The Enjoyment of VulgarityJulius Evola
Trans. G. A. Malvicini
One of the most indicative signs of the influence of the regressive processes that we have described in the preceding pages of this book [L’Arco e la Clava] with regard to customs and tastes, is the enjoyment of vulgarity, with its more or less subconscious undercurrent of pleasure taken in degradation and self-contamination. Related to it are the various expressions of a tendency towards deformation and a taste for the ugly and the base. A few observations with regard to this matter will perhaps not be devoid of interest.
It is almost unnecessary to point to this tendency in certain forms of a new literary realism, in its choice of subject matter, which does not — as the term otherwise might suggest — deal with “reality” in general, whether individual or social, but only with its most vulgar, base, dirty, or squalid aspects. This subject matter becomes an object of “commitment,” to the point that the term “committed literature” has often been used by authors of this type, whose works are also linked to the specific intent of social and political agitation. However, what above all matters here is that the representatives of this movement do not, in general, themselves come from the world they so morbidly or tendentiously focus their attention on. They are, in fact, members of the bourgeoisie, even the upper bourgeoisie with intellectual pretensions, but which also takes an obvious pleasure in descending into degradation or succumbing to the unwholesome enticements of the inferior.
The same characteristic appears in a much larger domain, in varied forms, for example in the vulgar manner of speaking. Low-class slang has become so common that not only novels and stories, but even radio and television do not hesitate to make use of it on some occasions. The same observation can be made with regard to this phenomenon as was made above. Since this manner of speaking is not that of their social class, of the social environment to which they belong by birth, and since youths, girls, and even elderly persons from the middle classes, from the respectable bourgeoisie, and even parts of the aristocracy, imagine themselves to be demonstrating anti-conformism, freedom, and “modernity” by ostentatiously making use of slang, the real meaning of the phenomenon must simply be a pleasure taken in self-degradation, self-abasement, and self-contamination. To anyone who speaks of freedom from convention here, one should reply that all convention has different aspects; conventional or not, certain customs are — or were — intrinsic to a given class, are — or were — its “style” and distinguishing mark. To take pleasure in flouting them simply means wanting to transgress all limits and all boundaries, and opening oneself to that which lies below. Until recently, the tendency was exactly the opposite: many men and women of the lower classes sought, more or less artificially and clumsily, to imitate the manners, the speech and the behavior of the upper classes. Today the reverse is true, and people think they are emancipated, when, in fact, they are merely vulgar and idiotic.
Another, similar phenomenon, is the taste for the ugly, vulgar, and slovenly in clothing and hair-styles, which has also become fashionable in some circles: workers’ or cyclists’ jerseys, farmers’ jackets and pants, shirts untucked and tied in knots, and so on, together with long and dishevelled hair, and the careless and coarse manners and attitudes that American films have taught a boorish youth, with its whiskey shots and “double gin.” The most prodigious phenomenon of this kind is the fashion, which has not yet waned, of blue jeans for girls, and even for ladies: blue jeans being, as we know, work pants. The passivity and tolerance of the male sex is, in this regard, astonishing. These young women ought to be put in labor and concentration camps; that, rather than luxurious existentialist apartments, would be an appropriate place for them and for their “practical” outfits, and might bestow upon them a salutary reeducation.
In a different field, another manifestation of the taste for vulgarity is the fashion of “screaming” singers, unfortunately widespread in Italy. The tendency is the same. One takes pleasure in descending to the level of the street, of the marketplace: the primitivism of the vulgar voice, at best an almost animal instinctiveness in expression and emotion. Another aspect of the same phenomenon are the ecstasies that white men and women for some time now have been sent into by the raucous and graceless singing of the Negro, which almost seems to take pleasure in its own vileness. At the time of this writing, a particular instance of vulgar singing were the Beatles, who aroused delirious enthusiasm among the youth. Apart from their hairstyles, which are of the kind indicated above, the very name chosen by this group is revealing: these screamers called themselves “the Beatles,” choosing as their symbol the most disgusting of insects [the Italian word scarafaggio can mean either “beetle” or “cockroach”]: yet another obvious example of the pleasure in abjection. We can also point out in passing, by way of illustration, that a member of the Roman aristocracy, who had opened a nightclub, wanted to call it “The Sewer,” had he not been prevented from doing so by the police. But back to the Beatles: have they not been made Knights of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth of England? These are signs of the times. The swamp has even flooded the palaces, which are now, however, only faded relics.
