Was ist Entzauberung?

Was ist Entzauberung? (What is ‘Disenchantment’?)

            One of Max Weber’s most famous statements declares that modernity’s chief experiential hallmark is its disenchantedness. This is a state of being which differs in essential ways from its predecessors, both historical and prehistorical. The ‘disenchantment of the world’ is a process by which the magical quality of a worldview in itself is transformed, as if the mystical transmutations touted by alchemy had been simply reversed. This reversal is, however, only the surface tension atop the fluids of contrasting discourses, for a mere reversal connotes a retreat, even a reversion. For Weber, the relationship between outlook and worldview is personalized in modernity, most especially in religion. It is Protestantism specifically that carries the vanguard of this personalization, even as the rest of the world around it became more depersonalized. At first, one would imagine that it is this latter effect alone which contributes to disenchantment, but in fact it is both, and in tandem. One the one hand, the world takes on an anonymous hue, while the personal life begins to craft its own enchantedness. From personal fable to even the ‘dreaded hobby’, as Adorno referred to it, in our time it is up to the individual not only to construct his personhood, but to provide herself with meaningfulness.

            Meaning in itself has always been the purview of culture, not person. In premodern social contexts, the argument concerning Entzauberung suggests that there was no other level or form associated with fulfillment, in part because the very concept of the individuated person had not completely gelled. For premoderns, Augustinian subjectivity, known throughout by Godhead and housed in a being shot through with God Himself as imago dei, was perhaps the most radical form of individuation. Ours was a magical vessel set upon the surface of equally magical depths, the ‘ocean of being’, as Peter Gabriel, for one, might image. But meaningfulness was not a distinct character of that being, or possession thereof and therein. To understand something was to know its relation to creation, and although the ‘great chain of being’ proved to be a phrase and a conception portable to modernity – evolution does not obviate creation, but merely makes it more prescient of its outcomes – its premodern caste was made manifest through the divine autograph, in what Foucault has referred to as the ‘prose of the world’.

            Meaning was thus the world in its presence, meaningfulness was the ‘why’ of that world; its purpose and its intent, to be revealed upon the apocalypse. Neither could be said to be remotely personal, and even insofar as one’s character and actions, one’s ‘faith and works’ would determine, if not predetermine, one’s ultimate fate in the revelatory soteriology of a religion of grace, forgiveness and salvation were still to be earned. This edge of the new ethics grew increasingly sharp with the Reformation; from now on, the person as an individual was to be responsible for their own faith. Thus the personalization of religion could proceed apace, while at the same time, the world was relieved of its enchanted quality. No longer could the hand of God be read off that world as signage, symbolic or hermeneutic. Instead, we moderns place a more rational faith in systems of signs themselves, and are skeptical of the symbolic in all of its remaining moments. And whether these residues are remanential only is an open question, for those who read too much into the world could be diagnosed as merely schizo-affective rather than as visionary.

            If we rewind to the point of departure, the context wherein there was instantiated a metaphysical change, definitions of meaning and meaningfulness following along afterward, what can be observed is a conflation between human institution and Godhead, between longevity and infinity, and between luxury and divinity. The Roman church had, over a millennia, taken upon itself the responsibility for grace, while in so doing, granted itself a monopoly upon same. That one would object to this, at least in Western Europe, was generally unimaginable, though ‘folk Catholicisms’ existed long before the era of conquest. We see these phenomena specifically in Scandinavia and in Iberia, and there is yet some question as to how much of the pre-Columbian syncretisms of Catholicism were homegrown in Meso-American and elsewhere, and how much were in fact simply imported directly from the Iberian peninsula having been extant there for some centuries, even if driven into discreet enclaves by the Moorish presence. However this may have been, the model for later personalization does not arrive abruptly in 1517 alone. Even if there was but one God, he had many arrows in His quiver. The expansive sensibilities of the religious manifests of second stage Agrarian metaphysics; Buddhism, Christianity, Islam – the worldviews that introduced ethics to the world and as well, personhood – turned outward only when their once interiors began to foment dissent. It is not an historical coincidence that Europe, for one, sought the rest of the world at the same moment as the schism in belief was made official and became institutional. A religion must have believers in order to survive. Losing half of Europe meant that new franchises needed to be established. A competition between Catholic and Protestant imperialisms thus ensued, and within this, the syncretistic phenomenon were repeated, now on a global scale.

            But there is a deeper reason at work here, and that is: a structural division in any worldview shows not only a loss of faith in the reigning institution of religion, but also a change of heart regarding the source of its beliefs. If the church were part of the world alone, that same world held within it contrasting signatories, human and divine, which thence gives forth the diabolic in their own competing claims. What once was magic might be turned to sorcery. What once was sidereal may in fact be merely real. In religion do we find the first consideration, in science, the second. The church was once the rampart of magic alone, the priest the latter-day magician. This vehicular alchemy was pronounced first by Moses himself, trained in Egyptian magic by the pyramidal priesthood, later outmatching it, providing the grounds for the once Akhenatonites now Hebrews to journey to a new homeland. By the late Middle Ages, however, magic had already given in to the manipulation associated with the sorcerer who, having always been an outsider, sought through his superior use of enchantedness, to gain purchase within official quarters, just as Satan’s mission was to regain Heaven and reorder it to his own less scrupulous affairs. In part, we see the personalization of magic in the troubador’s poetic discourse, the idea of courtly love and personal romance, rather than that merely personified in antique allegorical figures. The ‘love potion’ motif also begins here, and was it not fitting that it was  French fashion revolutionary who resuscitated this ‘scent-sibility’ in Qabalistically numbered alchemical parfums.

            If sorcery could have been seen as the proverbial ‘left hand of God’, His ‘darker materials’, and so on, by definition it could not occupy the lighted space of institutional, or institutionalized, being. Its fuller presence within the interior of grace could only lead to disenchantedness, which today is our common lot. We are very aware of the corruption of political institutions and organizations alike, the success of those who cheat not merely at games but somehow also at life, and the loopholes, legal or otherwise, which inhabit the detailed deviltries of policy and policing, of schools and schooling, of familiality and family as well as others. Some of us have reacted to this present context by instigating nostalgia in lieu of authentic magic, but this is a dead end, as Weber himself recognized. For the fin de siecle thinkers, only art could provide the outlet for a human being, otherwise historical through and through, to generate meaningfulness in the face of the abyssal void. This sense was particularly evident in Freud, and even he was unsure of art’s long-term ability to provide a niche of enchanted existence. If science has conquered much of the discursive territory religion used to rule, it is art that has proven to be a more essential iconoclast, since it has taken up the task of replacing divine grace itself with an aesthetic subjectivity which ‘glimpses the shared soul’.

            This oversoul has itself become humanized, just as our individual participation in it has become personalized. Attending a concert or taking in a gallery showing does not make us a community. Just as politics fails to unite us, modern aesthetics reaches into our consciousness in order to scandalize it in its too-complacent relationship with the normative. In that, it is deserving of all of our efforts, but at the same time, unless this critical stance is itself able to construct something meaningfully novel and generative of community in the face of anonymous and rationalized relationships, however ‘interpersonal’ or even intimate they may be, then we are at an historical loss whose absence of meaning may well be subject to latter-day sorcery. And if politics may be safely divorced from morality, it cannot be so from ethics. Correspondingly, belief may be separated from aesthetics proper, but it cannot lose the quality of enchantedness now primarily associated with art. And while art is still not life as lived, it is nevertheless life in one of its ideal formulations; that which transcends the moment and thus reveals its history.

            So, while Entzauberung has been the default of modern culture for some centuries, it is equally clear that sorcery, the darker magic of manipulation, has survived, and even flourished, the more disenchanted we become. For in Weber’s argument there is a subtext: the world’s loss of magical quality begins with our disenchantedness at its worldly magus; that is, we ourselves. We doubt our ability to make meaningful remaining meanings because we are taught nothing of the hermeneutic in our education. ‘Interpretation’ is rather something to be avoided, we claim, because all it does is foster conflict. Yet since there cannot be, in the work of existence, one true meaning shared by all, a reactionary sectarianism promotes an anti-hermeneutic soteriology. But it is hardly the sole instance of Babel to this regard. Governments self-promote an official truth, the schools a pedagogic one, the family one based on personal loyalty to status-authority alone, and even science may be guilty of overstating its paradigms, noting that while its methods are open-ended and include interpretation, its results, once evidenced, are the less so. Science, as the historically favored child of religion, has never quite been able to rise above its original kinship to this regard.

            Even so, if it is art that engages us with otherwise scandalous, even evil, insights, exposing our moral hypocrisies and our ethical heresies alike, it is science which in turn reveals cosmic wonders seemingly as infinite as was the premodern idea of creation. And even if demographically it is the case that the vast majority of sectarians have been culturally divorced from both art and science and thus have had to cast round for meaning in the fearful undergrowth of human hope and dream, the more noble instantiations of modernity’s self-made freedoms are nevertheless available to all. That one must approach both art and science with the lingering overtones of magic and sorcery respectively, does contain a challenge to each of us as persons. We experience wonder now as an unsure sign of re-enchantment, in art and through science, but we must do so in the absence of a community which can itself agree on what meanings these wonders denote. In our uncertain certainty that we have at all a future, the will to life demands a magic that will overcome human finitude, and receives in turn only a sorcery which distends existence in various ways. To recognize our historical condition as one in which magic is itself effable and sorcery only nostalgic is to begin to separate disenchantment, which is of a world made into ratios and not necessarily understood rationally, and disenchantedness, which is not of the world at all, resting instead in the heart of the overly personalized meaning of an overtly rationalized human life.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, aesthetics, education, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

An Artless Society

An Artless Society (the neo-Christian Reich)

            The Third Reich took great pride in its artistic vision. Even the death camps were seen to serve an aesthetic function; the ‘beautification of the world through violence’, as a well-known documentary puts it. And while the Reich narrowed the definition of what could constitute art by rejecting modernism in all its forms, it did preserve one of two basic elements of what art, in its essence, accomplishes; it presents for us an ideal. This ideal is at once one of form and one of content. The form is irreal in that not only does it not exist in reality – it is both an amalgam of historical types and cultural desires – it also exists beyond the real in the presence of an archetype. The content precedence given over to the plastic arts in the Reich spoke to its executives’ penchant for realizing the ‘new man’, a eugenics-inspired pastiche of Victorian cultural levels theory and organismic evolution. Between Spencer, the oft-misrecognized ‘social Darwinist’ and Tylor, the major anthropologist of non-relativistic cultural studies, the stage was set for an anthropometry of art.

