What is Noble? Monday, May 19 2008 

Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil expressed his disapproval for what he calls “the slave revolt in morals” as represented in Judeo-Christian morality that created the eponymous binary. If morality condemns natural impulses and represses human freedom what is the proper alternative? What is the way that we can, socially or individually achieve “a good and healthy aristocracy… that…experiences itself not as a function … but as their meaning and highest justification” (sec. 258)? This section Nietzsche’s project is where his strain of perspectivism most shines through. That is not to imply that this means he engages in a sort of reductionist “everything is permitted” egalitarianism, far from it. Those who self-efface, self-destroy will always to Nietzsche be an inferior multitude and those who stand up, command, embrace being will form a community of the noble.

The problem arises in the fact that the great majority conform to mediocrity and slave morality: “The mediocre alone have the prospect of continuing, of having descendants – they are the people of the future, the only survivors. ‘Be like them! Become mediocre!’ will henceforth be the only moral code that still makes sense.’ (sec. 262) The very thing that will perpetuate our civilization as it is will homogenize us to a point of robot-like boredom.

The characteristics that defy this are explicitly laid out: “Signs of nobility: never to think of reducing our duties into duties for everyone; not to want to share or transfer our own responsibility; to count our privileges and their exercise among our duties.” (sec. 272) That last point, to count privileges and their exercise among our duties, is the area most difficult to realize because it is the most removed from our current state of morality.

The noble person in setting himself apart as singular, superlative he necessarily dominates without having to act but rather by being. That also means that the multitudes, trapped in oppressive herd culture, are not necessarily looked down upon. For Nietzsche the aristocrat is to busy looking around and up to bother considering what is beneath them: “Up here the view is clear, the spirit is exalted.’ But there is an opposite kind of person who is likewise at the top and likewise has a clear view—but looks down.’ (sec. 286) This is how Nietzsche distinguishes his ideas from social Darwinism and tyranny. The first type is the noble individual, self-realized and enjoying life. The second we must imagine as someone looking down on those above him—from below.

This sort of person can be pictured as the height of authorized power of the life-denying world. A king or better yet high-priest who demands others deny themselves everything and glorifies himself only in the pleasure of being obeyed without actually being superior. This is who Nietzsche speaks of in a particularly illustrative quote from his unpublished notes:

“But I have found strength where one does not look for it: in simple, mild, and pleasant people, without the least desire to rule—and, conversely, the desire to rule has often appeared to me a sign of inward weakness: they fear their own slave soul and shroud it in a royal cloak (in the end, they still become the slaves of their followers, their fame, etc.). The powerful natures dominate, it is a necessity, they need not lift one finger. Even if, during their lifetime, they bury themselves in a garden house!” (Nachlass, 206)


The Prejudice of Philosophers Monday, May 19 2008 

An important element of Nietzsche’s philosophy as put forward in his Beyond Good and Evil is his critical eye on the philosophy of the past. He makes the point that previous philosophers while claiming to express an objective truth merely stated their preference: “although they all make a lot of virtuous noise when the problem of truthfulness is touched even remotely” (§sec 4) His problem is that philosophers select their conclusions before examining any evidence about the world. Descartes is a perfect example of this behavior. In Meditations Descartes knows that he will eventually conclude that God exists no matter where his methodological skepticism would lead him. To take up arms against this history of fallacious, deceptive thinking Nietzsche adopts a unique style and continues his criticisms against the philosophical tradition.

Do not be mistaken, Nietzsche himself has his own favorite truths for which in Beyond Good and Evil he advocates most rigorously. His system of judgment values philosophies differently: “We do not object to a judgment just because it is false… The question is rather to what extent the judgment furthers life, preserves life” (sec. 4) after all, the great bulk of science is a border of falsehoods that must be reshaped around different possibilities. If he does not object to the falsity it seems a contradiction to his above position. (We will find a great deal of contradictions when dealing with Nietzsche) What is so problematic is the method of arriving at that falsehood and the fact that it is forwarded as truth. How then should one express some notion? Nietzsche’s answer is to merely state one’s position so that is may be evaluated, advocated, or broken. His method for this new style of advocacy is reflected in his chapter of epigrams. These contentions are terse, bold statements which convey a thought with little to nothing devoted to examples or logical arguments. An example that reflects a theme he later develops with some depth: “There is no such thing as moral phenomenona, but only moral interpretation of phenomenona…” (Sec, 108 ) This sort of statement is what Nietzsche believes should be enough for us as an audience. It is a position, bold and to judged on its value rather than meaningless formalism. So then, how is that we can dismantle, or cast doubt upon a statement so atomic other than to simply forward our own disagreement?