If these phenomena, as we have already stated, fundamentally stem from a pleasure in lowering and debasing oneself, we may add that this pleasure is the same that, in the field of sexology, characterizes masochism and auto-sadism. In terms of “depth psychology,” it is a destructive drive turned against the self. Thus, we should reflect upon the unconscious, but no less active “guilt complex” at work in these phenomena. Perhaps that is their most interesting and, in a way, most positive side. It is as if people sensed the failure to realize their true being, the renunciation of every higher meaning of life which characterizes the present time, and as if, as a result of this obscure feeling of guilt or betrayal, they took pleasure precisely in self-degradation, self-harm, and self-contamination.
But there are also cases where the destructive impulse is turned, not inward, not against ourselves, but outward, or cases where the two directions meet and are mingled. Concerning such cases, we could speak about that another set of typical modern phenomena, the scope of which ranges from the most banal everyday life to the level of culture. Indeed, the sadistic tendency, in the general sense, is also manifested in an aspect of the art and literature that enjoys focusing on types and situations pertaining to a broken, defeated, or corrupted humanity. The well-known pretext is that “this too, is life,” or that all this must be shown for the sole purpose of provoking a reaction. In reality, what is here at work is rather what the Germans call Schadenfreude, a spiteful pleasure, a variety of sadism, of sadistic enjoyment. One enjoys seeing not upright, but fallen, failed, or degenerate man: not the upper limit, but the lower limit of the human condition (we could repeat here, at least in part, what we will say later about the “laughter of the gods”). There was a time when it was mostly Jewish (and Russian) writers and artists that were active in this domain; today, the phenomenon has become ubiquitous.
We see similar phenomena even outside of literature, for example in music and figurative arts. Here again the critics and exegetes have their pretexts. We are told that the meaning of these displays is an “existential revolt,” and in some cases also the political and social motives of leftist “committed intellectuals.” In a well-known book on the Philosophy of Modern Music, Adorno rightly wanted to interpret atonal music along those lines: the irruption of sounds that shatter the norms of traditional harmony and rebel against the canon of the harmonic triad would be the expression of existential revolt against the false ideality and conventions of bourgeois and capitalist society. However, we recognize that in this case, the issue should not be addressed too simplistically; in order to judge, we must consider the variety of possible orientations. Besides what we have already stated about contemporary music in Ride the Tiger, we will return to this issue in another chapter of this book. There is no doubt, however, that in many cases the “valid elements” that we sought to uncover in contemporary music are nonexistent, and that, to a large extent, the right view is instead the one expressed by an American, John Hemming Fry, in a book entitled The Revolt against Beauty, published between the wars. This author speaks of the sadistic and destructive drives that permeate many areas of contemporary art, manifested in the deformations, distortions, and primitivism that characterize a vast category of works of figurative art, painting, and sculpture: the elective affinities with the art of savages and Negroes being, in some cases, a further, quite eloquent indication.
Naturally, our positive standard will not be beauty in the academic, empty, and conventional sense. Instead, we should refer to the opposition between form and the formless, to the idea that every truly creative process consists in the domination of form over the formless, in Greek terms, in the passage from chaos to cosmos. In its higher meaning, recognized not only by the classical authors but also by Nietzsche, the “beautiful” corresponds precisely to the perfect and dominant form, to “style,” to the law that expresses the sovereignty of an idea and a will. From this point of view, the advent of the formless, chaotic, and the “ugly” are signs of a destructive process: not of power but of impotence. It has a regressive character. Psychologically, it always has the same basis: a sadistic tendency, a pleasure in contamination in both the artist and in those who appreciate and enjoy art of this kind (if it is a sincere enjoyment, and not a stupid reverse conformism, as it is in most cases). It is not for nothing that in all representations of demons in fairy-tales or superstition, the grotesque distortion of the human figure is a key element: just as in the works of certain modern artists in fashion today.
Some of the latest dances also have typical self-sadistic traits. It is no longer simply a matter of “syncopated” or intense elemental rhythms (in which case we could even recognize a positive element in all this, as we have stated elsewhere), but dances with grotesquely epileptic and simian movements. It is almost as if they expressed a joy in degrading to the maximum anything noble in the human form through paroxysmal contortions, jumps, and puppet-like convulsions. There is a real sadism in the so-called “arrangements” practiced by almost all the orchestras currently in fashion, which specialize in anarchic “solos” as well as cutting up, tampering with, deforming, and decomposing themes from yesterday’s jazz and popular music that were once still acceptable, to the point of absolute unrecognizability.
