Transcript: In this lecture I’d like to discuss Nietzsche as artist, and also – I don’t know if it’s on what we might call the course syllabus, but – Nietzsche and his political uses, and the two are deeply interconnected. I have said that I don’t want to treat Nietzsche as a mere literary figure, and when I say “Nietzsche as Artist”, I have in mind this strong project of self creation, which is to make one’s own life a work of art. A very difficult thing is to sculpt oneself; it’s much easier to sculpt in stone than to sculpt in that invisible mysterious material of the self.
So Nietzsche as artist is a complex figure; and Nietzsche as that complex figure has had complex and multiple uses – within social and political discourse – and I suggested one last time, when I discussed the work of Foucault and also I tried to indicate how Nietzsche’s view of power as micrological – as in a sense horizontal, cutting deeply into what used to be referred to as subjectivity – but which today would be referred to more accurately as the terrain of advertising.
That account I tried to make clear last time, and I wanted one last example there before moving on, and I think that this one may have some political edge to it as well, and it has to do with the description… whether we accept in a certain way the descriptions that are offered to us by a culture that I have now begun – or I will now begin – to characterise as post-modern; or at least as a trajectory towards a culture that is post-modern. I mean a pure postmodern culture is for me a strange and bizarre and unthinkable thing because it would have completely effaced subjects. So the subject of subjectivity would have dropped out, as well as the subject of things like Nietzsche would have dropped out as anything other than as , say, the labels for beer advertisements or whatever. So we don’t have a pure postmodern culture in any respect now, we have one between modernism and postmodernism.
We are in what Gramsci called “An interregnum” about which he used as a word to describe periods in history where things are changing rapidly and people don’t know what’s going on exactly. And I think that’s the kind of period we are in now. And about interregnums, Gramsci said in them many morbid symptoms appear, and so it may be that Nietzsche here could help us as a symptomotologist of some of our more modern, sort of, morbid symptoms. One of them that I’d like to mention has to do with psychoanalysis and therapy, since it’s well known that Nietzsche has been praised as a great forerunner of psychoanalysis.
The original project of psychoanalysis according to Freud was that the Id; or the “It”, unconscious, unreflected parts of ourselves become reflected parts… become the “I”; the ego. That was Freud’s project for psychoanalysis. Well since Freud, I think we can understand that we are in what is now a mass culture which is thoroughly commodified. The role of that culture is what might be characterised – and has been characterised by the Frankfurt School – as psychoanalysis in reverse. Namely that the parts of us that are reflected – self consciously creating – become unconscious. Just, sort of, psychoanalysis in reverse gear. That the moments of lucidity and clarity we thought we had about ourselves are now to be filled in with stories that we pick up largely from the mass culture.
Therapy now belongs – for me at least – to that terrain, and I have in mind all the various programs, projects, self help books, 12 step plans, 10 step plans, fad diets, happy books, how to find your true self books, and so on. And I’d like to compare Nietzsche here with another theorist about whom I have a very high regard, and that’s Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s account of the self is in interesting ways like Nietzsche’s, although more desperate in some respects. He may even be a more radical thinker. We may have to do a course on Kierkegaard eventually. But for Kierkegaard – and I think this might be true for Nietzsche as well, given his view of the self – the search for an authentic self is doomed, in a sense, to fail. Because the self is these correlation of selves and narratives and stories that, as it were, have to have a, sort of, origin from the creating aspect of you, rather than to be simply picked up as narratives from the mass culture.
So if you finished a twelve step plan devised by one of the Lumpen intelligentsia, and by the time you reach the end of it you go “Oh now I finally know who I am”, you are deep, deep doo-doo, because what you have precisely lost according to someone like Nietzsche or Kierkegaard is yourself – to the extent that it was even a constructed and interesting self. There is a simple Kierkegaardian reason why these pop therapies will not work. They cannot cure despair, because the self is a relation that relates itself to its own self in despair. The self – to the extent that it is at all – is a despairing relation, a deferred despairing relation. Now,
Nietzsche puts a happy twist on that, it’s a deferred – well, not happy, he’s not happy about anything – he puts a twist on it that the self is a risky relation to itself. But my God, you can’t be cured of what it is you are, and the person doing the curing isn’t cured of it. I mean, you don’t get cured of what it is that constitutes, because if you got cured of that it would simply mean you don’t have that any longer.