For one thing we can ridicule a position. In his criticism of nationalism Nietzsche uses this method with great aplomb. “The most unambiguous signs suggest that Europe wants to be one.” (sec. 256) he says and goes on to point out that in the work of Richard Wagner, a figure whose art was considered to embody the national differences among Europeans, actually shows traits that would be considered most “un-German” by nationalist thinkers. He engages in parody of Wagner’s work to make his point: “—Can this be German? / This fevered shrieking from a German heart? / A German body rends itself apart? /…This nun’s eye-rolling, Ave-churchbell chiming/ The fake-ecstatic pious rhyming?” (sec. 256) If we laugh, if we can see the humor we can therefore see what is humorous about the idea that such art can be considered to have this national characteristic or another. Truly Nietzsche is trying to make “life furthering” assertions and criticisms. To use laughter and one-liners would be unthinkable to most philosophers, but that devotion to mundane language, inane arguments is what makes Nietzsche’s ideas so freeing.

Working at the Grocery Store Monday, May 19 2008 

Here it is, the whole awful history, my perdition. Tuesday was “grand” opening, grand in that every one of the few customers entering the store was mobbed by an overabundance of “help” Men in red blazers with carts on the ready and loaded with unwanted adds and maps of the store. Maps and adds that were always left in the basket, to remove when putting it away, or blowing across the heavily sloped parking lot. Parking lot where carts to be put back inside always roll down that heavy slope, out of control, and away from us. Then back inside where the men in red blazers with carts on the ready stood obstructing where to we would put them back in. Corporate officials, trainers, managers, head clerks, red vests, black vests, suits, hovered over every underling criticizing every misstep, however minor, especially the minor, the ignorable. Always these criticisms were repeated three times, by each official that noticed it. Even when rewarded, recognized, with a cupon that gave a free soda drink (for which we were rabid, insatiable), it was with the same patronizing tone. Always nicknames, so they could avoid learning our real names, or reading the tags that were pinned to us, Tiger, Number One, That Kid, Jeff, Steve, Stud, My Boy.

Friday comes, Friday is the worst day. Thursday night I closed the store at 11 and drive a co-worker home across town, so I get to my home around 12. Friday I start at 8 in the morning. The schedule is being made on Friday. I want the weekend off. Traitor! Treason! It’s opening week. I don’t care. The blisters grow on my feet. A truck driver has a mishap with a hand forklift, on top of which rested twenty-so boxes of eggs. A box of eggs contains fifteen cartons. Scott to checkstand five. I need you to go back to the loading dock and inspect all the eggs, see which ones aren’t broken and put them aside. Two hours pass next to a hole in the wall that contains festering garbage. I ask if I can have a break, they ask me why I’m not done yet. I say because I have to look through 3,600 eggs. Time is long, the blisters grow on my feet. Plans of microscopic revenge grow in my mind. I get home and I rest, my heart feels its fervor, my heart.

Saturday and Sunday pass long, more being demeaned, more pain, my lower back and neck are fusing crooked, I think. I decide which clerks I like and are good and which are awful both at checking and that they revel in their marginal position in the hierarchy. All of the management has a great inebriation with its power. Saturday I see the schedule. Three people work full time, the all work 40 hours, every week. I work 36, all other part-timers work significantly less than this. For me eight hours daily, save Tuesday and Thursday where I have school and work a paltry six immediately after my six hours of class. I wore a fake mustache Sunday for halloween knowing we weren’t supposed to dress up, no one told me to take it off, I had wanted to quit in protest.

