On The Geneaology of Morals/Ecce Homo, by Friedrich Nietzsche

On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce HomoOn the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I find it difficult to write a review of a philosophical work; difficult because it is initially put upon the reviewer to agree or disagree with an idea, but one must first summarize–and by doing that, one has already levied judgment.” -me

I wrote that passage on the back page of my copy of this text. The page number I referenced before writing this thought is page 326, which contains the quote from Ecce Homo (1900): “I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy: you will guess why I publish this book before; it shall prevent people from doing mischief with me” (emphasis original). Walter Kaufmann, the translator, notes that Ecce Homo was not published until 1908, eight years after Friedrich Nietzsche’s death; eight years after Peter Gast proclaimed at the funeral of his friend: “Holy be thy name to all coming generations” (326). I find this first quote significant for many reasons, and it is the one I will deal with during the entirety of this review.

First, it is important to note what I am reading. This text is one of Nietzsche’s final works. In fact, as the note states, it was published posthumously–not the classical way of familiarizing oneself with a great philosopher, of this I am aware. My interest with Nietzsche began long ago through references by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jasbir Puar, but the first actual text of his that I encountered was: A Nietzsche Reader. This text is organized thematically, and is a good primer for Nietzsche’s writing. That being noted, I began this text with the later Ecce Homo, not the earlier On The Genealogy of Morals. The former text contains Nietzsche’s personal account of his own writing; from The Birth of Tragedy (1872) to The Case of Wagner (1888), and with everything else in between. But I was not reading it for that textual investigation; I was reading it because of the “Why I Am” essays.

You may have heard of them (“Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” etc.), or maybe you passed them in the bookstore and thought “What a pompous ass this Nietzsche fellow is!” I guess so. But I read them because I thought myself clever as well. Actually, I had made this same statement to two people on New Year’s Day 2013; namely, “I am so wise,” spoken with earnest pride. Then the seed was planted, and I went to the local used bookstore the next day to purchase this text after having seen it there over one month prior.

English: Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think one ought to approach Nietzsche in this manner: with a positive interest and happy conjectures, seeking gainful contemplation. Without that, one may happen upon an unhappy and lonely man writing manifestos for the Third Reich; but if that is the case, then one has read foolishly and done grave mischief to Nietzsche. This is quite specific mischief, and it is settled throughout Ecce Homo. If anything, one should take away from this text Nietzsche’s disgust for the Germans, his absolute abhorrence of nationalism, and his utmost desire to be understood. I shall lift another quotation circa 1900: “let the Germans commit one more immortal blunder in relation to me that will stand in all eternity” (Ecce Homo 324). Wie Stören…

But I digress.

For me, reading Nietzsche isn’t about a grand idea or accumulating argumentative munitions against religion or morality, but about approaching art and life with a new and refreshing understanding. I cannot imagine attempting to decipher exactly what point or lesson or utilitarian application the reader was supposed to infer from Nietzsche’s master/slave morality detailed in On The Genealogy of Morals, but I can apply his thesis on ressentiment to the integration of the tragic figure into popular culture, starting with Arthur Miller’s essay on his own Death of a Salesman (1949), entitled “Tragedy and The Common Man” (written the same year). [Essay forthcoming]. It seems to me that Nietzsche is a referential adviser; not a person to whom one should read, digest and discard; nor an author whom one should carry in one’s back pocket; but, rather, an author one should consider from time to time, if only to contemplate our world from a different angle.

Many will advise not to approach Nietzsche lightly, but to consider him gravely and with steadfast measure. I disagree entirely. Approach Nietzsche when you are up, not down; when you have found happiness, not when you seek it; when you are ready to say YES to life, not when you feel it at its heaviest burden. Nietzsche is someone to be taken lightly; without weightlessness one cannot ascend to, and descend from, the great heights he offers; one cannot comprehend his Zarathustra; and one cannot read him free of mischief. So, with this in mind, you are sure to find answers in the divine human that is yourself, before you find them in the Nietzsche whom so many so desperately and despondently seek.

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The Exclamation Point and The Rorschach Test

I have a fatal cyber flaw: I cannot grasp internet sarcasm. I am now wondering if this makes me old (read: unhip), or whether this makes me just not quite cut out for the Internet (capital “I”). Either way, I blame the exclamation point!

errors!Did I just yell? Did I laugh? Was I angry? You will never know. There must be some level of exclamatory congruity brewing across this great cybersphere; there must be some level of mutual understanding: “yes, the exclamation point means this, this or this, depending on the context.” Obviously, it is emphasis of some sort, right? Yes. Ok? Agreed. But! (Interjection) Here is the real crux: I just presume everyone on the internet is being genuine. Sheesh. That was like an AA meeting:

“Hi, my name is Shawn, and I presume all people on the internet are genuine.”
Let’s all welcome Shawn: “Hi Shawn!”

