Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smith on Sexual Violence

While her argument was far ranging and a bit free wheeling, I nonetheless found Smith's argument convincing. Especially insightful was her equation of sexual violation with the violation of land claims of Native Americans (424). While one must be cautious about making claims with a direct form of causality such as this, the denying of legal rights and violating land sovereignty in the name of "true rights" and manifest destiny seem very correspond quite clearly with the creation of a Native American who is not quite human, not quite pure. The purity of the white race is thus contrasted with the filth of the natives and their supposed sexual animal nature. Native American men and Black men (not to mention, currently, Hispanic men) are targeted as criminals who prey on "real" Americans, being defined as white, middle class individuals who are heterosexual. Women of "ethnicity" are ignored as subjects of crimes, as is rather apparent here in Alaska. Indeed, the problems within the Native communities are defined as Native "problems" and it is difficult to live in close proximity to Native American communities without hearing totalizing claims about their culture, rarely in complimentary terms. Thus, while Smith paints a (likely exaggerated) rosy picture of what life was for Native Americans prior to domination and marginalization, her argument about what the process of colonization means in the present was very insightful and poignant, especially her consideration of the various examples of resentment for the mere existence of Native Americans with needs. Here, I think especially of the claim that "the Canadian government could boost health care funding for 'real people in real towns' by cutting the bureaucracy that serves only native peoples" (424).

And yet, the range of her discussion suggests that sexual violence against women is not as simple as she suggests: it is not merely a tool, a method of control, or an entirely intended consequence. When non-Natives cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed on a reservation, it is also an issue of sovereignty, of funding and political interest. When the question of rape is considered relative to Native American cultures, it is also an issue of cultural relativism, tribal sovereignty, and marginalization. Thus, while her treatment of the issue is illuminating, the question of what to do is not made to appear simple; while this is realistic, it also ultimately makes action much more complex.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nietzsche's Perfectionism

Perfectionism, as described by Hurka, is a moral perspective which "values human excellences regardless of how much a person enjoys or wants them" (10). This sort of conception is especially salient in terms of Nietzsche's perfectionism: excellence, in Nietzsche's understanding of it, is not concomitant with with pleasure, and is not necessarily a natural inclination (13-14). In his rejection of a teleological or pleasurable account of excellence, Nietzsche is unique among perfectionists (14). Beyond this broad perfectionism, Nietzsche is also interpreted by Hurka as being a narrow perfectionist, defined as one who values human excellences because they express some facet of human nature which is essential to humans. Here, Hurka (quite predictably) considers Nietzsche's will to power as expressing this sort of belief (12).

One must always be concerned whenever a philosopher attempts to utilize the will to power to justify any sort of an interpretation of Nietzsche, as they usually attempt to suggest that power is the motivating drive which guides moral action. Certainly, Nietzsche is quite interested in the expression of power within the moral sense, but his account is robbed of its nuance when all contradictions are removed in the attempt to make his account coherent. This much said, Hurka does not seem to fall into this as much as others, if only because he does not merely base his account on an oversimplified view of the will to power but also considers hierarchy and what he describes as Nietzsche's "maximax principle" (18). While others try to suggest that Nietzsche's is a personal account and use this as an excuse to ignore Nietzsche's antidemocratic principles in putting forth some sort of universal morality which has little basis in Nietzsche's thought, Hurka explicitly draws the conclusion that a morality based on Nietzschean principles would necessarily require others to ignore their own well being and focus only on the perfection of a few great individuals (20-21). This much said in favor of Hurka's argument, it seems unclear what exactly it means to value power in this sense; maximum power perhaps does not mean what it would imply. There is not only power over but power against. As suggested in the prior reading, overcoming requires obstacles and power requires its equal. Respect among equals is not a state in which one power bears over another but instead a state in which power sees its equal and accepts this, stands not in anger or conflict but respect. In this sense, Nietzsche's perfectionism is not so much a maximization of power as finding the power relation which accords with one's own, dominating the lesser to the extent that is needed but also recognizing the equal.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Mohanty’s article was rather illuminating, if a bet dense. I found her use of specific examples a particularly astute example of how a feminist can maintain a non-essentialist viewpoint while still believing in some form of globalized feminism. While some of the things she specifically said about the New World Order and the reproduction of patriarchy in the globalization of capitalism sometimes stretched credulity, her points were well taken and found a counter-model for the creation of a global feminism. Just as the capitalist effort succeeds in a foreign society by implementing a specific tactic (i.e.: producing food, products, etc.) by tailoring their methods according to the society, and foreign companies target consumers by not simply attempting to import their products wholesale but instead adapting them to the environment, so the feminist movement needs to adapt itself to specific circumstances, to take a pragmatic approach that attempts to understand the choices made by individuals in specific situations and the possibilities which they are able to consider. A prime example of this is found in her discussion of immigrant women working in the United States: the association of labor unions with white, working class American men has served to sour the image of the union to immigrant women, leading them to organize through church groups. Their alternative choice might seem questionable to the American feminist, inasmuch as churches seem to be yet another reflection of the very patriarchy that the women must hope to escape. Yet, practical choices must be made by these women, and organizing themselves in struggles allows them to claim it as their own, to gain consciousness of their position as a worker who is being exploited. Ultimately, different means are needed for each group of exploited workers, inasmuch as each situation is different; however, the struggle against oppression and the lack of recognition of the value of their work is one thing that all these women share in common, and the exchange of ideas, as long as it is not based on a hegemonic relationship, can do more good than harm and should be encouraged.

