Language and the Feminine in Nietzsche and Heidegger (A Midland Book)
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It is less common to find thinkers who are prepared to stick their necks out and advocate a remedy. Matthew Del Nevo's new book, The Work of Enchantment offers, in the author's words, 'a philosophy of culture which crosses between psychoanalysis, social-critical theory and literature. Alongside an extract from Del Nevo's book we have a review by Rachel Browne who comments on the book's relevance to recent events in the news, as well as defending the author against the suspicion of elitism.
The point of the book would be lost if Del Nevo was merely preaching to the converted. Fitting with the theme of cultural critique, Stephen Farthing, a Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists offers his searing observations of a society in the process of becoming an all-engulfing 'sexopoly', where existential anxiety and the fear of death manifests itself as an increasing obsession with sexuality and the body, reducing human beings to objects and destroying the meaning of human relationships. Lou Salome was the daughter of an aristocratic general in the court of Tsar Alexander II; she traveled in Europe; spoke Russian, German, French, and Italian fluently; wrote 20 books and many articles.
Nietzsche's best friend, Paul Ree, was in love with her in Rome, when he wrote to Nietzsche, who he believed to be in Genoa, and asked him to join them. Nietzsche was just turning toward all that he would become in his own inner life and ours. He had left Genoa for Messina, where the letter eventually reached him. He caught up with Ree and Lou in Rome. He fell in love with her too.
They formed a menage-a-trois. Her idea. A 'holy trinity' they called it. Nietzsche read 'The Madman' aphorism to them at Rome, part of the book that he would publish as The Gay Science , in which, in the aphorism I am speaking of, a madman declares in the marketplace that God is dead, God remains dead, and that we have killed him. A capital philosophical text in the history of modern thought. Nietzsche, no womanizer, believed Lou to be his intellectual peer, and discussed his ideas with her.
He proposed marriage several times, only to be rejected. Lou wrote the first book on Nietzsche's work, which is still one of the best books on Nietzsche, around whom now flourishes a whole academic publishing industry. In , Lou met Freud, a man who was rewriting philosophy in terms of the soul of the individual. Freud had discovered something people were largely unconscious of, which he called 'sexuality. Lou had already in published a book entitled Eroticism. She and Freud were very much on the same page, as it were.
Lou was a legend in intellectual circles in Europe, including Freud's. Her biographer writes: 'A female Faust she was not interested in rummaging in empty words. She wanted to 'detect the inmost force that binds the world and guides its course,' she wanted to know it, to experience it, to live it.
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Lou and Freud had already set their sails to the same course before they ever met. Of all the great men she met, Freud was the first who stopped Lou in her tracks. She recognized a teacher and mentor, and a reverse situation took place for the first time in her life: she fell under his spell.
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And he did not, like so many of the others, succumb to her charms, although he recognized and even revered her intellectual versatility and insight. She moved to Vienna and enrolled in his lectures. And then she worked with him at the inception of psychoanalysis; a student, but also a colleague, she helped to bring Freud's soulful science about.
According to her book Eroticism , Lou speaks of Narcissus as a germinal soul-story as, at the core of narcissism, there is a tension between self-love and self-surrender.
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In the Greek myth, Narcissus looks into the water, looks into the depths. He sees his reflection gaze back at him rather than the depths; he sees not just himself, but the trees and the sky -- nature, in short. He sees his own face and sees it in nature. He does not just see himself, but himself against the backdrop of nature. Lou asks: 'Does not his face express melancholy as well as enchantment?
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Melancholy, because he is estranged from what he sees; he senses his exile, even with regard to himself. This is important. Enchantment is coupled with melancholy. Melancholy is the mood in which the soul is made ready to become sensitized. Melancholy 'opens' the soul, lays it bare.
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Melancholy, we are sensitive. We are not sad, we are not despondent. These are a different music. We are not depressed. Then we cannot hear the music. Melancholy is none of these. We do not induce melancholy. In other words, it is good, beneficent, and heaven-sent.
It moistens the soul, like soil is moistened if what is rooted there should grow. But here, what is to grow is our inwardness. Melancholy is a mood we fall into. It takes us by surprise. It 'takes' us, in the full biblical sense of the ravished bride that is 'taken. In Freud's language melancholy is sexual, in the sense of a general unawakened languishing as a ground-mood of existence -- in contrast to awakened sexuality, which is creative and wants to give birth. In ordinary language, melancholy is a mood. But it is not a mood in the temperamental sense in which, perhaps, I wake up 'on the wrong side of the bed' in a bad mood; or, alternatively, in which, 'I am happy as Larry.
A ground-mood is a mood as close as possible or as imaginable to the experience of our naked being or to the intimacy of our solitude. A ground-mood is a basic condition of 'experience. This is when, if the mind is like antennae, the antennae are at a fever pitch of receptivity. Melancholy is also, traditionally, related to our exile. In this world we know what ought to be the case: justice and mercy. And we can see we exist apart from a world where these reign. As Levinas puts it: 'And love means, before all else, the welcoming of the other as thou.
Can that welcome be carried out empty-handed? Eliot, who recalled all this about melancholy and exile in Ash Wednesday, so perfectly. We know our job if we know anything is to make this world conform more to how things ought to be. And yet we get sidetracked and forget, or stuck in a never-ending argument.
Even relations in our own world are a mess and their fate, perhaps, out of our control; how much more impossible other relationships then! Melancholy is related to realism. Every realistic novel is a melancholy affair and every death-bed scene. Melancholy can easily sink to darker, more confining moods, which are not from heaven. To avoid this dire fate we must know what the poets and artists down the ages have to tell us. This is what the humanities used to teach.
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If we sink into darker moods we cannot become initiated into the beauty, depth, joy, and aching pleasure that the melancholy fit portends. Enchantment presupposes melancholy, as Lou Salome perhaps was first to theorize in her work on the erotic, and as Rilke would show in his poetry. We are not really part of things in the sense of 'that openness that is so deep in the animal's vision,' as Rilke wrote, for 'we never have that pure space in front of us, nor for a single day, such as flowers open endlessly into' Eighth Elegy.
Self-love and self-surrender at the heart of our being -- our 'sexuality' -- confines us within the world, within the human. The book falls within social theory but is mainly an example of philosophical reading of literature. It laments the soullessness of the world; it's increasing banality and the increasing influence of the culture industries and commodification of ever more areas of our lives, including education.
The 'work' of enchantment is identified as reading, listening and gazing. These seem unimportant in today's culture, but this soulful activity, which Del Nevo calls 'enchantment' is counter-cultural. He attacks modern day culture while examining some works by Proust, Rilke and Goethe, and sets this literary investigation against the background of Adorno's philosophy. Enchantment is written to be accessible to those outside philosophy dependent on whether they are able to read, I suppose.
Del Nevo states that he is aware of sounding elitist, but says that he doesn't mean to be so.