Monday, September 28, 2015

Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism

Though born Alphonse Levée, and called Brother Elias by his fellow monastics, the author of Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism identifies himself as 'A Monk of the West'. This is an act of defiance against the 'cult of personality' that defines the modern academic environment; it is first and foremost a statement of anonymity that evinces the writer's earnest motive to put 'theory into practise'. It is a traditional act insofar as his work is accomplished not by Alphonse Levée, born in Paris in the year 1911, but by his inner vocation: '[It] is not inasmuch as he is ''such and such a person'' that the artifex produces his work, but inasmuch as he fulfils a certain ''function'' that is properly ''organic'' and not ''mechanical"' (René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 64).

It is not coincidental that we quote Guénon here, for this entire endeavour is in no small part indebted
to the French metaphysician. Throughout the 20th Century there was no philosopher or theologian more committed to both the inner conciliation of East and West, and to the intellectual reorientation of the West through the rediscovery of her traditional principles. In Guénon's view this would take place through an authentic understanding of Eastern ideas: 'In the first period it is by the study of Eastern doctrines, more than by any other means, that those who are destined to belong to this elite will be able to develop and acquire in themselves pure intellectuality, since they cannot possibly find it in the West. It is also only by this study that they will be able to learn what a traditional civilization is in its various elements, for it is only a knowledge as direct as possible that has any value in such a case, and there is no place for mere book-learning, which is of no use by itself for the end that we have in view' (René Guénon, East and West, pp. 145-6). It is this 'elite' to which A Monk of the West belongs, and, inspired by Guénon, his studies of Eastern spirituality have compelled him to seek their concordance with Christianity, the tradition of the West.

An additional reason for Brother Elias electing anonymity is to emphasize his subordinate position in the ecclesial hierarchy, as well as in the intellectual domain itself. He repeats on several occasions the fact that his thoughts are hardly authoritative: '[We] do not have the authority to make final judgments in these matters, and we now leave the last word to judges of greater competence and authority' (A Monk of the West, Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism, p. 136). This text is indeed nothing more than a speculative insight into possible fundamental agreements between Christianity and Advaita Vedanta, and there is no pretense as to it being otherwise. The thoughts and the opinions of the author are properly relegated to the realm of the layman, and not to official sacral positions.

That is, however, no reason to discount them. Indeed, given the present crisis of the Church and its swift falling away from knowledge of itself, the studies of a layman, provided that they are performed in the appropriate manner and with the right mentality, might even be considered to be of greater value than something produced by more conventional channels. In any case, or rather in the present case, Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism (CDND) is an exquisite example of a private study that nevertheless recognizes its subordinate place in the greater scheme of things; it is intuitive, erudite, insightful, poetic at times, but above all this text is respectful of higher knowledge, final authority, and of the near certainty that it does not and will not have the last word.

CDND is essentially organized around four or five main metaphors, and it is around these that we shall conceive of this review's remainder. To begin, however, it will be necessary to revisit a basic principle in order to fully understand what follows. God is perfect Being; that is to say, God is wholly Being, which means that nothing outside of God has full existence; instead, everything outside of God has only partial existence insofar as everything outside of God has only partial Being (namely the part it receives from God, from sharing in His nature). This is due to the fact that anything that goes out from God goes into the void of Becoming, and thereby ceases to be fully divine; if God went into the void and remained fully Himself there would be no creation, for there would simply be God, uncreated and universal. Creation presupposes a diminution of divinity, for creation in itself has no Being of its own (and thus can only offer a lack or a want). This means that everything that exists is borne purely of God, the First Cause, even actions which we might ignorantly consider our own:

'The creature does not belong to himself, but all save the intelligent creature are ignorant of this. We emphasize: this is true first of all of his free acts in themselves which are certainly personal and responsible acts, but in no way being his own acts, being also - we should say being first - acts of God, the universal First Cause. In reality I have as my own only the interior act by which I adhere to evil recognized as such.... It is nonetheless true that God does everything because evil as such has no being, and "everything that happens is worthy of adoration".' (Ibid, p. 15)
'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.' (Matthew 10:29)

God is real; evil is unreal. The only acts that are properly our own are those which are evil, because they are not acts of God; if they were good acts they would belong to God. We can see already, then, that our means of attaining realness, of attaining being, is through acting like God. When we act like God, we become like God, and by becoming like God we become more real. Conversely, when we act viciously, we act more like 'ourselves', i.e., like persons divorced from God - 'independent', but only in the sense that we derive and base our actions in a lesser, polluted source. In the end, however, because we are made in the 'Image of God', when we act like God we are more truly ourself: 'True man is actually relative to the Creator-Agent, and this actuality of the relationship which places him in existence, makes him essentially an image of God' (CDND, p. 16). Etienne Gilson likewise says, 'Image - the greater man's resemblance, the more he is himself'. This is because at the heart of man is the thing which created us - God's love. The more we become like the Creator, the more we become like the creature we are made to be.

The first metaphor that the monk introduces us to is that of the sun reflecting on the water. The essential idea of this is not dissimilar to that of Plato's cave, namely that the true reality is only vaguely reproduced in sensible impressions, viz., via the shadows on the wall or the reflections on the water. The first point that the author dwells on, however, is that the images on the water are not unreal in themselves, but only in relation to the sun which creates them; it is true that they are not the final form and the first cause, that they are but a secondary product of something superior, and yet they are nevertheless existing by virtue of that superior source:

'As the reflection of the sun in the water is illusory with regard to the real sun although in itself is a real reflection, so the contingent being is illusory with regard to real (divine) Being although in itself it is a real contingent being.... Just as the reflection of the sun is at once real and illusory, so contingent being is both real and illusory. If we attempted to isolate the image from the object and to reduce it to itself, it would immediately cease to be, since it is solely the actual relationship to the real object which makes it a real reflection.... Thus the world understood as the totality of existents is simultaneously reality and illusion (māyā), reality in itself, illusion with regard to the Supreme Reality in which everything that has any reality participates and without which there is nothing whatsoever. It must be understood, however, that nothing is illusory in itself. The illusion is entirely in the one who takes the reflection for the sun in itself, or the world for Reality; Illusion is Ignorance.' (Ibid, pp. 17-8)

The things which we see using our senses are therefore not unreal - they are there by virtue of their participation in the Real. They are only unreal in relation to the divine archetypes which they reflect visibly, materially, and the only illusion possible is when we take their material forms for their final forms. This is moreover true a fortiori of man himself: illusory in regard to the Supreme Reality, from which all his being proceeds, but real in regard to himself (by virtue of that being proceeding from the Supreme Reality). He is not the Divine, but he is made of the Divine. There is nevertheless a principal difference between man and other existents, namely that he is called for something higher; he is called to be the Supreme Reality:

'[Man] is directly called to union (yoga) wherein the Delivered (mukta) realizes or, more precisely, verifies - for there is no change - the illusory or entirely dependent character of his existence, "having no other being of its own than this dependence" of the human individual vis-à-vis the Supreme Self (Paramātmā), which is true and total Being. Rather, it is Beyond Being, entirely free from every condition of limitative determination whatsoever: He alone is who is the very Being of Himself and of all beings, Deity beyond Being.' (Ibid., pp. 19-20)

The real Being, therefore, is even beyond Being, for Being presupposes some kind of limitative delineation, even if a purely intellectual and metaphysical one. The real Being is beyond even that, for the real Being is Ātmā, the Self which transcends the personal, creator God (Brahmā) and whose only likeness is the supreme, uncreated God (Brahma):

'Neither the higher intellect (buddhi), nor the mental (manas), nor the sense of self... none of these is the Self. Strictly speaking, it should be said that Ātmā is nothing, nothing that can be perceived, nothing that can be conceived or known in any manner whatsoever. Like Brahma, Ātmā is "Non-Being", which is not to say "nothingness", but, on the contrary... we would be tempted to say that Ātmā is what escapes determination altogether, including the first determination which is that of pure Being itself. Ātmā is beyond all perception, conception, or experience in general, beyond all things implying subject and object; beyond all existence and essence, even beyond pure Being, as we said, and therefore beyond Unity, with which Being is coextensive; in short, beyond God (Ishvara or Brahmā).' (Ibid. p.42)

This does not render the 'creator, personal God' (Brahmā) unnecessary, from a religious point of view or otherwise; infact, Brahmā is pivotal for the worshiper, constrained as he is by the existence necessitated by māyā and its nebulous and imprecise forms. The devotion to Brahmā (called the 'divine energies' by Eastern orthodoxy and 'God' by Meister Eckhart) signifies a devotion to Brahma (called the 'divine essence' and the 'Godhead' by the same) in his personal, apparent aspect; it is necessary to venerate and submit to something personal insofar as it is impossible to do the same for the impersonal. It is moreover by the awareness of distinctions that we perfect our knowledge of the lack of inner distinctions:

'If you want to know the Absolute, invoke this Brahman with attributes who hears your prayers, and it is He who will make you know the Absolute. For He who is Brahman with attributes is also Brahma without attributes. Distinctions make for the perfection of knowledge.' (Ramakrishna, L'Enseignment, no. 1262)
The second main metaphor is one of the most familiar in the Vedic tradition, namely that of the rope and the serpent, where the rope is confused for a rope by a man in ignorance: 'The rope is supposed to be the snake only so long as the mistake lasts, and there is no more illusion when the snake vanishes' (Sankara, Vivekachudamani, v. 197). The principal idea of the metaphor is similar to the previous one, viz., it shows reality to be twofold: the one part which is Supreme and the part which is only a semblance of the Supreme, the part that we experience 'ordinarily', 'sensibly'. The rope is Brahman, the underlying reality, and the snake is the mundane reality - which only exists because of our illusion as to the real nature of what we experience.

Initially this may sound dualistic - which seems to be a contradiction considering that advaita means 'not dual'. This is easily cleared up, however, when we consider that that second part, the 'serpent', is just an illusion, which has no existence of its own. Its being is facile, and totally dependent on a confusion between real and not-real. The rope is Brahman, and as such it is the only thing that is real, and how can the only thing that is real have a true opposite? Anything that is unreal cannot rightly said to be anything - it is simply illusion and void. There is only one thing that exists, which is God, possessor and purveyor of Being:

'Again, what is God? That without which nothing exists. It is as impossible for anything to exist without Him as it is for Him to exist without Himself: He is to Himself as He is to everything, and thus, in a certain way, He alone is who is the very Being of Himself and of everything.' (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, De consideratione, v, 6, 13) 

This is naturally the source of the accusations of Vedanta's 'pantheism', something that Brother Elias pays a lot of attention to in refuting it. There is a much more intricate and involved argument employed in his work, but the basic idea comes down to a semantic confusion, or how we understand the term. In the sense that the word 'pantheism' (all-god) simply means that God is all, there is no problem, no suspicion of heresy, and even no discordance between Vedanta and traditional Christian theology; as we have already seen, God really is all, because God is pure Being, and outside of God there is necessarily something that is not as real as He is: 'By what could Brahma be hidden since nothing other than Brahma exists?' (Sankara, Vivekachudamani, v. 570) And: 'He who would add the entire world to God would have nothing more than if he had God alone. Without God all creatures have no more being than a midge; without God, exactly as much, neither more nor less' (Meister Eckhart, Omne datum optimum). On the other hand. if we understand pantheism to mean that 'God is everywhere' in the sense that we impart things that have no ontological value with the quality of being 'divine', then we are indeed adopting the false, heretical doctrine, for that would assume that māyā has a divinity and a reality that proceeds from herself. In assigning the nebulous and the mundane with a wholly divine quality we are subject to a grave error of ignorance, of confusing the natural with the supernatural; we are infact guilty of confusing the rope for the serpent.

