The shamanistic view is different from the psychoanalytic view that holds that psychological projection is an anomalous attitude of reprobates. In terms of shamanism, absolutely everything one sees, hears or encounters is a projection. Neurology makes it clear that perception is a function of the brain’s incorporation and rearrangement of data. According to Atul Gawande:
The information we take in from our ears and eyes is not the same as what we experience. The brain takes a huge amount of information from the senses and then rearranges it in such a way that a human being can gain advantage from it. We see what makes sense to us, often by adding to incomplete information by producing information from memory, so that we often encounter precisely what we expect to see. We are the creators of our own realities.
To go a step further, we don’t visually experience the far sides of the color spectrum that beetles and bats may do. But, had we the needs and desires of insects, our brains would have learned to give us a different range of information. We would have learned to sense a far wider spectrum including infra-red and ultra-violet. Becoming aware of these light waves perhaps does not serve us as humans, since this may not give an advantage in indicating food or sudden danger.
Humans and beetles inhabiting the same space will nonetheless experience different qualities to their environments. What comes to the foreground and what pales into insignificance will not be the same aspects of the terrain. A friend tells me that on taking LSD one hears all the background noises to life that would ordinarily be filtered from awareness.
To have the benefit of vision enables us to navigate our human worlds effectively as humans. A parallel world may exist for other species. Each takes from the sensory environment what will nourish it in terms of what it is. Taking in too much of reality would obstruct us in our normal activities. We do well to leave a lot unnoticed.
On the basis of being separate peoples and cultures, we also automatically impose filtering mechanisms. I see what I need to see to nourish myself according to my particular needs, desires and capabilities. I am convinced that others who enter the same environments would not see or experience the same network of meanings that are available to me. I switch off when confronted with young children, for instance. I can’t focus on them and my brain attempts to block them out. I’m learning to notice social tensions, but they don’t intrinsically interest me, so they are about the last thing I recognize when I enter a new environment.
When I began my life in Australia I didn’t “see” social relationships — only natural ones. When I began a new job many years ago, I didn’t “see” institutional relationships. I saw only postmodernist metaphysics, by virtue of which I had been trained to see the world. I began reading Marecheralater and had to get rid of a lot of postmodernist assumptions to understand him.
Contemporary humans get to move through their environments by throwing off one reality to enter another. Shamanism enhances the process of gaining knowledge of our worlds by encouraging us to switch off from what we think we know, which is just a neurological projection however useful. We can’t enter another environment so long as we are certain of what we know. This is only possible by entering a state of uncertainty. As Bataille says of Nietzsche, out of this striking moment of dissolution a philosophy is born:
Let no one doubt for an instant! One has truly not heard a single word of Nietzsche’s unless one has lived this signal dissolution in totality; without it, this philosophy is a mere labyrinth of contradictions, and worse; the pretext for lying by omission (if, like the fascists, one isolates passages for purposes which negate the rest of the work).
In terms of what I have described of shamanism, Nietzsche’s way of writing, whether intentionally or not, actually invites a radical rewriting of consciousness on the basis of a fundamental dissolution of reality. By means of such shamanistic reworking, one’s existing projection gets dissolved and is replaced by another, superior reality. This would be a result of including a different network of memories in one’s perspectives. This adjustment in seeing, however, leads to handling life more effectively.
THE NATURE OF ‘THE TRAGIC’
When I began researching my thesis, I believed in psychological weakness. By the end of it, I didn’t. I thought, “Every animal, including those that are human, fight for their survival with everything they have.” To succeed or fail is only defined by circumstantial weakness, I concluded, rarely inherent weakness. This is related to a particularly Nietzschean insight, where creativity is viewed as tending towards the tragic, as it is directly related to a tendency to go beyond circumscribed limits — and thus to lead to uncontrolled outcomes. Another way to say this is that failure at the point of extreme courage is all the more likely than failure whilst playing it safe, but this is not, at all, the same as “weakness”.
Zarathustra, however, looked at the people and wondered. Then he spake thus:
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss.
A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.
I love those that know not how to live except as down-goers, for they are the over-goers.
I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore.
I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth of the Superman may hereafter arrive.
I love him who liveth in order to know, and seeketh to know in order that the Superman may hereafter live. Thus seeketh he his own down-going.
I love him who laboureth and inventeth, that he may build the house for the Superman, and prepare for him earth, animal, and plant: for thus seeketh he his own down-going.
I love him who loveth his virtue: for virtue is the will to down-going, and an arrow of longing.
I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge.
I love him who maketh his virtue his inclination and destiny: thus, for the sake of his virtue, he is willing to live on, or live no more.
I love him who desireth not too many virtues. One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one’s destiny to cling to.
I agree with this: “I believe that it is important to listen to your body when it tries to tell you through sickness that something is not OK instead of trying to shut it up with pills and potions.”Completely Open Thread « Clarissa’s Blog
I would be working a job that was entirely wrong for me, not be in a relationship, and identify with a defunct ideology, had I not listened to my body. Listening is vital, but this implies developing a different sense of identity from the one that remains resolute in one position, as if rigidity were a sign of strength.
To the despisers of the body will I speak my word. I wish them neither to learn afresh, nor teach anew, but only to bid farewell to their own bodies,—and thus be dumb.
“Body am I, and soul”—so saith the child. And why should one not speak like children?
But the awakened one, the knowing one, saith: “Body am I entirely, and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body.”
The body is a big sagacity, a plurality with one sense, a war and a peace, a flock and a shepherd.
An instrument of thy body is also thy little sagacity, my brother, which thou callest “spirit”—a little instrument and plaything of thy big sagacity.
“Ego,” sayest thou, and art proud of that word. But the greater thing—in which thou art unwilling to believe—is thy body with its big sagacity; it saith not “ego,” but doeth it.
What the sense feeleth, what the spirit discerneth, hath never its end in itself. But sense and spirit would fain persuade thee that they are the end of all things: so vain are they.
Instruments and playthings are sense and spirit: behind them there is still the Self. The Self seeketh with the eyes of the senses, it hearkeneth also with the ears of the spirit.
Ever hearkeneth the Self, and seeketh; it compareth, mastereth, conquereth, and destroyeth. It ruleth, and is also the ego’s ruler.
Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.
There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?
Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. “What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?” it saith to itself. “A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions.”*
The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pain!” And thereupon it suffereth, and thinketh how it may put an end thereto—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.
The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pleasure!” Thereupon it rejoiceth, and thinketh how it may ofttimes rejoice—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.
To the despisers of the body will I speak a word. That they despise is caused by their esteem. What is it that created esteeming and despising and worth and will?
