onanistic apologetics I

    Michael once heard a man boast of never having had to masturbate. What the braggart had attributed to a surfeit of opportunity, was clearly owed to a want of libido. As goes intercourse, so does interlocution. Writing for no particular recipient is to verbal communication as masturbation is to sex. All the more so if the writer’s aim is dialectics. Solo practice of Socratic midwifery is as likely to deliver reason, as onanism, to engender offspring. And yet, man’s earnest striving to justify his ways wholesale, to his equals and his betters, can arise alongside with a humorless harangue against solitary pleasures:

    J’étais revenu d’Italie, non tout à fait comme j’y étais allé, mais comme peut-être jamais à mon âge on n’en est revenu. J’en avais rapporté non ma virginité, mais mon pucelage. J’avais senti le progrès des ans ; mon tempérament inquiet s’était enfin déclaré, et sa première éruption, très involontaire, m’avait donné sur ma santé des alarmes qui peignent mieux que toute autre chose l’innocence dans laquelle j’avais vécu jusqu’alors.     I had returned from Italy, not altogether as I went there, but perhaps as no one of my age ever did before. I brought back with me, not my innocence, but only my virginity. I have felt the passage of years; my troubled disposition at long last has revealed itself, and its first irruption, altogether involuntary, has caused me to regard my health with worries that unravelled better than anything else the innocence in which I had lived thitherto.
    Bientôt rassuré, j’appris ce dangereux supplément qui trompe la nature, et sauve aux jeunes gens de mon humeur beaucoup de désordres aux dépens de leur santé, de leur vigueur, et quelquefois de leur vie. Ce vice que la honte et la timidité trouvent si commode, a de plus un grand attrait pour les imaginations vives : c’est de disposer, pour ainsi dire, à leur gré, de tout le sexe, et de faire servir à leurs plaisirs la beauté qui les tente, sans avoir besoin d’obtenir son aveu. Séduit par ce funeste avantage, je travaillais à détruire la bonne constitution qu’avait rétablie en moi la nature, et à qui j’avais donné le temps de se bien former. Qu’on ajoute à cette disposition le local de ma situation présente ; logé chez une jolie femme, caressant son image au fond de mon coeur, la voyant sans cesse dans la journée ; le soir entouré d’objets qui me la rappellent, couché dans un lit où je sais qu’elle a couché. Que de stimulants ! tel lecteur qui se les représente me regarde déjà comme à demi mort. Tout au contraire ce qui devait me perdre fut précisément ce qui me sauva, du moins pour un temps. Enivré du charme de vivre auprès d’elle, du désir ardent d’y passer mes jours, absente ou présente, je voyais toujours en elle une tendre mère, une soeur chérie, une délicieuse amie, et rien de plus. Je la voyais toujours ainsi, toujours la même, et ne voyais jamais qu’elle. Son image, toujours présente à mon coeur, n’y laissait place à nulle autre ; elle était pour moi la seule femme qui fût au monde ; et l’extrême douceur des sentiments qu’elle m’inspirait, ne laissant pas à mes sens le temps de s’éveiller pour d’autres, me garantissait d’elle et de tout son sexe. En un mot, j’étais sage parce que je l’aimais. Sur ces effets, que je rends mal, dise qui pourra de quelle espèce était mon attachement pour elle. Pour moi, tout ce que j’en puis dire est que s’il paraît déjà fort extraordinaire, dans la suite il le paraîtra beaucoup plus.     Reassured soon enough, I learned this dangerous supplement that cheats nature, and spares young men of my temperament from much confusion, at the expense of their health, their vigor, and sometimes, their life. That vice, which shame and shyness find so convenient, is moreover very attractive for lively imaginations: it is to have their way, so to speak, with sex in its entirety, and to subordinate to their pleasure the beauty that tempts them, without having to get its consent. Seduced by this fatal advantage, I labored to undermine the healthy constitution that nature had restored in me, and to which I had given the time to form itself. My premises of the moment contributed to this disposition: living with a pretty woman, caressing her image in the bottom of my heart, seeing her incessantly during the day, surrounded at night by objects that reminded me of her, and sleeping in the bed where I knew she had slept. So many incentives! who can imagine this without supposing me on the brink of death? But on the contrary; I found my salvation, at least for a time, precisely in that, which might have ruined me. Intoxicated with the charm of living with her, with the passionate desire of passing my days there, absent or present I saw in her a tender mother, a beloved sister, a charming friend, but nothing more. I always saw her this way, always the same, and never seeing anything but her. Her image, always present in my heart, left room there for anyone else; she was for me the only woman in the world, and the extreme tenderness that she inspired in me, leaving my senses with no time to arouse for others, preserved me for her, and from her entire sex. In a word, I was good, because I loved her. From these effects, which I recount badly, let anyone judge what kind of attachment I had for her. For my part, all I can say of it, is, that if it already appears extraordinary, it will appear much more so in the sequel.
    ― Les Confessions, Livre III     ― translated by MZ