Damnit! What just happened there? Were they excited to greet me? Are they angry with me? Does that (!) emphasize their voices in unison? Oh, man! (Crap…) There it is again. That last time I think it signifies consternation, but I cannot be sure. Although, now I think we are getting to the bottom of this (!) mystery: the signifier. Oh, that slippery signifier. I would like to thank Jacques Lacan and Ferdinand de Saussure (two people I will NOT be naming my unborn sons after!) for this mysterious signifier; this tender, unreliable thing that invokes and evokes meaning of a unique thing to each and every individual and conjures up images of unique things and memories that tangle (and tango) with other memories, colors, smells, making us unique in our (physique) ambitions, talents, thoughts, actions and desires. Sheesh. Signifier. How ’bout a demonstration?

(I read that last paragraph and think of loveable, furry, old Grover. Remember him? Blue. Monstrous. Real skinny. Flailed his arms a lot. Wandered around Sesame Street. Unassuming. Loves words, letters, soup. Dressing up as a waiter, superhero, cowboy, etc. He had this frequent skit where he would be discussing a thing, say an (!), and that thing, say an orange, foam, 2-foot tall (!) with a little black wire near the bottom that I started to only notice later on in my childhood, would just pop up while he was discussing it. The cool part is that Grover was completely surprised! He was all like, “AAAHHH!!! (Grover yelled a lot, not in a frightening way) WHAT is this thing!?!?!” And then it would go away. He would begin talking about it again, and then BLAAM! The foam (!) would show up! Right in the middle of him talking about the actual thing! Talk about your return of the repressed! Crazy. Anyhooo. Where was I?)

(Oh yeah!) What have we learned? So, the (!) means different things to different people: signifier. And I assume you are all being genuine (you nice folks, you). What is left? Oh, ugh, another confession: I write blog posts either smiling, slightly laughing, or convincing myself that something that does not appear funny actually is funny. Not in a mad-scientist-y way. No. More like a: “Shawn, you are hilarious!”-type of way. Which leads me to my next point: I blame the exclamation point because it tells us about ourselves.

Mr. Johnson (Sesame Street)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The exclamation point is our very own Rorschach test: it reveals to us exactly what we want to see. When I come across an exclamation point in an internet comment, I usually see happiness, laughter, humor, an interjection, or surprise. I cannot locate cynicism. I do not read it. And I do not speak it. I feel as though I need an (*) for every time I use a (!), just to make sure that the commenter believes that I too am genuine. As though I need to convince them ever so desperately, “Listen! I mean it! I truly do! It is not sarcasm!!!” I want them to see my ink blot. My Rorschach. I also want them to see loveable, furry, old Grover perhaps repeatedly attempting to serve a bowl of hot alphabet soup during a windstorm to this other dapper, blue fellow who always yells “Ohhhh, waiter!” with lips hidden behind a glorious, old-school mustache as an obvious signifier of sophistication and learning and the antithesis to Grover’s unkempt, shaggy blue hair, inept social skills, abhorrence of any and all contractions, and inability to secure steady employment leading him to later adopt a schizophrenic, Quixotic personality and dawn a billowing, red cape and an often faulty, metal helmet so that he may be better rescue precious kittens from trees and us from ultimately misunderstanding (!). Whew! Loveable, furry, old Grover. Taught me everything I know about (!).

Thanks everyone. Hope you enjoy!

