Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Nihilism in "Fragments" by Jennifer S. Chesler

Written by David C. McLean

Nietzsche predicted two centuries of nihilism, and we are still comfortably within that time period. Fragments shows evidence of the process he described.

Psychological nihilism is attained when we, first, note that there is no "meaning" behind all events, second, that there is not even a unity of becoming, thirdly, that there is no alternative "truer" metaphysical world behind the shabby garbage in which we live. "Aim", "unity", and "truth" are not categories that are suitable to describe our existence. The world is not without value for this reason, but these three categories are not the ones to use in the impending transvaluation that Nietzsche requested. "We have measured the value of the world by categories that refer to a purely fictitious world." (All quotes are from The Will to Power.)

This nihilism is naturally a consequence of a shame at having been fooled by all the religious nonsense that has afflicted humanity for so long as an infantile disorder. Chesler was raised without religion but in an environment that saw economic well-being as some sort of alternative, grubbing together money for no real reason, an unthinking acceptance of societal values in that respect. Anyway, nihilism is not a modern or postmodern phenomenon. Heidegger points out that Nietzsche sees it as "not a Weltanschauung that occurs at some place or other; it is rather the basic character of what happens in Occidental history." The development of nihilism will occupy the coming centuries, especially where it seems that opinions are the opposite of nihilistic. As Heidegger says, and this is not contrary to what Deleuze says, the counter-movement to nihilism is within nihilism.

The homo mensura thesis has been used to judge the world according to categories that are driven by considerations of gross utility, designed to improve "human constructs of domination". But "man" is not the measure; "man" is a cunt.

Fragments depicts an entire teratology, a menagerie of grotesques and freaks - from the stupid transsexual comedian to the mythological creature Little Jack, who is an allegory of empty homoerotic desire. (It's a labor of love fucking yourself to death.)

Extreme nihilism is an empowerment, to use a grotesque neologism. It is admittedly still a "pathological transitional stage" to the transvaluation of all values, and Fragments shows the great strength of the intellect. In an as yet unpublished novel, An Honest Day of Blowjobs, Chesler describes a vision that can represent a goal of understanding, mental development, and a Foucauldian ideal of ascetic self-development (intellectual discipline) as an alternative. To Nietzsche, maybe, this might lie too close to Schopenhauer's will-less contemplation. But this is a form of the eternal return, the epiphany that changes nothing, satori that leaves everything exactly the same. For in The Will to Power Nietzsche introduces the eternal return as a consummation of nihilism, and the nauseating ugliness of human nature is a tiny film of bullshit over the fiery beauty of atoms and the void, and it is the cosmogenic wheel to which we consent, not the scumbags stumbling through their superficial illusion.

This return, as Deleuze points out, is the chaos in destiny, the arbitrary in necessity. We do not seek homeostatic equilibrium, the world is burning and most things are too ugly for eternity, most people do not affirm and should not be affirmed. It is again Deleuze who points out that the "nihil" does not refer to nothing but to a nil evaluation. Human things are trash.

But Deleuze interprets Nietzsche as describing how the originally reactive nihilism becomes selective. The will to power transforms the negation into that which affirms whatever is not excluded. The eternal return is not the return of the selfsame, but of that which deserves to return, in the interpretation offered by Deleuze.

However, Fragments is not supposed to provide an answer, since the answer can only be a complete assignment of values to everything. There is no point, as Nietzsche notes, in becoming a victim of conscience, of a belief in history, or societal values. Religion is only an alternative for the retarded or the genuinely mentally ill nowadays.

But Nietzsche himself emphasizes the value of laughter, the value of contempt and despite, the cleansing power of hatred, the necessity of lies. Nihilism, it is something divine when it denies the entirety of being, and is thoroughly perspectival.

Dysgenic fertility (bad breeding) and general intellectual decline are a phenomenon later than Nietzsche. He writes of something similar, though: "There is no solidarity in a society in which there are sterile, unproductive, and destructive elements - which, incidentally, will have descendants even more degenerate than they are themselves". Heidegger notes that valuations disappear when the manner of thinking that created them disappears. This is why Nietzsche concludes The Will to Power with "Discipline and Breeding" - a new sort of human is required, one that is capable of a new valuation. This does not necessarily mean eugenics, but maybe something like the process of intellectual asceticism to which I alluded earlier.

Chesler writes in an age where the loss of dignity described by Nietzsche has become exacerbated, the new humans are even trashier and more laughable, as he anticipated. What is needed is not the enfeebled passive nihilism of Schopenhauer or the Buddhists, but a transition to an active nihilism that despises, an active nihilism that favors strength of will, a strength of will that helps to destroy all the old impotent nonsense. Fragments is part of this transition. Art for Schopenhauer was a sedative, Heidegger reminds us, whereas for Nietzsche's new valuation art becomes a stimulant; literature like Chesler's is testimony to an ugliness that does not deserve another cycle, but also evidence of a spirit that deserves survival. 

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