“Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears. Philosophy calls us when we’ve reached the end of our rope. The insistent feeling that something is not right with our lives and the longing to be restored to our better selves will not go away. Our fears of death and being alone, our confusion about love and sex, and our sense of impotence in the face of our anger and outsized ambitions bring us to ask our first sincere philosophical questions. […] When the soul cries out, it is a sign that we have arrived at a necessary, mature stage of self-reflection. The secret is not to get stuck there dithering or wringing your hands, but to move forward by resolving to heal yourself. Philosophy asks us to move into courage. Its remedy is the unblinking excavation of the faulty and specious premises on which we base our lives and our personal identity. Philosophy’s purpose is to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices and preferences that are unworthy of us. Self-scrutiny applied with kindness is the main antidote.
Skilled use of logic, disputation, and the developed ability to name things correctly are some of the instruments philosophy gives us to achieve abiding clear-sightedness and inner tranquility, which is true happiness. This happiness, which is our aim, must be correctly understood. Happiness is commonly mistaken for passively experienced pleasure or leisure. That conception of happiness is good only as far as it goes. The only worthy object of all our efforts is a flourishing life.
True happiness is a verb. It’s the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch.
The wisest among us appreciate the natural limits of our knowledge and have the mettle to preserve their naiveté. They understand how little all of us really know about anything. There is no such thing as conclusive, once-and-for-all knowledge. The wise do not confuse information or data, however prodigious or cleverly deployed, with comprehensive knowledge or transcendent wisdom. They say things like “Hmmm” or “Is that so!” a lot. Once you realize how little we do know, you are not so easily duped by fast-talkers, splashy gladhanders, and demagogues. Spirited curiosity is an emblem of the flourishing life.
(San Francisco: Harper, 1995)
THE THREAT OF TOTALITARIANISM TODAY
(OR: WHY ARENDT STILL MATTERS)
By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer
It’s an obvious fact that the books of great philosophers survive the physical existence of the philosophers themselves: their thought is alive for decades or centuries after their deaths, ideas kept safe, like a treasure in a trunk, in the books they’ve written. Even tough they are no longer among the living, we are still under their influence, and our thought and judgement can be expanded and enriched by their legacy. A dead philosopher may have a long future after the brain that used to act inside his or her skull has vanished from the world. Looked in this perspective, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask, for example: “what would Arendt have to teach us about Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror? What would Arendt say, if she was alive today, about the danger of totalitarian horror happening again in the future? And nowadays, where would Arendt recognize a totalitarian regime in action, here and now? “
Similarly, one might ask: what would Nietzsche have to say about the III Reich and the Nazi’s “Final Solution”? What opinions would Spinoza nurture about the Enlightenment thinkers or the French Revolution? Would Plato agree with Jesus Christ if they had ever met? And what about Hannah Arendt, if she was living today, would she criticize some of our societies as totalitarian regimes? This sort of questions, in which one tries to figure out what some thinker would consider about historical events or people he or she didn’t live to witness, may seem to many of us some sort of absurd anachronism. Some may argue that this line of questioning may have its value only as an intellectual exercise, but can never achieve truthfulness because it relies too much on speculation and conjectures; it’s just philosophy acting in science-fiction-mode, right?
Well, Hannah Arendt’s case is interesting to adress, in this context, because she seems to be one of the alivest of all dead philosophers. And scholars, researchers, political theorists and journalists keep invoking Hannah Arendt’s thought to explain recent stuff, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, which brought to light the wide-spread use of torture as the U.S. Army’s “interrogation method” at the detention centers for suspects of terrorism. An excellent doc about it is Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008).
In an article published by New Internationalist Magazine, for example, Sean Willcock evokes Arent’s très celèbre “the banality of evil” to explain Abu Ghraib’s mixture of terrible disrespect for basic human rights, combined with the banality of soldiers who took “selfies” with smiling faces, aparently stupidly unaware of the crushed dignity of those fellow humans they were humiliating, torturing and killing.
Also recommended: Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary by Errol Morris
In our technologically connected “global village”, philosophers can also be brought back from their graves by other means than books, of course. Recently, Hannah Arednt was summoned from the tomb to appear as protagonist of Margaret Von Trotta’s bio-pic. Even tough it’s mainly an historical and biographical film, mostly about the Eichmman case, I feel there’s a lot to be found in the film to enlighten us nowadays (see, for example, this excellent article about the film @ “MantleThought.org).
I deeply agree with Celso Lafer when he argues: “Arendt is a classic in Bobbio’s meaning of the word: an author whose concepts, even tough developed in the past, still serve us to understand the world of the present.” There’s good fruits to be gained by trying to re-think and re-actualize Arendt’s thought, instead of treating it as fixed: wouldn’t it be better to deal with her works in a dynamic way, expanding it and adapting it to serve as tools for our understanding of new occurences? Of course this sort of thinking is based on what I’d call imaginative speculation, dangerously on peril of betraying a writer when transplanting him – or his ideas – to another era. But doesn’t the merit of a certain thinker lie also in what he has to say to posterity, what can be learned in his books by those who came afterwards?
In her book Why Arendt Matters, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl mobilizes Hannah Arendt concepts and theories in order to understand events that happened after Arendt’s death in 1975. What would Arendt have to teach us, for example, about suicide bombers on a jihad against “the West” and who hope to be rewarded in Afterlife by Allmighty Allah? And what would she teach us about the “War on Terror”, the military invasion of Afheganistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which were unleashed after the September 11th attacks in 2001?
Arendt’s inspiring intellectual courage, I think, lies in her ability to go beyond simple moral outrage. She tries to understand things that most people are so horrified of that they’d rather not even try to understand them. Instead of being paralysed in horror in front of such terrible realities – Hiroshimas and Auschwitzes, gulags and atom bombs… – Arednt confronts these realities and tries to judge them, understand them, put them in historical context, portray a web of relations inside which they occur. That’s why Arendt’s procedure, whether she analyses imperialism or anti-semitism or totalitarian societies, can be used by us today in order to enhance our understanding of our current geopolitical landscape.
The Nazi concentration camps, those “factories of death”, made the most horrendous criminal acts into a day-to-day process. Trying to understand an era of genocide in industrial scale, Hannah Arendt never acts with simplistic demonization of the Nazis, for example. It would be narrow-minded and deranged to say that Hitler or Goebbels or Eichmann were “possessed by the Devil”, or have been born with innate evilness. Hannah Arendt tries to understand the emergence of “a new type of criminal, the consequence-blind bureaucrat, agent of a criminal state, so unconcerned for the world – or alienated from it – that he could help lay waste to it.” (YOUNG-BRUHEL: 5)
After carefully watching Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, Arendt was surprised to discover not a devilish man, but rather a dumb fellow, blindly obedient to his superiors in the hierarchy. Eichmann’s triking characteristic was, in Arendt’s eyes, his “thoughtlessness”, his stupidity.
“Thoughtlessness – the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty – seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time.” (ARENDT, The Human Condition, Prologue).
Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, when he says “everything that the Nazis did was legal”, that Justice (as a value, as a virtue) is not necessarily the same as the Law. There are plenty of unjust laws – based on racist discrimination or ethnical cleansing, for example. Eichmann, inside Nazi society, was a lawful agent. In a land were genocide is not outlawed, a mass killer is also a law-abiding citizen. If we are really to understand how did the terribles tragedies of 20th century’s happened, includin the “World Wars”, with its Holocausts and Atom Bombs, we need to understand how much evil can arise from blind obedience, from lack of thought and atrophy of judgement. Hannah Arendt provides us a path to follow if we wish to understand how could this horrors happen. Arendt enlightens us by providing a way to understand our tragedies in which there’s no explanation of evil as a pact-with-the-devil or the result of innate-bad-genes. Stupidity can become criminal:
“After listening to Eichmann at his trial and reading the pretrial interviews with him, she concluded that he had no criminal motives but only motives – not criminal in themselves – related to his own advancement in the Nazi hierarchy. (…) He was a man who, conforming to the prevailing norms and his Führer’s will, failed altogether to grasp the meaning of what he was doing. He was not diabolical, he was thoughtless. The word “thoughtlessness” is used by Arendt for a mental condition reflecting remoteness from reality, inability to grasp a reality that stares you in the face – a failure of imagination and judgment. (…) No deep-rooted or radical evil was necessary to make the trains to Auschwitz run on time.” (YOUNG-BRUEL, p. 108)
It reminds me of that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, in which he tested how far can people go in the art of inflicting pain unto others. Milgram came up with a test to check how people would act when asked to approve the use of electrical shocks of increasing voltage; he wanted to see how wicked could a human being act just because a certain authority ordered it. The 20th century teachs us that hierarchy (and blind obedience to it) has much more relation with tragedy of epic proportions than the principles and actions of anarchists.
Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, it seems to me, is also a reflection upon the evils that follow from conformity to unquestioned authority. The Origins of Totalitarism, I believe, can and should be read and understood with the aid of classics of social psychology such as Erich Fromm’ Fear of Freedom or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The shocking fact about the III Reich is that those crimes were commited by law-abbiding citizens, who were only following the orders and honouring the Führer’s will. One of the psychological factors that made it possible for so many Germans to participate in the mega-machine of mass-murder was the notion that Hitler assumed all responsability, and those who worked in the concentration camps, those who operated the trains to the death fields, those who released the poisonous and deadly Zyklon B, could all excuse themselves by saying: “I was merely following orders.” Which reminds me of Howard Zinn’s often quoted statement, somewhat inspired by Thoreau, that civil obedience is in fact a danger far greater than civil disobedience:
Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people… (ZINN, Howard. Here.)
When Hannah Arendt writes about crimes against humanity, and relates them to an evil arising from thoughtlessness and lack of judgement, she seems to be praising the individual’s potential for autonomy. Blind obedience to leaders or to established laws, unthinking conformity to the status quo, can lead to disaster. According to Young-Bruehl, who also wrote one of the most comprehensive biographies about Hannah Arendt, “she had always written out of solidarity with the victims of such crimes, with the conviction that telling their story for the sake of the future was her life task.” (YOUNG-BRUEHL, op cit., p. 209). This, also, we can learn from Arendt: solidarity with those who are, nowadays, the victims of crimes against humanity – for example, the detainees in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or the pakistanis killed by drone attacks. The U.S.A.’s War on Terror, even tough it justifies itself as a crusade of Freedom against Terror, utilizes “totalitarian methods”, argues Young-Bruehl, and such methods can be traced back to the Cold War era:
One of the most threatening ways that adopting totalitarian methods to fight totalitarianism helped shape the current world order was in the practise adopted by U.S. governments during the Cold War period of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists as agents of opposition to Soviet communism. This began on a small scale during Eisenhower’s presidency with support for the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna… In Washington it was originally hoped that the political Islamists would help prevent the Communist ideology from infecting Arab states, but the policy of support became progressively aimed more at promoting Arab supranationalism and funding middle-ground wars. U.S. support of Arab supranationalism (with its own ideology, Wahhabism) focused on the reactionary Saudi monarchy, which was encouraged to create a network of right-wing Arab states using the Muslim Brotherhood as its agent. The Saudis also built on the Brotherhood’s violent opposition to Egypt under Nasser, who was considered a revolutionary nationalist in Washington and posed a direct challenge to U.S. and British oil interests in the Gulf… The CIA, in the most portentous instance, supported the Afghan fighters in their resistance to the Soviet Union’s imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA helped Osama bin Laden build a network of ‘Afghan Arabs’, the forerunner of Al-Qaeda…(YOUNG-BRUEHL, p. 57)
It gets me wondering what Hannah Arendt would have to teach us about the 21st century. Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bays would very likely seem to her as dangerously similar to nazi concentration camps or soviet gulags, places where people lose their basic human rights and become victims of dehumanizing humiliation and torture. What about State Surveillance, a current reality denounced by whistleblower Edward Snowden? Isn’t it a dangerously totalitarian method, George Orwell’s Big Brother finally realized in mass scale? I’m quite sure Orwell never meant 1984 to be an Instructions Manual! And what to say about a country whose nuclear arsenal is huge, and who goes to war against Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction in his hands? As if the United States of Atom Bombs hadn’t weapons of mass destruction also! And what to say about the thousands of americans who, misled by demagogy, blinded by patriotism, bound to their “duty”, marched straight to war, dropped bombs, launched drones? Now, of course, the damage is done and the thousands of dead bodies pile up as yet another reminder of human folly and of the dangers of thoughtlessness and blind obedience.