            And yet while the National Socialists armed their artists with not only state funding but also a retrogressive vision of the essence of humankind – in it, it was the anatomy of sculpture that was most fascinating; during Hitler’s ‘Dyskabolos’ address he intones with all due caution that we today could not think to consider ourselves a successful race unless and until we achieve or even surpass the form represented in Greek classical art – that favored the physical ‘look’ as an expression of an inner health, we today have taken both their conceptions of health and esthetics as at least commercial ideals for all to strive towards. The ‘mongrel man’ remains with us in the guises of obesity, addiction, laziness, to name a few. And though we are certainly correct to disarm the edge of this once visionary sword while preserving the reach of its therapeutic blade, I wonder if the two can be so easily separated in practice.

            The Nazis understood half of the presence of art in society, the half that validated their own sensibilities. But by far the majority of us today share those same ideals, and this is evidenced by our reaction to any type of art that challenges them, not to mention any other challenge emanating from other cultural spheres, including that of science. Durkheim shrugged off this kind of resistance to science, just as every authentic artist does for art. But the rest of us cannot afford such blitheness. Not the least while there is a powerful political movement afoot whose sole goal is to return to Eden, the ultimate result of a logic that seeks to beautify through violence. And through their critique of other cultural forms, including art, they have a most willing audience in those of us who would never turn their way through religious suasion alone.

            Instead of proselytizing superstition, the advance guard of the neo-Christian alliance attacks aspects of culture that on the face of it, many of us would instantly agree need to be curtailed or even vanquished. Criminality, pornography, drugs, come to mind. But, as riders to these widely agreed upon human failings, the Neo-Christian will smuggle in assaults on art via pornography, addiction as an illness via drugs, poverty and class struggle via criminality. Indeed, one may well suspect that the criticism of ‘non-partisan’ social problems is seen only as a vehicle for this critic to undermine essential aspects not only of a democracy, but of the ethical society itself.

            We are receptive to these more calculated attacks because its seems, once again, on the face of it, that the rationality guiding them should be acceptable to any sane human being. We know that obesity, addiction, or the anti-social or misogynistic aspects of the sex industry are not ideals, either cultural or moral. We tolerate them without full acceptance because they express the wider marginalia of a free society. In attacking them directly, we must redefine what we understand by human freedom, trending it away from its shadowy verges which, when enacted, are always tantamount to the nth degree of having the freedom to immolate oneself upon one’s own desires. We children of the Enlightenment, our parents equally Rousseau and De Sade, embrace the joy of ecstasy with the sorrow of nothingness. Ours is a Dionysian existence made into a commodity fetish.

            To all of this the Christian would cringe with a genuine sorrow, and in this we ourselves can agree to a point. But the neo-Christian rejects this fuller human freedom by editing, moralizing, censoring, erasing. His is the faux sadness of pity, for in vice he does not see the underside of virtue but rather the leverage to promote his own wider vice. ‘If this is humanistic freedom’, he exclaims, ‘better then to be a slave!’. In their slavishness, the place of art is reduced to decoration, for while a fascist welcomes the art of the past, and particularly the forms which evolved within his own cultural antecedents, and while he also understands that art presents an ideal form for humanity to strive towards, the neo-fascist does neither. The new fascism of today, neo-Christian and neo-conservative, has no conception of art whatsoever. The nude is pornographic, just as is nakedness immoral. Puritanical in its genesis, not unique to America but having its hearthstone there, neo-fascism deliberately mistakes prudishness for prudence, neurosis for mere caution. Its desired Reich is yet lower than that previous, shockingly, given what we know. It is lower and less noble because it does not even have the half-understanding of art that the Nazis did. What it presents to the rest of us is a vision of an artless society.

            From this observation we are but one step from as well suggesting that such a society would also have no culture. The anthropological definition, in its origins begrudging and still heavily hierarchized, attains through its Boasian relativism only the sense that humanity expresses its shared essence in a multiplicity of manners and mannerisms alike. The liberating quality of cultural relativism was almost immediately used by the Reich to justify its criminal practices – ‘this is our culture after all, and no two may be judged by one another or even directly compared’ – and thus this logical entailment of relativism is now used to justify unfreedom, often chanting the shallow terms ‘morality’, ‘principle’, ‘standard’. Either way, the individual, conscious of her own potential freedom and yet also self-conscious about expressing it, is left unsupported. On the one side, relativism defeats itself by extending its logic to the death camps, and on the other, it opens itself to external defeat by declaring that its enemies also have the absolute right to their own druthers. The throw-away line ‘well, its all relative’, today represents a fatal error, not in morality per se, but rather in existential authenticity.

            The only way to resist and overcome neo-fascism is through a step-by-step advance through the dueling Herculean pillars of ideal form and adorational desire. Though it may be ironic that the purveyors of the Third Reich would view those of the Fourth as themselves a mongrel ‘race’, it is through this very viewpoint, itself fraught with risk, that we can best defeat the artless society. Once again, this is the case precisely due to the fact that the majority of us understand art the way the Nazis themselves did. This is certainly an indictment upon us – our half-hearted conception of art represents in us a genuine decadence rather than a mere desireful lust which is expressed in the pressing presence of pornography, for instance – but it is the half-step away from neo-fascism that is nevertheless necessary to avoid a sterner collective fate. The fullest comprehending of the presence of art in society is too much of a threat to that very fabric to be taken in a single step. For art does not alone represent an ideal, but rather speaks into being the oversoul of our shared humanity and thus puts the lie to any sensibility that we can remain aloof to our equally shared existential condition. The ‘scandal of art’, as Ricoeur states, balances and confronts the ‘scandal of the false consciousness’. In doing so, it oft comes across as itself not mere scandal but rather as a palpable evil. But to recognize the authentic evil in the aesthetic object would be to but give away another weapon to the neo-fascist, and one that the rest of us, in our headlong flight from our own feared freedom, would be only too willing to wield.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in aesthetics, ethics, religion, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

            Ah, Professor Peterson. I feel for you. Sort of. I myself have been branded by a seemingly narrow and intolerant vision. After hosting a series launch for my YA fantasy adventure saga ‘Kristen-Seraphim’, an 11 volume 5500 page epic, one of our local public libraries refused to actually stock the books, even though they were to be a donation. At first the librarian objected that their content was overmuch for young readers in contrast to the publisher, and so I simply replied, ‘stick them in your adult section then’. Of course the most tenuous excuses were thence trotted out, including lack of space for a such a large work, that there hadn’t been enough reviews in the press, my publisher was third rate, or perhaps it was because I wasn’t truly a local author, having moved from the West to East coasts relatively recently. Whatever was in the librarian’s mind, none of my books is yet held by any local library in spite of almost four thousand such holdings worldwide.

            Well, I can see that there might be a few prudish old maids out there who might in turn imagine that a teenager reading about the murder of God (and the Devil, to be fair), by a motley crew of teenage heroes, one of whom is addicted to violence, another to herself, three having been abuse victims and four who are in lesbian partnerships might be a tad hard on youthful psyches. Reality, in other words, is sometimes tough to take, and both for readers and authors alike. Jordan Peterson is himself now finding this out, and perhaps for the first time. On the one hand, any professional body by definition has the right to rule upon its membership. Such organizations are not themselves above any charter or constitution but rather they stand alongside it, issuing their own relatively autonomous edicts and drafting their own codes of conduct that reflect and sometimes refract the wider legal conditions. Peterson’s lot is no different from anyone who belongs to a professional society, indeed, considers themselves to be professional at all. If I, as a professor for a quarter century, spent some of my class time explaining not ethics or art but rather how ‘hot’ this or that female student was, I would be guilty of a serious breach not only of professional conduct, but also of authentic pedagogy.

            But this is the most obvious side of it. In contrast, and in oblique and partial defense of Peterson and all those like him, if I declared Bruckner to be a superior composer to Tchaikovsky and Hitler to be a better painter than either Churchill or Charles III, does this mean I am guilty of being a Nazi or that I would turn the Tchaikovsky museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as did the SS at the time? Indeed, the fact that I have some small reputation as a philosopher in aesthetics might lend some cantor to such judgments and those like them. And the fact that I’ve written plenty about art, politics, ethics and education might lend still more. Even so, at the end of the day, it is still an opinion, no matter how rationally argued or contrarily, merely rationalized. But it is elsewise when it comes to denigrating or favoring a specific other for non-rational reasons, such as giving out the best grade to the ‘hottest’ student.

