Morality is alighted upon when we are forced to come to terms with our limits. In other words, morality is our concessionary attitude toward our powerlessness; our recognition of our weaknesses.
We should have turned at that corner where the crucified man pointed
the way. At that corner where Chaka washed his hands in blood. At
that corner where the road to Kampala leads to Buchenwald. At that
corner where black learned men in disgrace sink their differences with the
rest. But we will drive through the independent countries where lucid
minds shatter through thick windscreens. Where original thoughts veer
and crash into ancient lamp-posts. Where promising youths are driven to
drink cynical toasts while you and I clap with one hand the praises of the
human traffic. We should have gone the other way; with Hieronymus Bosch
scrawled massacre nightmares on the Coca-Cola billboards; with Dylan
Thomas written states of mind that crack mountains; with Soyinka drawn
typewritten portraits of madness rooted in sanity in the Africa hereafter. I
should have turned at that corner where history moulders in grimy basement
rooms. Because the blow to my jaw did not solve his problem. He broke the
chair on my shoulders and stood back to observe how even this did not solve
anything. Not once had I moved toward the savage penitence which would
have released both of us from the crude scenario. I had been beaten up
before for not behaving like people wanted me to, especially not expressing
appreciation or gratitude and sat there, eyes open, seeing nothing. (74)
The shamanic position is inevitably and definitively naive*. Bataille said of Nietzsche that one can only understand his writing as a complete disorientation and dissolution of thought, with the imperative to reorient oneself to the world again. One can see how this works in the case of Nietzsche as the destruction of a religious worldview, with what he terms the “death of God” necessitates a revision of everything one had previously held to be true. An ongoing project of revaluing all values is imperative just so that one may continue to live in the world and feel one is doing so realistically.
A temporary state of madness, or what Nietzsche seems to hold as an unhealthy disorientation toward the world is followed by a period of recovery, where one is an invalid who nonetheless is reaching for a foothold. The loss of ones worldview can be fatal and (take it from me) is an extremely unhealthy state to experience, both in terms of the mind and the body. Nonetheless, if one can recover from this maddening state, one is automatically stronger.
It is remarkably difficult, however, to recover from a complete loss of one’s worldview. There is always the possibility that the struggle to recover oneself will take such a toll on mind and body that a deeper kind of traumatic illness will make its way into one’s bones and one will die before one’s time. Nothing is assured in this whole process of accepting loss and attempting recovery.
I used to take the approach where I used other people as radar beacons and effectively beamed my ideas off them to see how they would react. That seemed to be a way to find out where I might fit in the totally new world I’d moved to after having been ripped out of my place of origin at the age of 15.
Honest engagement was extremely necessary, but equally hard to come by, as in most cases one has done the ordinary foundational work in any particular culture by the time one has reached one’s mid-teens. Except this was not the case for me. I’d done a totally different foundational work. It was as if I’d studied for a maths exam and then had to take an English exam. I felt like a ridiculous person. In a way, I hated myself, while in another way I revered myself that at least I knew so much about maths.
But what I couldn’t do without was other people’s reactions. “How am I improving in my English? Are all of the remedial lessons paying off? Is anything I’m saying starting to make a little bit of sense?”
Many people took the opportunity to feed me a lot of misinformation, because obviously I must be putting them on. We all tend to make the assumption that others generally know as much or as little as we do about the important facts of life. Our brains naturalise our accumulated knowledge so that it seems we have always had it. Furthermore, we do not experience the sensation that we all enjoy very specific types of knowledge, due to the naturalisation tactics of our brains. Being part of a unified culture makes us view what we share with others who are similar to us for historical reasons as the entirety of knowledge that can be obtained. After all, othe majority of one’s mental actions overlap with those who have had the same cultural background as oneself and a similar range of accumulated experiences.
Those who go mad through no fault of their own know something different. They know from their own hardships that the overlap of knowledge between your mind and mine might be much smaller than either of us would like to fathom. Since we both want to naturalise our knowledge set and make it seem to be universal, we both struggle against any indication that any part of our knowledge could be relative, indeed a product of historical contingencies.
The weaker party ends up by becoming batlike, learning to cope with cultural blindness by flying by radar. I’ve been an invalid of this sort for too many years: blinded and resorting to secondary forms of awareness.
But Nietzsche and Bataille and anyone who has known complete disruption harmonize with me. They are, indeed, discordant beings, who give hints as to how to find one’s way out of the mess, or totally calamity.
Maturity in the shamanic sense is to no longer need to build one’s knowledge. One has enough, now, to orient oneself effectively and with a sense of emotional satisfaction.
Knowledge, after all, is also emotional knowledge. Where are the watering holes so that one can revive? If one is batlike, one has to discover these before too much time has already passed, or otherwise one weakens perhaps permanently.
I was able to find a few, but for two decades it was always a hardship to maintain these.
I’ve had to do all sorts of things in the backwards order and in the wrong ways. I’ve often been poisoned by the wrong waters, but how is one to know unless one tries them?