In her thought-provoking article A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism, Peg Birmingham investigates if totalitarianism is a threat today. She answers with conviction – “yes it is!” – and argues with Hannah Arendt that the danger is co-related to the problem of political lies, of ideological deception. Historians can’t cease to be amazed by the re-occurence, in Human History, of mass credulity in ideologies and leaders. Humanity may seem ludicrous and ridiculous when we take a look back and discover the scale in which lies were massively believed in, with the outcome of radical evil of colossal proportions. How not to be flabbergasted with the fact that millions could believe Hitler’s racist lies about ethnical cleansing and the Jewish Plague, or believe W. Bush’s pious lies about Saddam’s nuclear bombs? It’s a scenario to make us bemoan the fate of this planet in a time, to remember Shakespeare’s King Lear, “when madmen lead the blind.” (SHAKESPEARE, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)
In her essay “The Seeds of a Fascist International” (1945), Hannah Arendt wrote: “It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform lies into reality. For such a fabrication of lying reality, no one was prepared. The essential characteristic of fascist propaganda was never its lies, for this is something more or less common to propaganda everywhere, and of every time. The essential thing was that they exploited the age-old occidental prejudice which confuses reality with truth, and made that true which until then could only be stated as a lie.” (ARENDT, 146-147) For example: if Mr. X makes a statement such as “my aunt is dead”, but then Mrs. Y contradicts him with “No, this ain’t true, I saw your aunt just a moment ago at the market”, all Mr. X needs to do to mutate his statement from a lie to a truth is “to go home and murder his aunt” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 74.)
In Winter Soldier (1972), an excellent documentary about the Vietnam War, built upon statements from the soldiers who were there and witnessed it all, a man who fought with the U.S. Army gives us an example of the Political Lie in action: when civilians were killed (military leaders, then and now, call this “collateral damage”), the U.S. Army ordered that those people were to be labeled as gooks, written down in the “official reports” as if they were vietcongs. Kill first, then label the murdered person a devil, a filthy gook, an unworthy-to-live commie. That’s the strategy. Every dead Vietnamese, even tough he might have been a pacifist, is suddenly turned into a dangerous and murderous communist terrorist.
We still live in such a world where the Terrorist Menace is constantly evoked, and in its name are justified colossal measures of war, emprisonment and mass surveillance. If there’s a threat of totalitarianism in the world today, it certainly lies in the way governments are dealing with the so-called Terrorist Menace. The established powers, the status quo, the ruling elites, label as terrorists those who oppose their crushing powers. In India, the “terrorists” are the maoists who oppose Hindu nationalism and Free Trade Capitalism (check Arundhati Roy’s brilliant report Walking With The Comrades); in Mexico, the “terrorists” are the Zapatistas of Chiapas’s jungles who defend the rights of indigenous people against the pillage of big business; in the U.S., the “terrorists” are Islamic jihadists threatening to re-enact September 11th; in Brazil, “terrorists” are those citizens who take to the streets to protest against banks and corporate power, and refusing pacifism in their Black Bloc techniques or Anarchistic tendencies. And so on and so on… The “terrorist danger” is what justifies massive investments in police, it’s what governenmets use to justify the use of repression and mass incarceration. Welcome to “Democracy”, the best one that money can buy.
The danger of totalitarianism lies entangled with the threat of mass-belief in political lies:
The problem of ideology is, for Hannah Arendt, the problem of political deception. Ideology is the mutation that establishes the lying world order, by replacing reality with an ironclad fiction. In other words, ideology is the ‘most devilish version of the lie'”; these are Hannah Arendt’s words, and we should hear her claim that the banality of evil is, at its very heart, ideology. With both its hellish fantasies and its clichés, the ‘banality of evil’ is characterized by a strident logicality – a logic through which the whole of reality is thoroughly and systematically organized, according to a fiction with a view to total domination.” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 77.)
I wonder if our totalitarian threat may reside, today, also in the Market, or in what many specialists call “The Economy”. Aren’t we endangered by the “Free Trade” totalitarian ideology? In which every means are acceptable in order to enforce the holy end of “Free Markets”? Including the drone-attacks against Pakistan, the war of aggression against Iraq, the pious crusade of genocidal proportions against Afeghanistan? Who is naive enough to believe it was all made for the sake of Freedom and Democracy, when it actually resulted in a massive pile of corpses? Not to mention, in previous decades, how Free Trade capitalism, Yankee-style, forced its way all around the globe with the aid of the military dictartorships and coup d’états imposed by U.S. interest in South and Central America. We, Latin Americans, can never forget what happened in Chile in September 11th, 1973. Not to mention the military interventions in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), justified as Anti-Communist measures.
The political lie, the fascist twist of propaganda to be discerned here, I would argue, lies in the preposterous idea that “Free Trade = Freedom and Justice”. That’s a lying and deceiving equation: if we take a closer look at the ideology of Free Trade, of the theories so dominant in today’s capitalism and that call themselves “liberal” and “neo-liberal”, we’ll discover that they have a tendency to increase mass incarceration and police repression, for example. The U.S. currently has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. When prison become a business, that can be run for profit (with the aid, of course, of strick laws of prohibition against illicit drugs), neoliberal capitalism shows its true face: that of nasty greediness, mounting inequality, resulting in a dystopic society in which millions and millions of its citizens are behind bars, while an elite hides away, locked inside comfortable bunkers, with obscene accumulations of capital in protected by Hi-Tech Security.
To enforce capitalism, the preachers of Free Trade, with their billions – which could be invested to end global hunger or treat curable diseases in all continents! – uy themselves an immense apparatus of military repression and aggression. Remember Seattle, 1999. Remember Québec City, 2001. Remember Genoa, 2008. Remember Toronto, 2010. Remember Brazil’s World Cup, in 2014, in which neo-liberal interests where defended with military police and national Army, throughout the streets, programmed to silence and crush all dissidence and protest to FIFA’s money-making machine…
As Arundhati Roy reminds us, everytime that the world’s Capitalist Elites try to join for their summits, their G8 meetings, their WTOs and Free Trade congresses, they are only able to do it spending millions in what they call Security – another political lie, ideological fiction, that masks the fact that “Security” is based on agression, repression, and incarceration of political prisoners (it’s been done for centuries: put in prison your oponents, then justify yourself calling them “terrorists”). The so-called Liberal Democracy in the U.S. spends so much in War and Prisons that it shows to the world its true face, behind the masks and the fake twinklings of ideological propaganda. Look at Detroit, once America’s pearl, one of the wealthiest metropolis on Earth, now reduced to a wasteland; Detroit, who could be photographed nowadays in order to illustrate Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums. Remember New Orleans when Katrina hit: the same country who spends billions with its Wars and who lets profits run wild with “free trades” such as that of Guns and Ammunitions, leaves its own citizens in abandonment while they face one of the worst climate disasters of American History…
Why, if a mandatory evacuation was issued, ordering that everybody should leave New Orleans before Katrina hit, the U.S. government didn’t provide the means for this evacuation to happen? Money, you always tell me, is not a problem in the U.S., The Land of Profit. When the poorest of people in New Orleans, who couldn’t afford a bus or plane ticket to a safe area, who couldn’t afford renting a hotel room in a Hurricane-free town, the least you’d expect from a sensible government is help. Perhaps they were too busy doing war in the Middle East, or spying on people’s private lifes in search of potencial terrorists, or torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to ready be able to listen as New Orleans’ cried for help while drowning out in one of the crudest of the ecological turmoil’s of our “anthropocene” era. Rapper Kanye West, witnessing this, couldn’t do nothing but to speak on National TV: “George W. Bush doesn’t care for black people”. Neither he does care for Muslims. While the U.S. Army was bombing and torturing Muslims, in New Orleans it left off, unatended to, abandoned to their luck, those American Citizens who were still in town when the Hurricane came. As Naomi Klein shows in her The Shock Doctrine, after the disaster the authorities in charge of defending Free Trade capitalism took an interest in New Orleans: they saw that in Disaster there was Opportunity. What used to be Public service, in New Orleans, could now be refashioned to attend Private Interests. This is another reason why Arendt still matters: because Free Trade ideology wants to erase the notions of Public Space and of Common Good, in order to enforce its society of private interests and individualistic consumerism, protected by military force and crowded prisons.
In 1972, in a conference at the Toronto Society for the Study of Social and Political Thought (York University), Hannah Arendt said (and it remains for me inspirational stuff): “If we really believe – and I think we share this belief – that plurality rules the earth, then I think one has got to modify this notion of the unity of theory and practice to such an extent that it will be unrecognizable for those who tried their hand at it before. I really believe that you can only act in concert and I really believe that you can only think by yourself.” (pg. 305) Arendt matters because she can teach us a lot about thinking for ourselves (instead of accepting fixed truths that rain from above in the hierarchy…) and because she can teach us how to act in concert to criticize, dismantle and fight the threats of totalitarism today.
* * * * *
ARENDT, Hannah. “The Seeds of a Fascist International”. Pgs. 146-147.
———————-. The Human Condition, Prologue.
BIRMINGHAM, Peg. “A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism”. In: Thinking in Dark Times, New York: Fordham University press.
YOUNG-BRUEHL, Elisabeth . Why Arendt Matters. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.
SHAKESPEARE, William. King Lear. Act 4, Scene 1.
ZINN, Howard. Zinn Reader. Seven Stories Press, 1970.
* * * * *
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Além da Metafísica e do Niilismo:
a Cosmovisão Trágica de Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
PREFÁCIO DO AUTOR
Nietzsche: eis um pensador que – nas palavras de um de seus comentadores, Gianni Vattimo – “é decisivo para o nosso presente e ainda repleto de futuro.”