            And speaking of beauty, the woman on the cover of a popular magazine would indeed be considered beautiful by many disparate rubrics, including those Polynesian, that Odyssean – think Calypso – and that of Rubens and Gauguin, both better painters than Hitler. But even if Peterson was another Kenneth Clark we shouldn’t truly care what he thinks about the female form. Nor does it matter what he thinks about the simple process of language change over time. Language changes by and through its use by people in the world, and if personal pronouns no longer fit the bill for some people so be it. Like perceptions of beauty, perceptions of selfhood change over time, and one must engage in a serious philosophical disquisition of how this or that alteration might effect the wider human psyche or at the very least, how it offers further insight into it. The point is, is that by making such statements as have been reported in the press, Peterson has consistently engaged in unprofessional conduct. This doesn’t matter at the level of person – you’re free to say and think what you want as long as others are not threatened; that said, the difference between merely taking offense and actually feeling threatened has, of course, been blurred of late – but it very much does matter if one is a member of a profession that pledges to help all people no matter their backgrounds or self-perceptions.

            All of us must police ourselves with regard to our behavior, both publicly and privately. Does this mean we all live in the Fourth Reich? No, we rather simply live in a society, with others, within institutions, and dependent upon all of the succor of the social contract. This is a large chunk of what it means to be human, and that hasn’t changed one iota since the primordial days of our most distant ancestors. By all means, exert social change for the better, but equally so, if you want to mouth off about petty issues in a correspondingly petty way and there are professional bodies that sanction against such pettiness, take my ‘advice’ and don’t join them.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health, religion and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com.

On Multiple Worlds

On Multiple Worlds

            But to defy the world is a serious business, and requires the greatest courage, even if the defiance touch in the first place only the world’s ideals. Most men’s conscience, habits and opinions are borrowed from convention and gather comforting assurances from the same social consensus that originally suggested them. To reverse this process, to consult one’s own experiences and elicit one’s own judgment, challenging those in vogue, seems too often audacious and futile; but there are impetuous minds born to disregard the chances against them, even to the extent of denying that they are taking chances at all. (Santayana, 1954:170-1 [1905]).

                Our seemingly conflicted consciousness is so because it has come into being from a combination of two distinct worlds. That there are two hemispheres, associated with specific structures and patterns of cognition, is likely more of a practicality on the part of the evolutionary brain rather than a direct reflection of the bifurcate sensorium into which such a cognition has been placed and through which it has come to be. What are these worlds, then, that have combined both surreptitiously and yet surrendered each other to their combination?

            One is the world of nature. In nature we discover that which at least resembles an ontology different from our own, as expressed in a myriad of both animal and static forms all capable of being understood through the purely mathematical frames which seem to, in their turn, speak the language of the cosmos into conscious being. Nature is generally seen as discrete from culture, if not in opposition to it. This latter regard comes not from science but rather from a pre-scientific understanding of the natural world, at once the source of life and at the same time possessed of the ever-present threat of death. An animal may be eaten or it may eat me. Nature is thus presented to consciousness as itself a bicameral expression, with the living and dying played out by anonymous process and dispassionate dynamic. As such, there is nothing more nature can give to an intelligent being conscious of itself in a wholly different manner than what we can discern in nature; one that is both self-conscious and comprehending of time.

            Two is the social world. Schutz’s ‘multiple realities’, from which the title of this essay is borrowed, differ from one another, often in radical ways, but they all share the absolute placement within the social reality of the world of humanity. To say that ‘nothing human is alien to me’ is also to say that what is not human might well be alien and remain so by definition. We also take the risk that our inhumanity, no matter how much we might desire to suppress it or to shove it away from us and thus into another world, might, through its own sense of counter-ressentiment, take a further vengeance upon us by devolving the social world into a lower nature, abject and petty, as if what is merely ‘red in tooth and claw’ by happenstance would itself become calculated and thus create an enduring evil.

            Between the world of nature and the world of culture there exists the conscious mind. Its basic architecture, its neuro-chemistry, its autonomic and proprioceptive functions, are all products of evolutionary Gestalts. They are what remains of nature in ourselves. Insofar as we do not yet understand the whole of it, consciousness yet appears as a kind of microcosmic miracle. Nature has overleapt itself in its creation, and we need not make any kind of ideological or even customary distinction between these two loaded terms, ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’. Evolution has indeed created itself and recreated itself due to its temporal suasion, and thence may boast of creations and even to a certain extent, an unknowing creativity, in its living expressions of itself. But this is where nature leaves off and culture begins, and if there is a liminality to this moment, attested to by the sense that we will never be able to precisely identify the ‘thing’ that made our primordial ancestors differ just enough from their direct predecessors to begin the lengthy journey to modern humanity, it is not a fatal mystery to admit to ourselves that something of the sort must have occurred in any case. We have, in a word, all of the evidence we need to hoist such a claim aboard the complex apparatus of our scientific vessel.

            Similarly, the heroic quest to observe the beginning of the current universe is made so only by its deeper calling; that of it also being a witness to creation. In that we cannot ever see the moment when the first proto-humans walked the earth, the ‘Big Bang’ will serve as both a grander event but also one that consciousness seeks as its ultimate birthright. And it is this specific idealization that marks culture over against nature. The one seeks the origin of the other to finally prove the difference between them, yes, but also to at least nod to the fact that nature and culture are mutually imbricated in a manner unknown to any of our ancestors, those unaccountably distant or those historical. In seeking origins, we seek not merely a genealogy of life, but rather a meaning for a consciousness which in turn seeks to go beyond its own life. And the chief manner by which this being overtakes itself is by calling not nature into question, but rather culture. Nature serves as a validation not for norms, but rather for awareness, something more than simply sentience.

            But if the quest to witness creation is heroic, even noble, the assertion of one’s own singular mind against the social world, no matter how courageous, is fraught with all bad conscience as well as buoyed by good faith. The one who embarks upon this task will at first and at best tread only water. She seeks blood, even marrow, but these prizes of the thinker, artist and authentic critic alike will more than likely be bequeathed to others who follow upon her cultural quest and seek as well to build upon it. This is the truer heart so brave; that my exposition of the world of humanity will benefit me not at all, and thus cannot be called upon to either lend cantor to, let alone vouchsafe, my actions. And if the challenger seeks not merely analysis but also change, then let it be said such would be noticed only as part of the human future altered from its pastness; my germs come to fruits long after they had been sowed.

            Too long? In ‘disregarding chance’, we not only interpret happenstance in the usual and mundane sense of what is more or less probable, but as well, and more meaningfully, as a kind of method by which to object to the social world, its ‘consensus’, ‘conventions’ and ‘comforting assurances’. In this everyday chapel wherein ‘society worships itself’, we have exited by the rear doors or yet perhaps a window, but we have not yet either been excommunicated or charged with arson. The church stands yet, and indeed must do so, otherwise there would be none of the social factuality needed for the revolutionary mind to call upon in evidence of her novel claims. All religion, according to Durkheim, is in fact civil religion. He makes a conscious effort to remind us that there is no other moral order than that found within the social world. Nature is non-moral, and the otherworldly but a projection and a metaphor. Even the ultimate ‘reality’ of nature must be docketed in lieu of an understanding that overtakes its human and historical sources. If we humans are the local ‘eyes and ears of the cosmos’ these senses retain their humanity, and especially so, given that the very unimaginable vastness of nature in its grandest expression is also its most anonymous, distant, and empty vista. We create meaning in the face of the void, whether that be the personal and singular outcome of my human finitude, or the uncounted firmaments to be beheld only from and within our paltry moment.

            Since we cannot critique the cosmos – such would be purposeless and also baseless; nature is what it is and nothing more – all the more so may we be given to questioning what culture has wrought in its stead. By all means, the conceptions of cosmos over different eras and even epochs may be called into question, for that is part and parcel of the wider human endeavor; not only in the scientific sense of ‘have we gotten it right?’, but also in that philosophical: why is cosmos, as order and as ordered, so important for us? What is the culture of nature? For young people, this is a reasonable arena with which to begin the examined life. Not the social world entire, for we have not yet lived long enough to experience its self-expression, nor the self, which has not yet fully developed in the lights, both lurid and inspired, of what each culture has to offer its youth. Even so, the advent of critique necessitates an ever-steepening slope; from the naïve ‘why’ questions that accede to purely scientific responses, to the questioning of local norms, to the resistance against institutions, most often family and school, and then ever onwards to the impious querying of ideals and the ‘shooting at morals’ which is the penultimate duty of the thinker and artist alike. At every juncture, we ourselves are as well a target. For who, within their ‘right-mindedness’, would bring down the whole of it? The social world is the human cosmos after all.

            Hence Santayana’s cautious paean to all those who are not only members of the same guild to which he belonged and to which he brought such noble value, but more generously and also more importantly, to any human being. It is our shared and collective birthright to know the social, yes, but it is equally so our enlightened human duty to question it to the point of historical oblivion, if indeed what is exposed departs from our highest ideals, as it regularly does. And while nature will always remain aloof to our entreaty and ignorant of our will, culture is of our own creation and thus possession. The social world exhibits merely the simulacrum of eternity, and even the cosmos of nature is not itself timeless. That we live inside the question of our own existence should not be seen as a too-cunning conundrum, generating only misery and angst, pathos and melancholy. Rather it is the very thrownness of being which we are; resolute in our being-ahead, caring in our anxiety, concernful in our running along. Who better to respond to such a question that, though it bears the historicity of existence alone, marks us in our essence with a history of ontology that is shared and which constitutes our specific nature.