The creating Self created for itself esteeming and despising, it created for itself joy and woe. The creating body created for itself spirit, as a hand to its will.
Even in your folly and despising ye each serve your Self, ye despisers of the body. I tell you, your very Self wanteth to die, and turneth away from life.
No longer can your Self do that which it desireth most:—create beyond itself. That is what it desireth most; that is all its fervour.
But it is now too late to do so:—so your Self wisheth to succumb, ye despisers of the body.
To succumb—so wisheth your Self; and therefore have ye become despisers of the body. For ye can no longer create beyond yourselves.
And therefore are ye now angry with life and with the earth. And unconscious envy is in the sidelong look of your contempt.
I go not your way, ye despisers of the body! Ye are no bridges for me to the Superman!—
Thus spake Zarathustra.
* Note the shamanistic doubling in the form of the self and ego. The self observes and judges one’s behavior as a whole. One’s ego would do well to listen to it when things start going wrong.
The use of psychoactive drugs enables a shaman to discover a cosmology that would make us all connected to each other, in particular via a sense of unity with organic nature, as the prime source and origin of life. The insights gained through exploring this cosmology are useful. The sources of malaise can be ascertained, observed and come to terms with.
The range of possibilities for life may be greater and more widely varied than those observable in everyday existence. Thus, a shamanic journey can lead not only to healing, but to creative solutions to life’s difficulties.
Shamanic experience could also free one from idées fixes through a baptism into new experiences.
This is of course against the grain of Nietzsche, who feared, as Luce Irigaray pointed out, the element of water, including oceanic experiences.
Have no fear that water is “feminine”,as it is only so according to essentialist notions of identity. Patriarchal religion would urge us to see it in this way, but there is no need to trust patriarchal versions of anything, given that the patriarchal priest is invested in maintaining specific power relations. We should rather distrust anything essentializing — at least until we can test it for ourselves and work out what its value might be.
Click to engorge
Try to ignore the images, in the first instance, which I supplied to show the ramifications of this conservative’s agenda.On the surface of it, the speaker is simply calling for honesty and for balance in our thinking. We could read his words as saying, “Let’s not get all overwrought just because a boss, or other male representative does something wrong, sinning a bit. Instead, let’s open our hearts and realize that he does more good than harm.”
In fact, this seeming call for leniency and kindness hides a fundamental patriarchal ideological structure which is directly patterned by those right-wingers in the US who argue that it’s not so bad to be raped because at least that brings a child into the world.
So, Tony Abbott, our opposition leader, is implicitly arguing that male energy, no matter how forcefully or wrongfully applied, is always for the good. His words appeal to a traditional, metaphysical view that female energy is only ever passive and reactive, so it requires male energy to give it meaning, force and shape. That is why having a rapist’s child might be a good thing in the dark minds of sordid fellows — because a rapist is the embodiment of male energy and women allegedly need male energy if they are to become something other than dark matter.
Similarly, even a vicious boss or wife-battering husband could be considered to be doing women some good, by exposing women to the necessary male energy that she needs to come into being in a meaningful way. This is actually the conservative ideology that underlies a text that could otherwise seem benign or genteel to some ears.
2. “Metaphysical” means imaginary. It means it has no relationship to reality. Nonetheless, many people live their lives as if metaphysical notions about the world were true. If enough people do that, it can change the real texture and experience of reality for a lot of people. To take one example, if women believe they are inherently passive they will wait for men to act, and not enjoying life on their own terms. That is why metaphysical precepts are so insidious.
According to the principles of shamanism, what one says doesn’t have to be True, but it has to work. By contrast, patriarchal reasoning demands that something has to be true when it is based on authority. However, it can neither show that its principles work, nor produce its authority. One may not be better off with shamanistic texts, but at least one is not worse off.
Temporary physical injury and blindness are essential to a shaman, for they ultimately enable him or her to see better.
Shamanic injuries lead to a compulsion to cross a bridge from one side of consciousness into another and in effect to join two opposing levels of consciousness together. Traditionally, shamans seek to retain the injurious darts in their bodies in order to keep hold of magic power. Whereas shamanic injury leads to a darkening of normative perceptions, it enhances others. Blindness forces one to rely on senses other than vision. Needing to function without sight or health, one develops aspects of one’s awareness that would otherwise never be developed. Nietzsche is typical in this pattern, as is his 20th Century French protégé, Georges Bataille. The result is a “double vision”, whereby two levels of reality can be compared and data extracted from combining their vectors in much the same way as the brain combines information from the left eye and the right eye to produce a third level of consciousness — depth perception.
In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes:
Even my eye trouble, which at times approached dangerously near blinding, was only an effect [of general exhaustion] and not a cause; for, with every improvement of my general bodily health came a corresponding increase in my power of vision. An all too long series of years meant recovery to me. But, sad to say, it also meant relapse, breakdown, periods of decadence. After this, need I say that I am experienced in questions of decadence? I know them inside and out. Even that filigree art of apprehension and comprehension in general, that feeling for nuances, that psychology of “seeing what is around the comer,” and whatever else I may be able to do, was first learnt then, and is the specific gift of that period during which everything in me was subtilized-observation itself, together with all the organs of observation. To view healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick, and conversely to view the secret work of the instinct of decadence out of the abundance and self-confidence of a rich life-this has been my principal experience, what I have been longest trained in. If in anything at all, it was in this that I became a master. To-day my hand is skillful; it has the knack of reversing perspectives: the first reason perhaps why a Transvaluation of all Values has been possible to me alone. (2)
Just a bit later on, he says:
This double series of experiences, this means of access to two worlds that seem so far asunder, finds an exact reflection in my own nature-I have an alter ego: I have a “second” sight, as well as a first. Perhaps I even have a third sight. The very nature of my origin allowed me an outlook transcending merely local, merely national and limited horizons; it cost me no effort to be a “good European.” (3) [emphasis added]
As we can see, the representation of “two worlds” of consciousness that have to be bridged by virtue of a necessity stemming from sickness leads to the sense of having a “third sight” — implicitly a mystical level of vision.
Contrast the use that a shaman can make out of his constitutional blindness with the normative blindness of the one who sees only one world, that being the vision circumscribed by the felt necessity to conform:
One used to fly by vision and now one flies by radar — blindly, as it were. That is the destiny of women within patriarchal societies – to have to rely upon a set of “civilising” values. That way, their navigation systems can always be jammed if they become too vocal. Women who have been “translated” into beings with now ‘ Civilized’ as opposed to Natural demeanours, have been taught to rely only upon those forms of communication that have been narrowly defined as “sensible” according to expectations which are starched, formal and conservative. How does one live within patriarchal society as a woman? Blindly, and disregarding of one’s own experiences, lest they puzzle and derange one enough that one finally takes action. Women are born to be castrated, according to some.