Uma das frases mais célebres de Nietzsche está em Ecce Homo: “Eu não sou um homem, eu sou dinamite” . Já o sub-título de Crepúsculo dos Ídolos traz outra imagem de impacto: “Como filosofar com o martelo”. Estes dois retratos que Nietzsche pinta de si mesmo mostram que o filósofo sabe do potencial explosivo de suas críticas e demolições. Mas não nos esqueçamos que a dinamite não serve apenas para destruir e arruinar, mas também para abrir terreno para novas construções . E também que um martelo, nas mãos de um escultor, serve para transformar um bloco de pedra em uma obra-de-arte, e que um médico, por sua vez, utiliza o martelo como instrumento para um diagnóstico clínico.
Na minha investigação, procurei compreender a filosofia nietzschiana como um empreendimento em que as facetas crítica e a criativa são indissociáveis, em que o destruidor e o criador estão reunidos. Uma máxima de A Gaia Ciência expressa isso muito bem: “Somente enquanto criadores temos o direito de destruir!”  Não considero, portanto, que o pensamento de Nietzsche seja motivado por um ímpeto apenas iconoclasta, polêmico e aniquilador. Mas sim que procura contribuir para libertar-nos do jugo de morais autoritárias, valores anti-naturais, superstições daninhas, dogmas inquestionados etc. A sabedoria nietzschiana nos convida à afirmação e à celebração da existência, em prol do desabrochar de potencialidades ainda não efetivadas, em favor de uma vitalidade ascendente e transbordante.
Neste trabalho, procurei mostrar que Nietzsche realiza não apenas uma crítica devastadora dos sistemas filosóficos metafísicos, das religiões instituídas e dos valores morais sacrossantos. Mas que há também um esforço, por parte do filósofo, em compartilhar uma sabedoria cujas características procurei explorar e que inclui uma revalorização do corpo, da sensorialidade, do devir, da multiplicidade, da alteridade, da pluralidade de perspectivas etc.
Apesar de muitas vezes referir-se a si mesmo como um “imoralista”, isto não significa, como procurei argumentar, que Nietzsche faça apologia de um vale-tudo moral, onde é abolida toda e qualquer responsabilidade e dever. Seria simplista e falsificador atribuir a Nietzsche a célebre idéia do personagem de Dostoiévski, Ivan Karamázov, que sustenta que “Se Deus não existisse, tudo seria permitido”. Procurei mostrar que a morte de Deus, em Nietzsche, é vista como acontecimento potencialmente libertador, como ocasião para a emergência de novos valores e estilos-de-vida.
“As consequências mais próximas [da morte de Deus], suas consequências para nós, não são, ao inverso do que talvez se poderia esperar, nada tristes e ensombrecedoras, mas antes são como uma nova espécie, difícil de descrever, de luz, felicidade, facilidade, serenidade, encorajamento, aurora… De fato, nós filósofos e ‘espíritos livres’ sentimo-nos, à notícia de que ‘o velho Deus está morto’, como que iluminados pelos raios de uma nova aurora; nosso coração transborda de gratidão, assombro, pressentimento, expectativa – eis que enfim o horizonte nos aparece livre outra vez, posto mesmo que não esteja claro, enfim podemos lançar outra vez ao largo nossos navios, navegar a todo perigo, toda ousadia do conhecedor é outra vez permitida, o mar, o nosso mar, está outra vez aberto, talvez nunca dantes houve tanto ‘mar aberto’…” (A Gaia Ciência, 343)
Procurei destacar a ruptura que Nietzsche realiza com uma das correntes hegemônicas da filosofia ocidental, o platonismo, em especial a cisão do real em dois “mundos” (o Sensível e o Inteligível), o que Nietzsche considera uma “fábula”. A ideia de um mundo metafísico, sobrenatural, suposta morada do absoluto e do imutável, seria, segundo o pensamento nietzschiano, um dos mais duradouros equívocos da história da filosofia. Procurei argumentar que, em Nietzsche, todos os conceitos abstratos da razão, forjados a partir da experiência empírica, permanecem tendo uma existência derivada, como produção de cérebros humanos necessariamente vinculados a corpos animados pela vontade. Procuramos elucidar, portanto, o quanto a filosofia de Nietzsche procura refletir sobre a base fisiológica e psico-somática de onde emergem os conceitos abstratos, os valores morais, as doutrinas religiosas etc. Trata-se, como indica Patrick Wotling, de “denunciar as interpretações falíveis que desde Platão triunfam na tradição filosófica, interpretações idealistas, que esquecem seu estatuto e sua fonte produtora, o corpo.” 
Procurei elucidar que Nietzsche se mostra contrário a todas as moralidades baseadas no ideal ascético, ou seja, que negam valor ao corpo, ao desejo, às paixões, ao tempo, à esfera dita “mundana”. A ascese, isto é, o esforço auto-mortificante de purificação, baseia-se em geral na crença em uma alma imortal, que supõe-se destinada a um destino glorioso no além-túmulo. Nietzsche diagnostica neste ideal ascético uma hostilidade contra a vida, uma “calúnia” contra a realidade terrena, um anátema lançado contra o corpo e seus instintos, uma incapacidade de afirmação da existência em sua real finitude e em seus incontornáveis tormentos. Como diz Oswaldo Giacóia, o ideal ascético, como se manifesta por exemplo no platonismo e no cristianismo, “leva a efeito um movimento de completa desvalorização da imanência em proveito da transcendência. (…) Representa, assim, a desvalorização absoluta do ‘mundo’ e da ‘vida’ em proveito de uma vida imaginária, de um ‘além-do-mundo’.”
O esforço de crítica da moral que Nietzsche empreende, portanto, tem como intenção possibilitar uma libertação das energias vitais que foram sufocadas, reprimidas e culpabilizadas por doutrinas morais ascéticas que oprimem os corpos, condenam os prazeres e pregam a hipertrofia de uma razão tirânica contra as paixões. Como diz Tongeren, “mediante uma crítica à moral, Nietzsche pretende abandonar intencionalmente o caminho aplainado e descobrir a abertura para aquilo que é possível para além desse horizonte, a abertura para ‘muitas auroras que ainda não brilharam’.” 
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Em meu trabalho destaco também que Nietzsche confere muita importância ao senso histórico, isto é, a um pensamento filosófico sempre atento ao ininterrupto fluir do tempo. Nietzsche forjou seu método genealógico no intento de compreender como vieram-a-ser as instituições, legislações, valores morais, costumes e crenças com que hoje nos deparamos. Compreender a origem histórica dos valores morais e relacionar seu surgimento a conflitos sociais de classe e jogos de dominação equivale a mostrar quão infundada e ilegítima é a pretensão das morais e das religiões de possuírem uma verdade eterna de fonte divina. Em Humano, Demasiado Humano, por exemplo, Nietzsche critica um defeito de muitos filósofos, que:
“Involuntariamente imaginam o homem como uma verdade eterna, como uma constante em todo o redemoinho, uma medida segura das coisas. Muitos chegam a tomar a configuração mais recente do homem, tal como surgiu sob a pressão de certas religiões e de certos eventos políticos, como a forma fixa de que se deve partir. Não querem aprender que o homem veio a ser, e que mesmo a faculdade de cognição veio a ser… Tudo veio a ser, não existem fatos eternos, assim como não existem verdades absolutas. – Portanto, o filosofar histórico é doravante necessário, e com ele a virtude da modéstia.” 
Quis mostrar que a filosofia de Nietzsche combate, portanto, a idéia de que existem valores morais, sistemas filosóficos ou doutrinas religiosas de validade eterna, verdade absoluta ou universalidade legítima. A própria Humanidade é concebida como um fenômeno histórico, re-inserida na Natureza que lhe deu origem, de modo que Nietzsche rompe também com a noção criacionista de uma origem sobrenatural para o homem. Por estar “embarcado” na correnteza da história, e por ser uma espécie animal dentre milhões de outras que co-existem no seio da Natureza em fluxo, o homem é inescapavelmente um ser mutante, que integra um cosmos eternamente movediço. Quer aceite este seu destino, quer lute contra ele, cada um de nós, para usar a expressão da canção de Raul Seixas, é uma “metamorfose ambulante”. Procuro compreender o pensamento de Nietzsche, portanto, como fiel ao preceito do filósofo grego Heráclito, que sustentava que “tudo flui” e que “é impossível entrar duas vezes no mesmo rio”.
Considero ainda que Nietzsche jamais sugeriu “fazer tábula rasa do passado”, nunca elogiou o esquecimento da História ou o aniquilamento de seus legados, mas sim uma relação dinâmica e fecunda com o passado: como escreve Karl Jaspers, “em nenhuma parte Nietzsche estima o ato de esquecer o que foi transmitido pela história e recomeçar a partir do nada… Toda sua obra é penetrada por seu intercâmbio com a grandeza do passado, mesmo daquele que ele rejeitou.”
Prova desta relação frutífera com o passado é o modo como Nietzsche reativa a potência do mundo grego pré-socrático, como por exemplo os ritos dionisíacos e a obra dos poetas trágicos (em especial Ésquilo e Sófloces). Nietzsche formulou assim uma sabedoria, que encarna em seu Zaratustra ou nos espíritos livres, cujas características procuramos explorar nessa pesquisa: trata-se de um sujeito afirmador de sua vontade e de seu corpo, criativo e questionador, capaz de superar todo ressentimento através do amor fati, que jamais se acomoda em seu estado atual e procura sempre superar-se, e que age no mundo mais como sátiro do que como santo, mais como dançarino do que como estátua. Em A Gaia Ciência, por exemplo, Nietzsche pinta o retrato do espírito livre, que seria dotado de “uma alegria e uma força de soberania (…) em que o espírito recusaria toda fé, todo desejo de certeza, tendo prática em manter-se sobre as cordas leves de todas as possibilidades e até mesmo em dançar à beira do abismo. Esse seria o espírito livre por excelência.” 
Para Nietzsche, as convicções e os dogmas são inimigos do filósofo e prejudicam-nos em nossa aventura de conhecimento. Quem quer de fato tornar-se amigo da sabedoria tem de ousar libertar-se de certezas apaziguadoras, crenças reconfortantes e tomadas-de-partido inquestionadas. Como diz em Aurora: “A serpente que não pode mudar de pele perece. O mesmo ocorre com os espíritos que se impedem de mudar de opinião; cessam de ser espíritos.”  O filósofo autêntico, de acordo com Nietzsche, é uma figura em que se encarna um certo ímpeto heroico de busca pelo saber. Relembremos as palavras de Aurora:
“Nosso impulso ao conhecimento é demasiado forte para que ainda possamos estimar a felicidade sem conhecimento ou a felicidade de uma forte e firme ilusão. (…) A inquietude de descobrir e solucionar tornou-se tão atraente e imprescindível para nós (…) que o conhecimento transformou-se em paixão que não vacila ante nenhum sacrifício e nada teme, no fundo, senão sua própria extinção…” 
A filosofia, afinal, não é uma busca interesseira por ideias apaziguadoras ou convicções agradáveis, nem por um cômodo repouso no colo de verdades imutáveis, mas um heróico navegar, em mares perigosos, em busca de um saber sobre o real que nada garante que terá um sabor doce ou que vá nos tornar felizes. O filósofo autêntico, para Nietzsche, segundo nossa interpretação, é aquele que ousa ir à conquista de um saber, ainda que este possa ter um gosto amargo e ainda que acarrete consequências trágicas; é aquele que, como diz Karl Jaspers, tem a coragem de entrar no labirinto, como fez Teseu, mesmo sabendo que terá que defrontar-se com o Senhor Minotauro. 
