The Great Atheism Controversy in Germany

ATHEISM resurrection of reasoning.JPG
The Resurrection of Greek Reason by Darwin Leon

 

THE GREAT ATHEISM CONTROVERSY IN GERMANY

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

German philosopher, religious thinker, and political radical, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was accused of atheism. After being appointed professor of philosophy at Jena in 1794, he had begun a series of public lectures on Sundays, from ten to eleven o’clock, much to the consternation of the clerics. A local journal declaimed on Fichte’s revolutionary politics, accusing him of subversively substituting the worship of Reason for the worship of God.

That was a very serious charge in view of the situation over in Paris, where images of the savior and saints had been pulled down in churches renamed “Temples of Truth” and replaced with effigies of Reason and Liberty and paintings of natural objects such as flowers. Atheism was in vogue there to the extent that, if a priest bothered to even mention god in church, people openly guffawed.

Fichte, however, had no such mummery or cynicism in mind, although he was enthusiastic about some of the French Revolution’s basic principles, and he had written such tracts as “Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe and Contributions Designed to Correct the Judgement of the Public on the French Revolution.”

The formal charge brought against Fichte, for worshiping Reason on Sunday, was resolved in his favor by the university senate of the Weimar government, with the proviso that any future lectures be given at three o’clock on Sunday afternoons instead of in the mornings. No such compromise was available however, in the matter of Atheismusstreit, the great Atheism Controversy which arose out of the publication of his 1798 essay on divine governance, “On the Basis of Our Belief in the Divine Governance of the World.”

The grand duke of Weimar had a liberal respect for scholarship, yet he wanted the whole thing hushed up; nevertheless, Fichte insisted on raising a vigorous public response to the anonymous charges against him, because, he said, the matter at hand was a vital public issue concerning the most fundamental of all freedoms. After all, a public airing of both sides of the atheism controversy would expose the stupidity of the authoritarian morons. Fichte had promised that he would resign if censured by the governing authority. As it were, he was mildly rebuked, but his offer to resign was accepted and he was dismissed from his university post. His dismissal was followed by anonymous public attacks on his character. The political authorities of various regions in Germany were embarrassed by the scandal, and they, in turn, ordered the journal publishing Fichte’s purportedly atheistic views confiscated, and they forbade students from their precincts to enroll at the university in Weimar.

What did Fichte say that outraged the anonymous religious authorities? In fine, he averred that god is the “World Moral Order.” That sufficed to outrage the theists.

Fichte thought that a person truly believes in god if he does his duty “gaily and without concern,” without fear or doubts about the consequences. A true believer is not afraid of the hateful hypocrites who go about casting anonymous aspersions on someone else’s version of faith.

As for the atheist, Fichte claimed that “the true atheist… raises his own counsel above god and thus raises himself to god’s position” by concerning himself with the consequences of doing his duty. The real atheist is a religious hypocrite who is concerned with what he can get out of his religion, the selfish person who does his duty concerned only with what is in it for him. As far as Fichte was concerned, doing one’s duty is imperative and not categorical, for duties by definition must be done regardless of the consequences. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about moral imperatives; for instance, the imperative not to lie: “You must not lie,” Fichte said, “even if the world were to go to pieces as a consequence.” So one should be willing to sign his own name to his beliefs and suffer the consequences therefor.

It may appear to the reader that, if the same good works are done, then the practical effects of selfish atheism and dutiful theism are the same, leaving the question of a person’s faith in god, which is really nobody else’s business. As long as the outward observances are dutifully observed, whether or not someone believes in god or not is between her and god. As for lying, the biggest lie of all is told by those who profess the existence of god but do not really believe god exists. If only people would start telling the truth about god, nation, party, family, and person, we would embrace our common humanity, in which pessimists believe a world war might break out.

Do not worry, advised Fichte, the truth will not cause the world go to pieces. If the truth is good for anything at all, surely it will keep the world intact. “The plan of its preservation could not possibly be based on a lie,” quoth he. Obviously, if god does exist, god is not a liar. Wherefore for Fichte, the moral world order that is god does not have to be proved; rather, it is the objective ground or presumed hypostasis necessary for certitude.

Fichte was not an atheist at all in the learned opinion of many great theologians who happened to be influenced by him. He was, one might say, an ethical pantheist who believed that god’s moral order or logos was present in every individual and available to each conscientious individual. That perspective naturally led bigoted dogmatists to charge Fichte with the mortal sin of deism, for intolerant bigots insist that deists are atheists. Deism affirms the existence of god and of rewards and punishments after death, and posits that each person aided by reason can discover the few simple truths of religion. Since god gives all normal humans reason, god’s doctrines are no secret; there are no specially anointed authorities who alone are able to understand and interpret god’s word. Conscience is a private matter. The deity winds up the universe like a clock and leaves us to do our duty or not. Finally, as to the form of worship, the deist worships god with good works. Deism, incidentally, was not unique to Europe; several founding fathers of the United States of America were democratically oriented deists.

The professors of stupidity charged Fichte with “making himself God” because of his reliance on reasoning rather than their irrational objective dogma. Fichte’s moral world order, however, was not the mundane mores of the mob or crowd, but was the real moral order of a supersensible realm where duty is not done for pleasure’s sake but for its own sake. His concept of Absolute Transcendental Idealism and the Absolute Ego or “I” smacked of heresy to bigots who wanted some godly object to idolize, a god of self-hate projected somewhere out there opposed to man and nature.

An object-god, say an imagined father-god who is out there somewhere, say in an imagined heaven, and who is opposed to man and to nature, is more of devil than a god. And it is for that reason that we should also be wary of Fichte’s absolute idealism, his apparent divorce of the subject (god and man) from the object (world and society). Furthermore, his idealistic con-fusion of god and man on the subjective side is dangerous, for an idealist who thinks his personal ideals are the one and only reality may dutifully be as intolerant as the religious bigot.

Indeed, an examination elsewhere of Fichte’s patriotic German utopia reveals a totalitarian dystopia. If he had known what we now know about the consequences of that line of thinking in World War instead of World Moral Order, he would not have been so enthusiastic about his German nationalism.

On the other hand, the wild, anarchistic hand as opposed to the totalitarian, heavy hand, we might admire Fichte for his assertion of the freedom of the will, the absolute freedom of thought and expression associated with the subjective nature of individualism.

In any event, Fichte was viciously and anonymously slandered by the professors of faith for expressing his conscience. The cowardice of the professors in remaining anonymous indicts their religion of ignorance, fear and hate. A profoundly faithful person rests secure in her faith; she is not pressed to prove the existence of her god; she certainly feels no need to make anonymous personal attacks on others. Naturally those who are insecure in forced faith fear that someone else’s reasoning might pull the rug called faith from beneath them, a rug laid on the shaky ground or shifting sands of their irrational fear, hence they respond anonymously unless they have a supporting mob; they answer with hate instead of love and would disallow any song except their own, desperately strident one.

College students conducting a recent study of hate-mongering cults were surprised by the loving friendliness the hate-cult members showed towards each other and towards new recruits. They love not the god of neighborly love piety raves about, for they condemn all to hell who do not agree with them. Surely this is not the worship of the god of love so many man-hating magpies chatter about in their assemblies, in churches, in neo-fascist meeting-places, but is rather the worship of hate itself. It is in effect hate-others-based group-love, a love based on fear.

Whether or not we like Fichte’s philosophy, the Great Atheism Controversy he was involved in, even though the atheism issue has grown increasingly moot since then, raises questions pertinent to our own time.

For instance, why would someone hide their name when expressing an opinion on an abstract subject unless they are terribly ashamed of their own existence expressed in words? Why are they so ashamed of themselves? Why do so many people hide behind false identities simply to insult people? And why do so many “religious people,” anonymously or not, resort to slander and libel, just as their forbears did about Fichte’s private life and sexual philosophy? Why, indeed, does their real god seem to be Satan, slander personified?

 

XYX

The General Lie

 
 
 
THE GENERAL LIE
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
 

The dystopia 1984 was premature: the title should have been 2084. The year 1984 has past but the spirit of 1984 is still at work in capitalism despite the failure of the national socialist and communist campaigns. But not to worry. The number of dissident intellectuals who worry about the evils of The System diminishes because their minds are being submerged, nay, are being assimilated and absorbed by the homogeneous, gelatinous gray matter, the Borgian Blob beneath the gargantuan mechanical carapace.