Next: Bataille’s non-knowledge as a form of shamanism
Nietzsche is a psychological thinker. Sometimes he extends his psychology into political theory, sometimes in a way that seems to give psychological insight to political movements. More often than not, his psychology cannot be generalized into political statements, although Nietzsche wants to do this.
In his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he is at his best since he is a psychologist and not a social critic. (Where he dabbles too much into issues of politics and gender, he is inclined to err.)
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is a prophet for a secular era. It’s very interesting how much the ideas in the book parallel those later discovered by Wilfred Bion, especially in terms of the psychology of group dynamics. Nietzsche had insights into the ways that groups unconsciously coördinate their members to reinforce conformity and compliance. There is no place for a self-reliant person where there is a “herd”. Creativity is even less respected by the “herd”, because it disrupts the unconscious mechanisms of herd organisation. Without needing to have any intellectual grasp of a reality outside of the herd, those who partake of group dynamics are still capable of annihilating anyone who thinks and acts differently from the group. The attacks by the herd against the one who stands alone and the counter-struggle for survival have psychological origins at a subliminal level.
Nietzsche makes visible these otherwise hidden phenomena: he shows that generally those who stand alone are destroyed, that nobody has to say anything for these attacks to begin to occur. They happen automatically without overt provocation. It’s group psychological dynamics at work.
Nietzsche’s solution to those who are likely to be attacked for their qualities of independence is that they should prepare for this to happen. They should also throw all their weight into the creative side of their characters, and forget about conforming. If you have intellectual qualities, or creative qualities that distinguish you from the herd (not in your own mind, but in theirs), you may as well invest in these totally, even if it means willing your own destruction — because the greater your ability, the more likely you are to disquieten those who have chosen to relinquish their independence for the sake of being protected by the group.
The shamanistic endeavor I’ve embarked on is my own. The origins of my invention took me from making my own emotional investigations, through putting myself in the shoes of Marechera, via my own African experiences. Along with this, I simultaneously moved from Nietzsche’s notion of viewing one’s life in terms of power to Bataille’s notion of inner-experience. I superseded, but did not erase the previous ways of looking at the world. My exposure to those first authors gave me ideas, methods, certainties and questions, which I took on through to the next level. More definitively as regards “intellectual shamanism”, I also brought my own needs and questions to the issue of how meaning is established by my own departing from what was already known and attempting to go beyond the theoretical structures of Nietzsche and Bataille as well as the structures of meaning implied by Marechera’s creative formulations.
575. We aeronauts of the spirit! All those brave birds which fly out into the distance, into the farthest distance it is certain! somewhere or other they will be unable to go on and will perch down on a mast or a bare cliff-face and they will even be thankful for this miserable accommodation! But who could venture to infer from that, that there was not an immense open space before them, that they had flown as far as one could fly! All our great teachers and predecessors have at last come to a stop […] it will be the same with you and me! Other birds will fly farther! This insight and faith of ours vies with them in flying up and away; it rises above our heads and above our impotence into the heights and from there surveys the distance and sees before it the flocks of birds which, far stronger than we, still strive whither we have striven, and where everything is sea, sea, sea! And whither then would we go? Would we cross the sea? Whither does this mighty longing draw us, this longing that is worth more to us than any pleasure? Why just in this direction, thither where all the sums of humanity have hitherto gone down? Will it perhaps be said of us one day that we too, steering westward, hoped to reach an India but that it was our fate to be wrecked against infinity? Or, my brothers. Or?
[Nietzsche, THE DAWN THOUGHTS ON THE PREJUDICES OF MORALITY]
I’ve gone as far as I can go. I’ve established “the void” as a feature of intellectual shamanism. This also defines the proximity of my mode of thinking to Buddhism. In the process of my flight, I’ve learned that there are many ways of thinking that circumscribe the realm of experience, so that we are certainly not free to investigate the world on one’s own or determine what one’s morality should be. Priests of all sorts shield one from this direct experience of the world. One’s conclusions, if derivable from authorities, are not able to be made through an encounter with nothingness, which is the blank canvas on which on draws one’s own meanings.
The capacity for intellectual shamanism is based on having superfluous energy to spend on exploring inner, psychological dimensions. The prerequisite for engagement puts intellectual shamanism at odds with many, perhaps most, other philosophies of life that demand one’s time and commitment in other ways. Even holding other implicit philosophies, such as a prevalent one of our age — biological determinism — moves one several steps away from understanding how intellectual shamanism is expressed. Those whose purpose in life is sex and reproduction will not find anything of value in this paradigm.
Somebody whose life is guided and determined by biological imperatives would experience intellectual shamanism as only threatening to take them away from their allotted tasks. A typical misunderstanding I have found in those who read Nietzsche is in the idea that one can use one’s reading as a means to gain the kind of “wisdom” that would enable one to fully express one’s innate biological urges. Yet, the desire to move in a direction that fulfills one’s needs as a creature of one’s biology is exactly opposed to the desire to further one’s knowledge about subjectivity and inner worlds. To follow a biological deterministic path requires a calm and yielding disposition. Any emotion or sensation that is not in this vein is a threat to one’s determined destiny.
By contrast, with regard to shamanism a lot of actions may be done and a lot of words spent, which have no biological purpose whatsoever. The meaning of looking into one’s inner worlds is not to lament anything, but simply to look around at one’s leisure. There is nothing to win or lose here, in terms of any sense of necessary or inevitable destinies. One has all the time in the world to waste and no purpose to achieve except that intrinsic to looking. One can scream and shout all one likes. This is actually encouraged.
At the same time, those in a hurry to take things in the opposite direction will, of course, not find anything here.
Nietzsche understood correctly that so much of the mass indoctrination into modes of morality is about moving the swamps. In making this judgement, Nietzsche was drawing on his understanding of mass psychology — that the masses regularly feel a need to release the tensions that come from being squeezed together into a massive conglomeration of human feelings, needs and desires. When the tension starts to build because of the pressures exerted on individual minds in relation to the cause of becoming massively ONE (one state, one national identity, one Führer), another force starts to demand its recompense. It achieves the alleviation of tension through blaming others. “Since I have had to sacrifice so much, to become one in mind and heart and soul with my community, others who seem different from me and who may not have suffered as I have, will now also have to suffer.”
Thus the nature of so much of mass morality is to reward oneself for all of the efforts of delayed gratification by going on a psychologically bloodthirsty rampage to impugn outsiders — those whom, presumably, have not conformed to the programme quite as well as Thou has. Or maybe the masses vote out one governmental party and put another into power to express their moral indignation.