Genealogy of Morals 3

Both the ascetic ideal and the scientific ideal represent a turning away from appearance. Thus, the ascetic says “no” to the surface appearance, turns away from the body, and posits an ideal, a substratum behind things or some other essential element which can be found in all things. So follows science: an attempt is made to reach a perspective which is beyond perspective, an objective eye which is not corrupted by being embodied with a perspective, one which is pure and true. Thus, both search for “truth” and engage in the “will to truth”. And whence the will to truth? Here, it is illuminating to note that Nietzsche formulates the problem of the desire for truth as a “will to”, much as his will to power; it seems clear that the will to truth is a ruse, it is a move which is contains more than it says, it is a symptom of another sort of illness, a will to power, but one which does not necessarily lead to what is best for the creature. The value of truth is negative; the will to truth is the will to an illusion, but a dishonest one. It searches for origins where there are none, searches for objectivity and objective facts which are merely perspectives that have been given a greater standing than others and have been incorrectly universalized. The will to truth and the ascetic ideal stand for a turning away from the “truth” of reality (we must surely put the word in quotes when we are to use it thus) and its inherently perspectival and superficial nature; the will to truth is a will towards and unconscious self deception, a pacification of the self. Thus, the contrast for the ascetic ideal is art, the acceptance of pure artifice, of interpretation and creation, of the acceptance of will, of an excitation of the senses.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Feminist Philosophy - Mill

What Mill wants for the individual is freedom within society. This means, for Mill, that the dissenting opinion is respected as much as the opinion which accords with the majority. Law was once the codification of the prejudices of the ruling class, whether the Spartans, princes, nobles, etc. With the advent of popular rule, the risk becomes not just the tyranny of one over another, but the tyranny of the majority over the dissenting individual through the codification of popular prejudice as law. Mill believes that this owes to an lack of rationality, an inability to put aside one's own personal preferences and consider what is most useful for society. In his view, the only legitimate reason to limit the freedom of an individual is the case in which they would do another harm or have harm result due to their inaction. This serves to maximize liberty, because it allows for a great amount of individual liberty while also ensuring that the liberty of others is protected against actions of others which might serve to compromise their liberty.

The largest apparent threat to the individual, in this essay, would therefore seem to be the limiting of liberty without legitimate cause, which results in an inability to live one's life as one would see fit; while coercion seem implicit in this, other forms of limitation of the individual life which are more indirect would likely also be considered threats to individual liberty. The limiting agent, society at large, therefore also appears as a dire threat, inasmuch as large groups of like minded individuals are capable of suppression of dissent and, hence, great injustice through the limitation of individual liberty.