            The natural world need not answer any questions; this is its nature and its essence. And the social world cannot answer to itself, only for itself, in quotidian quota and mundane malaise. But the questioner, since she too is a social being, opens up the space wherein novel responses can be known. She is her own force of nature within the cosmos of culture, she is that which creates in the face of creation, she is the sole arbiter of the un-moralized sentiment and deconstructed structure which is society that was. We should not expect the social world as constructed and maintained by our predecessors to provide reasonable responses to the questions of the day. At most, it can cover for those who deny the questioner’s birthright and therefore suppress their own. In this, the social world betrays its cowardice in the same manner as does the questioner exhibit her courage. Shall we ourselves then hesitate when faced with such a transparent parentage on both sides? Shall we run for such cover, or shall we stand and uncover both the best and the worst that culture has gifted unto the history of the now?

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Writing the Last Novel

Writing the Last Novel

            I have written the last novel. Yes, I have. Benjamin, in his famous analysis ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, tells us that origins and authenticities are mutually imbricating. The very presence of a singular original work is not a necessary variable for, but rather is the essence of, the aesthetic object. He uses the religious term ‘aura’ to describe such a presence, something which any reproduction notoriously lacks. “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art is determined by the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.” (1955:220). It is of immense interest that Marx borrows the concept of the ‘fetish’, also from religious discourse, to describe in turn the inauthenticity of the commodity relation. Art is understood as part of the expression of the character of humanity as a whole work in itself, self-created after being put together from and by evolutionary materials. The question of an absent Creator as itself a ‘third party’ need not be broached, for evolution is also merely a process and not its own genius. Other objects within capital are at their highest quality as a product when they attempt to mimic an art work or more widely, an art form. But like charisma, the existence of which in modernity is doubted, religion too, the source of both aura and fetish, can be seen only in a faint echo of its original presence. Just so, the work of art supplants religion in our modern age, but only because art and religion were once one thing.

            And just as all prophets and messiahs have come and gone, the cowardly mimesis of religious innovators that is a symptom of mass politics and hardly of massive belief – indeed, more inspired faith can be found in UFO religions than in those sectarian; a pressing and all consuming desire to believe animates these forward-looking marginal cults, their very ‘being-ahead’ carrying them alongside the original Christian cults of the Eastern Mediterranean – carries on within a closed circle. It is not portable, in the eminent manner that is the aura which emanates from a work of art. The work of religion that was the messianic has fulfilled itself long ago. The work of art that is novelistic has done the same, but much more recently. Now a novel has been written that cannot be a novel. Its function exceeds its form, its expectations herald a new art form. It seeks the new because it in itself has no tradition from which to generate the necessary aura that elevates the work into the work of art. “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.” (ibid:223). What then of the ominous veneration that attaches itself to the new?

            To worship the novel for the sake of its newness is suggestive of youth. The commodity, once again in its turn, plays on this original and essential sense of wonder that a new human being brings into the world, and collapses its aura into a fetish. A novel experience is one that I have not previously had. But ‘having’ an experience is not limited to something I do ‘in’ the world, an action, an adventure, an observation. Beyond this, and yet occurring sometimes prior to, sometimes after, a worldly experience, is the interpretation, the anticipation, the wonder and the bemusement that such an experience will generate on both sides of itself, as it were. And in each of these other experiences I do find myself altered, as if I were my own tradition, ‘alive and changeable’, sometimes indeed to extremes, and this especially so in my youth. The ‘priority’ of the new, its invocation of desire, strikes us as does the premonitory aspect of the work of art. T.S. Eliot once had it that poetry begins to communicate long before it is fully understood, or better, comprehended. This is meant to convey the presence of presence before one is oneself present to it. This is the effect of the aura, and in this, it separates itself quite bodily from the affect of the fetish, which can only begin to alter my sense of reality once the object is itself fully present and I have ‘understood’ it to be present. To tradition, the new is always ominous. Youth venerate such changing presence, while the old in any culture tend to worship the tradition. But tradition was once itself new, and thus also new to me, who thence grows older within it and notes that along the way, ‘the’ tradition was not what it once was, or no longer can be identified with what I originally imagined it to be.

            But since tradition cannot be separated from the work of art while at the same time travelling alongside the commodity, itself bereft of all traditions – which is the chief reason why advertisers attempt to contrive a ‘tradition’ out of a commodity; hence the idea of ‘marque’ or even ‘brand’ and such consumer loyalties that may or may not adhere to it –  the push and pull between tradition and wonder, between the old and the new, between experience and astonishment and so on, suggests to us that whatever the aura which the work of art presents to us as its signature presence, between the aesthetic object and myself there is a splitting of differences. This is not to be taken as glibly as the commonplace phrase implies. At once we must be immersed in the tradition in order to fully appreciate the significance of this or that work of art, while as well we must be able to leap out of said tradition in order to do the same. Art is the only human product in the world wherein ambiguity is the goal. If Eliot is correct, this essential uncanniness, at once familiar and yet strange to me, is an experience that cannot be resolved until much more of my own life has intervened. Akin to returning to a book and reading it once ‘again’ after many years, with the expectation that I will gain a different insight from it, note different themes and moments as being more or less of import, and also, one would hope, noting the same things about myself as a human character in the historical drama, the presence of the work of art cannot be said to be truly ‘present’ in the way all other objects in the world appear to be. In fact, we are led to comprehend the fetish of the commodity along precisely these lines: it cannot exert any suasion over us unless it is there in its wholeness, form and function aligned, the one pleasing to the casual eye, the other vouchsafed in its mechanism, producing our desired outcomes. In no way does art presume to be present in such a cut and dried manner. And just as we do not purchase commodities for their perduring ambiguity, we find ourselves adoring them for their very consistency and ease.

            Art is inconsistent. Art is uneasy. It reminds the modern human being of his own Ungeheuer, my ownmost dis-ease and existential homelessness. At the same time, it brings me back into the essence of what I am as a human being; ambiguous, resolved and completed only in mine ownmost death. “One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form.” (ibid:237). In the case of the last novel, this new form is interactive digital media. The seal which binds text to itself has been broken through. The characters who populate a narrative can no longer tell their own story to themselves, by themselves. No, instead, these non-human humans require a player, just as does the painting require a viewer. And what was once the expression of sacred presence in the secular world, its aura being the lingering atmosphere of an irruptive presence that placed the extramundane inside the mundane, the uncanny into the otiose, carries itself forward without self-explanation into our own time as solely faith and without belief.

            So while one is compelled to believe that belief is itself moribund, to act within a faith that recognizes faithlessness – we now disbelieve in the tradition of the previous art form and we must do so as a prescience, ominous or no, of the immanent next of the new art form – we also do not abandon the more essential tradition of outgrowth, of evolution, of simple change. Indeed, it is this last thing, the only constant, so we are told, that insulates us against the mistaken stasis that commodity as a fetish seeks to contrive. All things novel within commodity relations are a fraud when placed beside the shocking scandal, even evil, of the art form and its ‘representative’, the aesthetic object. The fetish is that which adheres to a produced object through our veneration thereof. An aura is that which detaches itself from a created object to imbue us with its uncanny and yes, ominous, scandal. Was it ever the same in the epochs of religion? We may well imagine the worshipper, prone in oblation but also prone to disillusion. The oracle might fail, the priest misinterpret, the shaman lose his magic, the church empty itself. This is what the history of tradition teaches us: what is customary is genuinely present only to prepare for its own completion in the advent of the new.

            What is novel about ‘the novel’ is of course not as profound a world-historical shift as that which has taken place between religion and art or, for that matter, religion and science, over the previous four centuries, and it can never be so. But what it does suggest, at least to me, having just written the last novel, is that from now on narrative will move along a third axis and no longer be hitched up at merely two poles, the beginning and the end. In this, the story of our species takes a novel turn. It is no longer about origins and destinations, but rather immersions. Only in interactive media does this z-axis come into play. The formula for a novel presents itself as a diagram, with introduction, rising action, climax, and denouement. But interactive narrative thrusts one into an action ongoing, wherein the notion of climax no longer holds, and there is no conclusive conclusion. As such, the new art form of interactive digital media at once supplants the novel and other linear textualities; it transports it into an uncanny space within which living human beings find themselves actors, characters, forces, and all of these in a novel manner.

            On a personal note, my latest novel was a failure, but precisely due to it no longer being able to cleave to the tradition of what makes a novel ‘work’. It showed me that as a writer, I was already thinking immersively and interactively and no longer ‘analogically’. Even so, it exists, an almost 700 page document which, fitting to its plot and major heroine, is also a testament to a now lost form and forgotten formula. It is a book without a binding, it is a story without an ending, it is a desire which overcomes itself in both its own grief and ecstasy. Its epigraphs, from Bataille and Goethe respectively, abjure all judgment, mixing good and evil as one marries light and dark. Bataille speaks of yoga and torture creating an ecstasy not merely aesthetic. Goethe speaks of desire and love creating that which must betray our conceptions of both in order to mature in its own way. And just as Jesus was simultaneously the last Hebrew and the first Christian, ‘St. Kirsten’ rests uneasily and ambiguously along the delicate threshold between analog and digital, between imagination and immersion, between action and interaction. Its characters surpass their own traditions and remake themselves anew, alter the narrative from the inside out, in a way only a digital player could do. In this startling movement, we come to understand the presence of the truly novel in the shift from one art form to another. For within ‘St. Kirsten’, one can no longer distinguish between good and evil, light and dark, and most crucially, beginning and ending. It is as if we have been thrown into a world wherein none of these conceptions apply, and it is only with a sudden scandalized shock that we realize that this is, in fact, our own world after all.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, social theory and health, and more recently fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

            If one could choose a single word with which to describe our present day, let us suggest ‘urgency’. We no longer live in a world wherein action has the time to evolve into act. A sense of the ‘must’ animates our every endeavor. This sense alone is, in itself, ancient, and likely begins in the eschatological time of Pauline anxiety, wherein the pilgrim finds himself concerned solely about whether the next is also the last. It might be a footstep forward into oblivion or salvation, it might be an action frozen into an act before its own history could be written. Urgency is a leitmotif in Western consciousness but until our post-war period, it has remained an abstraction; ‘one knows not the moment’, ‘I will come like a thief in the night’, and so on. This time of times is always put off, the end of the world is nigh but what end and how nigh?