The left is as guilty of this as the right, although in some ways the aspect of oneness and collective action belongs to the right, whilst the aspects of scattered moral indignation and infighting belong to the left.
See below how both use the same sets of imagery as a basis for propounding the same naturalistic philosophy of morality.
That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: “these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb-would he not be good?” there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal, except perhaps that the birds of prey might view it a little ironically and say: “we don’t dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them: nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb.”
To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength. A quantum of force is equivalent to a quantum of drive, will, effect – more, it is nothing other than precisely this very driving, willing, effecting, and only owing to the seduction of language (and of the fundamental errors of reason that are petrified in it) which conceives and misconceives all effects as conditioned by something that causes effects, by a “subject,” can it appear otherwise.
[GENEALOGY OF MORALS, FIRST ESSAY #13]
“The man I describe is in tune with Nature.”
“He is a savage beast.”
“Why, is not the tiger or the leopard, of whom this man is, if you wish, a replica, like man created by Nature and created to accomplish Nature’s intentions? The wolf who devours the lamb accomplishes what this common mother designs, just as does the malefactor who destroys the objects of his revenge or his lubricity.”
“Oh, Father, say what you will, I shall never accept this destructive lubricity.”
“Because you are afraid of becoming its object — there you have it: egoism. Let’s exchange our roles and you will fancy it very nicely. Ask the lamb, and you will find he does not understand why the wolf is allowed to devour him; ask the wolf what the lamb is for: to feed me, he will reply. Wolves which batten upon lambs, weak victims of the strong: there you have Nature, there you have her intentions, there you have her scheme.
[JUSTINE, GROVE PRESS, p 608)
The magical allure that is undoubtably present in Nietzsche’s writing is shamanistic. It is that which enables him to play the pied piper and to attract a following. Yet the shamanistic mode of logic — although present — is not as deep as it ought to be, were one to be truly faithful to the principles of shamanism. In precise terms: although the notion of plasticity of identity and self transformation is trumpeted, the degree of plasticity that is potentially available in each human being is portrayed as being much more limited than actually it is. Whereas changing genders is the ultimate expression of the logic of shamanism, Nietzsche’s views that the gender roles ought to be fundamentally unassailable is directly in line with the logic of patriarchal priests throughout the ages.
And yet he uses shamanistic structures of thought — which have a natural voluptuousness and sense of joyful celebration of the here and now — to sell us on this gloomy patriarchal priest’s ideas.
This is the contradiction within Nietzsche’s work. Shamanism would totally free its initiates the constraints imposed by guilt, if not from guilt itself — but Nietzsche wants a certain amount of freedom to be permitted, and no more.
He is like a wine merchant who has decided that his product isn’t going far enough — and so he dilutes his wine with methylated spirits.
But methylated spirits — the priestly complex — is actually poison. Specifically, it is a poison in the eyes of this particular wine merchant.
So how did he go wrong — to mix in so much priestly doom and gloom into what were, and ought to have been, liberating ideas for his time?
UPDATED: Nietzsche once wrote, “Apart from the church, we too love the poison [of ascetic ideas].”
It seems that both Nietzsche and Bataille mixed their knowledge with a certain amount of religiosity — poison — in order to reach the widest possible audience.
Shamanic “doubling” appears quite clearly at the end of sequence of books, in Ecce Homo, where Nietzsche speaks of having a privileged understanding of what constitutes health, due to his tendency to become ill.
To view healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick, and conversely to view the secret work of the instinct of decadence out of the abundance and self-confidence of a rich life-this has been my principal experience, what I have been longest trained in. If in anything at all, it was in this that I became a master. To-day my hand is skillful; it has the knack of reversing perspectives: the first reason perhaps why a Transvaluation of all Values has been possible to me alone. [my emphasis]
In Gay Science, Nietzsche also speaks about the basis for self-overcoming, though sinking into the depths of despair and learning to think more suspiciously about the structure of reality:
Only great pain, the long, slow pain that takes its time—on which we are burned, as it were, with green wood—compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put aside all trust, everything good-natured, everything that would interpose a veil, that is mild, that is medium—things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such pain makes us “better”; but I know that it makes us more profound.
Such a descent into pain, along with exercises in mistrust of how things appear to be, make a thinker more profound. We become more profound because we become suspicious of what we used to “know”
— i.e. “things in which formerly we may have found our humanity”. One, in effect, sinks to the underworld and then comes up transformed.
This is one direction of the Nietzschean dialectic: the underworld of experience in relation to normal life. Nietzsche points out in Ecce Homo that dialectics are a sign of decadence, but nonetheless a person who is healthy overall turns even injury into an experience for learning. This is as per the historically recurrent motif of “shamanic wounding” — but one must be strong enough to begin with for any suffering to be able to yield genuine insights, rather than merely pathological notions about the world.
This “down-going” or “going under” relates to an age-long shamanic notion of the underworld (met by facing death, first figuratively and then literally). It is also indicative of Darwinian advancement of humanity. One succumbs as a herald to “better players”. For the individual who must “go under”, though, there is a sense of sacrifice and evocation of the sacred in relation to the whole of humanity. One descends into an underworld of non-being, so that humanity might have its chance to progress.
A middle level of experience comprises the everyday world. More interestingly, in shamanic terminology there is also a realm of the heights.. To reach one’s inner heights, one transcends oneself. This has the structure of tactical self-doubling. Thus Spoke Zarathustra describes the nature and meaning of self-transcendence; a particular Nietzschean motif (Bataille contrasts it with immanence, which he logically prefers):
One day wilt thou see no longer thy loftiness, and see too closely thy lowliness; thy sublimity itself will frighten thee as a phantom. Thou wilt one day cry: “All is false!”There are feelings which seek to slay the lonesome one; if they do not succeed, then must they themselves die! But art thou capable of it—to be a murderer?Hast thou ever known, my brother, the word “disdain”? And the anguish of thy justice in being just to those that disdain thee?Thou forcest many to think differently about thee; that, charge they heavily to thine account. Thou camest nigh unto them, and yet wentest past: for that they never forgive thee.Thou goest beyond them: but the higher thou risest, the smaller doth the eye of envy see thee. Most of all, however, is the flying one hated.
Self-transcendence is fraught, as it involves being aware of the contemptible aspects of one’s self and moving above those cowardly elements. Consciousness is thus doubled in the process of moving between what we are and what we will to become. This doubling implies painful self-knowledge, which nonetheless one must accept if one wishes to explore a higher realm.