Cruelty and Morality, Guilt and Punishment

For Nietzsche, morality is a reversal of instincts, that it is a "will to self-tormenting" as a "repressed cruelty" which has emerged as a response to the civilization and enclosure within walls of humankind (section 22, p. 528). This stands in general accord with Nietzsche's conception of adaptation and the effect of accident: what was once an adaptation becomes, when it is no longer a necessity for survival, a sublimated instinct which is reassessed, reinterpreted, and realigned in a way which does not necessarily show its origins. Especially tied to this is the creation of the concept of guilt; here, Nietzsche clearly stands as a precursor for future philosophers (here, Foucault is obvious) in his historical analysis of a seemingly absolute phenomenon in terms of historical factors. Guilt, for Nietzsche, emerged from the very real relations between creditor and debtor; ultimately, through accident, reinterpretation, and changing conditions, guilt moved from a state between individuals to a state between the individual and society. Eventually, this relation became one between the state and individual. The purpose of punishment changes from a recompense in a more monetary sense to one in which power is vented, in which one becomes master over the other (section 12, p. 513). And here, the tie between punishment and guilt ties to cruelty and morality; guilt is the creation of the conquerors, those who would make laws and exert their master over others. Through guilt, they exercise their cruelty over others, in a celebratory fashion, binding others to laws and, hence, to civilization. Morality, in this sense, stands somewhat as an internalization of guilt, a creation which arose from the origins of law, an internalized reaction to external laws (section 17).

This results in a further turn, however, one which Nietzsche laments: guilt becomes internalized and turned back against those who were originally creditors. Hence, slave morality becomes endemic (for there can be no doubt that the debtor is the slave, and hence, a reactive type) and ressentiment becomes the order of the day (section 21).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nietzsche and Hegel, Slave Morality

Nietzsche's conception of the contrast of the Slave-Master morality contrast stands as just that, a contrast between two different but not necessarily fundamentally incompatible forms of morality. The contrast between the two is not that they value different and opposing ideals, but rather that master morality is an active morality, while slave morality is a reactive morality (here, especially section 10 of the Genealogy). The slave says "no" to life, to suggest that the instinct is something controllable and, hence, to apply morality to all one's ability to control one's urges, to circumvent the activity of one's power. Slave morality borrowed the distinction of "good" and "bad" and created "good" and "evil" as opposites. Thus, Nietzsche would class Hegel's Master-Slave morality as a sort of slave morality (this, even ignoring Hegel's claim that the slave class becomes stronger and triumphs) because it contrasts the Master and Slave morals as mirroring one another. Taken in Hegel's sense, Master morality and Slave morality stand in contradiction and require some kind of resolution if one is not to overtake and dominate the other, hence, the dialectical process. For Hegel, the historical circumstance of the domination of Master morality is no more than the domination of one side of the dialectical contrast which inevitably shall be eventually cease when the Master grows too weak and is overthrown by the Slave. This should also be contrasted with Nietzsche conception of the reason for the overthrowing of the Master: rather than being too weak, the Master remains strong and is only curbed from expressing their power, through the subversive strength of Slave morality, which demands that they say "no" to themselves.

It is this requirement of opposing position that likely creates Nietzsche's animosity to the dialectic; for Nietzsche, we are not speaking of good or bad in morality except as it relates to other aspects of existence (survival, improvement, culture, etc.). As he states again and again, the very question of morality is to be considered, and here he considers the primary method by which the world is classed within morality and contrasts it with other historical examples. Whereas Hegel takes the Master-Slave connection to be one which leads to some sort of historically inevitable conclusion, Nietzsche would not support any such conception (let alone Hegel's apparent belief in a form of socialism establishing the conclusion of the Master-Slave conflict).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beyond Good & Evil

In "We Scholars", Nietzsche appears to be taking his critique of the prejudices of philosophers further, implicating the academic tendencies of the period and, in doing so, engaging in a critique of what might be considered general scholarly tendencies. As the philosopher is also a scholar, the critique of scholars bears on what has been said earlier about philosophers, but it also must be understood that the philosopher should stand apart as critic of the current state of things. Thus, in section 212, he says that the philosopher "being of necessity a man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was ever the ideal of today". As stressed here and earlier, in the section about the "Free Spirit", the philosopher does not dwell on the past but looks to the future. By what means does the philosopher do this? To dwell in skepticism, which Nietzsche heavily criticizes in section 209, is not an option. Yet, if he does not support a skepticism, it is only because of the paralysis which he associates with it, as he does support skepticism as criticism in a particular form, in section 210. What struck me as most important was the importance of self criticism: "the ability to stand alone and give an account of themselves". Or later, in 212: "By applying the knife vivsectionally to the chest of the very virtues of their time, they betrayed what was their own secret: to know of a new greatness of man, of a new untrodden way to his enhancement."