Finally, a specific area that must be considered is pornography and obscenity, so widespread nowadays. There is no need to provide examples here. Various controversies, sometimes touching the problem of censorship, have been raised with regard to writings deemed obscene, but have never arrived at any clear notions of this issue. It may be of interest to quickly bring up the trial for “obscenity” brought against the famous novel by D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a trial that took place in London thirty-two years after its first publication, on the occasion of the release of a cheap edition of the book in England, where it had been banned until then.
In England, as in other countries, the law defines as obscene anything that may have a tendency to corrupt and pervert. It does not permit the prosecution of works that, despite being “obscene,” are valuable in the domains of art, science, or “any other field of public interest.” Two things were at issue in the case of Lawrence’s novel: the obscene language and some descriptions of erotic scenes, which “left nothing to the imagination.”
We must distinguish these two points. With regard to the second, a general problem arises: to what extent sex in itself could be something “obscene” and unclean, so that to talk about it and draw attention to sexual experiences could have a corrupting effect. We know that Lawrence not only denies this, but even makes sex a kind of religion: he saw in sexual experience a means “to realize the living and undivided wholeness of the person.”
In a later chapter we will discuss at some length the nature of the various contemporary trends that glorify sex and propound sexual freedom. For the moment, we will merely state that our view has nothing to do with bourgeois puritanism and its various taboos. One can indeed go beyond the prejudices of Christian sexophobic moralism and recognize that, in many higher civilizations, sex was not at all considered to be something shameful, unclean, and “obscene.” The problem is something else. Today, it is rather to take a stand against anything that only serves to incite a kind of chronic obsession centered around sex and woman, and that is, fundamentally, a systematic attack, conducted on a grand scale, against virile values. For where love and sex predominate, the influence of women predominates, in one way or another. This obsession is fed in countless ways, mostly by media that are not not strictly speaking “obscene,” in magazine illustrations, advertising, films, beauty contests, literature on ”sexual education” with scientific pretensions, female immodesty, striptease shows, shop windows exhibiting lingerie, etc. “Racy” novels are only one particular instance of this. It is the total phenomenon that should be made visible in order to expose its corrupting action, not on the basis of a petty moralism, but because of its surreptitiously corrosive effect on those interests and values that must always remain dominant in any higher type of civilization.
But with regard to the particular matter we are discussing, what is relevant is the “obscene” in the proper sense. In order to adequately define the “obscene” and “pornographic,” a recourse to etymology is sufficient. “Pornographic” comes from porne, which in Greek means “a low-class prostitute” (as opposed to the courtesan); the application of the term to writings that do not only concern themselves with prostitution and low-class prostitution, is arbitrary. The term “obscene,” on the other hand, comes from the Latin word caenum, which means filth, dirtiness, mud (also excrement). It can therefore be used to characterize an aspect of recent erotic literature, which brings us back to our main theme, the taste for all that is dirty, inferior, vulgar. What is relevant here is the choice, in many authors from Lawrence onwards, of the most vulgar, low-class words, ”obscene” words, precisely, to designate sexual organs and sexual acts.
What Henry Miller has written in defense of obscenity [“Obscenity and the Law of Reflection”], with its characteristic confusions, is typical. Miller is also regarded as openly “pornographic.” For him, “obscenity” in literature, with recourse to the most vulgar erotic language, is a form of protest, rebellion, and liberating destruction; through it, Miller wants to awaken man, by means of an anti-conformism that does not hesitate to perform ”sacrilegious acts.” “Ultimately, then, [the artist] stands among his own obscene objurgations like the conqueror midst the ruins of a devastated city. . . . he knocked to awaken [. . .].” Here, we are really at the limits of the ridiculous. Since Miller is not a theoretician, but primarily a novelist, he should provide some compelling examples of these miraculous powers of “obscenity”; but his books are not even exciting in the manner of certain risqué literature; instead, it all boils down to the grotesque and the dirty when subject matter of this kind is treated and erotic scenes are described. All that remains is the satisfaction in pure and simple obscenity in the etymological sense mentioned above, the reference to sex being secondary, and, for our purposes, irrelevant, since it is possible to speak of even the most risqué matters while avoiding vulgarity and obscenity. A short book generally categorized as pornographic literature, Gamiani, is said to have been written by Alfred de Musset to win a bet that he could describe the wildest and most perverse erotic scenes in a way “that leaves nothing to the imagination” without using a single vulgar word; certain works of anonymous French literature sold under the counter (for example, Vingtquatre nuits charnelles), offer further examples of the same kind. Thus, beyond any moralistic sexual taboo, the salient point is precisely “obscenity” — and the current use of obscene language, regardless of absurd pretexts like those concocted by Miller and Lawrence, belongs essentially to the tendency of self-degradation and contamination, of which we have enumerated a series of typical expressions. That the extolment and the exaltation of sex is associated with obscene language that can only make sex disgusting and repellent, can only be considered singular. Anti-conformist revolt, which has descended from Nietzschean heights to the level of solidarity with the Negro, has found a worthy counterpart in those who have recourse to the dirty and vulgar language of the street. If the justifications of obscenity mentioned earlier are made in good faith, we must simply conclude that those who make them do not even realize the nature of the influences they are subject to, that they merely undergo them and are used by them, pulled along by a deep current, the multitudinous manifestations of which all rigorously converge in a single direction.
