"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Nietzsche (4)


Trouble in Paradise

What’s a paradise without a little trouble?

Just as Paris seems to be our kind of heaven, so the trouble we've been experiencing over the last year seems to be our idea of hell, we who value silence so highly.



These nineteenth century buildings are gorgeous, but sometimes living in one feels like being inside a drum. Music next door? You hear it. Laughing? That too. All of which is fine, the sounds of life around you.

But what if you have a neighbor who likes to make noise early in the morning or past midnight, just to wake you, just for the hell of it? Sudden, sharp noise, like shoes being thrown against the wall. And who must listen to her radio at full volume, disturbing us and her neighbors upstairs.



You have to take measures.

And we did: wrote her courteous letters. Brought her flowers. Wrote the owners of the apartment. Spoke to the gardienne. Spoke with our neighbor in the street.

Why she was so noisy?, we asked.

Because she felt like it, she said. And then came a litany of resentment, against Americans, against artists, against the owner of her apartment, and other vague resentments.

Resentment. I thought of Friedrich Nietzsche’s words about Buddhism, that “there is nothing to which [the Buddha's] doctrine is more opposed than the feeling of revenge, antipathy, ressentiment (“it is not by enmity that enmity is ended”—that is the stirring refrain of all Buddhism).”

We wrestled with how to handle this.



We spoke with friends, French and American. We talked to a lawyer, a doctor, a property manager, and others.

The advice was varied:

Get very tough, don't let them walk on you; that posture is all the French understand.

Women said, She needs some flowers.

Men said, She needs a good ----.

French people of all genders said, She’s crazy (déséquilibré, as the French so delicately put it).

She’s miserable, lonely.

She’s both.

Quelle bêtise!, said a French woman about the anti-American, anti-artist bias.  What nonsense.



Monster-Baby-Tyrant is what we call this kind of behavior.

If you’re miserable, one way to handle it is to take it out on others. Scapegoating, it’s called.

If you want peace and compassion from others, you have to give it, we decided. Maybe over time this would have an effect. Maybe by setting an example of consideration towards her, she would follow suit. 

We vowed we wouldn’t descend to her level and play our music or TV loud. We bought earphones, and watch our French films and news programs (one of the ways we study the language) without making noise to bother our neighbors.



We bought a fan, to create white noise between our bed and the wall adjoining our two apartments.

That inspired the first communication initiated by her, after six months of none. She left a note outside our door. There was a sound, she said, that disturbed her sleep. Perhaps we had heard it too?

Yes, we replied. We needed a way to block out your noise in the morning (and sometimes during the day and night too).

She handled this as any mature human being would and hired a lawyer. A lawyer? No dialogue at all? Why not just offer to be quieter, and come to some agreement with us so that we all could sleep peacefully, without the need for a fan?



We replied with a letter (through our lawyer) that described our mutual history, including the soundproofing we’d put in on our side, at the request of the owners of the apartment. If that didn’t work, they had promised, they’d soundproof their side, too.

We had asked our excellent contractor about his experience soundproofing Paris apartments. He’d done it, he said, but hadn’t found a really good method yet. He’d heard that there were better methods in the U.S.

We spent months researching American soundproofing. It didn’t seem like such a big challenge to me, since my father was a contractor, and so is my brother. Easy enough.

The material was shipped to France while we were still in the U.S. Our contractor did a beautiful job of lifting it by crane through a fifth floor window, installing it, and finishing off the walls so that the beauty of the crown molding stayed intact. All for a reasonable price.



It didn’t work. It helped. It would have worked if our neighbor were making a reasonable amount of noise.

But she wasn't. From the day we moved here one year ago (and even before that, we’d heard from previous occupants), she had begun her campaign of banging on the wall to express some chronic misery in her soul.

And then the owners of the apartment decided they didn’t want to spend the money, or risk losing the beautiful ceiling line by soundproofing on their side, or—who knows, maybe they knew it would do no good with a tenant on a rampage.

They also decided they no longer wanted her as a tenant, and asked her to leave.

But she hired a lawyer, and has stayed. French law is heavily on the side of the tenant; it is almost impossible to evict one.



After a while, we protected our sleep with not just a fan, but sleeping pills as well.