Consideramos que o efeito do convívio com a obra Nietzsche é a de um tônico para a vontade-de-viver. Eis uma filosofia, enfim, onde há muita sabedoria a assimilar, em especial por aqueles que, como diz Giacóia, “não temem fazer dos abismos do sofrimento uma fonte inestimável de conhecimento.” 
Em suma: procuramos mostrar o pensamento de Nietzsche como superação tanto da metafísica quanto do niilismo, culminando numa cosmovisão trágica que, longe de ser pessimista, significa uma celebração dionisíaca da existência como ela é, sem exclusão de seus aspectos mais dolorosos e problemáticos. Arqui-inimigo da apatia da vontade, do niilismo desalentador, do ascetismo auto-mortificante, Nietzsche, através de sua obra, canta um hino à vida que inclui um louvor à alegria, aquele afeto que, segundo Spinoza, aumenta nossa potência de existir. Como diz Zaratustra: “Desde que existem homens, o homem se alegrou muito pouco: apenas isso, meus irmãos, é nosso pecado original!”  Já em Humano, Demasiado Humano, Nietzsche escreve: “Eis o melhor meio de começar cada dia: perguntar-se ao despertar se nesse dia não podemos dar alegria a pelo menos uma pessoa. Se isso pudesse valer como substituto do hábito religioso da oração, nossos semelhantes se beneficiariam com tal mudança.” 
Para concluir este prelúdio, cito mais uma instigante idéia de Nietzsche, que me parece um belo emblema de sua “fidelidade à Terra”, em oposição à idolatria religiosa de ídolos sobrenaturais ou metafísicos: “Não há no mundo amor e bondade suficientes para que tenhamos direito de dá-los a seres imaginários.” 
Eduardo Carli de Moraes,
Goiânia – 08/11/2013
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 NIETZSCHE, Ecce Homo. Por Que Sou um Destino, §01.
 É o que aponta Martha Nussbaum: “Indeed, this was the whole purpose of genealogy as Nietzsche, Foucault’s precursor here, introduced it: to destroy idols once deemed necessary, and to clear the way for new possibilities of creation.” Citada por Brobjer, Nietzsche’s Ethics of Character, Pg. 49.
 NIETZSCHE. A Gaia Ciência, §58.
 Ibid. Pg. 155.
 GIACOIA, O. Labirintos da Alma: Nietzsche e a Auto-Supressão da Moral. Pg. 13-38.
 TONGEREN, P.V. A Moral da Crítica de Nietzsche à moral. Pg. 43-44.
 NIETZSCHE. Humano, Demasiado Humano. Capítulo 1, §2.
 JASPERS. Nietzsche: Introduction à sa Philosophie. Pg. 445.
 NIETZSCHE. A Gaia Ciência. §347.
 NIETZSCHE. Aurora. §573.
 Ibid, §429.
 JASPERS. Op Cit. Pg. 231.
 GIACOIA. O Humano Como Memória e Como Promessa. Pg. 183.
 NIETZSCHE. Assim Falou Zaratustra. Op cit. Livro II, Dos Compassivos. Pg. 84.
 NIETZSCHE. Humano Demasiado Humano, §589.
 Humano, Demasiado Humano, § 129. Citado a partir de Lou Andreas-Salomé, op cit, Pg. 139: “Il n’y a pas assez d’amour et de bonté dans le monde pour avoir licence d’en rien prodiguer à des êtres imaginaires.”
P.S. – nos próximos meses, tentarei desmembrar este mestrado em 3 ou 4 artigos, a serem publicados em revistas de filosofia, se possível, ou aqui no blog mesmo, pra “socializar” a pesquisa e “pôr na roda” o conhecimento. Em breve!
ALGUNS LIVROS PARA SABER MAIS SOBRE A FILOSOFIA EPICURISTA // LUCRECIANA
(E-BOOKS // DOWNLOAD GRATUITO)
OS PENSADORES – EPICURO, LUCRÉCIO, CÍCERO, SÊNECA, MARCO AURÉLIO
(Abril, 591 pgs)
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Edited by Hermann Usener
2010, 530 pgs.
Hermann Karl Usener (1834-1905) published his monumental Epicurea in 1887. The volume is a collection of Epicurean texts and citations from a wide range of classical authors including Arrian, Cicero, Diodorus, Euripides, Plato and Seneca. The volume includes critical texts of Epicurus’ most important letters: Letter to Menoeceus, Letter to Herodotus and Letter to Pythocles, preserved by the third-century compiler Diogenes Laertius. The letters give important summaries of Epicurus’ philosophy. Usener’s pioneering work represented the first attempt to deal critically with the manuscript traditions behind Epicurean texts. His reconstructions of the texts included in this volume are based on a thorough understanding of the trajectories of textual transmission. Each text is supported by a detailed critical apparatus, and another apparatus records manuscript glosses and scholia. This work provided for the first time accurate and reliable texts for the critical study of Epicureanism.
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“LIVES OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS” – BOOKS 6-10
This rich compendium on the lives and doctrines of philosophers ranges over three centuries, from Thales to Epicurus (to whom the whole tenth book is devoted); 45 important figures are portrayed. Diogenes Laertius carefully compiled his information from hundreds of sources and enriches his accounts with numerous quotations. Diogenes Laertius lived probably in the earlier half of the 3rd century CE, his ancestry and birthplace being unknown. His history, in ten books, is divided unscientifically into two ‘Successions’ or sections: ‘Ionian’ from Anaximander to Theophrastus and Chrysippus, including the Socratic schools; ‘Italian’ from Pythagoras to Epicurus, including the Eleatics and sceptics. It is a very valuable collection of quotations and facts. The Loeb Classical Library edition of Diogenes Laertius is in two volumes.
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“Epicurus and His Philosophy”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 396 pgs)
Epicurus and His Philosophy was first published in 1954. In this volume, the first comprehensive book in English about Epicurus, existing data on the life of the ancient philosopher is related to the development of his doctrine. The result is a fascinating account that challenges traditional theories and interpretations of Epicurean philosophy. Professor DeWitt demonstrates the fallacy of centuries of abuse of Epicurus and the resulting distortion of most discussions of Epicureanism that appear in standard philosophical works…
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“St. Paul and Epicurus”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 212 pgs.)
St. Paul and Epicurus was first published in 1954. Everyone who is interested in the meaning of the Bible will find this a revealing study, for it opens up a new window on the New Testament, a window that was walled up centuries ago by prejudice. Professor DeWitt throws new light on the writings of the Apostle Paul by showing how they were influenced by the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. That Epicureanism could have a place in Christian religion may come as a surprise to those familiar with the conventional concept of the philosophy of Epicurus. As demonstrated in the meaning of the English word epicure, derived from the name of the ancient philosopher, the modern world has long associated Epicurus with the indulgence of sensual pleasure in food and drink. But,as Professor DeWitt makes clear both in this volume and in its predecessor, Epicurus and His Philosophy, the pleasures which the ancient Greek espoused as constituting the chief good of life were not the pleasures of the flesh. The merit and the lure, however, of the Epicurean ethic, which allied happiness with pleasure, were so appealing and so widely acknowledged that Paul had no choice but to adopt it and bless it for his followers with the sanction of religion. He could not, though, admit indebtedness to a philosopher who had long been accused of sensualism and atheism, and there was no choice, therefore, but to consign Epicurus to anonymity. Through his scholarly investigation into the Epicurean source of certain portions of the Epistles, Professor DeWitt provides new explanations or translations for seventy-six biblical verses. The close scrutiny of biblical passages is carried out, not in a spirit of vandalism, but in a quest for accuracy, and the result is a challenging, readable, and absorbing book.
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“A Life Worthy of the Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus”
by David Konstan
(2008, 200 pgs)
Epicurus, and his Roman disciple Lucretius, held that the primary cause of human unhappiness was an irrational fear of death. What is more, they believed that a clear understanding of the nature of the world would help to eliminate this fear; for if we recognise that the universe and everything in it is made up of atoms and empty space, we will see that the soul cannot possibly survive the extinction of the body – and no harm to us can occur after we die. This liberating insight is at the core of Epicurean therapy. In this book, Konstan seeks to show how such fears arose, according to the Epicureans, and why they persist even in modern societies. It offers a close examination of the basic principles of Epicurean psychology: showing how a system based on a materialistic world view could provide a coherent account of irrational anxieties and desires, and provide a therapy that would allow human beings to enjoy life to the fullest degree.
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“Epicurus and His Gods”
(Harvard, 108 pgs)
I THE STATE OF RELIGION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE HELLENISTIC AGE
II THE LIFE OF EPICURUS
III EPICUREAN FRIENDSHIP
IV THE RELIGION OF EPICURUS
V EPICURUS AND THE ASTRAL RELIGION
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“Epicurus On Freedom”
(Cambridge, 2005, 186 pgs)
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271/0 BCE) has attracted much contemporary interest. Tim O’Keefe argues that the sort of freedom which Epicurus wanted to preserve is significantly different from the ‘free will’ which philosophers debate today, and that in its emphasis on rational action has much closer affinities with Aristotle’s thought than with current preoccupations. His original and provocative book will be of interest to a wide range of readers in Hellenistic philosophy.
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(Oxford, 2006, 256 pgs)
The ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism tried to argue that death is “nothing to us.” Were they right? James Warren examines the arguments they offered and evaluates their success, setting them against modern philosophical accounts of how death can be a harm. He also asks whether a life free from all fear of death is an attractive option and what the consequences would be of a full acceptance of the Epicureans’ views.
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“Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition”
Jeffrey Fish, Kirk R. Sanders
(Cambridge, 2011, 281 pgs)
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“The Greek Atomists and Epicurus”
by Cyril Bailey
(1964, 619 pgs)
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“Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom”
David N. Sedley
(Cambridge, 2008, 254 pgs)
This book studies the structure and origins of De Rerum Natura (On the nature of things), the great first-century BC poem by Lucretius. By showing how he worked from the literary model set by the Greek poet Empedocles but under the philosophical inspiration of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the book seeks to characterize Lucretius’ unique poetic achivement. It is addressed to those interested both in Latin poetry and in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.