            Is it a simple matter of a reaction that, preceding the revolution of 1789 in France, the beginning of the modern age and the first herald that urgency was indeed coming down to earth, that for a century prior this same culture had been about a steady state of cultural celebration, with Louis XIV, the ‘sun king’, exhorting his artists to remember that he has bequeathed to them the highest of tasks, his fame, including of course his posterity. The highest of tasks was also thus the noblest of gifts. A Rousseau was possible within this stasis; his ‘reveries’ solitary and his walks perambulations which always returned to the center of things. These are dreams without urgency, visions, hanging in the air above us, never touching the ground beneath. But a De Sade was impossible, for his nightmares, unleashed right at the moment of revolution, sound of nothing but urgencies, though they are base, vile, and sing the bass viol of the bowels of a now aged aristocratic chamber orchestra. These are nightmares without end, and thus even De Sade represents a transition in culture, and not the change once made. He is a liminal figure, which is one of the reasons his works remain, to a point, distressing. The orchestra is now staffed by chamber maids, even maidens, but it still sings of the domestic daily doings though shifted into the nocturnal.

            Thus it remains within the contemplative life, which shuns action even for its own sake and makes all human interaction into an historical act before its time, before history has an opportunity to sabotage morality, and before the actors realize how petty are their desires, even in torture and murder. For Rousseau’s Julie, a paragon of prudishness and propriety, is nevertheless the abstract ideal of the misogynist middle-ground. Nothing could be said against her even if equally nothing for her. But De Sade’s Juliette is perverse, a heroine who forces us to reckon with our own desires ranged against her. Nothing can be said against her insofar as she in fact already has everything that we want her to possess. But unlike her predecessor, Juliette is also armed with all that can be said against us. She is an indictment of misogyny, and the fact that she enjoys being only this only makes us look the worse. If De Sade retained his liminality by never committing to social and political revolution but rather merely described the stultifying darkness of the Ancien Régime, his best and brightest heroine begins to sign the radical change that augurs the new desire. And she does so simply by virtue of her own desires being utterly urgent.

            But these figures exist in a microcosm. What of the wider world-historical change that ushers in our own age and frames it at one end with the most solid of aesthetic and ethical foundations and at the other by nothing less than constant motion? This larger field, cast in the deepest relief in 1789, a centrifugal cauldron, a storm’s eye, a nexus making cathexis, is still better represented by music than literature. At the far end towers yet the figure of Bach. He is summative, his art the result of a millennia of evolutionary architecture. His most important predecessor, Monteverdi, is Bach’s own phylogenetic avatar. Here, and for the first time, Western music begins to assemble other forms, assimilate other sounds, throw upwards the folk song and pull downwards the religious chant. In Bach we at last have reached the zenith of everything the West represented to that time; the idea of the ideals, the mathematical symmetry of sound, the music of the spheres. And when the sun king dies in 1715, Bach’s own star – and is it odd that Bach’s face should so often be portrayed in our own time within a sun figure? – is about to ascend to heights no mere composer could have heretofore known. And this ascent is predicated, also for the first time, upon not patronage but upon art itself.

            It is in the B Minor Mass that everything comes together. But this ‘everything’ is of course the act, never the action. It is the act against which all action must thenceforth take place and take its place. In this magnum opus, Bach presents the universe as it was known and knowable in his own day. It is a statement in the most stentorian terms. One bathes in such music; it does not wash over you but envelopes you, and while it is cleansing it retains the ability to magnify itself through one’s very dross. When the work concludes, we do not feel any sense of change or that things should change in any way. We feel as complete as does the work itself. It is in this sense a space wherein life and death have been reconciled and no longer have any singular meaning. And how can we not be eternally grateful for such an expression of the cosmic force of existence uplifted into the essential?

            But in fact that is the entire problem Bach poses for us. The ‘eternal’ character of gratitude is nothing but an obstacle to both evolution and to adaptation. It presumes upon a world itself unchanging, a cosmic order that is as infinite as it is timeless. Here, art does not imitate life but rather transcends it. This is the understanding that Bach, the divinely human architect, brings to the rest of us. This is the far side of the frame of modernity with which we still must reckon. It is so beautiful that it is like a death to turn away from it, and yet turn away we absolutely must.

            In our own time we have, with halting harrow and tremulous trepidation, given ourselves the tools to do so. Beethoven is the first revolutionary composer. At first he imagined himself an ally of Napoleon, but after seeing the results of Austerlitz in Vienna, realized that he as an artist was the ambassador of the highest humanity and hardly the lowest. Thus the amended dedication of the third symphony, itself the first truly modern work of music. It is the first because for the first time we have a sense of the urgent throughout the work. Beethoven 3 is the benchmark for all such works that follow and the closest contemporary parallels to this work may be found in the symphonies of Shostakovich. They are linked by that singular sensibility, urgency, and tasked with that same singular ambition, revolution.

            In Shostakovich we have found at last a role model untainted by politics and indeed, in his own life, as a prisoner of the Soviet State from time to time, as a suspect artist whose works were always too ‘Western’ for hardliners, as the musical equivalent of Solzhenitsyn and indeed more gifted, Shostakovich through his art not only defeated the evils of authoritarianism – it is an ongoing irony that his works are performed so often in today’s Russia – but also exposed the fraudulence of 1917. In Symphony 11, ‘The Year 1905’, we are thrust into action, not act! We are immersed in urgency, never somnolence! Many of his greatest works declare the pressing need for a new revolution, and not merely for Russia. His German counterpart, Hans Werner Henze, intoned the same: “Man’s greatest work of art: world revolution.”

            Encountering Shostakovich one does not bathe, but rather showers. Here, even the water itself never stops moving. It takes the dross, without assimilation, down the drain of history with its own life ever onward. We are ourselves drained in such an encounter and this time the feeling is one of incompleteness. I am missing something, the music throws me forward. It is the future I am missing, the very human future, no longer a function of eschatology, no longer premised upon faith and promising salvation. No, in Shostakovich we receive a demand and not a promise. Revolution is ongoing just as history does not rest. Change is the only permanence, which sums our contradictory existence as active and acting beings who resist the future, the very thing that gives us life. Is it due only to an archaic sense of art that we flinch at the horizon? In contemporary art we find not beauty nor even transcendence, but rather the shadow work of the collective soul. Every encounter is a confrontation with ourselves, splayed open before the Augenblick of revolutionary lightning. If we turn away we are as were the Nazis, cowed into reactionary diaboli in the face of life as it now is and as it now must be. The fascist draws a line at the moment his conscience speaks. He will not hear it, not hear of it. Each one of us who adores Bach without reaching both hands out to the heroes of Shostakovich’s works is no less that same fascist in spite of our apparent civility and ‘good taste’.

            For it is no matter of etiquette that animates the history of our own day. It is rather made meaningful through scruple, ethical and aesthetic at once. As John Berger suggested, we must vanquish the sense that great art carries humanity up and over its own condition in order to regain the sensibility that in fact what art in reality does is make more real our shared situation so that we in turn can more meaningfully negotiate it from within its midst. Art is and always will be our willing ally in any crisis. It is we who turn ourselves away from this joint task and reject its ever-revolutionary gift.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, aesthetics, social theory, education and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

            Lower birth rates amongst ‘Caucasian’ populations are due to the gradual development of advanced technical and industrial economic platforms. These require simply less labour power than did previous such structures, the most noticeable shift being between the agrarian mode of production and that ‘bourgeois’. It is pure happenstance that the ethnic backgrounds of the population cohorts that first underwent such world-historical transitions were ‘white’; a coincidence in the sense that northern climes produced persons with less melatonin as well as an outward looking maritime culture rather than the self-contained massive irrigation civilizations of Asia. Such similar declines in birth rates will follow along as other nations, the successors to these great cultures, develop in kind. The first significant decrease will be observed in immigrant cohorts cleaving themselves to Western societies and indeed this is happening today, from Latin Americans in the United States to those from the sub-continent in Canada and the UK, to Chinese in Australia and Middle Easterners in Western Europe.

            This shift in the character of biopower is sourced in an equally shifting economics, and is thus no conspiracy of ‘elites’ or anyone else. It is the direct result of an anonymous global process and even if governments seek to control it, mainly through anti-abortion policies on one side, the legalization of homosexuality on the other, they cannot. If the concern is about the loss of ‘European Culture’, this too is misrepresented. The tens of thousands of young Chinese piano students practice Chopin and Mozart. Is Yo Yo Ma white? Yes, I would far prefer to be listening to Bruckner instead of popular music for ten-year-olds when I shop at Wal-Mart, but I am not willing to murder people to do so. After all, I can always turn Bruckner on when I return home. The hypothetical Fourth Reich, wherein great art leads and politicians only follow this most noble path remains elusive, mainly because art and science, philosophy and literature are by birthright the purview of every human being no matter their ethnic background, and cannot be the preserve of some self-interested elite. Defenders of ‘whiteness’ and ‘European culture’ today sound like warmed-over and illiterate versions of Nazis and can serve no meritorious purpose in the authentic interest and passion for high culture of any kind.