The third metaphor is that of the man looking at himself in the mirror. He sees two forms, both himself and his reflection, but of course realizes they are but one. This is to convey the truth that the 'Delivered while living' (jivan-mukta) knows that 'the "produced beings" have no other reality than that which is communicated by Himself, which [is] an exact expression of the doctrine of cosmic Illusion...' (CDND, p. 95). This is again touching on familiar ground: the forms we see around us are but the reflections of something interior, beyond the sensible domain; the divine archetypes are produced in this world as though it were a mirror, reflecting them back, albeit in new, inferior shapes.

The second part of this metaphor is utilized to illustrate the perspective of God (Ishvara) in his creative function. In contrast to the prior two metaphors, where the observer or the participant was 'deluded' and belonged to the domain of the reflection, in this situation the observer is identified with the object in itself, that is to say, the real object, while the exterior is the plane upon which the secondary reality presents itself. God the Producer can therefore perceive the divine objects not in themselves, as they exist inside of him, but as reflected in a different arena; his divinity is promulgated into a new, external sphere where it takes on the diverse (and not unwelcome) forms of materiality:

'God (al-Haqq) wished to see the essences (a'yān) of His most perfect Names... in an all encompassing object which, being endowed with existence, epitomizes the entire divine order thereby manifesting His mystery to Himself. For the vision that a being has of itself in itself is not the same as that provided by another reality which serves it as a mirror. There it manifests itself in the form determined by the "place" of the vision; the latter would not exist without the "plane of reflection" and the ray that is reflected therein.' (Ibn 'Arabi, Sagesse des Prophetes)

The fourth and final metaphor is likewise constituent of two parts, both of which revolve around the image of the 'dreamer'. When we sleep, we dream, and in dreams we imagine an artificial world, a world which might share characteristics with the real world but one which is nevertheless false - it is an illusion. At the same time, however, we project things which are true into this world; the dream, in Jung's words, 'is a series of images, which are apparently contradictory and nonsensical, but arise in reality from psychologic material' (Psychology of the Unconscious). The dream is unreal, but it is informed by things which are real. It is thus a powerful metaphor for the nature of māyā, of the mundane. There are moreover two types of dreamers: the one who is unaware that he is dreaming and the one who is aware. The first is of course deluded, and as such he 'imputes the nature of the ego to the Self, just as the sleeper identifies himself with only one of the mental forms of his dream to the exclusion of others' (CDND, p. 97). This type is caught in his own projected reality, completely ignorant of its falseness and what lies behind it. The second type, the one who is aware of the fact that he is dreaming, is certainly not 'deluded' insofar as he has realized the transitory, secondary nature of the dream. The second dreamer 'is in the situation of the man who looks at his own image in a mirror knowing that the image is "he", with the difference that here the "forms" that are viewed, instead of being exterior and sensible, are interior and mental' (Ibid. p. 97). He has realized that the things which he sees in the dream are merely impressions of his own inner state; he is like the God (al-Haqq) of Ibn 'Arabi's description, extending his essential nature into an exterior plane.

The second type is nevertheless still caught in a limited dimension insofar as he remains immersed inside a world of his own production. There is something higher yet, namely the dimension of unlimited freedom, which we enter into when we wake up. Once the dream ends, the whole array of false images and disparate narratives comes to an end, leaving the individual with reality as it really is: 'It is only when he is fully awake that the images dissipate and only the pure Self remains, free, unconditioned, unlimited, as in reality it has always been. All distinctions will then be extinguished. For Him, henceforth identified with the Supreme (Parabrahma), there will be neither "outside" nor "inside", neither "Producer "(Brahmā), nor "produced", neither "Creator" nor "creatures", neither "Truth" nor "illusion", neither "Liberation" nor "servitude", under their aspects of distinct realities, but only THAT, the Supreme, totally unlimited' (Ibid. p. 97). Upon waking, like Plato's philosopher emerging from the cave, the shadows disappear, and the viewer beholds only himself: 'Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes' (C.G. Jung). His reality has been transformed from something transient and illusory to the Ultimate Reality wherein all things are indistinct windows looking right into God. There is no longer anything intermediate; there is only you and God, both become one: 'It is therefore by his incorporation in Christ and his participation in the Paschal mystery that man would receive the possibility of verifying the Supreme Identity in his person' (CDND, p. 117).

That is the fundamental message of this astute and extremely useful text, namely to illustrate how essentially the same metaphysical insight is shared across traditions, from Shankara to Plato to Ss. Paul and Thomas Aquinas. There is also, however, a more muted but equally important message, one which is sent to our own troubled tradition, that of modernity and the crisis of contemporary existence, of which Brother Elias accuses of having neglected God's wisdom for man's hubris: 'Blinded by the separative illusion, we attempt to make man's world closed and autonomous, but one which nevertheless continues to exist, as if a room could still retain the light of the sun for a single instant within its closed walls after the shutters had been closed! The world is not "autonomous", but "theonomous", God-governed. Whether man in his profane blindness knows this or not, changes nothing. Nothing escapes the sovereign domain of God' (CDND, p. 124). Our humanistic pride has assumed that reality proceeds from our own nature or that of the physical world, but, as we have seen, these are but fragments of the ultimate reality, the being and beyond being which sustains all life; they are shadows of the real world, the eternal, infinite, and absolute hypostasis that subsists at the root of everything. We might describe it as sat-chit-ananda or as the most perfect Love (1 Corinthians 13:7), but the essence is the same, and it is one which we, the global community, have as a whole forgotten. This final excerpt, which is reminiscent of Guénon's mission, suggests how our Western civilization might rediscover our roots, namely by curing our amnesia through the revelation that Western and Eastern wisdom have a common source:

'If the closing twentieth century has been that of "socialization" and "technicization", may corroborating indications lead us to think that the first century of the third millenium may be, at least for some, of whom the number is growing, that of the quest for lost identity. Is it not precisely this which explains why contemporary young people with their "hunger for the absolute" (which, although too often mixed with elements that are more than suspect, is undeniably characteristic of them), turn so readily toward the non-Christian east to try to discover what Christianity no longer, or seems no longer, to offer them? Is not one of the most notable services which the Orient could render Christianity today, to oblige it to return to its own center instead of seeming to wish to dilute its identity in a hollow and vacuous world where all interiority, all solitude, all silence, all recollection have been banished?' (CDND, pp. 124-5)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love Loses: The False Union of Sodomitical Sex

Disclaimer: We are writing this short, introductory article on Love and its subversion by the modern ethos not because we are 'disappointed' or in any way scandalized by the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage; we accept this event as something of an inevitability, a kind of 'symbol' in Spengler's meaning of the ever-hastening decay of Western Civilization. We have long come to terms with the fallenness of the West and, save for the intervention of supernatural sources, with the impossibility of its salvation or the retrieval of its earlier health. We are simply using this event as an excuse to proliferate an essential critique of homosexual perversions, to investigate how the phenomenon of gay marriage symbolizes or indeed epitomizes the modern weltanschauung, and finally to reinforce the traditional, supramoral perspective on Love.

Secondly, while we understand the definition of sodomy to be every sexual act that is not conducive to procreation, we will be using it to refer exclusively to the sex acts waged between the same sex. This is because, while certainly masturbation, fellatio, and especially anal sex between a man and a woman are perversions, acts performed between members of the same sex are particularly devious deviations from the normal order and thus most representative of what we will be speaking about: it is the sin of sodomy between men, after all, that 'cries out to Heaven for vengeance'.


'Here is the key to all the metaphysics of sex: Through the Dyad toward the Unity.' ~Julius Evola

To really understand something physical we must understand the metaphysical. Man in his original, higher form is a sexually undifferentiated being. His ontological state in this primordial perfection is one of absolute unity, possessing within him both male and female principles coherently organized and whole in themselves. It is only as a result of being in creation, of participating in the world of regeneration where things are characterized by their multiplicity and duality rather than their unity or oneness, that male and female forms eventuated: 'Brought low by the gulf of his sin, man suffered the division of his nature into masculine and feminine, and because he was unwilling to use the heavenly mode of propagation, a just judgment reduced him to animal-like and corruptible multiplicity, consisting of male and female' (John Scotus Eriugena, De Divisione Naturae). The Fall mythologized in Genesis depicts the descent of originally integrated man into two separate beings who, while certainly able to recreate after a fashion their former unity through mutual love, are nevertheless doomed to continually engender separated beings through their copulation. This unending division of man represents his division from God, whose likeness man in his wholeness bears:

'God created his image and likeness in a single man.  Adam was a man and also a woman... for God did not in the beginning make man and woman, he did not create them at the same time, because the life in which the two properties of masculine and feminine are united in one, constitutes man in the image of God.' (Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum)
Man and woman are therefore two halves of a whole, dissociated from one another in every conceivable way. They are as two opposite poles on a metaphysical spectrum, with the principle of masculinity standing for creativity and leadership while that of femininity stands for fertility and submission: 'The male represents the specific form; the female represents the matter, being passive insofar as she is female, whereas the male is active' (Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium). In 'ordinary reality', i.e., the realm of multiplicity, these two poles constitute a Dyad that defines all material creation; this duality is expressed symbolically, such as the sun and the element of fire symbolizing maleness while the moon and the element of water symbolize femaleness.

This extends to all traditional metaphysics; just as the Western peripatetic schools considered form as masculine and matter as feminine, the Vedic system comprehended purusha (spirit) as masculine and prakriti (nature) as feminine. In the Upanishads, purusha is the immaterial creative principle which expresses itself through prakriti, the mutable material; and in the Tantras the principled, motionless entity is the god Shiva, whose 'emanation' in the Blakean sense is the goddess Shakti, who orbits Shiva and allows his hypostatic nature to manifest itself in creation. In 'The Great Treatise', one of the main commentaries of the I Ching, the same formula is expressed thusly: 'The male acts according to the way of the creative, whereas the female operates according to the way of the receptive' (T Chuan, I, s. 4). From the Hellenic and Roman rituals that associated masculinity with fire and femininity with water to the Kabbalah concepts of dubrah and nubkah (God and his Shekinah), every traditional metaphysic intuited the same fundamental reality: the male is creative and the female is receptive, and together they are necessary for the sustenance of life as we know it. They are two parts of one whole (hence the hermaphroditic Shiva, Ardhanarishvara, who represents the synthetic whole of Shiva and Shakti).

The concept of yin and yang is an especially useful example in that it precisely explains the interdependence of the male and female principles and the necessity of their union. Again, all reality is conditioned and conceived in terms of male and female, yang and yin: 'All phenomena, form, beings, and changes of the universe are considered at the level of various encounters and combinations of the yin and yang.... From their dynamic aspect yang and yin are opposed but also complementary forces. The light and the sun have a yang quality, whereas shadow and moon have a yin quality' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). Male and female belong to the same order of ideas as virility and fertility, activity and passivity, spirit and nature; they are all analogous to one another, each representing in a different form what the others also represent. They essentially represent the principle duality that intrudes upon all created reality; they represent what the Pythagoreans called the 'Dyad', the law of opposition that defines everything which is manifested.