Who needs a liberal education or a self-education? The human race has already been systematically liberated by science and technology. We near the end of human history whose objective is freedom. WE are almost free enough to totally obey now: The System is freedom in obedience. The once adamantly independent intellectual has joined the amorphous population of irresponsible credentialed narcissists staring into the corporate pool of Echo’s tears. Credentials, indeed. The sausage-factory graduate is handed a pigskin at the commencement exercise: “Here is your brain.” With this football he or she can proceed to beg in hyphenated broken English at corporate back doors:

“Extremely well organized, detail-oriented, highly self-motivated, ambitious, career-minded team-player with a can-do attitude and excellent communication skills seeks key place on winning team. Highly energetic self-starter. Eager to hit the ground running to meet deadlines long before they arrive for cutting-edge, rapidly expanding, fast-paced company. Works best under pressure. Dynamic, multi-tasking, customer-driven, high-expectations environment preferred. Loves constant change and long hours without overtime pay. Willing to make sacrifices: integrity, conscience, family, and three chickens a week.”

What communication skills? and to what end? Never mind, just push the right sequences of buttons and everyone will get it and obey it and produce it and consume it. The hackneyed phrases of form letters no matter how inapplicable to particulars will more than suffice when ‘integration’ and not ‘integrity’ is the key word. We are racially, politically and economically integrated now. We do not worry so much about our liberty for we find virtual liberty in our freedom to choose from an amazing variety of optional dressings on goods and services mass produced by virtue of scientific management. Fascists and communists and capitalists alike loved America’s scientific management scheme. Yet the intellectual roots of modern business administration are not in America but in Europe, in the Jesuit’s educational ‘conspiracy’ hatched in monasteries and cultivated in universities and military schools.

Today’s neo-liberal masters of business administration are jesuitical monotheists devoted to the disciplined rational pursuit and compound accumulation of an overarching abstract value: money. Money is god because it gives any person no matter how honorable or dishonorable power over things and persons. It is not so much the thing as the power that is wanted. Money is worth dying for and profit is salvation. Profit is frantically sought no matter how many heart attacks one survives: we look at the fast-paced businessman and say, “He is a walking heart attack,” but he does not know his condition; if he does, he just keeps on going anyway, like that battery in the commercial. Money comes not in peace but with a sword to destroy not only the family but traditional morality with its plural values. Morality becomes a pretense as exchange value replaces it. Profitable individualism is perfected in the universal hypocrisy of This Lying World of Ours. In any event, the army of workers must be organized and managed undemocratically in order to reduce costs and increase sales so that the kept class may be kept up with unearned income – the executive officers who aspire to join the kept class are entitled to obscene salaries and perquisites whether they lose or win the battles.

No doubt with the advance of technology many benefits trickle down to obedient employees as a consequence. As a matter of fact, there exists an open dirty secret: if the furnace were allowed to go full blast and the products were broadly distributed, poverty would be eliminated forthwith. But we must not allow that to happen, because people are basically lazy and prefer to lay around all day, smoke pot, drink booze, shoot up drugs, gamble, and fornicate. In fact, they would stop working without the fear of poverty to motivate them. Civilization would soon be destroyed. Therefore a system must be maintained, a system based on the scarcity principle – if there is no real scarcity, a false scarcity must be created.

The System is painful at times, but as long as the masses are systematically preoccupied with bread and circus, with standard trash, junk, and garbage, the elite are secure in their luxurious compounds furnished with custom-made things. We are an option-rich people, therefore we are free to choose between things. The choice is between buy and buy, or consume and consume; and to have that liberating choice one must sell and sell, or produce and produce, or be born rich or otherwise come into some unearned money. The surgeon general of the United States defined mental health as leading a productive life, and recommended mind-bending prescription drugs for those who cannot stand it. As long as one goes along, one is free in his or her obedience. There is always freedom of thought and conscience, and in the creative imagination, even in prison where great libertarian tracts have been written. If one can find enough leisure in voluntary poverty or wealth, religion or art-for-art’s sake might set one virtually free.

Do we like The System? Not really. If people were allowed to pitch tents or to build lean-tos, huts and cabins wherever they liked, without paying rent or mortgage payments, the residential real estate bubble would burst – there would be no affordable housing shortage. But that cannot be. That is why the military junta of Myanmar, for example, wants everyone to live in regular Western houses instead of bamboo houses that can be built in a day if they happen to burn down because a woman is not careful smoking her cheroot – she was once the freest woman in the world, the envy of British women who visited Burma.

However, something is wrong with the the dark view of our race, especially with the allegation that humankind is a kind of sloth – that is a lie. We are not all lazy prostitutes: we do not work for the money alone or the thing that it can buy. We are not natural born bums and wicked welfare recipients. We know wealthy and poor people who love to work. We love action. We are natural born creators and builders. We cannot stop building when we should stop and be as lazy as a sloth sometimes appears to be. Moreover, men and women have built up fabulous fortunes not merely for love of money or power but because they love to be building something for people and they just cannot stop themselves; and those projects have enormously benefited our kind. So there.

On the other hand, the restlessness has gotten out of hand, and we are right to criticize it, to give ourselves a break, to take more and longer breaks from the compulsive make-work that consumes so much time in the ‘advanced’ economies of the world. Making work just to work is presently working the ruin of the physical, mental and spiritual resources of the the world, and does so in the false name of inevitable progress to a nebulous, indefinite utopia or X, but we know better, for we residents of This Lying World of Ours are hypocrites.

The utopia of our modern forefathers is here; we know it is rapidly becoming a dystopia. Yet we praise it. We put up a pretense that it is a good thing, for instance, to welcome change; to be welcome mats for somebody else’s perpetual innovation; to change for the sake of change; to upgrade everything just to keep our jobs; to spin our wheels producing superfluities just to have private crappers; – to do all this falsely, on command from the top down, in the name of individual liberty. It is the liberty of an army ant. We are just going through the motions. We have no idea where the the military-industrial complex will strike on its next pre-emptive, self-defensive campaign to save the world for its own good whether the world likes it or not. We know the generals are lying through their whitened teeth; one lies to the whole world because he has high office; the other to the American people because he wants high office. The generals know they lie, but here we go again, we prefer the lies. The general’s colleagues warn us: they say he an untrustworthy, ambitious, self-infatuated liar, but otherwise he a good general. The “otherwise” is good enough for us. Hypocrisy has become the norm, hence ‘hypocrite’ has ceased to be the epithet the Alexandrine Jews and Christians made of it.

We are uneasy. Our wealthy friends feel the malaise or malease precedent to the outbreak of mortal disease; they continue to gain weight. The much less well off know what they are afraid of and are accordingly terrified and stunted in their growth. The dogs are behaving in a peculiar fashion; Californians are are beginning to freak out; a quake impends. The world is working hard on the verge of another major heart attack. We must take a break and reflect on the meaning of hypocrisy. We must drop the false pretenses and admit that we are at an either/or crisis in human history. Either life and truth; or death and lies. No, everything is not black and white – there are gray areas. But in this case we have Truth and Lie separated by a void. The lying and spinning must stop. We must pause, rest, reflect, withdraw from the deceptive course. We are lying to ourselves and to each other. The lies we tell to protect ourselves, to give ourselves separate and important identities as individuals and as groups, have been repeated so often that they are almost believed; we know better because of the spark of light in the emptiness, yet we continue apace. Thus has lying and pretense made devils and hypocrites of us all in This Lying World of Ours. It will not be easy, but that much can be changed, and at the grass-roots level.

Z

The Grotesque God & The Taste of Shit

GROTESQUE

THE GROTESQUE GOD AND THE TASTE OF SHIT
FROM
PYTHIATISM AND THE FAMILY IDIOT
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

Our frustrated realist, Gustave Flaubert, a romantic at heart, bitterly said that reality, meaning the way things really were from his perspective, tasted like shit. He contrived an imaginary reality to escape from his distasteful perception, a construction that Jean Paul Sartre, in his voluminous psychoanalysis of Flaubert,The Family Idiot, analyzed according to his Psychology of the Imaginary.

An artist’s job, as jazz-dance master Luigi Facciuto once averred (may he rest in peace although his motto was Never Stop Moving) is to make shit smell good: “This shit just came to me out of nowhere,” he told his dancers after he moved, “and now it’s our job to make it smell good.” Still, given the materials employed, the result has scatological implications to critics with an acute sense of smell.

Flaubert’s Imaginary was ‘romantic’ to the extent that his flight from stinking, excremental reality was an heroic adventure into another, mysterious realm of his own fashion, a monstrous, grotesque realm. There was no room for Love in that kingdom; mystery vanished accordingly, for Love a secret does not abhor. He was haunted by the odor of the ordure in his sandbox, thus was motivated to leave his sense of taste and smell behind if not the substance itself, and embrace nothing, which he idolized as Nothing.

Nothing is absolute freedom: Nothing is freer than the freedom at the bottom of Sartre’s Existence, for freedom is always freedom from something or the other. Sartre, however, would leave us a shred of something to cling to, bare existence, while Flaubert would be free of everything altogether, in the perfect Form of forms: absolute vacancy.

Sartre pointed out that Flaubert attempted to believe in and therefore feel love by neurotic or “pithiatic” means: auto-suggestion. He asks, “Is there not, however, in the very act of composition a still unreal but more immediate gratification? Yes: a gratification of the desire to desire.”