Monday comes and passes long. This charade needs to end, I’m being bled. Microscopic revenge. Paper or plastic becomes: On a scale of 1 to 13.5 where one is paper, 13.5 is plastic, 6.75 is paper in plastic, 27 is double plastic, and .5 is double paper, what would you like? With absolute metaphysical certitude please. I hum to myself, loudly, in front of management, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” I begin telling customers made up pieces of trivia, composer George Friedrich Handel invented a special bag in which to carry his compositions, a bag with handles, after which our modern grocery bags are modeled. I ask for two hours off to vote, but make it obvious that I could easily vote before my work begins and just sort of don’t feel like it. They just sort of give it to me. My aim had been that they protest and that I quit in the face of civic interference.

At 5, with 2 hours to go, I decided that it was Extreme Plastic Monday and that today only customers had the options of not only paper and plastic, but also extreme plastic. No one would dare try extreme plastic. I try to have fun, I try to get fired, but at the end of the day my body just aches and there is an infinity of hours ahead of me.

Toast Monday, May 19 2008 

Love has a lot to do with toast. Toast is generally had in the morning and it is in the morning that a person usually is usually at their “worst”. There is the poofy, hideous bed hair that the individual hates but the public assures him or her is fine, there are the drab un-snowmanned plaid pyjama pants, the T-shirts unfit for public consumption, there is the eye goo and, finally, the bad breath. It is in such a state that we commune with lovers over toast.

We reveal what amounts to very intimate details; intimate because they are so mundane no one but those most devoted to seeking out every detail of your character and habit would ever seek such knowledge or hold it sacred once having found it. There are of course situations where someone might gain access to our toast-y world without the same implications of love. Artificial living situations, for example, you might eat breakfast with a roommate or in a dining hall and there will be you and your toast for all to see, but not deliberately and as an expression of unity with another soul. The same sort of submitting privacy to circumstances is evident in family situations and restauramt dining. The diner has not given their dining companion access to their private inner world of particularities in any of these cases; merely, the diner has accepted the surroundings in which they are forced to act out this inner world by society. Everyone else in the same boat; this anonymity is bad, it engenders no attention and no appreciation.

So when we make the decision to put emphasis on sharing something that everyone can see but no one appreciates is when the act is intimate, loving. “This is how crunchy I like my toast.” We say and preferred hues of gold with our partner. We look with wide and tender eyes at our love across that kitchen table. “This is what I like to put on my toast; this is how much.” There is more comparison, more sharing. Perhaps, if are truly lucky their lover turns them on to a new topping. Something which you could not have conceived of being so wonderful. And this new knowledge, this blending of two personalities for a grander view of life is mystifying in the volume of the joys bestowed upon its principles. In such union every time toast is consumed with the adopted style your mind will fill with thoughts of your lover and they will nourish you as bread does.

If you are fated for incalculable ecstasy you will spy an errant crumb on the edge of a full and rosy lower lip, then with a careful pinkie you will reach across the gap of space between and remove it perhaps consuming it for yourself. All your anxieties leave you in favor of the Dynosiacal mania that comes in touching such a lip. This is sensuality unrestrained. Your face fills with blood and your whole body rumbles internally with pleasure in a way that is unbecoming to discuss in polite society. No part of you moves or makes a sign.

It is in these manners that toast and love are related.

“Convincing” Love Stories Monday, May 19 2008 

It has been said (Vanity Fair) that Lolita is, “the only convincing love story of our [the 20th] century.” Something ought to be done, not because there is anything wrong with Lolita (far from it), but because everything deserves peers. One might say the 20th century is over, true but its products (us) and its precepts remain yet to be replaced with new bodies or new ideas. Intellectually and biologically we live in the realm of Hitler and The Red Menace. Do we, the last gasp of fertility from a fading era have anything to say before our tired bones crumble and our tired mouths shut themselves forever. There is time for one last convincing idea. What should it be?