What attracted me? Quite precisely, it was that the colonial way of life I’d been bought up to experience as normal was no longer viable for me. This is, to sum it up, what attracted me. Beyond this, also that I was brought up to have a colonial feminine personality. My superego was very badly formulated, that is, it was formed to suit a very different culture, which was also now defunct. It also made me subservient to men — my superego. This was all very, very bad for me. I’d reached a dead-end so far as my psychological survival went. So, I got into this mode of “facing death” for renewal. I discovered this method originally through Nietzsche, but it is also highly prevalent in Bataille, and one can see the death and renewal motif in Marechera’s writing, especially THE HOUSE OF HUNGER, although his is the most anguished of the three. I suspect that psychological pressures from home, also accompanied by an extreme sense of the social and cultural frameworks shifting, brings about an existential crises that can lead to a beneficial reappraisal of one’s purpose and state of being.
This solution has turned out to be very, very useful to me. On it’s basis, I have an extremely viable marriage/relationship, I only do the work that fulfills me, I have found deep companionship with many black Zimbabweans (which my superego had later drawn limits against, post-migration). I go against the grain that has been established for my peers, many of whom are housewives. I do kickboxing. I have a high (no longer repressed) sex drive. And so on.
The difficulty of relating to others about what I have called “shamanic experiences” (more specifically those described by modernist intellectuals) is that these involve changes that are not necessarily able to be related through language. When we are children, we have a certain arrangement of experiences, including those that are common and/or significant for us, and we end up associating these with certain words.Thus language expresses emotional values and meanings for us. That is why it is difficult to try to resolve some kinds of emotional issues with the assistance of therapists. If the therapist does not attach the same emotional meanings to words as you do, you will end up effectively speaking a different language. You will become tied up in language, as generally happens to me when I try to get into any depth about emotional topics with most Western people.
Cultural differences are extremely significant. There have been women who have tried to get help from Western authorities, such as the police, because they saw that they would become victims of a culturally driven “honor killing”. The police may not necessarily believe the future victim, as she does not use the words that are emotionally loaded, in Western cultural terms, to imply genuine and significant danger. The future victim is dismissed as being merely “manipulative” and ends up in a suitcase, dead.
Emotional meanings and the way these are associated with language are different in every culture. Thus, language can obscure, rather than reveal meanings, when one relates in a cross-cultural situation.
Shamanism, however, is the means by which one exits language. One resolves one’s emotional issues independently of language — and then, the issues having been resolved, one re-enters language.
The difference in the initiate has to do with the degree to which one can now experience oneself as a whole, rather than as fractured parts. These are differences concerned with inner experience and have to do with the capacity to speak more confidently about one’s inner experience. That this difference is not easy to relate in language is to do with the nature of language itself. As Nietzsche says:
Ultimately, what does it mean to be ignoble?—Words are sound signals for ideas, but ideas are more or less firm image signs for sensations which return frequently and occur together, for groups of sensations. To understand each other, it is not yet sufficient that people use the same words; they must use the same words also for the same form of inner experiences; ultimately they must hold their experience in common with each other. That’s why human beings belonging to a single people understand each other better among themselves than associations of different peoples, even when they themselves use the same language; or rather, when human beings have lived together for a long time under similar conditions (climate, soil, danger, needs, work), then something arises out of that which “understands itself,” a people. In all souls, a similar number of frequently repeating experiences have won the upper hand over those which come more rarely; people understand each other on the basis of the former, quickly and with ever-increasing speed—the history of language is the history of a process of abbreviation. On the basis of this rapid understanding, people bind with one another, closely and with ever-increasing closeness. The greater the danger, the greater the need quickly and easily to come to agreement over what needs to be done; not to misunderstand each other when in danger is what people simply cannot do without in their interactions. With every friendship or love affair people still make this test: nothing of that sort lasts as soon as people reach the point where, with the same words, one of the two feels, means, senses, wishes, or fears something different from the other one. (The fear of the “eternal misunderstanding”: that is the benevolent genius which so often prevents people of different sexes from over-hasty unions, to which their senses and hearts urge them—and not some Schopenhauerish “genius of the species”!—). Which groups of sensations within the soul wake up most rapidly, seize the word, give the order—that decides about the whole rank ordering of its values, that finally determines its tables of goods. The assessments of value in a man reveal something about the structure of his soul and where it looks for its conditions of life, its essential needs. Now, assume that need has always brought together only such people as could indicate with similar signs similar needs, similar experiences, then it would generally turn out that the easy ability to communicate need, that is, in the last analysis, familiarity with only average and common experiences, must have been the most powerful of all the forces which have so far determined things among human beings. People who are more similar and more ordinary were and always have been at an advantage; the more exceptional, more refined, rarer, and more difficult to understand easily remain isolated; in their isolation they are subject to accidents and rarely propagate themselves. People have to summon up huge counter-forces to cross this natural, all-too-natural progressus in simile [advance into similarity], the further training of human beings into what’s similar, ordinary, average, herd-like—into what’s common.
Whereas therapists tend to try to bring you in line with what is experienced by the rest of the herd, shamanism invites you to experience your subjectivity in non-linguistic ways. This doesn’t mean you lose your capacity to speak — only that problems are resolved far away from the purview of the crowd.
How I speak in terms of shamanism’s altered states of consciousness may seem misleading on the surface of it. Looked at superficially, it seems that I’m inviting people to go mad. Altered states of consciousness are, to varying degrees, states of madness, insofar as they depart from everyday waking states. Madness, intoxication, altered states of consciousness, have all received a bad rap. Nonetheless, according to Nietzsche:
For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.
The means by which shamanism becomes a creative source is thus made clear: altered states of consciousness are states of intoxication, which are conducive to creativity. Perhaps this can be grasped intuitively, or ought to be self-evident. Nietzsche is merely pointing out that it is not some higher power, or some form of inner genius that gives birth to creativity. The prerequisite is intoxication. (Certainly, one can also be “intoxicated” on all sorts of “normal” things, for instance on life, on hormones or erotic feelings).
This much is clear. But it is not the key point. “What is the key point?” you ask, breathlessly and excitable.
Where does a shaman’s wisdom come from — presuming that he actually has any, and is not just bent on finding a delightful name to call his psychosis?
Altered states of consciousness are potential sources of wisdom, and that is because they offer opportunities to follow the scientific method and to engage in mathematics and physics.
To experience one state of mind is to create a vector. To experience two states of mind is to create another vector. One vector is the path followed by the left eye. The other is the path followed by the right eye. The brain puts them together, and suddenly one has depth perception.
Similarly, one creates “controls” (in memory) when one moves away from normal consciousness and re-enters it again. And, that which one experiences in the movement away from normal consciousness modifies the perceptions one has upon returning. One does not see the same reality in the same way after engaging in shamanistic dialectics. Hopefully, one makes progress. Although progress is never assured through any kind of shamanistic engagement or technique, the methods necessary to improve self-awareness are, however, built-in to the structure of the shamanistic experience.