It is also in accordance with this law that each principle requires and desires its opposite, for in its differentiated state it is useless: what is creativity without material to use for creation? what is virility when everything is barren? Just as we cannot reproduce without partnership with the opposite sex, so we cannot recover our whole self without participation in 'the other', in whatever it is that we do not ourselves possess. Plato himself says that 'each person without any hesitation would deem that he had finally heard expressed what had certainly been his desire for a long time, namely to be united and fused with his beloved so as to form one single nature from two distinct beings. Now, the cause of this desire is to be sought in the fact that this was indeed our primitive nature when we constituted one unit which was still whole; it is really the burning longing for this unity which bears the name of love' (Plato, The Symposium). All creation desires wholeness insofar as all creation desires to return to its original, preconditioned form.

'In its most profound aspect, eros embodies an impulse to overcome the consequences of the Fall, to leave the restrictive world of duality, to restore the primordial state, to surmount the condition of dual existentiality broken and conditioned by the "other".' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex)


This brings us to our proper subject. As Plato says above, Love is the means by which we achieve this wholeness, our union with ourselves. When we strongly desire something, we see in that object some parcel of Heaven, of the intelligible reality, and most of all of who we essentially are: 'Love, thus, is ever intent upon that other loveliness, and exists to be the medium between desire and that object of desire. It is the eye of the desirer; by its power what loves is able to see the loved thing' (Plotinus, The Enneads, III, v, 2). That initial pain we feel when this love is awakened is evidence of our new cognizance of our lacking a piece of ourself; it is as a hungry person becomes keenly, tortuously aware of his hunger when he sees and smells something delicious, only a thousand times more agonizing due to the far greater need for spiritual than physical satisfaction. Solovyov agrees that man in his 'empirical nature' is filled with this constant state of want, and purports that the aim of Love is to reintegrate him with his 'missing parts':

'The peculiar character of [our spiritual nature] consists just in a human being's ability, while remaining the selfsame human being, to accommodate absolute content in his own proper form, to become an absolute personality. But in order to be filled with absolute content... that same human must be restored in its entirety (integrated). In the empirical nature of the human being, as such, this is by no means so - he exists only in a specific onesidedness and finiteness, as a male or female individuality. However, a true human in the fulness of his ideal personality... cannot be merely male or merely female, but must be the higher unity of both. To realize this unity, to create the true human being as a free unity of the male and female principles, preserving their formal individualization but having surmounted their essential separateness and divergence - this is the proper immediate task of love.' (Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love)

The reconciliation of male with female individuality is necessary for the formation of true personality. This is true because man in his essence is not either one of these: he is both. Otto Weininger surmised that we are naturally attracted to, even in the psychosomatic sense, individuals who possess a substance which we do not: '[All] individuals have as much femininity as they lack masculinity. If they are completely male they will desire a completely female counterpart, and if they are completely female, a completely male. If, however, they contain a somewhat larger proportion of Man and another, by no means negligible, proportion of Woman, they will demand an individual who will complement them and their fragmentary masculinity to form a whole; at the same time, their proportion of femininity will be completed in the same way' (Otto Weininger, Sex and Character). Thus, someone who is, for example, '75% male' will naturally be most attracted to a woman who is '75% female', and vice versa, because it is in this way that both individuals best complete themselves; they are fulfilling what each of them lack inside of them. The law of 'opposites attract' has never been clearer. There is moreover no such thing as someone who is 'transgender', because insofar as we are born male or female we will always have a higher portion of that principle whose sexual representation we are born as. Even if someone is merely '51%' male (and thus '49% female'), he is authentically male, and no amount of surgery or drugs will alter his inner nature. This is because things are manifested according to their metaphysical principles, and thus not subject to chance but causal authority:

'If birth is not a matter of chance, then it is not a coincidence for a being to "awaken" to itself in the body of a man or a woman. Here too, the physical difference should be viewed as the equivalent of a spiritual difference; hence a being is a man or a woman in a physical way only because a being is either masculine or feminine in a transcendental way; sexual differentiation, far from being an irrelevant factor in relation to the spirit, is the sign that points to a particular vocation and to a distinctive dharma.... [Man] and woman are two different types; those who are born as men must realize themselves as men, while those who are born as women must realize themselves as women, overcoming any mixture and promiscuity of vocations' (Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World).

We can already guess what this means for 'homosexual' activity, and indeed Weininger goes on to say that the great majority of homosexual relationships occur where the partners are intermediately differentiated, meaning that they possess high proportions of M and W and thus desire fellow beings who are also intermediately differentiated; the man who has 49% of W in him will have far more of an attraction to a man of like proportion than a man who is 80 or 90% M will. This explains the very high ratio of homosexual men and women who also identify themselves as 'bisexual', or are at least not averse to normal sexual relations. Evola also supports this, but adds that 'when homosexuality is not "natural" [meaning according to the theory of middling sexual differentiation just explained] or else cannot be explained in terms of incomplete inborn forms of sexual developments, it must have the character of a deviation, a vice, or a perversion' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). So, in our society, for instance, where spiritual and mental disorders (the ones which are not psychiatric make-believe, that is) resulting from the dissolution of the family, the community, and the entire socio-political realm are more pervasive than ever before, it is altogether to be expected that the rate of sodomitical sex is as high as it is, certainly much higher than it otherwise would be if it were limited to partners who were on the border of being '50% M' and '50% W'.

The real crime of homosexual activity consists simply in its complete inversion of the normal interaction of the sexes. The metaphysical traditions which we outlined above are not theoretical abstractions that exist in an 'intellectual void'; they are that which is fundamentally real, in comparison to which this created world, the 'veil of Maya', is but an illusory distortion. They profoundly influence this world because they are this world in its truest, most articulate form. In the performance of copulative union, for example, man and woman recreate the genesis of the world; they merge together and create not only a life of their own, a new world, but they create themselves through their erotic synthesis of each other: 'Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2335). Man becomes truly man, woman becomes truly woman, and together they become the new Adam: 'And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore they are not now two, but one flesh' (Mark 10:8). The Fall is conquered by their physical union which, sacramentally, also has the nature of a mystical union; where they were formerly opposed to one another, the dual principles (yin and yang, Shiva and Shakti, Nut and Geb) are now intimately combined in the maximal expression of their essential nature and in their relations to each other:

'If the root of false existence consists in impenetrability, i.e., in the mutual exclusion of beings by each other, then true life is to live in another as in oneself, or to find in another the positive and absolute fulfillment of one's own being. The basis and type of this true life remains and always will remain sexual or conjugal love.... True union presupposes the true separateness of those being united, i.e., a separateness by power of which they do not exclude, but mutually replenish each other, each finding in the other the fulness of his own proper life.' (Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love)

Sodomy receives no such justifications or blessings; there is no telos whatsoever to its practise: '[Homosexual acts] are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357). This unbridgeable dispute between sodomitical activity and man and woman as they really are is what makes it unnatural in both a metaphysical and a physical sense. Indeed, it is because there is no metaphysical legitimacy to homosexual relations that there is no physical legitimacy: the copulation of man with woman results in the birth of a new life because of their union on a higher level (at least in potentia; procreation that is the consequence of extramarital sex is still natural, but it is divorced from the sacrament of marriage, hence it is of a lesser quality due to the absence of a sacral authority blessing the union).

The copulation of man with man and of woman with woman, on the other hand, bears no such fruit because of their incompatibility in the principial realm. The principle of maleness only acts according to its nature when it is associated with the principle of femaleness, which correspondingly acts according to its nature; that which is virile and creative naturally desires that which will bring out these qualities in it, which is of course the fertility and the passivity of its female counterpart. By reneging on this primordial agreement and a metaphysical law, homosexual 'union' condemns itself to a fruitless pursuit of something that it longs for but is looking in the completely wrong place; it is a sacrilegious caricature of supreme union, and makes something which is ideally spiritual and sacred into something strictly physical and therefore ugly. Instead of the satisfaction felt when something smoothly falls into place, like pouring wine into a glass, the homosexual act consists essentially of the frustration involved in pouring water into a sieve, because there is zero complementarity between two active or two passive principles: male and female create a self-sufficient whole that completes each other while male and male or female and female are doomed to wander alone, unredeemed, and separated from themselves.

'All the natural loves, all that serve the ends of Nature, are good.... Those forms that do not serve the purposes of Nature are merely accidents attending on perversion: in no sense are they Real-Beings or even manifestations of any reality; for they are no true issue of Soul; they are merely accompaniments of a spiritual flaw which the Soul automatically exhibits in the total of disposition and conduct.' (Plotinus, The Enneads, III, v, 7)


If the aim of all human life is to become reintegrated as a whole person in the manner of Adam prior to his Fall, it cannot follow that establishing an erotic relationship with a woman is necessary for this end, for that would mean the futility of all ascetics and holy men and other such types who have surely come nearer to this reality than the vast majority of married men and women. The truth is that the capacity for reintegration subsists in the depth of our own self: the potential to become whole is already within us. To love a female is simply the most direct means available because it is neatly aligned with our libidinous appetites, but it is hardly the only one, as the various spiritual or yogic paths to self-completion are manifestly singular by nature, oriented around the fulfilment of one's inner nature or dharma. Infact, even in loving a woman what we are really doing is loving ourselves; the presence of another person is merely the object which sparks in man a desire for some element of himself shown in a separate individual. The truth of this should already be apparent by virtue of our earlier arguments, that male and female are really one entity, and that males and females inherently pursue beings whose natures correspond to what they are lacking in an effort to create a whole; thus, if we really do feel love as a burning desire to restore ourself to an earlier state of integration, it would make sense to see in our beloved simply the other half of what we once were.

It is crucial not to be confused by what we mean by 'loving oneself'. We certainly do not mean that we are engaged in an auto-erotic narcissism wherein we idolize our ego or the shadowy fragments of our malleable personality; what we do mean is the love of who we are as a composite whole, of our self as a personhood composed of both male and female harmoniously organized. In our love of another person we see ourselves as perfected: 'Whenever a man loves, he loves only himself. Not his subjectivity, not what he actually represents as a being tainted with every weakness and baseness, every gracelessness and pettiness, but what he wants to be completely and what he ought to be completely, his most personal and most profound intelligible nature, free from any scrap of necessity and from any residue of his earthly nature' (Otto Weininger, Sex and Character). The disturbed and amorphous constitution of ordinary reality and of our conscious minds is suddenly clarified into something so solid and true that we cannot help but pour our hearts into it, feeling our beloved as something absolutely necessary to our being: 'It is not for love of woman that woman is desired by man, but rather for love of the atman' (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV). The atman is the highest principle of Self, pristinely real and unadulterated by the conditional factors (such as space and time) of the created world, and it is that which we see in what we love. Shakespeare beautifully expresses this idea in a sonnet:

'Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on me.' (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 24)

The neoplatonist French poet Antoine Hermoet is equally sublime in his description of the same thing:

'[I meditated upon] how our hearts, bent on "death",
Revived one another;
How mine, loving his,
Transformed itself into his without changing.' (Antoine Heroet, La Parfaicte Amye)

So, again, in stark contrast to the normal order of things, homosexual relations are founded not on a spiritual love of Self conceived as a perfect whole comprised of both male and female, but on a purely physical love of self. The sex act of the sodomite is not something that symbolizes the harmonization of male and female into one flesh and one soul, but something that represents the man's false love for himself; it is not the atman which he 'loves', because that would imply a reconciliation of opposites into one Self, but merely his own lust and ouroboric desire and possibly his own demented personality. It is infact not even an entrance into the Other: for in copulating with another man (or woman with woman) he is copulating with himself; while they are ostensibly two different persons, both members of the act derive from the same principle of maleness, and thus metaphysically correspond to the selfsame individual. It is as though Shiva were to try to act through Shiva instead of his Shakti; the world would go uncreated, and he would never be reunited in himself.

