Tag Archives: Nietzsche

Kant in film, and, the sexual lives of philosophers

Prompted by my previous post on Nietzsche in film, here is an interesting film on the life of Immanuel Kant, more particularly on his last days.

The film, Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant is based on The Last Days of Immanuel Kant by English writer Thomas De Quincey.

In the film, Kant approaches the end of his life, which is entirely punctuated by habits acquired over many years. The leaving of his butler Martin Lampe will upset this well planned routine.

In the scene above, Kant reads a letter asking for help. It is a letter by Maria von Herbert, sent in August 1791.

The letter was also mentioned in La vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant, about which I have written here.

Like so many philosophers, Kant was not sexually active. For all we know, Immanuel Kant died a virgin. I find this very interesting.

So did Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Genealogy of Morals he says on married philosophers:

“the philosopher shudders mortally at marriage, together with all that could persuade him to it—marriage as a fatal hindrance on the way to the optimum. Up to the present what great philosophers have been married? Heracleitus, Plato,Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Schopenhauer—they were not married, and, further, one cannot imagine them as married. A married philosopher belongs to comedy, that is my rule; as for that exception of a Socrates—the malicious Socrates married himself [to Xanthippe], it seems, ironice, just to prove this very rule.”

So did Jacques Derrida.

Asked what would he like to see in a documentary on a major philosopher, such as Hegel or Heidegger, Derrida replies he would want them to speak of their sexuality and ‘the part that love plays in their life’. He criticizes the dissimulation of such philosophers concerning their sex lives – ‘why have they erased their private life from their work?’

Nietzsche in film

I’ve taken an interest in biopics.

Researching Nietzsche I stumbled upon the film Beyond Good and Evil (1977) by Liliana Cavani, which follows the intense relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche, Lou Salome and Paul Rée.

The film features the scene in which Lou Salomé reins Nietzsche and Rée in front of her cart[1] (above) as well as the horse scene in Turin [2](Nietzsche saw a horse being flogged, embraced it and collapsed and lived ten more years in a vegetative state).

Another interesting film appears to be Days of Nietzsche in Turin[3], a 2001 Brazilian film.

Referring to the horse incident, the film The Turin Horse[4] asks “what happened to the horse?”.

In director Béla Tarr’s introductory words:

“In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Alberto. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, ‘Mutter, ich bin dumm!’ [‘Mother, I am stupid!’ in German] and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.”

See Friedrich_Nietzsche#Depictions

On Hegel

Portrait of Hegel by Jakob Schlesinger [1]

Sometimes it seems I have no opinion of my own. And I’m not even sure if I should mind.

Take the case of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831).

Last week I met with a philosophy professor who said that Hegel marks the dividing line between contemporary philosophy and modern philosophy and in the book I’m currently reading, Short History of the Shadow, Hegel’s Science of Logic is mentioned in the introduction.

So I’m wondering. What is my position vis-à-vis Hegel? Do I have a personal connection with him? I first check Jahsonic.com where, in 2006, I cited Hegel[2] with regards to the other, from a Simone de Beauvoir book.

Speaking of de Beauvoir, have you seen her gorgeous nude photo of Simone de Beauvoir?

I digress.

Next I try Google, I search for the string “Nietzsche and Hegel,”[3] because Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) is in my canon and I’d like to know what he thought of Hegel.


I find French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, also in my canon, who in Nietzsche and Philosophy says:

“There is no possible compromise between Hegel and Nietzsche” […]

Since I like both Nietzsche and Deleuze, must I conclude that I do not like Hegel? Or will have a hard time liking him?

Can I form my opinion based on the opinion of another person?

should do no such thing of course.

But I could if I wanted to.

And I can trust Nietzsche when he says Plato is boring, can’t I?

The castrated woman of Laura Mulvey

 Venus at the Opera (1844) by Grandville is the best illustration to the male gaze

Yesterday, a fascinating but notoriously obscurantist text became a little clearer. In the process I was reconciled to French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

My eldest daughter, now in her second year of theatre studies, is studying one of the texts that had for a long time baffled as much as fascinated me: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema[1], a 1970s film theory essay by Laura Mulvey.

Now, it is my belief that the most valuable philosophers are not always the most lucid ones. I agree with Emil Cioran: ‘between the demand to be clear, and the temptation to be obscure, impossible to decide which deserves more respect.’