The Plague: A Conversation

The Plague: A Conversation

-Hey, man. It’s John.
-Hey buddy, what’s up?
-Yeah, nothin’. Listen man, Jesus, I don’t know how to say this: I can’t come in to work tomorrow. I have the plague.
-I can’t come in to work… I have the plague.
-What the hell are you talking about?
-I know. It’s crazy, but I found out today that I have the plague.
-Like: The Plague? The Black Plague?
-Is there another one…?
-Well… I… I don’t think so. Wait a minute. This is bullshit. Are you fucking with me? Do you really have The Plague?
-Like the one from, like, the 13th century? Wasn’t that in Europe?
-And you can’t come in to work?
-NO! I have the friggin’ plague! And yes, I’m going to be alright. Thank you.
-How long will you be out?
-I don’t know? Jesus, man. I have the fucking plague.
-Okay. Well, if it’s more than three days you have to bring in a note.
-You want me to bring in a doctors note stating that I have the Bubonic Plague…?
-Yeah. Weird, right?
-Okay. Um. I’ll talk to the doctor. But that’s the weirdest fucking thing I have ever heard of.
-So, like, are you contagious?
-You’re kidding, right?
-I don’t know!!
-God damnit….
-Listen, can Katherine cover your shift tomorrow?
-You want me to call her?
-If you could.
-I have the friggin’ plague!!
-Okay. Okay. Alright. I’ll call her. Sheesh, calm down. You know, it’s not exactly a “plague” if only one person has it. Isn’t it something else then?
-You cannot be serious. Like, a handful of people still contract it in the United States. So, yes, it’s still a friggin’ plague. Jesus.
-Well, I don’t know.
-Fucking Google it, man.
-So, um, dude, I have to ask… did you get bit by a rat?
-You are a moron. You are truly a moron. Yeah, it’s carried by rats. But seriously, it’s carried by animals that host fleas. No, before you ask, I don’t have fleas.
-I wasn’t gonna…
-I don’t know how, alright! The doctor said it could be from another person who may have been carrying it. It’s airborne, man. It fucking sucks.
-Yeah… Well, um, feel better…
-Let me know as soon as you can when you can come back. I mean, you know… Katherine is here, and Scott, and Theresa. But Theresa is starting school again soon… and Scott can’t work Sunday mornings… so…
-Alright. Alright. I’ll let you know when I no longer have The Black Plague! Jesus.
-Thanks, man. And, well, I’m sorry.
-Sorry… for what?
-You know. That you have The Plague.
What? Dude, I’m not a customer. You don’t have to apologize to me. Sheesh.
-I don’t know. It seemed like the right thing to say. What do you say to someone who has the plague? Oh, man, Theresa is gonna flip out!
-Don’t tell anyone!
-Are you kidding!?!
-NO! I’m dead serious.
-“Dead serious”?
-Fuck off.
-No really. I can’t tell anyone? This is, again, sorry, hilarious!
-Dude, I’m gonna fucking kill you if you say anything! People are gonna look at me sooo strange. And, Theresa is never gonna let me touch her again.
-That’s exactly why I wanna tell her!
-Okay. Okay. I’ll keep it under wraps. You are “sick” and absent for an undetermined amount of time. You know, you should really contact corporate.
-You okay?
-I have the plague…
-I know, man. I know.


Simulacra and Simile: This Post is Really, Like, Super Important

“That really, seriously just happened, like, literally, two minutes ago.”

As an English major and an adjunct professor of English/Humanities, many people make some pretty classic assumptions about me: I’m a grammar nerd, I’ve read every classic work of Literature you name from memory, and I detest slang. Well, none of those are true: I haven’t, until recently, paid enough attention to grammar, I read more Said, Marx, and Spivak than Defoe, Shelley, or Austen in my MA program, and I love how slang functions and defines a culture.

I want to put this post into context. Over the last one and a half years, I have made three trips to Germany to visit my gf. ZeitDuring that time, I have been listening to Pimsleur German audio in my car to improve what remains of my very limited high school and college German language and grammar skills. I’m going to focus on two characteristics about the German language that distinguish it from American slang, and reveal a particularity about American culture.

First, you have to listen to the entire German sentence to know what is happening! (Because the verb comes at the end. For instance, in the last sentence, the word “listen” wouldn’t come until the end). Second, time is very, very important, and usually occurs before location or the verb. The more specific, the better. So, what does this tell us about American slang?

Well, our discourse is quite general and often hyperbolic. Words such as “really,” “seriously,” and “literally” are attempts to make a language that is general, specific. They are adjectives that replace specific knowledge, or rather, the communication and therefore required memorization of specific times and places. Let’s take the intro quote as an example: the words “really,” “literally,” and “seriously” are added for emphasis. Again, they serve to bolster the non-specificity of general language. But why? Why do we need these words to reenforce the measurement of time?

The first reason is because of the event’s relation to the present. Something that just happened only occurred within a specific time period. SimulacraA phenomenon occurring sixty minutes ago did not just happen. Although, something occurring within 15 minutes may have just happened. To make sure to close that gap we add the adjective “seriously” to emphasis the now-ness of the event. With the advent of “seriously,” the time gap then shrinks to a minute or two of now-ness. The term “literally” conveys a sense of believability, both on the speaker and listener’s part. It is not that we do not trust what the other has to say, but simply that we do not trust that a phenomenon happened to them—something I will discuss later. What is at the core of needing these repeated and quite superfluous emphases? One simple word: “like”.

“You should, like, seriously read this.”

Like is a simile (“a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of different kind; method of comparison”); it is also “similar to” and “in the manner of,” “appropriate to,” “as though,” and finally, informally, “used in speech as a meaningless filler or to signify the speaker’s uncertainty” (all definitions from my Mac Dictionary). The last one is my favorite, yet it does not convey the true cultural significance of the word like. For that, we need another example. This time with a verb.