The sin of sodomy is the worst instance of onanism possible because it simultaneously satirizes the holy union of male and female and projects upon another person one's own failings; while this is so in all extramarital intercourse, it is manifestly and monstrously worse in this case by virtue of the involvement of a more extreme narcissism, psychic and spiritual disorders that take pleasure from abnormal practises, the confusion of one's principial maleness or femaleness (i.e., their natural desire to be with the other), and the complete absence of any natural end to the event. Once more, it is essentially characterized by self-love: 'Perversion may be defined as the diversion of sexual desire from a person of the opposite sex to a body of the opposite sex... or to a person of the same sex... or to an inanimate thing (fetishism). At the root of all forms of perversion is self-love, the utilization of another, who... is seen as no more than an instrument for one's pleasure (or pain)' (Vladimir Moss, The Theology of Eros). The extent of how morally and spiritually adverse this kind of behaviour is, inasmuch as it is not self-evident, is illuminated all the more by comparison with normal sexual behaviour:

'Man should help woman to free herself from her womanliness (as incompleteness), and woman, in turn, should help man, so that in both of them the full primal image of man will inwardly merge again. Both of them, instead of being half-men, will become whole men once again, i.e., Christians. For the expressions: to have become a Christian, to be born again, and to have recovered integrity of human nature are synonymous.' (Franz Xaver von Baader, Werke)

In the crisis of the modern world, the principles that were once intimately known and even taken for granted are entirely obscured by both an exclusively empirical and positivistic understanding of reality that determines everything according to its material nature, and a falsely 'humanistic' crusade for 'human rights' to the point that the instinctual and temporal desires of the individual, regardless of how perverse, matter more than either the health of his soul or of the community at large. It is in this environment that the 'cult of the body', exemplified by the 'Sexual Revolution' in the middle of the previous century, has been able to flourish, for it is only in the absence of the intellect and moral awareness that the sensual impulses are able to riot uninhibited by their normal constraints. Evola is right in attributing this to the lateness of our civilization's current cycle, for, like any organism in nature, our culture is an old and dying animal: '[It] remains true that a universal and feverish interest in sex and woman is the mark of every twilight period and that this phenomenon today is among the many signs that this epoch is the terminal phase of a regressive process.... It is clear that today by regression we are living in a civilization whose predominant interest is neither intellectual, spiritual, nor heroic, nor even directed to the higher forms of emotion. Rather the subpersonal - sex and the belly - are idolized....' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). It is exactly this, the subpersonal, that motivates such notions as homosexual nuptials (or even the normalization of paedophilia, as the 'slippery slope' proceeds apace), for real personhood consists not of realizing one's sexual fantasies in another individual, but in identifying who you are, which invariably means a reconciliation of the male and the female inside of you.

As the demonstrably false phenomenon of 'gay marriage' spreads to those places in the West which most accurately mimic the ethos of modernity, it is crucial to remember that fraternal love, or sincere love between men, is entirely possible - provided that such relationships remain celibate. We need only to bring the reader's attention to such practises of adelphopoiesis in the Byzantine Church, which ritualized an extraordinary friendship between men, or of the blood-brotherhood of the Norse society and the Scythians which united men into something much more than friends. The difference, of course, consists in the modernist's permissiveness in the sexual realm, where everything is allowed so long as it remains a 'victimless crime' (a terrible vacuity when considering the spiritual damage such acts lead to); the 'gay' man becomes gay not merely by his perverse sexual habits, but by his very identity. One's gayness marks him out as who he is more than any other facet of his character, thereby epitomizing the modern's purely physical comprehension of reality, where nothing exists other than what we can touch and feel. Indeed, the rather ridiculous idea of 'gay pride' serves as an inordinately transparent symbol of modern man's hubris: we are not merely permitting our regression into worse forms of barbarity, we are proud of it, as though we are calling God out to destroy Babel once again, daring him to smite us.

In deep contradistinction to this is the traditional worldview, according to which the spiritual is not only real, but it is more real than the physical. Man is called not to 'be who he is' in the vulgar sense, but to become who he is essentially; which means the reconciliation of the sexes, which means becoming like unfallen man, which means becoming like God. Yes, this can be achieved through the special love between man and woman; but it can even more strongly be achieved through a direct unity between man and God: '[There] is need for the blessed passion of holy eros; it binds the mind to spiritual objects and persuades it to prefer the immaterial over the material, the intelligible and the divine to the sensible' (St. Maximus the Confessor, On Charity). The 'passion of holy eros' is an excellent way to describe man's fervour for God; in the place of a woman who inspires him to find his Self, man starts to see God, who will help him in that regard more than anything else. By imitating God, man becomes like God: 'For the Son of God became man so that we might become God' (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione). The love between a man and a woman is but a reflection of the love which God has for his children, and those who love him in return are guaranteed salvation: 'I love them that love me: and they that in the morning early watch for me, shall find me' (Proverbs 8:17). Love loses when it is reduced to something physical, to something that makes a mockery out of God's laws and tries to marry two things which are already one; love wins when two different beings come together out of separate, solitary lives to form one whole. For love exists not to divide us or to join us to our basest elements; love exists to unify us.

'I am you and you in me mutual in love divine.' ~William Blake, Jerusalem

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Decline of the West

Upon reading Spengler's magnum opus The Decline of the West for the third time (in three days this time, because I have no life), and feeling as though this was the first time I more or less completely understood it, it behooves us to draft a brief tribute to the text, which truly is one of the most important narratives of the 20th Century.

Perhaps Spengler's greatest quality consists in his scathing polemic against the myopic, atomized, causal, linear perspective of modernist history that ruled with particular dominance in the rationalistic 17th and 18th centuries. He had determined that this was a superficial reading of history that accounted merely for circumstantial, incidental happenings, and failed to take stock of what was really going on: 'there can be no question of taking spiritual-political events, such as they become visible day by day on the surface, at their face value, and arranging them in a series of "causes" or "effects" and following them up in the obvious and intellectually easy directions. Such a "pragmatic" handling of history would be nothing but a piece of "natural science" in disguise... (The Decline of the West, p. 6).'

As a counter-attack to this elementary outlook, Spengler proceeds with an intuition into Destiny and Time, into history conceived not merely as a chain of events related only by their causal connections, but as ideas and events that are expressive of greater, deeper cosmic motions that subsist beneath human social activity. Spengler suggests that Cultures are not the arbitrary results of disparate communities, but their own organisms, their own individuals with a certain constitution not fundamentally unlike any other living thing; he peers into the cyclic nature of reality wherein organisms are born, thrive into manhood, linger into old age, and finally die. Spengler argues that Cultures/Civilizations are not specially fixed to progress indefinitely, immune to the biological decay every life form faces, but are uniquely shaped by their own inner identities and therefore subject to their own higher telos:

'I see, in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can be kept up only by shutting one's eyes to the overwhelming multitude of the facts, the drama of a number of mighty Cultures, each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound throughout its whole life-cycle; each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feeling; its own death.... Here the Cultures, peoples, languages, truths, gods, landscapes bloom and age as the oaks and pines, the blossoms, twigs and leaves - but there is no aging "Mankind". Each Culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay and never return.... These Cultures, sublimated life-essences, grow with the same superb aimlessness as the flowers of the field. They belong, like the plants and the animals, to the living nature of Goethe, and not to the dead Nature of Newton. I see world-history as a picture of endless formations and transformations, of the marvelous waxing and waning of organic forms. The professional historian, on the contrary, sees it as a sort of tapeworm industriously adding onto itself one epoch after another.' (Decline, pp. 17-8)

The Decline of the West comprehensively answers all of the major questions of the Faustian soul, and unveils who we are as Westerners, as a distinct Culture (or presently a Civilization, as all Cultures must become as they are petrified into something increasingly lifeless). To provide one of many possible examples, whereas the Classical man is preoccupied with the community, with how man relates to the world at large (hence their conception of the persona, the mask we present ourselves in to face our fellows), Faustian man is singularly concerned with himself,  with how he relates to the cosmos beyond, to Infinity and the impossible loneliness therein: 'here infinite solitude is felt as the home of the Faustian soul. Siegfried, Parzifal, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust, are the loneliest heroes in all the Cultures. Read the wondrous awakening of the inner life in Wolfram's Parzifal. The love of wild nature, the mysterious compassion, the ineffable sense of forsakenness - it is all Faustian and only Faustian' (Decline, p. 99).

Spengler is equally keen in his insights into who we will become, even from the unsettled vantage of a century ago. While emerging sooner than he anticipated, Spengler's idea of 'Caesarism' became manifest even in his lifetime with the ascent of Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Franco's Spain, etc. The masses were congealed beneath a great personality, a masterful dictator who mustered all the historical energy peculiar to his time and threw it upon Civilization as was his destiny. Spengler is able to envision this because he is not limited to a narrow mindset which sees history purely as sequences of cause and effect, but as a manifestation of something much deeper, the very soul of a Culture, the inner fountainhead of what that Culture brings forth. By studying and juxtaposing one Culture upon another, patterns become present, patterns which can even be used to forecast the future insofar as the future will necessarily correspond in some analogical way to a different Culture, to the model of how Cultures develop and recede. This is precisely what linear, modernistic historical thought fails to do because it is concerned not with the essential, but with the accidental, and treats a Culture not as an organism unto itself, but rather as another step in an arbitrary ladder reaching up into nowhere:

'We know it to be true of every organism that the rhythm, form and duration of its life, and all the expression-details of that life as well, are determined by the properties of its species. No one, looking at the oak, with its millennial life, daresay that at this moment, now, is about to start on its true and proper course.... In the case of higher human history, however, we [i.e., the Gibbon-type historians] take our ideas as to the course of the future with an unbridled optimism that sets at naught all historical, i.e. organic experience, and everyone therefore sets himself to discover in the accidental present terms that he can expand into some striking progression-series, the existence of which rests not on scientific proof but on predilection.' (Decline, pp.16-7)

By peering into the 'platonic idea' of what a Culture is essentially, Spengler can analogically relate one Culture to another, and thereby determine what is particular to that particular Culture, and what is universal to all Culture, i.e., the inherent nature of what a human Culture is as a genus. Just as there are different trees with their own unique qualities, so too are there self-contained Cultures possessing their own unique qualities; but insofar as both are organisms, both are destined to live and die accordingly. By realizing the nature of the species, in other words, Spengler can reveal the nature of the individual organism in an acutely visionary manner that is impossible to attain otherwise.