He quotes Flaubert’s letter dated February 8, 1841: “I wrote love letters for the purpose of writing, not because I love. Yet I would like to delude myself that I do: I love, I believe while writing.”

“At stake for Gustave is the credibility of language: in what form will discourse—his own discourse—be most likely to engage the pithiatic adherence of the boy? His answer is precise: writing. The reasons for this are apparent: writing seems like a passage to action, like an extemalization as well as a composition. It is not a matter of copying ‘I love you’ a hundred times; that would be a schoolboy’s punishment. You must invent love, do something original, come up with passionately authentic phrases, put yourself in the position to recognize them from the inside. This means you must imagine you are in love…. Of course, on the surface the pithiatic aspect of the enterprise is undeniable: it isn’t only a game (it is also a game), it is a successful attempt, at least as far as his pen is concerned, at autosuggestion.”

A difference between lust and love is asserted. Sublime love is a cultivated emotion, a synthesis of feeling and judgment. It is a suggestion from without, introjected and reinforced within by imitative auto-suggestion.

Flaubert was hardly devoid of passion in his youth. We think he feared for his sanity when the Sibyl raved within him at Hecate’s crossroad. He resorted to Reason—which god-fearing religious scholars have identified with Being or Logos—to quash the hysterical passion he suffered, obsessively endeavoring to restrain the Dionysian dragoness with Apollonian virtue, compelled to do so until she was incinerated and there was nothing left but the restraint itself, the blinding light said to be the mystic source of wisdom for Teiresias, Apollo’s proverbially blind sage.

The vanishing point of Flaubert’s Imaginary was death, beyond which is infinity. Flaubert named his devil Yuk, who was the living end, the licentious god of the grotesque who exposes the human world as it really is: cursed by shit and rotting corpses. Satan loved God so much that he hated man and tempted him with the finite world, which is the death of man because everything finite must have an end. The factual world is evil; in fact, there can be no truth, beauty and goodness in fact. There is not enough antiseptic in the putrid world to rid it of its rottenness. So let the facts of science be damned if its facts taken alone would damn the human spirit. Prosperity is a help but is no utopia.

A psychoanalyst characteristically takes pause to examine not only the familial details of an analysand’s biography, but he would also carefully scrutinize the character of his patient’s relationships with friends during his impressionable youth. After all, a boy’s best friend is likely to leave a lifelong impression.

Young Gustave Flaubert’s best friend happened to be Alfred Le Poittevin (1816-1848), a pessimistic philosopher and poet who lived in Rouen, who was, incidentally, Guy de Maupassant’s nephew. Their mothers were also best friends.

Alfred and Gustave, together with their friend Ernest Chevalier, shared pipes and conversation on Sundays and Thursdays, and on school holidays, they practically saw each other every day in Rouen, where they loitered in cafes, swam, rowed, and played billiards. Flaubert eventually followed Alfred to Paris to study law. In his correspondence he wrote that he and Albert sometimes conversed for six hours at a time, discussing hothouse ideals to break the boredom. The young fellows were most profoundly influenced by the Romantic reaction to materialism, with its Gothic, aristocratic, and evolutionary predilections, the philosophical movement being neo-Kantian. Alfred, already a published poet and infatuated with Goethe and Spinoza, loved poetic impersonality, which elaborates historical ideals to which the poet surrenders his personality, becoming a literary channel for traditional development.

Gustave shared many of those ideals with Alfred; for example, the traditional idea of Satan expressed in Alfred’s romantic-revolt poem by that name. Indeed, Flaubert had been fascinated by Satan ever since he had discovered Byron, who with Shelley led the so-called Satanic School; the school was credited with an attitude somewhat like that of the Goths of our day, of impious, imperious pride, unduly preoccupied with the grotesque, with monstrous horrors and lewd subject matter, a decadent demeanor that psychiatrists would soon diagnose as evidence of evolutionary degeneracy, a sort moral insanity brought to the fore by crowded civilization’s foul air and other poisons, especially alcohol—absinthe concocted from wormwood was the devil’s favorite hallucinogenic drink in France.

Ah, rebellious youth! Flaubert was imbued with the attitude that a reconciliation of reality with ideality was impossible. Ultimately, the ugliness of reality presided over by Yuk wins out, an attitude in contrast to that of the Zoroastrians, whose god representing Good runs slightly ahead of its twin god representing Evil to extinguish the negating factor in the final moment.

Alfred, intrigued by the exotic Orient, penned ‘L’Orient,’ depicting a youth weary of “the black vapors of civilization.” In ‘Heure d’ angoisse,’ a poet crushed by despair in a faithless world doubts the reality of immortality and providence. ‘Ahasverus’ embodies a longing for death and annihilation. In ‘La foi,’ the loss of faith is regretted.

Flaubert would correspond in 1851 about his gang of “young rascals,” recounting how they inhabited a “strange world” of insanity and suicide. He said hopeless love and vain philosophy had rendered him gloomy. The boys created a grotesque character which they used to satirize conventional beliefs; not only materialism but romanticism as well. In one play a boy says, “Gothic architecture is fine, it’s so inspiring!” Garcon replies, “Yes, it is fine, and the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, too, and the Draggonades, and the Edict of Nantes too!”

He expressed his disdain for the bourgeois or town merchants in his 1839 school essay, ‘Les arts et le commerce,’ pleading for art set free from bourgeois ideology. “Has not the soul, too, its needs?” The commercial obsession of historical Carthage in particular seemed “monstrous and ferocious” to him. Even art for the sake of art he thought was vain at the time.

Flaubert conceived a nihilistic mystery play in 1838 where one would come face-to-face with the infinite: ‘Smahr—an Old Mystery Play.’ The play is obviously indebted to Goethe’s Faust, not to mention the literature of Byron and Quinet.

Smahr, an anchorite, is tempted by Satan, dressed as doctor of theology. They mount winged steeds to survey the world. Satan, demonstrating the nothingness of everything that is known, summoned Flaubert’s newly created god of the grotesque, Yuk, to explain life to him along the way. Yuk was disguised as a beautiful woman, an allegory for Truth. Smahr fell in love with her, but Satan loved her too. She turned out to be Yuk, who then preoccupied himself for awhile with persuading a married woman to give herself to every comer.

Yuk demonstrated to Smahr that life is a period filled with horrors such as bodies being devoured, blood raining down, orgies and the like. Smahr naturally craves power to preside over the world as it is for his own good, but his longing fills the world with death and destruction; alas, his desire is in vain because the power he wants has destroyed the very thing he longs for.

Yuk had initially been proud of his bravery, even joyful, but his plunge into the abysmal eventually made him feel fatally crushed in his finiteness by infinitude. All his knowledge, based on doubt, had been proved false and vain, empty. Yuk, emblematic of ressentiment embodied by the living No, then cries out that he alone is eternal, not even death can defeat him:

“I am reality, I am eternity, I am the power of ridicule, the grotesque, the ugly; I am what is, what has been and what shall be…. I am a whole eternity in myself….”

As the Sun sets on the dying universe, an angel would redeem Smahr, but Satan snatches the angel away. Yuk seizes the angel and rolls with her into the abyss, literally fucking her to death.

 

XYX

 

Graphic Credit: Darwin Leon

 

Pythiatism Defined by Sartre’s Family Idiot

PYTHIA

PYTHIATISM DEFINED

FROM

ON PYTHIATISM AND THE FAMILY IDIOT

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

A seemingly novel kind of hysteria is ‘Doctor’ Jean Paul Sartre’s diagnosis after his multivolume analysis of Gustave Flaubert in The Family Idiot. It is not the vulgar, convulsive or paralytic, demonstrative sort of hysteria, but rather a facile, evasive hysteria due solely to capitalistic cultural persuasion and auto-suggestion; something called ‘pithiatism.’

The pithiatism he alludes to in this case is a rather metaphorical hysteria. But is not the “illness” of “mental illness,” absent a physical disease, metaphorical as well? Sartre resorts to concealing his moral disapprobation by resort to a psychoanalytic myth, letting the great realist off the hook while castigating him to no end to raise his own prestige.

We consult psychiatrist Thomas Szasz on the nature of the psychiatric demoralizing strategy: The mental illness Jean-Paul Sartre attributed Flaubert would be utterly fictitious according to his perspective laid out in ‘The Myth of Mental Illness,’ a short paper and a book by the same name. He reasserted the theme that “mental illness” does not exist except as metaphor in a later article entitled ‘Mental illness is still a myth,’ stating that:

“My critique of psychiatry is two-pronged, partly conceptual, partly moral and political. At the core of my conceptual critique lies the distinction between the literal and metaphorical use of language—with mental illness as a metaphor. At the core of my moral-political critique lies the distinction between relating to grown persons as responsible adults and as irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots)—the former possessing free will, the latter lacking this moral attribute because of being “possessed” by mental illness. Instead of addressing these issues, my critics have concentrated on analyzing my motives and defending psychiatric slavery as benefiting the “slaves” and society alike. The reason for this impasse is that psychiatrists regard their own claims as the truths of medical science, and the claims of mental patients as the manifestations of mental diseases; whereas I regard both sets of claims as unwarranted justifications for imposing the claimants’ beliefs and behavior on others.”