Attentive observers will have no difficulty in extending the list of phenomena enumerated here, all of which betray the same origin, and are telltale signs of an atmosphere now prevalent everywhere. We do not need to repeat that any form of conformism is alien to us: in general, conformism consists of residues of bourgeois mores and culture which do not deserve to survive, and which are increasingly affected by processes of dissolution which have become irreversible. Under certain conditions, these processes of dissolution may even be a prerequisite for a new and better order. But this is certainly not the case in everything we have discussed here so far. With regard to all of that, one must only speak of debasement, vulgarity and pure degradation as essential components of the taste and mores predominant today.
1. In the case of genuine, original works by Negroes and primitives, it should be noted that this is not a matter of artistic style; deformation and distortion are usually a component of “magic art,” which is not based not on the subjective imagination, but on the actual perception of certain dark, elemental powers.
2. In another misuse of terms, Miller says that “the whole edifice of civilization as we know it” is “obscene,” which is nonsense, since that edifice is, if anything, absurd and meaningless. For Miller, who is an extreme pacifist, what is particularly “obscene” is modern mechanized warfare, and war in general: another absurdity that reflects the same overwhelming tendency to emphasize only that which, in any given experience, is of an inferior character. The negative, and sometimes degrading and demoralizing aspects of modern warfare — the only ones that are described and emphasized by authors like Barbusse and Remarque — can be contrasted with what men like the early Ernst Jünger and Drieu La Rochelle personally experienced in the same “total war.”
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“to what extent sex in itself could be something “obscene” and unclean, so that to talk about it and draw attention to sexual experiences could have a corrupting effect.”
In the past few years we have been subjected to an ever increasing amount of homosexual humor in movies and on the little screen. In the movie “The Pinapple Express,” during the prologue we witness an enlisted man who has smoked pot say to a general, “Your dick, my mouth.” followed by a pantomime of a cock going into one side of the soldier’s mouth, curling around and coming out the other side. I was appalled and disgusted by this scene, healthy white men do not talk this way. In a later scene we witness the jew, Seth Rogen go to a high school to pick up his 18 year old, Aryan girlfriend. During Rogen’s visit to the high school he has a talk with an Aryan teenager, the teenager closes the conversation with the remark, “Well, it’s time to go out and suck today’s dick.” Again I was disgusted and appalled. During the movie “The Interview” we are witness to James Franco’s exultation when describing porn scenes involving homosexual men ejaculating all over each other. This kind of humor is increasingly injected into the various media today. I recently read Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” and he pointed out the jew’s tendency to think the vulgar and sensuous as humorous. Of course, during Mr. Ford’s time, jewish vulgarity was nothing compared to the degeneracy we are subjected to everyday. America is nothing more than a judeized, negrified, cesspool.
While I agree that your first two quotes are possible only because of a general lowering of standards (would Cary Grant or Fred Astaire give such performances?) I think they are not examples of creeping homosexuality but rather the opposite, vulgar, presumably straight men trying to “shock” authority figures by miming some notion of homosexuality. If it weren’t such a taboo, it wouldn’t shock. In earlier times, Cary Grant (in Bringing Up Baby) appears at one point wearing a nightgown and when asked why replies, in exasperation, “”Because I just went gay all of a sudden!” and leaps into the air.
As for James Franco, I yield to no one in my loathing, especially after disgracing the Penguin edition of Demian with an “introduction” about the importance of the book…. to HIM.
