Essay II - The Libratory Effects of Violence


First essay

[b]The Libratory Effects of Violence[/b]

“Truth is in the depths.”
- The Art of Controversy

A feeling arises. From whence? From naught. From the body. It threatens to overtake everything, to wash over everything, and rears itself up to smash against all the rest. But, behold - there is always another feeling waiting in the wings to do battle with, and, if at all possible, overcome it. So feeling positions itself against feeling, one the victor, one the vanquished. Thus checked, the initial feeling is, at best, stymied, forced under and submerged; at worst, it is annihilated utterly. Such violence constitutes the basic discourse of feeling in all moral, ethical, and judicio-religious systems, from Christianity to egalitarian liberalism and egoism.

But what, precisely, is this field upon which they go to war? Nobody henceforth has thought to ask this question. It ought to have been asked much sooner. For it is my conceit that there is no underlying unity or form beneath the maelstrom of feeling; that all is formless void; and that, rather than being an in-itself, man is a composite of drives, of sensations, of urgent thoughts clawing for escape. Not a bloody sea which, when parted, reveals solid bedrock on an ocean floor - and this sea does not give up her dead -, but a raging storm of feeling, hot and empty, each passion or sensation a wave which wants always to rise above the rest, which wants always to command the attention and respect of the whole, and which, at any rate, desires only its own well-being and fulfillment, no matter how disadvantageous this process becomes to all the others.

In such a state, how could we possibly hope to conduct a thorough analysis of and judgment against the passions? Men have attempted to historicize them, as in, for example, Schopenhauer’s evolutionary account of the Will (as Will to Reproduction - as if those of us who have surrendered utterly to this Will had reproduction in mind!), or Heidegger’s moods; yet this making-useful of the passions simply posits another empty in-itself out of its efforts to utilize them. Once again: nothing is learned by looking at the purpose of a thing; it is like analyzing the ray of light according to its direction - one always assigns some essential causa sui within, where no such thing exists. Yet neither must we succumb to the metaphysician’s desire to sterilize, to medicalize the passions, as if each passion had in itself some diseased core that ought to be extirpated through a dietary or disciplinary regime. For this is metaphysical nonsensery in the highest sense of the phrase: no feeling or desire is complete in itself, but always contains elements of some other feeling or desire within it. For, just as Christ’s body and blood replace the wafer and wine within a communion ritual (on a symbolic level, of course), so also does each feeling become consanguineous with - and within - all of the rest. An example here would be an individual who adopts an ascetic lifestyle out of a feeling of haughtiness, or, conversely, one who becomes overly sociable and hyperactive out of a morbid feeling of decline (both type-cases of ressentiment).

But this should not be understood as if each feeling were complete in itself, and merely interrelated to all the rest by virtue of proximity. To the contrary - feeling is boundless. If one could picture, to use a rudimentary image, a vast ocean, with many tributaries feeding into it, one would have understood the basic character of emotional existence. The question which must be answered in this instance, the question, as it were, is whether these feelings, together, constitute a Oneness or collectivity - in which case hate and love, anxiety and happiness, fear and courage, are each and all merely individuated aspects of a single Feeling, and, as such, basically unified - or a Many and multiplicity - the passions being in this case basically antagonistic and mutually exclusive against and towards one another.

This is the sole question which philosophy is fit to answer, and the only which justifies its very existence: is there One or Many? Both of these possibilities permit for the consanguineous element of emotional existence and experience, and yet only one seems to be permissible in a self-consistent worldview. To reformulate the question in the apocalyptic tenor which my readers must have by now noticed my affinity for, one is either a monotheist or a pagan: none other!

Much can be and has been said in support of each view. The Christian, the socialist, the nationalist - each of these affirm the former, and speak highly of the feeling of communal kinship and relationship which arises from a monistic conception of things. The anarchist, the individualist and the Stoic, to the contrary, praise the solitary life and the self-knowledge which it brings. These two sentimentalities are opposed to one another, and dramatically so, and yet there seems to me to be one element shared betwixt the two which facilitates a sort of sublation of each into a higher sphere: chiefly, violence, and beyond this the ecstasy of the same. For violence, firstly, is that which permits individuation itself in respect to a Whole, and, also, is that which allows for a collectivization (here imagined as a sort of forceful coming together or merging of individual Things) into a greater unity. Thus our disparate thoughts and feelings become cohesive under the effect of violence, and out of this thrall are thereby reduced once more.

To use an example with which I am most intimately familiar, there are innumerable, interrelated subcultures today which value the solitary existence of the individual above all things, and yet also prize the collective ecstasy and ritual of the concert. And, conversely, there are those, such as the Protestants, who understand innately the orgiastic nature of the Dionysian and nevertheless adhere to a credo such as the dictum: “each to his own salvation!”. In both cases violence is the mediator - dance for the dancer and guilt for the Christian. One collectifies, appropriates the individual for consumption by all the others; one diminishes, makes smaller, reduces. And yet they are both the same.

It is plain that, if there exists such an emotional dialectic, there must be a basic inner tension which, though fulfilled upon the act of sublation, remains instable and - through a process one might like to term “unsublation” or “desublation”, but which is really individuation - becomes reduced once more through violence. This I name, in keeping with the German, Zerrissenheit. But as I use it, it does not mean a disintegration, or deregulation, or even annihilation; rather paradoxically, I understand it as a completeness. An apartness, a sundering, yes, but nevertheless a totality. For it is precisely this tension, thus utter and complete lack and absence, which exists not only in and as the “core” of man’s being but also serves as the bridge over which he crosses in both greatness and decline. This void is the passage, this abyss the rope, to the Overman.