The threat of a postmodern culture is not to have that deferring relation – despairing relation – at all, but simply some bland banal smile at the end of a ten point program and a nice three minute anecdote for Phil Donahue or Sally Jessy Raphael. A culture that picks its meanings up in that way is beneath contempt, and beneath the level of civilisation, I might add. Sorry, in my view it is. It’s beneath contempt.
You cannot be cured of that despairing relation which constitutes what subjectivity is without being cured of something far more important, namely that very project – risky, dangerous, tricky project – of subjectivity. So if you are out there looking for ten, twelve point plans, diets that will make you happy, exercise until you drop and cannot think, whatever.
Whatever various things the culture is offering in that regard, remember that its the very object of this mass commodified culture… is psychoanalysis in reverse; to give you some other story about your self than the stories you are developing. Now, that… if you think you are mad, see, that may not be much comfort. You know, I am mad, I need help, I am insane, happy… Well, sorry. Actually madness becomes – at this point, I think in a culture like ours – maybe we should return to a, sort of, feudal view of madness.
In the feudal period the mad were looked upon as having brilliant insights of wisdom, because they would say things that were outside the bounds of normal talk. And their sayings – as you may know, and this was true even in Greece – their sayings were…
…frequently considered to be profound and absolutely worth your attention. And it wasn’t until Freud that we again began to pay attention to these mad ramblings and interpret them as though they might contain something worth understanding. Something worth understanding.
So there are far worse things than being mad, and one of them to be in a culture that is mad and to consider yourself sane. That’s worse. To be involved in a consensual hallucination of normalcy is much worse than being mad. So maybe I would like to valorise madness in this way. I mean, in the plays of Shakespeare, which I will now briefly discuss, because I didn’t mean to imply ever that I didn’t enjoy them. Has anyone ever noticed how frequently Shakespeare makes use of the fool, to deliver the wisdom? Dialectically and brilliantly Shakespeare will have the fool, sort of, skip onto the stage and deliver the wisdom.
Even in Hamlet, the gravedigger who plays the fool in Hamlet is dead – see, Hamlet is a dark play – Yorick is the king’s jester; he’s dead already, but the gravedigger does a nice stand in for him in the scene. He delivers some of the real wisdom of the play. Throughout Shakespeare we have these fools, madmen, jugglers, jesters, clowns, delivering the real wisdom of the play.
And it’s perverse to see a culture that then takes some of this Shakespearean wisdom, you know whatever… from the canon and sort of perverts it. I mean, I remember studying Shakespeare, and they gave me this quote to remember from Polonius, you know – “To thine own self be true” – this could be the first line of every twelve step plan or therapy: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”. Of course, in the context of the play, you realise that Polonius is a bureaucrat, a politician, a windbag, a blowhard, shallow, stupid in his wisdom, is – as I said earlier – just exactly the banality of a common mind, but yet at grade school we teach this. See how smart Shakespeare was? He was smart enough to show that that wasn’t wisdom – that kind of commonplace crap wasn’t wisdom – he was that smart, and more.
Well anyway, Nietzsche… in search of other self descriptions, and in search of new myths to replace the dying old ones, myths that we could, as it were, participate in and perhaps enjoy and enhance lives, rather than, you know, in the case of many of these therapeutic approaches, put and end to the struggle of subjectivity by putting an end to our own subjectivity. One of the fascinating, I mean absolutely uninterpretable books of Nietzsche’s that I intend to discuss briefly is “Thus Spoke Zarathustra“, which is about four or five things at once, at least, as a text. One is a rather extended and humorous parody of the bible; the New Testament. Sorry, I mean, it’s a rather, you know, The Sermon on the Mount is parodied by having Zarathustra – the religious seer and sage – give his sermon on the mount to a group of cows [crowd laughter].
I mean, making the point, I guess, that certain kinds of wisdom aren’t appropriate for certain kinds of audiences, whatever, I don’t know. But in any case, Zarathustra constitutes this rather beautiful parody in that way, on the other hand it is beautifully written and it is an exemplification of what Nietzsche calls “The Gay Science“. Rather than talking about The Gay Science, Zarathustra is a text that is supposed to enact it, as it were. Sort of enact The Gay Science and say: well, in the act of self creation, freed beings, these so-called Ubermensches; which I hate that word, because of all the associations… Superman, you know.