I understand, now, at least my own territory — what is poison to me and what is not.
Maturity is harder to achieve when one brings oneself up, but it is at least, in a sense, fuller, since one does not take the word of the authorities for truth but tests everything oneself.
One feels beyond grateful, having made it to this point, to those who gave a great deal of their knowledge in a way that helped instead of hindered.
The level of desperation one has one one does not know things is frightening and extreme. But self-knowledge brings satisfaction — no matter how long its accumulation takes.
* While the noble man lives for himself with trust and candour (gennaios, meaning “of noble birth” stresses the nuance “upright” and also probably “naïve”), the man of resentment is neither upright nor naïve, nor honest and direct with himself. His soul squints. His spirit loves hiding places, secret paths, and back doors.
[emphasis added] http://nietzsche.classicauthors.net/GenealogyMorals/GenealogyMorals10.html
I have discovered, over time, that all wrong-headed people need is enough rope. You give them as much latitude as they could wish for — and even more than they would like or expect — then watch them implode inwardly.
I’ve never known this not to happen, although I’ve often been surprised when somebody implodes in my presence. Since they haven’t mastered their own minds, but are looking to lean on another and draw from their energy, their own minds condemn them when they’re left to enjoy all the wonders of their bad-tempers and their terrible advice and their vacuous minds. Almost no assistance is necessary to trigger the implosion. Sometimes approving of what they dislike about themselves is enough. Almost anything is enough.
The thing with the po-mos, is that they basically get their notions indirectly from Nietzsche, but they don’t really understand his criticisms. For Nietzsche, shoots of Enlightenment start a historical march toward The Truth, which in turn lead us to the recognition of the Death of God. Thus it leads humanity to an existential crisis, in having to face what one does about one’s knowledge of reality when Truth starts to take on more and more of a negative stark quality, for instance by pointing to our mortality. The sacrifice of the fanciful illusions entailed in religiosity, at the altar of The Truth, seems pointless from a perspective that already admits God is Dead. So one has this quandary as to what to do about Truth, from an atheistic perspective. It’s a philosophical issue, bringing up issues of historical progress and aesthetics and what it means to live the good life, and what it means to be ethical. It is not wise, for instance, to be compulsively, brutally honest. Nietzsche eschewed such absolute dictates of behavior.
For Nietzsche, the advancement of Enlightenment thinking was inevitable, but it was also very important that one had to handle this inevitability in such a way that finer feelings and aesthetics and so on, that were part of the religious tradition, were not tossed out along the way.
But anyway, the French bring in their critique of instrumental reason in the 20th century, and it ties in quite well with Nietzsche’s modulated stance toward the Enlightenment. But the French do to philosophy what they do to a model on the catwalk, which is to dress [her] up in excessively exaggerated and sometimes shocking ways. It’s a cultural trope and I think it does not translate well into Anglo-Saxon culture, which takes everything too literally.
Anglo-Saxon postmodernists are idiots in my view. They are sophists who do not even know they are sophists. Above all, they are the victims of their own unclear thinking about issues.
Literary postmodernism is neither here nor there, but ‘philosophical’ postmodernism is a piece of nonsense, except in the case that you are French. Then you really ARE ironic and irony is your bread and butter.
And if you really fear progress, you need to look at it more closely to notice what it is you feel you fear. If I am too ‘enlightened’ it may not be that I start to kill people, but that I have to start acting more like an adult.
It really isn’t adult to insist, for instance, that we cannot comment on what happens in some very patriarchal societies because for all we know a woman being stoned to death for some sexual misdemeanor might actually enjoy her full cultural participation in that way and who are we to insist she shouldn’t. That is what I would call a childish lack of engagement of the imagination.
Overall, I don’t think sophistry is clever, not unless the people doing it have a much better idea of what they’re doing and their aims in going about it as they do. You can’t just rest assured that it is the right thing to do because you are combating the capital T in Truth.
Hi, Yeah, I think you’re talking about BLACK SUNLIGHT. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, there is a deliberate attempt to turn the direction of the English language toward black culture, slam poetry included.
It’s that kind of exploration of a contradiction. Black enlightenment. African enlightenment, NOT European rational enlightenment. It evokes surrealism and stands out as a historical contradiction in terms. The “European” race brought “enlightenment” to Africa, but what is African enlightenment on its own terms?
The symbolism doesn’t really refer to anything, just the contradictions in the nature of being, that make the brain bleed. What does it bleed? Surrealist thought.
That’s really all the psychedelic trip in and of BLACK SUNLIGHT is really about. You’re caught at historical odds with yourself, if you are a black and educated (as was the author). But we are all caught in this same relationship to some degree.
Whenever one finds that one has no choice but to be in contradiction with oneself, for instance historically and in relation to one’s predilections, the mind cracks open — there is black sunlight.
Black sunlight is in a way a psychotic nightmare, but it is also very revealing of the tensions of the historically engendered unconscious mind.