“He enjoys the taste of what is wholesome for him; his pleasure in anything ceases when the bounds of the wholesome are crossed; he divines the remedies for partial injuries; he has illnesses as great stimulants of his life; he knows how to exploit ill chances; he grows stronger through the accidents that threaten to destroy him; he instinctively gathers from all that he sees, hears, experiences, what advances his main concern—he follows a principle of selection—he allows much to fall through; he reacts with the slowness bred by a long caution and a deliberate pride—he tests a stimulus for its origin and its intentions, he does not submit; he is always in his own company, whether he deals with books, men, or landscapes; he honors by choosing, by admitting, by trusting.”
“[H]e is strong enough for everything to have to turn out for the best for him” [Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.]
The link between Nietzsche and shamanism is apparent above. Wounding is a stimulus that leads to strengthening. If only the individual is already strong enough to withstand the wounding, she can learn from that. Accidents are of benefit because they push one onto alternative pathways. One can learn from those as well. The quintessential definition of the shamanic type, from all my readings, is “one who has been wounded and has developed insights, creativity and psychological strength from the injury.”
I have nothing more to say about the shamanic type that isn’t entailed in that definition.
One has to have lived in material poverty, indeed it helps to be still living that way, to find an aesthetic and qualitative spiritual benefit in the state of being cracked. Marechera cracked and thereby shed a lot of light. The cracking of the robust spirit leads to the production of a third eye. “We feel each other through our wounds,” says Bataille.
This coming generation won’t be cracked, because it won’t experience on the prolonged grind of material poverty. War is also remote from consciousness, just as the conditions of violence, hardship and desperation are distant from everyday life.
In calm and undisturbed cultural conditions, shamanism not to occur. Its absence is not necessarily to the benefit of people, since in the absence of shamanistic sensibilities, intimacy also loses its meaning. One does not seek to be on intimate terms with another when one already has everything — everything, except a symbol of completion, meaning a person of the opposite sex to append to one’s lifestyle.
When I mention to people that I met Mike on the Internet, and that I hadn’t seen him in person the day before we moved in together, and that our life together has been perfect every since, they often express surprise that such an outcome is possible. Affluent people don’t “feel each other” nearly as well, it seems. Their lives are insulated in too many ways, and likely they’ve never been down to the bottom of their soul, where they’ve discovered their true identities, after having been a little cracked.
There are those who implicitly understand a shamanistic sensibility (although they don’t call it that), and those who don’t. Those who don’t often cannot understand the need to maintain a sense of inner consistency in one’s overall intent. A harsh environment commands that one does so, for the sake of one’s self-preservation. It’s the same reason soldiers are taught always to carry water with them. This is not to favor rigidity, as if one ought simply “open one’s mind” and one day carry water through the desert, another day brandy, and the third day coconut liqueur, just to vary the routine and show that one is capable of including different possibilities. The consistency of shamanistic principles is directly related to psychological survival. One must have need of a very basic level of survival first, in order to discover these principles — and then one sticks to them.
As Nietzsche noted, a harsh environment is necessary for the fullest quality of life:
But what if pleasure and pain should be so closely connected that he who wants the greatest possible amount of the one must also have the greatest possible amount of the other, that he who wants to experience the “heavenly high jubilation,” must also be ready to be “sorrowful unto death”?[The Gay Science : First Book, 12. The Goal of Science, Friedrich Nietzsche ]
By contrast, although very gentle environment might seem to be the one necessary factor conducive to existence, ultimately, it doesn’t necessarily bring as much depth to life, or as much pleasure, or gratitude.
Many blame Nietzsche for the nihilistic sensibilities of the present age. Stanley Rosen presents such a case. Rosen disagrees with Heidegger on Nietzsche’s failure and with Rorty on Nietzsche’s value as a philosopher. Rosen believes that Nietzsche succeeded in his break with Western metaphysics, a feat that should be anything but celebrated. “In my opinion,” writes Rosen, “Nietzsche has no ultimate teaching of a theoretical, constructive nature. The riddle to Nietzsche’s consistency cannot be unlocked because it does not exist.” For Rosen, Nietzsche’s teaching has the same outcome for which Nietzsche blames Platonism and Christianity: “it empties human existence of intrinsic value.” Nietzsche’s teaching is not only contradictory; it is disquieting and dangerous. Rosen believes that even Nietzsche’s Yes-saying magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “implodes into chaos.”Rosen’s analysis derives in part from his recognition of the problem of nature in Nietzsche’s writing. “The term nature thus plays an ambiguous role in Nietzsche’s thinking,” writes Rosen. “Nietzsche advocates a return to the natural order in a sense, but not in a Platonic or Aristotelian sense.” For Nietzsche, “nature is power and, still more fundamentally, chaos.” Rosen, unlike Heidegger, does not see Nietzsche as having an affinity with Aristotle and dismisses such nonsense. For Rosen, the result of the two views of nature in Nietzsche’s works is nihilism. Yes, nature is the standard for values, but if nature is chaos, as it is in Nietzsche, then all values are relative to man’s will to power.
I almost feel that any statement I could make to elaborate on the role of nature in Nietzsche’s philosophy has already been stated in terms of Rosen’s views. Nonetheless, it has not been made apparent nor understood. Here is more about Rosen’s take on Nietzsche from this excellent essay of Prof. Steven Michels:
For Rosen, Nietzsche’s teaching is an appeal to the highest, most gifted human individuals to create a radically new society of artist-warriors[,]…expressed with rhetorical power and a unique mixture of frankness and ambiguity in such a way as to allow the mediocre, the foolish, and the mad to regard themselves as the divine prototypes of the highest men of the future. A radically new society requires as its presupposition the destruction of an existing society; Nietzsche succeeded in enlisting countless thousands in the ironical task or self-destruction, all in the name of a future utopia.[my emphasis]
I have written quite a bit on the motifs of destruction that are present in the work of Nietzsche and Bataille, who proclaimed, “I am Nietzsche”, and from this I consider that although Rosen’s view is plausible, it lacks in psychological depth and complexity. Rosen, rather than allowing for the possibility that Nietzsche’s work was deeply psychological not politically manipulative in the manner of the Chicago School of political thought, views Nietzsche narrowly as a shrewd political manipulator.