Well, anyway, these free beings – new creative beings – will write texts like this one – Zarathustra – exciting, interesting. Well at one level it’s that too, it’s a sort of self indulgent text, and it’s certainly one that I enjoyed more – and I don’t mind admitting this – that I enjoyed more when I read it when I was eighteen than when I re-read it years later. It has a certain adolescent fascination for it… for us. It has a certain kind of adolescent fascination. That’s true of a lot of the text of Nietzsche and I don’t want to put that down. The reason I don’t is because one of the fascinating things about these multiple kinds of text by Nietzsche is that adolescent fascination effect that it has for youth and creativity and interest.
T.S. Eliot, in a famous critical piece on Hamlet said that Hamlet was a failed play, because Shakespeare tried to express in drama these overblown adolescent sentiments that could not be, you know, correctly placed within the form of art. Well that’s true, but hardly reduces the interest to us of the Hamlet character. It hardly is a critique of his dialogue with himself that he’s an adolescent, I mean, for me it’s not, and if it’s a flawed play, we wish to God more flawed plays were written that were that interestingly flawed. So I think Eliot was a bit of a prig about this as he was about most things.
In any case, the dance of Zarathustra is not a ten point plan, it’s not self help, and you won’t find your authentic self reading Zarathustra. You are supposed to (A) have a good time reading it, (B) get a laugh out of it, and (C) be challenged by it to try to see if you can remember enough of your own adolescence, perhaps, to either scribble something down or do something a little wild. Several and multiple effects can come out of reading this text. Many and multiple effects can come out of reading it.
I mentioned that one parody scene where Zarathustra’s wisdom – his famous sermon on the mount – is given to a group of cows. There is another particularly humorous part that I like. It’s in the opening when – as in many religious myths, which Zarathustra purports to both be one and a criticism of one, and a joke about them; all three – Zarathustra like many religious myths begins with the prophet, the seer, the person of wisdom, separated, sort of, like Jesus in the desert, then he comes back and begins his mission. Buddha under the tree; long time sitting, gets up, starts his mission. Well, Zarathustra starts; Zarathustra is all alone except for his eagle and his snake. I don’t know what they mean, they are just characters in the thing, could mean a lot of things… he’s got a snake around his neck, his eagle…
He goes down and the first person he meets as he goes to share his idea of The Death of God and the birth of these new festivals – in this wonderful poetic book – the first person he meets is an old hermit in the woods. And the old hermit and he discuss religion and gods and things, and he asks Zarathustra to give his gift to everyone and so on and Zarathustra goes “No, I can’t give you a gift, in fact if I keep talking to you, I will probably take something from you”, and then he leaves. Then he thinks to himself about the old man and he goes “Could it be this old man hasn’t heard of The Death of God?” And you are going “Geez, that’s a hell of a way for a myth to start”, you know.
And you know, the old man in the forest stays there, I guess, throughout the rest of Zarathustra and he goes into the marketplace and begins to, you know, say the kind of weird, hyperbolic, bizarre things with which Zarathustra is filled. I’ll share a few of those with you. I don’t want to do a detailed reading of it, it’s too complicated, it’s too intricate, and so I’ll just give you a little taste for it and hope that you will read it at some point. As I say though, the best point to read it many of us have passed, and that’s in terms of enjoyment, reading it when you are seventeen or eighteen and just – “Wow!” – you know, really like it, enjoy it and get off to it; that fascination effect I’ll call it.
But ah, one of the scenes I like a lot is when he encounters a Buddha-like figure in it, and you expect, sort of, a vicious polemic against Buddhism, and you don’t get one at all. Zarathustra leaves and says “That old man is very wise” – talking about a figure who was a trope or a metaphor for the Buddha within Zarathustra. He says “That old man is very wise. If I were into sleep…” …this is the way he understood Buddhism: “If I were into sleep…”, which is how he understands the annihilation of the self and nirvana and stuff: “No-one teaches sleep better than that old man” [crowd laughter] “And if I were into it – see – if I were a person into sleep, and being into sleepiness, nobody is a better teacher of that than him” And that’s the famous book I have already referred to where he ends by saying “Blessed in fact are the sleepy, for they shall soon drop off”. It’s a nice… one of my favourite Nietzsche quotes: “Blessed are the sleepy for they shall soon drop off”.
Well, to return to the postmodern terrain, Buddhism as we now know, along with many other religions are antiquated in the face of a telecommunicational network which has more than replaced all the functions of traditional religion. More than replaced it, subjectively and objectively, and in Plato’s cave, we don’t need to see the shadows on the wall because the shadows are on our television, and we have televisions. It is a stupid strategy to think that you can turn them off. All that can happen is that they can turn you off. You can’t turn them off.
