Friday, May 04, 2007

Desiring-Repression and Ressentiment

I am going to say a few, very preliminary, words about the way that referring to “desiring one’s own repression” appears to rely on Nietzche’s ideas, and how an entire articulation of desire exists upon an armature of thinking which, as far as I know, finds its original formulation in Nietzsche’s “ On the Genealogy of Morals,” (GOM).

I feel that I have a duty to bring this material into the conversation, even though I feel that I am probably the least fit of us to do so. First of all, it would seem that for anyone interested in not only the use of the phrase “desiring one’s own repression,” but in social psychology in general, GOM suggests itself as an important source… It’s almost odd that we haven’t looked at it yet here at the Enlightenment Underground. Secondly, I am personally haunted by these ideas of Nietzsche, and I have been drawing on them – I just haven’t been very honest about it, to this point. I want to start being honest and explicit about it from now on, and this is the starting of that.

I make a direct link between “desiring one’s own repression” and ressentiment. ( By the way, I tip my hat to Orla on this – he has been explicit in making this link in his posts before now…) but I could also make the same link, I believe, by speaking of “desiring one’s own repression” and bad conscience, mauvais foi, false consciousness, or any of a variety of epistemologically and emotionally-twisted formulations which serve as a kind of secularized “theodicy” for explaining, for certain types of modern thinkers, the perpetuation of human malevolence. Even though I will be speaking only of ressentiment, what I say applies to these others. I think that if we are thorough-going enough in attacking ressentiment , all the other hydra-heads will be severed at the same time along with it. This can be a motivation for us, perhaps. (Then again, don’t hydra-heads multiply when severed?)

Before I make any severing swings, I want to prepare a few necks and a few chopping blocks. In GOM, in my way of reading him, Nietzsche makes a few very critical and very questionable moves. I suggest we look at these.

Very astonishingly – so astonishingly that it is hard to comprehend or appreciate – Nietzsche attempts to explain not only Christianity, but also the State – out of the spirit of ressentiment. AND...Not only Christianity and the State come out of the spirit of ressentiment, but also—get this—the “subject” is explained as an epiphenomenon of ressentiment. Our youthful, fun-loving and Dionysian Nietzsche explained the birth of tragedy out of the spirit of music, but the brooding, Teutonic, and insipiently-mad older Nietzsche will explain the birth of Christianity, the State, and the “subject” out of the spirit of ressentiment. That’s what’s become of Freddie’s line of flight by the time of GOM. He's no less ambitious and paints with strokes no less bold, but Nietzsche's palette has changed. I want to consider that this says something about Nietzschean " affirmation."

What is ressentiment? To what material conditions is ressentiment a response? By whom and for whom is ressentiment a response?

Nietzsche says: Ressentiment is born of the inability to respond actively. Ressentiment legitimates and justifies this inability. Ressentiment posits that it is possible to NOT ACT…that it is possible to respond WITHOUT ACTING. If ressentiment is actual, Kant's and most other 18th Century Enlightenment ideas about autonomy are devastated, because most of what Kant and these other thinkers believe to be freedom and agency is really something more like a system for protecting the pretences born out of being UNABLE TO RESPOND ACTIVELY.

It is quite plausible to me that my entire mental life – the ceaseless chatter of dialogue and courtroom and bedroom and ballroom and imagery of stadium, stage, movie, and dramatic landscape scenes which populate the inner sanctum of my mind—come from my inability to respond actively. If I had the capacity for an actual confrontation with my real-life antagonists, would I continue to mentally yell and bicker with the "enemy" who lives inside my head? If I could make love, and make it satisfactorily, would I require this compulsive and therefore burdensome sexual fantasy life, quite portable and quite uninterruptible? I really do have the distinct impression that all of this junk flitting and flowing through the screens in my soul are a substitute for living, which I have somehow, in a fool’s and devil’s bargain, accepted.

It's a mental life free to amuse itself in its own lack of freedom or agency. It's not a model of autonomy at all, even if I do from time to time find it possible to draw off some "theme" of freedom or autonomy from my fantastic mental froth.

These are preliminary words on a very lengthy subject…serving, I hope, the very modest intention to initiate a little more conscious attention to this neglected ( by us) background to the question of what the heck we are trying to say when we speak of “ desiring our own repression.” I will have more to say later.


Blogger Orla said...

Thank you, Yusef, for this valuable contribution to the exploration of "desiring one's own suppression".

It is brave and personal. I look forward to your promised elaboration soon. Your Nietzschean angle is promising. We will delve into this.

It's too late in the night in my part of the world to respond now.

Write more, please.


7:12 PM  

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