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“Lucretius: On the Nature of Things (1873 press)”
Titus Lucretius Carus, translation by W.H.D. Rouse
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“The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius”
Stuart Gillespie, Philip Hardie
(Cambridge, 2007, 382 pgs)
Lucretius’ didactic poem De rerum natura (‘On the Nature of Things’) is an impassioned and visionary presentation of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, and one of the most powerful poetic texts of antiquity. After its rediscovery in 1417 it became a controversial and seminal work in successive phases of literary history, the history of science, and the Enlightenment. In this Cambridge Companion experts in the history of literature, philosophy and science discuss the poem in its ancient contexts and in its reception both as a literary text and as a vehicle for progressive ideas. The Companion is designed both as an accessible handbook for the general reader who wishes to learn about Lucretius, and as a series of stimulating essays for students of classical antiquity and its reception. It is completely accessible to the reader who has only read Lucretius in translation.
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“Oxford Readings in Lucretius”
Monica R. Gale
(Oxford, 2007, 400 pgs)
This book gathers together some of the most important and influential scholarly articles of the last sixty to seventy years (three of which are translated into English here for the first time) on the Roman poet Lucretius. Lucretius’ philosophical epic, the De Rerum Natura or On the Nature of the Universe (c.55 BC), seeks to convince its reader of the validity of the rationalist theories of the Hellenistic thinker Epicurus. The articles collected in this volume explore Lucretius’ poetic and argumentative technique from a variety of perspectives, and also consider the poem in relation to its philosophical and literary milieux, and to the values and ideology of contemporary Roman society. All quotations in Latin or Greek are translated.
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“The Birth of Physics”
(2001, 109 pgs)
The Birth of Physics focuses on the largest text still intact to reach us from the Ancient Greek Atomists – Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura – but mobilises everything we know about the related scientific work of the time (Archemides, Epicurus et al) in order to demand a complete reappraisal of the legacy. Serres argues that the Greeks had all the mathematical resources to formulate an adequate picture of the physical principles acting on matter. Crucial to his reconception of the Atomists’ thought is a recognition that their model of atomic matter is essentially a fluid one – they are describing the actions of turbulence. Recognition of this fact throws in relief the force of this ancient thought with respect to the recent disciplines of chaos and complexity. It explains the continuing presence of Lucretius in the work of such scientific giants as Nobel Laureates Schroedinger and Prigogine. This book is truly a landmark in the study of ancient physics and will promote not only more work in the area but also stimulate a more general rebirth of philosophical interest in the ancients.
Discografia completa de 1975 a 2012:
http://bit.ly/1lFmtzp (torrent, 320kps, 2.6 gb)
1975 – Horses [30th Anniversary Legacy Edition] 2 Disc
1976 – Radio Ethiopia
1978 – Easter
1979 – Wave
1988 – Dream Of Life
1995 – Paths That Cross – 2 Disc
1996 – Divine Intervention
1996 – Gone Again
1997 – Peace And Noise
2000 – Gung Ho
2002 – Land – Best Of 1975 To 2002 – 2 Disc
2004 – Trampin
2007 – Twelve
2011 – Exodus – Live 1978
2012 – Banga
GAIA IN THE ANTHROPOCENE By Bruno Latour
“Geologists are beginning to use the term ANTHROPOCENE to designate the era of Earth’s history that extends from the scientific and industrial revolutions to the present day. These geologists see humanity as a force of the same amplitude as volcanoes or even plate tectonics. It is now before GAIA that we are summoned to appear: Gaia, the odd, doubly composite figure made up of science and mythology, used by certain specialists to designate the Earth that surrounds us and that we surround, the truly global Globe that threatens us even as we threaten it.
If I wanted to dramatize – perhaps overdramatize – the ambiance of my investigative project, I would say that it seeks to register the aftershocks of the MODERNIZATION FRONT just as the confrontation with Gaia appears imminent.
At all events, we shall not cure the Moderns of their attachment to their cherished theme, the modernization front, if we do not offer them an alternate narrative… After all, the Moderns have cities who are often quite beautiful; they are city-dwellers, citizens, they call themselves (and are sometimes called) “civilized”.
Why would we not have the right to propose to them a form of habitation that is more comfortable and convenient and that takes into account both their past and their future – a more sustainable habitat, in a way? Why would they not be at ease there? Why would they wander in the permanent utopia that has for so long made them beings without hearth or home – and has driven them for that very reason to inflict fire and bloodshed on the planet?
After all these years of wandering in the desert, do they have hope of reaching not the Promised Land but Earth itself, quite simply, the only one they have, at once underfoot and all around them, the aptly named Gaia?”
“An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns”
Harvard University Press, 2013. Translated by Catherine Porter.
Download e-book at Library Genesis.
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You might also enjoy:
The Affects of Capitalism (full lecture)
(If you wanna skip the intro, Latour actually starts speaking at 12 min and 45 seconds.)
“Perhaps there is nothing which offers to the eye and the mind a more complete and more sorrowful representation of the world than the sea. In the first place, it is a picture of force in its wildest and most unconquerable form; it is a display, a luxury of power, of which nothing else can give an idea; and it lives, moves, tosses, everlastingly without aim. Sometimes we might say that the sea is animated, that it palpitates and breathes, that it is an immense heart, whose powerful and tumultuous heaving we see; but what makes us despair here is that all this effort, this ardent life, is spent to no purpose. This heart of the world beats without hope; from all this rocking, all this collision of the waves, there results only a little foam stripped off by the wind.
I remember that, sitting on the beach once, I watched the serried waves rolling towards me. They came without interruption from the expanse of the sea, roaring and white. Behind the one dying at my feet I noticed another; and further behind that one, another; and further still, another and another – a multitude. At last, as far as I could see, the whole horizon seemed to rise and roll on towards me. There was a reservoir of infinite, inexhaustible forces there. How deeply I felt the impotency of man to arrest the effort of that whole ocean in movement! A dike might break one of these waves; it could break hundreds and thousands of them; but would not the immense and indefatigable ocean gain the victory?
The ocean neither works nor produces; it moves. It does not give life; it contains it, or rather it gives and takes it with the same indifference. It is the grand, eternal cradle rocking its creatures. If we look down into its fathoms, we see its swarming life. There is not one of its drops of water which does not hold living creatures, and all fight one another, persecute one another, avoid and devour one another… The ocean itself gives us the spectacle of a war, a struggle without truce… And yet this tempest of the water is but the continuation, the consequence, of the tempest of the air; is it not the shudder of the winds which communicates itself to the sea?
There is nothing which is not carried away by the whirlpool of cosmic existence. Earth itself, man, human intelligence, nothing can offer us anything fixed to which it would be possible to hold on – all these are swept away in slower, but not less irresistible, undulations…
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Let us imagine a ship in a storm, rising and falling by a series of curves… If at one moment of the passage the descending curve bears the ship down, and she does not rise again, it would be a sign that she is sinking deeper and deeper, and beginning to founder. Even so is it with life, tossed about on waves of pleasure and of pain: if one marks these undulations with lines, and if the line of pain lengthens more than the other, it means that we are going down. Life, in order to exist, needs to be a perpetual victory of pleasure over pain.”
JEAN-MARIE GUYAU (1854-1888)
French philosopher and poet
Esquisse d’une morale
sans obligation ni sanction
Originally published in 1884.
Quoted from the English translation,
by Gertrude Kapteyn. London, 1898.
Chapter I. Pgs. 42 – 35.
“La Mer”, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
It seems to me quite ironic and ambiguous that a band named Nirvana was actually the living and struggling embodiment of what Buddhists call Samsara. As if he was bound to the wheel of craving and suffering, Kurt Cobain screamed his guts out just like I imagine Prometheus (so beautifully depicted in Rubens’ painting) screamed day after day as the eagle devoured his liver. Nirvana is perhaps the most tragic rock and roll band there was, seen from the perspective of Cobain’s death, but it ‘s also one of the most exciting pages of rock history in the 1990s. It inspired us, with its punkish courage, to take mainstream culture by assault. Off with commercial shitty kitsch! He wanted art to be undiluted expression of raw and true emotion, communicated through the means of songs bursting with juvenile energy, suicidal tendencies, drug experiences, Beatlemania, and an up-bringing in what he called “a punk rock world”.
He violently departed from us, 20 years ago, in April 1994, by blowing his brains out with a shotgun on his 1-million-dollar mansion, chez lui on Trigger-Happy America. When he chose suicide as a way-out-of-the-Samsarian-mess, his daughter Frances was 20 months old and couldn’t possibly understand anything about the struggles of a heroin addict with his condition as an international pop-superstar. Singing as if he was a tree rooted in dark angry soil, his voice seemed to arise from an abyss of suffering, especially located in an intense point of pain inside his belly. That invisible wound made tremendously audible by his music rang so true and filled with authenticity, in an era of poseurs and fakers and hair-metal yuppie cowshit. Lester Bangs once wrote that “expression of passion was why music was invented in the first place”, and Cobain also seemed to believe in this – and he wasn’t ashamed to put his “dark” emotional side, from depression and paranoia to sociophobia and alienation, to craft the punk-rock hymns that turned him unwillingly into The Spokesman Of A Generation. Extraordinarily capable of expressing his feelings, Cobain’s heart poured out of himself like lava from a volcano, letting us peek through a sonic keyhole into the labyrinths of an anguished life seeking release and craving for pain to end.
Cobain’s musicianship was spectacularly exciting and innovative – even though he borrowed a lot from a similar heavy, distorted and fast guitar-sound, similar to the one invented and mastered in previous decades by Johnny Ramones and Mick Joneses – he created out of that something that was distinguishable his own. Cherishing intensity rather than complexity, and emotional catharsis more than rational self-controlness, Nirvana’s music carried within it some much power that the whole thing mushroomed into one of those rares episode in music history when a band becomes History, defines an Era, before burning-out instead of fading-away. I call them “The Exploding Stars”. I would argue, If you permit me to trip a little bit on some stoned hypotheses, that Cobain’s voice spoke to millions, and his music stirred up such an intense commotion, because of the authentic and desperate artistical expression that he was able to create out of his Samsarian suffering. In 1991, the kitsch of American pop culture – from Michael Jackson to Guns’N’Roses – was suddenly kicked in the butt by the 1990s equivalent to MC5’s Kick Out The Jams to the 1960s and Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’ The Sex Pistols to the 1970s.
And here we are, 20 years after he took a shortcut into that land which no voyager ever comes back from (like Shakespeare’s Hamlet said), discussing his legacy and trying to understand his life and his death. Violent deaths occur every day and all the time, of course, and why should the death of a rock star be made so much fuzz about? The thing is: American Culture is deeply influenced by the realm of Pop, which is a money-making-machine mainly, of course, but sometimes explodes out of control and becomes a cultural force that manages to transcend the markets. It becomes something to be dealt with by Art History, by Sociology, by Philosophy, by Anthropology, by Existential Psychology etc. Or do you perhaps think that the more than 60 people who committed copycat suicides after Cobain’s demise in 1994 related to Cobain only as consumers do with manufacturers of products? Could we possibly say that the more than 5.000 people who went to his funeral, and joined in a candlelight vigil, were merely mourning because they had lost one of their hired entertainers? What about more than 50 million records sold (how many billions of downloads, I wonder?): did all these listeners heard Cobain just as a manufactured commodity? No! Cobain had an authenticity arising from the trueness of feeling underlying his music, and this set him apart from everything that was going on in “Mainstream American Culture” in that era.