“Why do we make diagnoses?” he asks.

“There are several reasons: 1) Scientific—to identify the organs or tissues affected and perhaps the cause of the illness; 2) Professional—to enlarge the scope, and thus the power and prestige, of a state-protected medical monopoly and the income of its practitioners; 3) Legal—to justify state-sanctioned coercive interventions outside of the criminal justice system; 4) Political-economic—to justify enacting and enforcing measures aimed at promoting public health and providing funds for research and treatment on projects classified as medical; 5) Personal—to enlist the support of public opinion, the media, and the legal system for bestowing special privileges (and impose special hardships) on persons diagnosed as (mentally) ill.”

Everyone has noticed the growth in the number of purportedly abnormal behaviors to be treated by the mental health monopoly over recent years, and the fact that there are always newer or better psychotropic drugs to be prescribed for the classified mental illnesses. In fact the classifications are often designed to match the specifications of the funding sources; to suit the insurance industry and the government regulators. All in all, if we examine the developing nosology set forth in the diagnostic manuals, and take note of the proliferation of subjective diagnoses made with objective pretense, and the relationship of the classifications with a developing moral code—for example, the morbid tendency of slaves to flee; neurasthenia due to the stress of industrialization; purportedly immoral homosexuality and masturbation, included and then excluded from the manuals or dismembered and tucked away in other classifications—the diagnostic manuals appear to be indexes to a fiction novel encompassing all aspects of modern life.

To wit: civilization is an incurable disease, but its symptoms can be alleviated with a proper regimen of psychotropic drug treatment and methodic counseling by licensed doctors. Further, any intelligent and sane person patient enough to study the development and current plot of this living novel (everybody is sick and needs doctors to help them) cannot help but conclude that it is not being written by scientists.

Indeed, the very proliferation of diagnoses from a few to hundreds, right down to the malingerer, the wandering fuguist with jet lag and coffee nerves destined to forget everything that occurred during his fugue, and the shy boy diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a vague position on the autism spectrum, is evidence that the good doctors do not have a scientific theory nor a clear conception of sanity. Once all the kids and adults are sorted into their respective disorders, a normal person, other than a total madman, cannot be found, but the classifications will be milked for hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

That, however, is not to say that the well intentioned therapists are not as helpful as priests or lay practitioners or witch doctors, provided that the afflicted persons believe in the psychotherapy cults. If the patients themselves are faithless, then sane people, or people who cannot tolerate misbehavior, can put disorderly people out of the way in institutions for the mentally ill.

Szasz’ critique of his profession was certainly not appreciated by his peers for it was a direct attack, questioning the motives of everyone involved in the mental illness racket, excepting perhaps, the neurologists who were looking for a causative organic link to mental anomalies. But then the “disease” would not be “mental.” “Mental illness,” on the one hand, is an euphemism intended to relieve misbehaving people from blame for their condition; on the other hand, it may deemed an insult to the dignity of the human being, whose essential difference from other animals is the ability to think.

No doubt many psychiatrists have the best of intentions; they care for their patients and would like to see them behave normally, at least to make the adjustments necessary to lead a “productive” life; that is, one that adds to the gross national product at least to the extent that others do not have to support them. But mandatory “adjustment” to the status quo disturbs people who do not want to conform or who want the status quo to change. Yes, one of the main categories in the Diagnostic Standards Manual is “adjustment disorders.”

Everyone has encountered mentally disturbed or deranged individuals; “mental illness” may be a myth, but there is definitely something wrong with them, with their behavior. They do not fit into our culture, the “irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots),” and especially adults “possessing free will” who therefore deliberately misbehave.

In any case, “behavior” is the key word. Is the misbehavior simply immoral, a moral issue rather than a question of neurological malfunction?

“As for psychiatry, it ought to be clear that, except for the diagnoses of neurological diseases (treated by neurologists), no psychiatric diagnosis is, or can be, pathology-driven. Instead, all such diagnoses are driven by non-medical, that is, economic, personal, legal, political, or social considerations and incentives. Hence, psychiatric diagnoses point neither to anatomical or physiological lesions, nor to disease-causative agents, but allude to human behaviors and human problems.”

A critical mind, kind enough to acquit psychiatry of bad intentions, might even say the psychotherapy profession is a symptom of the sick society it wants to cure, but lacks the means to alleviate the basic anxiety terribly aggravated when philosophy, the queen of the hard and soft sciences, was reduced to positivist psychology after the so-called Supreme Being was assassinated.

So it appears that our frustrated psychiatrist, ‘Doctor’ Sartre, steeped as he was in atheistic leftist propaganda, disapproved of Flaubert’s bourgeoisie misbehavior. Poor Gustave, as it were, had been possessed, as if in Delphi, by a hysterical, Cretan pythia, a dragoness against whose viselike grip the hapless romantic struggles in bad faith for a realistic rationale. His faith is bad because he knows he cannot know himself from within or without; his ‘I’ is nothing; the reality he pursues is a negation; lacking an objective, he is condemned to fiction, to art for the sake of art.

We envision him according to Sartre’s analysis as psychically conflicted and traumatized by his dispassionate father in his passionate childhood, sitting masochistically for hours on end, hunched virtually immobile over his desk, knuckles bloodless from gripping his pen ever so rigidly, agonizingly finding just the right and fit words which will leave no evidence of his own existence behind, thus he appears to be entirely unsympathetic towards his subjects, meaning the objects he painstakingly details; and, above all, he is truthful, that is to say, cynical. The result: Madame Bovary, one of the finest novels every written, the virtual incarnation of himself, an example mimicked by many masters thereafter—such is the persuasive power of masterful suggestion.

Flaubert deserves credit for his individual willpower, which is in fact the principle concern of French Existentialism in its obedience to the ancient command Know Thyself.

Socrates has turned from stargazing to introspection back in the day, but he observed that, whatever the Truth is, it matters not whether one proceeds with the investigation from subject or object, within or without. The wisdom Socrates found was that he alone knew he was ignorant. But that is saying much for knowledge, for ignorance is not the stupidity that Flaubert gave as a prerequisite of happiness providing health and selfishness concur with stupidity. No wonder Flaubert’s reality tasted, as he said, like shit.

No wonder Socrates thought philosophy is the preparation for death. Consciousness cannot know the knower. The knower is essentially nothing; Reality is indefinite; Being is nothingness; how depressing!

Flaubert, disenchanted with the imaginative monstrosities of his youth, turned from subject to object, from the romantic vagaries or python within to the objective clarities without. He was not the social-utopia activist Sartre would have liked him to be, but he was a realistic activist in the sense that thinking and writing is symbolic activity; and his cynical depiction of bourgeois society, cynical because his depiction happened to be true, was just as liberating as Sartre’s self-involved or romantic existentialism, which was essentially a furthering of French Spiritualism or Voluntarism; not to mention Sartre’s intentional fiction wherein he was hardly loath to exhibit moral degeneracy for sake of drawing attention to scandals that everyone is “born in sin,” i.e. as an individual necessarily varying from the Good of the Whole, naturally finds fascinating.

Again it appears to us that Sartre’s psychoanalysis of Flaubert’s preoccupation amounts to a thoroughly moral condemnation of his patient, who is all too patient of a patient because he is already dead.

Sartre knew a sinner when he saw one; are we not all sinners to an extent? Sartre’s sin is in his existential individualism, of being born an individual in the first place, and then flaunting his individualism in opposition to the summum bonum or Good that society and/or its god is, ad infinitum in writing.

Flaubert tried to disappear in a fugue, to render his own pathetic existence invisible while describing the falsifications or illusions of the others. Still, the sin here, and Sartre knew this very well from existentialism’s progenitor, Soren Kierkegaard, was in being, not in existence per se; it was in being false to existence. It is the sin of being an artist who places himself beyond good and evil rather than to make a choice and live with it.

The morbid, morose, moribund person, we recall from our etymology, is morally diseased, is immoral in his deadly contradiction to the force that urges him to live forever in his differentiation by paradoxically merging with the bustling crowd, instead of falling back into the womb, which represents his own death although others may emerge from his tomb if he is not reborn.

The writer’s despairing retreat can be a very lonely one if his ego is subject to Kierkegaard’s “fatal disease.” Kierkegaard referred to the sinful existence of the artist’s existence—we would rather call it the sin of his being or form of existence instead of his existence per se, which in its contradictory individuality happens to be the original “Christian” sin, the crux from whence the twin fears, of life and death, plague humankind with anxiety.