            As far as the mythical ‘Jewish Race’ and its cultural interest is concerned, this is an effect of old world property laws that created the focused intensity persons of Jewish descent brought, and still bring, to the arts and culture, as was noted by Marx and Engels in their response to the racist ‘theories’ of their day, specifically those of Gobineau. It is a happy coincidence for the rest of us, because more or less singlehandedly, these noble people have been the most staunch defenders of culture, arts, music and literature and number amongst the most important contributors to it. Such a list of names includes those like Marx, Freud, Mahler, Schoenberg, Husserl, Proust and on and on. When Wagner said to his virtuoso musicians who surrounded him and recognized in his music the future of art rather than the future of politics, ‘You are the perfect human beings; all you need to do is lose your Jewishness’, they took him to mean that ethnicity as a category of human condition was in itself a regression, and they were correct no matter what Wagner’s own intent may have been. Ethnic identity alone is a lower form of life. But that includes all those who strut their ‘whiteness’ as superior or even relevant. It is important to note that every person who has been a major figure in the history of art or thought has placed their own happenstance ethnic pedigree far in the background to their work, just as their successors, we ourselves, must do with other such variables; gender, age, sexual orientation, and religious belief.

            Instead, the universal birthright of human consciousness, reason, language, creative art, and the ability to adapt to radical shifts in the character of world and history, belongs to no ethnicity and caters to no person. It is of the species-essence that each of us defend what belongs to all, and to do so without prejudice based on baseless provincialisms hailing from the prior epochs of illiteracy, ignorance, tribal and ethnic rivalries, and yes, far more threatening today, competing nation states. All of these represent halting way-stations on the road to a superior being, one that is both human and humane, one that does not shrink from its fullest humanity in the face of shadowy fears of being ‘replaced’, and one which does not itself fear self-sacrifice in the name of a collective ideal that embraces the entire diversity of the great cultures. For the very best of human consciousness is present to counter the very worst; art against politics, science against superstition, love against hatred, compassion against desire. This is its pan-historic mission. Let us then join ourselves to its future vision; a world bereft of the fear of difference alone, but also a world in which authentically noble differences, those that open us up to the very cosmos itself and give us the perspective we need to comprehend it, are recognized as the better part of our shared and mortal lot.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty books on ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Dialectic of Elemental Forces in Mahler

                        The Dialectic of Elemental Forces in Mahler

                No more wooing, voice you’re outgrowing that don’t let your cry

                                be a wooing cry even though it could be as pure as a bird’s

                                that the season lifts up as she herself rises nearly forgetting

                                that it’s just a fretful creature and not some single heart

                                to be tossed towards happiness deep into intimate skies.

                                Like him you want to call forth a still invisible mate

                                a silent listener in whom a reply slowly awakens

                                warming itself by hearing yours to become

                                your own bold feeling’s blazing partner.

– Rilke, from Seventh Elegy

            It is at once remarkable but also commonplace to understand great historical movements as being borne on the shoulders of specific individuals who themselves seem to be placed beyond history. This is misleading on the level of historical consciousness, wherein we come to understand our own times through the ‘confrontation with the tradition’ and the ‘fusion of horizons’, often aesthetic in character. At the same time, with the most superior visions of humankind, one finds culminations expressed by singular persons who have themselves been embraced by the entire history of their chosen art. In music, we have four such figures from whom everything else in their respective centuries followed; in the seventeenth century, Monteverdi, in the eighteenth, Bach. For the nineteenth century, it was Beethoven who gave birth to the ideas the rest of the music of that century took up, and in the following century, it was Gustav Mahler. That both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw competing and somehow ‘dualistic’ interpretations of these origins – Brahms versus Wagner and then Schoenberg versus Stravinsky – only suggests that there were at least two essential elements already present in the original. In Beethoven, the ‘classicism’ and the ‘romanticism’, in Mahler, the tonal and the ‘atonal’. But in fact these elements are mere glosses, refracting much more profound essences present in the art at hand. For music in our modern era has been about the disquiet distances with which contemporary humanity is both burdened and challenged.

            What do I mean by this ‘distance’? We have a longing, expressed in the gap between self and other, individual and society, mind and body, spirit and nature and so on, which is unique to our modernity. Less profound, but still profoundly disturbing, are the distances that separate the genders, citizen and State, nation and nation, rich and poor. All of these distances combined are said to produce in us a kind of subjective alienation, that which Durkheim referred to as ‘anomie’. At the heart of this unease, communicating itself to us as an inability to bridge this or that gap and the corresponding assignment of blame for such ongoing failures, is the very sense that I should be myself and no other. This selfhood, this ‘fretful creature’ is indeed no ‘single heart’. And we are not so much thrown up as of our own volition, but rather, as Heidegger proverbially and repetitively states, thrown into the arc of worldhood. We are thrown beings, and our being-thrownness declares to us both our birth and death. We glimpse this existential caveat through the sense that much of ‘life’ is beyond our daily control. Certainly the machinations of nations, the coruscations of corporations, even the emotions of one’s beloved, lie elsewhere than within my grasp. We are responsible for these ‘events’ and acts only insofar as we act in concert with them, abet them, or ignore them. Yet ultimately, even with the deepest compassion and most critical voice, they escape our possession. This is the distance of distanciated being, which is necessary to the modern person given his existence as an individuality.

            We would likely not trade in that kind of self-consciousness for other versions of being human, embodiments we associate with previous ages or cultures past. On the one hand, this may serve as a salve, a tool by which one might reconcile one’s sense of thus being ‘stuck with’ oneself as one is. Even so, the shared consciousness of mechanical solidarity escapes us, the idea of becoming an automaton rightfully revolts us, and the sensibility that, though a self, our whole reason of being is to exist for the other, is a difficult ethic. Indeed, we might well suggest that a neighbor figure who was always in the mode of ‘being neighborly’ could no longer distinguish herself from the socius of normative daily life. In a word, the radical act of the neighbor would be no longer available to us if the neighbor itself became a social role. So distanciated being is the lot of we moderns, if for no other reason than there are no other models that appeal to us.

            Given this, the dual complexes of elements that we harbor within our individuated breasts must somehow be reconciled. The individual may engage in all sorts of activities that promote ‘wholeness’, including forms that often hail from a metaphysics different from our own, such as meditation. Within Western consciousness, however, it has been the role of art to transcend opposites and oppositions alike. And when this transcendence appears to not merely overlook the structure of existence, its birth and its death, its light and its dark, but to actually combine the two essences into a new element, we are in the presence of the greatest art of all. This is the case in the music of Mahler.

            Bernstein’s epic and deeply felt commentary on Mahler 9 is well known and well taken. He stresses the dualistic nature of both the man and his art. Yet what is left out is equally important, if not more so, and indeed supports not only the argument that Mahler was working with and working through the most basic elements and forces of life and Being, but in fact overcoming them, transfiguring them into a novel expression of human consciousness. Just so, the ability to do precisely this is the essence of the distinction we make between consciousness in general and that of which we, as human beings, are in possession. Mahler 9 has been iterated as being ‘about’ death and the ultimate inability of humanity to overcome its own innate mortality. Yes and no. As a set piece, the ninth is in itself a compendia of the past and future, of soaring transcendental, if also heartbreaking, tonality and searing unearthly dissonance and partial atonality; life and death in their mortal embrace. But as part of a life’s work, Mahler 9 is simply the sibling work to his previous symphony – though the cycle ‘The Song of the Earth’ was written in between them, almost as a chaperone of sorts, a liminality; a threshold into which one can step from both sides, as it were – and just as Mahler 8 expressed the inexpressible joy and verdure of the fullest life possible to human consciousness, so Mahler 9 provides us with the sorrow of that same life, equally overfull and too powerful for the quotidian senses of rational being. In Mahler’s own terms, it was never death per se but rather more specifically, the death of love, that imbricated the ninth. The death of love, inversing and balancing the Wagnerian paean which exhorts the love of death, is in fact the more difficult challenge for we humans. For all must die, and in that sense death is most impersonal and anonymous. But to face death in a more intimate and very much personal manner one has to lose love and when one does not desire to do so.

            The expression of transcendental love in Mahler 8 is simply balanced by that same expression of its absence in the ninth. There, we die whilst yet still alive, and yet life without joy has both no merit but also is no longer life. At this point another important ‘dualistic’ contrast should be noted: the eighth is arguably the greatest work of art ever created but it is tremendously difficult for the ensemble and conductor, whereas the listener is transported into 90 plus minutes of infinite bliss; contrast this with the ninth, which is easier on the musician – though by no means easy! – and correspondingly infinitely more difficult for the listener. If an ensemble can make it through Mahler 8 they can make it through anything. If the listener can survive Mahler 9 they can survive any other work. Perhaps there are technically more demanding works for both musicians and audience – Schoenberg’s Opus 31 comes readily to mind – but there are no more demanding works existentially than Mahler’s two final completed symphonies. Our very being is at stake, and we must rise to the occasion on both counts.

            With that in mind, it is also well to recall that Mahler himself, though he was, as Bernstein points out for instance, well aware of his imminent demise, did not throw himself over the cliff in any premature manner. He kept conducting, writing, mending fences with his estranged wife, teaching and promoting musical talent, and touring right up until close to the end. Mahler, in his ability to live the life he was granted, remains a role model for us no matter our relative talent. His own humanity, though somehow able to access the pinnacle of human achievement and recreate it time after time, remained both his own and thus also our own. Mortality can advance itself on the one hand as a personal threat, and this is the atmosphere of the ninth, wherein we feel every base emotion and existential fundament; the glaring, striding, unimpeachable power of the first movement, the risus sardonicus of the intervening scherzos, the shimmering otherworldliness of the final farewell, all of this in a dialectic which seems nothing human uplifts the light and dark into a chiaroscuro and in doing so, overcomes the very chiasmus that gave birth to humanity’s oppositional ‘nature’. But in the eighth, mortality is advanced as a creative force, that all life might well ‘become immortal’ through dying many times, as Nietzsche intoned. Mahler was a profound reader of Nietzsche, though of course they regrettably never met, in contrast to the fact that Mahler and Freud knew one another. Mahler 8 expresses first the previous understanding of existence, the Imago Dei of revealed religion at its most noble. In the second part, we have moved from God to Goethe, from the old metaphysics to that of our own age, and as murky as some of this millennial author’s metaphors can be, they nevertheless are themselves transfixed and transformed into an art that can be understood by all.