I’ll try to explain that remark, because many people around universities love to brag “I don’t watch TV” [crowd laughter]. Well damn [crowd laughter]. Well damn that’s historically crazy and unconscious. Don’t you realise that that’s something like saying after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, and then later the availability of cheap printed material, to go snottily around saying “Well I only read things hand written in Latin, I don’t read these books off the printing presses” [crowd laughter] “These paperbacks? To hell with them! They’re the devil’s things” [crowd laughter] “I don’t read those paperbacks”.
Well, that’s how I feel about intellectuals “Oh, I don’t watch TV…” As if you could escape an entire world whose culture is being shaped by this and the subjectivities of millions of what will be culture and objective spirit, shaped by these instruments and new forces. As if one could escape it by turning a switch. That’s why I say you can’t turn off TV. It can turn you off, but you can’t turn it off. You can’t make it disappear, but it can make you disappear. I mean, it’s just not that relation.
Nietzsche of course, when he talked about Nihilism and “the last man” had no idea that nihilism would be technologically achievable and that it would not upset people as much as he thought [crowd laughter]. That the death of human subjectivity, that the end of projects that are our own and the turn towards projects invented, packaged for us… sometimes by machines and not even by human advertisers or whatever, but just simply packaged by machine along demographic programs written up by other machines… that that would become the new array of things that are supposed to give us meaning is, as it were, beyond nihilism.
You know, this is not a culture that believes in nothing, this is a culture that is rooted in “the will to nothingness”, in Nietzsche’s sense, and at the same time is, in a certain sense, giddy about it. I mean there is a certain giddiness to it that I don’t want to deny. You know, a sort of giddy feeling that… well, you know, if you took undergraduate philosophy and you read Descartes, you thought “Oh maybe an evil demon is fooling me all the time”, and you just thought about it in introduction to philosophy class as a thought experiment that you might be wrong, and you were going to regain your reason. But now the greater scepticism has arisen that this whole telecommunicational world is one giant consensual hallucination within which you as a singularity: Bill, Bob, Susan, Anne, and so on simply cannot find your way about at all.
It’s not an evil demon anymore that you just thought up; you look at the fabric of social reality and become sceptical about your everyday life, and whether it has any meaning at all. And this is not some empty scepticism – you know, merely philosophical scepticism – it is quite general. Believe me, talk to your friends, you know, I mean talk to people at gas stations for God’s sakes “Geez, I just don’t know what’s going on anymore, it’s so weird” The most standard phenomenological – or descriptive remark – about the current social terrain, to which I do believe Nietzsche pointed the way in his remarks, is “Haven’t things gotten weird” Which isn’t an analysis, but certainly points the way towards one, you know: “Things have gotten strange…”
You know, I can explain why people take crack now instead of LSD. I can explain it using this view that things have gotten weird and that we have a postmodern trajectory. LSD is superfluous in the nineties. Reality itself is so twisted that it’s a waste of time. Why would anyone take acid in this culture, to try to twist your mind? Hell, just watch TV for a few months, you don’t need that. You don’t need acid, it’s just silly. It’s just silly, it’s a redundant drug, it’s unnecessary in a culture like this one. It’s a redundant drug. Now, crack on the other hand has a certain rationality to it; from both the perspective of the rulers and the ruled.
For one thing, from the perspective of the rulers, the opium of the people, it turns out, is much better when it’s real opium. So the opium of the people now is opium, and that’s very copasetic for people who want to do crowd control. Its nice that the potentially rebellious crowds are stoned out of their minds, and crack does that, it doesn’t give you this happy “I don’t want to work if I don’t want to” stoned, it just… out, okay, and that’s good for the rulers.
On the side of the ruled – the desperate – crack, unlike LSD doesn’t enhance or “freakify” anything, it just sort of nails your head out of things for a while. Sort of jacks you out of this consensual hallucination. It’s vicious and it’s an ugly drug, and this is no argument… I am trying to explain how drugs… I mean, this is an important Nietzschean point, because Nietzsche thinks that intoxication – I am trying to make it fit, I think it does fit – intoxication has always been an important part of cultures; certainly American culture. As many of you know, I am a smoker, and that was our first, you know, big commodity in the new world. This isn’t the first New World Order we have had. There have been other New World Orders before this one.