Nirvana kicked the door to the ground for Underground America to step into the spotlight in 1991, “The Year that Punk Broke” (when Sonic Youth signed to a major; when Pearl Jam and Soundgarden skyrocketed to the top of charts; when Seattle’s scene became “The Big Thing” in a process juicily conveyed by Hype! , the documentary). Violent and untimely deaths happened all around Cobain while he experienced and interacted with people from the music scenes of Aberdeen, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. Prior to Cobain’s suicide, there had been other tragedies in Seattle Rock City: for example, Mia Zapata‘s cold-blooded murder in July 1993, when the singer-songwriter of The Gits (one of the awesomest “grunge” bands that never made it to the Mass Media…) was raped and killed after leaving a bar in Seattle. Or the fatal-OD that took to an early grave Andrew Wood, singer in Mother Love Bone (whose remaining members went on to build Temple of The Dog and then Pearl Jam).
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TWO GRUNGY TRAGEDIES BEFORE COBAIN: MIA ZAPATA’s murder (watch below the full The Gits doc) and ANDREW WOOD’s fatal OD (listen below to the tribute album by Temple Of The Dog, wich contains the grungy-hymn in which Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell share vocal duties, “Hunger Strike”).
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Suicide is common currency in rock’n’roll mythology. The Who had screamed in the 1960s, for a whole generation to hear: “I hope I die before I get old”. Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My” stated that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” – a phrase later to become one of the most quoted from Cobain’ suicide letter. The Dead-at-27 Club had already a plentiful of members – Hendrix, Morrison, Janis… – when Nirvana’s lead singer joined them on this fraternity of bones. His originality was in his means-of-death: he was the first of them to have commited suicide. But did he really choose to leave life in order to become myth? Or such ambitions were not the case for someone craving to escape a labyrinth of angst, rage, stomach-aches, annoying fame, never-ending tours and chronical dissatisfaction? To get back to my point in the beggining of this trip: isn’t suicide, in Cobain’s case, an succesfull attempt simply to blow to smithereens the whole damned Samsara? After all, this man was an extremist not only in art but also in life, and it’s quite possible he entertained extreme notions about what Nirvana was all about.
Nirvana’s music was not Zen at all – it was the sound of fury delivered in packages of Beatlesque melody and punkish attitude. When, 20 years ago today, he chose utter self-destruction, this was hardly a surprising ending for someone who had talked openly about suicide for years and years, and who had previously attempted it some times before, and who almost named the follow-up to Nevermind with the phrase I Hate Mysef And I Want To Die… Not surprising, but still mysterious and fascinating and hard to fully understand. Some writers and interpreters see Cobain’s suicide as something despicable, and criticize him for being a sell-out who couldn’t enjoy his success, or a kid who couldn’t stand his “tummy-ache” and chose some dumb radical medicine. In his article “An Icon of Alienation”, Jonathan Freedland writes, for example, about Cobain’s Last Days (also portrayed in cinema by Gus Van Sant):
“Generation X-ers are meant to be the slacker generation, yet here was the slacker-in-chief living the yuppie dream: married, padding around a $1.1 million luxury mansion with a garden for his baby daughter to play in, and Microsoft and Boeing executives for neighbours. It proved to be no refuge for Kurt Cobain, the boy who had come from blue-collar nowhere and made himself an international star and millionaire. Holed up inside the house overlooking the perfume-scented lake, he pumped his veins full of heroin, wrote his rambling suicide note, and did so much damage to his head that police could only identify his body through fingerprints. Dental records were no use, because nothing was left of his mouth.” – JONATHAN FREEDLAND, An Icon Of Alienation.
Some say some sort of suicide gene or tragic curse ran in the Cobain family: three of Kurt’s uncles had killed themselves. But the picture, of course, is much more complex than the “family tree” explanations wants to admit. It’s well known that Kurt Cobain was deeply pained both by stomach-aches and by childhood traumas (he was, every journalist repeated to exhaustion, the “son of a broken home”). His heroin-addiction, which he justified as a means of self-medication, it seems to relate also to some frantic need to numb his existential discomfort and disgust, to reach periodically some “artificial paradises” similar to the ones experienced by Baudelaire, De Quincey, Burroughs, Ken Kesey and tons of other artists and mystics. But no explanation of his bloody choice of escape from life can be convincing without a discussion about Celebrity, Fame, Success. As Will Hermes wrote in Rolling Stone magazine: “The singer-songwriter, who wrestled with medical problems and the drugs he took to keep them at bay, was also deeply conflicted about his fame, craving and rejecting it.”
That’s what makes Nirvana so interesting: a punk band kicking out the jams in Sub Pop records turns into the highest-selling band in the world and becomes rich on the payroll of a major record company – Geffen. I would like to attempt to reflect briefly upon some of the reasons that explain Cobain’s suicide, but without venturing to give a comprehensive biography of the man or his band – a job already done brilliantly by Charles Cross’s Louder Than Heaven, by the Nirvana bio written by Everett True, or by the documentary About a Son by A. J. Schnack.
Let’s head back to 1991, when Nevermind exploded into the mainstream pop arena and became a cultural phenomenon of huge proportions. This landmark album wasn’t only a big commercial hit, destined to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. It wasn’t only one of the greatest rock’n’roll albums ever made, with songs so powerful that Simon Williams describes them as “savage indictments of the rock ethos, eye-bulging, larynx-blistering screamalongs”. It wasn’t only a passing fancy of youngsters who would completely forget about the band when the next wave of pop novelties came along. Nevermind was an era-defining masterpiece of epic proportions, the most important album of the whole grunge era, the record that stands out in the 1990s as something unique and unsurpassed. It kicked out the jams with its raw power and heartfelt catharsis, and finally punk rock aesthetics and ethics became common currency and were delivered to the astonished masses. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a song named jokingly after a deodorant, and in which Cobain said he was merely ripping off The Pixies, took MTV by storm in 1991 and buried for awhile the Disco-Yuppie-Crap and the Hair-Metal-Bullshit. It kick-started the Grunge Era and opened the gates wide open for the Seattle scene to become immensely influential through Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, and many others. For the first time ever in the U.S., it seemed like Punk Rock was gonna win its battle and inject rebelliousness and dissent into the veins of American suffering from a hangover after the Reagan-years in Shopping Centerish Yuppie America.
“Nirvana have also been seen in sociological terms: as defining a new generation, the twentysomething ‘slackers’ who have retreated from life; as telling unattractive home truths about a country losing its empire and hit by recession; as representing the final, delayed impact of British punk on America. They have also shocked people by trashing male gender codes: kissing each other on the national network show Saturday Night Live, appearing in dresses in the video for their single ‘In Bloom’, doing pro-gay benefits. We may be more used to this in Britain, but America is a country with much more machismo in its popular culture. A sensational appearance on last year’s globally broadcast MTV Awards, where they smashed their equipment and mocked rock competitors Guns N’Roses, sealed their status as America’s bad boys…” JON SAVAGE, Sounds Dirty – The Truth About Nirvana
Nirvana wasn’t political like The Clash, but yet they certainly did a political statement with their career. Kurt Cobain shoots himself in the head and his brains get splattered all over the American Dream – that thing that, George Carlin said, “you have to be asleep to believe in”. Nirvana was much more about a provocation, à la William Burroughs (Cobain’s favorite writer), on the despised Square Society of White America. It’s punkish agression against Yuppie bullshit. It states that music shouldn’t be seen only as product or merchandise, and that it can convey emotions that can “infect” large portions of society with its groove, its stamina, its mind-expansion and energy-raising powers.
Kurt Cobain could be described by psychopathologists as clinically depressed or bi-polar – it’s known he had familiarity with Ritalins and Lithiums and other creations of the Pharmacological Industries in Capitalist America. But Nirvana’s music is not only a downer – on the contrary, Nevermind cointained so much power that it seemed like it was capable of awakening a whole generation out of its lethargy and inaction. But Cobain couldn’t and wouldn’t be the “leader of a generation”, the preacher telling in the microfone for the converted masses which way to follow. He wouldn’t become a parody of himself (“I hope I die before I turn into Pete Townsend”, he said), he wouldn’t be a happy millionaire smiling for the papparazzis, he simply wouldn’t conform to letting Nirvana become a sell-out act of merely market-wise relevance. With his death, he turned Nirvana into a symbol for decades to come, a band never to be forgotten.
“The sleeve of Nevermind shows a baby swimming underwater towards a dollar bill on a fish hook. The intended meaning is clear: the loss of innocence, the Faustian contract that usually comes with money. Take it, but if you do, you’re hooked for life. It’s a parable of Nirvana’s current dilemma: they’ve taken the bait, but the contradictions of their success are threatening to tear them apart. How can the members of Nirvana retain their integrity, which is very important to them, in a situation which demands constant compromise? How can they sing from the point of view of an outsider now that they’re in a privileged position? How can they suffer relentless worldwide media exposure and still retain, in Grohl’s words, ‘the spontaneity and the energy of something fresh and new’ that has marked their career?” – JON SAVAGE
“Teenage angst paid off well, now I’m bored all old”: that was the statement that began In Utero’s sonic ride. In it, Cobain wants to take us with him on his downward spiral, never afraid to let the songs show his inner confusion and Samsarian suffering. He didn’t believe in a loving God acting as a Daddy up above on the clouds, looking out for their pet-children, but rather was seduced by Buddhist notions, for example that of Karma. Nirvana’s music seems like some sort of ritual of Karmic cleansing, in which Cobain attempts, through a visceral outpouring of emotions, especially the ones that are burdensome, to attain some release.
But he didn’t arrive at no Enlightnenment – not even plain and simple piece of mind. In Rome, March 1994, he attempts suicide with more than 50 pills of Roipnol. He couldn’t stand the never-ending tours, the stupid interviews, the persecution by papparazis, the fans acting like Neanderthals, the need to repeat for the thousandth time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – even in those nights when we didn’t felt like doing it. He simply wasn’t able to “enjoy” the ride of popstardom inside the Commercial Machinery of Profit Seeking Corporate America. When Rolling Stone did a cover issue with Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt that read: ‘CORPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK’. Even tough he hated Corporate America, he was immersed in it, and it had the means for him to take his message to larger audiences instead of limiting himself to the narrow world of punk-rock and indie concerts where you only preach to the converted. Nirvana never did corporate rock, but instead they did dangerous music that the industry soon discovered that resounded with millions of people worldwide. To call them “sell-outs” is narrow-mindedness. They tried instead to deeply transform Mainstream culture by taking it by storm. This is one of the most influential bands in the history of rock because it inspired us to reclaim the airwaves out of the hands of those fuckers Terence McKenna talks about in “Reclaim Your Mind”:
He never felt at ease or at home under the spotlight of mass media, gossip magazines, commercial TV shows. Always a punkish outsider and underdog that never quite fitted into the mainstream’s machinery of popstardom, he identified himself with feminists, oddballs, weirdos and other non-conformist and eccentric individuals and urban tribes. He despised pop icons like M. Jackson or Axl Rose, and loved The Pixies, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, all sorts of lo-fi and low-budget underground “indie” stuff. Even tough proto-grungers such as Husker Du’s Bob Mould, Black Flag’s Henry Rollins or The Replacements’ Paul Weterberg done something similar to Cobain both musically and lyrically, neither exploded internationally like Nirvana to wide-spread impact on thousands of lives.
