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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

THE GENRE-GENDER WARS PART 3

"This book takes the point of view of Sade. the most unread major writer in western literature... Sade follows Hobbes rather than Locke. Aggression comes from nature; it is what Nietzsche is to call the will-to-power... As Freud, Nietzsche's heir, asserts, identity is conflict. Each generation drives its plow over the bones of the dead."-- Camille Paglia, SEXUAL PERSONAE, p. 2.

"I follow Freud, Nietzsche and Sade in my view of the amorality of the instinctual life"-- Paglia, SP, p. 14.

In contrast to the way the Freudian-influenced Fredric Wertham brackets Sade and Nietzsche as being hostile to his concept of the social commonweal, Camille Paglia brackets Sade, Nietzsche and Freud as prophets of a salutary realization of the aforesaid "amorality of the instinctual life." This bedrock of amorality then proves of great significance with respect to her theory as to how all art, canonical and popular, partakes in Nietzsche's concept of "spiritualized cruelty," also quoted in an early chapter of SEXUAL PERSONAE, and which I covered somewhat in Part 2 of this essay-series. Paglia's theory is a challenging one with considerable importance to pluralist aesthetics, coming only third in importance to the contributions of Frye and Fiedler. However, does Paglia do justice to Nietzsche's concept of spiritualized cruelty by associating it with Sade and Freud? Do these three "instinctualists" really belong in the same category?

Sade, the only fiction-writer in the trinity, is ironically the one who shows the least imagination in propounding his philosophical/literary cosmos. Sade's fantasies of rapine and murder range from the inventive to the tedious, and are exceeded only by the author's ceaseless railings against religion and social convention.

In contrast, Freud wrote as an empiricist of a different stripe, as he regarded all literary efforts as compensation for the repressed "wish-dreams" of his Oedipal development-theory. Freud had no more belief in God than Sade did, but Freud firmly believed that the illusion of belief was necessary for society, while his interest in sadism and masochism seems to have been purely clinical.

Nietzsche, the prophet who announced that God was dead, did seem to believe in a Sade-like cruelty that he found at the heart of higher culture. However, Sade is almost entirely focused on the thrill of hurting other people, with only rare exceptions in which one tormentor might whip another for a bit of painful (but non-fatal) titillation. Nietzsche's concept of spiritualized cruelty involves the artist's "over-abundant enjoyment of one's own suffering," which seems to involve a deeper mental transformation than anything a Sade protagonist might contemplate. It's worth noting that later in BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL Nietzsche even allows for the possibility that an *ubermensch* may choose to "aid the unfortunate," as a Sade character would never do, though a Nietzschean spirit would do so not from pity but from his very super-abundance of energy.

For this reason I perceive that the "amorality" of a Nietzsche is far different from that of a Sade or Freud. Because Sade's "sovereign men" are as incapable of transformation as the elements of Freud's "id," I would say that theirs is a *static* amorality/cruelty, while Nietzsche's is a *dynamic* amorality.

Thus I can't agree with Paglia's implication that all cruel cats are grey in the dark: given a certain light, we do see some differences between static and dynamic formations. Paglia's Sade-dominated concept is perfectly fine for works, canonical or popular, that are principally static in their aesthetics. Thus her analysis is Spenser's "hierarchical" FAERIE QUEENE remains one of her strongest essays.

Her weakness shows, however, when she tries to apply a static model to a more dynamic creation, as with her chapter on Shakespeare. To take on her briefest analysis, she pronounces TITUS ANDRONICUS to be a "slapstick comedy."

True, this verdict does at least emanicpate TITUS from the curse of "high seriousness" attached to all things Shakespearean, and admittedly the 1999 film adaptation of the play does flirt with arch humor. But tempting though it may be to see the tit-for-tat violence of Titus and Tamora in terms of a Three Stooges short, there's no place in this conception for the moving drama of Aaron the Moor surrendering his knowledge of Tamora's misdeeds in order to save his infant son, even though the villainous Moor knows that he himself must perish. Thus, though TITUS is perhaps not nearly as successful a drama as other bloody-minded Bard-offerings, the play deserves a more dynamic, more truly Nietzschean conception of its necessary cruelty and amorality.

Next up: static and dynamic assessments of cruelty in-- what else-- contemporary comic books. Expect some references to "adult pulp" if not full-on "superhero decadence."

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