Sunday, February 13, 2011

ambiguities (3): ressentiment

What does it mean when intellectuals talk about ressentiment? For instance, when one talks of ressentiment about Dr Slavoj Zizek's marriage to an Argentinian model?

Clearly, we're meant to take ressentiment to convey more than mere resentment. If people resent bankers' bonuses, for instance, this might be upsetting for the bankers; ultimately it could be seen as being not very nice. On the other hand, the resentment could be justified by the bankers' bonuses being wholly undeserved, simply the distribution of an arbitrary levy on the productive economy. The argument either way is entirely prosaic.

When one talks of ressentiment, one attempts to make the condemnation of common or garden resentment absolute and unarguable, by alluding to the unchallangeable authority of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose texts are supposed to permanently avant-garde expressions of unassimilated genius. But if we're to cultivate a sacred awe of unassimilated genius, it remains to be established why one genius ought to be preferred to others. William Blake holds an opinion entirely contrary to Nietzsche's, telling us that the Tygers of Wrath are wiser than the Horses of Instruction. If genius is to be deferred to, there is no way of settling which opinion is correct.

And if we look at the arguments themselves, we might find Blake's argument at least the equal of Nietzsche's, both for cogency and for orthographic invention.