Perhaps the most important tool in this process (and that most ignored by other philosophers), is the utilization of the historical sense in analysis. Here we must point to the "Natural History of Morals"; here Nietzsche is suggests an alternate course of action, to consider morality and not the proof of a morality as an issue. As he says in section 186, "what was lacking was any suspicion that there was something problematic here. What the philosophers called 'a rational foundation for morality' and tried to supply was, seen in the right light, merely a scholarly variation of the common faith in the prevalent morality; a new means of expression for this faith... certainly the very opposite of an examination, analysis, and vivesection of this very faith." That he uses the same language here as he does later must be noted: the problems of philosophy must be laid bare and disassembled to understand them better and understand their origins. The "Natural History of Morals" stands as something of an attempt to do just this. Though he is speaking about individuals, Nietzsche's question and answer about the moralist in section 187 is notable to consider in this light: "what does such a claim tell us about the man who makes it? There are moralities which are meant to justify the creator before others." When one considers sections 195-198, it becomes clear that such a description is applicable to broader moral systems, and that the "slave rebellion in morals" and the values embodied in the moral system which became prevalent also serve as justification for the creators of the value systems.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Harding - Standpoint Epistemology.

I think the main concern for anyone considered the "strong objectivity" advocated in Harding's paper would be the emphasis on the importance of marginalized perspectives in the pursuit of knowledge: how can we make any claims of objective knowledge if it is necessary that the perspective be that of specific individuals. To reformulate the question: if knowledge is objective (this meaning that it is not bound to any single individual or perspective) how can we simultaneously maintain that certain perspectives are more apt to be able to gain such a knowledge.

The best reply to such a concern would be to restate the origin of such a perspective (the European Enlightenment tradition) and in doing so emphasize the prejudice of such a view: the methods of the European epistemological tradition have maintained that certain perspectives are more apt to be able to gain knowledge (in this case, those who are of higher status and are thus more educated in the methods of knowledge production) and are more able to achieve an objective perspective. The key difference between "strong objectivity" and the empiricist objective enterprise lies in the lack of acknowledgment on the side of the empiricist that there is in fact a bias which is being enshrined in the questions and hypotheses being considered. The empiricist lies in uncontested social territory: they have absorbed the traditions and the biases of the society of which they are a part and replicate them in a way which mirrors the society at large and renders them nearly unrecognizable. The "strong objectivist", conversely, lies at the margins of society at large and thus are in a key position to be able to see what is invisible to others, to criticize what is taken as a given and thus acheive a greater degree of objectivity than other methods which stress objectivity.

While this argument is convincing, it also seems that there must be a counter-act of critique to fully strength of the marginal account: the individual who makes the account may be able to see the biases hidden in the society at large, but may harbor their own biases which may not be accounted for. Further, such an actor may have absorbed certain biases which infect the rest of the society; the actors are marginalized, not outside of the society that they critique, for they must have some working familiarity of the system. Such an example is historically found in the lack of attention paid to women in the advancement of civil rights. If we consider such a difficulty, we run the risk of infinite regress, insamuch as there seems to be no position of which we can say with complete security that it is better able to engage in critique. This, of course, assuming that we value objectivity as an ultimate end; here we must take it upon ourselves to consider the origins of the value of objectivity yet again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nietzsche's Criticism

In section 370, Nietzsche asks what Romanticism is and, in doing so, contrasts it with the Dionysian. Contrasting interpretations of creative power, he describes the Dionysian as "The desire for destruction, change, and becoming... an expression of overflowing energy that is pregnant with future." The question of Nietzsche's creative destruction, of what exactly such a method entails, is answered in his own techniques of self-criticism. Nietzsche does not desire his work to be solid and static but rather, that is always change; he continually grows and continually reflects upon the work which he has done, questioning his own prior values, adding prefaces and additional chapters to work long since finished, and reimagining his own conceptions of his key terms. The is illustrated in section 370's dealing with the Dionysian where it becomes a more focused power than that imagined in The Birth of Tragedy, one which is no longer contrasted with the Apollinian but instead the Romantic; it goes from being a mad force of undoing to a penultimate creative power, one which does not renounce, but eternally says yes.

