Nov. 1 questions & notes

Austen

Again the key question to begin thinking about now is:  what do the fates of Lydia and Mrs. Bennet mean?  is it not the case that Austen tells us to find them both morally seriously flawed?  if so then why does she leave them not only unpunished but rewarded?

Nietzsche

Here are some important terms and passages (extra-super important ones in bold) to keep an eye out for as you’re reading.  Numbers refer to chapters not pages.  As a step toward organizing Nietzsche’s thought I’ve categorized them into very broad themes, but this is just an heuristic and to be taken with a big grain of salt:  Nietzsche uses his aphoristic style precisely to achieve a level of complexity and subtlety that resists this kind of categorization.

I.  GRATITUDE FOR ILLNESS/DRAWING COMEDY FROM TRAGEDY

  • Prefaceintoxication of convalescence; this tyranny of pain even excelled by the tyranny of pride that refused the conclusions of pain–and conclusions are consolations; the voluptuousness of a triumphant gratitude
  • 1. the short tragedy always gave way again and returned into the eternal comedy of existence.
  • 13. pain always raises the question about its origin while pleasure is inclined to stop with itself without looking back.
  • 301. The higher human being always becomes at the same time happier and unhappier.
  • 307. We negate and must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm.
  • 337. even the poorest fisherman is still rowing with golden oars!
  • 349. in nature it is not conditions of distress that are dominant but overflow and squandering, even to the point of absurdity.

II.  PHILOSOPHY AS EROTIC ART

  • Preface: truth is a woman (cf. 339 and the quote from Beyond Good and Evil below); those Greeks were superficial–out of profundity.
  • 56. Neediness is needed.
  • 107. Art as the good will to appearance.
  • 279. star friendship
  • 283. the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment isto live dangerously!
  • 290. one thing is needful–to give style to one’s character
  • 291. personal infinity
  • 295. Brief habits
  • 304. By doing we forego.
  • 319. We ourselves wish to be our experiments.
  • 339. life is a woman.
  • 344. will to truth might be a concealed will to death.
  • 345. all great problems demand great love.
  • 374. the world [has] become ‘infinite’ for us all over again, inasmuch as we cannot reject the possibility that it may include infinite interpretations.

III.  LOVE OF FATE/INTELLECTUAL CONSCIENCE

  • 2. The intellectual conscience
  • 109. Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident.
  • 125. God is dead…and we have killed him!; Deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard.  This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars–and yet they have done it themselves.
  • 276.  Amor fati
  • 335. We want to become those we are; long live physics, and even more so that which compels us to turn to physics–our honesty!
  • 341. the greatest weight (the eternal recurrence)
  • 343.  our sea lies open again

Finally, regarding Nietzsche’s likening of life and truth to a woman (in 339 and the Preface), consider the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil (which is also closely to related to the notion of making a “passion of one’s problem,” and to the whole project of a gay or joyful science):

“SUPPOSING that Truth is a woman—what then? Is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women—that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman? Certainly she has never allowed herself to be won; and at present every kind of dogma stands with sad and discouraged mien—IF, indeed, it stands at all! ….the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error—namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself. But now when it has been surmounted, when Europe, rid of this nightmare, can again draw breath freely and at least enjoy a healthier—sleep, we, WHOSE DUTY IS WAKEFULNESS ITSELF, are the heirs of all the strength which the struggle against this error has fostered. It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the PERSPECTIVE—the fundamental condition—of life….But the struggle against Plato, or—to speak plainer, and for the “people”—the struggle against the ecclesiastical oppression of millenniums of Christianity (FOR CHRISTIANITY IS PLATONISM FOR THE “PEOPLE”), produced in Europe a magnificent tension of soul, such as had not existed anywhere previously; with such a tensely strained bow one can now aim at the furthest goals. As a matter of fact, the European feels this tension as a state of distress, ….we GOOD EUROPEANS, and free, VERY free spirits—we have it still, all the distress of spirit and all the tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the duty, and, who knows? THE GOAL TO AIM AT….”

Keats

1.  According to stanzas one and two of the Ode on Melancholy, why should we resist suicide?  does the final stanza not describe something like self-sacrifice? if so what makes this different from suicide?

2.  In his letter of 21 April 1819 to his brother George and his wife, Keats says that instead of speaking of the world as a ‘vale of tears’ we should call it ‘the vale of soul-making;’ what does this mean?

Zizek

1.  What is the difference between the “truth-experience” and a “truth-effect” (172)?  (nb. Zizek without explanation has Nietzsche stand (i.e. take the blame) for post-structuralist relativism.  Whether or not you buy this conclusion I hope you’ll find plenty in The Gay Science, especially on the themes of amor fati and intellectual conscience, to seriously complicate it.)

2.  What does the question of the possibility of metalanguage have to do with myths of the origin of state power, like that of Freud’s primal parricide and Hegel’s master and slave and Rousseau’s noble savage? The answer has something to do with Lacan’s claim that “the ethical imperative is the mode of the presence of the Real in the Symbolic” (182).  So a metalanguage like the aforementioned myths are according to Zizek necessary though impossible fictions:  they structure the world of social phenomena; it would be impossible to perceive the world of social phenomena (and in particular the phenomenon of social purpose, that the society we’re participating has something to accomplish, has a point) without presupposing the kind of explanation they provide; but by the same token they could not assume phenomenal form without “materializing their own impossibility by their patent absurdity” (175).  When we try to get to the essence or origin of the social world all we find is the empty imperative to, effectively, be social. It’s this empty form of the imperative that these impossible fictions sustain.  There’s no way of opting out of this imperative; it is constitutive of the bedrock, non-negotiable “Real.”  Hence Zizek paraphrasing Kant (and, implicitly, Burke) says that “we cannot penetrate the obscure origins of power because we should not do so (because by doing so, we put ourselves outside its domain and so automatically subvert its legitimacy)” (185).

3.  “The Spirit is a bone” refers to Hegel’s account of phrenology, which argues that if this pseudo-science exercised normative authority in its historical context, then in this context it was in fact that case that spirit animated the skull bone.  This is the kind of “patently absurd” (175) explanatory proposition whose manifest impossibility demonstrates its underlying necessity:  hence “we succeed in transmitting the dimension of subjectivity by means of the failure itself, through the radical insufficiency, through the absolute maladjustment of the predicate in relation to the subject” (234).

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47 Responses to Nov. 1 questions & notes

  1. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I don’t believe that Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are “rewarded.” Getting exactly what we want or think we desire is seldom really a reward as I think many of our readings have indicated. And Austen is very clear that Lydia is likely to suffer greatly from her poor choice of husband. Elizabeth is very disappointed about it, though there is nothing that can be done to better the situation. Lydia got what she wanted– which was to marry Wickham, but she will soon discover the folly of her choice. She is only lucky that her friends were able to prevent him from completely disgracing her by leaving her to make her way on the streets.

    Mrs Bennet I suppose did get what she wanted despite the fact that she did not deserve it. But her daughters certainly did so I don’t believe it was she who was rewarded but her daughters. The fact that she desired it strikes me as irrelevant.

    • boearle says:

      fair enough; but in general i’d be wary of calling anything in an artwork irrelevant: if it’s there, then i’d say it’s part of our duty as critics to offer some account of what it’s doing there. we could say it’s there to represent the role of accident and contingency in life, that things don’t always illustrate some moral logic or justice. but this would be to explain its relevance, that it has something important to say.