Well anyway, Zarathustra – how does it relate to intoxication? Well, Zarathustra is supposed to be an intoxicating dance with the creation of new meaning. The threat faced now – that I am trying to raise – concerns the entire text of Nietzsche, and the entire text of theorists; literary and otherwise, who still dream what perhaps now… and I am not saying for sure, because this is… this kind of theory can only be based on speculation, phenomenological description, and suspicion, and the little bits and pieces you pick up in your culture as you try to understand yourself. It is almost obvious that no coherent social theory could explain a situation like this one. You know, it just seems… I think that just seems obvious. I don’t know, other people may see it another way, but I don’t.
The prospects that Zarathustra – and this is what I am raising now – the prospects that Zarathustra could become a mini series… and I know who to cast; William Hurt would be great as Zarathustra. The reason is that William Hurt always plays the sort of intelligent types, you know.
So William Hurt would be great as Zarathustra. He even resembles the young Nietzsche in a vague kind of way, so… especially if he died his hair and made him look shorter, which probably wouldn’t be a problem. Anyway, the very fact we live in an objective culture where one might make a miniseries “Zarathustra” and then have tonnes of Zarathustrians afterwards that dressed like Zarathustra, and adopted those values is already a sign that nihilism itself is, in a certain way, not a strong enough name for the threat faced by human subjectivity and lived experience – what remains of it – in the terrain of our culture.
So I guess now I have moved, sort of, beyond trying to describe this beautiful poetic text that I would ask you to read and enjoy, and onto another terrain, a terrain that is far different. Far different. This won’t come as a shock to younger people because the search for meaning that I have been discussing is almost a joke of nostalgia among these people. I will refer one more time to the movie Heathers. There is a sort of 1960’s type teacher in that movie who says “Oh lets all hold hands and sing together”… well, all the other teachers and students go ergh ergh. See, for them that’s no good anymore. Love, friendship, understanding, common bond, it’s all now been deferred into encounter groups, you know.
It’s a long way from Wuthering Heights to Love Story by Erich Segal. It’s a tremendous historical distance, and yet it happens by degrees, so we don’t really notice. It’s the way… maybe this is the way people have always lost their own self projects… by degrees. You wake up one morning and you notice that the journey you were on, you are not on any more, and somehow by degrees you have become something alien to yourself.
I think this is a quite general experience of our culture; that by degrees, and almost imperceptibly we become alien to ourselves. And that this is experienced by some of us older types, described by paleo-conservatives as “refuge of the sixties” – it’s described us a, sort of, loss of lived experience – but by some of the younger, giddier type theorists of the postmodern; it’s described as a kind of liberation. In other words, don’t worry about alienation and ecstasy, those things are over. Ecstasy is now the name of a designer drug for yuppies, and I don’t want to hear about alienation because it is alienating to hear about it. We know that it’s the case, but it’s alienating for you to tell us about it.
So, it puts you… it puts the critic in an unusual position in a society like that because the critics of our society themselves of course ordinarily commodified critics. I think that the best example of that might be shows like the old Morton Downey show where you get a kind of populist redneck kinda criticism, which is every bit as elevated as The McLaughlin Group, and certainly you listen just as much. The McLaughlin Group won’t sue you for describing their show because they just go “crucifixion of Jesus, right or wrong?” wrong, wrong, wrong, maybe… [crowd laughter]… you know. “The right answer is: right!” [crowd laughter]…
That is public discourse. Now notice about it this: while it is public, in the sense of publicity, it’s unilateral; it’s quick, its fast, its factoid, it is totalitarian, of course. It is duckspeak. You can’t think that quickly, you’ve got to duckspeak. This is why the breakup of the Soviet bloc creates great confusion, because we have been taught that duckspeak so long that now we don’t know exactly what to talk anymore. It’s hard to go “Those communists…” we never thought about that in the first place; just duckspeak. Now that it’s all breaking up, new topics for duckspeak are hard to find, and I guess one of them would be, you know, the Middle East soldier, you know, “Those people are different than we are”. By the way that is a moment of the Communitarian in a postmodern landscape. It’s when you create a pseudo community by opposing it to another pseudo community. I’ll give you an example.
