IN PRAISE OF THE APOLLONIAN

By Richard Mather…

In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of reason, light and order, while Dionysus is the god of wine, intoxication and ritual madness. Many philosophers and writers have invoked the Apollonian and Dionysian. Nietzsche, of course, employed the concept in The Birth of Tragedy.

In the literary and philosophical sense, the Apollonian represents individuality, and celebrates creativity through reason and logic. The Dionysian appeals to the emotions and instincts, and is an ecstatic glorification of oneness in which individuality is submerged. The concept is still current. American humanities scholar Camille Paglia writes about the Apollonian and Dionysian in her 1990 bookSexual Personae. She argues that there is a biological basis to the Apollonian-Dionysian binary: “The quarrel between Apollo and Dionysus is the quarrel between the higher cortex and the older limbic and reptilian brains.”

According to Nietzsche, the Apollonian, which is expressed through the arts of painting and sculpture, represents the world as representation (in the Schopenhauerian sense). In contrast, the Dionysian is more attuned to the cruel realities of existence and is expressed through exhilarating music and dancing. The Dionysian is akin to Schopenhauer’s notion of the Will or thing-in-itself, the underlying (and malignant) principle and energy that drives all observable phenomena.

Nietzsche believed that both the Apollonian and the Dionysian were at work in Greek tragedy. According to Nietzsche, the best Greek tragedy had the tragic hero struggling to make order (the Apollonian) out of chaotic existence (Dionysian). The modern human is encouraged to recapture the spirit of the Greeks by finding a balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian forces in their own life.

Still, it must be said that Nietzsche leans favorably towards the Dionysian principle. Dionysian existence, says Nietzsche, seeks to affirm life, whether in pain or pleasure. In other words, he calls for an enthusiastic Dionysian “yes” to life.

In object-oriented ontology (OOO), there is no underlying principle called the Will or thing-in-itself. There is no underlying or transcendent being. There are just objects. As such, the notion of an underlying Dionysian principle which swallows up individuality is redundant. The Apollonian, however, celebrates individuality, order, form and sculpture, and is therefore much closer to the object-oriented philosopher’s focus on the individual thing.

It is interesting that early 20th century Modernist writers also celebrated the importance of the thing in poetry. Ezra Pound called for a hard, masculine poetry instead of the amorphous romanticism of the 19th century. According to Pound and his fellow Imagists, poetry ought to be about the “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.”

Perhaps the most famous poetic dictum is “no ideas but in things. ” This is a quote from Pound’s contemporary William Carlos Williams:

Say it, no ideas but in things–
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!

(Paterson: Book I)

There are only objects, only forms. Each object is a “sculpture” in its own right, worthy of philosophical and aesthetic appreciation. There is no melting of individual objects into some kind of universal and amorphous Dionysian principle. Dismantling the Dionysian-Apollonian dichotomy releases the Apollonian from the limited role of individual object as mere appearance or phenomena. The Apollonian – without the metaphysical baggage of the Dionysian – is free to be concrete and real.

As an avid reader of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, I find it stimulating to think of the “world” in Apollonian terms. But, in truth, I could do away with the notion of the Apollonian. Why? Because it is impossible to extend my finger toward something and say, “ah, that is the Apollonian.” No, I can only point at objects – a rose, a rock, a raven. I could dismantle the rose and see more objects – a petal, a stem, a thorn.

In other words, it’s objects everywhere I look.

WHAT IS FLAT POETICS?

By Richard Mather…

Flat poetics is derived from a recent development in metaphysical philosophy called object-oriented philosophy, also known as object-oriented ontology.

Object-oriented ontology is anthrodecentric and anti-correlationist. It radically challenges the Kantian (and post-Kantian) human–world correlate. Objects do not merely exist in relation to humans but are ontologically concrete and worthy of investigation in and of themselves.

To put it another way, humans are not the sole clearing space for Being (in the Heideggerean sense). All objects exist equally and exist regardless of whether a human or another object relates to it.

There is, of course, a subtle difference between saying that things equally exist and things exist equally. Levi R. Bryant uses the analogy of the sun and a coffee cup:

Both the sun and my coffee mug equally exist, but it is not the case that they exist equally. In terms of its range of effects, the sun has a far more extensive impact on other objects than my coffee cup. Both entities are, but it is not the case that both entities affect other entities to the same degree. […] [F]lat ontology is not a prescriptive thesis or a moral thesis. […] [I]t is not the moral call to treat all beings as equal. These are ontological matters, not ethical matters.

There is no split between the human subject and the “world.” Ontologically speaking, humans are one type of object among many. Flat poetics downplays the ontological priority of human consciousness and human perception. Therefore it is senseless to divide the world into subject and object or activity and passivity. And it goes without saying that object-oriented philosophers reject the Cartesian dualism of mind and body, as well as the concepts of God and soul.

The dismantling of the human-world or subject-object correlate means that the relation of humans to objects – whether they be daffodils, laptops, pebbles and atoms – is no different than the kind of physical interaction between an object and another object. There is no vertical chain-of-being with God or man at the top and quarks at the bottom. Rather, objects are horizontally spread out so that there is no top, bottom or even middle object. A star, a human, a plank of wood and an atom could be placed next to each other without any sense of priority or significance.

Flat poetics is not anti-human, nor does it ignore humans. Instead, flat poetics argues that humans are among being, not at the pinnacle of being. However, since it is impossible for a human to comprehend what it is like to be a cat or a pebble or a daffodil, it would be foolish (and perhaps arrogant) to write poetry from the view of these objects. Indeed, writing a poem about the interior life of a pebble would be impossible. The human mind is not a virtual reality machine in which objects can be recreated in all their fullness. According to Graham Harman, objects “hide” from each other and from humans. Objects are withdrawn from each other in the sense that they do not reveal themselves fully to other objects. Their essence (if we can use such a word) is inexhaustible and can never be fully comprehended (not even by the object itself).