  2. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Ok yes– fair enough. I just felt that the focus of the question on Mrs. Bennett was perhaps misplaced because she is not the heroine. If she hadn’t got what she desired the bigger question would be why hadn’t Elizabeth and Jane got what they wanted.

    I don’t believe the book is about people getting what they deserve, I think it is precisely the opposite– about getting better than you deserve. Lizzie is mindful of the fact that she has made a mistake about Darcy, so as an audience we want her to be forgiven for assuming he was the villain. It’s too bad that Lydia and Mrs. Bennet do not come to the same realisation about their own behaviour, but it would be a very sad book if they were to get what they deserved and Lizzie forced to suffer for it in spite of having repented for her former prejudices against Darcy.

    This reminds me of Kierkegaard’s reason for why we should not ask for judgement on others– that to punish others we punish ourselves. If Lydia and Mrs. Bennet had gotten what they deserved–had been disgraced– the whole family would have been disgraced. Perhaps Austen’s aim was the illustration of grace?

  3. Rhiannon, I was interested in your reflection on Austen’s stance on Kierkegaard’s reason for why we shouldn’t judge others harshly– “that to punish others we punish ourselves.” If, from the get-go, Elizabeth had acted with grace instead of judgement towards Darcy, she would not have “misjudged” his character to the extent of refusing a wedding proposal that would later be revealed as desirable. This would have shortened and hollowed the book, so it’s important that it was included so that it’s clear that it would be better off not included. (Paradox…except not really because it’s the story of fictional characters, and not the story of humans.)

    And if the Bennet family (or for Elizabeth it’s not ‘if’, but ‘when’, in the scene where Wickham tries to have a one-on-one conversation with Elizabeth) acted with grace towards Wickham then, instead of a reader just taking for granted that the marriage will be unsatisfying for the parties involved, we come to understand that only Wickham and Lydia can be the judge of that. And for the time being, things seemed to have worked out pretty smoothly and satisfactorily for both of them, from their perspectives. Lydia has an exciting officer husband and is married before her older sisters and Wickham has his debts taken care of and a supple young sex partner.

  4. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Haha! Ahem yes…Wickham was a lucky man. Though he IS stuck with the silliest girl in England. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that what we get in life is ALWAYS better that what we think we wanted at first– at least it’s better in the long run. And that trying to control our circumstances can be detrimental.

    Prejudice to me, seems a sort creative autonomy–our tendency to want to control the relationships we have with others by illustrating people’s characters for ourselves and drawing up schematics for the way in which we expect them to behave based on this illustration. (Like Freud’s little boy playing “gone” –testing and reinforcing the permanence of the boundaries).

    Which is exactly what Elizabeth does to Darcy– I mean, it’s really what all the characters do to each other (except good old Jane). And I would argue everyone does that all the time to some degree. We put people in categories. And I think in Austen, this prejudice –or the way in which we relate to people based on our own preferred illustration of their characters–is revealed to be damaging and isolating when it is taken too seriously or treated as an end in itself. It becomes totalitarian in a way.

    Stop me if I’m full of it.

    But i think that our relationships with others are inherently creative. Which is why Burney is compelled to create a whole world (with a sense of ending) in solitary confinement. It isn’t just the disorientation of being cut off from nature (and time) which drives this creativity, it’s the need to fill the void between him and his fellows from which he is cut off. Nature abhors a vacuum. I would argue that most creative efforts are there to fill that void which divides us from others– the greater the gap the greater the creativity (love poetry?). In other words creative efforts serve a purpose–to help us connect with each other. But if they become prejudices– if we use them to assert our autonomy, our control over our relationships they actually do the opposite– they cut us off from people. As Elizabeth discovered. She was so wrapped up in her own prejudices about Darcy and Wickham that she completely misread their true personalities. Wickham too, was so obsessed with his view of Darcy as a villian that he did nothing but harm to himself and others.

    This making me think about Negative Capability now and the sort of openness to allowing our creative impulse to be changeable instead of stubborn and autonomous– to be prejudicial. And it also reminds me of the Kierkegaardian love and grace– that to be connected to God we must be connected to others and therefore not divide ourselves from others by prejudicial judgements that damn their characters, but offer grace and love by allowing others to be co-creators in the relationship with us.

    Is any of this making sense?

    • boearle says:

      i was also reminded of this when i read paul simon’s review of steven sondheim’s new memoir:

      “The title of Stephen Sondheim’s new book (the first of two volumes), “Finishing the Hat,” comes from a song in his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Sunday in the Park With George,” about the 19th-century artist Georges Seurat, whose painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” inspired the score. The song is the epiphany Seurat experiences, allowing him to complete his painting even as he realizes his model and lover has left him for another:

      And when the woman that you wanted goes,
      You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
      But the woman who won’t wait for you knows
      That however you live,
      There’s a part of you always standing by,
      Mapping out the sky,
      Finishing a hat . . .
      Starting on a hat . . .
      Finishing a hat . . .
      Look I made a hat . . .
      Where there never was a hat.

      The book “Finishing the Hat” becomes a metaphor for that feeling of joy, the little squirt of dopamine hitting the brain when the artist creates a work of art. It’s a feeling so addictive the artist is willing to forgo love in order to experience artistic bliss. It could be a metaphor for Sondheim’s love of songwriting.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/books/review/Simon-t.html?ref=books

      • Alyzee says:

        This poem sounds just like Nietzsche in “Our ultimate gratitude to art” (107), when he says art is a counterforce to honesty which leads to “nausea and suicide”. Because of our embracing the untrueness of art, we can use it as a realm of play apart from the “eternal imperfection” of ourselves, of the world – this imperfection is seen in “I give what I give” – this response to loss is accepting the karmic imbalance that led to the woman’s leaving the speaker. (It’s not “I get what I give” – the loss her is painted as a random cruelty that happened to the speaker. “I give what I give” suggests that he can “give” nothing other and do nothing other than “give”)

        The following lines about “the part of you that’s always standing by” is the part that’s blissful, above and apart from the weightiness of subjective attachment. He is “mapping out the sky”, too full of wonder in the artistic process, to be plagued by the hurt of loss. The trailing off lines suggest the trance that the speaker is in, cut off from the world of value and morality, and powerlessness against the errors of perception. Nietzsche talks about keeping this floaty foolishness alive to escape the heavy world of honesty for its therapeutic effect, but also so that we are able to “find pleasure in wisdom” – is this just something he says to convince the reader who he assumes wants to “dispense with art”? Does Nietzsche think it is possible to stay only in the happy world of artistic process? Or do we need both to appreciate both? For Nietzsche, is there anything at all to be gained by being grave and serious, “contemplative” of the morality around us?

    • Alyzee says:

      I wonder if Elizabeth’s prejudice/creative autonomy is uncharacteristic of her in general, but was activated by Darcy’s snub at the beginning of the novel,. I say this because in Ch. 9 Elizabeth says how much she enjoys “studying character” (29) and that she never could tire of this pastime (as Darcy suggests she would in the country): “But people themselves alter so much that there is something new in them to be observed forever.” (29). This suggests her openness to changing her notions of people, rather than a cemented first impression.

      She does not really observe Darcy, like you say Rhiannon, “with openness”, allowing her creative impulse to be changeable, when he admits his defect of being unforgiving (“My good opinion lost once is lost for ever” [40]). She reads his confession as “a propensity to hate everybody” – if she was predisposed (prejudiced) toward liking him, she might wonder what “offences against himself” that Darcy is thinking of. Mr Darcy’s replies to her retort with a smile: “And your…[defect] is to willfully misunderstand [him]” – oddly, Elizabeth’s defect amuses him, maybe even gets him to fall for her. (Darcy a masochist? He pursues her even though she is full of these angry one-liners. Does he enjoy the power he obviously has over her? Is it obvious to him?)