Several months later, I read an article about the harm that these pharmaceuticals do. We decided to kick them together, to get “moraline-free,” a word that Nietzsche coined. “… not virtue but fitness (Renaissance virtue, virtú, virtue that is moraline-free).” His ideal, ours too, is to live a healthy life.

To make it easier, I rented a studio for a few weeks where I could catch three birds—fish with one net:

Go down into depth and find my fiction voice again.

Get off the sleeping pill.

And give Richard the solitude to do the same.



It worked! We are both “moraline-free.” We both were able to shift gears and go into deeper artistic focus.

Now that the studio rental is over, and I’m back home, how will this drama unfold? Stay tuned.





Queer Things, Great and Small


"For if the world is like a dark jungle and a garden of delight for all wild hunters, it strikes me even more, and so I prefer to think of it, as an abysmal, rich sea--a sea full of colorful fish and crabs, which even gods might covet, that for their sakes they would wish to become fishermen and net-throwers, so rich is the world in queer things, great and small. Especially the human world, the human sea: that is where I now cast my golden fishing rod and say: Open up, you human abyss!"

That's Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Four.


And that is what Richard and I are doing now, fishing in the depths. We'll be back with you in several weeks.

As 2012 dawns, we wish you a year of wild hunting and fruitful fishing!





At Play In The Surrealist CafĂ©

Today the sun begins its annual passage through the Lion constellation. It’s time to get serious—about play.

“What if?” the Surrealists liked to ask.

What if all of you, or many of you, or the lion-hearted and the playful among you, were to participate with us in a Surrealist game?




Of course you would!  Here's how:

1.)  On Saturday, July 30, precisely at 1 p.m. in your time zone, wherever you are in the world, walk into your favorite café;

2.)  pick one stranger walking by, or in the room;

3.)  write a paragraph (150 words maximum), or a poem (same word count), take a photo, or draw a picture, or even write a song, about him or her. Abstract, figurative, or realist, you choose.



And what if you sent your café composition to us by Tuesday, August 2, at 6 p.m. Paris time, and we published it in Paris Play the following Saturday, August 6?

What sort of collage would be created by all your various hearts and minds?

Forget whether you’re an artist, or a student, or a lawyer, or a mother, or all of the above. The point of this is the magic of collaboration and synchronicity. Please join us!

               *     *     *



“Of the three metamorphoses of the spirit I tell you: how the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally, a child…. But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred "Yes." For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred "Yes" is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.”

Thus Spake Zarathustra, part I, Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann.





Sex and Surrealism, America and France


Life is surreal. Oh yes, it is.

In a state close to dream last night, I finished Henry Miller’s “Quiet Days in Clichy,” his alter-ego, Joey’s, rambunctious accounts of sex with prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl whom his equally goatish roommate, Carl, picks up wandering the streets of Paris.

Joey comes home one night to find Carl with Colette, whose virginity he has just plucked from her as casually as the god, Hades, plucked the girl, Kore, from a meadow (where she was herself plucking flowers), and took her down into the underworld with him.

The homeless girl turns out to be so sexually ravenous that Carl begs Joey to help him sate her appetite on nights when Carl is away at work in a newspaper office.

But Colette, whom the two men agree is “dumb,” is not Joey’s type. He prefers women who have something interesting to say. Besides, they could be thrown in jail for having sex with a minor. (Though sex is legal in France at the age of 15, or at least is today, the two men at first believe that the girl is 14.)



Joey begs Carl to find Colette something to wear beside the transparent Japanese shift he’s provided for her, or he may find himself raping the girl against his will.

One day, Colette disappears. The next day at noon, when Carl and Joey are both home, someone knocks on the door. It’s the police, with the girl’s parents.



The mother is so beautiful that both men wish they’d found her first. “The mother! says Carl later. “Did you have a good look at her? She was not only beautiful, she was divine.” But the mother is mostly quiet while the police and the father, who looks like a barrister, question the two men about the girl’s missing watch.

When the mother examines a stack of books on Carl’s work table, Faust, Blake, Lawrence, Shakespeare—good literature—and hands the last volume of Proust’s great work to her husband, the man looks at Carl with new eyes. Carl then discusses the essay he’s writing on the relation between Proust’s metaphysical vision and the occult tradition, and Joey is revealed to be a famous writer. The attitude of the parents changes from accusatory to respectful.

(This was first written in New York City in 1940, and rewritten in Big Sur in 1956.)