            The ‘marriage of light and dark’ is a hallmark of modernity. Yes, the twentieth century, so absolutely foreseen and understood by Mahler the aesthetic prophet, was indeed the century of death. Mahler 9 expresses this horrifying vision to us, but not as an acceptance thereof. It is a warning, an enlightenment or ‘Aufklarung’, an alarm bell, a Tocsin. It does not warn us of the imminence of death, for we already understand this condition as our own. It rather provides a caveat that tells us ‘do not make death into an immanence’. That is, do not allow death to ascend any higher than does life, do not let it attain an immanent domain into which we as a species-being would be swallowed. And though we have been on that brink more than a few times in past one hundred years or so, we have retained the sensibility that life should be ‘about’ joy, love, and even transcendence of itself, as contradictory as that may sound. If death is then somehow more ‘real’ to us, it bespeaks first of the distance between our realities and our ideals. The rationalization that one ends a life to save another is also real, if ethically strained. What is at stake is a conflict which remains at the horizontal level of the elements Mahler uplifted and combined. Differing opinions, beliefs, genders, cultural communities, competing nations, the perennial war of classes, all of these and others gainsay their very vocation through the medicated brevity they provide to their actors; ‘actors of their own ideals’, to once again reference Nietzsche.

            Mahler’s art speaks differently to these regards. Though the dialectic of elemental forces culminates in his final works, it was always present, something that commentators have sometimes forgotten. The contrast between distraction and focus, folk art and transcendental art in Mahler 1. The overcoming of death through love in the second and the dialogue between nature and culture in the third, Mahler’s ‘most personal of works’, as he himself put it, and the one in which Nietzsche’s work is most directly used. The dangerous decoy of feeling and atmosphere in the fourth, where we are placed on a too sunny shoreline, our backs turned to the conflict of interpretations by which human life lives its days, and the first signs of the ultimate dialectic between death, including the death of love, and life triumphant in the fifth. In the sixth, the death of the hero, the soteriological compassion and passion combined of the hero’s beloved companion, the menace of a too gendered socialization – in the third movement of Mahler 6, his own children, an older boy and a younger girl, play with one another and yet also play with the elemental forces of life and death corresponding to their essential Goethean ‘natures’ – and finally, just before we are taken into the depths of the very cosmos Mahler has opened up for us, the interplay and contrast between animal nature and the civil humanity of the salon culture in the seventh. Bird calls punctuating a forest trek, and yet chamber music to soothe an after dinner digestion, nothing escaped Mahler’s musical lens. That we are in his debt regarding our very understanding of the modern condition which is our shared predicament is an ongoing understatement.

            Even so, the towering figures of art, to a person, would not have suggested that their accomplishments represent the end of anything. Mortality as a creative force, life as the interregnum wherein creative work may be sought, and all of this as an unending principle of existence, this is the message of dialectically transcendental art. Mahler expresses this aspect of universal consciousness to us, through his singular works which retain their absolute relevance more than a century later. Who will be the next singular figure, the one from whom our own century’s music shall proceed apace? Perhaps it will be a woman this time, which is one important part of this intriguing question. But whomever it will be, the same forces will be at work in her efforts, and the same dialectic of transcendence will need to be accomplished. For us lesser beings, we too must come to grips with the polar forces animating our existence as both individuals and as a culture history writ into the wider, if still woefully provincial, consciousness of our time. If we take just one step in each of our lives to broaden that view, we will have advanced the maturity of our shared species and will have made ourselves more worthy of the gift that the art of ages has bestowed upon us.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor f the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

In Defense of Pornography as a Theater of Human Freedom

Senator aims to curb ‘violent’ porn, pitches mandatory age verification for online sites | CBC News

In Defence of Pornography as a Theatre of Human Freedom

            In the Mad-TV satire ‘What Men Want’, a woman steps into the original Mel Gibson role as the gender-reversed script ambles along its expected course, this time with the woman being able to hear the men’s innermost thoughts in her own head. The answer is simple, and in one scene, where the narrator says farewell to her dying grandfather, she intones: ‘I’ll miss you grandpa’. He replies, ‘I’ll miss you too, sweetie – (then silently) But not as much as I’ll miss porn!’. For men in particular this could be interpreted as a ‘me too’ moment, but however that may be, I will argue in the following why society as a whole might well miss pornography and erotica more than we may at first imagine.

            My experience with pornography-erotica, call it what you will, tells me I am consuming an aspect of base culture. As theatre, mostly plotless and with acting culled from an underground high school yearbook activity, it receives a solid ‘D’ rating. As sex itself, it is dull, stereotyped, unimaginative and attempts to win one over – whatever that may entail – with grandstanding (mostly) youth showing off. It is no surprise that, as with athletics, anything that so intensely involves the body as a physical vehicle should be the basic preserve of youth. And sadly, in our society, this is mostly what youth have to offer; their pristine and charming physiques. Pornography is in all aspects juvenile, from its representations of youth by those far older to its motives. It is at source about money and not about sex, so it is also essentially dishonest. Given this, why defend it at all?

            Though it cannot be defended as an aesthetic object, I suggest that it must be defended as an ethical one. At first, this seems a contradiction. While art is likely the highest expression of human freedom, attaining a status that transcends even history by communicating perennial truths of the human condition to and from diverse periods and variations thereof, the portrayal of sexuality alone speaks at best only of desire and passion. What is missing in pornography is the Gestalt of humanity; its passions, some certainly present, but also its compassions, which are wholly absent; its desires yes, but also alongside, its anxieties. It is therefore also not an ethical ‘object’. But what pornography does contain is a potent ethical objection to the self-imposed limitations we humans have a tendency to exert upon ourselves and others. Working from the simple premise that if thine eye offends thee, pluck it out – turn off the e-device but only for thine own self – any ethical objection to that which serves to place social norms and institutional orders into perspective must be applied first to one’s own self-understanding. As soon as it attempts to dictate what others shalt or shalt not do it strays over the line of ethics and into the space of fascism. And this is precisely the line that any call for the policing of the viewing of pornography based on age-related limits is doing.

            Creeping fascism always plays the same tired game, and it is astonishing that, given recent history, we are still attracted to it. ‘I’m not trying to shut the porn industry down, I’m only trying to protect our children.’ In Canada, anyone twelve years old and above is legally entitled to have actual sex. There are a few reasonable age restrictions between twelve to fifteen, but the principal is clear. Youth (12-17) is its own category under Canadian law, as distinct from children (2-11). The fact that youth are no longer subject to being forced into surrogate sex with adults through corporal punishment underscores this separation. France remains a rare European country that has not banned this practice, so is it surprising that it is one country cited in the above article that seeks to ban viewing of sexual material by minors? For the French, apparently, youth are to remain sexual objects in the service of adults and can have little or no sexual agency of their own. Canadians are better than that, and by ‘better’, I mean, more ethical. The call to criminalize youth sexuality is both a regression and an expression of adult ressentiment specifically against the hard fact of the loss of our own youth and the future of humanity more generally. But by calling attention to the nostalgic and altogether deliberately naïve idea that young people are somehow not sexual beings and need to be ‘protected’ from sexuality until they are eighteen, the fascist attempts to take on the guise of guardian angel. ‘Save the children!’ He cries, from themselves, from evil adults, from evil itself!

            Anyone who agrees with this kind of suggestion is committing the ethical error of projecting one’s own vain desires onto young persons. Pornography too exhibits these desires – ‘discipline’ sites are the most obvious expression thereof; why else would we be attracted to the idea that youthful looking actors should portray the very minors we are supposedly seeking to protect? Why would such roles always be those that require such discipline: physical, sexual, and political? – and in so doing it provides young people with an important insight: we adults want to harm you because you represent all that we have lost, including beauty, guilelessness, openness, and spirit. We might even hate you, but alas, direct hate crime is already illegal in Canada and thus we must express our dark passions in another way: limit your freedom, your sexual liberation, your mischievous fun. Portray you as disobedient pests who, if you can no longer be beaten in reality, at least you can be allegorized as being beaten in virtuality. Just so, to suppress your knowledge of how we actually think of you is one of the core reasons for banning youth access to pornography.