      I find the vice Darcy confesses to well describes Elizabeth’s attitude towards Darcy, whereas Elizabeth disrupts Darcy’s notion of the narrowness of country folk with her cleverness and vivacity. Given the great power pre-conceived notions have in the novel, I think Darcy’s appreciation of Elizabeth’s complexity, even while she is at Longbourn, is a tribute to his openness of observation.

      Darcy has a chance to try and confirm his prejudice at Rosings (neutral territory) by his comment/question about how Elizabeth “cannot have a right to such very strong a local attachment”, how she could not “always have been at Longbourn” (119). If Elizabeth had responded that she was actually educated elsewhere, and that she finds herself a total misfit at Longbourn, Darcy could have retained his views about country character. However, that she remains a inexplicable to him is still to Darcy’s benefit – he could have stalked off with any opinion of her, but chose to find out more. As we see after Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley, her view of Darcy may not have been trustworthy to begin with, and only changes with her agreeing to believe that she might have been mistaken.

  5. boearle says:

    this is an excellent discussion! what you (rhiannon) say makes me wonder whether disappointment is not a necessary condition for this kind of enriching creativity. a word of wisdom i learned from this amazing video (which if you have an hour i’d highly recommend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo ) is: ‘experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want’). so i wonder if mrs. bennet and lydia think they’ve realized their desires in a way that actually forecloses this creativity?

  6. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Yes that very well may be and (while I don’t have an hour at present because the kids are STILL awake) the idea of experience being “what you get when you don’t get what you want” rings very true to me.

    But I would not say “disappointment” is necessarily a condition for creativity, though perhaps it is for enrichment. Disappointment is what we feel when we don’t get something we not only expect to get but also desire. Shock is what we experience when we simply get something we didn’t expect– that something might be something which hurts or disappoints us or it might be something we never dared to hope for but fervently desired. And I think that creativity–whether it manifests in the form of a relationship or a work of art– is something that can occur from shock or mere disappointment.

    I am thinking of Jane here– who also got precisely what she wanted but far from what she actually expected or hoped for. She did not need to do quite so much growing as an individual as Elizabeth did, but I am convinced that she is there as Austen’s ideal. And her relationship with Bingley is the picture of the way people ought to behave to one another– how to live selflessly, how NOT to exercise autonomy over our relationships with others but instead participate in a co-creatorship, allowing both ourselves and others a share in who we make ourselves to be.

    Most of us however are not humble Janes. So yes, the shocking disappointment of a threat to our creative autonomy seems more often than not the catalyst for creative enrichment. It is the only way to grow closer to a kind of creativity which no longer needs enrichment because it is already so rich in itself.

  7. boearle says:

    i see what you’re saying, but while i agree that austen wants us to admire jane i think jane can’t be austen’s ideal because austen recognizes a much higher level of complexity in the world than jane does. the only person in the novel whose wit and acuity and circumspection matches than of austen’s narrator is elizabeth. jane is totally blameless and admirable, but elizabeth represents a heroism jane lacks because she undergoes an experience that teaches her to recognize a complexity and nuance in the world and herself that is just beyond jane’s ken.

  8. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Oh Aron– I should say regarding “judgement” I think we very much need to redefine our terms here.

    When you talk about judgement I get the distinct impression that your idea of “judgement” is purely negative. Whereas I would argue that /discerning/ judgement is not only a good thing, but positively vital to happiness and enrichment. I don’t believe Austen (or Kierkegaard for that matter) are suggesting that we should not be discerning– quite the opposite. It was positively Mr. Bennet’s JOB to make discerning judgements about the behaviour of Lydia and Mrs. Bennet and Austen is very clear that his failure to do so–and to act on those judgements–was wrong.

    Being able to make discerning judgements is precisely what we lose when we focus on our prejudicial judgements. That is why Lizzie failed to judge Wickham’s character correctly.

    So I do not believe that Lizzie was at all wrong to judge /discerningly/ that Lydia had made a poor choice. Where she would have been wrong– according to the Christian/Kierkegaardian view– is if she had desired that Lydia and Wickham would have /suffered/ for their poor choice.

    It seems to me that we are altogether prejudicial about our idea of “judgement” being purely negative these days to the point of disallowing people to be discerning lest it offend anyone. It’s quite ridiculous, if you’ll pardon my saying so, and as Austen will tell you, it allows for all kinds of mischief to occur. Not being judgemental does not involve switching off your brain and pretending everything is fine. It means not condemning people to damnation– which only good /discerning/ judgement can bring about.

  9. I agree that judgement is not presented as something to be avoided, but rather something inevitably limited and contextual. As I said, without judgements, the book would be short and dull and describe action without exploring how action relates to thought. But of course, the goal of discerning another’s character, positively or negatively, is a necessary fiction: we must work to discern others characters lest we become absolute moral relativists or “yuppy hedonists” (to use a Zizekian term) without taking our judgements as anything more wide-spread or permanent than they “are”.

  10. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I’m not 100% sure I follow you. But I would make the point that the book would also be short and dull without Lydia and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s /lack/ of judgement too– of the discerning kind I mean.

    • Would it really be shorter without Lydia and the Bennet parents’ lack of discernment? I think not: if it weren’t for the audience’s connection with the discerning inner thoughts of characters (mostly Elizabeth), the lack of discernment of her relations would be free from discernment and not contribute to the intricate play of conscious civility and more personal, less thought out, urges, that makes up the meat of the book.

  11. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    But my point is that the central conflict of the whole novel is that Elizabeth misjudges Darcy’s character–she LACKS discernment because of her pride. She was slighted at the Meryton ball and chose to judge Darcy’s character on the spot without any good discernment between the real evidence and her own hurt pride. Elizabeth is just as culpable as her relations throughout the book– the only difference is that she realises her mistake, her misjudgement of Darcy, her lack of discernment between a gentleman (Darcy) and a rascal (Wickham)– and her consequently shameful behaviour towards both of them. She did not recognise her motives in her illustration of their characters until Darcy gave her the letter.

    Lydia and Mrs. and Mr. Bennet and the others who behave with such impropriety also lack discerning judgement to guide their behaviour which exposes them to ridicule and contempt. Mrs. Bennet openly talks about having Jane married off to Bingley at the ball and gossips about others within earshot. And she’s utterly rude to Darcy because of her preconceived notion of his character. Mr. Bennet is not careful to check his younger daughters in their exhibitionism because he’s too busy laughing at them. And The younger Miss Bennets are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t realise what asses they are making of themselves.

    SO I’m not quite sure I follow you and this is why I think that we need to redefine our terms here. When I say “discernment” I mean the good kind of judgement that not only applies to our impressions of others but also an awareness of ourselves in those impressions. This awareness of themselves is what all the characters lacked– including Elizabeth. Am I making sense?

  12. I hear your Rhiannon, I just don’t think it’s so simple. When Elizabeth originally judges Darcy as negative, I don’t see this as her misjudging Darcy’s character, but rather just judging him from her perspective and awareness at the time–she doesn’t LACK discernment but discernment “fails” her from the perspective she later comes to hold as true in which Darcy is all of a sudden a good potential hubbie. It seems to me that Elizabeth has determined, retroactively, the meaning of everyone’s actions based on her newly discerned (personal) sense of how the world ought to be. When you discuss her hurt pride at the Meryton ball then, I don’t think as a reader we can say what is or isn’t “good” discernment or “real” evidence. Rather, we can discern what Elizabeth and others in the book consider proper discernment based on their own sense of contemporary conventions of civility. And based on our reading of the second death (necessary illusion of end time reckoning), there is no “real” evidence but rather, changing ways to decipher evidence, the “real” one perhaps being the one that Austen reveals to her reader through her free indirect discourse.

