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June 23, 2006

Does your spirit squint?

Some months ago I was nearly skewered at the pinpoint of a rapier. I deflected the blow and mine enemy did retreat. I was accused of Nietzschean ressentiment, of being an unwitting participant in “the revolt of the slaves in morals” because of my “depriv[ation]…of the proper outlet of action” and thus particular behaviors were perceivable as reactive attempts “to find [my] compensation in an imaginary revenge” (“Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad” p. 19).

I hadn’t yet read Nietzsche then, so wasn’t aware of the extent of the insult. Reading The Genealogy of Morals now, I can readily perceive two constitutive/constituting elements that brought forth the judgment:

1) the rationale for characterizing me as having succumbed to the so-called slave morality at the sublime ideological level, and
2) that the epistemology which justifies this judgment of my character was motivated dialectically – as an essential response to certain unfortunate dynamics that played themselves out in the beginning of “Communication in Crisis” conference planning. (Which, let it be duly noted, was a resounding success.)

I’m working on point one: the accusation of slave morality. Being of a more heteroglossic rather than essentialist bent I’m less inclined to accept Nietzsche’s polemical terror at what he calls the victory of the priestly-aristocratic caste (using the Jews as his exemplar) as a death knell for humanity. My own self-assessment now is thus a combined yes-and-no affair. (In fact, it seems evident to me that Nietzsche drops hints that he himself is not quite so disdainful as he deliberately seeks to appear.) Indeed, there is an important distinction to be made between stereotypical labeling of aristocratic or slave morality and recognition of the typical characteristics in diverse individuals. I did react - on the basis of emotions Nietzsche valorizes as aristocratic - and I did react - on the basis of another, uncontrollable situation in regards to which my emotions were unresolved.

As to the 2nd point, regarding a dialectical essentialism, my opinion is also dual-toned. Yes, in the "first" instance (during initial conference planning, counted as "first" in others' external perception of my behavior; rather than from that point with which I would initiate the chain of events) I was deprived of action in the proper zone – that zone (alluded to above) had nothing to do with school or the department in any way. Events (dynamics of group relations) within that initial configuration of the conference group triggered certain visceral memories from the other zone and my lack of power there was transferred and projected by me into the conference group – definitely improper. So the dual overlay was between two entirely different situations and contexts – some would (and did, as I recall) suggest that I violated certain boundaries. Of course, reducing the analysis of the "first" incident to this conflation on my part neglects recognition of the actions that called forth such a response of resistance.

In the second instance (regarding a procedural proposal for departmental student governance), which incurred the accusation of resentment, something else was going on. I am less confident in hypothesizing what that “something else” might be, as doing so requires making generalized attributions: please read them as tentative and provisional. I am not claiming to know, only speculating. It seems possible that my earlier “bad” behavior (“bad” because it was sanctioned) planted certain seeds of doubt and/or suspicion among some peers, which possibly lay dormant until triggered by a new situation with a somewhat similar context – many of the same individuals, at least.

This will seem like a tangent, but my dentist’s office made me a present today. I’m in the midst of having two teeth crowned. They offer certain discounts depending upon how one makes payment. I wanted to minimize my cost and had proposed paying for each crown separately using two different modes of payment. This would take maximum advantage of what I could afford. I was told separating the bill wasn’t possible; the discounts only applied to a certain overall minimum. This occurred last week. Today, I was back for a routine cleaning and the office manager told me that they had revisited their decision and now wanted to make me a gift of the discount, in keeping with their policy of providing exceptional customer service. Of course, I was delighted! She explained what happened as me giving them “a proposal that was a little bit foreign to us.” No one had apparently ever wanted to pay in the configuration I proposed, so they needed some time to think about it (and – to their credit and my benefit – they took that time.)

With that framing in mind, if we return to the second instance (in which I was proposing a particular addition to the operating rules of the department’s student government which - as the discussions unfolded over a few all-department meetings and several intermediary conversations - invoked questions of overall organizational mission), it seems possible that what transpired was something along similar lines? I proposed something “a bit foreign” and explained it in possibly even more foreign/obscure terms (a theoretical language not shared by everyone as well as in an atypical discourse for this kind of setting) and there was a reaction from the group that stunned me with its force. I would be surprised if anyone intentionally meant to blow me out of the water; rather, I speculate (emphasis on speculate!) that there were enough similarities between this situation (with the CGSA) and the previous one (with the conference planning group) that it opened up or called forth a reaction from some who had possibly (I’m just guessing, hypothesizing!) felt deprived of suitable methods of action (punishment?) to sanction my improper behavior in the first go-round. (I simply withdrew – a solution that seemed satisfactory enough at the time but perhaps not sufficient?)

I think this logic makes sense only dialectically, because it relies on certain essentialist assumptions. Such as, if I acted up/acted out once then I’ve always got that capability, i.e., it must be my nature. Where the logic breaks down, (I’m more confident about this), is dialogically. If language is alive and meaning is always heteroglossically co-produced then what necessitates essentialism? At this point, the accusation of resentiment can be as easily turned the other way? In this regard, dialecticalism has the characteristics of a sublime ideology. I think what I felt in the second instance, overwhelmed as I was, was the juxtaposition of both dialectical and dialogical possibilities. A dialectical reading requires (relies upon and reinforces) stereotyping; a dialogical reading enables the possibility of a shift in established (dialectical) dynamics. Happily (at least for me!), such a small-scale shift appears to have occurred among some of my peers. I am grateful. (Does this make me a sublime slave?!)

Rise up mine foe! (Dr. Metropolis advises, however, that I should not be too eager. Chapter Twelve, in How to be a SuperHero.) Ok, so, like, whenever.

But note the call of aristocratic morality: “it acts and grows spontaneously, it merely seeks its antithesis in order to pronounce a more grateful and exultant ‘yes’ to its own self” (p. 19).

Posted by Steph at June 23, 2006 5:13 PM


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