Certainly Rosen ascertains that Nietzsche writes with a certain degree of ambiguity about “destruction”. Bataille also retains that ambiguity, as he wants to speak to the broadest range of people, each at their level of development. It is apparent in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, that Nietzsche considers there are some who need to obey in order to achieve their full capacities, whereas some can transcend obedience. Similarly in Theory of Religion, Bataille writes about “destruction” both in a very direct, concrete way and in a more suggestive, metaphorical way, simultaneously. The ambiguity is maintained because different people have different roles to play, not because Nietzsche was trying to clear the debris through political manipulation of people’s consciousness.
Where I differ very much from Rosen is that I see Nietzsche as a psychologist, not a politician. It is certain that Nietzsche viewed his project in a Darwinist light, but there was no intention of political manipulation on his part. No trick was involved. Rather, he sought to bring about a new society on the basis of each person testing themselves purely in relation to themselves. To encounter “nature” as described in the first quote, above, is to encounter reality in its most direct, unmediated form, without the softening effects of the meanings furnished by society and it’s organizing principles, based in metaphysics.
To encounter the lack of meaning by daring to face the negative, dark or destructive aspects of life is to face the possibility of shamanistic initiation: one either becomes stronger as a result, or one is overcome and fades away. In either case, life becomes vastly more interesting than if one does not face this encounter. An encounter with the void is nearly always intrinsically interesting in that if one resolves one’s experience successfully, one’s vitally it multiplied.
There is no “trick” to this — no political purpose or manipulation, apart from giving an orientation to experience that is different from predominant moralistic and/or theological world views.
Marechera’s Black Sunlight is the most shamanistic of all his writing. The book invites us to undergo, with him, a recapitulation of the past – meaning the specific historical past of Rhodesia, and the psychological states that were common to it during the time of the bush war. The term, “recapitulation”, has a specific meaning in terms of shamanism (a term taken from Carlos Casteneda’s books).
To recapitulate one’s past, one must first have a need to do so. This is not to say that all traumas can be recovered from, since some cut too deeply for the one who desires healing to be able to benefit from a recapitulation. Black Sunlight is a novel that invites us to go along with the author as he re-experiences traumatic past events. The book expresses his mental anguish, as it relates to the anti-colonial revolution in Rhodesia.
Marechera invites his readers to go on this highly subjective inner journey, where everything that we would hold to be true and fixed and objective about the world seems to melt into the air, and we are left only with a feeling of complete immersion in the emotions of the time, increasing to an ultimate sense of paranoia and terror as the reader is positioned on the side of the anarchist revolutionaries against the encroaching Rhodesian security forces.
The recapitulation is highly effective – for his psychological approach and aesthetics force us to confront ourselves in “immanence” – meaning in terms of the dynamics of an infant’s early consciousness, before a reality-based ego had been developed. (In terms of Kleinian theory, this is a return to the very early part of the consciousness relating to infancy, which can be understand as a “paranoid-schizoid position“.)
It is hardly surprising that shamanic journeying leads to insights about the psyche and how it can become better grounded. One risks living too much on the surface of reality if one overlooks the engulfing side of nature; the possibility of the loss of self. It is the character of “Susan” who represents the dangerous side, rapacious and engulfing. (We are later to understand the encounter was as a result of having taken the protagonist’s drugs.)
Self-knowledge comes from understanding and accepting that life has two aspects: nurture and aggression. We, ourselves, embody both sides, and accepting this fact enables us to go on towards psychological freedom.
The author’s self-revelation in the final passages of the book, naked and wet, triumphant from his fight with nature but entirely despairing of his negative experiences — reveals to us once and for all, that it is impossible to overcome the fact that reality and nature have two opposing sides. Also: Marechera finds a model for postcolonial metaphysics that is based on something other than blind revenge. It is a very peculiar motion, if you read his novella, BLACK SUNLIGHT. He starts of with blind revenge and ends up with shamanistic catharsis. It’s very strange to experience this transition with him.
Bataille’s conception of sacrifice makes clear his own view of the overwrought nature of the human condition — at least as he and Lacan experienced it in 20th Century France. Conforming is always a concession to impersonality, in both Bataille and Lacan. Conforming preserves the bourgeois person. The cost is impersonality; the benefit is preservation of oneself via creature comforts, bourgeois status and (impersonal) identity. The practical opposite to this norm of bourgeois conformity is personal self-actualisation. Herein is the Nietzschean paradox (and it also depicts what I call “intellectual shamanism”). To self-actualize is to give up the benefits of self-preservation:
I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge. (Nietzsche)
Bataille takes up a Nietzschean perspective when he associates self-actualization with sacrifice. He is also Freudian (and was used by Lacan to develop his perspectives), for he views sacrifice in terms of psychological deviance, on the basis of one’s circumstances being untenable (the need to represent impersonality in the workplace leads to an opposite, reactive attitude, once one has time to oneself). In his essay in book form, Theory of Religion, Bataille portrays the worker in a state of destructive reverie. Bourgeois form and sobriety are sacrificed to despair. This structurally determined polarization of the worker’s consciousness is between the profane (one’s experience of work) and the sacred (one’s experience of free time, expressed as a frenzy of destructiveness.) Free time and money to spend purely to satisfy one’s appetites are the worker’s accursed share.
The Freudian influence on Bataille renders this reading of the worker and his behavior as pathological — although, like Lacan thought, necessarily so. Civilization is not experienced by organic and instinctively driven human beings as a natural condition, thus it necessarily produces its discontents. Bataille’s point is that society structures the psyche of the worker in terms of polarizing his consciousness, so that it swings between conformity and destructiveness. Bataille’s views are also Marxist.
Nietzsche’s views are not at all Marxist in any way. He expresses his views in terms of evolutionary proposals. He expresses his ideas in terms of Darwinism.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.
This is a tragic view of the world — that in order for humanity to make progress beyond its apelike origins, many who aspire to do something great will fall along the way and not meet their goals. Their failures, however, are necessary, because they offer the basis for others to learn and thus succeed.
Thus for Nietzsche, sacrifice for the benefit of humanity is achieved by those who attempt — (and perhaps fail) — to self-actualize: a “down-going” is also an “over-going”. A failure to do all that one had wanted to is nonetheless also transcendence of humanity’s existing ape-like condition. One advances human evolution through one’s attempts. One sacrifices oneself to the future of humanity, rather than sacrificing the future of humanity to one’s self to the degree that one departs from the script of an impersonal conformist who wants everything to stay just the same.
I now understand that the problem I wanted to solve through writing my autobiographical thoughts was solved through shamanistic methods and strategies of recapitulating the past. It was not enough to write the thoughts down, but I had to eventually reach the point where I would be able to see myself objectively — that is, to see myself from the outside. Up until this point, the memoir wasn’t completed, at least not in my mind.