    So Elizabeth only misjudges Darcy from the perspective that she wants to marry him. Elizabeth doesn’t lack discernment but her discerning sense develops and shifts. And Darcy is not objectively a gentleman and Wickham, a rascal: Darcy is a rich societally lauded dude who doesn’t need to be subversive in order to live a happy and wealthy life. Wickham on the other hand was born to a lower sphere and if he wants to be as ballin as some of the fancier people, he’s gotta be a sneaky rascal, but not in a “good” or “bad” way, in a way that can be explored like, from my perspective, Matt Damon’s intricate lovable and despicable character in The Talented Mr. Ripley. So it isn’t that “she did not recognise her motives in her illustration of their characters until Darcy gave her the letter” but rather that her motives in her illustration of their characters has shifted.

    I agree that at time, “Lydia and Mrs. and Mr. Bennet and the others who behave with such impropriety also lack discerning judgement to guide their behaviour which exposes them to ridicule and contempt.” This ridicule and contempt though is only apparent though through the discerning internal thoughts (of mostly Liz) that Austen allows us to read. The younger Miss Bennets are only making asses of themselves if we buy into the entitlement of the Burkean inertia that their society upheld.

    When I say “discernment” I mean judgement, because there is only a good and a bad kind of discernment/judgement from various contexts and perspective. These perspectives change throughout the novel thereby changing what would constitute ‘good’ or ‘bad’ judgement. THIS awareness is what all the characters lack– including Elizabeth. And this awareness is therefore emphasized, perhaps unintentionally, making a seemingly conservative book propel revolutionary explorations of reformations that take into account everyone and not just the rich elite.

  13. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I completely disagree with you. If I understand what you’re saying that is. Do you mean to suggest that the folly of the characters is only folly because it goes against the rules of propriety in Regency England? That whether they were wrong to behave the way they did is really just relative to perspective?

    Because I would argue that it is not. The reason their behaviour is contemptuous is not just because it violates the arbitrary rules of propriety, but because it is self-focused and narcissistic. It is the opposite of Kierkegaardian grace.

    And Austen was a fan of Burke. I’m not sure if I understood your point, but it sounds like you’re suggesting that P&P was really all about revolutionary social change– which I would have to completely disagree with. Though I suppose you did mention that if it’s there as a theme it was unintentional. No offence, but if Austen was actually trying to argue the opposite then twisting her argument on it’s head doesn’t make the book “propel” these arguments for social change. It just means you disagree with Austen– which is perfectly valid.

    But I’ll admit I’m really not sure if I follow your argument. Maybe you could illustrate it with examples from the book so I get a clearer picture of what you’re getting at?

    • The idea that Austen was so effective in her portrayal of the intricacies of socializing, to the extent that she actually contradicts her intended “message” (if there was a message), was an idea we discussed in class a few weeks ago. I don’t think I had considered that the text could so effectively usurp control from an author till Professor Earle brought it up.

      But I was very interested by your proposal that P&P goes beyond exploring the validity of arbitrary social convention, critiquing instead the underlying and objective vice of narcissism. In our discussion about the change in Elizabeth’s understanding of Darcy and Wickham, and the quality or presence of discernment in Lydia, and Miss Bennet, as opposed to Elizabeth, I didn’t find that Austen made narcissism out to be a negative thing though, but rather, explored the role of narcissism within the structure or framework of society and relationships.

      • For example, I feel like Elizabeth becomes more self-focused and narcissistic upon deciding that she would like to marry Darcy, whereas beforehand she was less concerned about her irrational love (narcissistic?) and more concerned about “rules of propriety in Regency England.”

      • (Also, check out the Gay Science reading: it expands in length on this idea that “in any large-scale accounting, when we reflect on the whole a little longer, we become suspicious of this neat division [between useful and harmful or good and evil] and finally abandon it…”)

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        I disagree– I don’t believe that Elizabeth becomes more narcissistic when she falls in love with Darcy. I think her affection for Wickham is narcissistic because it is born out of his flattery.

        Darcy does quite the opposite– he doesn’t tell her what she wants to hear and he doesn’t puff her up. He’s honest with her–perhaps a little too honest– but the point is he doesn’t make her feel good about herself at all. She falls in love with him– or perhaps becomes open to the idea of falling in love with him– when she realises that she had misjudged his character due to her own petty prejudices–in spite of how crappy he made her feel about herself. The realisation opens her eyes and she is able to appreciate all the good things about him.

        I don’t suppose we could argue that her love for him was completely disinterested–it would be very hard for her to notice that he is not only a good man, but that he comes with all these worldly recommendations too (attractiveness, wealth, taste). I’m not sure that noticing these attributes– or being able to appreciate them, even desire them, is narcissistic. You wouldn’t say that we shouldn’t date people we find attractive because it’s narcissistic or that we should only have relationships with people who’s taste we abhor for the sake of disinterestedness. You wouldn’t purposely seek out relationships with poor people simply to say that you don’t love them for their money. Money, attractiveness, and taste are not bad things, they are only bad if they are your primary object regardless of any natural feelings.

        Her openness to falling in love with him certainly wasn’t narcissistic. The willingness to see his merit was not about personal gain at all. She’s quite devastated to learn she was wrong about him because it reveals to her just how bad her behaviour was and her family’s. That’s the opposite of narcissism. A narcissist does not admit their mistakes. They are not humbled and Elizabeth was certainly humbled.

        But it sounds to me like your definition of narcissism is radically different than mine…

        (PS– I read the Nietzsche, and violently disagree with that particular passage of his…)

      • It’s super fitting to hear that you violently disagreed with that part of Nietzsche. As he says, “We deny, and must deny, because something in us wants to live and affirm itself, something which we perhaps do not as yet know, do not as yet see!*” (307)

        (*Which followed the section: “Something now appears to thee as an error which thou formerly lovest as a truth… But perhaps that error was then, when thou wast still another person-thou art always another person…”(307))

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Haha! So I can’t win then eh? Well maybe you can explain what Nietzsche meant exactly because it sounds to me like Nietzsche (and you) are arguing for complete moral relativism. And suggesting that any kind of judgement is born of blind plebian ignorance and fundamentalism.

        I’m not suggesting that things are always (or even often) black and white. I’m just saying that narcissistic, judgemental, and self centred behaviour is blinding and that it isolates us from our fellows to our own detriment. Which is what Kierkegaard was talking about– and what Austen illustrated. That’s not ignorance or fundamentalism– that’s just observation.

        Perhaps you’ll argue that *my* observation is only evidence of *my* perspective– but I resist the conclusion that there are no such things as facts– only perspectives. By that logic, there an be no logic or truth– so why are we even bothering with this class?

        I’m sorry I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I’m just really really old and this is as exciting as my weekends get 😉

      • it’s the necessary illusion: it may only be a matter of perspective, but if perspective is everything then it’s surely enough to create logic, truth, and judgements.

        Happy Halloween!

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        (I’m totally just teasing you now so take it all with a grain of salt)

        Your argument reminds me very much of the old argument “There’s an invisible cat on that chair”– the more I deny it the more I prove your point. Incidentally, I might present you with the same Nietzsche quotes and suggest that you “deny” moral absolutism because something in you “wants to affirm itself” and that moral relativism is the “truth” you will discover as “error.” If you deny it– you really only prove my point don’t you?