Philosophers such as Georges Bataille (‘Eroticism … is assenting to life up to the point of death’) and Gilles Deleuze (‘flying anuses, speeding vaginas, there is no castration’) I’ve never fully understood, but I’ve always been fascinated by them and and felt that it was not impossible to reach some kind of comprehension of their texts, even if the explanation remained ambiguous.

However, Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure …” is so stooped in litcrit and psycrit jargon that it is almost unreadable. Key terms in the vocabulary of that essay are lack, castration, fetishism, voyeurism, gaze and scopophilia. So far so good. These are difficult terms to grapple with but not beyond comprehension (except for perhaps the Lacanian lack).

The trouble starts on the first line of the second paragraph:

“The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies.”

Castrated woman?

I start Googling.

I find the phrase ‘castrated woman’ in Spurs, Nietzsche’s Styles (1978), a work by Jacques Derrida in which one reads, toward the end:

He was, he dreaded this castrated woman.
He was, he dreaded this castrating woman.
He was, he loved this affirming woman.

So that’s were the notion of the ‘castrated woman’ comes from.

I continue my quest. I find a video[2] by American professor Rick Roderick who defends Derrida’s sense of humor.

I’ve never much cared for Derrida. I’m fond of many 20th century French philosophers but Derrida has been my least favorite and the most dislikeable ‘bums to be kissed by American academics’, to say it in Paglia’s words.

Nevertheless, the premise of Spurs is fascinating. In it, Derrida “imagines that Nietzsche left behind, among his many papers a little scrap of paper that says: “I forgot my umbrella”. Then Derrida goes through a long, complex way that an academic interpreter would try to fit this brilliant aphorism of Nietzsche’s into the body of his work. I mean, after all, it might just mean “I forgot my umbrella”, but on the other hand…”

I am reminded that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I’m happy with my philosophical detective work.

And I may just seek out that “I forgot my umbrella” book by Derrida.

Illustration: Venus at the Opera (1844, Grandville), perhaps the best illustration to the male gaze.

Kant’s disinterestedness

L’indifférent (1717) by Antoine Watteau

I’ve always been baffled by Kant’s notion of disinterestedness. And then I remembered that Nietzsche was just as baffled. Here is that passage from On the Genealogy of Morality:

Kant‘s famous definition of the beautiful. “That is beautiful,” says Kant, “which pleases without interesting.” Without interesting! Compare this definition with this other one [..] by Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. Here, at any rate, the one point which Kant makes prominent in the aesthetic position is repudiated and eliminated—le désinteressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?”


Nietzsche in Basel (c. 1875), a photo of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche in Basel, c. 1875

I just finished reading my first full work of philosophy: On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche from a to z.

I noticed Nietzsche’s liberal use of italic type, almost as if the text was meant for oration.

For example:

“To talk of intrinsic right and intrinsic wrong is absolutely nonsensical; intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, an exploitation, an annihilation can be nothing wrong, inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.” –tr. Horace B. Samuel

The above dictum echoes Marquis de Sade’s “cruelty, very far from being a vice, is the first sentiment Nature injects in us all,” both Sade and Nietzsche speaking of innate cruelty.

However, Nietzsche never read Sade.

Nietzsche’s writing is so appealing and so strong that form and content are indissoluble. I can’t imagine what his philosophy would have been like if he had been a bad writer.

Only minor point, towards the end, I got the impression that Nietzsche himself was the resentment-man.

Münchhausen, Nietzsche and the swamp of nothingness

Gustave Doré‘s caricature of Münchhausen [1] is one of the illustrations from  Les Aventures du Baron de Münchausen (1862), translated by  Théophile Gautier, fils.

It depicts the baron with a periwig, the socle of the bust bears the words “Mendace veritas,” Latin for “in falsehood, truth.”

It served as an inspiration to Terry Gilliam‘s film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to style John Neville as the baron [2].

To my surprise, the heroic feat in yesterday’s Tumblr post[3]Baron Münchhausen pulls himself out of a mire by his own hair, is mentioned in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil:

“The desire for “freedom of will,” […] the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, […] involves nothing less than […] to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the slough of nothingness. (sich selbst aus dem Sumpf des Nichts an den Haaren ins Dasein zu ziehn).”

See also Bust (sculpture)PeriwigFriedrich Nietzsche and free will.