Such criticism is especially clear in Nietzsche's treatment of Schopenhauer and Wagner in section 99: here again we see Nietzsche engaging in very important self-criticism. Nietzsche is no longer quoting long passages of Shopenhauer or celebrating Wagner as the genius of the age; both are considered in their strengths and weakness and both are found wanting in certain important senses. The intellectual conscience mentioned in section 2 is obeyed and Nietzsche cannot help but move away from the individuals and thoughts that he once endorsed. This is seen especially clear in the recurring themes that occur throughout all of Nietzsche's work (Wagner and Schopenhauer, of course, but also Christianity, music, the arts, and morality).

Section 317 is very telling in this respect: reflection on past events leads us to the recognition that what was once very sure may not be in the future. Taken in relation to his own philosophy, it is a recognition of the change that has occurred in his own philosophy and the change that shall continue as long as Nietzsche remains rooted in his critical method. Continuous change and "yes-saying" is only made possible when one is in the critical mindset, that is, when one can be comfortable enough to continuously question the core beliefs that one holds. Section 106 perhaps illustrates the hope that Nietzsche has for his own thought: "For a doctrine to become a tree, it has to be believed, it has to be considered irrefutable. The tree needs storms, doubts, worms, and nastiness to reveal the nature and the strength of the seedling; let it break if it is not strong enough."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The necessity of groups suggests that Hopkins's hope for dismantling the category of gender is largely wishful thinking. That is, at least if we are to understand dismantling as the complete elimination of the categories themselves; the final line of the piece suggests another reading, however. Rather than eliminating the categories of gender, it might be said that the goal should be to deconstruct the binary nature, to reinterpret it as a polar matrix of gender, one which admits of many shades of gender. Such a reconception seems in line with what many others have suggested for sexuality, and it seems appropriate that gender, which is intricately connected to sexuality (as Hopkins suggests) should follow a similar model. Using such a model allows for less rigidity while still allowing a general area of male and female, as the similar model of sexuality allows for polar heterosexuality and homosexuality while also allowing for an account of bisexuality and other more subtle sexualities. Under this manner of understanding, we can support the value of general gender and sexual identity while also acknowledging that the members who are said to belong to a particular group are not homogeneous. In doing so, we pay respect to the experiences of different groups as well as different individual experiences within a particular group. The goals of Hopkins and Spelman are both valued, and a subtlety is gained.

As to the question of whether being a woman today implies heterosexuality, it must be answered that this is case only inasmuch as the identity of a woman is understood within the binary model of gender. The rigidity of the heterosexuality, however, would seem to depend on the perspective of the observer; as society at large is largely patterned on the male perspective, and as the male perspective must understand the "other" only in generalized terms of what it is not, it stands that the field is more open. This is different within the field of positive speculation of what defines a woman, where the attempt to define who and what a women is are considered in positive terms. Accordingly, to men the woman can express a more subtle sense of sexuality, such as bisexuality, as long as she is not outwardly butch (though bisexuality is often normalized as mere promiscuity); to women, however, there seems to be less acceptance, and a similar expectation that the bisexual is merely a promiscuous individual (the bisexual always seems to lose).

Group boundaries serve to exclude as well as include, so that any positive form of group identification (that is, identification besides simply being an "other") serves to create a set of norms. So: only when we see bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, and others who engage in the critique of binary gender and sexuality (likely the best description of what is a complex phenomena) as normal individuals should there be said to be a lack of heterosexism.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gay Science - Nietzsche's Irony

191: Against Many a Defense - The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.

This aphorism is, I think, key if we are to make any sense of Nietzsche's hyperbolic and offensive statements. Nietzsche toys with our expectation that he should be arguing for his perspective by engaging in the very forms of argumentation he disagrees with, successfully parodying them by showing what a lack of reason they exhibit and pointing towards other conclusions regarding the subject at hand. So, for example, in 140, entitled "Too Jewish", he utilizes the tendency to justify behaviors on racial lines to make a point about the heritage of Christianity and its tendencies, in tandem with the surrounding sections. He points towards (I think this is the best way to characterize his style of argumentation) the absurdity of anti-Semitism by making clear, again and again, the affinity between Christianity and Judaism while appearing to be engaging in purely racist argumentation.