Alcohol Monday, May 19 2008 

I’ve long believed that alcoholism was more severe, more pandemic during 18th and 19th centuries in “beer countries” such as England, Germany, and the Netherlands than in “wine countries” like France and Italy. The mass production of hard liquors like gin, whiskey, and all those other types of whiskey that are supposed to be different than whiskey combined with urban life is why I think alcoholism became what it did at that time. But why I’m more severe for the beer? I always chalked it up to cultural differences in the way that pre-industrial “soft liquors” were consumed, beer as a drink for the sake of itself and wine usually as part of a meal or event . So, when hard alcohol is introduced in abundance the one group is more likely to drink it frequently, independent of cause, and the other not. Make sense, right? Excellent material for my prejudice against masculine/populist icons like blue jeans and beer.

But today I was reading the wikipedia article about gin and I saw something interesting to add to the theory. Apparently gin was often made from crops grown for beer that failed certain quality standards. The implications are obvious and adds an economic dimension. I could now argue that with the introduction of grain based alcohols the beer countries produced an abundance of hard liquor as a profitable by-product of the brewing process. Throw in means of production and some other Marxist hoo-hah and you are well on your way to a credible piece of historical sociology. I could research this, see if I am right, do up what in the big-city college world we call a “paper” but that is something I will not do.

I feel the social sciences and the natural sciences for that matter suffer from what Nietzsche criticized philosophers for in Beyond Good and Evil: “Collectively they take up a position as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cool, pure, god-like disinterested dialectic… basically they defend with reasons sought out after the fact an assumed principle” Meaning that these sort of ideas don’t arise out of an examination of the world, but does pretend to. The scientific method essentially amounts to picking your favourite idea and then trying to shoehorn in some evidence around it rather than looking objectively at events and then drawing some conclusion. That’s why I love literature, because there is a greater emphasis on hypothesis, on simple claim making. Sure, there is that boorish bit about backing up what you say about a book with examples from the text that I have always hated. If the author is allowed to simply state an idea about the world I have never understood why the student or the critic cannot do the same about a book. Or for that matter why we can’t do the same about chemical reactions, or crime, or whatever.

The best book about alcoholism and the period I described that I’ve read is, ironically, a French novel: Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir (apparently untranslatable but the copy I had was called The Drinking Den, and others might be called The Dram Shop or just use the French title.)

The Little Lunch Monday, May 19 2008 

The combination of lemon juice and chili oil tasted remarkably like muted ginger. It’s an interesting choice for chicken sandwiches, tasty yes but it makes me regret bringing the lemonade. As a woman in her fifties I’m supposed drink wine, always wine. I just don’t know anything about viticulture and I didn’t want to look stupid. This is worse. I thought it would make things more casual, less intense, and now I look like a child.

I wish my father had turned into one of those jovial, chubby bald men like so many fathers did, but he had to be one of those dignified types with a silver beard and a resemblance to Ernest Hemmingway. Now, whenever I go on a date it is at least a little creepy, since I am not into chubby bald men. How are you supposed to respond to a strange man that looks straight at you and completely serious says, “I think you should have lunch with me.”

You say no, Camilla. Or you meet him at a restaurant, you don’t agree to let him cook for you and eat in his garden. It is a nice garden though, talk about that.
“Those are nice tulips. I didn’t know that you could grow them here.”
“Oh,” he says, “you’re not supposed to be able to, but I have a secret.”
“And what’s that?” I ask.
“Well, tulips usually only grow in places where the ground freezes, so I dig them up and put them in the freezer and then replant them. This is my favorite time of year, when the tulips really start to grow.”
“I’ve always been more of a fall type.”
“Really? But fall is always so gray and boring here. Did you grow up somewhere else?”
“When I was in school for some reason I thought you had to capitalize the seasons like you do the days of the week, you know? So I would always be writing Sspring, Ssummer, Ffall, and Wwinter. Eventually I even started to say them that way! People would tease me, asking what I did for sspring break or ssummer vacation.”
“What about winter?”
“Wwinter made it sound like I had a stutter, but ffall nobody really noticed, the f just sounds a little drawn out.”
“I see,” he says.