Spengler is moreover deeply conscious of the falling quality of our Civilization, hence the title of this book. With the fading of Culture, which is itself caused by the fulfilment of more and more of its possibilities and therefore by the exhaustion of its inner energy, first religion, the realm of spirit is distorted into new, hostile forms; Protestantism and puritanism, driven by a specially Faustian rationalism, disturb the old order, and limit the creative impetus and unity of the spiritual dimension. Then art, once subordinated to socio-religious organization, emancipates itself in a new fury of polyphony and counterpoint, of Sturm und Drang, until it too exhausts itself; the life of an artistic tradition, such as that experienced by Beethoven and Weber and Schubert, provides a superfluity of inspired production to artists in this period, but by the time of Wagner it dries up, forcing the artist in his period to work especially hard to achieve anything. In the political realm, grand politics and the organic State soon submit to abstract ideals such as 'human rights', 'world peace', and finally something exclusively economic wherein all that matters is the material: 'Politics sacrifice men for an idea, they fall for an idea; but economy merely wastes them away. In war life is elevated by death, often to that point of irresistible force whose mere existence guarantees victory, but in the economic life hunger awakens the ugly, vulgar and wholly unmetaphysical sort of fearfulness for one's life under which the higher form-world of a Culture miserably collapses and the naked struggle for existence of the human beasts begins' (Decline, p. 400). In all things, where one cultural facet flares up and succeeds gloriously, where all the historical power of a Culture in that instant is concentrated, it is expressive of the Culture's interior character; but these things all must perish, too, and in their decline they open up further possibilities through which the dying Culture gradually reveals itself.

As a Culture goes through its motions. spending its last imaginative impulses before nestling into bleak, urbanized, bloated, mercantile, and mechanical Civilization, it comes closer and closer to its Destiny, to what its purpose was in the cosmos. As it proceeds thus, the Culture is defined less by those specific qualities that once differentiated it from other Cultures and more by those qualities that define every Civilization in steep decline: an orientation around the practical, a 'moral' coldness toward 'the good life', a lapse in true hierarchy, and especially a sovereign interest in business, in manipulating the material world for selfish ends. Spengler claims that all Civilizations in their Winter seasons are characterized by these symptoms, and especially when they are removed from their homeland, citing such examples of the Chinese in California in the 19th Century, the Indian trader in East Africa, and of course the Wandering Jew. This is because these are all ahistorical peoples, ahistorical because they have already accomplished their work in this world - they are essentially dead, having no remaining vital role to play, and doomed to simply subsist amongst other Cultures until they might inseminate the earth with the seed of the next Culture. This is exactly what is happening to the West: we are dying, we approach the fulfilment of our Destiny, and as we die we become closer in spirit (or rather by our mutual lack of spirit) to the Jew to the point where neither of us will be recognizable, because we are both historically extinguished:

'Today this Magian nation, with its ghetto and its religion, itself is in danger of disappearing - not because the metaphysics of the two Cultures come closer to one another, but because the intellectualized upper stratum of each side is ceasing to be metaphysical at all. It has lost every kind of inward cohesion, and what remains is simply a cohesion for practical questions. The lead that this [Jewish / Magian] nation has enjoyed from its long habituation to thinking in business terms becomes ever less and less (vis-a-vis the American, it has almost already gone), and with the loss of it will go the last potent means of keeping up a Consensus that has fallen regionally into parts. In the moment when the civilized methods of the European-American world-cities shall have arrived at full maturity, the destiny of Jewry... will be accomplished.' (Decline, p. 353)

With these tremendously valuable contributions that Spengler has produced being mentioned, we are obliged to bring up our complaints with his opus, of which there are two main ones. The first is that which we share with Julius Evola, who lamented the fact that Spengler had no clear comprehension of the 'transcendent' portion of a Culture's identity: 'A sense of the metaphysical dimension or of transcendence, which represents the essence of all true Kultur, was completely lacking in [Spengler]' (Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar, p. 179). This is true in that Spengler, for all his concern with the philosophical and intellectual and even spiritual qualities of the man of any which Culture, approaches these questions from a typically modern immanent position; much like C.G. Jung confuses the mythical creations and rituals of primitive man for existing purely in the psyche, Spengler does the same, only he places these higher elements in the psyche of the Culture.

There is no truly transcendent character in Spengler's cultural world-soul, because everything is subordinated to the organic process, to the organism's cyclic existence, to its strictly this-world nature. While Spengler undoubtedly critiques Civilization, he does this in the same way as a doctor would critique a man in old age, that is to say, from a purely relative, immanent perspective. This absence of a true metaphysic leaves Spengler with no other objective criterion with which to judge a Culture, whereas Evola and the other traditionalists offer something more substantial in their suggestion of a 'world of Tradition', which is rigidly organized around a Culture's metaphysical principles (they also suggest its antithesis, the 'modern world', which is not organized at all in the proper sense, and is responsible for the downward, telluric tendencies of a Culture).

The second major complaint consists in our reaction to Spengler's claim that these Cultures are wholly self-contained, that they are perfectly isolated from either previous or succeeding Cultures, and from neighboring Cultures. While still rejecting the idea of a linear historical narrative, it is nevertheless true that prior Cultures play a decisive role in the Becoming of the following Culture. What would Western Culture be, for example, without the twin genii of Plato and Aristotle? the wisdom of the Old Testament? the Hellenic-Hebraic synthesis of the New Testament, the Incarnation of Christ? the materially fading but symbolically supernatural power of the Late Roman Empire? the technical and philosophical gifts of the Arabian? While doubtless these were all uniquely understood in the fashion of Faustian man, these were powerful, virile seeds that were planted by 'Classical' and 'Magian' man even at their waning in the world, and at the very least serve as crucial links between these superior world-souls.

Oswald Spengler possessed a perilous, incendiary insight which mastered the world's attention. He corrected some deeply erroneous methods of the modern historian by supplanting them with a radical new perspective of his own (though we could have done without him mentioning the novelty of his work every so often). His awareness of the morphological structure of history, and especially of the underlying forces that motivate the Cultures that constitute history, breathes new life into modern historical consciousness which has grown stale and placid. His is a relentless polemic that mercilessly scythes down many of our most beloved and most facile notions (his precise, destructive summary of democracy and freedom of the press is unsurpassed), and suggesting instead of an inexorable progress an inevitable death. 'Optimism is cowardice', Spengler famously writes, urging us instead to look at the facts in themselves, even if they incline us to a miserable pessimism. But then, Spengler surprises us once more toward the end of Decline: while the 'powers that be' will fight their wars over the ore and fuel and gold of the mundane, and the Culture at large will present no real value to the discriminating individual, there is nevertheless hope for him, a kind of transcendent peace that was not possible to any of his forefathers, living as they were in a Culture in the throes of Becoming. For this is the peace of Destiny, available to the man who realizes the fulfilment thereof, to the man who sits and contemplates not the misery of the world around him, but the fact that he sits at the peak of an entire historical organism. He dwells at the end of the line, and possesses the special consciousness of having realized the whole of history, of Becoming finally Become:

'With the formed state having finished its course, high history also lays down weary to sleep. Man becomes a plant again, adhering to the soil, dumb and enduring.... And while in high places there is eternal alternance of victory and defeat, those in the depths pray, pray with that mighty piety of the Second Religiousness that has overcome all doubts forever. There, in the souls, world-peace, the peace of God, the bliss of grey-haired monks and hermits, is become actual - and there alone. It has awakened that depth in the endurance of suffering which the historical man in the thousand years of his development has never known. Only with the end of a grand History does holy, still Being reappear.' (Decline, p.381)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Woman, Weininger, and Lars von Trier: A Review of Nymphomaniac

As Lars von Trier is one of my favourite directors, and as he covers themes closest to my heart and to my sphere of knowledge, it surprises me that it took this long to write a full review of one of his films. While I cannot promise anything, it would be really interesting to write another one at some later stage of the 'Golden Hearts' trilogy, with Dancer in the Dark forming the focus of it as Nymphomaniac is the focus of this review. (I have structured this review so that only minor spoilers are revealed for the bulk of it, with all major ones being used in the final portion in the effort to allow those who have not yet seen this film the glorious opportunity to read what is surely a masterwork of cinematic criticism.)

As one final foreword before entering the review, the medium of this film, which is essentially a pornographic film with an actual narrative built into it, automatically inspires apprehension on the part of viewers with a stronger moral sense than myself. Without defending this style of presentation, I will only say that the aesthetics of the Middle Ages, while superior in the most meaningful ways, with its sense of beauty built directly into a piece's moral and intellectual worth, is not the aesthetics of the Modern Ages; we must in certain respects live according to the times, and this may mean, at least to the ironical, undisciplined, unserious aesthete, surrendering some of our ethical condemnations of things which speak of more important things than even morality. It is a given, then, that, in order to properly enjoy this film (in a way other than one would enjoy a more purposefully pornographic film, that is), it is necessary to silence all moral sensibilities, and to view this film in as detached and desensitized way as possible. 

So, while a 'purification of the means' may have indeed been preferable (the penis montage in V.I and the miscegenation in V.II were especially unsavoury), I am not going to utilize a moralistic judgment of this film when I knew all about it going into the film. Moreover, I actually sensed a strong familiarity between the film's pornography and the explicit imagery that any quality horror movie uses in achieving its own end goals; both of which ultimately aim at repulsing the viewer (even if this sometimes manages the opposite effect), because what they are showing is supposed to be repulsive. Infact I think that showing the realistic murder such as you see in any high-budget war film is just as 'pornographic' in a sense as anything you see in Nymphomaniac: somehow the sexual attains an added portion of scandal when it is shown. At any rate, the purpose of such 'shocking' scenery is not to simply shock the viewer, but to demonstrate something shocking about it, to show why it is shocking. With that in mind, I hope that I myself have demonstrated what makes Nymphomaniac worth viewing in respect to the human, and specifically the female condition.... adieu. 

Introduction to Weininger and Lars von Trier

Perhaps the only difference between me and the other people, is that I have always demanded more from the sunset....

In the now hugely accomplished filmography of the Danish director Lars von Trier, there are a multitude of themes that are continuously explored; the baseless, meddling idealism, for example, that characterizes the protagonists of Europa and Manderlay, or the almost invariable resolution of any which story into something satisfyingly tragic, or the tremendous individualism that pits a person alone against the world in order to show at once his or her humanity, in a depraved sense or otherwise. There are a myriad of such ways in which LvT conveys his distinctly German grasp of romanticism, but there is perhaps no stronger one than his persistent investigations of the female character, chiefly in the manner in which these investigations are performed. This is true principally in the burning duality that presents itself over the course of LvT's work: woman is at one point elevated to Byronic heights while at another she comes crashing down to depths more familiar to the scribbling of Schopenhauer. LvT is not interested in sentimental generalizations or abstract scientific theorems; he is interested in the actual reality of womanhood, of how woman is in the essential, and of how Woman is defined as a type (W), segregated from that of Man (M).