A similar, and altogether bizarre example of this is found in section 145, "Danger for Vegetarians"; here he engages with the common Orientalist perceptions and anti-Irish sentiment (which seems rather odd, since he isn't English). His first line is a bizarre bit of syllogism: "A diet that consists predominately of rice leads to the use of opium and narcotics, just as a diet that consists predominately of potatoes leads to the use of liquor". Here Nietzsche is engaging in the sort of racist talk about tendencies and diets that was not necessarily uncommon in this period. The reasoning is shown to be laughable, and Nietzsche uses this to make a greater point about dietary rules in general: the religious dietary restriction is also a method for control. The guru would like to enforce the rule of vegetarianism as law because it would further increase influence; the talk of narcotic effects, I think, should be taken less as a literal statement of the effects of foods and more as a statement about the religious content being discussed.

The difficulty in interpreting such sections is that Nietzsche parodies are so subtle that it requires biographical knowledge to determine where he is telling the truth and where he is engaging in parody. The situation is further complicated when we consider the different standards of what was and what was not considered acceptable language: his use of the term "Oriental", for example, would likely not have struck his peers as overly offensive, even though it is questionable to us. Nietzsche surely knew that misunderstandings would occur, and seems to have strategically placed hints such as section 191 as well as others about humor and lightness, to suggest to us that there his ridiculous arguments and questionable statements are only preliminary stages upon which he is engaging in more complex reasoning.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Spelman - Gender and Race

It seems that Spelman's point that the oppression of different sorts cannot be easily understood in combination is quite astute, and her suggestions considering the futility of the question concerning the primacy of one sort of the oppression over another was well taken. What she missed, I think, and what is also important in differentiating the experiences of different individuals in different cultures, are the culturally bound aspects of sexism and sex roles which accompany sexism in the rest of society. The marginalization of minority groups provides a buffer between the hegemonic culture and their own, so that culturally specific views of what it means to be a woman can be allowed to exist in tandem with what might be called "standard white" views of the women in question. The experience of a Black, Hispanic, or Native woman is different from that of any woman in any other group because of this. To take the example of a single mother: this phenomenon is more common in Black households and so holds a certain amount of cultural significance, both for the women living the role and the greater society at large. Pejorative talk of "welfare mothers" who "have more children so that they can collect a greater check", though more of a relic of the past, still has resonance as a pejorative term for minority groups. To be a white single mother is not necessarily to be poor, and it is only through the addition, often enough, of other pejoratives that such individuals are identified (such as "white trash); such pejoratives are not necessary when speaking of other groups, and indeed, it seems that the image of single mother is wedded to the single black mother. Further, while being a single mother has been somewhat legitimized within the majority of society, marginalized groups often tend to conservatism; they become marginalized not only from society but within their own group, considered to be unfortunate cases of dissolving morals.

This much said, it seems that there can be a united front if there is recognition of the varieties of experiences in the same stroke as the recognition of similarities. Marginalization of women and their rights does occur at all levels of society; Spelman mentions the subordination of women in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. As long as such experiences are acknowledged as legitimate grievances, as long as the unique experiences of all groups of women are understood as legitimate and not special cases, then can the be a united front. If the of the life of the white middle class woman takes a greater role than it deserves, if this life is taken as the standard for what it is to be a woman, then there can be little hope of reconciliation and a united front. It is a task which must be achieved over a period of time, however, not a problem that can be solved through simple immediate action.

Monday, February 2, 2009

An Addendum

Perhaps it is art that is preferred as a source of self-deception precisely because it is knowingly so engaged. Or, at least such a view would be tenable if Nietzsche were more warm towards the plastic arts. Still, there is an important sense in which art does not deceive in the same way that rigid value systems do; there can be knowledge of the artificiality of the process which is understood in the same instant as there is deception and self-loss. Indeed, it is the anti-realist urge which seems to be present in Nietzsche's condemnation of Euripides and other artists. In the Birth of Tragedy, he unknowingly (or knowingly) tends towards a somewhat Romantic conception of the arts, especially inasmuch as he focuses on transcendence through the aesthetic.

