Thursday, March 23, 2017

Virginia Woolf: Nietzsche on the fainting couch

Is there a more absurd progressive icon in the Age of Intersectionality?

The Unbearable Burden of Being a Special Snowflake

G. K. Chesterton:

Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of of vices; but it is the most unpardonable of virtues. Nietzsche, who represents most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description somewhere-- a very powerful description in a purely literary sense-- of the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common people with their common faces, common voices, and their common minds. As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche's aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog, humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.
In our age, Nietzsche is no longer the most prominent exemplar of the pretentious claims of fastidiousness. That honor has to belong to Virginia Woolf.

Nietzsche had to hide his weakness as he paraded his “disgust and disdain” for humanity; the Ubermensch can’t very well be a trembling, feverish invalid. Woolf, on the other hand, pulled off a feat of daring rhetorical jujutsu: She justified her Will to Power with her weakness and “oppression.”

As Theodore Dalrymple points out, the great theme of Woolf’s work can be summarized as “How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved.”

Woolf’s solipsistic whining is absurd when examined in the hard light of reason. Yet it is irresistible academic catnip for Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Intellectual-Yet-Idiots.


Her historiography was very modern: she scoured the records to justify the backward projection of her current resentments. For her, there was no such thing as the human condition, with its inevitable discontent and limitations. She thought that all the things she desired were reconcilable, so that freedom and security, for example, or artistic effort and complete selflessness, might abide in perpetual harmony. As a female member of the British upper middle class and one of what she called “the daughters of educated men,” she felt both socially superior to the rest of the world and peculiarly, indeed uniquely, put upon. The very locution, “the daughters of educated men,” is an odd one, capturing her oscillation between grandiosity and self-pity: she meant by it that class of women who, by virtue of their gentle birth and hereditarily superior minds, could not be expected to perform physical labor of any kind, but who were prevented by the injustice of “the system” from participating fully in public and intellectual affairs.

For those who actually know anything about the hardships endured by the British working class, male and female, during the years of the Depression, statements that insinuate an equality, or even a superiority, of suffering on the part of the daughters of educated men are little short of nauseating: but they would clearly appeal to the pampered resentful, a class that was to grow exponentially in the postwar years of sustained prosperity.

Had Mrs. Woolf survived to our time, however, she would at least have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mindshallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutalhad triumphed among the elites of the Western world.
I think Dalrymple cut to the heart of the matter here:

It comes as no surprise that a thinker (or perhaps I should say a feeler) such as Mrs. Woolf, with her emotional and intellectual dishonesty, should collapse all relevant moral distinctions, a technique vital to all schools of resentment. Time and again we find her misappropriating the connotation of one thing and attaching it to another, by insinuating a false analogy: that since both the British policeman and the Nazi stormtrooper wore a uniform, the British policeman was a brute. It is one of the chief characteristics of modern rhetoric, designed not so much to find the truth as (in the words of former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam) to “maintain your rage.”
This explains Woolf’s “thinking” (and by “explain” I guess I mean “demolish and destroy”) while also helping us to see why she has become an icon to the “pampered resentful class”, the special snowflakes who make up the I-Y-Is. “Maintain the rage” becomes “righteous indignation” and that fire is vital to modern intellectuals:

From the outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseperable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down on the rest of humanity. And it did not cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: 'Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity
Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up


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