It is fascinating to read this account of untrammeled male sexuality by an American artist, a writer, in Paris, pre-Women’s Liberation.

The only woman in Henry’s accounts of his sexual adventures who seems offended by what some might see as insensitivity to a woman’s inner life is a beautiful young Danish woman. But that’s after she and Joey and Carl and an acrobat named Corinne have a four-way sexual romp after dinner at the men’s apartment.

Those Viking babes can be so difficult!





The next morning, Marley and I read The New York Times over breakfast. The big news: Anthony D. Weiner (really, that’s his name?) was caught sending snapshots of parts of his body to various young women over the Internet. He had excellent pecs that must have taken many hours over many months at the gym to develop, so you can hardly blame him for wanting to show them off.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see the shot of him in his boxers, though it seems to me that he might be confusing what turns women on with men’s love of viewing body parts. But what do I know?



What knocked me out was the photo of him in bed with… Marley! Really. It was our cat, white with fawn ears, sleeping soundly beside him, so I knew immediately that Anthony, though not, perhaps, a man of good judgment, was certainly a man of good taste.

(A little aside here: Richard came home the other day from l’Alliance Francaise and told me that his French teacher had informed the class that they must not pronounce the “t” at the end of “chat,” when referring to a cat. Just as in English, in French, a pussy may refer to a cat. Or it may refer to a woman.)

Anthony, too, uses the two words interchangeably, calling this photo, “Me and the pussys.”  



But then I read that not only is Anthony married, but he’s been married less than a year. His wife happens to be a personal aide to Hillary Clinton, which perhaps suggested to Anthony that if Hillary accepted Bill’s indiscretions, her aide might do the same for him.

Furthermore, Anthony seemed a likely candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of NYC. And those political hopes, it seems, have now been extinguished.

I watched a video in which Anthony confessed that yes, he had sent texts of photos of his body, along with flirtatious messages to several young women on the Internet. At several points he broke down in tears.

What has happened in our world between Henry Miller’s lusty joyous relish of sex with prostitutes, 15-year-olds and indignant Danish beauties (who nevertheless, surrender to his desires), and the sexual scandals that have erupted lately in the news?

The contrast between these two New Yorkers, Henry Miller and Anthony Weiner, seems to me to be utterly surreal.

Perhaps it’s the difference between what is permitted an artist (or rather, what an artist permits himself to do) and a politician.

Perhaps it’s a difference in space, of geography, between France and the U.S.A. (The parents of the 15-year-old shifted their attitude entirely when they learned that they were addressing a famous writer. Writers are that deeply respected in France.)



Perhaps it’s a difference in time, that certain changes that occurred in the 1960s—the birth control pill, sexual freedom, books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and the rise of feminism—changed what women accept, and thus, what the culture condones.

However, I think another element is at play here.

There was a brief time in history in which one generation (in America, at least) was free to experiment and live out our sexual fantasies completely. There was a period after the birth control pill and before AIDS, when men and women could live as freely as they chose without fear of getting pregnant or catching a deadly disease.

Not everyone participated. But those of us who did had a rocking good time.

And listening to Anthony Weiner talk, I thought, Poor guy, he just wasn’t born at the right time. He didn’t get to live out his sexual fantasies before getting married, and this can be a big problem for highly-sexed (but repressed) people.

Artists and libertines have been sexually expressive at all times in history. But for other folks, who are socially or religiously programmed, sex may be a guilty pleasure that must be alternately repressed or furtively engaged in.



And yet, it’s the very essence of the life force. As the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “The degree and kind of a man's sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.” 

In Henry Miller’s writing, he often gives the impression that he’s oblivious to the effect he’s having on the women with whom he has sex, whereas Anthony Weiner’s tears of regret at hurting his wife (as well as his more political concern about disappointing his constituents) seemed to me to be genuine.

This seems like a cultural advance, a man caring (at least in retrospect) about his effect on the woman to whom he’s married.

Yet all that magnificent lusty life force that Henry had! What I love about Henry Miller, what Nietzsche himself would have admired, was the way that Miller’s sexuality and spirit were not divided. It was all of one piece, in all its lustiness as well as crudeness and lack of sensitivity.

What seems sad to me about Anthony Weiner is how divided his spirit is from his sexuality. That seems to be the inheritance of Judeo-Christianity—the body divided from the spirit. And what a sad and tortured story that creates.