Reginster - Nihilism

Under Reginster's interpretation, it would seem that pessimism stands as an antecedent to nihilism, inasmuch as it shares an understanding of the world which nihilism takes to an extreme. Whereas the pessimist believes in the impossibility of the of the realization of values in the world, the nihilist accepts this and also questions the possibility of there being any other world in which such a realization could occur and, hence, posits that there is no hope at all: it is not only that the world is hostile to our values but also that there is no possible world where they could be realized. This distinction mirrors somewhat Reginster's distinction between two forms of nihilism (though he does seem to maintain that this distinction is one between forms of nihilism and not necessarily applicable to the pessimism/nihilism distinction). The first form is that which is most focused upon, that the world does not contain value in itself and hence that we cannot be justified in any maintenance of a system of values. In addition to this, however, Reginster finds also another aspect; it is not only that there is no justification for our system of values, but also that the world is hostile to our values and there is no possibility of their realization in this or any other world. The first form focuses on our ability to maintain values and the second is a judgement on the feasibility of any value system to be maintained in any rational way. The two seem complement one another in their destructive power.

The Birth of Tragedy is imbued with a pessimistic spirit, with hints of the nihilism to come, but compared with later work and in general, it seems to avoid the most despairing nihilistic points and manages to sound rather optimistic. One of the most pessimistic moments involves Nietzsche's description of the story of Silenus, with the quote from Oedipus at Colonus, that "What is best of all is... not to be born, not to be, to be nothing" (42). While we must be drawn in by the gravity of such a statement, there is little hint of overwhelming systematic despair; the quote lends itself merely to pessimism. Indeed, the next page has the description of the Apollinian resolution of this despair with the emergence of a thirst for beauty, "just as roses burst from thorny bushes" (43). Again, on page 60, "man now sees everywhere only the horror or absurdity of existence; now he understands what is symbolic in Ophelia's fate; now he understands the wisdom of the sylvan god, Silenus: he is nauseated". Even here, "art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing". Even when reaching for towards nihilism, he is drawn back, he is convinced by the overwhelming power of art, not questioning its legitimacy or its ability to truly engage us in such a way. He has not reached nihilism proper, for he has not let go of the hope that art can provide us with a meaningful existence. Can art do this? We should rather rephrase the question: can any form of self-deception do this? I believe so, but when we have reached the point of nihilism, we are taken by a possibly fatal disease which can be warded off with treatment but can always return and will show symptoms occasionally. Nietzsche has not reached beyond pessimism at this point, and so seems rather hopeful that art can serve a healing function; his solution at this point is the most attractive solution which will likely be found in any of his writings, at least for most readers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Young - Five Faces of Oppression.

The concept of social group in fundamental to understand oppression as Young sees it: a social group is a group into which one is born and does not freely enter into, one whose traditions and history serve to define one's existence and experiences. Though one can attempt to divorce oneself from such a group, one's history as part of a member of such a group cannot be removed, nor can its one's experiences as colored by group membership. Young defines oppression as an inability of a group to cultivate and express itself, and further subdivides this into five categories which can be used as factors which can serve to identify cases of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Exploitation is a state in which a specific group is utilized for gain without adequate compensation; here it is useful to consider Marx: the wage-laborer produces a surplus, which only exists because the wages she is being paid do not match the value of the labor which she produces. Marginalization stands in relation to exploitation inasmuch as this state is one in which individuals are not even allowed to be exploited: they are relegated to marginal jobs or unemployed, and therefore are more dependent on state aid. Powerlessness, the third marker of oppression, is intertwined with exploitation and marginalization inasmuch as power is related to acceptance in the wider society and the ability to act independently. Cultural Imperialism stands as an active factor which encourages marginalization and powerlessness, as it is the process which involves the imposition of other cultural values over a group's set of values. Normative processes ensure that those who do not adhere to the majority culture's values are turned into others, and often stigmatized for their very values. Violence, the final face of oppression, is also the most obvious face; violence is encouraged by the processes of cultural imperialism and marginalization and is exacerbated by powerlessness. The process of selecting one set of values over another and turning those who adhere to alternate practices into Others, the majority culture creates animosity, which cannot be abated due to marginalization which often accompanies these processes. Each definition is interrelated with the others, but not all are necessary for a group to be oppressed. Inasmuch as this is the case, I prefer such a definition as it allows for a broad spectrum of groups to be defined as oppressed: women, minorities, the LGBT community, etc. Women, members of the LGBT community, and minorities all must face the possibility of violence (depending where they are) though to different extents and for different reasons; that they must even consider violence as a possibility at all, simply because of who they are, I think, suggests that there is something to be said in identifying them as such. But, they are also exploited, albeit in different fashions and to different extents, they face the normatizing attempts of a majority culture, they are marginalized in many ways, and they (in specific and different ways) lack power. Women are exploited in the workplace more than ordinary workers, due to a lack of pay equality, minorities are marginalized into jobs which tend to be more exploitative, members of the LGBT community can sometimes fear dismissal if they are found out. There are so many facets to oppression and so many different incarnations that it is useful to have such a broad definition, both to allow different groups to be united under the same umbrella term and also to allow a comparison between groups.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Birth of Tragedy Sections 7-15