There is one philosopher more than any other of whom we are reminded in this connection: Otto Weininger. Ostensibly more of a psychologist than a philosopher, out of respect for the man it would be wiser to name him by the latter vocation (as we would C.G. Jung), especially considering his contributions were of far greater worth in the more universal fields of philosophy than in any technical, scientific one. Otto Weininger was the man of whom August Strindberg had said 'solved the hardest of all life's problems', and in a letter to Weininger himself he expressed gratitude for solving the 'Woman Problem'. Weininger's opus Sex and Character has been widely interpreted as a radical episode in misogyny and misunderstanding, and not without reason: at one point Weininger supposes women to be ontologically inferior to animal and even plant life, while at another he claims that it is impossible to conceive of a female counterpart to the criminal, since woman is not even on the moral spectrum - she is capable of being neither moral nor immoral, for she is entirely non-moral. Notwithstanding such hyperbole or nonsense, Weininger's primary endeavour, simply that of understanding W (Woman) as she is, removed of all bias and prejudice, goes a long distance in this regard, and helps shed light on other phenomena as well. That he does exaggerate sometimes should not distract the discerning reader so much as to help delineate the diametrically opposed definitions of W and M in themselves, despite how commingled they appear in our immediate reality, in particular men and women.
'[There is] an ideal Man M and an ideal Woman W, neither of whom exist, as sexual types.... The type, the platonic idea, is not only the object of art but also that of science.... [There] are any number of intermediate stages, between the complete Man and the complete Woman, which may both be approximated but which are never experienced as such in reality.'(Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, p.13)
LvT shares much of this ambiguity (at least on the surface), and this comes from his methodology: rather than studying W as a whole in any individual film, or conversely studying women as removed from any understanding of W, LvT studies the various facets of W through many of her different representations. Katherina, the powerful, oddly rational 'heroine' of Europa, for instance, has as little to do with the sweet naivety of Dogville's Grace as the loving Bess of Breaking the Waves has to do with the initial bourgeois rigour of Melancholia's Claire. These are hardly contradictions of LvT's comprehension of W; they are the different avenues through which W is manifested, the different forms that she shapes herself in. Together they create a unified vision into the deepest parts of W by examining her at her most extreme, by isolating certain of her subtypes (idealist, governess, maiden, femme fatale, mother, gorgon, etc) to expose who she is essentially. It is quite likely impossible to unravel the unfathomable vastness of W at all, nevermind all at once; but in searching through the various ways she makes herself known we can identify patterns and underlying commonalities that at least hint at their source.

Weininger understood more than most the typological classifications of humanity, and exemplifies this understanding in his decisive split of the two F archetypes: Mother and Prostitute. Like M and W, the Mother and the Prostitute are platonic ideas, and therefore impossible to encounter in themselves in ordinary reality; but, like M and W, they are organic defaults imprinted on this woman or that woman, and so also impossible to be neither one nor the other: 'a being is a man or a woman in a physical way only because a being is either masculine or feminine in a transcendental way; sexual differentiation, far from being an irrelevant factor in relation to the spirit, is the sign that points to a particular vocation and to a distinctive dharma' (Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, p. 158). Just as, excepting extraordinary circumstances, one is born either as a man or a woman, so too is a woman born as either a Mother or a Prostitute, though always containing a complementary portion of whichever she is not. Briefly summarized, the Mother in Weininger's eyes was the optimistic preserver of the race whose primary instincts consisted of serving the child first and foremost; she also has the tendency to treat her man as another child, which lends her a matronly disposition in whatever relationship she finds herself in. The Mother is commonly held as more estimable, but Weininger deems that her love for her family and especially her children is conditional on their being hers; she is, in other words, a slave to her maternal instincts, and thus deserves no ethical credit in the way that a man might in showing courage on the battlefield: 'Maternal love is non-moral because it has no relation to the individuality of the being on which it is bestowed, and there can be an ethical relation only between two individualities. The relation between mother and child is always a kind of physical reflex' (Weininger, p.225). The Prostitute, on the other hand, is equally selfish, but whose instincts are to please the man instead of the child. She is of a greater intellectual calibre, and she is someone who tends toward cowardice and fear rather than the maternal hope; she is moreover prone to electing socially unfavourable or dissipated men as opposed to the more political, opportunistic Mother type who chooses men based on how far they can advance her family in the world. While both, being W, are wholly sexual in their nature (more on that immediately), it is naturally the Prostitute who is more intimately associated with sexual energy, as her raison d'être is to please herself in pleasing men rather than being motivated by the procreative necessity as is that of the Mother.

Nymphomaniac is quite naturally, then, a film about the Prostitute type, and of a highly advanced instance of it. According to Weininger, W is, unlike M who is driven by ethical, artistic, and religious motivations, possessed purely by sexual inclinations, which define her entire existence: 'For Woman the state of sexual arousal only means the greatest intensification of her whole existence, which is always and absolutely sexual. W's existence revolves entirely around her sexual life, the sphere of copulation and reproduction, i.e., in her relationship with a man and her children, and her existence is totally absorbed by these things, while M is not only sexual' (Ibid., p.79). While M is individuated and capable of self-consciousness, W is ruled firmly by the cosmic organization that demands the persistence of our species; she is at once tied to the infallible order of nature and the chaotic acts of spontaneity that often define the realm of nature. W is incapable of real order, for that means transcending the purely natural in an act only the personal, masculine spirit can achieve, so she is by turns taken by an organic rhythm and by the chaos affiliated with nature and therefore with her sex.

Body (only minor spoilers henceforth)

The secret ingredient to sex, is love....

Nymphomaniac is the third film in LvT's 'Depression' trilogy; it is its triumphant conclusion, incorporating themes from the first two but striking more resolutely, more comprehensively into the inner workings of the female psyche. We will not say that it is better than or even the equal of the two prior parts, but we will say that it offers the more complete angle for looking into W. There is also, rather than the limited, compact social dynamics of the previous two, the additional advantage of covering a greater range of characters, allowing them a hitherto unenjoyed freedom of expression which opens up many different aspects. More to the point, Nymphomaniac is concerned above all else with the erotic impulses of W, her most pressing demands, rather than the other two which prioritized more incidental factors.

The first film in the trilogy, Antichrist, gained notoriety for its unashamed discovery of W's connection to nature, specifically the sinister side of nature: frequent invocations of witchcraft and devilry emerge as the wife (superbly played by the inimitable Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays a central role in each of these three films) submits to the same 'misogyny' she was supposed to refute. Overcome by the death of her son, the wife falls apart; whatever rational fibres she had developed over the years implode on her, twisting into a new destructive current that bring her nearer and nearer to the beastly barbarism of the natural world: that surreal, unforgettable moment when the fox says into the screen, Chaos reigns, epitomizes in no uncertain terms the truth of what was happening. Subsequently, the symbol of masculinity par excellence is literally smashed in a telluric, earthly revolt against the intellectual and spiritual organization that would 'shackle' the natural world, that would make order from chaos. Antichrist is basically the articulation of the overwhelming emotional trauma that occurs when nature's logical patterns (that of a mother raising the next generation) are suddenly undermined; upon this occurrence nature's spontaneity overturns whatever rational shields woman has built, and so chaos reigns.

The second film, Melancholia, inspects an inner apocalypse in the face of an outer apocalypse. The different responses to the world's impending death represent the different psychic states on the part of the two women, Justine and Claire. The former is the more obviously disorderly, unable to maintain any kind of reasonable social discourse, mocking the nuptial rituals, even scorning her newly married husband for a lay with a coworker who means practically nothing to her - not in any bed, either, but directly on the grass. Severely depressed from the beginning, she is unable to enjoy her favourite food: 'It tastes like ashes'. At one point she goes down to the river in the night, completely naked, and in that moment she becomes identified with the raw beauty of nature, becoming one with her as though she were the silver moon shining brilliantly on an open, cloudless, Summer night; this is a reflection of her immersion into a conscious longing for unconsciousness, the desperate desire to cease sentience. Claire, on the other hand, at first displays a normalcy becoming to any bourgeois lady of the house, but this gives way to a nervous frailty that quivers in the face of impending global destruction; associated with the outer world, she falls apart as the world falls apart. Justine, meanwhile, handles this much more readily, suggesting not merely her delight in the prospect of her own death, but of the death of the whole exterior realm with which she can no longer relate at all. Melancholia is basically an interview between the internal and external positions of self, a glimpse into the psychological tremors felt throughout one's being upon the collapse of either/or. Justine could not find any field in which to plant her teeming inner energy, while Claire in the absence of any seed possessed only the field. The destruction of the world releases both of them from their isolation, and combines them together: '[The two sisters] melt together', LvT says, 'they have been two, and they become one'.

So while Antichrist is concerned with the emotional and matronly values of W corrupted into a defiant organic impulse, and Melancholia with the more mental difficulties that emerge from a failure to synthesize W's inner and outer lives (note: Weininger would likely recognize in Justine more qualities of M rather than of W), Nymphomaniac completes the circle by its concentration on the locus of femininity, the plot of psychic space wherein all of W's motivations are said to derive: the erotic centre. This is not to say that the other elements are not present (as we will see), but that the focus is now absolutely on the sexual quotient; W is now approached where she is at her most honest, her most typical state, because she is now the closest as any individual in ordinary reality can get to the 'platonic idea' of W. This, as much as anything else, is why Nymphomaniac should be the final part, because it contains all other parts in its witnessing to the actual identity of W, for everything in her is produced from her sexual aspect, which is to say her entire self.

Joe the nymphomaniac is indubitably of the Prostitute type; so far as our knowledge goes, there is no clearer instance of this type in all of film. She fulfills not only the obvious physical necessities, such as the chronic masturbation as a youth and the early discovery of ways to please herself (such as 'playing frogs' in the bathroom), but virtually every other as well. The scene on the train, for example,  after the decidedly anti-romantic loss of her virginity at age 15, displays Joe's completely promiscuous nature, her complete disavowal of all social standards in her pursuit of pleasure ('she is not ashamed of her shamelessness' (Ibid., p.228)). The competition between her and her friend 'B' is to copulate with as many men as possible until the train reached its destination, and the winner receives the rather meaningless prize of a bag of candy, which is meaningless because the sex is the end in itself: 'The [Prostitute] is ready to yield herself to any man who stimulates her erotic desires; that is her only object'. (Ibid., p.220) Joe manifests her deceitful nature most openly and cleverly through her manipulation of her sexual lovers, just as a Mother type would manipulate a more accomplished man into marriage purely for the benefit of her children; Joe continually fakes having 'first orgasms', pretends to love men, and even decides on how to respond to her various lovers based on the throwing of dice ('Cunning, calculation, "cleverness", are much more usual and constant in the woman than in the man, if there is a personal, selfish end in view.... One of the deepest problems of woman is her absolute duplicity' (Ibid., p. 253, 260)). There is no individuality, no personal relations in her affairs; everything is conditioned by her insatiable appetite, which prevents her from attaining real personhood.