However that may be, Kierkegaard stated: “From a Christian point of view, any poet’s existence, with his whole aesthetic existence, is a sin; the sin of writing poetry instead of living, of connecting himself with the good and evil instead of being the good and evil, that is essentially aspiring to become all these.”

The Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis celebrated the Christian sin of pride with this description of a writer’s workshop: “The fourth day I jumped out of the bed, I took the pen and I started writing… I was writing and I was so proud; I was a God who was doing what he wanted, was changing the reality, shaping it the way he wanted, mixing the truth and the lie; but it was no longer the truth and the lie, it was a soft dough that I was shaping according to my own imagination, without asking for anyone’s permission.”

In the final analysis Sartre’s novel psychoanalysis is hardly objective inasmuch as it is deliberately prejudiced by a hackneyed Marxist criticism of so-called bourgeois society, a society that Flaubert also despised and was fain to bitterly criticize, although he simulated bourgeois life for the sake of convenience, using it as a foundation for freedom.

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” was Flaubert’s maxim.

Sartre had also been cultivated by the bourgeois culture. Indeed, he identified himself as a member of the bourgeoisie through his resistance to it.

Who would we be without those we oppose?

XYX

Normal Unhappiness of The Family Idiot

FLAUBERT

 

THE NORMAL UNHAPPINESS OF THE FAMILY IDIOT
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

Jean Paul Sartre’s five-volume The Family Idiot portrays Gustave Flaubert, the romantic founder of French literary realism, as a victim of circumstantial suggestion and auto-suggestion living in the clutches of a figurative sort of conversion hysteria; namely, pithiatism.

In the first paragraph of Chapter Eight, ‘The Imaginary Child,’ Sartre alludes to the characteristic of pithiatism, a sort of hysteria determined by suggestion, in respect to his family idiot:

“This is Gustave as he has been constituted. Of course, any determination imprinted in an existing being is surpassed by the way he lives. In the child Flaubert, passive activity and gliding are his way living this constituted passivity; resentment is his way of living the situation assigned to him in the Flaubert family. In other words, the structures of this family are internalized as attitudes and re-externalized as actions by which the child makes himself into what others made him. Conversely, we shall find in him no behavior, as complex and elaborate as it might seem, that is not originally the surpassing of an internalized determination.”

According to Sartre’s psychoanalysis, Gustave’s being was not wholly defined by circumstances; he would have no self of his own as a mere victim of circumstances devoid of existential independence and freedom. He would be in effect a zombie or a machine unconscious of his own existence; if someone were to act like a machine we would naturally deem him psychotic not neurotic.

Naturally every human being by necessity introjects his social identity from others and projects what he has learned. Nevertheless, the individual, by virtue of its independent will to exist forever without impedance if it could, is bound to put up some resistance to the imposition of conformity, as we can see in every squalling child, and he will invariably get away with what he can get away with while accepting influences that serve his purpose. Thus he becomes his own person; a person being, to some extent, a unique composite of individual existence and social being. Every particular is a coincidence of universal qualities, no two coincidences being identical; hence the individual is somewhat unique.

As far as Sartre, a former member of the French Resistance during the war, was concerned, Flaubert did not actively affirm his existential self in the world. He just did not want to make the effort and thus in part be defined by its resistance thereto. He had what we might call a weak will—at one juncture he reflected that he was cowardly in his youth. He did not seem to know who he really was because he had not looked within; he had not conducted a painful regressive analysis of his self; instead, he avoided himself, using his literary art to paint himself out of the picture.

French Existentialism, with its struggle for freedom through individual responsibility, hails back to the introspective discovery of the self as will; that is, to French Voluntarism, for which Maine De Biran was an introspective pioneer. Biran confessed that, “Even from infancy I remember that I marveled at the sense of my existence. I was already led by instinct to look within myself in order to know how it was possible that I could be alive and be myself.”

Sartre, mentioning Flaubert’s resentment as a chosen way of living, does give young Flaubert a will of his own in his choice of style; negation or resistance to external influence constitutes the will of the individual, made manifest to us in his behavioral style. And that would leave Flaubert morally culpable for his way of life, at least as a liar.

Mind you that the pithiatic hysteric is a liar who believes in the lie; but this belief represses an otherwise nagging doubt to the so-called unconscious sector of the psyche. The forgetting of the doubt is imaginary; the belief is make-believe or bad faith inasmuch as it is not blind faith. It is a commanding hysterical performance of the kind that has made fools out of many psychoanalysts.

Sartre’s Flaubert was a paralytic writer whose acting career had been thwarted by his father, and who was self-blinded to his own existence and suitable self. That is, his neurosis prevented from being himself; that is, a comic actor instead of the serious writer he wound up being.

You see, Flaubert as a boy loved to stage little plays, and fancied himself as a playwright. Sartre, again and again, affords Flaubert’s father the brunt of the blame for Flaubert’s bad faith or inauthentic personhood; for it was his unappreciative father, whose affection he craved, who constituted the comical would-be actor as a self-contemptible family idiot who would isolate himself, withdrawing himself from his prospective audience to entertain them from afar, passively, in writing, instead of actively or directly, in person.

Otto Rank’s conclusion to his lecture, ‘The Play within Hamlet – Toward an Analysis and Dynamic Understanding of the Work,’ sheds some light on the psychology of playacting distinguished from playwriting:

“I shall attempt to pursue Shakespeare’s personal relationship to the material and to its treatment in somewhat greater depth than has previously been achieved. There can be no doubt that the great significance given in Hamlet to the dramatic art and to actors relates to Shakespeare’s professional interests and his artistic ambitions. As is well known, he also worked as an actor, sometimes playing roles he wrote. I have tried to explain this psychologically in claiming that acting is a fully valued psychic act and a more basic release for psychic states than the activity of the playwright. It is actually the actor who must complete the drama, who must do what the playwright wishes to do but, owing to psychic defenses, cannot achieve. The actor ‘experiences’ what the playwright can only ‘dream.’ If we compare this psychological formula to insights derived from the analysis of the play within the play, we find that there, too, Shakespeare has supplied an unconscious admission of how drama offered him a substitute for many things he had to renounce in life, just as for Hamlet the play replaces acts he cannot carry out due to powerful inhibitions. From the nature of drama itself, it is clear which psychic mechanism allows an actor the release, forbidden to the playwright, of blocked emotions that cannot otherwise be overcome. This is identification, taken as far as the temporary suspension of one’s own personality. In Hamlet, of course, broad use is made of identification, and in the interpretation of this drama I have often had occasion to make recourse to it.21 Our investigation shows how such identification functions as a significant component in dramatic talent; it also shows us a motive for selecting an acting career — a motive not to be underestimated. In the child’s relationship to the parents, as shown in the analysis of Hamlet, there arise certain forces that can push a personality with talent for identification, that universal artistic ability, directly into an acting career: the wish to be grown up, the wish to enact and imitate the father, to put oneself in his place — all based on the observations the child has made, though he slyly attempts to conceal this from his parents. The actor’s favorite roles offer him the opportunity truly to enact these tendencies and to allow himself to be overheard by the spectators, who have essentially become the precondition for his (portrayed) ability to carry out actions. This is the reverse of the childhood situation, which he has partially retained, while partially overcoming it through identification with the father. Thus this brief analysis of the “play within the play” extends to the entire drama Hamlet, which I believe I have made somewhat more comprehensible in its dynamic significance for the inner life of actor and spectator alike.”

Sartre cast Flaubert as an idiot and moron. Mind you that those terms may be employed without intent to insult people with mental incapacities due to neurological abnormalities and injuries. The popular word ‘idiot,’ derived from idios, meaning “one’s own,” in common parlance used to refer to a “private person” or one withdrawn from public affairs, a person or simpleton or “imbecile,” or an ignorant country bumpkin, so to speak.

As Mark Twain insultingly said, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of congress. But I repeat myself.”

And Linnaeus, as we learn from our etymological dictionary, used the term ‘morisis’ for idiocy in the sense of mental deficiency. An idiot might be a ‘moron,’ a term derived from moros, a fool. We notice that ‘morose,’ meaning gloomy, peevish, fastidious, has a similar root. A morose person is immoral, has bad manners in contrast to moral in the sense of good mores or habits.

In fine, we believe Sartre was in effect calling his favorite neurotic, Gustave Flaubert, stupid in five volumes. A neurotic is stupid inasmuch as their defensive patterns are inappropriate no matter how useful they may be.

Since “neurotic” is no longer included in the official diagnostic manual, should we insert “stupid” in its stead?

In fact, we see that “stupidity” was a word used by French alienists to indicate the form of insanity usually known as “melancholia with stupor,” and was defined by Wilhelm Griesinger, in Mental Pathology and Therapeutics (1867) as melancholia in which the patient is lost in self-contemplation.