Euripides and Socrates stand as the figures most responsible for the death of tragedy; in the eyes of Nietzsche, they stand paeans for an overly rationalizing impulse, one which would prefer to see everything in terms of logical relation, and thus would prefer to stamp out any perceived lack of clarity or discord in reasoning. This is directly in contrast to the Dionysian urge, which stands somewhat as a principle of unreason (or at least as a principle in opposition to the ideals individuation and differentiation which are important principles in the methods utilized by Socrates and Euripides). In the case of Euripides, the hostility to the Dionysian is expressed in the excessive explication which occurs in his prologues and with his excessive rationalization of the events of the stage, which included the utilization of a more naturalistic style of writing and a decreased role for the chorus. Beyond leading to New Attic comedy, the death of tragedy also represented a different trend: the pursuit of one method, the logical, as a driving impulse, one which stands somewhat as the beginning of European thought in history. As he suggests on page 97, whereas the former Greek was marked by a "practical pessimism", the Socratic Greek was a "theoretical optomist who, with his faith that the nature of things can be fathomed, ascribes to knowledge and insight the power of panacea, whild understanding the error of evil par excellence."

While this new dichotomy is clearly understood, it is difficult to determine how exactly the Socratic urge is to be understood in relation to the former categories of the Apollinian and Dionysian. Certainly, Nietzsche considers it somewhat Apollinian, but he also tends to treat the Apollinian with more respect than the Socratic. Considering his earlier description of the aspects of the Apollinian, as well as his descriptions of the rationalizing effects of the Socratic, it seems possible that he considered the Socratic to be a derivative and weaker form of the Apollinian, one which is so deluded about the nature of appearance that it cannot allow itself to confront the Dionysian and, indeed, itself, in any meaningful way. This is likely why he treats it more harshly than the Dionysian: whereas the Socratic must destroy all unreason, rationalize all that does not stand in logical relation, the Apollinian managed to reach a sort of detente with the Dionysian, to allow it to exist and even engage with it in a meaningful way. Tragedy stands as the epitome of this ability, and the tragedy of Euripides destroys this relation, banishing the Dionysian and its effects.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Birth of Tragedy Sections 1-6

It seems as if the greatest concern for the reader must be to consider how literally Nietzsche is speaking in this section. He appears to be speaking largely figuratively, but he also is engaging in a critique of the idea of the Greeks as the inherently rational and enlightened culture which stands as one of the origins of European thought. He is using the example of Dionysus and Apollo to illustrate his conception of the divide which emerges naturally, one which stands as his own analogue to the representation/will distinction which is central to the philosophy of Schopenhauer. His aim, however, is to bring the insights of Schopenhauer to the realm of the Greeks and, in doing so, to engage in a critique of the popular conception of Greek culture in the same stroke. In this short selection, it still seems unclear from whence the Apollonian/Dionysian distinction emerges; he seems to presume it as a distinction which emerges from existence itself, but it is still unclear why this is the case. His self-criticism in the preface seems to suggest that he was also unsatisfied with the lack of clarity of the writing in his work. It is interesting that his writing became clearer as he moved towards the aphorism as a primary means of writing.