Saddam Hussein, as many people in the Arab world knew, wasn’t exactly a good Muslim [laughs] [crowd laughter], but we had to construct a certain kind of, sort of, “muslamic” threat – that would be palpable to people in our own cities and stuff – out of this person, to create a kind of pseudo communitarian consensus on the other side: “Well, you know, I don’t like war in general, but we have to stop naked aggression” as opposed, I guess, to clothed aggression. I have always, you know, looked at it the other way. Naked aggression seemed preferable to me than well dressed three piece suited aggression, but I am a bit primitive about that, I suppose.
In any case, what the postmodern condition is about is the drying up of lived experience, and I’ll give you an argument I don’t think I agree with, but it will set the stage. And it’s… I wanted this argument to be kind of fun, in the sense in which Zarathustra is fun. Don’t take it that seriously, in other words. It’s just one of these postmodern French theorists: Baudrillard, and it was his account of the war in Iraq. And I wanted… I am not giving it to you as mine, but as a gift. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t give you this gift, because I might take something from you… no, that’s a joke… I am just joking.
Baudrillard was giving the following account of the war in Iraq, he said ah… It was in an interview in a German magazine, and remember this is one of the postmodern theorists I am talking about, not agreeing with. I am saying that in my view there is a trajectory towards this condition. In the view of many of these people we have already reached this condition of “postmodern society”, which I will specify in detail later and connect to Nietzsche, because Nietzsche was one person who forecast the advent of a human-less, subject-less condition.
Well anyway, Baudrillard’s account of the war was… the interview was called “The Enemy Has Disappeared”. And Baudrillard said that the reason the war had been constructed in Iraq – as a constructed televisual event – was that if anything was left in the world what was real, lived experience, it would be war. So that if this virtual society of a consensual hallucination could stage a phoney war with phoney experiences and have people respond to it phonily, the real war wouldn’t be against the Iraqis, but against reality; in order to kill the last remaining remnants of the real. That this society had already commodified reality to such an extent that they were down to the last few little niches of reality. And on the global stage war looked like one, so it would be important to kill reality itself.
And this is not to deny that Iraqis got killed and some of our citizens, but it’s about the larger aims of the war; was to kill reality itself. To make reality virtual reality and not real reality, a term that I now nostalgically use to refer to my own experiences and experiences of other human beings. When I even talk that way I feel kind of nostalgic about it. But Baudrillard’s argument went “Well look, you know, where did we see the event? We saw it on television, and you know, who is this Hussein? I mean, didn’t hear about him before, haven’t heard much about him since, who is it?”… well, now they are picking it back up again, a little, sorry. “Who is this fella, and what is this? Is this a real…” you know, his point
was deep and important: that from the moment that it started, it was a CNN event that had its own, as it were, support built into it of which the opposition was itself a part.
The opposition to the war itself became a support of the war in the very necessity to pick up the icons – the general, bland and stupid icons – without which you cannot appear. So it immediately caught you up, and I remember the wrapt attention that we all had on the war which was a magnificent mini series in that sense. CNN was an addiction, and the scuds at night were absolutely as virtual, as exciting as the rockets they shoot up at Epcott Centre; those phoney firework things. And you are going “Yeah well I really saw those scud pieces hit” Well I didn’t, I saw them on TV. And I am not being sceptical and saying that the scuds didn’t hit. I am saying that the experience of that for us was virtual.
So I thought well Baudrillard – this is not what I am saying, this is Baudrillard’s argument – and he says it turns out they won, because they proved war like everything else can be not a real experience at all, it can become a virtual non reality; a non-real war, an unreal war. Well, on one level of course I want to agree with Baudrillard, because I don’t call something a war where you start it and the other side immediately retreats any more than I want to call something a boxing match, when one guy takes a dive and the other guy keeps hitting him while he is on the canvas. If you take a dive, the match is over, count ten, out, you win, that’s fine. But it doesn’t continue to be a boxing match because you are hitting the person on the canvas. It’s stopped being a boxing match then. It’s become a spectacle, and one cannot overestimate the value of that as a spectacle because it still dominates public discourse in the image of some of our leaders who have woefully neglected other things which are presented to us as our problems. If we could have anything other than a visual representation of those; a televisual one.
In short, according to Baudrillard’s argument, this saturated information network is “pornographic”. Now what do I mean by that? It is pornographic in this sense: it is the excess of the visual, you know, excessively visual. Now this experience may be differential for women, but for guys, they are forced to go to “stag movies” when you are being socialised to be a young man, and if you don’t go they call you funny names. The first thing you notice about stag movies is that they are just excessively visual, after about two minutes I say that’s enough of that, I don’t want to see any more, it wasn’t that pretty, get it off. This is an obscene culture in that sense. I really mean that. It is pornographically visual, obsessive, and so on.