Neurotic people have a sort of blind spot, or rather a cataract partially obstructing their cognition; they keep doing the same, useless thing over and over again, thus revealing their partiality, or insanity if they are seriously impaired. They appear to be stupid, at least in that respect. According to Sartre, Flaubert’s stupidity was in not knowing himself, of being stupid to his bona fide existence and the nature of the being that would accord with his native or existential disposition.

Flaubert himself identified stupidity with happiness: “To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”

He was indeed unhappy yet not unsophisticated, unintelligent, or stupid in the usual sense. Perhaps we might opine that Gustave became one of the fools he had played as a child, becoming stupid to his genuine existence in the process.

But that is not clever enough for Sartre’s convoluted reflections. He claims that Gustave consumed himself.

“It would be inadequate to say that he plays the fool, that in the unreal world he becomes the imbecile he would be if he were actually afflicted with imbecility; in order to produce the analogue of the persona he represents, he becomes the fool he is. This obscure mass of agitation, terrorized incomprehension, fear, stubbornness, bad faith, and ignorance, which under the name of stupidity is the index of everyone’s alienation, is awakened and stirred up by the actor so that he might be unrealized through it as a magnificent idiot. What is he doing other than what he has always done, since a bad relationship constituted him laughable? To be sure, a dialectic operates between the character and the interpreter: the actor transforms the character to the precise extent that he is transformed by it. But these are relations between images. The role serves as an alibi: the actor sheds his persona, he believes he is evading himself in the character. But this is futile: in his befuddled alacrity to be nothing but a strange image, there is a distinct malaise and a deep antipathy, which encourages him to revile himself so that others may triumph. He is conscious, in fact, of choosing this or that disguise in order to make others laugh at him as he has always done.”

If we do not understand this, we are probably stupid idiots and damned fools ourselves at the feet of this great analyst—an admirer at Sartre’s funeral procession was quoted as saying that he did not understand what Sartre said, but he knew he was a great philosopher, and that was enough.

“Since his sincerity,” wrote Sartre, “such as it is, is rejected, and since he does not recognize his own right to feel anything until adults have given their consent, he is condemned by his father’s capricious mistrust never to determine whether he is feeling or just imagining his feelings. The deeper meaning of this personalizing revolution is that the child no longer knows whether he exists or is just pretending to exist. Given this option, Gustave unconsciously chooses anti-Cartesianism and, more obscurely, irrationality. If he manages only to produce images, isn’t he an image himself?”

So Flaubert does not exist or behave in the way Sartre wants him to exist, according to Sartre’s universal definition of existence, which is really a mode of being, a being responsible for oneself according to a Marxist psychologist’s desire. Flaubert, then, cannot help the way he is not himself, which unbeknown to him is a radical self; he is a phony, a victim of capitalist society. Therefore Flaubert is subject to a pithiatic form of neurosis.

A neurotic person is an unduly nervous one, a person who is anxious and emotional as the result of some invisible injury. He suffers from a psychic conflict between alternates, neither of which he wants to choose; say, between his ideal self, which others have propped up for him, and his real self, which he consequently despises when he falls short of the ideal. He is trapped between two hard rocks, and, in self-defense, works out an impractical compromise that condemns him to drag his cross around for the rest of his life.

Neurotic behavior seems to be an ineffective or inefficient or even absurd way of doing things to the observer; however, from the subject’s perspective, it may be a somewhat effective adaptation strategy inasmuch as it may allay his fears, for example, and make him feel that he has the world under control, or at least his behavior may manipulate others to react in a manner beneficial to him—unfortunately, it often makes matters worse, reinforcing, paradoxically, the neurosis. Still, the neurotic person is purportedly unaware of the true nature of his mental disorder.

Indeed, Sartre appears to have believed that Flaubert was neurotic, not figuratively speaking, but in the sense of mental illness, that he was mentally sickened by a sick i.e. bourgeois society. Disgusted with the self he was being, because he was unaware of his existential self, which should have been a radical self manning the barricades against the stupid bourgeoisie, Flaubert withdrew from society, isolating himself to agonizingly write Madame Bovary, featuring the fictional Emma Bovary, a haplessly romantic, hysterical woman who was incapable of loving any man; no man was perfect, leaving every candidate to fall short of her ideal. Her author would confess that “she is me.” He is the hysteric; she is his projection. She will die in the novel; he will wind up with the glory.

According to Sartre’s family idiot myth, Flaubert had not quite arrived at the state of neurosis at an early stage in his adolescence, although he was well on his way: “Looking at these passages [from Flaubert’s biographic writing],” Sartre reflects, “we are forced to acknowledge that Gustave does not intend to describe to us the tame, continually interrupted reveries of a “well-adjusted” adolescent; rather, he depicts an almost neurotic state, intentional, certainly, but outstripping his clear intention and yet suffered to the same degree that it is produced.”

Again the family patriarch is blamed for the neurosis with which Flaubert will be entailed:

“As the undisputed and shrewd head of the family, Achille-Cleophas contributed to maintaining the young man in a neurotic state that gave him a reason to sequester himself at Rouen and end his studies; in this sense, the father’s death certainly had the effect, if not of curing Gustave, at least of causing a remission of his illness. But the fundamental and archaic relationship of the child to the father (to convince him of his eminent value) was not altered; hence the remission was accompanied by a profound frustration.”

Sartre attributes neurotic behavior to mental rather than physical causes. His rhetoric explicating the mechanics of the inner conflict and its outward results differs somewhat from that of the early masters, but that is of little consequence since the mechanical hypotheses cannot be falsified; strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is not hard science but a soft art if not witchcraft.

When a patient is not able to dredge up something pertinent to her mental disorder from the unconscious, claiming that nothing is there, the doctor may assume that there is something invisible there, and a force called resistance to maintain the repression, and do his best to torture the truth out of her somehow. Who can prove that that the unconscious, that repression, that resistance and so on do not exist? It is easier to come up with something for the doctor to analyze, perhaps a random recitation of ideas from which the Delphic priest may divine the hypostatical associations suitable to his theoretical framework.

Sartre became all too familiar with war hysteria and totalitarian regimes during the war. He said that unwelcome feelings which cannot be assimilated are externalized so that a global defense can be set up against them—a total war for a final solution, a war to end all wars.

We may attribute our faults to others, the enemies, who then are subhuman enough to justify slaughtering them. (Freudians would say that repressed content is unconsciously projected onto or transferred to others).

“Stress is the name we shall give to this unity of the nonassimilable element and the global defense that the totalizing process develops against it, infected precisely to the degree that it tries to neutralize the nonassimilable. In this case, neurosis is stress as much as character disorder. Of course, this totalizing effort to defuse the contradictions or to isolate them achieves its aim only at the price of dangerous divergences, which alter the totalized whole.”

The problem with Sartre’s voluminous ideologically biased analysis of the great author whom he never knew is that Flaubert was not stupid but wise, and wisdom was at the root of his unhappiness, a wisdom that we all have an intuitive albeit inadmissible inkling of in our own “normal unhappiness,” as Freud called it. Sartre was well aware of that, so he himself was playing the fool and at great length. What else is there to do?

Existentialism Is No Longer In Vogue

EXISTENTIALISM IS NO LONGER IN VOGUE

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 
 
 

 

Existentialism is no longer in vogue. It has been adjudged a dead end, a boring monologue about nothing in particular, an empty, selfish, subjective nothingness made obsolete by the objective particulars of consumer progress.

What began as an optimistic expression of personal freedom and responsibility is now viewed as a negative nothing.  It was originally optimistic because of a confidence in the ability of human beings as individuals to face the horrors of world war in its aftermath, to build a new world without world wars, and to do so without the previous rationales, the religions and theologies, the parties and ideologies, which men love to hate each other with and engage in mutual mass-murders over. It was in the existentialist revolt against all such systems that each man would dissolve the fractious collective fantasies and realize his radical root in existence. That total revolt alone would bring individuals into solidarity despite their superficial differences. Thus the revolt was irrational because it was contrary to systematic thinking; for example, the pseudo-scientific thinking, the classical-liberal or unregulated free-market rationalizations that resulted in global economic chaos; and the systematic reaction that led alienated individuals from anarchy and chaos into the psychotic solidarity of fascism.

Existentialism was really no system at all; there was no such ism. “Existentialist” was a word casually spoken to a reporter in a Paris jazz cellar, perhaps by Juliette Greco, and then spread all over the world by the press. Those thinkers associated in the media with existentialism, black jazz, and carousing, tried to fight off the appellation to little avail, and then they turned the designation to their respective advantages. Most of them, because of their first-hand experience of the very horrors rational thinking had led to, believed that thinking had been terribly over-rated, and they wrote intensely rational tomes saying so–that is what thinkers do, even those who like to get stoned in pubs. That style of rationalization is the vestige of existentialism remaining today; it is not very popular because it has lost its guts.