  14. Carmel Ohman says:

    In response to Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” … (Sorry Aron and Rhiannon; I’m a little P&P’d out at the moment).

    I was particularly drawn to Section 343, “The meaning of cheerfulness,” because I identify with the feeling of being overwhelmed by infinite possibility – dwarfed by an open sea of knowledge and thought that is at once thrilling and terrifying. This feeling is what I love about this class and, simultaneously, what I hate about it. It seems to me that all that inhabits the space beyond our framework of understanding, all that taunts us with its unattainability, necessitates strong emotion of some kind; the unknown has the capacity to incite severe disgust and uneasiness, but it can equally bring about feelings of “gratitude” and “amazement” (Nietzsche section 343). In his discussion of the “new and scarcely describable kind of light” (section 343) induced by the breakdown of human frameworks of understanding – frameworks which attempt to impose meaning upon that which is inherently beyond the human realm of significance – I believe Nietzsche is alluding to the philosopher’s capacity to experience both pain and joy in face of the unknown. It could be described as a sadomasochistic desire or love, a love for that which is painful, for there is something infinitely upsetting about the limits of our understanding and the inadequacy of the human mind. If a love of truth necessitates an awareness of one’s failures, it follows that philosophers must subject themselves to the reality of their painful inadequacies at every turn. I think that Nietzsche believes that a recognition of our failures, though, is a more reliable source of consolation than those ludicrous frameworks of understanding, the purveyors of which feel “compelled to play the teacher” (section 343) and ignorantly pursue the assimilation of worldly objects, events, and feelings into their spheres of insufficient meaning.

    Nietzsche’s assertion that “our sea lies open again” (section 343) has at its core a recognition of his own inadequacy as well as a deep-felt excitement at the horizon being swept of false pretense and imposed meaning. He is only able to cultivate a cheerfulness in face of this vast, unknown landscape because he recognizes his own inadequacy; only in this awareness is he able to set forth to explore the shadowy depths of possibility.

    • Alyzee says:

      Carmel, I agree with you about the terrifying and thrilling feeling of being faced with a vast expanse of undeciphered (perhaps undecipherable) knowledge. Do you think that the spaces outside our framework of understanding make one uneasy by the part of ourselves that wants to stay within the comprehensible symbolic order, and make one amazed and grateful by the part of ourselves that crave the second death (the end of our symbolic order)?

      It seems that the hope offered by the “approaching gloom” (343) is that is signifies an end to the intolerable Now – the sense that things will change, the world of European morality will be shaken and something – no one can say what! – will begin to take its place. The writer seems to be enjoying the thrilling vertigo of being at world’s end on two counts 1) it is a triumph for him to see the world that caused him pain threatened and hopefully destroyed tomorrow 2) the open sea of possibility that dreaming of a new dawn supplies him with is a source of endless hope precisely because he cannot ever know the specifics of the new order he anticipates – I guess if he could predict the future anything that made him happier would also make him unhappier (301) being a “higher man” and all – I guess the joy resides in being unconstrained by one’s insufficient understanding, that offered to us by the symbolic order, and being faced with the open sea.

      Since the open sea must escape description, we cannot tame it with language. There seems to be a joyous relinquishment of power on the part of the writer – he’d rather “float” on openness than demarcate horizons. This joy seems also to come with a radical blankness of the mind, that might contradict the writer’s praise of the kind of hyper-awareness of “contemplative” people, a category he includes himself in. Is the happy blankness supplied by being at open sea a result of being aware enough of the constructed nature of ideology to be able to step outside it – perhaps the over-stimulation of the contemplative mind would also create a need to be faced with infinite and unknowable possibility?

  15. Natassia Orr says:

    It seems significant that Keats begins by imploring the reader to “go not to Lethe” (1), the river of forgetfulness. Drinking from the river erases all memory and experience–arguably, erases the person. Since dead souls were made to drink from the river Lethe before they were reincarnated, the reference makes suicide seem pointless. If one commits suicide, then one has to start over again from the beginning. The goal, to escape melancholy, is not achieved. Death will “drown the wakeful anguish of the soul” (10), but the sleeper will awake to a reality that inevitably possesses a melancholic aspect. Suicide is futile.

    I’d agree that there is an element of self-sacrifice: accepting melancholy means being “among her cloudy trophies hung” (30), being under her dominion. Melancholy is the kind of overwhelming force that can hide a “green hill in an April shroud” (14), something much larger than a single person. Melancholy is described as a kind of fit, something which takes over a person and completely controls their mind or their body. For a while, at least, autonomy is surrendered to melancholy.

    I think the difference lies in the fact that suicide is meant as a permanent action, while being ruled by melancholy is not necessarily so. Beauty, Joy and Pleasure are all passing things, so Melancholy must be too. Fits pass. Sorrows can be glutted and defeated. Clouds form and dissipate. Essentially, Keats seems to be saying that while there is life, there is hope.

  16. quick comment @ Rhiannon in response to: “I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that what we get in life is ALWAYS better that what we think we wanted at first– at least it’s better in the long run. And that trying to control our circumstances can be detrimental.”

    It sounds like you’re talking about a Christian notion, that all things work out for the best, and even better; but in that context it only applies to people who ‘love God’ and not anyone else. In this context, for the christian there can be no (personal) tragedy.

    But for the modern, naturalist man I think this is hardly the case. This life is definately not the “the best, in the best of all possible worlds”. When people try to comfort themselves by saying “it turned out for the best” they just lack the imagination of the ‘what if’; It usually also expresses itself as “i couldn’t imagine my life any other way” and that is the point: it’s a lack of imagination. It’s also the same with regret: when people say “i have no regrets”; i dont understand that, because we often make mistakes that ruin our lives, and to not regret them would be to ignore reality.

    It’s like that question “why do you beat your wife” (it only allows for one kind of answer, one that incriminates you) in the same way, we accept the ‘now’ because we have no other option; but we also pretend it is the best now possible…

    although i do agree with you in that i think that ‘control’ is very dangerous; but i guess that is a looong topic.

    so, along these lines, what does Austen’s ending mean? Is it a kind of grace? is it mercy? is it a complete disconnect from reality and tragedy? i’ll have to think more about this..

    • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

      Hi Cristina!

      Well I hadn’t thought of it that way– though yes I suppose it is a Christian way of putting it. I was thinking more about how trying to control our circumstances is so often a detrimental thing– and that leaving things be can often bring about the best possible outcome. Like Jane’s modest behaviour and patience vs Lydia’s scandalous elopement. And numerous other examples. Stressing over something that isn’t happening is never helpful.

      Also Keats would not have called himself a Christian necessarily but his idea of negative capability is very much about taking what life throws at you as a “soul-making’ experience– something enriching, even if it is painful. But as you point out this very much involves the imagination.

