From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny

Transcript: You know, how many novels begin with sentences describing the sky and the landscape. There are so many. It’s a standard novelistic beginning. Gibson begins his novel Neuromancer with the following sentence, and I consider it the best first sentence in 20th century American literature. I hate to use the word literature about this stuff. Neuromancer being a work of what I call “near future fiction”. A work that projects, as does the movie Blade Runner, the near future of possible social development based on very close analysis of current trends. In any case, the first sentence of the novel goes like this: “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”. Marvellous. Sets the tone for an incredible book. Short. Tough. Interesting. Brilliant.

That sentence frames for me a description of the postmodern trajectory… and to distance that sentence… and there is a massive distance… you could distance it from the sentences of Zarathustra, from The Gay Science. You could distance it from the first sentences of novels such as… “Call me Ishmael”… Moby Dick. That’s a pretty well known first sentence in a novel. “Call me Ishmael”. Referring all the way backward to a biblical text, and all the way forward to a new adventure. A new American adventure. In living a life that would allow for difference and community, it would allow for freedom, and the recognition of necessity. That project ends, in my view… or at least the dawning of the end, in Gibson. In that wonderful first sentence. “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”.

The fights that remain… the living antagonisms and our possibilities to construct ourselves in anything like free and autonomous ways will have to be fought across that barren, strange landscape… that unthinkable cultural future of deferred and indifferent pseudo experience. And across that terrain, the struggles for even moments of authentic lived experience… “authentic” in quotes – who knows… of lived experience… to feel something for god’s sakes… anything… will be the locus of struggle one would hope.

Here I will call to your mind a scene from Blade Runner, where before the replicant dies (Roy Batty), he slams his hand on a nail (and many of you may not know this), but when Batty does that in the film, it’s a reference to an action that Sartre has a character perform in “Roads to Freedom”. In “Roads to Freedom”, the Sartre character slams his hand onto a nail to prove that he is free. Because he chose to do it. It hurt like hell, but he chose it. I put my hand on that nail, and that shows I am free, because just as a calculus of deterministic pleasure I would never have done it. It’s a philosophical demonstration… a painful and stupid one in my opinion… but by the time we get to Blade Runner, the replicant slams his hand onto a nail just to feel anything. Just to feel anything. So don’t worry about the communists or the capitalists. Fight to live and feel anything. Thankyou I have enjoyed it very much. Thankyou.