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit.”

I know you’ve heard this conversation. You may even have had this conversation! No worries, though. Slang is a significant method of socialization when eliminating those not, um, biologically speaking, the most fit for secure reproduction, e.g. “cool”. Ahhemmm… Now that we got that out of the way, I ask you: What did Gill do today? Did he throw the football around? Well, technically, no. When Gill uses the simile “like,” he states that he did something like throwing a ball around. He performed a simulation; therefore, he may or may not have thrown the football around. We don’t know. So, he didn’t throw the football around. So what? Well then, smarty-pants, if Gill is stating to you that he didn’t do something that he says he did, then how does he reverse that negative “not doing”? He uses emphasis. Now watch.

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit. Man, once, Lill threw it really hard and I had to run superfast to, like, just catch it, you know?! That was crazy.”

Finally! Gill has provided some much needed emphasis in order to substantiate his earlier claim that he was throwing the football around. The words “really” and “superfast” provide hyperbole that negates this nothingness of simulation, proving to his friend that he actually did do something! He did so much of something that he really did this something! And it was amazing! Really!

What’s important in this post and our understanding of slang is not to dismiss it as insipid, stupid, useless, or a tripe form of communication. Rather we should notice that those overused adjectives betray the postmodern value of a simulation—as nothing really happening directly to us; as the televised launch of the Gulf War; as Jane Austen updated with zombies. The point is: you don’t need anything to actually happen to you (although it does make events richer). You don’t really need to read Pride & Prejudice to get the zombie version, and you don’t really need to hold a gun to be cynical/sympathetic of war. So, when our state of non-being and non-experiencing bumps in to reality, we swing the pendulum back and must overuse hyperbolic adjectives in order to prove that we actually lived…

Thanks for reading everyone. I would love to read your comments. Really, I would.

Collected Stories of Garbriel Garcia Marquez

Collected StoriesCollected Stories by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“‘What I like about you,’ she said, ‘is the serious way you make up nonsense.'” –Innocent Eréndira from, “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother”

Eréndira’s quote is for her lover, Ulises, but it is what every reader who has ever fallen in love with Garbriel Garcia Márquez’ writing wished he or she had stated about him. For me, this quote sums up my feelings about Márquez. Whenever I pick up his texts, I prepare myself for the most serious nonsense in Literature, and I have not been disappointed.

I came across Márquez’ short stories only after reading 100 Years of Solitude some months ago, and only after reading 100 Years did I notice Márquez’ name in my Literature Anthology, Literature: A Pocket Anthology, and promptly added his short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” to the syllabus of my English 220: 20th Century Literature course. Unfortunately, my students were not as thrilled with Márquez as I, but my passion and interest must have been quite visible; and this is all I ask of myself in the classroom.

Since that first reading, I have re-read that story three times. The second time was out loud to a friend—the very person who ignited my interest in Márquez (she had not read any of Márquez’ short stories). And the last time was during my reading of these collected stories (I couldn’t resist reading it again). I won’t analyze each story—I’ll leave that for someone else—but I will say this: you can feel Márquez’ arc of writing as you progress through this collection. I was lost in the first 5-6 stories, comprising the first section “Eyes of A Blue Dog”. They felt like an assault on my comprehension of what a short story should be; they seemed more like very long poems or digressions. But once Márquez stories became ensconced in the locale of Macondo (the infamous city of 100 Years) with “Monologue of Isabel Watching it Rain in Macondo,” then the stories took off.

Nearly half the stories in the second section, “Big Mama’s Funeral,” touched on a minor character or unexplored theme of 100 Years, and in this section is where you can see Márquez magic realism come to life. I imagined these tales as either addendum’s or the tempered beginnings to 100 Years; and although these stories exist well upon their own, they are far richer when you are aware of the history of the town’s inhabitants.

Each story in the third section, the title story of the intro quote, is a dream. It is like a moving Picasso painting. It begins with “A Very Old Man,” which sets the reader up for intense “serious nonsense”. The next story, “The Sea of Lost Time” is absolutely magical. There is no other word for it but Magical. The cast of characters that weave in and out of these tales are simply wonderful, and like the reader, they simply must accept all fantastical things that come there way. These stories must be far less enjoyable for those who do not accept the authority of the author. If he writes that an angel appeared in this normal couple’s back yard, then it must be. It is only when the reader accepts these notions that he/she is allowed to function in Márquez’ world. Without accepting just one crazy phenomenon, then none of the others are possible; so, one must accept them all with eyes wide open and inhabit a wonderfully magical and folkloric world.

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