Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The post in its entirety. It's fascinating.
Leiter: Nietzsche and Ayn Rand: A Brief Comment
This typically idiotic remark in a recent NY Times book review caught my attention:
Rand’s inclusion of businessmen in the ranks of the Übermenschen helps to explain her appeal to free-marketeers — including Alan Greenspan — but it is not convincing. At bottom, her individualism owed much more to Nietzsche than to Adam Smith (though Rand, typically, denied any influence, saying only that Nie­tzsche “beat me to all my ideas”). But “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” never sold a quarter of a million copies a year.
Rand's "individualism"--if that is what one wants to call her juvenile fantasies about her industrialist heroes--owes as little to Nietzsche as to Smith. Nietzsche loathed capitalism and capitalists (and the cultural and aesthetic vulgarity he saw as their legacy) and also despised what he called "the selfishness of the sick" (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and the "self-interested cattle and mob" (Will to Power). What he admired was "severe self-love," the kind "most profoundly necessary for growth" (Ecce Homo). "Virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality"--all the things "for whose sake it is worthwhile to live on earth" (Beyond Good and Evil)--all demand such severe self-love, and for this reason, and this reason only, Nietzsche wanted to disabuse those capable of such excellences of their false consciousness about the morality of altruism. He certainly did not think everyone ought to be selfish, or that the pursuit of material goods had any value, or that indulgence of selfish desires was a virtue. What he did think is what is almost certainly true: namely, that if someone like Beethoven had taken Christian morality seriously, and lived a Christian life, he would not have accomplished what the actual Beethoven did (one need only read the famous Maynard Solomon biography to see that Beethoven was no moral saint). The "John Galts" of the world are just a more prosperous example of the "self-interested cattle and mob" Nietzsche always derided.

Needless to say, Nietzsche also did not share Rand's sophomoric views about rationality and objectivity, but that is not usually where superficial readers find the putative link. And as to the Übermenschen, I refer the interested reader to an earlier discussion.
UPDATE: Robert Hockett (Cornell) writes:
I thought that this passage in the Rand book review was the most accurate of all:

"Rand's particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism -- to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished." (Fourth full para. at page 8.)

In short, she is the Lumpen-"philosopher" par excellence. My better half was asking me, just as I began to read this review aloud, what could possibly account for the popularity of this ridiculous woman. I hypothesized that it was the way in which she afforded a sort of vicarious self-flattery to narcissistic imbeciles. Then I began reading, and upon finding the just-quoted sentence, smiled with Randian self-satisfaction!
"I hypothesized that it was the way in which she afforded a sort of vicarious self-flattery to narcissistic imbeciles." (The boldface is in the original)

How can you limit the use of a metaphor or allegory, or the definition of "superman"?
From 2006, when Leiter and I were on better terms.
This is something I dropped into a note in a friendly exhange with Brian Leiter over the weekend
In the five lectures on psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by 'a condemning judgment'. He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother?"
Is the first louder and more nervous? More declarative? More cocksure?
I don't know but it's a question conceptualists can't answer. Concepts can't remove the need and the responsibility of individual judgment.
Individual judgment and the judgment of others. Whatever else Beethoven and Nietzsche wanted they wanted an audience. Their rhetorics of the absolute were grounded in the reciprocal relations of form and social life.  We judge ourselves and others do as well; if judgments diverge how do we know which one is right? Nietzsche never resolved that question and Leiter doesn't try.

What would offend Nietzsche is the bureaucratization of heroism. For evidence of the "vicarious self-flattery to narcissistic imbeciles" see the link a few lines up, and this, and any reference to Bourdieu on this blog, and any post tagged G.A. Cohen. A little bit of self-awareness here. Call it progress.

A post at Savage Minds on James Clifford and Writing Culture. The post and links mostly are painful to read.  It's important to ask why historians are the only scholars left in the humanities who negotiate the gaps between language and the world with any subtlety. Why would any historian feel the need to write a book like Clifford's? "History is an Art" may get you an argument but it won't raise any eyebrows.
The shock of Manet was the shock of shame and recognition. For Cezanne it was less publicly sexual and political but the same rule of recognition applies. His work continues the move away from representation and mimesis by limiting even further the reproduction of psychology, of the full personhood of his sitters. He reproduces shapes not character, at least not in comparison with those who came before him. There’s a lot to be said about Cezanne and representation. And what made his work bad when it was is almost as important in its way as what made it great when it was. Because he failed at something, and that failure was

consistent, making works that were both obscene and absurd. In a very real sense Cezanne began with kitsch, with grand intent—often violent—and overreach. But he turned to articulating what he could learn to articulate well: the space between ourselves and the objects around us. But again its down to specifics, since what he articulated was the space around himself and the objects around him and what we sense is his sense of the world through his use of the rhetoric of pigment on canvas. And again, against the logic of philosophic art and of intent it’s not a question of whether Cezanne was right or not. If he was right then about what? The basis of our interest in both Manet and Cezanne is that they describe their sensibilities, rather than merely indulging them. The most complex pleasure to be found in their paintings is not the pleasure of liking them—is not Roberta Smith’s pleasure of enthusiasm, of a simplified sense of identification—but the pleasure of asking: “Why?” The pleasure is in engaging something foreign brought close by something universal: technique in common form.

Manet and Cezanne may have both broken with the past but the breaks were minor compared with the ways in which they continued from it. The only way their contemporaries learned to understand them, the only way we understand them—the only we understand each other in daily life—is by a process of recognition: putting old forms and signs in new contexts. We may no longer feel the shock Manet’s contemporaries felt but the process is the same, the only difference being the additional distance of time.
The above is from the paper linked on the right of this page.

We like to assume things about our relations to those in front of us. We're closer to each other than we are to the dead; that's all.

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