I had, for a while, a wish that others would complete it for me. My expectation was based on my social and cultural conditioning, which had been extremely idealistic, in the sense of believing that knowledge and power and goodness were absolute, and that I had only to keep struggling to be rewarded with the jackpot.
Looking back, I had anticipated that others generally knew more than I. For instance, I presumed I had only to mention a theory or a concept to any lecturer at university, and they would immediately be able to become a fountain of knowledge, filling me in on the aspects of meaning I had missed. I assumed, in short, that I was missing strategic bits of knowledge that others probably had.
This wasn’t an issue of self-esteem, since I also knew that I had a great deal of knowledge in specific subject areas, which gratified me a great deal. Nonetheless, it vexed me that I seemed to be missing some parts of emotional and historical knowledge. It perplexed me even more that I couldn’t figure out what these were.
This something essential being missing made my paragraphs seem awkward as I had to somehow cover over the elisions with words I thought probably approximated my intentions. Most of what I said I was entirely certain about, but there remained nonetheless some missing bits of knowledge — aspects of meaning, and a sense of the likely impact of my words, of which I was uncertain.
Having to take a hit or miss approach to meaning unraveled me. I had to recover knowledge about what I didn’t know — but above all, I had to find out specifically what is was I didn’t know.
I finally found out that a particular paradigm resonated with me deeply. There were others who had a similar goal and purpose in life, and were pursuing it in ways that made a lot of sense to me. Peculiarly enough, I also found that those who couldn’t understand the meaning and value of this project intuitively could not understand it at all.
Misinterpretations of Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera are common — for instance, in the idea that they were simply acting up. I perceived that they were in search of their emotions to recover them. I was doing the same. The fact that I had missing bits of awareness deeply bothered me. I had to work my way deeply into the reality I had come from to learn what these pieces were. This process was constituted by writing and researching my PhD.
My PhD research finally brought me to an understanding of a paradigm that would facilitate my task. Descent into the past to recover one’s identity is what I came to term “intellectual shamanism”. The concept of Eternal Recurrence that is at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy is also concerned with recovery of one’s self from one’s historical accidents.
I also understood what defines and separates writers like Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera from other sorts of writers is that they are writers who have some early trauma. In the case of Nietzsche, it seems to relate to his father’s early death. Bataille’s father used to beat him. Marechera was born into a war zone, and I entered one, psychologically, when my family emigrated from a war zone. The logic of intellectual shamanism is in the recovery of the parts of oneself lost to trauma. For those who do not have to face this task, this shamanistic paradigm will make little intuitive sense. The ability to restore one’s sense of one’s life into a whole, that one approves of, is the basis for Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence: until one can effectively manage this, one keeps reliving the original trauma.
The effect of trauma is the numbing of emotions — hence the loss of aspects of oneself to the historical past. To feel one’s emotions again, whilst recreating the historical context in which they had become numbed, is to restore one’s full sense of self, so that nothing is missing. The emotional and intellectual knowledge I’d been lacking due to episodes of numbing were restored substantially.
Still, I had not seen myself from the outside yet, which meant I retained a feeling of vulnerability in terms of overall self-knowledge. In the back of my mind I feared that there was something strange about me — a feeling confirmed by the fact that many others could not understand my sense of the issues Marechera, Bataille and Nietzsche were trying to address through their philosophies. All three of these writers have come under intense fire by moralists who thought they were engaged in nasty practices. The bourgeois moralists considered Marechera simply and straightforwardly undisciplined, Bataille as having a meaningless, but not redemptive attraction to violence, and Nietzsche as being simply ideologically fascist. In my experience, these writers were my salvation, instructing me how to repair damage to my psyche.
Just a few days ago, I finally saw myself from a detached point of view as a result of continuing to pursue self-knowledge. Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with me — except one thing: I do have a tendency to psychological numbing. I’m not always entirely present, although never out of control. At the moment of reliving an earlier trauma, I am intellectually and emotionally absent. This tendency is deeply ingrained, conditioned from childhood. The consequences of this early conditioned form of emotional self-defense is that I lose details from the present, very easily, if under stress. When my emotions temporarily switch off, I am no longer present. This in turn leads to another problem in that I’m not sure what the proper emotions or observations would be in relation to a particular situation, since although I was there, I didn’t really experience the situation fully.
Intellectual shamanism helps me to overcome this tendency to emotionally switch off. One has to face “death” in accepting the fact that all is finite. By means of fearlessly “confronting death”, one encounters reality in all of its unmediated immediacy. Shamanistic techniques thus manage to reawaken socially traumatized people’s connections with reality — which are then experienced as spontaneous flows of life.
A shaman is one whose life has been ‘shipwrecked’. The victim cast to sea, only to sink to the depths and find hidden treasure. Who would believe in this treasure, or that the meaning of the shipwreck could have turned out to be something positive? It is this paradox that we are dealing with, for instance in terms of the productive power of Zimbabwean author, Dambudzo Marechera, who was a contemporary shaman, by necessity, and not by conscious choice.
There results a self that is somewhat of a tragedian, which laments the original sense of self and its feelings of security aboard a boat with definite direction and an already furnished life-purpose, but beside that self is another “self” that has somehow triumphed, not despite of – but because of – the chaos. This is the doubling of the self that we constantly meet within Marechera’s work. The fact that the ‘tragedy’ of one’s life produced unexpected benefits is harder to speak of in direct, everyday language, since it goes against the grain of rational expectations. This knowledge pertains to the ‘shamanic” aspect of the self, which gives the subject access to a level of reality that is generally denied by those who are uncomfortable with being “wrecked” out of one’s wounds.
N.B. Nietzsche experienced traumatic awakenings when his father died suddenly, an event depicted by the image of the howling dog in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He had earlier experienced such when his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was poorly received, and when he succumbed to extreme illness and had to quit his professorial position. All these led to a sinking more deeply into the unconscious mind and resulted in aphilosophical deepening of his ideas.
The corrective to Nietzsche‘s self-sacrifice via elitism or “transcendence” is of course Georges Bataille, who is clearly of the left and addresses the problems of modernity as a closer contemporary to you or I.
The problem of bourgeois society IS the reification of the ego — that is, the assumption that a concept of oneself defines one’s actual identity I think that liberals in general cannot understand a critique from someone of my bent, who takes up the Nietzschean tradition. They imagine that it would be impossible not to reify the ego or to avoid doing so would mean to denigrate (perhaps even to disintegrate) the ego. This is typical bourgeois black or white thinking.
One cannot develop actual subjectivity unless one sacrifices the aggrandizement of the bourgeois ego. Yet the (only apparent rather than actual) sacrifice does not lead to nothing or negation, although that is the danger and the threat that Bataille’s writing announces.