I remember him as punk rock kid from a fucked-up town filled with macho-men rednecks, and who expressed his rage against mainstream American culture with extraordinary talent. I remember him as an aesthetic extremist who loved William Burroughs stoned literature, and who entertained himself in his Aberdeen years with peculiar fun such as watching Faces of Death after eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. I remember him also as a sometimes sensitive and tender guy who had pet-turtles in his bathtub and hated in his guts all sorts of homophobia, misoginy and Neanderthal stupidity. I remember him as a music geek that loved underground music and did everything in his power to invite his audience to listen to his favorite “indie” artists (like Pixies, Breeders, Meat Puppets, Vaselines, Daniel Johnston, Beat Happening, Flipper, Bikini Kill, Half Japanese, Billy Childish, Butthole Surfers…).
David Stubbs, in his article “I Hate Myself And I Want to Die”, writes:
“Rock’n’roll mythology is fed and defined by its occasional deaths. Usually, these are due to some excess or other – driving too fast, getting too high, taking too much, going too far, the romantic pushing back of life’s envelope, testing the limits, wanting too much, wanting it now, forfeiting tomorrow in the bargain. Rock’n’roll mythology dictates that its heroes die because they wanted to live too much. Kurt Cobain, however, didn’t want to live. He wanted to die.”
It can be said that he’s the most perfect embodiment in rock music of Nihilism, that cultural phenomenon which Nietzsche predicted, in the 19th century, that would become wide-spread. Cobain radically acted upon his nihilism, towards his self-destruction, what sets him apart from other famous nihilists, like Emil Cioran or Arthur Schopenhauer, who died of old age and so-called “natural causes”.
The man died, but his deeds are still with us, haunting us like Prometheu’s scream as he’s being eaten by an eagle, inspiring us like a Punk Monument to raw power in an age of slumber, provoking us like a tragic character which awakens us to a life that ain’t no picnic. There’s reason to mourn and get the paralysing blues when we considerer Cobain’s suicide, but there’s also reason to cherish and celebrate a life that has left a legacy that millions of us feel that have enriched our lives. Cobain struggled in Samsara and that makes him a member of a brotherhood called Humanity. Nirvana always sounded to me like the music of a brother, expressing what we, his brothers in suffering, also experienced but were unable to express so powerfully and unforgettably as he did.
“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.
To define force – it is that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was there, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.
Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all of human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths…
Such is the empire of force, as extensive as the empire of nature.”
SIMONE WEIL (1909-1943),
Iliad: Poem of Force, pgs. 3-4-10.
Simone Weil reads the Iliad as if she is witnessing before her compassionate eyes those occurrences evoked by the poet’s verses: she doesn’t turn her face away, refusing to see, when the horrors of war are depicted in Homer’s blood-soaked pages. The war between Trojans and Greeks offers infinite occasions for us to reflect upon Force – especially in its deathly effects. What results from the battles is always men laying lifeless on the ground, “dearer to the vultures than to their wives”, and Simone Weil stresses that even the greatest heroes – Hector or Achilles – are frequently reduced to things by the enemy’s force. “The bitterness of such a spectacle is offered us absolutely undiluted. No comforting fiction intervenes; no consoling prospect of immortality; and on the hero’s head no washed-out halo of patriotism descends.” (WEIL: p. 4)
If there’s a lot of tragedy in the Iliad – and it surely has, even tough it was written centuries before the Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides) were born – it’s because force often is employed with tragic effects. It’s clear to me that Simone Weil uses the concept of “force” to denote something she morally condemns, and in such a manner that one might fell she has affinities with Eastern wisdom, especially Buddhist ethics. For example, D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhist philosopy, in which he opposes Power and Love and describes them as hostile to one another. Force/power is imposed upon a subject in order to reduce him to a thing, either by killing him (and thus forcingly throwing him back into the inanimate world), either by violating, humiliating, opressing or harming him in such a way that the person is still alive and breathing, but is no longer an autonomous subject. “A man stands disarmed and naked with a weapon pointing at him; this person becomes a corpse before anybody or anything touches him… still breathing, he is simply matter.” (WEIL: pg. 5)
A difference or imbalance between the forces of two individuals are excellent evidence of the onthological presence of Simone Weil’s force or Suzuki’s power among all that’s human. Trivial examples abound. Someone with a bazooka overpowers someone with a knife. A knifed man forces an unarmed woman into carnal processes she wouldn’t unforcibly agree to. And there are hundreds of movie scenes, especially in westerns and action blockbusters, that tell stories about this battle of forces and powers. But for millenia before cinema was invented human history cointained in its bosom duels, rivalry, competion – and one of the most ancient of literary monuments of the world, Homer, has blood of battle soaked all over his pages. To speak like a Greek, human history is filled with ágon and húbris.
Weil writes about the Iliad being a French woman in the industrial-commercial age, and surely her experience in Renault’s factory, where she went to work in order to experience in the flesh the fate of the proletariat, informs her reading of History as a whole. The factory’s of the 20nd century are a force that dehumanizes and turns subjects into things, Weil dennounced on her writings La Condition Ouvrière, and she can sense a similar process mirrored in The Iliad.
“There are unfortunate creatures who have become things for the rest of their lives. Their days hold no pastimes, no free spaces, no room in them for any impulse of their own. It is not that their life is harder than other men’s nor that they occupy a lower place in the social hierarchy; no, they are another human species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. The idea of a person’s being a thing is a logical contradiction. Yet what is impossible in logic becomes true in life, and the contradiction lodged in the soul tears it to shreds. This thing is constantly aspiring to be a man or a woman, and never achieving it – here, surely, is death but death strung out over a whole lifetime; here, surely is life, but life that death congeals before abolishing.” (WEIL: p. 8)
In the epoch of the Trojan War, it was destiny of a conquered enemy to become a slave, that is, to be turned into a thing, deprived of autonomy, and Homer describes in some occasions how people are forced into ships, taken away “to a land where they will work wretched tasks, laboring for a pitiless master” (HOMER. Iliad. Apud WEIL: p. 9).
A person enslaved is being treated like a beast, like a horse on reins. 12 Years A Slave, Scott McQueen’s film, is a fresh reminder of these horrors. Simone Weil denounces the inhumanity in human affairs wherever she sees it: be it on a Greek epic-poem or in the factories of the car industry. In this we can see how Simone Weil joins hands once again with Buddhist ethics: she denounces the ways in which misused force, or tyranny, disrespects sentient beings by treating them as if they were inert matter.
What Weil and Suzuki denounce in the workings of Force and Power is that lack of compassion which Buddhist ethics, by dissolving the ego, aims to cure ourselves of. Enlightnement or Nirvana, in Buddhism, can’t be achieved without compassion. It may also be argued that French philosophy in the 20nd century has few voices more compassionate than Simone Weil’s.
“Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. In the Iliad there is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force.” (WEIL: p. 11)
There’s no simplistic dualistic division between the forceful and the forceless in Weil’s philosophy – of course one can be a slave for a whole lifetime, and one can be a master and tyrant from birth to the grave, but force isn’t something a human being can only exert upon others. Nature itself overpowers tremendously each and every one of the sentient and living creatures in its bosom, in such a way that even the most powerful among humans is still a frail thing – and always mortal, transient.
Let’s remember that the Iliad begins when a heated controversy is dividing two very powerful Greeks, Agamemnon and Achilles. This fight for supremacy is all around Homer’s poem, everyone wants to increase his power, and this can’t be done by any other way than at the expense of others. The result of this mad rivalry is huge bloodshed. “He that takes the sword, will perish by the sword. The Iliad formulated the principle long before the Gospels did, and in almost the same terms: Ares is just, and kills those who kill.” (p. 14)
Certainly inspired and influenced by the philosophy of one of her dearest teachers, Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier, 1858-1961, author of Mars ou La Guerre Jugée), Simone Weil is a passionate apologist for philosophy’s powers against inhumanity – because “where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence.” (p. 14) And, she argues, the horrors and tragedies that Homer depicts can also be understood as results of lack-of-reflection, of hastiness to act, of an incapacity to refrain from agression. “Hence we see men in arms behaving harshly and madly. We see their sword bury itself in the breast of a disarmed enemy who is in the very act of pleading at their knees. We see them triumph over a dying man by describing to him the outrages his corpse will endure. We see Achilles cut the throats of twelve Trojan boys on the funeral pyre of Patroclus as naturally as we cut flowers for a grave. These men, wielding power, have no suspicion of the fact that the consequences of their deeds will at lenght come home to them – they too will bow the neck in their turn.” (WEIL: p. 14)
What’s astonishing about these last words is how closely Weil gets to the Buddhist idea of karma. And what’s also touching is how compassionate Simone Weil truly is when she describes those numerous occasions when we fail to treat ourselves as “brothers in humanity” (WEIL: p. 15). But Weil is no Buddhist, and in the text we are following she’s interested mainly in the Greeks and how they also had a concept similar to karma, some sort of “retribution which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force”. She claims this is the “the main subject of Greek thought”:
“It is the soul of the epic. Under the name of Nemesis, it functions as the mainspring of Aeschylus’s tragedies. (…) Wherever Hellenism has penetrated, we find the idea of it familiar. In Oriental countries which are steeped in Buddhism, it is perhaps this Greek idea that has lived on under the name of Karma. The Occident, however, has lost it, and no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics.” (WEIL: p. 16)
In André Comte-Sponville’s philosophy, especially in his Short Treatise Of Great Virtues, Simone Weil’s ethical legacy lives on, and it’s enough to read his wise chapters on “temperance”, “prudence” or “love” to get convinced that France is keeping alive the flame of these virtues, or at least hoping to spread them by inviting more humans to practise them. “A moderate use of force, which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.” (WEIL: p. 20)
In Simone Weil’s ethics, moderation of force, care for the feelings of others, awareness of alterity, are virtues to be practised by those who see themselves as brothers and sisters in humanity. But when we look back at History we have few reasons to be optimistic. And besides, as Simone Weil points out with irony, we still live in times where “there is always a god handy to advise someone to be unreasonable.” (21)
Simone Weil’s writings frequently denounces inhumanities commited by humans. She spreads awareness of our common humanity by showing how frequently we treated ourselves in a subhuman fashion. And it’s not true that only the slaves are turned into subhumans when they are forced into slavery: the master also loses his humanity when he enslaves. And war and slavery are dehumanizing forces because they work towards destruction and death, “yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” (WEIL: p. 22)
Is Weil, then, simply a pacifist, a Gandhian? Or did she approve armed uprisings against the Nazi occupation of Paris, for example? Her condemnation of war, and not only on “moral” grounds, but in a much broader sense, in an existential level, would necessarily lead her to a practice of non-resistance? The answer is hard to give, considering that Simone Weil, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), enlisted to fight against the fascists, and can be seen in a famous photograph with a shotgun in her hand, quite willing to add a little bit of force to the Anti-Franco militias. But Simone Weil was no brute – on the contrary, she was gentleness incarnate, and her personal favorite in the Iliad is “Patroclus, who knew how to be sweet to everybody, and who throughout the Iliad commits no cruel or brutal act.” (WEIL: p. 26)
The possession of a fire arm does not imply the right to brutality or cruelty. Being armed isn’t a license to act with mad húbris. When I think of Simone Weil armed with a shotgun in Spain, willing to fight against Fascism when she saw it dangerously spreading through Europe, I can’t be simplistic about pacifism, as if it was some kind of ethical absolute. I don’t believe it is – and neither did Simone Weil back in the 1930s or the Zapatistas under the guidance of Marcos in Chiapas, Mexico, nowadays.