Setting aside the still contentious subject of its physical consequences to the onanist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau accuses him of perpetrating an imagined violation of others. Masturbation so assisted by imagination is indeed a timid approach to mental rape. It is exploitative in its use of oneself and imagining of another. It is cowardly in avoiding the dangers of rejection and embarrassment. It is also the wellspring of another obsession concerned with promiscuous dissemination of one’s essence.
This obsession is graphomania.
    In his critique of modernity, Jacques Derrida connects the offhanded characterizion of masturbation in the Confessions and the pedagogical treatise Émile, as “that dangerous supplement” (ce dangereux supplément) to Rousseau’s extended argument in his Essay on the Origin of Languages, that languages are made to be spoken, and writing serves only as a supplement to speech. Derrida complains that the concept of written language as a supplement to oral communication, and the ensuing theory of writing, designate “textuality itself” in Rousseau’s text. This target of his onanistic Enlightenment analysis rests embedded within an indefinitely multiplied structure, mis en abyme, set in an abyss reflecting upon itself. Derrida argues that this abyss is no accident, but a consequence of what he deems the logocentric metaphysics of presence. (De la grammatologie) Ascending in due course to assume an oragenital perspective, Derrida subsumes the traditional notion of interpreting writing through inference of the author’s intended meaning, as patriarchal phallogocentrism. Michael is not concerned at this time with refuting this connection. He is prepared to embrace it for the sake of argument. Michael’s present concern is with his capacity to use phallogocentric devices as media for connecting with the truth.

    Voici le seul portrait d’homme, peint exactement d’après nature et dans toute sa vérité, qui existe et qui probablement existera jamais. Qui que vous soyez que ma destinée ou ma confiance ont fait l’arbitre du sort de ce cahier, je vous conjure par mes malheurs, par vos entrailles, et au nom de toute l’espèce humaine, de ne pas anéantir un ouvrage unique et utile, lequel peut servir de première pièce de comparaison pour l’étude des hommes, qui certainement est encore à commencer, et de ne pas ôter à l’honneur de ma mémoire le seul monument sûr de mon caractère qui n’ait pas été défiguré par mes ennemis. Enfin, fussiez-vous, vous-même, un de ces ennemis implacables, cessez de l’être envers ma cendre, et ne portez pas votre cruelle injustice jusqu’au temps où ni vous ni moi ne vivrons plus, afin que vous puissiez vous rendre au moins une fois le noble témoignage d’avoir été généreux et bon quand vous pouviez être malfaiteur et vindicatif : si tant est que le mal qui s’adresse à un homme qui n’en a jamais fait ou voulu faire, puisse porter le nom de vengeance.
    ― Les Confessions, Introduction du manuscrit de Genève
    Here is the only portrait of a man, painted exactly according to nature and in all its truth, that exists now and that will probably ever exist. Whoever you may be whom my destiny or my trust have made the arbiter of the fate of this notebook, I entreat you by my misfortunes, by your gut feelings, and in the name of the whole human kind, not to destroy a unique and useful work, which can serve as the first article of comparison for the study of men, which certainly is yet to begin, and not to take away from the honor of my memory the only certain monument to my character that has not been disfigured by my enemies. Finally, even if you yourself might be one of those implacable enemies, cease to be so towards my ashes, and do not sustain your cruel injustice even until neither you nor I will no longer be alive, so that at least once you might nobly bear witness to yourself having been generous and good when you could have been harmful and vindictive: If indeed evil aimed at a man who has never done, or wished to do any, can bear the name of vengeance.
    ― translated by MZ

The arrogance of Jean-Jacques is both sweepingly historical, rooted in an egotistical arrogation of himself, as the sophistical measure of all things, and prescient in anticipating the existentialist claims to inimitable authenticity. His is the only portrait of a man, painted exactly according to nature and in all its truth, that exists now and that will probably ever exist. This remarkable distinction, if not self-evident, must be observed out of deference to our hero’s sweeping entreaties, appealing to the reader’s sympathy, by the writer’s misfortunes, to his empathy, by his gut feelings, and to his philanthropy, in the name of the whole human kind. Signing his Introduction as “Jean-Jacques Rousseau” seals in flattery and connivance his tripartite unity of the narrator, the author, and the protagonist of his life. The beginning of his book recapitulates and amplifies his appeal:

    Je forme une entreprise qui n’eut jamais d’exemple, et dont l’exécution n’aura point d’imitateur. Je veux montrer à mes semblables un homme dans toute la vérité de la nature ; et cet homme, ce sera moi.     I form a work that is without precedent, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I propose to show to my fellow men a man in all the truth of nature; and this man shall be myself.
    Moi seul. Je sens mon cœur, et je connais les hommes. Je ne suis fait comme aucun de ceux que j’ai vus ; j’ose croire n’être fait comme aucun de ceux qui existent. Si je ne vaux pas mieux, au moins je suis autre. Si la nature a bien ou mal fait de briser le moule dans lequel elle m’a jeté, c’est ce dont on ne peut juger qu’après m’avoir lu.     I alone. I feel my heart, and I know mankind. I am made unlike anyone I have seen; I daresay, unlike anyone in existence. If I am not worth more, at least I am different. Whether nature has acted rightly or wrongly in breaking the mold in which she cast me, can only be decided after I have been read.
    Que la trompette du jugement dernier sonne quand elle voudra, je viendrai, ce livre à la main, me présenter devant le souverain juge. Je dirai hautement : Voilà ce que j’ai fait, ce que j’ai pensé, ce que je fus. J’ai dit le bien et le mal avec la même franchise. Je n’ai rien tu de mauvais, rien ajouté de bon ; et s’il m’est arrivé d’employer quelque ornement indifférent, ce n’a jamais été que pour remplir un vide occasionné par mon défaut de mémoire. J’ai pu supposer vrai ce que je savais avoir pu l’être, jamais ce que je savais être faux. Je me suis montré tel que je fus : méprisable et vil quand je l’ai été ; bon, généreux, sublime, quand je l’ai été : j’ai dévoilé mon intérieur tel que tu l’as vu toi-même. Être éternel, rassemble autour de moi l’innombrable foule de mes semblables ; qu’ils écoutent mes confessions, qu’ils gémissent de mes indignités, qu’ils rougissent de mes misères. Que chacun d’eux découvre à son tour son coeur au pied de ton trône avec la même sincérité, et puis qu’un seul te dise, s’il l’ose : je fus meilleur que cet homme-là.     Whenever the last trumpet might sound, I will present myself, this book in my hand, before the sovereign judge. I will proudly proclaim: Thus have I acted; thus have I thought; thus have I been. I have told of the rights and the wrongs with equal frankness, I have concealed no vices, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced unnecessary ornament, it was merely to fill a gap brought about by a failing of memory. I may have supposed true, only that, which I knew to be probable, never that, which I knew to be false. I have shown myself such as I was: despicable and vile in so being; virtuous, generous, and sublime in so being: I have revealed my innermost being even as Thou hast seen it. Power Eternal! assemble around me an innumerable throng of my fellow men; let them listen to my confessions, let them groan at my unworthiness, let them blush at my sufferings. Let each of them in his turn uncover his heart with equal sincerity at the foot of your throne; and if then let one of them say, if he dare: I was better than that man.
    ― Les Confessions, Livre I     ― translated by MZ

A marginal autodidact equally adept at eliciting hatred and admiration from quarters both high and low, Jean-Jacques forms a work that is unique and without precedent. He stands alone, and so does his account of himself. His work serves as its own foundation. Its accomplishment will have no imitator. It will not serve as a foundation for anything else. It is an authentically humane account of his life. It is a demonstration, an unveiling, a truthful account weighing in with equal candor on both sides of the scale establishing the worth of its author, narrator, and protagonist. Whenever the last trumpet might sound, he will present himself, his book in his hand. The Confessions will be his closing argument in defending his life against all detractors, addressed equally to man and God. He has informed his audience of the rights and the wrongs of his life with equal frankness. His account conceals no wrongs, adds no virtues. He has revealed his innermost being even as God hast seen it. He has opened himself up to his fellow men, to impart upon them a fraction of divine omniscience. He has made himself transparent. Let none of his readers muster the courage to say: I was better than that man. He is both defending and indicting himself. It’s only fair to preempt the verdict of his peers. Jean-Jacques has gainsaid all criticism and forestalled all competition in making his apology. In this finality, he has transformed his life into an imperishable fiction.

