Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pulses, or: many aborted running starts

Overcoming as Undoing: Vivifying the Body through Sexual Passion


One learns to wander because the earth itself is lovely.

On April 6th, 2011 World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan used the occasion of “World Health Day” to announce to the human populace of the earth the discovery of “drug-resistant bugs,” and with the announcement of this discovery, made in 2008 in the slums of New Dehli, ushered man into a “post-antibiotic era.” The implications of this announcement cannot be understated. In Dr. Chan’s own words, “The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures.” Nearly half a million cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis were detected last year, along with cases of drug-resistant malaria. Even strains of HIV are emerging that are unresponsive to antiretroviral treatments. The global spread of these bugs is, simply, inevitable. Yet, the Director-General cannot affirm this conclusion. Instead, she sounds an alarm: “In the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated.”

This episode is only the most recent, yet for this reason no less terrible, of many moments comprising the history of Western metaphysics. It dramatizes a central contention of this essay, namely, the impossibility of Socratic rationality to therapeutically cure the ‘suffering’ of life itself. It further dramatizes the unwillingness of those steeped in a therapeutic culture of redemption to confront this impossibility; on display, by contrast, is the impulse to place one’s faith all the more in the very method of ruin that brought us to this point in world history. In order to develop this claim I look to Nietzsche, who first diagnosed this eerie compulsion in The Birth of Tragedy. Indeed, Nietzsche’s unrelenting mockery of the philosophical tradition’s prejudices, its faith in the corrective power of rationality, is a thread that weaves his corpus together in interesting and unexpected ways. In this paper I argue that Nietzsche was aware of the impossibility of turning, re-turning, or inverting the traditional conception of man as he is predicated on the Socratic, rational ideal. Nietzsche knew full well that each tact leaves in place the contested term, threatening to entrench it all the more securely as a necessary point of opposition. For this reason he sought to reach beyond the conceptual discourse available to him to describe human experience. This, however, is a project that, as many have observed, works itself up into a referential labyrinth of mythical epic heroes and spiraling snares of metaphysical cosmology.

This essay, then, does not attempt to untangle the knot of Ariadne’s thread so much as bring to bear upon it a critical edge. My blade is not a physician’s scalpel, nor a hero’s sword: it is a prostitute’s stiletto. This methodology does not “cut,” does not dissect and sever, separate or partition; it is penetrative. As it enters the corpus, it passes through many layers of text: it is archeological, and Nietzsche’s body is an “opus incertum”—laid with irregular, imbricating stones. The density of Nietzsche’s corpus, the resilience of his hide, makes this operation a pain-staking delight; the scholar becomes a seducer, soliciting the softest, most voluptuous and tender point of entry. The scholar masks a prostitute, a masked seducer, concealing also the mask of a murderer. He becomes alive as war. He delights in “how closely lust and cruelty are related.” (Venus in Furs, Sacher-Masoch.)

To penetrate Nietzsche’s text is to abandon the methodology of rhetoric sanctioned by Plato’s Socrates in the Phaedrus, where cleaving the ligaments of a text through dialectical slashes is supposed to reveal the truth of a given logos: the philosopher wounds, tortures, the truth into revealing itself. This is a divine moment of dismemberment, inspired by a god. The same god, Socrates says on his deathbed, inspiring philosophy (Phaedo, 69d).[1] And under the regime of this “true eroticist” we all know which member is banished first, condemned to exist as a free-floating signifier in the world of metaphysics: bodies without organs, organs without bodies; either way: “sensualists without spirit, specialists without heart.”[2] This is because the dialectic is the weapon of the metaphysician; a methodology predicated on lack, on negation—even on the negation of the negation. The dialectic sublimely careens towards death, towards nihilism, toward asceticism. This is because Socrates, the true eroticist, never actually loved, knowing only the absence of it—thus under his resentful gaze eros became this awareness, and the pathos of its affect. Socrates is moved: his hand lifts-up-and-away (aufhebung) what he wants: in his self-denial he is “spiritualized.”

[1] What? These cunning, jealous philosophers inspired by—Hera?

[2] In a preface to Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, Richard Howard remarks the notable absence of an amorous discourse in English, “we have either the course or the clinical.” I think this an admirable way of capturing the predicament.

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