When in college, Joe and B form a club called 'The Little Flock'. This was the first sign of the underlying satanic nature of Joe's doings, as the club ritualistically inverted the Catholic mass; instead of Christ's body they celebrated their own (mea vulva, mea maxima vulva), and instead of sharing in the spirit they shared in the flesh, masturbating amongst one another. The use of the tri-tone, historically associated with the demonic (it was called the 'devil's note', as any Black Sabbath fan knows), completes the 'black mass'. The purpose of the group beyond this was a rebellion against love: 'we were committed to combat the love-fixated society'. No member was allowed to sleep with a man more than once, which eventuates in B's falling out with Joe, but not before telling her that 'the secret ingredient to sex, is love'. The club disintegrates as all but the strongest fall away into normal society; Joe remains individually dedicated to the principles of The Little Flock, for she is nearest to the absolute W. She singly represents the symbolic import of the club's founding ethos and its praxis, which is the anti-hierarchical domination of the spiritual by the natural, of form being moulded by matter: '[The] relationship between male and female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is ruled' (Aristotle, Politics, 1254b). That this is inverted by Joe's relations with men, whereupon she assumes the higher role, displays the extent of her psychic disorder:
'[The results of woman's emancipation] have been the degeneration of the feminine type even in her somatic characteristics, the atrophy of her natural possibilities, the suppression of her unique inner life. Hence the types of the woman-garconne and the shallow and vain woman, incapable of any elan beyond herself, utterly inadequate so far as sensuality and sinfulness are concerned because to the modern woman the possibilities of physical love are not as interesting to the narcissistic cult of her body.... Now when a woman, before consecrating herself to a man, pretends that he belongs to her body and soul, not only has she already "humanized" and impoverished her offering, but worse yet, she has begun to betray the pure essence of femininity in order to borrow characteristics of the male nature - and possibly the lowest of these: the yearning to possess and lay claims over another person, and the pride of the ego... Eventually, because of woman's increased egocentrism, men will no longer be of interest to her; she will only care about what they will be able to offer to satisfy her pleasure or her vanity.' (Evola, p. 164-5)
Joe therefore also typifies the 'modern, emancipated woman', which we will have to discuss in some other article, as what LvT might be saying about modern society as a whole rather than one particular human being is too vague at this point. What Evola remarks on comes true for Joe, as her incessant sexual adventures have rendered her joyless and loveless. Leaving college, Joe happens to work for the man to whom she lost her virginity some years ago, Jerôme. After an initial, surprising, and highly meaningful rejection, Joe comes to feel something for Jerôme, and it is essential to recall exactly what she says of him: 'I could suddenly see a kind of order in the mess.... I wanted to be one of Jerôme's things. I wanted to be picked up, and put down, again and again. I wanted to be treated by his hands according to some sophisticated principle that I could not understand'. This is one of those rare moments in the film where Joe shows her positive femininity, that is femininity undisturbed by its own cthonic nature, femininity ameliorated by its relation with masculinity. Joe finally succumbs to something higher; she, as matter is defined by form, succumbs to Jerôme who, most likely due to the fact that he was the one who took her virginity and therefore 'owned her' in a certain primal sense, enacts the male principle of order, 'some sophisticated principle that [woman] could not understand'.

By the wildest coincidence (LvT frequently foregoes realism to present a more pressing point, such as Uma Thurman's cameo role as a hyperbolic mother character whose family has been destroyed by Joe's manipulations: 'Would it be alright if I showed the children the whoring bed?'), Joe comes across Jerôme again some time later, and they instantly become intimate. The sex scene is the most intensely romantic of the film so far; there is passionate kissing, and a frenetic energy that suggests a will to union beyond the physical. The problem, however, is that Joe soon realizes that she 'doesn't feel anything'. Her constant infidelity and unremitting pursuit of satisfying her desire has entirely desensitized her to the act, and precisely when it is most important: B's final words, the secret ingredient, become impractical because sex has become utterly compromised by its physical aspect. There can be no synthesis of love and lust upon the isolation of one from the other: 'The external union, earthly and in particular physical, does not possess any specific relation to love.... It is necessary for love, not as its indispensable condition and independent end, but only as its final realization. If this realization is set as the end in itself, ahead of the ideal concern of love, it ruins the love' (Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love, p. 64). In Joe's case, she cannot obey both masters, because she is already enslaved to the one by her youthful consecrations to purely somatic delights. When she finally does experience something resembling love, she cannot fully enjoy it because of her disconnect between the two masters; the 'secret ingredient' means nothing to her, because she has already severed the link between love and sex, and therefore precluded the potentiality of their ever being truly entwined. This is perfectly epitomized in the scene after she tries to make love with Jerôme in which Joe tries to masturbate and, still feeling nothing, proceeds to hit her vagina as though it were a physical problem and not a psycho-spiritual one.

'The [Prostitute], for whom the act is everything, the compression and end of all life, is never satisfied, never to be satisfied, were she visited by all the men in the world'. (Weininger, p. 232)

This was the turning point of Joe's story at which she finally has some elementary level of introspection; 'fill all my holes', she says to Jerôme during sex, craving not only physical fulfillment, of course, but complete existential fulfillment as she realizes her emptiness more and more. Unable to keep up with her, Jerôme actually comes up with the idea of getting him 'some help with the feeding'. Joe soon returns to her polyamorous lifestyle, even as she births Jerôme's son, Marcel. Then, still unsatisfied, she searches for more extreme alternatives to restore her earlier sensations, like the drug addict who takes stronger and stronger doses in the futile effort to recreate his original high. This leads eventually to masochism, which is the nadir of W's sexual devolution insofar as she can no longer acquire pleasure through pleasure, but through indirect, demented means, namely pleasure through pain. Joe lubricates before even getting struck, which, as the film clearly explains, is meaningful in that her body thinks that it will be having intercourse when she knows in her mind that she will not be. Any pretense of love, even the vaguest pretense which the simple act of man copulating with women provides, is now dispensed with in her descent into perversion, which is the complete denial of the other: 'At the root of all forms of perversion is self-love, the utilization of another, who... is seen as no more than an instrument for one's pleasure (or pain)' (Vladimir Moss, The Theology of Eros, p. 123). The perception of Joe as Prostitute is also at its most transparent at this time. As she must go out at night, staying at the sadist's place between 2 and 6 A.M., Joe is sometimes forced to abandon her son. One night, Jerôme comes home to find Marcel exposed on the apartment balcony and then confronts Joe when she returns; reminiscent of Antichrist, the mother is again distracted by sex as her child is at risk. Faced with Jerôme's ultimatum of choosing her family or her sexual longings, Joe has no choice at all, and rips herself from her son in a wash of tears. In the choice between stimulating her own wants and those of her blood, there is zero confusion on the part of the Prostitute:
'The absolute mother, who thinks only about the child, would become a mother by any man.... The absolute prostitute, on the other hand, even when she is still a child, dislikes children; later on, she may pretend to care for them as a means to attract men through the idea of mother and child. She is the woman whose desire is to please all men....' (Weininger, p. 221)
Now constantly bleeding from her orifices due to the constant beatings and other abuse she subjected herself to over the years, Joe eventually puts her sexual experience and knowledge to use as a debt collector. This is where she perfects her sadistic side, though it is doubtful that she enjoys it like she did any of her earlier exploits; this new, more direct power over men is not unwelcome, but it fails to excite her in the same way that subtly ruling men excited her by means of more feminine devices. This is as far as we can go in the plot for the present, and the main ways in which Joe exemplifies the Woman and Prostitute types are, at any rate, now exhausted.

So far all that we have told does not occur in the present, but in the form of a series of flashbacks that the present Joe is telling as her life story. The film actually opens with an atheistic Jew by the name of Seligman finding Joe, who is unconscious and lying in the street. Though covered in cuts and bruises, she denies Seligman's offer to call an ambulance, though not his invitation to come to his place for tea. So, while Joe is telling the story we just highlighted to Seligman (who happens to be a virgin), the film continually cuts back to the present to reveal how both of them think of what is happening. LvT normally makes his male characters auxiliary pieces in the drama, and that is no different here, as Seligman's role is simply to offer learned digressions that sometimes help us understand Joe's narrative in a mythical and symbolic light, or are simply that, useless digressions that mean nothing, that are simply the virginal Seligman's attempts to contextualize in a way that he understands things in which he has zero experience. So, digressions like making apt but apparently meaningless fishing allegories out of Joe's train ride seductions, or relating the knots which the sadist K used to tie Joe up to a random invention where a mountaineer creates a knot that saves his life ('that was your weakest digression yet', Joe says), add nothing to our understanding of Joe, but they do add something to our understanding of Seligman, whose life seemingly consists of nothing but learning and loneliness.

At other times, however, Seligman's learning offers a tremendous help, especially if the viewer is ignorant of mythical data and how to extract it from the film's narrative and imagery. LvT is unique in that he actually takes pains to explain a lot of these more obscure elements in his films, and yet leaves plenty of room in which we can look for ourselves as to how these symbols are connected and what they reveal about the idea of the film. It is Seligman who brings to our attention that what the 'Vacuum Cleaner', the pianist in The Little Flock's black mass liturgies, is playing is actually the tritone, the 'devil's note'. In relating her memory or waking dream of levitating off the field, and having two women on either side of her, it is Seligman who notes who they are: Messalina, the notoriously promiscuous wife of Emperor Claudius, and the Whore of Babylon. Her ascent off the grass is a flagrant mockery of Christ's transfiguration. In the birth of Marcel, too, Joe, who feels like the child is not even her own (this is telling both of the Prostitute type and of satanic lore), tells Seligman that she felt as though the child was laughing when she first sees him. Seligman informs her that this was a sign of Antichrist. All of this reinforces the implicit intimacy that exists between Joe's nature and behaviour, and the activity of Satan; old texts of Church Fathers are recalled in which woman is identified as a conduit for evil, a medium through which Satan acts:
'You are the devil's gateway; you are she who violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die.... Woman, you are the gate to hell.' (Tertullian, *On the Apparel of Women*)
This connection is hardly unintended. Through all of the implications and references made thus far, LvT clearly designed that we should conceive of woman's diabolical potential. In Weininger's dualistic system, though he explicitly denies that women have any spiritual agency ('the prostitute is no diabolic destroyer of the idea, but only a corrupter of empirical phenomena' (Weininger, p. 234), that woman is related with object and matter is to equate her with the 'demiurgic' reality, that is to say the temporal realm that has no actuality except inasmuch as it receives actuality from the eternal realm, the 'world of ideas'. This is symbolically construed in satanic terms, for Satan represents the rebellion of non-being against being, of nothingness against somethingness; W's negative nature, her intrinsically material nature, precludes her from the life of the spirit and associates her with the anti-life of the adversary. Joe continually reflects these imaginations as she refuses to desist in the wild embrace of her lowest impulses, despite the obvious harm that she is causing amongst those around her and eventually even herself.

Simply because they are peripheral, however, does not mean that LvT's male characters are not essential. Joe's father, for instance, provides an important part of the drama in that he is virtually the only thing about her that is untainted by her sexual feelings. When he is teaching her about the trees in the forest, about how the ash trees are the most beautiful of all the trees, there is a fragment of
innocence that survives throughout the film as a single preserved memory of a non-sexual state. That Joe has not found her 'soul tree' as her father did is crucial in her character development; she has not matured enough to the point where she is able to discern what her soul looks like, because it is not quite yet winter for her. Her father explains: 'It's actually the souls of the trees that we see in the winter.... They do look like human souls. Twisted souls, regular souls, crazy souls; all depending on the kind of lives human beings lead'. This is the closest that the film comes to enunciating a specifically Christian or at least Socratic perspective, describing that our inner life is shaped by our outer life (and vice versa).