When writing about things, the poet should remember that a shard of glass, for example, is composed of other objects, e.g. atoms, and that each atom is an object in its own right. Simultaneously, the poet must not be under the illusion that a shard of glass is simply a collections of atoms. No, the shard of glass is as real as the individual atom and the individual atom is as real as the shard of glass. The autonomy of the object – whether it be glass or atom – is paramount. To quote Harman, “we have a universe made up of objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects”; furthermore, “every object is both a substance and a complex of relations.” There is no ontological priority.

On a final note, flat poetics rejects the Kantian and Schopenhauerian notion of the thing-in-itself, which reduces individual things to a single underlying thing or process. There is no ultimate reality underlying things. At the other end of the scale, flat poetics rejects the assumption that objects are simply appearances or phenomena perceived by the human brain.

To recap, flat poetics rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. Humans are still important but no more important – ontologically speaking – than a mote of dust or a rock. But remember just because things equally exist, it does not necessarily mean that things exist equally. Flat poetics is about ontology, not ethics.

UK VISIT TO IRAN ONLY EMBOLDENS TEHRAN

The decision by a group of British parliamentarians to meet with top Iranian officials is another sign that London is foolishly attempting to restore diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Earlier this week, Jack Straw, who was British Foreign Secretary when the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He was joined by three other British MPs, including Norman Lamont, who held the post of Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government during the early 1990s. It is likely that a reciprocal visit to London by Iranian MPs will take place in the near future.

The visit comes a month after the UK’s newly appointed chargé d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, journeyed to Iran in a first diplomatic visit by a British envoy since London extracted staff from Tehran after the storming of its embassy in November 2011. Sharma is on record as saying he is “very much looking forward to renewing direct UK contact with the Iranian Government.”

All of which confirms the view that Britain and the West are trying to rehabilitate Iran in the wake of an international agreement regarding Tehran’s nuclear policy. In addition to America’s diplomatic work, the British delegation is the fourth visit by European politicians since Hassan Rouhani took office in August. In November, David Cameron and Rouhani spoke on the phone. The last time a British prime minister had direct contact with an Iranian leader was a decade ago.

The Tehran trip can hardly be compared to the enthusiastic overtures made by London towards Beijing in recent months. David Cameron and other top UK politicians have been wooing China for some time in a desperate attempt to attract Chinese money into Britain’s ailing economy. Still, the all-party parliamentary expedition to Tehran and the diplomatic desire to restore relations is yet another sign that London is willing to work with regimes that have bad human rights records.

Iran is a dangerous country – not just to its Jewish and Arab neighbors but to the world at large. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies see the West’s rapprochement with Iran as a deliberate political and diplomatic realignment. Iran’s gradual rehabilitation should be seen in the broader context of the West’s inability to deal with Tehran’s genocidal intentions towards Israel, as well as its vicious proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. It’s beginning to look like a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” First, Bashar al-Assad is let off the hook after attacking his own people with chemical weapons. Then sanctions against Iran are relieved. And if a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai is to be believed, there is now a diplomatic backchannel between the UK and Hezbollah.

The West’s appeasement of Iran and her proxies has obvious echoes of Britain’s misplaced appeasement of Hitler at the end of the 1930s. Neville Chamberlain has gone down in history as the man who was duped by the Fuhrer. Will Obama and Cameron be castigated by future historians for failing to stop the world’s most dangerous regime? In all likelihood, the answer is yes. Indeed, the West’s leaders already look weak and silly. Russia, Iran and Syria have successfully wrongfooted the West and have changed the political and diplomatic climate in a surprisingly short space of time. Britain and the US, on the other hand, have been on the backfoot and are now trying to save face by reformulating relations with Tehran.

The rehabilitation of Iran has echoes of Britain’s reconciliation with Libya, a pariah state since the end of the 1960s. But in the 1990s the relationship between the UK and Libya improved, with events culminating in Tony Blair’s declaration of a “new relationship” with Colonel Gaddafi in December 2003. The fact that Gaddafi was behind one of the worst terrorist attacks ever perpetrated against the West (the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988) was conveniently forgotten. I can foresee a time when Iran is similarly reconciled to the West.

Should Israel be worried? Yes, because the budding Iran-West rapprochement not only isolates Israel, it actually makes war in the Middle East far more likely. Iran will be emboldened by the US and UK’s overtures and (in all probability) will continue its nuclear program. Meanwhile an exhausted West will relax sanctions in the full knowledge that a nuclear Iran is inevitable.

Israel, though, is hardly likely to allow Iran to go nuclear and will take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites (possibly with Saudi Arabia’s tacit blessing) This may happen next year; perhaps 2016 or 2017. Binyamin Netanyahu has already promised that Israel “will act against [Iran] in time if need be.”

If attacked, Tehran will play the role of victim and appeal to the West. Having made their peace with Iran, the UK and the US will find themselves in the absurd position of condemning Israel for making the world a safer place. In the long run, however, Israel’s actions might be viewed more positively. The Jewish state was widely criticized by the international community after it destroyed a nuclear reactor south of Baghdad in 1981. But fast forward two decades and Operation Babylon is viewed in a better light. Bill Clinton, for example, used an interview in 2005 to express his support for the attack, describing it as “a really good thing.”

Israel must view the Iran situation with a long lens and act accordingly. As a Brit I can only apologize for my country’s inability to see Iran for the dangerous bully that it really is.