      I’m with you on the “no regrets” business. I don’t think we ought never to mourn our mistakes– or pretend we don’t make mistakes (which I find is often the subtext for that assertion)– but acknowledge our pain, and our mistakes and use them to better our lives and ourselves. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger– that sort of thing. This is what Keats was referring to when he talked about a “vale of soul-making” as opposed to a “vale of tears and sorrows”

  17. Mandy Woo says:

    Keats in his letter of 21 April 1819 re-names the world as a “vales of tears” to one of “Soul-making” in order to demonstrate the possibility of metalanguage. Delineating identity is not necessarily about categorization (“common cognomen”) but defining oneself through language (“till each one is personally itself”). This process is what Keats refers to as “Soul-making” by which he exposes the myths of the origin of state power as belonging to one interpretation, such as that “redeemed by a certain arbitary interposition of God and taken to Heaven”:

    One of the myths of the origin of state power is that it exists as outside or independent of time. Keats takes great care in tracing the chronology of the “c[h]r[i]stian scheme” to show how the myth is time-bound and overlaps with that of others. The “World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming […] sense of Identity” that myths insist on, that they have the best world, is shown to be misleading in terms of its “Elemental” name as there is nothing irreducible about mirror images existing in different “Schemes”. Establishing any sort of “Parent[age]” is to “penetrate the obscure origins of power” (Zizek 185) and so by not participating in negative capability with regard to the myths, Keats “automatically subvert[s] its legitimacy” (185):

    Keats’ “world of Circumstances” is trapped in circularity, an infinite regression that loops back onto itself, and points out, like Zizek, there is no essence to the social world. To “be social” is an empty imperative because it is speaking of a future action that has not yet occurred and it is through the act of sociability that the language of the time is re-established, re-invented, and subverted. Metalanguage always follows language of the time. Both are creative fictions, but, in Keats’ words, “use of the [social] world” perpetuates the temporary “immortal[ity]” of metalanguage, the “highest terms for human nature”.

  18. Mandy Woo says:

    Keats in his letter of 21 April 1819 re-names the world as a “vales of tears” to one of “Soul-making” in order to demonstrate the possibility of metalanguage. Delineating identity is not necessarily about categorization (“common cognomen”) but defining oneself through language (“till each one is personally itself”). This process is what Keats refers to as “Soul-making” by which he exposes the myths of the origin of state power as belonging to one interpretation, such as that “redeemed by a certain arbitary interposition of God and taken to Heaven”:

    It is pretty generally suspected that the c[h]r[i]stian scheme has been coppied from the ancient persian and greek Philosophers. Why may they not have made this simple thing even more simple for common apprehension by introducing Mediators and Personages in the same manner as in the he[a]then mythology abstractions are personified-Seriously I think it probable that this System of Soul-making-may have been the Parent of all the more palpable and personal Schemes of Redemption, among the Zoroastrians the Christians and the Hindoos. For as one part of the human species must have their carved Jupiter; so another part must have the palpable and named Mediator and Saviour, their Christ their Oromanes and their Vishnu

    One of the myths of the origin of state power is that it exists as outside or independent of time. Keats takes great care in tracing the chronology of the “c[h]r[i]stian scheme” to show how the myth is time-bound and overlaps with that of others. The “World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming […] sense of Identity” that myths insist on, that they have the best world, is shown to be misleading in terms of its “Elemental” name as there is nothing irreducible about mirror images existing in different “Schemes”. Establishing any sort of “Parent[age]” is to “penetrate the obscure origins of power” (Zizek 185) and so by not participating in negative capability with regard to the myths, Keats “automatically subvert[s] its legitimacy” (185):

    I began by seeing how man was formed by circumstances-and what are circumstances?-but touchstones of his heart-? and what are touchstones? but proovings of his heart? and what are proovings of his heart but fortifiers or alterers of his nature? and what is his altered nature but his Soul?-and what was his Soul before it came into the world and had these provings and alterations and perfectionings?-An intelligence-without Identity-and how is this Identity to be made? Through the medium of the Heart? And how is the heart to become this Medium but in a world of Circumstances? . . .

    Keats’ “world of Circumstances” is trapped in circularity, an infinite regression that loops back onto itself, and points out, like Zizek, there is no essence to the social world. To “be social” is an empty imperative because it is speaking of a future action that has not yet occurred and it is through the act of sociability that the language of the time is re-established, re-invented, and subverted. Metalanguage always follows language of the time. Both are creative fictions, but, in Keats’ words, “use of the [social] world” perpetuates the temporary “immortal[ity]” of metalanguage, the “highest terms for human nature”.

  19. Vlad Cristache says:

    I. Melancholy, For-With

    In “Ode on Melancholy” Keats is, to begin with, claiming that we should resist suicide because if we wouldn’t it would “drown the wakeful anguish of the soul” (line 10). It is important to stress his conclusion here: “anguish” is “wakeful,” it is productive (not in the sense of capitalist production, which can instead be termed “reproduction”). Suicide would mean cutting off our ability to rest within (or tarry with) the negative and melancholy: what we previously termed “negative capability.” The “free play” that Kant’s aesthetics puts forward (between the imagination and understanding) would be foreclosed and with it our possibility to create “new” concepts.

    How does Keats mean us to avoid suicide, however? In some sense the answer is tautological, and I’ll come back to why it’s so.

    The difference between the first and second stanza is minimal but as such all the more crucial. In the first stanza he tells us to keep away from certain flowers: “[w]olf’s bane” (2) “nightshade” (4) and “yew-berries” (6) all of which recall Lethe: they bring death-forgetfulness. In the second stanza he tells us to instead “glut [our] sorrow on a mo[u]rning rose” (5) and “the wealth of globed peonies” (7). In other words, instead of using flowers to deal with our melancholy, we should use flowers to deal with our melancholy. This is not the tautological answer that I was alluding to; this answer is, in fact, only seemingly redundant. The minimal difference is that while the first stanza is full of allusions to myth, the second is not, so that the first set of flowers are “mythical” while the second are, we could say, merely “symbolic.” In other words, the way of dealing with melancholy in the first stanza, the way that Keats wants us to avoid, is that of making recourse to past “myths” instead of producing some of our own. Importantly, this recalls Kermode’s point that our fantasies (while being in solitary confinement) should not be “paradigmatic fictions” (161), and accord to the genre of tragedy, but rather “include the acceptance of inexplicable patterns, mazes of contradiction” (163), and be post-tragic. The tautology then is that Keats means us to avoid suicide – and therefore what I’ve termed “reproduction” – by avoiding “reproduction.” But we can’t expect a clear philosophical argument devoid of fallacies from Keats; instead: mazes of contradiction.

    In this “avoiding flowers through flowers” what we find, once again, is the Hegelian “negation of negation” (as interpreted by Zizek). Keats is denying he/she who says “I will get rid of my melancholy through these flowers (/drugs/suicide)” by showing that in fact flowers themselves are the highest expression of melancholy. He’s re-appropriating the power of flowers. The dichotomy “melancholy vs. escape” is broken down to the benefit of the former. He almost pre-figures Zizek in showing that the “negation of the negation” doesn’t result in a synthesis but, rather, the realization that any attempt at escape is a further step into the trap.

    This is most evident in the third stanza, when Keats subverts any attempt at a Hegelian “synthesis.” He begins with the line “[s]he dwells with Beauty” (21), a direct allusion to Lord Byron’s poem (and the first line of that poem) “She walks in Beauty.” The “she” in Byron’s poem in precisely such a synthesis (“All that’s best of dark and bright” [3]), while the “she” in Keats’ poem is melancholy, a melancholy that doesn’t “walk in Beauty” but “dwells with” it: that is, melancholy is melancholy for a “Beauty that must die,” for our inability to experience Beauty any longer, and Beauty here is to be taken as precisely such a synthesis or harmony of opposites. The difference between “walk in” and “dwell with” is one of separation: melancholy is not Beauty. Therefore such an allusion subverts the attempt at any synthesis. Keats is warning us that in fact later, when we come across Joy – what we usually regard as the opposite of Melancholy – we shouldn’t read his lines as attempting to reconcile the two, but rather still as claiming that Joy too is dominated by Melancholy, fits under its category.