People no longer want to read confessional novels or see plays exposing the anguish at the very heart of human existence: Most of us prefer to avoid the miserable subject and go directly to sensational objectives such as murder, rape, adultery, armed robbery, drug-dealing, and so on, when not engaged in the mass production and consumption of waste. The subject is miserable because he knows he could and should be doing something else, something much better. He knows that he is free and that he is acting irresponsibly with his innate freedom.  He attributes his suffering to his freedom, then makes another mistake trying to avoid it altogether by burying himself alive in the natural or supernatural world. Therefore the vicious cycle continues.

No, ma’am, hardly anyone today wants to hear the subjective moaning and groaning of an existentialist who thinks therefore he suffers, no matter how brilliant his expressions might be; for in this age of abundance, such suffering is more symbolic than physical, notwithstanding a few dreadful hangovers.

Again, modern existentialism arose as emotional and intellectual expressions of post-war anxiety. World War II was the second dreadful interruption in just a few years of what was supposed to be inevitable peaceful progress fashioned by the intellect, an intelligence that soon ran amok with efficient killing machines. Scientific and technological advances alone do not curb bloodshed, but serve rather to compound the death and destruction when men flee from existence. The quasi-sciences of social science are also of little avail without radical reform. We recall here that just prior to the Great War (WW I), experts declared economic society had advanced to the stage where great wars would not occur because nations were too inextricably linked in organized greed for war to be profitable.

But that is old hat. Who cares about great wars and their terrible aftermaths and such reactions as surrealism, existentialism, the avante garde and the absurd, now that almost everyone who shared the suffering is dead? What do a few rebellious old fogeys and disaffected aging war babies know? Besides, thanks to the technological developments that won the war for the real master race, namely us, we have nothing further to fear but fear itself. Have no fear, now that the political-economic machine provides almost everything a good producer-consumer needs, now that information technology is advancing us to utopia. Abandon liberal studies for technology; who needs the liberal arts when we have already been freed? Yes, existentialism, if that has anything to with existence, is obsolete today. Or, if existentialism has for its subject the sort of mere existence that precedes essence, why be bothered by the steak when everything is sizzling and glittering?

Moreover for good measure, as long as we adjust to the machine, as long as we welcome change, progress is inevitable, meaning existence is assured, so why question it?

Because an unquestioned existence is not a fully human existence, without which a man is dead, and mankind will soon follow if the ignorance spreads too far. Beware, the Blob is at all of our gates at this very moment, for the Blob is us, a colossal slime mold or myxomycete which, when challenged the next time, will have no place for its constituents to pack up and fly to.

To not question one’s own existence as a man is not to think for oneself. It is to become merely a welcome mat for somebody else’s change because he says “do not fear change” as he tries to steal your existence because he feels no existence in himself. It is to leave the door wide open for the corporate totalitarians. It is to swallow whatever is spooned into the mouth. It is to accept whatever program is supplied, to vote for one of the candidates supplied by the machine. It is to cease to exist as a man: for the essential activity of a man who is not merely an animal is to think for himself.

Yet again we arrive at the seeming self-contradiction of existentialism: that it is a rationalization of the irrational. Have not the existentialists warned us about thinking? Yes they have, and very thoughtfully. At least they have warned us about placing too much emphasis on thinking to the detriment of feeling and doing. But that was then and now is now, a present where extreme emphasis is being placed on yet another factor of that existential complex we call the human being. We might say that a man has a body, a mind, and a soul; whatever the quantity and quality of the divisions, they are really a unity in their diversity. In any event, the categories we perceive or conceive should be construed for our convenience. When one is taken to an extreme, the integrity of existenz, which is the all-encompassing unity of all modes of existence, is sure to suffer and might even be destroyed.

If we observe, for example, the arguments over the Christian Trinity in this context, we will learn that they were not so silly after all, but were a continuation of the perennial struggle for harmony and balance. Or, for a more concrete illustration, take the Nuclear Family, and the great summation, “In the Name of the Father, the Mother, and the Child, as One Family.” Obviously, the dialectic of the parents lives in the child, and no life would be possible as human are sexually divided without all three familial terms. Taken to an extreme, the monistic or unitarian emphasis to the exclusion of diversity is fatal.

Rather than carry this child too far, I shall soon close this brief essay with a quotation from the existentialist Karl Jaspers. For Jaspers, Being-for-us, which is one of three modes of Encompassing, namely the encompassing which we are, is itself a trinity comprising what the ancients called body, mind, and spirit. The three are apparent in our modes of communicating truth: empirical, mental, and spiritual. The presence of all three relations is necessary for man as man. The empirical aspect appertains to the actual, the world, the other; the empirical mode of communication is required for the pragmatic endurance of man, who is dependent on the majority understanding of the herd instinct. The mental aspect, or consciousness as such, appertains to the fact that nothing exists for us except in relation to our consciousness of it; the mental mode of communication is required for the recognition of cogent evidence presented by disinterested arguments, so that we may have a shared conscious objectiveness. The spiritual aspect appertains to the comprehensive reality of thought, feeling, and action, in its relation to Pure Being or God; the spiritual mode of communicating is required for the full conviction that pushes to the whole, to the totality of personality.

Now then, I have previously expressed my opinion that our present culture shall soon advance on a dangerous course from subjective individuality to an extreme objective conclusion in a collective. If I were about to join a party today,I would join genuine existentialists. But there is no such part. Existentialism is out of vogue today. That is why I believe we had better meditate on Karl Jaspers’ warning:

“The confidence in nature, whose origin is a metaphysical confidence in the grounds of Being, is changed into a confidence in those insufficient, known, yet always questionable, regularities which scientific investigation wrings out of experience…The essence of man is lost in this blind reliance on nature, where his existence seems identical with nature, and nature identical with known regularities…Thus, in the helpless confusion of his empirical existence which ensues, his thought and spiritual possibilities vanish into a thoughtless obedience to incomprehensible forces, above and below him, simply in order to exist here and now…It would be possible for man to relapse into an animal-like existence which preserved a technical apparatus like ants…What was once incorporated and proven in the struggle of existence for existence to be useful for the preservation and expansion of existence would now have become instinct. In all the chaos of natural existence, it could last a long time like other forms of life until, with a thorough change in the living conditions on the face of the earth, final catastrophe would also come to the species.”(1)

-XXX-

(1) Karl Jaspers, REASON AND EXISTENCE, Transl. William Earle, New York: Noonday Press, 1957

 
 
 
 

The Ultimate Logical Absurdity of God’s Suicide

 
 
THE ULTIMATE ABSURDITY OF GOD’S SUICIDE
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

If god is eternal, then his suicide would be the ultimate logical absurdity. If god can not destroy himself, then he is not omnipotent or all-powerful. If god committed suicide, he would not exist, hence he would not be eternal. Given the logical contradictions of god’s supposed attributes, a reasonable man has good cause to opine that it is impossible for an eternal and omnipotent god to exist.

Yet many are those who would be at least hypothetically at one with an impossible god – they might write the logical absurdity off as another “one of God’s mysteries.” Consider this excerpt from a December 1876 article in Fyodor Dostoevsky The Diary of a Writer:”I cannot be happy except in the Harmony with the great all…. I consider the comedy perpetrated by nature altogether stupid… Humiliating for me to deign to play it…. I condemn that nature which… brought me into being in order to suffer – I condemn it to be annihilated with me.”

The disillusioned speaker obviously desires something besides the harmony, say, of a fifth on the major scale, say between the notes C and G. He rather wants to be atoned with or be at one with a universal One; he would be absorbed by an One of which the world he hates is not a part; for, if it were a part, the tragi-comic world would persist. Such an undifferentiated One would of course be a static infinite void, an eternal nothingness similar to absolute space. The nebulous qualities of absolute space are similar to the theological definitions of God: Absolute Space = God – a fact not lost on the early metaphysicians of modern physics.

Of course the reasoning of our death-wishing author is absurd. There is no identity lacking a relationship, whether or not it is a harmonious one. Further, the suicide leaves the very thing he protests behind – the world persists. The same may be said of the virtual suicide of the ascetic who protests against vanity, claiming that all things of this world pass, therefore it is vain to place confidence in them: the world however persists long after the protestant perishes, which leads us to ask whether or not his heaven, whatever the imagined contents of its absolute space may be, is actually the Vanity of vanities.

Methinks the impossible god represents the will to power, the will to persist forever, something which most of us would not mind doing provided that we did not suffer too much. If no such god exists, men are left to their own relative devices and powers: they are their own gods, petty gods or demi-gods, so to speak. Confronted with relative existence, with the apparent fact that everything perishes and that every living being dies, a few individuals will always manage to reason themselves to death. After thinking on the matter for awhile, they conclude that they might as well face the terrifying truth now, that life is absurd, and take advantage of the ultimate exercise of their relative power, the power to destroy themselves.