War turns us into subhumans beasts killing themselves in mad rivalry, but how on Earth are we to build a planetary community in which war has been banned, and ample dialogue and mutual enlightnement between cultures reigns? For thousands of years, war seems to follow humanity, always on its trail. That ideal sung by John Lennon in “Imagine”, the Brotherhood of Man, remains to be futurely made flesh. In Homer’s Iliad Simone Weil sees nothing to be optismistic about, just “a picture of uniform horror, of which force is the sole hero.” (p. 27) But what’s sublime about Homer’s art, the lasting artistic value of ancient epic poetry, lies in the poet’s capacity to portray suffering befalling all – both Greeks and Trojans. Thus it points out to the fact that we’re all brothers in sorrow, and that’s an excellent reason for peace and compassion, as a Buddhist could put it.
“However, such a heaping-up of violent deeds would have a frigid effect, were it not for the note of incurable bitterness that continually makes itself heard. It is in this that the Iliad is absolutely unique, in this bitterness that proceeds from tenderness and that spreads over the whole human race, impartial as sunlight. Never does the tone lose its coloring of bitterness; yet never does the bitterness drop into lamentation. Justice and love, which have hardly any place in this study of extremes and of unjust acts of violence, nevertheless bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent. Everyone’s unhappiness is laid bare without dissimulation or disdain; no man is set above or below the condition common to all men; whatever is destroyed is regretted. (…) Whatever is not war, whatever war destroys or threatens, the Iliad wraps in poetry; the realities of war, never. (…) The cold brutality of the deeds of war is left undisguised; neither victors nor vanquished are admired, scroned, or hated. An extraordinary sense of equity breathes through the Iliad. One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan.” (WEIL: p. 30 – 32)
For Simone Weil, the poet who wrote the Iliad acted with marvelous impartiality, and sang about the misfortunes and losses, about the victories and triumphs, of both sides of the conflict, in such a way that Greeks and Trojans are shown as co-participants of a common process. “Attic tragedy, or at any rate the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles, is the true continuation of the epic. The conception of justice enlightens it, without ever directly intervening in it; here force appears in its coldness and hardness; (…) here more than one spirit bruised and degraded by misfortune is offered for our admiration.” (p. 34) The enduring existential value of such art lies in this: to be aware of human misery is “a precondition of justice and love”, claims Weil. (p. 35)
When Simone Weil affirms that “misery is the common human lot” (p. 35), she’s once again approaching a landscape familiar to Buddhists: one of the Four Noble Truths enounced by the enlightened Sidharta Gautama is “all is suffering”. From this awareness springs compassion. Love, justice, compassion, can’t arise without the clear perception of our brotherhood in suffering. However, it’s clear as water that, even tough she was born in a Jewish family, Simone Weil is deeply suspicious of the doctrines and dogmas of Judaism:
“With the Hebrews, misfortune was a sure indication of sin and hence a legitimate object of contempt; to them a vanquished enemy was abhorrent to God himself and condemned to expiate all sorts of crimes – this is a view that makes cruelty permissible and indeed indispensable. And no text of the Old Testament strikes a note comparable to the note heard in the Greek epic, unless it be certain parts of the book of Job. Throughout 20 centuries of Christianity, the Romans and the Hebrews have been admired, read, imitated, both in deed and word; their masterpieces have yielded an appropriate quotation every time anybody had a crime he wanted to justify.” (p. 36)
Belief in gods is seen as highly problematic in Simone Weil’s philosophy, even tough it would be an exageration to call her an atheist, considering the intense mystical impulses that she manifests so vividly in her ouevre. What Weil can’t stand is the arrogance of those who use religion to falsely believe they are superior to the rest, that they are immune from evils that will only befall others. When religion leads to the denial of our common humanity, Weil rejects it: “the only people who can give the impression of having risen to a higher plane, who seem superior to ordinary human misery, are the people who resort to the aids of illusion, exaltation, fanaticism, to conceal the harshness of destiny from their own eyes.” (p. 36)
We still have a lot to learn from the Greeks, including its great epic poet, and Simone Weil admires Homer’s Iliad so much that she claims that
“in spite of the brief intoxication induced at the time of the Renaissance by the discovery of Greek literature, there has been, during the course of 20 centuries, no revival of the Greek genius. Something of it was seen in Villon, in Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and – just once – in Racine. To this list of writers a few other names might be added. But nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them. Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius, when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another question.” (WEIL: p. 37).
These words also sound, to my ears, in tune with Buddhist ethics, especially for the praise of compassion for the suffering of others. And of course that within the realm of The Other we should include Life-As-A-Whole, and not only human life. The Buddhist notion of “sentient beings” is such a great idea, methinks, because it describes something much vaster than Mankind, something that, without being a god, certainly transcends the individual self. Dogs and cats, lions and owls, sunflowers and worms, they all belong to the great family of the living, they are all sentient beings, even tough the degree of self-cousciousness greatly varies.
If both Simone Weil’s philosophy and Buddhist ethics are worthy of our attention, study and discussions, methinks it’s mainly because of the imminent ecological catastrophes that will quake our future and will shatter the current “Western Way” of dealing with Nature. Or, to put it in another words, it won’t be possible for the West to continue in its industrial-commercial path, on its productivist húbris, in its crazy consumerism meddled with egotisticall individualism, simply because the Earth’s biosphere won’t stand for it – and if we keep on going in the same direction, we can only expect mass-scale tragic consequences arising from so much atmospherical pollution, fossil-fuel burnings, deforestations, oil spills… A wiser relationship with Nature urgently needs to emerge from the cultural slumber of destructive capitalism – or else we’re damned.
“Westerners talk about conquering Nature and never about befriending her. They climb a high mountain and they declare the mountain is conquered. They suceed in shooting a certain type of projectile heavenwards and then claim that they have conquered the air. (…) Those who are power-intoxicated fail to see that power is blinding and keeps them within an ever-narrowing horizon. Love, however, transcends power because, in its penetration into the core of reality, far beyond the finiteness of the intellect, it is infinity itself. Without love one cannot see the infinely expanding network of relationships which is reality. Or, we may reverse this and say that without the infinite network of reality we can never experience love in its true light.
To conclude: Let us first realize the fact that we thrive only when we are co-operative by being alive to the truth of interrelationship of all things in existence. Let us then die to the notion of power and conquest and be resurrected to the eternal creativity of love which is all-embracing and all-forgiving. As love flows out of rightly seeing reality as it is, it is also love that makes us feel that we – each of us individually and all of us collectively – are responsible for whatever things, good or evil, go on in our human community, and we must therefore strive to ameliorate or remove whatever conditions are inimical to the universal advancement of human welfare and wisdom.”
(D. T. Suzuki, The Awakening of Zen, “Love and Power”, pg. 70)
WEIL, Simone; BESPALOFF, Rachel. War and Iliad. Preface by Christopher Benfley. New York Review Books Classics, 2005.
SUZUKI, Daisetz Teitaro. The Awakening of Zen. Edited by Christmas Humphreys. Boston: Shambhala, 1980.
* * * * *
(Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes, at Awestruck Wanderer,
Toronto, Canada. March 2014.)
“Among Nietzsche’s works there is a strange book which bears the title Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It consists of 4 parts, written during the years 1883-85, each part in about 10 days, and conceived chapter by chapter on long walks – “with a feeling of inspiration, as though each sentence had been shouted in my ear”, as Nietzsche wrote in a private letter. (…) Zarathustra is a book of edification for free spirits. Nietzsche himself gave this book the highest place among his writings. The book contains all his fundamental ideas in the form of poetic recital. Its merit is a style that from the first word to the last is full-toned, sonorous and powerful… always expressive of self-joy, nay, self-intoxication, but rich in subtleties as in audacities.
Behind his style lies a mood as of calm mountain air, so light, so ethereally pure, that no infection, no bacteria can live in it – no noise, no stench, no dust assails it, nor does any path lead up. Clear sky above, open sea at the mountain’s foot, and over all a heaven of light, an abyss of light, an azure bell, a vaulted silence above roaring waters and mighty mountain-chains. On the heights Zarathustra is alone with himself, drawing in the pure air in full, deep breaths, alone with the rising sun, alone with the heat of noon, which does not impair the freshness, alone with the voices of the gleaming stars at night. A good, deep book it is. A book that is bright in its joy of life, dark in its riddles, a book for spiritual mountain-climbers and dare-devils…
“Upon the mountains one should live”, says Zarathustra. And with blessed nostrils he breathes again the freedom of the mountains. His nose is now released from the smell of all that is human. There sits Zarathustra with old broken tables of law around him and new half-written tables, awaiting his hour; Zarathustra teaches that exiles shall you be from your fatherlands and forefatherlands. Not the land of your fathers shall you love, but your children’s land. This love is the new nobility – love of that new land, the undiscovered, far-off country in the remotest sea. To your children shall you make amends for the misfortune of being your fathers’ children. Thus shall you redeem all the past.
No doctrine revolts Zarathustra more than that of the vanity and senselessness of life. This is in his eyes ancient babbling, old wives’ babbling. And the pessimists who sum up life with a balance of aversion, and assert the badness of existence, are the objects of his positive loathing. He prefers pain to annihilation. The same extravagant love of life is expressed in the Hymn to Life, written by his friend, Lou von Salomé, which Nietzsche set for chorus and orchestra:
“Hymn To Life” by Lou Andreas-Salomé
Surely, a friend loves a friend the way
That I love you, enigmatic life —
Whether I rejoiced or wept with you,
Whether you gave me joy or pain.
I love you with all your harms;
And if you must destroy me,
I wrest myself from your arms,
As a friend tears himself away from a friend’s breast.
I embrace you with all my strength!
Let all your flames ignite me,
Let me in the ardor of the struggle
Probe your enigma ever deeper.
To live and think millennia!
Enclose me now in both your arms:
If you have no more joy to give me —
Well then—there still remains your pain.
In the video above, hear Nietzsche’s “Hymn To Life” for chorus and orchestra. Lyrics by Lou Salomé.
BRANDES, Georges (1842-1927). Nietzsche. Haskell House Publishers, New York, 1972.