    But let me return to the superb line “She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die” because it reveals even more about how we’re to understand the entire poem. The tautology that this line implies is absolutely crucial. If Beauty is traditionally to be seen as an experience of the “harmony of the spheres” of the unity of opposites, or as an understanding of the “chain of being,”, then a Beauty “that must die” is not Beauty at all. The chiasmus of this line is crucial: “dwell” folds back on “die,” so that death also signifies the loss of home, of a place (dwell – habitat – “to live”). Therefore melancholy doesn’t “dwell” with a “synthesis of opposites” or any type of “harmony,” but rather with a discordant Beauty. Keats’ brilliance is that he leaves space for both these interpretations: we have both a melancholy that is a melancholy for dying Beauty, and a melancholy that dwells with a discordant Beauty.
    This conclusion is crucial and points toward a large passage from Zizek’s 2008 preface to “They Know Not What They Do,” where he attempts to give a definition of the subject:

    “In Tarkovsky’s Mirror, his father Arseny Tarkovsky recites his own lines: ‘A soul is sinful without a body,/ like a body without clothes’ – with no project, no aim; a riddle without an answer. ‘Death-drive’ is this dislocated soul without body, a pure insistence that ignores the constraints of reality. Gnosticism is thus simultaneously both right and wrong: right, in so far as it claims that the human subject is not truly ‘at home’ in our reality; wrong, in so far as it draws the conclusion that there should therefore be another (astral, etheric…) universe which is our true home, from which we ‘fell’ into this inert material reality. This is also where all the postmodern-deconstructionist-poststructuralist variations on how the subject is always-already displaced, decentred, pluralized… somehow miss the central point: that the subject ‘as such’ is the name for a certain radical displacement, a certain wound, cut, in the texture of the universe, and all its identifications are ultimately just so many failed attempts to heal this wound” (xvi Zizek, Preface, They Know Not What They Do).

    The structural similarity that interests me here is between melancholy and Zizek’s subject. If, as I’ve already explained, Beauty is this being “at home” that Zizek speaks of, and melancholy is the subject, then, following Zizek, we get the following definition of melancholy which reconciles the two definitions of melancholy I extracted from Keats’ poem: Melancholy is not a melancholy for the “loss” of this Beauty, but the “loss” itself, that which cuts across Beauty, scratching the gramophone record, from the very beginning.

    II. A Polemical Reply: Nietzsche and Zizek, Different Times

    Although I do agree that Nietzsche is too nuanced and, in many ways, paradoxical for Zizek to merely classify him as the originator of such relativism, it is important to note that Zizek is not referring to the Nietzsche that wrote “The Gay Science” so much as to “Nietzsche” as interpreted by the post-structuralists: Deleuze started to become famous once he published “Nietzsche and Philosophy,” Foucault’s entire (late) oeuvre uses Nietzschean “genealogy” as a foundation, and Derrida too focused precisely on the idea of Nietzsche as being rhetorically-engaging and as undermining the “truth-effect” in his “Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles.” The historical placement of that famous anecdote about Nietzsche is also significant:

    During the late 60s and throughout the 70s, you could walk through abandoned university halls in France and the States, and see written on several walls that famous quote “‘God is dead’ – Nietzsche.” After the mid-70s economic collapse and the sudden conservative turn in Western politics, student protestors returned to their old university halls and, filled with disappointment and cynicism, crossed out those old quotations from Nietzsche and wrote, in their place, “‘Nietzsche is dead’ – God.”

    Since post-structuralism is the love-child of the ’68 revolts, the first quotation was a necessary tattoo (don’t ask where) for all of its followers: Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, et al.

    But why was Nietzsche so revered, and who was this “Nietzsche”? Faced with the conservatism of the 50s – which includes the mental institutions that became prevalent in the West and into whom anyone who opposed the state was incarcerated – poststructuralists were (rightly) convinced that the best way to oppose the “system” was by putting forward a doctrine which required that the individual become “plural,” “in a constant state of becoming,” “decentred.” In other words, if the system requires us to have unified identity, to be constant and easy to track and understand – to easily fit into norms – then doing precisely the opposite would be the best way to oppose it. Poststructuralists therefore looked to interpreting Nietzsche precisely in order to back up this doctrine. Nietzsche’s focus on there not being an ultimate truth and going through as many types of philosophies as possible (Preface 3, Gay Science) without stopping – at least this part of Nietzsche’s philosophy – sounded precisely like what was needed to subvert the system.

    Zizek, on the other hand, is fighting against this notion of the individual as subversive because this type of subversion has become the norm. What he’s attempting to do is show how the poststructuralist type of subversion “now” plays into the hands of the powers that be. As he would have it, capitalism has evolved beyond needing its subjects to be constant and unified. It now thrives even better when we don’t have any unity – when we appeal to the “but that wasn’t my intention,” or when we take a cynical attitude toward the “political sphere,” feeling that by doing so, by not believing, we thwart it. It speaks volumes that the Che Guevara who was an authentic revolutionary in the 60s now has his face on every teenage shirt (let’s not even speak of the initial subversive power of rap/hip-hop). In other words, capitalism steps all over us even easier when we strip off our clothes and lie down in wait.

    For Zizek, then, true subversion is taking on this role of being “consistent”: of being a fanatic, or of effectively obeying the powers that be (like in Brecht’s play), etc. But in some sense, being consistent with one’s own negativity. That is, it’s not just saying: I’m plural. But taking this plurality, this split within oneself very seriously and saying: “that’s what I am!” instead of just ignoring the problem/question. Just like we concluded in one of the past classes: the point is not to choose “negative capability” over accordance to “concepts,” but to continually swing between the two. Whether Zizek wants us to do this or to just become the opposite of “ever-changing” – that is, dogmatic – I’m still confused about.

    When Zizek, then, “blames” it on Nietzsche, he’s blaming it on the Nietzsche of the poststructuralists, not necessarily the Nietzsche that we’re reading in class.

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      Oh! I forgot to add something to the Keats section. The whole time I was thinking about that Keats poem (yesterday) I was playing the Pixies’ “Where is my Mind?” which of course was also on the soundtrack for “Fight Club”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrdpliMfoAM. I love that title because again in some sense the very act of asking “where is my mind?” locates the mind. That is, you know you have a mind only once you ask “where is it?”

  20. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Thanks for this Vlad…very enlightening. Lots to think about..

  21. Madeline Fuchs says:

    On Keat’s Ode to Melancholy… I agree with your comments Natassia, I really enjoyed reading them and applying them to my understanding of the poem as well. I definitely agree with your comment that suicide is viewed as a much more permanent action, over melancholy, which is treated as much more transient and impermanent.

    Instead of repeating really what you have said, and you as well Vlad, I want to just point out a couple things in the poem that sparked my attention. In Line 13, Keats writes how the “weeping cloud” of melancholy “fosters the droop-headed flowers of all”, I was a little confused. Here, it appears that melancholy is necessary in our lives, and in nature. His choice of the word “foster” only brings up positive connotation, as the definition is to “encourage or promote the development of…”. Therefore the sentence is even more complicated when Keats writes the “droop-headed flowers”, which contrasts with the flower imagery that he provides, as Vlad puts it, using flowers to avoid our melancholy.