A huge, fuzzy bee lands on the palm of his hand. He looks down and slowly closes his fingers around it. When he opens them the bee flies away apparently without having stung him. I look at the clean white spot on his palm that should be swollen and red. This man—this is a very lonely man

Rock, Paper, Scissors Monday, May 19 2008 

She sees him standing by the building entrance like she has seen him standing so many times before. He is usually smoking cigarettes but this time he is not. She walks by as if to enter, stops, turns as if remembering something, and asks, “Can I borro–bother you for a cigarette?”
“Uh, sure,” he says. He rummages through his things for a moment before producing the pack. She sees that it contains only one lonely Camel.
“Oh, I can’t take your last one,” she says.
“No, it’s fine, I was going to get some more in a minute anyway.”
“I really can’t. I’ll ask someone else.”
“There’s no one else out here, it’s really okay. Take it.” He extends the hand holding the pack closer to her, making his offering.
“I’ll tell you what,” she says, “I’ll rock, paper, scissors you for it.”
“You can just have it. I don’t want it, honest.”
“Come on, only one round, not best two out of three or anything,” she nervously tries to challenge him, “I’ll probably beat you anyway. I’m great at rock, paper, scissors.”
“Just take it,” he says.
She looks at him plaintively and asks plaintively, “Please?”

She takes the cigarette from the box being careful not to touch his hand as she is to almost touch it. In her hand the fire is dancing from the wind, going out again and again. She shakes the lighter with her fist and thinks to herself “Rock, paper, scissors. Rock, paper, scissors.” She tries again and manages to get it lit. She thanks him and sits down on the edge of a planter behind where he is standing. She looks at the back of his head, then his hands. She imagines their hands pumping up and down in unison then she takes the cigarette between her index and middle fingers and puts it to her mouth. She imagines her mouth moving as she talks to him. She imagines his mouth moving as it talks to her. She imagines it saying no.

Ice skating Monday, May 19 2008 

I went ice skating and everything was perfect, that is to say it was full of glorious flaws. First my mother, my sister, my mother’s friend Victoria, (<-Oxford comma) and I had dim sum at the apparently famous Yank Sing near The Embarcadero. The parking garage at the Ricon Centre is claustrophobic and full of atmosphere. The ceiling is only seven feet from the floor and the landscape is dominated by slate blue support beams and a network or pipes that lead to nowhere.
I didn’t think Yank Sing would be spelled Yank Sing; I imagined a strange alignment of rarely used consonants. I love our waiter, his name is “Freddy” and when I order a Tsing Tao he says “Tsing Tao, Chinese beer!” and gives me a hearty pat on the shoulder. This is feasting this is glory. There is tea in clear glass pots with a cylinder of free standing leaves in its centre the taste of which I forsake for Tsing Tao, Chinese beer! but the smell of which is warm and calming. Carts and carts of dumplings, noodles, salads (<- no Oxford comma) and fried delights make an endless parade around our table and it is less like a military march than it is like a ballet. I take particular joy from hai gow, a shrimp dumpling that this place has managed to compliment with an unplacable nutty undertone. Then, oh then we are treated to the paragon of animals: Xiao Long Bao. Xiao Long Bao are the jewel of Shanghai, a dumpling filled by a mysterious, almost alchemical process with pork soup. By the end I feel that I am as I should always be: full of sodium and translucent dumpling wrappers, it’s a powerful tonic to the disappointments and accidents of this life that can make one feel as a rusty can drifting in a fetid algae-coated river. “Freddy” hands me, the assumptive patriarch, the extravagant check and says, “Sir” When he leaves I give the party my best Frenchman’s shrug and wave the leatherette fold toward my mother. I put on the sardonic, satisfied expression that can only exist in someone whose reality has finally given them what his/her expectations have been yearning for. I have been taken care of, a sensation slightly less pleasant than taking care.
Walking out my vision is tinged red and purple, like blood, with neon and lucky Chinese colors. I am full of blood. Victoria says she wants to take photos of me next to my sister because we are so different. I take that as high praise. We sit back to back on a bench and she snaps pictures of us looking to opposite poles. I look to the bizarre and transient North a place of flux and my sister to the South where dirt holds up the ice and snow and millions of identitcal penguins congregate. The pictures must look something like the poster for an action movie or a prize fight.