“We can also point out in passing, by way of illustration, that a member of the Roman aristocracy, who had opened a nightclub, wanted to call it “The Sewer”
If Evola had had more info about the Beatles, he could have pointed out that they got their start at a German club called The Cellar.
Attacking the Beatles for “a particular instance of vulgar singing” reminds me of the line that was given to Bond in the movie Goldfinger: “My dear girl,” Sean Connery instructed the hapless Jill Masterson, “There are some things that just aren’t done. Such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above a temperature of thirty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”
This was the interesting (well, to me at least) moment in pop culture when the adult “cool” of the Rat Pack and Bond was being challenged by the kids. For the first time, if you, as Evola says “aroused delirious enthusiasm among the youth” it was a good, or at least lucrative thing. Before, you wanted to try to be an adult (or as Evola says, the upper classes):
“Until recently, the tendency was exactly the opposite: many men and women of the lower classes sought, more or less artificially and clumsily, to imitate the manners, the speech and the behavior of the upper classes. Today the reverse is true, and people think they are emancipated, when, in fact, they are merely vulgar and idiotic.”
Perhaps this explains the shift from Bond to the likes of Matt Helm, as Jef Costello discusses in his new book.
Even at the time, the Beatles themselves quickly became the “nice” alternative to those truly raucous groups like the Stones, the Who, the Animals, the Troggs, etc., who would have caused Evola’s monocle to pop out.
It was Sinatra himself, of course, who demonstrated that you could base a career on screaming kids; I suppose it’s a postwar phenom of affluent youth.
What he have here, as elsewhere, is sort of a continuum of good/bad, or bad/not so bad, either chronologically (artists are hated but eventually become “the good old days” compared to what follows; Sinatra – Beatles – Sex Pistols) or synchronically (Why can’t you be more like the Beatles or Fabian or some other nice bunch?)
Something of the sort seems to be going on in Evola’s essay here. He seems to be walking back from (as political reporters would say today) from his views in Ride the Tiger. There, he tried to find elements that could be “recuperated” from mass culture.
“However, we recognize that in this case, the issue should not be addressed too simplistically; in order to judge, we must consider the variety of possible orientations. “
“This case” being Adorno; but why give this father of cultural Marxism a pass? Because he’s doing what Evola was doing, but now, Evola is walking back from it”
“There is no doubt, however, that in many cases the “valid elements” that we sought to uncover in contemporary music are nonexistent…”
Why the change? Is he just getting old and peevish?
Miller, for example, is quoted there as a symptom, at least, of legitimate alienation form the bourgeois world; here, he’s just a smut peddler.
And yet, right at the end, in the last footnote, he takes Miller to task for “reflect[ing] the same overwhelming tendency to emphasize only that which, in any given experience, is of an inferior character.” True enough, but isn’t Evola doing just that – emphasizing the negative and inferior character of a phenom– if we compare his earlier book to this essay?
To be fair, when it comes to dancing, he seems correct:
“It is no longer simply a matter of “syncopated” or intense elemental rhythms (in which case we could even recognize a positive element in all this, as we have stated elsewhere (i.e., Ride the Tiger), but dances with grotesquely epileptic and simian movements.”
The criterion he seems to be introducing here is “the advent of the formless, chaotic, and the “ugly” are signs of a destructive process: not of power but of impotence. It has a regressive character.” In other words, artistic revolt is good when it moves to a new form, bad when it is just degenerating into the formless.
But what is “formless”?
Now, to take an extreme case, the “free jazz” of Ornette Coleman would, at first listen, exemplify the regressive, chaotic kind of “impotent” revolt. But actually, Coleman did not simply blow whatever he felt like; there was a system (“When I realized I could make a mistake I knew I was onto something.) of enormous, perhaps self-defeating, complexity. This was the point Larkin and Amis missed when bitching about Charlie Parker’s “ugly” music; there was a system there, which you had to learn or at least get used to, before it could reveal what it had to offer.
Amis and Larkin, famously, refused to countenance so-called modernist art that required explanations before you could “appreciate” it. Perhaps they failed to distinguish between these familiarization process, we might say, and mere theoretical smokescreens and one-upmanship (perhaps most obvious in the “art” of a Damien Hirst).
I think Evola is much more interesting when he’s recuperating stuff rather than the rather more easy path of “the kids music is just noise.”
It is usually healthier to try to redeem what one can, and one must also choose one’s battles wisely, etc. But I think Evola has not been hyperbolic enough. His comment about blue-jean wearers being sent to labor camps is probably the strongest part of the essay.