    Also, I would like to address the final stanza, and slightly disagree with the notion that it stands for self-sacrifice. I’m not sure if it just a cynical reading of mine, but I found the last stanza to be very contrived. Keats is not only personifying, but also idealizing, these different emotions of Melancholy, Beauty, and Joy. His descriptions seem a little far fetched for me, a little overdone. Maybe I’m just having trouble reading this last stanza with a seriousness simply because it is so contradictory to the first two stanzas?

  22. Raquel Baldwinson says:

    I find it really interesting to dwell on the Nietzsche’s jargon of knowledge. He seems to be talking about two different types of knowledge—Faith in God and Faith in oneself. He rejects the first—the idea of the Kantian categorical imperative. In section 109 he says, “Let us be on our guard against saying that there are laws in nature.” He instead promotes an idea of uncertainty in the future, and speaks of this with a sort of lofty reverence: I love ignorance of the future, and do not want to come to grief by impatience and anticipatory tasting of promised things” (287). After all, how can we predict the future when “we hardly know what we are doing” (emphasis added, 337). He attributes this kind of problematic knowledge system to Faith in God.

    He opts instead for “belief in oneself” (284). This describes a knowledge system that is more reminiscent of modern scientist: “Cheers for Physics! How many men are there who know how to observe?” (335). He prefers an observation-based, inductive knowledge system. He reveres this knowledge. He idealizes the philosopher and the contemplative human.

    Since he favours philosophical-scientific truth over religious truth, why does he categorically reject the natural law? A good deal of scientific law is, though descriptive, intended to at least mimic the prescriptive. On what grounds do we distinguish between Nietzche’s contemplative man and the rational utopianist?

    Unlike a rational utopianist, Nietzsche is not nihilistic about his deconstructionist position. As Carmel says:
    “I think that Nietzsche believes that a recognition of our failures, though, is a more reliable source of consolation than those ludicrous frameworks of understanding, the purveyors of which feel “compelled to play the teacher” (section 343) and ignorantly pursue the assimilation of worldly objects, events, and feelings into their spheres of insufficient meaning.”

    Carmel exhibits a fluency in Nietzche’s modifications of the jargon of knowledge. It is through a “recognition” of our humanness that we discard “ludicrous frameworks of understanding” which lead us to “ignorant” pursuits. It’s interesting that while Nietzsche divorces from the Faith based knowledge system, he is not at all nihilistic but architects a new system that co-opts the old currency of knowledge, putting it to a more honest use.

    This brings us to this idea of rhetoric. As English students, we have all likely had a some exposure to rhetorical theory and some adjacent feminist theories such as standpoint theory or situated knowledges theory. Nietzsche offers valuable comments on rhetoric and this idea of a world contingent on one’s standpoint: he says, “We only have created the world which is of any account to man” (301).

    I wonder what a modern philosopher of science like Thomas Kuhn would have to say about Nietsche’s inductive, human based knowledge system. Kuhn talks about this idea of observation based knowledge as rhetorically charged in and of itself. He talks about knowledge systems as operating within paradigms of knowing. Does Nietzsche’s knowledge shift (the new knowledge that God is dead) constitute a paradigm shift? How does Nietzsche’s contemplative man fend in chaos theory?

  23. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    I was particularly interested in Zizek’s fascination with an object’s designation of absence, that the object itself does not represent something, but rather nothing—the inexplicable, invisible essence of the Idea. Intangible entities such as the ‘Spirit’ and the ‘Self,’ or such as the case of the absence of Lenin in “Lenin in Warsaw,” exist solely through their negativity. For this reason, an object identifies the impalpable subject by calling attention to its absence, it “‘gives body’ to the absolute negativity of the Idea” (Zizek 234). The point, of course, is not to provide an object which sufficiently embodies (imitates, perhaps) the subject, but to focus on the object’s “inadequacy” (234). It acts as an echo of the Idea, as it were… it is a lesser “objective correlative” (240) of the Sublime.

    To continue with the intangibility of the ‘Self’… Nietzsche’s assertion that “Everyone is furthest from himself” (ch. 335) ties in well with chapters 319 and 374. The notion that we “want to be our own experiments, and our own subjects of experiment” (ch. 319) is complicated by the nature of interpretation. Nietzsche shies away from acknowledging the possibility of deriving ‘truth,’ and rightly so: in a world where “every action that has been done, has been done in an entirely unique and inimitable manner “(ch. 35), it is impossible to scientifically control variables in the search for the ‘Self’ since the variables are innate. Therefore, questioning “What did I really experience? What then took place in me and around me? Was my understanding clear enough?” (ch. 319) only yields answers which are intrinsically subjective (obviously). How can you have completely access the ‘Self’ when it is securely locked behind—within—a unique history of “impulses, . . . likes and dislikes, your experiences and non-experiences” (ch. 335); furthermore, how can you know your ‘Self’ when the only means of differentiating (with others’ selves) is equally as unattainable… since, with infinite interpretations, one person may be subject to an indeterminate number of ‘selves’ projected onto him by others.

    I am tired—I apologize if what I have said is self-evident, or incomprehensible. There were girls shrieking down the hallway at half three in the morning last night, one whom seemed to have lost her beloved and felt it was necessary to scream his name repeatedly.

  24. Kellie Gibson says:

    Forgive me if I’m re-stating anything that’s been said/refuted above, as I didn’t have the time to read it all.

    I think Austen is absolutely telling us to find both Lydia and Mrs. Bennet morally seriously flawed, but I don’t think that punishing them would provide the answer to the bigger problem she is posing. I find what Austen has set up with Lydia and Mrs. Bennet to be along the lines of my favourite Nietzsche quote,
    “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.”
    Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are profoundly un-self-reflexive. They give little-to-no thought about their behaviour and how it may affect others around them. They continue to act in the same manner as always and continue to complain about the state of things without looking to see what their part in the matter may be. Lydia and Mrs. Bennet may get what they want, but I would argue that Austen in no way sees this as a reward for them – just that sometimes people who are undeserving (…which is a questionable term and depends on whether you see the ‘tearing yourself apart’ journey as a marker of ‘worth’ or just a path some people embark upon and others do not) get what they want. I would argue that Austen sees the journey of self-doubt, etc… that Elizabeth goes on throughout the book as essential to a person’s ‘worth,’ and that she values being self-reflexive as important. I think that if she didn’t, Austen wouldn’t portray Lydia and Mrs. Bennet as being so utterly unbearable.

  25. Lindsay Vermeulen says:

    We are encouraged to resist suicide as an attempt to escape from melancholy, an emotion which may potentially yield the deepest moments of insight and (counterintuitively) joy. The weak man yields to death, the genius stands in the rain overcome with grief and energized by it, embracing the purity of emotion.

    I think Keats’ point is that beauty is not limited to the very narrow range of situations we typically notice it in, and the novelty of locating it in less likely places lends it a certain power.

    In the third stanza I noticed repeated incidences of suspended action, recalling his Ode on a Grecian Urn. Beauty hangs in between, in the anticipation, in moments about to happen: Joy about to bid adieu, pleasure turning to poison. This provides another reason for not “go[ing] to Lethe;” the beauty of the transitional state between life and death is dulled by the drugs sending one’s “shade to shade,” and whatever of the experience CAN be noticed is doomed to be erased by the forgetfulness-inducing nature of the river.

    I didn’t read the final stanza as self-sacrificial at all; maybe I missed something? It seemed to me a celebration of “taste fine,” lauding the person who is sufficiently sensitive and selfless to brave the harshness of life. His reward is two-fold; firstly he is privy to the subtle beauties evoked by the darker side of nature and humanity, and secondly his soul is prized by the personified Melancholy.

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