    In connecting with human truth, the last word is not given to any man. It is easy enough to speak with scientific certainty in treating of abstract matters. But where desire takes charge, in turning the gaze downwards, away from the stars, in directing the attention inwards, unaccounted by numbers, there readings will grow erratic. Candor provides no cure. In exposing his action, man takes the first step towards concealing his motives. In touting his uniqueness, he consigns himself to petty self-regard. The best part of any man is the one that connects him to his kind. Personality is a scam perpetrated by wholesale purveyors of selfishness. Personal knowledge cannot be achieved with coarse strokes of blunt instruments. Self-loathing is the natural condition of man. Self-love is his greatest reward. Introspection achieves itself through the most challenging kind of seduction. The privilege of revealing the forces that shape human lives is contingent and intermittent. It is even less amenable to analysis and prediction than the trends of societies and economies, which benefit from the laws of large numbers. It is least applicable to the understanding of one’s own motives. The perspective necessary for this insight only begins to emerge with the advent of new generations, even as the facts of its concern begin to recede into uncertainty.

L’amour de soi, qui ne regarde qu’à nous, est content quand nos vrais besoins sont satisfaits ; mais l’amour-propre, qui se compare, n’est jamais content et ne saurait l’être, parce que ce sentiment, en nous préférant aux autres, exige aussi que les autres nous préfèrent à eux ; ce qui est impossible. Voilà comment les passions douces et affectueuses naissent de l’amour de soi, et comment les passions haineuses et irascibles naissent de l’amour-propre. Ainsi, ce qui rend l’homme essentiellement bon est d’avoir peu de besoins, et de peu se comparer aux autres ; ce qui le rend essentiellement méchant est d’avoir beaucoup de besoins, et de tenir beaucoup à l’opinion. Sur ce principe il est aisé de voir comment on peut diriger au bien ou au mal toutes les passions des enfants et des hommes. Il est vrai que, ne pouvant vivre toujours seuls, ils vivront difficilement toujours bons : cette difficulté même augmentera nécessairement avec leurs relations ; et c’est en ceci surtout que les dangers de la société nous rendent l’art et les soins plus indispensables pour prévenir dans le coeur humain la dépravation qui naît de ses nouveaux besoins.
Émile, Livre IV, 756
Self-love, amour de soi, which concerns only ourselves, is content when our true needs are satisfied; but selfish love, amour-propre, which makes comparisons, is never satisfied and never can be, because this feeling, in preferring ourselves to others, demands also that others prefer us to themselves, which is impossible. This is how the gentle and affectionate passions are born from self-love, and how the hateful and angry passions are born from selfish love. Thus what makes man essentially good is having few needs and making few comparisons of himself to others; what makes him essentially wicked is having many needs and depending much upon opinion. By this principle it is easy to see how one can direct to good or evil all the passions of children and of men. It is true that being unable always to live alone, they will find it difficult always to live good; this difficulty will by necessity even increase with their relationships; and it is in this above all else that the dangers of society make art and care more indispensable in order to avert in the human heart the depravity that is born from these new needs.
― translated by MZ

It is customary to flatter selfishness. Its more sophisticated advocates promote it into the inevitable and beneficent force of economic progress. But a simplistic dismissal of distinctions between the sound self-regard of amour de soi and the invidious comparisons that ground amour-propre would be fatal to Michael’s project. In comparing himself to the dead, he cannot seek their favorable opinion. In comparing himself to the living, he finds no end of qualities to admire in the lowest of men. The gem lost in a crown stands out amidst the dregs. The greatest challenge of life is to extract lasting value from decay.
    In telling this story, Michael is setting himself amidst his fellow social retards, against the words and deeds of their betters. Agreeing with Descartes agreed with Ovid, that bene qui latuit, bene vixit, he honors the concealment of his character through the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at all. He has no wish to fashion himself into the protagonist of this tale. There is no shortage of more interesting subjects at hand. His narrative thread is held hostage to the obscure allegiances of his memory. His moral scrutiny is exercised provisionally, under submission to more lucid authorities. His heroes are dead men receding into stark abstractions. He will let go of this narrative before consigning himself to their lot.

One thought on “onanistic apologetics I”

  1. Odzywki

    Visit us now to see more details and facts regarding to

    [url=http://www.ultimate-nutrition.pl/ultimate-arginina-ornityna-lizyna.html]ornityna[/url]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *