Colonel Kurtz as existentialist philosopher in Apocalypse Now

Colonel Kurtz

An existential philosopher with a spider on his head

Colonel Kurtz is not insane. He’s an existentialist philosopher. A Nietzschean superman. Some of his speeches could just as easily be spliced into the works of Camus, Nietzsche, Sartre.

Like this speech, with its touches of Albert Camus’ The Plague and its darkened Nietzschean undertones:

“We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp…and this old man came running after us…they had hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And, I remember, I, I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out…and I want to remember it, I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond. A diamond bullet, right through my forehead. And I thought, my God, the genius of that. The genius. The will, to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. Then I realized they were stronger than we. … It’s judgement that defeats us.”

Or this existential nihilist sentiment that almost sounds like a post-modern Zarathustra:

“…what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity, seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it. Directly. Quickly. Awake. Looking at it. … I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality. And so I am beyond caring.”

 

And that, by the way, is what junk withdrawal is like. Pure, existential horror.

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame. How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

What a shot of heroin feels like to a Buddhist monk

A federal law enforcement officer once asked me what heroin feels like. She tried to hide the glimmer of that long suppressed, reckless teenage curiosity I caught in her eyes. Cops, you see, are really just latent criminals. Late developers. First I dismissed her with the Trainspotting cliché: take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it. This actually seemed to peak her interest though, so I decided to go Zen on her. I should have stuck with the sex metaphors. This is what I said:

You’re a slow lizard in the cold dawn of a black desert. Your blood is frozen in your veins. You can’t move. You feel icy, you feel cold, you feel old. Your eyes cry for the sun. And the sun rises like a shot of heroin, and you’re bathed in the warm glow. The black sand cooks your belly and the heat hits your lizard brain and you lick your lizard lips with joy as the sunlight courses through you.

Understand?

She didn’t say anything.

OK…

You’re a dry, empty glass, standing alone in the arid sun of the Sahara. Your glassy skin is baked dry with caked sand. All you feel is pain as your delicate body starts to crack in the heat. Then the rain comes in a torrential rush out of the bright sunlit sky. It washes over you and fills you to the brim until you overflow with joy and you are now finally alive.

She looked puzzled, but thoughtful. Like a curious horse.

OK…

You’re a horse and—

—Nevermind, she said.

Heroin. It’s nirvana.

Stop Offering Me Marijuana

"With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself."

“With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.”

Every time I go uptown, people come up and try to offer me marijuana, and I have to explain to them that they’re contaminating public perceptions of my drug philosophy. Recreationalists should not be allowed on the streets. They are a danger to our children. If only there existed a drug squad that could send all these heretics to reeducation camps. Behind barbed wire, professional drug users could counsel these misguided souls to stop wasting their lives on soft drugs and social lubrication, and turn them into professional philosophers of the one true church of psychonautic smack addiction. This is a way of life, not a pastime for dilettantes and the homeless.

Now hiring: experienced junk counselors to advocate drug use as a philosophical modus vivendi. First we go door to door like Mormons. Then maybe try Kickstarter.

Media Shocker: You Are Not Upwardly Mobile

Harvard academics being studied by ordinary people.

Harvard academics being studied by ordinary people.

The American media has been shocked by the latest study out from the Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard which examines social mobility in the United States on a 40 year timeline. Stunned and confused journalists are trumpeting the finding that social mobility “hasn’t changed” in the past 40 years despite the massive economic inequality that exists today in the U$A.The news, however, is no surprise to ordinary people and those who are not lost in jingoist nostalgia for the better times of the racist, sexist, homophobic, oppressively hazy days of the 1970s.

Journalists themselves belong to a peculiar caste in American society. As the most intellectually-challenged members of the intellectual bourgeoisie, they think positively of their country in the past tense, if not the present. Things are bad now, so they must have been better 40 years ago, when the average person just had a high school diploma, and being black or female or gay meant you might as well emigrate or start protesting in the streets. This view is characteristic of their profession, which supposes to require a liberal arts degree but does not technically require actual comprehension of history, politics, or culture. Or literacy.

Some older journalists who have yet to succumb to full dementia, such as the undead who host the PBS Newshour, vaguely recall that opportunities have increased for a number of social groups in the United States since 1970. In occasional lucid moments away from the teleprompter, however, these ancient mummies are now becoming aware that a decrease in social oppression does not equate to an increase in economic egalitarianism.

Which basically amounts to a loss.

JEFFREY BROWN:I mean, first of all, is it a glass half-full or half-empty situation?  How do you look at the problem that we have today?

RAJ CHETTY:  Well, I think you shouldn’t interpret the lack of a decline in upward mobility as good news, in the sense that intergenerational mobility in the U.S., social mobility, is lower than virtually any other developed country for which we currently have data.

And so the way to think about this is that upward mobility is quite low, unfortunately, on average in the U.S., and it has remained — it’s been persistently low for the past few decades.  And so, in that sense, I think it’s still an important and urgent policy priority to focus on identifying ways of improving upward mobility.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june14/mobility_01-24.html

Find what you love and let it kill you

L'Atalante

If you don’t know well enough what you love (or love well enough what you know) to throw caution to the wind, to accept the cruelty of chance and failure and death in pursuit of what you love, then you aren’t living. You’re just killing time.

His body ravaged by wounds and years of exertion, Alexander the Great died after a brief louvre-portrait-alexander-great-356illness. His army had refused to march further into India, forcing his return to Babylon. He was 32; killed by what he loved—war.

Jean Vigo’s weak health was exhausted by the effort of finishing his first feature film, L’Atalante. After he finished editing it, he died from an illness complicated by the tuberculosis he had managed to survive for years. He was 29.

In other words, a life worth living is worth dying for.

If Alexander had halted his campaign after conquering Persia, he would simply have been Alexander III, a Greek king who was born at the right place and the right time. Philip II had already laid the groundwork for a Greek invasion of Persia. Alexander was a brilliant general, but he would not have earned his place in history had he not been driven to death by what he loved in life.

JeanVigoVigo, in contrast, had never been a healthy man. He devoted himself to cinema after reading books about filmmaking while in hospital. With just one feature-length film to his name, he is remembered today not only for his films but as the grandfather of the French New Wave, a movement that arguably caused the most radical change in the art of filmmaking since sound.

What you let kill you will define your fleeting existence in this world—and sorry, gunslinger, there are no other worlds than these.

So, stop killing time waiting for death, and start dying for what you love.

The origins of the quotation, “find what you love and let it kill you,” are unknown. It has been misattributed to Charles Bukowski.

Meet Alexander Trocchi, Junk Philosopher

Alexander Trocchi

“If eternity were available beyond death, if I could be as certain of it as I at this moment am sure of the fix I have only to move my hand to obtain, I should in effect have achieved it already beyond the pitiless onslaught of time, beyond the constant disintegration of the present, beyond all the problematic struts and viaducts with which prudence seeks to bridge the chasm of anxiety, with the ability to say, avoiding unseemly haste: “I’ll die tomorrow,” without bothering to intend it, or not to intend it, as bravely as the fabled gladiators of ancient Rome.”

“For conventional men all forms of mental derangement save drunkenness are taboo. Being familiar, alcoholism can arouse only disgust. The alcoholic humiliates himself. The man under heroin is beyond humiliation. The junkie arouses mass hysteria. (The dope fiend as the bogeyman who can be hanged in effigy and electrocuted in the flesh to calm the hysteria of the citizens.) … I remember thinking that only in America could such hysteria be. Only where the urge to conform had become a faceless president reading a meaningless speech to a huge faceless people, only where machinery had impressed its forms deep into the fibres of the human brain so as to make efficiency and the willingness to cooperate the only flags of value…”

“Whenever I contemplated our poverty and how it situated me, apparently at the edge of an uncrossable gulf at whose far side strolled those fortunate few who lived their lives in well-mannered leisure, I felt like a tent pegged down in a high wind. Sermons on the sanctity of hard work, and there were many such sermons, were offensive to me. I thought of my mother’s hands, and of her poor bent body, and of her boundless admiration for the chief symbol of that class towards which all people of my acquaintance aspired, the class which did not work, the class of whose scorn my father was afraid, thinking only of money as he did, because he did not have any, because each shilling was doled out to him until he was driven to pawn the spoons…”

“For a long time I have suspected there is no way out. I can do nothing I am not. I have been living destructively towards the writer in me for some time, guiltily conscious of doing so all along… a decadent at a tremendous turning point in history, constitutionally incapable of turning with it as a writer, I am living my personal Dada. In all of this there is a terrible emotional smear. The steel of the logic has daily to be strengthened to contain the volcanic element within. …To lose my identity as a writer is to lose all social identity. I can choose no other any more than I can seriously sustain that. I am being left with a subjective identity, something I am discovering (or not) in the act of becoming.””Sometimes, at low moments, I felt my thoughts were the ravings of a man mad out of his mind to have been placed in history at all, having to act, having to consider; a victim of the fixed insquint. Sometimes I thought: What a long distance history has taken me out of my way! And then I said: Let it go, let it go, let them all go! And inside I was intact and brittle as the shell of an egg. I pushed them all away from me again and I was alone, like an obscene little Buddha, looking in.”

–Alexander Trocchi, Cain’s Book, 1960

Meet Mark Renton, Junk Philosopher

Mark Renton

Mark Renton, Junk Philosopher

“…ma concept ay success and failure only operates on an individual rather than an individual and societal level. Due tae this failure tae recognise societal reward, success (and failure) can only ever be fleeting experiences for me, as that experience cannae be sustained by the socially–supported condoning of wealth, power, status, etc., nor, in the case ay failure, by stigma or reproach.

…Why should ah reject the world, see masel as better than it? Because ah do, that’s why. Because ah fuckin am, and that’s that… Basically, aw ah ask is that cunts mind their ain business and ah’ll dae the same. Why is it that because ye use hard drugs every cunt feels that they have a right tae dissect and analyse ye? Once ye accept that they huv that

Irvine Welsh, Junk Philosopher

Irvine Welsh, Junk Philosopher

right, ye’ll join them in the search fir this holy grail, this thing that makes ye tick. Ye’ll then defer tae them, allowin yersel tae be conned intae believin any biscuit–ersed theory ay behaviour they choose tae attach tae ye. Then yir theirs, no yir ain; the dependency shifts from the drug to them. Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ay sound mind etcetera, etcetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir am failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whit they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind–numbing and spirit–crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked–up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.

Well, ah choose no tae choose life. If the cunts cannae handle that, it’s thair fuckin problem.” — Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting, 1993