Instead of avoiding reality and wasting time with one futile diversion after another, instead of leading an absurd life in a godless universe with a world deaf to their need for eternal life, some folks are disposed to dispense with themselves forthwith; not necessarily because they despaired, but simply because, like President Clinton, they could if they would. Forsaking all else except their love for efficiency, self-destruction seemed to be the reasonable thing to do. Why waste valuable time? And, in his self-sacrifice of his self to his self, at least a man would courageously prove that he, judge and victim, has the power of life and death over himself, and is in fact the god so many people are in need of.

There are a number of men in our midst for whom life on earth is insufficient yet not insufferable providing they have sufficient leisure to gradually reason themselves to death. Logic-chopping suicide is self-murder by gradual mental amputation. Many logical suicidal fanatics never get around to actually killing themselves, preferring an extended virtual suicide to the real thing. Some of them are too preoccupied with philosophy as a preparation for death, or with writing novels about suicidal protagonists, to take their own lives that seriously.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said that his life was tormented by the question of God’s existence. That question is obviously the thorn in the side of several of his characters, who are as salt in their creator’s wound. And those of us who appreciate the works of Dostoevsky if not his personal suffering are glad of that. We are not afraid of his doubts. Even those who consider the question personally irrelevant have been amused by the characters for whom the subject is crucial.

Dostoevsky reasoned on the pressing issues of his day in The Diary of a Writer- the Diary was initially a column in the Citizen but later an independent periodical. Of course the eternal and omnipotent god was dying in those days and the number of people who believe in the immortality of the son of man – meaning the ideal man abstracted from men – was on the wane.

“If faith in immortality is so necessary to the human being,” speculated Dostoevsky in the Diary, “that without it he comes to the point of killing himself, it must be the normal state of humanity. Since this is the case, the immortality of the soul exists without any doubt.”

Of course that argument was hardly the end of Dostoevsky epic internal combat. The speculation itself is specious. Evidence is ample that faith in immortality is not necessary for the human being to persist. Many people believe that life ends with the death of the body and that no soul survives et cetera; and many of them have even rejoiced at the supposed finality of each life; yet they did not go hang themselves, and many lead happy lives. We must also note here that suicide would be impossible if the soul really were immortal; in that case, all suicide attempts would be futile – Hamlet was troubled by that possibility.

As for me, my opinion on the existence of god is irrelevant to orthodoxy since I am not a licensed spiritual consultant; but that shall not stop me from giving it: I am moved to opine that human beings have a sort of “blind faith” in their persistence, a faith inherent in their will to live. The subsequent reasoning thereupon, the dogmas and doctrines, some of them quite beautiful, may be useful in rounding up the herd in a secure place, for misery loves company. After all, for the sake of social coherence it is convenient to construe certain dogma as if it were true.

Nonetheless, religious dogmas and doctrines, such as the doctrine that faith not works saves, appear to me to express more fear than faith. And those who persist in forcing their faith on others have more to fear than most; for instance, the old Jewish notion that it is just to hate missionaries, as if they were murderers, has merit inasmuch as to convert a Jew is to kill a Jew. I have heard it said that people must abide with a particular blind faith or the other. Universal skepticism towards all faiths, or the “godlessness” of those “demons” who refuse to participate in the conspiracies around the holy camp fires, is blamed for the ruination of the world. But the current evidence suggests that this world is not being brought to ruin by skeptics but rather by irrational fundamentalists who have fanatic faith in the Terrorist Almighty: Islamists, Zionists, the Christian Right and Company. They appear as regressives or “conservatives” who revert to the ancient, heroic way to immortality, in the mass suicide of war; for instance, the Greek heroes who sought immortality in killing enemies.

I have met a few truly faithful people; they had nothing whatsoever to prove to anyone at all; their fearless example in bearing witness through their works alone was proof enough to those who worked beside them.

Methinks morality whether it is distinctively religious or not is a sort of virtual suicide. People like myself used to drink religiously in ancient times, then gave it up. In my case, I developed an extra-dry sense of humor when I deserted the tavern-churches and took up writing interminable screeds in cheaper and cheaper garrets. I became a virtual ascetic, abandoning all but one or two of those activities some refer to as “sins.” After all these years of doing without, I might be Leaving Las Vegas with one last blast – if I survive, at least I will have to make good money to keep up with my bad habits. Pending that return to the sweet life, I must reiterate that morality as I know it is a sort of suicide – one would hope for the sake of the species. It is said that a man who conquers himself – a congery of habits – is the most powerful man of all. An ascetic who conquers himself might reason, Why wait? Why not end it all now? Why not exercise the ultimate power and actually be a god?

One of my favorite virtual characters of the logical-suicide type is Dostoevsky Kirilov, the protagonist in The Possessed who fancied that Christ did not find himself in Paradise after his suicide-by-mankind, but had lived and died for a falsehood or illusion.

“It has always surprised me,” said Kirilov, “that everybody goes on living…. If there’s no God, then I’m God…. If God exists, then the whole will is His and I can do nothing. If he doesn’t exist, then all will is mine and I must exercise my own will, my free will…. ”

That is, If God does not exist, everything depends on us. To be truly independent, kill God and become God. If God is eternal, becoming God would realize eternal life – the Power that men worship – on Earth, at least for the time being. Why then commit suicide? Because, or so the perverse reasoning goes, the most glorious exercise of the newly found fearless freedom is to sacrifice it. Again, Why? Out of love for humanity, of course, the son of man, the ideal man, provides humankind with a lesson – his suicide is pedagogical. The ideal man will by the last god to die for all the rest, and thus immortalize humankind on Earth. He is the grandest paranoid man, the most humiliated and exalted man on Earth, and by virtue of his self-martyrdom, the hypocrisy or underlying crisis of humankind will be resolved along with the embarrassing ambiguities, and everyone may become an enlightened god on Earth, or a Christ-Tsar. Humankind is now divine, is free at last! Thus the divine suicide sacrifices himself not to eliminate his own unhappiness, but to free all his neighbors out of love for them, wherefore they do not have to take the same fatal step providing by virtual suicide they take the metaphysical leap to his fearless faith. Kirilov is not suffering from an illusion: in the final analysis, he is deluded; no matter how impeccable his logic might be – and it is not – he has broken with reality. Intolerant of ambiguity, of the absurdity of particular contradictions to the universal, he would in madness rid himself of the ambiguous by reasoning himself to death. Logic is for application to a particular objective purpose or practice, and not for the destruction of the logician. In fine, Kirilov is unwholesome, or, if you will, insane.

“I can’t imagine,” Kirilov continues, “that there’s not one person on our planet who, having put an end to God and believing in his own free will, will dare to exercise that free will in the most important point. It would be like a pauper inheriting a bag full of money and not daring to put his hand into it, thinking himself too weak to own it…. I have an obligation to shoot myself because the supreme gesture of free will is to kill oneself…. I am the only one to do it without reason, just to establish my free will…. I must affirm my unbelief, for there’s nothing higher for me than the thought that there’s no God. The history of mankind is on my side. Man kept inventing God in order to live, so as not to have to kill himself. To this day, the history of mankind consists of just that. I am the first man in history to refuse to invent God. I want it to be known always…. Only one – the first one to realize it, that he’s God, must kill himself…. I’m terribly unhappy because I’m terribly afraid. Fear is the curse of man. But I shall establish my free will. It is my duty to make myself believe that I do not believe in God. I’ll be the first and the last, and that will open the door. And I’ll save them…. For three years I’ve searched for the attribute of my divinity and I’ve found it – my free will! This is all I have at my disposal to show my independence and the terrifying new freedom I have gained. Because this freedom is terrifying all right, I’m killing myself to demonstrate my independence and my new terrifying freedom!”

The Brothers Karamazov was Dostoevsky titanic torment on the pressing question. No doubt it was homeopathic medicine for the impoverished author’s pain. It concluded with the announcement of a future life.

Kolya (a boy), asks, “Karamazov, is it true what religion says, that we shall rise from the dead, that we shall see one another again?”

“Certainly we shall see one another again, we shall joyfully tell one another what happened.”

The gospel of immortality and the dogma of an eternal god may be absurd but real; existence may be at once illusory and eternal; and a person can be both incredulous and convicted: “I doubt it, but I believe it despite myself.

The character typified by Kirilov, Stavrogin, Ivan, is defeated at the end of Dostoevsky gigantic literary combat with God and Vanity. We shall meet again. Suicide and madness are unnecessary, useless, for we shall enjoy immortality, be as the eternal god, gods ourselves, after death on this sphere.

XYX

Quoted: Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Possessed, Trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew, New York: Signet 1962