Monday, January 22, 2007

I am not a philosopher, nor do I play one on TV

I am not a philosopher, nor do I play one on TV, but I have a couple of degrees in literature, I read alot, and I have a blog, meaning, of course, that I get to ramble, rant, wax and whine as long as this peculiar technology holds up. Or until I get bored, die mid-sentence, or secure a real hobby. Or date more often, God knows.
Anyway, these are some random notes on isolated matters gleaned from some conversations. The serious reader will note, no doubt, some spurious assumptions as to what I think the forthcoming names are talking; again, I am amateur, the worst sort of hobbyist at this game, but I don't think the paragraphs are bereft of worth. Ideas for essays I'll never get to writing, perhaps. Sigh...


Nietzsche Apollonian drive is a desire to find order in a confused, chaotic, and cruel world. It is the mother of all control issues, an insanity of over organization that compels the spirit to quell the spontaneous spirit and instead attempt to keep everything in its assigned place.

Half the work is creating categories and new places for the finite groupings of worthy things and excluding newer, suspect ideas, ideas and tendencies unproven and likely to be fraught with danger. Risks not worth taking with what works are avoided, efforts to expand beyond the granted wisdom is suppressed. It's a conservative notion that argues that civilizations are built upon the foundation of unchanging truths about the nature of man, and that the culture that's been created is an accurate representation of everything that is best in our nature. It denies change, and it is an institutional inclination that seeks hegemony in every aspect of life. Order must be maintained regardless of everything. Nietzsche found that life and faith in this state of affairs was the worst sort of slavery.

The Dionysian drive, desires to break down that artificial order. Nietzsche had great fondness for those institutions that reinforced what he felt was the codified falseness of culture, but he was inclined by instinct to favor the Dionysian impulse to make the old order a smoldering ash heap, at least metaphorically speaking. The Dionysian drive was an attempt to describe what instinct must be present for a human being to free themselves of lies, babble, cant and religious and political crudity and position themselves to witness truth, and create meaning relevant to their existence. It is
an impulse to take something very orderly and beauty in all it’s unmarred elegance and
then destroy it, smash it, make it as unappealing as aesthetic object as it was in its formalized existence.

Herbert Marcuse was a Hegelian who had an idea of the movement of history toward some great purpose that was only being gradually revealed to us. Not exactly the Dionysian sort, which is a spontaneous effect occurring among individuals. Nietzsche had little patience for the fate of masses of people, or to restoring them certain rights and qualities liberal philosophy argues are universal; these are sham arguments, he argues, and focuses instead on the sensual experience of the individual, unbound by convention, living beyond the narrow view of existence and possibilities in it. Nietzsche's is a precursor to much contemporary existentialist thought, and his cranky and provocative views makes him a hero of libertarians, who habitually regard themselves enlightened beyond the comprehension of society. Stalin was not a Dionysian; neither was Hitler. They were monsters.

Does Marxism and Communism, with their materialism and anti-intellectualism arguably "Dionysian", or at least anti-Apollonian, the same thing? No. What Marx has in common with Nietzsche is a dominating idea that the way things are in the world are false and oppressive, and that there needs to be a radical change of venue in order to attain a natural state of being through which individuals can fashion themselves , unencumbered by creaking hegemonies. Beyond that, similarities fade. Marx did foresee a withering away of the State, it was only through a long period of presumably enforced reorientation through the dictatorship of the proletariat; in any event, this meant consolidation of power, economic strength, and coercion of all kinds.
Marxism as theorized is rich in insight, and offers a cool sociological analysis to material relations better than breathless Idealist philosophies, but as an applied political method, it became a cumbersome, slow moving contrivance that could not accommodate social experimentation or diversity. Free market systems , I think, are closer to being Dionysian in nature. Ruled by an instinct for profit, it is about as anti-intellectual force that you might mention, and in fact seems to thrive on creating chaos, and like creating order from the mess that it cannot help from making. Nietzsche , Classicist he is, insisted that a balance between The Dionysian and the Apollonian was what should be achieved and maintained, a conservative, disciplined instinct blended with an spirit of adventure, innovation, self-definition. The superstructure of one makes the experimentation of the other possible, workable.