Finally I make my way to the Wachovia ice rink at The Embarcadero Centre. I look good because my walk is confident and half-tipsy, and my hair has for once conformed to my wishes. Little wisps stick up to show that I am a rougue and a Young Turk. At first I am unsteady on the ice because it’s been about a year since I last put skates on, but then it comes back to me. There’s something about the motion of skating that is different from anything else. I think it’s because you aren’t really going anywhere. Even though I have to weave between flailing children and human chains of twelve year-old girls I make good laps and figure eights. In the middle of the ice a woman is twirling in her figure skating tricks and her purple skates make me smile. Skating is a wonderful thing. The feeling of going air moving around me and the envy everyone feels at seeing my buttocks perfectly dry is part of it. But the greater enjoyment comes from the juxtaposition of how wholesome it is with how dangerous. My highlighter yellow-colored wrist band warns I won’t be able to sue when I burst my head against the boards or blood from my knee comes pooling out onto the ice. It’s the junction of speed and murder to kindness and love.
I don’t end up trying to go backwards because the ice isn’t properly surfaced (they don’t even use a zamboni and there are puddles of water everywhere) but I consider getting back into the rythm of things victory enough.

Tulips, Florticulture Monday, May 19 2008 

The tulip (tulipa) has a simple yet captivating presence. The flower’s structure isn’t complex like say, an orchid, but it blooms in multitude and brightness. You probably associate tulips with The Netherlands but they are native to the Middle East. Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq introduced tulips to The Netherlands from Turkey as a result of his post as the Austrian ambassador there. This bears some explaining, the low countries were part of the Duchy of Burgundy until the death of Charles the Bold and the marriage of his daughter Mary of Burgundy to Holy Roman Emperor Maximillion I. In this manner Belgium and Holland became part of the Austrian Empire and tulips were reborn as a Dutch institution through the efforts of de Busbecq. Our project draws inspiration from this convoluted history in that an activity may be established in a certain way and then taken up with panache by enterprising souls.

The nourishment of life is an uncomfortable prospect. I don’t respond well to children and small things outside of how they respond to me. From culture I have come to understand that care-taking is supposed to be rather altruistic. That’s not the sort of man I am, however, and my appreciation of growing things comes primarily from how they boost my ego. I worry that my tulips will fail and thus reflect poorly on me. Luckily it is hard to resent a non-poisonous plant.

The man who sells the bulbs at Orchard Hardware Supply is painfully shy. His name is Henry and the customers he is supposed to be ringing up have abandoned him. He apologizes again and again while we stare at the lonely basket of PVC pipes and joints. When the owners return they are course and demanding causing Henry visible discomfort. He doesn’t seem to get irritated just more of an alien in his own skin. They are entitled to a $10.00 off coupon which they didn’t bother to bring with them, so Henry obligingly, awkwardly gets one from the manager. It won’t scan properly and Henry whispers “of course I get the one that won’t scan” as if it is a reflection of his sad character rather than a mechanical annoyance. He manually types in the coupon code a few times and it doesn’t work. He has to get another coupon to finally end the ordeal. By this time I am smiling but not so wide and warm as to add to his discomfort. If I were Henry I would be seriously pissed of at this point, but he is merely in an extreme state of sublime frustration. For this I admire him.
“Ten tulip bulbs,” I say handing him the bag full of yellow bulbs that look like small, misshapen onions. I pay the $5.90 and bow my head to Henry slightly so that he won’t notice but enough so that I will still be showing my reverence. “Thank you very much,” I tell him. Henry, you are the soil that will grow my tulips. If it were possible I would place you in fields and fields of these Tokyo, almost Tyrian purple flowers where you would undoubtedly say, “Aw, gee.” Instead there will be five of that variety, three red, and two yellow. You will never see them, but they will exist and absolve us of shakiness and stuttering.

Tulips require a freeze to grow and this is a large part of their appeal to me. Think about it, beauty as the result of harshness. I feel as though this make it a good place to start because much of the ethos of this project is using my flaws to produce boons. In this case my, uh, uncompassion (unpaternal-ness?) will serve as the genesis of a thing, the frost for the soil. It obviously doesn’t freeze here in the Bay Area, so to simulate the effect I put the bulbs in the fridge where they will remain for about a week. Then I will plant them and the process of either their growth or still-birth will be the first step toward renaissance manliness.

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