which reflects a broad reading of philosophical and literary texts.

Xenophobia, an inclination to violence, a pleasure in humiliating others, the desire to find security from a hostile world in one’s own group or tribe or gang with its own initiation processes and symbols and necessary enemies, all these are features common to all mankind (though not of corse womankind) as schoolboys know very well. We are all born Fascists, and have to be expensively educated out of it. And when all the structures of civil society painfully built up over generations disintegrate, whether through sudden catastrophe or gradual erosion, it is to these habits that we naturally return.

It’s difficult to disagree, though hard to accept, Howard’s ‘born Fascist’ theme. His analysis of the roots of Fascism and the challenges posed by a modernized, bureaucratic, secularized Western society is excellent.

As for the West, we know our situation far too well to believe that the Enlightenment has yet solved the problems it has created and that history for us has come to the end. Andre Gidé said something to the effect that ‘to free oneself is only a beginning. The real problem is to know how to live in liberty'; a discovery being made today by the populations of the former communist countries. A prison is also a kind of home. In the West, intellectuals may have become used to living in the godless world explored by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in the last century, Heidegger and Sartre is this. But the social effects are only now beginning to be widely felt, of a world in which people are left entirely free to create and live by their own values, with neither traditional authority nor religious beliefs to guide them. We do now worry too much so long as, for most of the population, liberal capitalism continues quite literally to deliver the goods, in quantities and of a quality undreamed of by our forbears. But it liberal capitalism were to fail, as has its rival communism, we know what would be the likely alternative.

Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard

Old Masters is flawless.

I’ll attempt to distil my impressions of Thomas Bernhard’s book without using the word rant. It is almost impossible to write about Thomas Bernhard’s prose without using that word. (Around 1645 there was an English antinomian sect called the Ranters, though the etymology of the word is German.) In its place I will use a word I relish: tirade, from the French tirer “draw out, endure, suffer.”

Every other day, musicologist, Reger, sits on a sofa in the Kunthistorisches Museum  facing Tintoretto’s White-Bearded Man. Sometimes he reads, other times he contemplates the painting. Uncharacteristically he visits the museum on two successive days, inviting his friend, Atzbacher, to join him for a second day. The reason is, until the final pages, a mystery.

Thereafter, either directly or through his mouthpiece Atzbacher, Reger’s tirade makes up the rest of the book, interrupted occasionally. Reger’s tirade unfolds, repeats, loops relentlessly, sometimes it risks folding in upon itself. It wearies and requires a degree of endurance, but it is also occasionally very funny. The targets of Reger’s Nietzschean tirade are multifarious and include art historians,  Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter, Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, Viennese public lavatories and philosopher Martin Heidegger. The latter, in particular, creased me up. Of the Heideggerian criticism I have come across, Reger’s calling him out for a kitschy brain and as a mediocre rustic was hilarious:

Heidegger is the petit bourgeois of German philosophy, the man who placed on German philosophy his kitschy nightcap, that kitschy nightcap which Heidegger always wore, on all occasions. Heidegger is the carpet-slipper and night-cap philosopher of the Germans, nothing else.

The interruptions to Reger’s tirade are rare but necessary, and often droll and moving. On one occasion, Reger’s sofa, facing  White-Bearded Man, is invaded by an Englishman, world-weary to the same degree as Reger, who has come to Vienna to verify that there is another White-Bearded Man, a duplicate or forgery of the one given to him by a Glaswegian aunt. On another occasion, Reger movingly expounds his despair since his wife’s death.

In the final pages we learn why Reger has broken a routine of thirty years to invite Atzbacher to the museum on two successive days. The deliverance, and the last line of the book, had me grinning from ear to ear. For once, in Old Masters, the ending does not disappoint.

I read the novel as part of German Literature Month co-hosted by Lizzy’s Literary Life and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.