            All fascists fear exposure of their true desires. These include ultimate control and the possession of a singular authority. They too know God is dead, but unlike more modest persons, they’re quite willing to fill in with the hope of making it a permanent situation. Hence the real ‘creeps’ in our society are not so much the relatively rare on-line child ‘groomers’ or molesters but rather the much less rare closet fascist who shows us just enough flesh so that we are distracted from noting the bones in behind him. He always begins with seemingly the most reasonable premise and this ‘foot in the door’ technique is also dishonest: ‘our children are vulnerable’ (And why so? Because we tend to control and baby them beyond their years lived). He uses seemingly reasonable analogies which turn out to be spurious: ‘films have limited access’ (In public only. Anyone can view an R-rated film without the fear of invasive criminalization in private and internet viewing is always already in private). He leaves out his true demands: ‘I’m only talking violent porn, here’ (in age-restricting porn sites you lose access to all porn, not just the minor percentage of it that might qualify as ‘violent’). He represents himself as reasonable: ‘I know this is a delicate topic’ (So was the so-called Jewish Question). The limits which are in place walk the actually delicate line between impinging upon hard-won and truly fragile democratic freedoms and the advice of child development experts and discourses: here’s some warnings and judge accordingly; some children might be disturbed by this or that material, others not, or yet some parents themselves might be warned off. Indeed, if I were to support age-restrictions on sexual material I would place them between the ages of 12 and 40. Anyone under or over those ages would not be permitted to view it. On the one hand because, according to the American Psychiatric Association, childhood ends at age 12 in important and specifically sexual ways – their definition of pedophilia, for instance, runs as ‘having a prurient interest in children under twelve’ – and on the other, mature adults need to focus on saving the planet and its life, including one another. Enough distraction, enough fantasy. Pornography is an education, of sorts, and it is at best trite to state that reality and fantasy are seldom the same thing. The world is in the shape it is in not because youth cannot distinguish between the two of them. Ask yourself why it took a sixteen year old with a disability to call our wider attention to the climate crisis? Ask your very much adult stockbroker, financier, captain of industry, or wonder of wonders, politician, why it wasn’t they who provided such an alert, amongst others. And then we can ask why yet other adults willingly take on the role of domineering Lydias – a role that is, with ironic relish, only barely admissible within the fantasy of discipline-oriented pornography – intent on correcting our bad habits without respect to our freedoms. An educative pornography might well include titles such as the all too obvious ‘Handmaid’s Tail’ by Marguerite Göttwood, in which such self-proclaimed defenders of ‘morality’ can bare yet more of their sorry selves.

            If one wanted to construct a genuine ethical argument against the decoys of contemporary social life, pornography included, I would be the first to entertain it. It would first have to outline the activities sanctioned by society that distract us from both the existential profundity of human life as well as the future of our collective existence. These are: organized sports (ironically a ‘must’ for youth, supposedly), all non-critical entertainment fictions and video games (Atwood not included), erotica/pornography, holidays both consumer and religious – and, speaking of reality and fantasy, is it really the case that we can distinguish such days? – conspiracy ‘theories’ of all kinds, obsessions with speculative, if, in principle interesting, topics such as extraterrestrial intelligence and ‘paranormal’ events, and the like. At the top of such a list of unethical attempts to divert our attention from serious global conditions would be our neurotic compulsion to rationalize our resentment of youth.

            If made, such an argument would be valid across the ethical board. But the message we send to both present-day youth and future society alike is that we, bereft of both conscience and foresight, have instead opted to suppress the curiosity, the spirit, the very existential verve of young people who, robbed of their nascent capacity to think for themselves through schools, media, and portions of the legal apparatus perhaps to be extended, will be unable to avoid the very fate we have already set out for them. This satisfies us as well, for it will not be we ourselves who have to live in the denuded future of a well-raped Earth. Youth will pay simply for being young.

            The call to limit youthful experience of the world in any way, no matter how juvenile the material or knowledge, only adds to the sense that we have given up on an ethical human future. Shutting it down ahead of time, exerting a pre-emptive strike against the coming freedom of world youth, is the evil privilege of adulthood. And adults are, in fact, old enough to know that we either use it or lose it. We betray our truer selves as maliciously resentful oversized children in its use.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

My Encounter with Leni Riefenstahl

My Encounter with Leni Riefenstahl

            The deep contempt with which the still noble world of antiquity treated the Christian belongs just where the instinctual repugnance for the Jews belongs today: it is the hatred of the free and self-confident classes for those who make their way forward unobtrusively and combine shy, awkward gestures with an absurd sense of self-worth. (Nietzsche, notebook 10, Autumn, 1887, italics original).

            In the spring of 1995 I shared some BC ferry seats with German film-maker Leni Riefenstahl and her long time partner Horst Kettner. They were simply two unobtrusive members of a large tour bus filled with Germans visiting Vancouver Island. What little of the language I had at the time told me they were discussing local scuba diving and underwater marine film, which was then the vogue in her varied film making career. We stared at one another for a few moments when we debarked but I was far too shy to say anything, assuming her English was as poor as was my French. I had seen, a few months beforehand, the documentary ‘Power of the Image’ which was an awkward biography of her professional life, though it allowed me to immediately identify them aside from the conversation at hand. Knowing who she was imparted to her a presence that no one else in my experience has possessed. Of course, this was as much a projection as anything to do with a larger history. I was so taken aback at this encounter that I spoke of it with no one for many years, and it faded from memory.

            But it ‘never goes away’, just as Sir Ian McKellen’s character in Stephen King’s ‘Apt Pupil’ reminded the young protagonist regarding fascist yearnings. That hour or so on the ferry was silently awkward and in the end, irrelevant to anything in my personal life at the time. Now, a quarter century later and some seventeen years after her death in 2003, I only find myself returning to it given my own recent work on the fascism of meanings in fantasy writing and in liberal humanistic philosophy. I never had agreed with Sontag, whom I use regularly as a source, that Riefenstahl’s directing somehow embodied the so-called ‘fascist aesthetic’. No, we do, as a whole, embody such a form. The sub-title to the 2-part ‘Olympia’, Riefenstahl’s film devoted to the 1936 Summer Games – the version that invented the torch run, amongst other ongoing things – is loosely given as ‘festival (or celebration) of peoples, festival of beauty’ which is essentially what the Olympics are and have always been. Riefenstahl nailed it because she herself as a youth had embodied these qualities, as judged by the esthetics of the time. Not, aesthetics, which is the more serious and formal term for the philosophical study of art forms. There is no fascist ‘aesthetic’, even as there remains an undeniable fascist esthetic – the look of beauty, its identity, its genders, its glamor and the ressentiment that attends to its every move. The supermodel of today is the Christian of the first century Levant, the fashion critic, the Jew.

            Nietzsche’s texts were notoriously reconstituted by the Reich, but not all his work needed such over-writing. Hitler was both shy, awkward, and oddly unassuming, in both his sensibilities and in his gestures. They come across today as absurdities, and John Cleese makes a better ‘Mr. Hilter’ than did Hitler himself. Daily overcoming social anxiety, Hitler memorized his speeches, endlessly practicing his body language and facial expressions in front of the mirror, and one can only imagine resenting his inconsequential stature, provincial birthright and all the rest of it. It is a feeling that many of us must also overcome, for who is born at the center of things who then seeks to become the center of everything?

            Man to woman, someone like Hitler could never have landed a date with someone like Riefenstahl, one of the dream-girls of her day. And yet history brought them together and sometimes in close quarters. Hitler, with just that ‘absurd sense of self worth’ imagined he understood art, and he certainly put much energy into what abilities he did have – his watercolor renderings were decent for an architectural student though very much out of fashion when in 1907, he was rejected in favor of Oskar Kokoschka in the entrance competition to the Vienna art academy – and ‘aesthetics’ dominated the Reich from its attempts at stolen nobility right down to its very uttermost depths of human evil. Yet this too, the ‘saving’ of the world by eliminating those who stain it, remains with us. In this current era of renewed naissance of nationalism and patriotism of party, are we not embodying something rather more than just the look of what is deemed to be beautiful?

            It almost seems that none of the larger geopolitical lessons of the second World War have stuck with us, and we are approaching a biographical threshold over which an absence proclaims itself: that no one living will have lived through that now alien period. It is a limen that creates history out of what was until that point still memory. It is, from the perspective of human experience that can be personally and intimately shared, a most dangerous moment. The only response we have to confront this aleatory lacunae is by way of art. Riefenstahl’s service was more than regrettable, but her films themselves remain as relevant as ever. But not in that they in turn served to help convince many Germans of the time that their path had become one of super-destiny and that the ‘natural’ form of response to any ‘lower’ form was contempt, just as Nietzsche had suggested some half-century earlier.

            Though in the intervening decades it was the German social scientist Max Weber who corrected Nietzsche’s perhaps metaphoric language regarding the origins of Christianity and its relationship with the ancient Hebrews – in the Roman Mediterranean, Christianity was actually sourced in the artisan classes and spread upwards from there, not downwards; it was not a ‘slave religion’ in any real sense – such an understanding could only direct further obloquy against the ‘pariah community’ of the nascent Jewish diaspora. With further irony, Hitler’s movement was limited to awkwardly skulking along politically for over a decade. Historically, one can as ever hope that the same may be said of it; a moment when human reason took a recess. But this is naïve.

            What are the movements of the margins in our own time? Who is attracted to them and why? Where do they arise and how? And are they merely nostalgic retreads of lost historical causes or are they rather symptoms of a society and a world that continues to structure its life and consciousness too closely to that which allowed fascism to grasp the center of things to its paltry self before being superseded by the slightly more subtle neo-colonial ambitions of the victorious powers?

            At once, we can do two things, each of us: one, the next time we are tempted to look with contempt at another human being, step back from doing so. No one person can be the lightning rod for historical ressentiment. Riefenstahl neither as an artist nor as a person can be accountable for the way that I might stare down my nose at the so-called ‘ignoble’ of humanity. And two, we must recognize that our shared contempt for those whose marginal existences has driven them to entertain the worst of our humanity can only aid their cause. Instead, we can yet take both core principles of Judaism and Christianity to be our guides; the one, that we as a species are and remain the ‘chosen people’, and the other, that we are thence placed in the existential position of having to choose one another through the act of the neighbor. It is only through this act, the ‘libertinage of compassion’, that our world will survive itself, let alone its lack of memory of the chance encounters through which historical consciousness is in majority made.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.