Another book you might like, although it is a bit tamer and more intellectual, is THE BLACK INSIDER.
A. I will try to answer your question, but as usual I should remind you that my response is based on conjecture, albeit having thought about these issues for many long years.
Q Hey Jennifer, I want to ask you something in relation to your late videos and some thoughts I’ve been wanting to get your perspective on, rather than solely my own and that of the psychoanalyst I visit. Do you think structure in a character can be built later in time as opposed to early childhood? Maybe the presence of structure results in feeling your limits. How is structure developed in any case? I sense it has to do with investing into something or even fooling yourself into it….but then the investment itself will crumble down if structure isn’t present, or maybe this happens only if you don’t know what your desire truly consists of and mistake the demands of an external agent as your own desire.
A The question you ask is very general, so I can only answer generally. But to my mind, the so-called oedipus complex, which would be better called the authoritarian complex, so that one does not get it mixed up with notions of sexuality and gender, is built at later times. In my view, it also seems to develop more slowly, as you are gradually molded to the fit of your society. It’s what military bootcamp is about, and why they break you down so as to build you up into their own shape. They don’t want you after the age of thirty or so, because by then you can’t be remolded.
If you’re molded to one society and then you have to fit to a different society of course this is problematic. Certainly one feels a different set of limits to everyone else in that case. In fact, apart from cases of deliberate transgression, one may only FEEL that one has a character structure at all if one is among those who simply FEEL differently about things as a matter of course.
We all “invest” in something as we get older — we subconsciously invest in the idea that are societies will continue and will be able to support us… we invest in the feeling that our authorities can teach us what is important and what we need to know….we also invest in the notion that if we conform to what is required of us from our society and its authorities, we will not be harmed. These are all subconscious investments that shape our character in youth. Also, if the authorities are particularly frightening or violent, we may develop a rather too narrow and shrinking character structure at a fairly early age.
Originally posted on The Australian Independent Media Network:
Yesterday the Australian reported that
“Australian Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn and WA Electoral Commissioner Peter Kramer handed their resignations to Governor-General Quentin Bryce today.
The resignations come just a day after the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, declared the WA Senate result “absolutely void”.
Mr Killesteyn had been under immense pressure from the government over the loss of 1370 ballots.
Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said the Australian Electoral Commission “must regain the confidence of the community”.
“The government will in due course announce a new Electoral Commissioner who will be charged with the restoration of that confidence,’ he said.
Senator Ronaldson had previously warned “the electoral commissioner and the commission must accept full responsibility for what occurred’’.”
I agree that the loss of 1370 votes was a bad mistake but how far does this “heads must roll” response extend?
Should, for example, the head…
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I do think people need to start using words with greater care, so that they do not make their own emotional concerns seem to be at the centre of the universe, though. Supposing I communicate to others, as the author may be trying to do, my sense of degradation at work, but I can’t take into account greater extremes of oppression, or variations of it, because I have already used the available words with too great a rhetorical effect in service of myself — well then I have exhausted communication even before I have begun engaging with others.
That is perhaps the problem with most forms of political correctness today. They immediately exhaust the possibilities of communication though the extreme use of language as a rhetorical device. One either agrees with the speaker or walks away shaking one’s head.
But outside the world of narrow, perspectival manipulation, reality opens up. At least, it has the potential to do so. Really, I think the problem with much of contemporary academia, in the humanities, is that it is stuck in this mode of limited, perspectival management. And this tendency toward socially engineering what kinds of meanings are permitted to be expressed is deeply entrenched in much of general society as a whole. That is why I have not been able to express very simple and even banal things about my past, but had to write a book to get thse things out of my system. People would stop me and imply I’m not permitted to speak of them. And then they would go to work on me, trying to manipulate my perspective so that I would take in reality in a much more narrow and socially contrived filter.
And in fact, that was quite traumatising, not because of the views I was expected to embrace as such, but because I was not permitted even to say the very plain and trivial things I wanted to relate about my past experiences in Africa. If you can’t relate even matter of fact things, you cannot make a cultural transition from one state of mind to another.
So, in fact that was why I chose not to pursue an academic career, because I can’t walk around in that kind of a straitjacket. It’s not only uncomfortable, but is is unhealthy. One would have first be mad enough to accept it. Some people are, and they comply to a limited degree.
But most people in the humanities are taught to use language to keep out what they sense to be “evil”. Under the label of “evil”, put the unknown, the wild that is just beyond the borders of suburban consciousness, the capacity for free thinking, experiences that happen to have grown up in locations where the gardeners of the contemporary, modern soul have not cultivated anything. Also place most of reality itself. It’s too tough and too wild and too wicked for the contemporary mind to try to come to terms with.
It’s not so much that the contemporary, educated person cannot come to terms with the historical existence of slavery, but they actively resist acknowledging even the slightest thing that is not already part of their purview. They view it as evil and undigestable. They may even downvote any attempts to communicate to them about it, on YouTube.