Seligman, too, offers something besides both his useful and his useless learning. As Joe unleashes her existential burdens upon him, unafraid now to admit guilt and responsibility for all the hurt that she has inflicted, Seligman offers a sounding board for Joe's confessions; he does more than listen and bolster what she says with intellectual insights, he tries to soften her shame (for it is shame at the present, shame at her lifetime of shamelessness) with the sentimentality of the modern ethos which ultimately deems no one morally culpable. Whenever Joe explains how much evil she has done, how much others have suffered on her account, Seligman tries to counter with an unconvincing apology for her. In an early scene, for instance, after a passenger on the train (who bails the two girls out from paying for their train tickets) denies their initial seductions, Joe presses him further, learns that the man is saving his semen for this particular night, when the doctor says it is likeliest for his wife to be able to conceive. Joe presses him further, oblivious to the man's greater arc, and he is unable to resist as she gives him head, thereby stealing that precious energy which he was preserving for this very night. Seligman supplies the half-witted argument that the semen dies if it stays within for too long, and so the couple might very well have a thriving child of their own after all. This is typical of his persistent attempts to wean away her guilt, and it is typical of our modern irresponsibility, of our utter failure to assume accountability, regardless of what the other circumstances might involve.

Finale (major spoilers henceforth)

At this moment, my addiction is very clear to me....

The first chapter of Nymphomaniac's second volume is called The Western and the Eastern Church, an idea that opens up an endless number of possible interpretations, but which most importantly introduces the religious reality, which will be essential for our understanding of the film's foremost conceptions. Seligman explains to Joe that going East from Rome is like leaving a world of 'guilt and pain towards joy and light'. Joe inquires: 'But you said you didn't believe in God'. Seligman answers: 'Ah but the concept of religion is interesting, like the concept of sex. But you won't find me on my knees with regard to either'. This as much as anything else displays the fundamental divide between the two characters, a divide deeper even than their respective sexual proclivities. Seligman and Joe are opposites in the realm of innocence and experience, of abstract opinions and lived realities; Seligman knows what he knows from reading about something, Joe from living through something. Seligman cannot believe in something so real as God or act in something so real as sex, because his flaw is a cowardly indifference to the world, the very opposite sin of Joe's, which is well and truly articulated by now.

LvT does not make obscure his own conviction as to which is superior, to try and fail or to not try at all, and he publishes it in two dramatic ways. The first consists of Joe's first attempts to cure her addiction, which, according to the addicts anonymous club she is forced to attend, do not make her different from them; they are all the same insofar as they are all addicts, that they are all alike. She is told by the leader to rid herself of anything which reminds her of sex, which of course includes just about everything; we see her tape all of the door knobs, the tub handles, plaster the windows with newspapers, paint over the mirror, wearing heavy mittens. She turns to her book of leaves to distract herself from anything sexual, to remind of her only innocent memories, but she fails when she licks her fingers to turn the pages. When she returns to one of the meetings, prepared to tell of how she is a sex addict and how she has achieved abstinence for a few weeks, she suddenly sees herself as a child in the mirror, and is reminded of her real nature. She tears up her notes, and furiously erupts as her real self comes to the foreground: 'I am definitely not like you', she says to the leader, 'That empathy you claim is a lie. Because all you are is society's morality police, whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the earth so that the bourgeoisie won't feel sick. I am not like you. I am a nymphomaniac, and I love myself for being one.' Beyond this added validation of her shamelessness in the manner of the Prostitute, she identifies strongly with her nature at the expense of conforming to social standards; the false morality projected by an AA authority scratches merely the surface of the problem, when what is needed is a sincerely interior transformation. The AA leader is a believer in abstractions like Seligman, while Joe, the human subject, has to live on the front lines.

The second way that LvT shows this happens when Joe is doing her debt collecting work. There is this one man who will not pay, no matter how much he is threatened or how much of his property is destroyed. So Joe tries to infiltrate his sexual life, tries to detect some kind of vulnerability. She removes his pants and launches a series of particularly perverted sexual stories, seeing which might arouse him and therefore expose his weakness. It is only on the last effort, however, as Joe tells of a little boy who wants to go home with the man, that his member starts to ascend. Joe moves in for the kill, and finally forces him to concede, saying that he will pay if she simply stops talking about it. Then Joe astonishingly performs fellatio on the man, at which point Seligman interjects, utterly bemused: 'You did what?' (This is one of the rare occasions where he comes close to judging her.) 'I took pity on him', she responds. 'This is a man who succeeded in repressing his own desire.... He had lived a life full of denial, and had never hurt a soul.' Seligman refuses to comprehend this, while Joe, with her own experiences, is perfectly capable of empathising with a man who was able to do what she could not: control his sexual desire. She shows him genuine empathy, while the AA 'morality police' leader and the bookish Seligman cannot because they only know what they are taught in abstractions, removed from human existence.

As he says himself at one point, Seligman's name means 'happiness', something which is obviously not irrelevant; that there is also a behavioural psychologist by the same name who teaches a kind of therapeutic happiness is possibly also of importance. The irony is that, despite his saying otherwise, Seligman is not happy; he cannot be happy because he cannot broach the outside world. Having retreated inside his own personal space, lacking family and friends, he has not even really explored his inner life either. He is not happy, but he is not exactly unhappy either: he does not know happiness as either an affirmation or a negation because his fear of uncharted territory prevents him from learning about it. So he learns about life from the safety of a library. So he forms the opposite end of the dialectic with Joe, whose intense unhappiness is the result of demanding more from life, from demanding 'more from the sunset'.

Joe says that her path does not, as Seligman said of the one leaving Rome, grow in joy and light, but the opposite, toward the suffering of the Western Church, and so it does. In her position as a debt collector, Joe is compelled to take on a successor, 'P',  a young, lonely girl with a deformed ear who she must love as a daughter in order to maximize her protege's love for her. They end up sharing a homosexual relationship in a perverted mockery of a real mother-daughter connection, or of real friendship. To accelerate the plot, on one bit of business, another one of LvT's unbelievable coincidences materializes: the debtor whom they must collect from is none other than Jerôme. Taken by surprise, both at the fact that it was Jerôme and the bubbling forth of some feeling for him, she insists that P do her first job, and that she doesn't 'want anybody hurt'. Moving along, Joe discovers Jerôme and P have arranged their own sexual partnership, and she removes herself from the city, travelling through nature alone. It is winter now, both seasonally and existentially: Joe finds her soul-tree. It is crooked, narrow, and slanted with minimal limbs - and it is alone. Atop the mountain, her soul tree stands aloof from everything else, precisely as she has been her entire life. We recall when Joe tells of a childhood operation: 'It was as if I had to pass through an impenetrable gate all by myself. It was as if I was completely alone in the universe, as if my whole body was filled with loneliness and tears.' Now that her old lover and her pseudo-daughter were involved together, Joe feels more alone than ever, and she enters her winter, when the soul becomes visible - in all of its defects.

Returning to the city, Joe plans to kill Jerôme, and possibly P as well; having found her soul tree and come face to face with her inmost self, she decides that she has no option now but to follow through on her newest desire, which is the destruction of a human being. In failing to rack her gun, however, which Seligman supposes was indicative of her subconscious desire to not murder her former love, Jerôme beats Joe in the street, then humiliates her by making love to P in the exact same way as he took her virginity: thrusting three times in the front, five times from the rear (both numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, Seligman uselessly points out). P then completes the embarrassment by urinating on Joe, who lies there until Seligman finds her. Whether Seligman is right in that Joe never truly meant to kill Jerôme or that it was simply chance, in either event she is unable to achieve what she thought she desired; for once she has come up empty, and it means everything.

The problem with Weininger, for all of the genius shown here and elsewhere, is that his is not the full vision of the Christian Church, but something closer to the dualistic worldview of the Manichean; he cannot view matter as something inherently good as the orthodox Christian does, so in his equation of W with matter she is also equated with something inherently negative. Nikolai Berdyaev, though full of praise for Weininger, also corrects him: 'If Weininger were to have come to the Christian consciousness through modern philosophy, he would then have surmounted this dualism, and his spiritualism would become monistic, not denying the flesh, but spiritising rather the flesh'. The truth is that M and W are opposed as principles, but not as mortal enemies; W has a reality of her own, separate from that of M, even if she can never have the same subjective and intellectual strength and his level of individuation. Woman is still matter, but matter that has the potential for growth and redemption, matter that is good; she is not necessarily the 'gateway to hell', as Tertullian would have it, but often one's help to heaven; W is not only Medusa or Calypso, but Penelope and Beatrice as well. Weininger says: 'No men who really think deeply about women retain a high opinion of them' (Weininger, p.236). It is clear that LvT has thought a lot about woman, and while he certainly shares a a good deal of Weininger's pessimism about the sex, he also posits her as possessing a resolute independence, certainly different from that of man, but also having her own qualities that are not purely negative. Actually, so far as Nymphomaniac is concerned, Weininger's maxim is reversed: we are initially repulsed by the actions of Joe as we would be repulsed by those of the lowest, most deceitful and blasphemous whore, but as the story progresses, and as we learn more of her inner character, we finally come to sympathize or possibly empathize with her in a way which would never have thought possible. We have seen woman, and we rejoice with her as fellow tragic pilgrims in the human experiment.

Joe moves toward Rome from her once lofty illusions about the rebellion of lust against love; she realizes more and more her own shame and thereby sublimates more of the Prostitute into what we might call a third, 'inorganic' type, one which we mature to rather than are born with, a type we might as well call the 'Forgiven'. Where Seligman would have her move toward the Church of 'joy and light', and therefore celebrate who she is no matter what she is, Joe is more honest, and metaphorically crawls toward the Church of suffering and pain, the Church which emphasizes the crucifixion in its icons. By finding her soul-tree, by being utterly vanquished in the street, beaten and humiliated like the Christ, and by sharing her confessions to Seligman as she would to a priest, Joe experiences a kind of sacramental relief in which her burdens are lifted; all those symbolic associations with the Whore of Babylon and with the mother of Antichrist are long forgotten as Joe fights off her last demons. Seligman's final argument, a pathetic string of feministic cliches about how her struggles have been the result of male oppression, are shrugged off by Joe, who, though 'predisposed to knock holes in [his] arguments', is simply too tired (thus representing a superiority of knowledge, a peaceful transcending of Seligman's faulty dialectic). Before falling asleep, however, she says with the utmost clarity:
'At this moment, my addiction is very clear to me, and I have come to a decision: even though only one in a million, as my dubious therapist said, succeed in mentally, bodily, and in her heart ridding herself of her sexuality, this is now my goal.... It's the only way I can live [my life]. I will struggle against all odds, just like a deformed tree on a hill.'
This is the ultimate confession of the Prostitute turned into the Forgiven, or more simply the Sinner turned into the Redeemed. That she really means this is obvious, for, immediately after expressing her burning gratitude for not being a murderer, she kills Seligman for trying to steal what thousands had already tasted. She would rather be a murderer than surrender what is now her only reason to live. Seligman, for once in his life, strayed outside of his comfort zone, and was abruptly punished for it: he cannot have what he has not been allowed to have. While his story ends in the swift flash of a gunshot, Joe's story, in which her newfound sanctification and precious sense of self-worth have given her a reason to live, is just beginning. For the human life, even the woman's life, starts not with a corrupted nature and ends in it; we live in sin, but we are redeemed by grace. This is what makes Nymphomaniac a more hopeful film, and this is what makes it a more than satisfying conclusion to the 'Depression' trilogy. LvT leaves us not with something unbearably distressing; he leaves us with the surprising prospects of recovery and redemption; he leaves us with the possibility that even those who demand more from the sunset might actually receive it, even if it comes in surprising new forms.