So Baudrillard’s argument was that the war had disappeared in the images of the war; the experience of the war had disappeared in the accounts of it. And I thought “Well, surely that isn’t true” – this is me now, I am back, that’s Baudrillard’s story… anyhow… – I thought surely that isn’t true for the people who were over there, which is of course a good commonsense thing to say. So I talked to one of the guards at my university who had served over there, and was now back being a traffic guard. It turned out that all she had seen as on CNN too. She had been in a camp for the whole war, stacking various uniforms and things, and she said that no she couldn’t really tell me much about it. She asked me if I had watched CNN; I said “Yes”. She said “Well did you hear the briefings?” I went “Yes”. She said “Well, that’s what I know about it, basically”.
So I thought “Well I have got to get better information than that, because now I am getting scared that Baudrillard is right, there wasn’t one over there… wasn’t a war” So I got to talk to a student friend of mine’s brother who was a pilot. He went “Yeah, the gun sights we used were just like the ones” – you know, I can’t mention a brand name or whatever, but one of those like asteroid games – “Yeah” he said, “The planes, there was a great giddy feeling” I said “Well did you see any Iraqis, any land, any people?” He said “No, no, no”, he says, “these planes… you wouldn’t believe the rush”, and he began to describe to me the experience of the virtual reality of flying a plane very fast and shooting little dots of light through a target like in a video or an arcade except at a much higher rate of speed. And at that point I began to stop doing these empirical tests on Baudrillard’s theory and now I’ll just leave it as a thesis for you.
If anything was left that was real, it might have been war, and it may be the case now that even war is not real. And that’s a horrifying remark coming from someone who was raised by someone like my father for whom the Second World War was a – if not the – pivotal event in his life. And perhaps some of our postmodern dissatisfaction anticipated by bizarre theorists like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, perhaps – to the extent there is dissatisfaction with it – perhaps some of that dissatisfaction is rooted in the desire to feel an experience again. To live a real experience again. Something that really occurred, that wasn’t already packaged, explained, pre-packaged, agreed upon, then given to you as your opinion without a possibility of doing anything but assenting.
And you may go “Oh no, they give us choice!” Well, we all know what the array is and how infinite it is. It’s like choosing green beans at the grocery store. How many kinds do they have? Say you want canned green beans. I am a throw back, I like canned green beans. I don’t like those ones you put in a little plastic pouch, I want the canned ones. And I get a choice. There are like… twenty kinds. I have tried a lot of them. I open them and they are all just really bad green beans. They are green and they are beans, and they are this long, they have the same amount of water. And I have chosen, that’s true I have chosen, and I want that freedom to choose, and I will fight and die for that freedom to choose the green bean of my choice. But what I don’t have is the choice to select that autonomous radical project that Nietzsche put at the centre of his writing and at the centre of his attempt at self creation. That’s the choice I don’t have.
I feel sometimes as though I am plugged into a giant computer that will take every command I give it except the one that I want the most. The command that the damn machine blow itself up. It will do anything else I say. I type in “food”, and out comes food. I type in “I want to give this talk in Washington”, comes out. Type this in, comes out… But the one command I want is the command for the damn thing to just go “boom!”, and all the little transistors just to go.
I think some of that archaic anarchism may lurk out there somewhere, I hope, that as I enter, you know, now in this really strong paradox, because without a postmodern culture there would be no televised lectures on Nietzsche. I hope that as I enter that spiral of information that I can plant here and there tiny little moments of that kind of rebellion which are planted throughout the text of Zarathustra in the forms of jokes, arguments that are both suspicious and suspecting and moments of transgression and fun.
And I hope that I’ll be able to do that in the last hour when I will wander even further away from Nietzsche, but that is in the spirit of Nietzsche because he always valorised wanderers, nomads, vagabonds, jokesters and tricksters, and I intend to valorise them as well, so I hope you are ready for the concluding lecture on “Nietzsche’s Progeny”. That lecture of course has got to be some kind of joke, he had no children, so what would his progeny be? Well I hope this indication of what I mean by “The Post-Modern Condition” will give you an idea about the icy, glacial terrain in which these progeny are slouching toward Bethlehem, waiting to be born [applause].