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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nemesis and the pursuit of happiness

I want somethin different, I want somethin

Oh no, honey, not for ten dollars…

In Herder’s essay, the beauty of Nemesis is an aspect of her indifference –or is it that here indifference is an aspect of her beauty?

It was, of course, one of the less discussed problems with founding a society on happiness, or the pursuit of happiness. It isn’t self-evident that everyone is happy about the happiness of others. The chthonic Nemesis, the frightening Nemesis, is always in pursuit of the happiness of others. The evil eye is buried beneath the tolerant society, the society in which all interests busily converge, drawn by invisible threads. The chthonic Nemesis can be pictured with one foot on the neck of some iconic image of Superbia. For the exceeding happiness of one pulls at the others. The threads fray. In a Borges short story which is in the form of a report about some jungle community, the explorer remarks that the inhabitants all cover their mouths when eating, since to be seen eating is immodest. Immodesty, nakedness, is a continually reinvented thing in this world, with many aspects, many codes – and where nakedness exists, Nemesis exists. The older aspect of the goddess, the ugly aspect, must be appeased somehow. Often, this takes the form of crushing the happiness of children. Indeed, in the nineteenth century, there was a fashion for doing just that in Victorian England. And the happiness of children still has the power to evoke a peculiar social anger. But that anger is directed at other instances of happiness, too: the happiness of foreigners, strangers, other races, the happiness of women. It is a blithe and altogether too hasty assumption that happiness is socially reconciling, a binding force.

Which brings us to the beautiful and indifferent Nemesis, the judge. For here, Herder correctly sees, is a great triumph of civilization. In that indifference, there melts away the desire to crush the happiness of others. But it holds back, too, from sweet fusion with the mass, that other form of social cohesion. It coldly dislikes the even temporary erasure of the line separating the self from others in such fusion.

Herder’s two aspects of Nemesis preside over the castles and dungeons of Sade. It is always a question of Nemesis for Sade’s fuckers, all of them born under the sign of superbia.

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