It is a reminder that the greatest part of middle-class practices are not merely lazy and careless, but are carefully cultivated examples of ‘signalling’.
I do not believe that the art of last century demonstrates a ‘revolt against beauty’ so much as a revolt against nature, a preference for progress over nature as it occurs within each craft. Then from a below, a series of counter-cultures which provide an exaggerated and elemental form of naturalness – a confirmation that nature is simply brutal and we were right to suppress it. Marxism from above and Primitivism from below. A middle-class position which alternates between the two and often exemplifies the worst of both worlds when it is directed by those who care more about commerce than bourgeois propriety. The exceptions are mostly happy accidents born out of practice, not planned in advance, and without consequence.
It’s a good line, and I did chuckle at it. Reminded me of Whittaker Chambers’ review of Atlas Shrugged: “To a gas chamber go!”
But seriously, though, what better embodiment of Aryan Woman do we have than the Western or Midwest woman, at work on the ranch, clad in blue jeans and checked shirt, alongside her homeschooled children? Do we not need more of her, and less of the fragile, upperclass twits in sensible skirts? Evola’s Roman women may have worn togas but so did the men. Other climates, other mores.
“what better embodiment of Aryan Woman do we have than the Western or Midwest woman, at work on the ranch, clad in blue jeans and checked shirt…”
The American “work ethic” rears its hideous head. The best response to that is another passage from Evola, from his essay “Lo sfaldamento delle parole”, also in “L’arco e la clava”:
‘Regarding changes in the value attached to words, changes that clearly indicate a radical change in world view, the most typical case is perhaps that of the term labor. In Latin, this word had a mainly negative meaning. Although in some cases, it could refer to activity in general – such as in the expression labor rei militaris, activity in the army – its predominant meaning expressed the idea of fatigue, exhaustion, unpleasant effort, sometimes even disgrace, torment, a burden, a punishment. The Greek term ponos had an analogous meaning. Thus, laborare could also mean suffer, be anxious, tormented. Quid ego laboravi? means: “why did I torment myself?” Laborare ex renis, ex capite means: to suffer from a backache or a headache. Labor itineris means the fatigue and inconvenience of travel. And so on.
So that the Roman never would have thought of making labor a sort of virtue and social ideal. And Roman civilization was no civilization of slackers, loafers and “idlers”. The truth is that at that time, one had a sense of distance. To “work”, one opposed agere, action in its higher meaning. “Work” corresponded to the dark, servile, material, indifferent forms of human activity, with reference to those for whom activity was determined only by need, necessity or an unfortunate fate (the ancient world knew a metaphysics of slavery). Opposed to such people were those who act in the proper sense of the term, those who devote themselves to free, non-physical, conscious, deliberate and to some extent disinterested forms of action. Even to those who exercised material activities, but with a certain qualitative character, and on the basis of an authentic and free vocation, the term “work” was not applied; such a person was an artifex (there was also the term opifex), and this view was also retained in later times, in the climate and style of the traditional craft guilds.
The change in the meaning and value of the word in question is therefore a very clear sign of the plebeian character that has increasingly come to predominate in the Western world, a civilization that increasingly is shaped by the lowest strata of any complete social hierarchy. The modern “cult of work” is all the more aberrant because today, more than ever, under the regime of industrialization, mechanization and anonymous mass production, work has necessarily lost any higher value it might have had. Despite this, one has reached the point of speaking of a “religion of work,” of a “humanism of work” and even of a “labor state”, making work a kind of insolent ethical and social imperative for everyone, to which one almost wants to answer insultingly with the Spanish saying El hombre que trabaja pierde un tiempo precioso (“the man who works loses precious time”).
On another occasion, we had already identified the following contrast between the traditional world and the modern world: in the first, even “work” could take the form of an “action”, of a “work” and of an art; in the second, action and art sometimes take on the character of “work”, that is, of coerced, opaque and interested activity, not according to a vocation, but to need and, above all, for profit, lucre.’
Our younger readers may benefit from reading Evola on labor, but as for myself, at about the time Evola was publishing those words, I was taking a two-semester “Intro to Philosophy” course whose textbook was Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture, from which I was able to imbibe the entire orthodox Greek/Scholastic doctrine on work vs. leisure and its modern deformations, such as Marxism etc. (In fact I have a book review in process at the moment that references that very book on that very topic).
It’s very easy for a slave-holding society, such as Greece, Rome, or the antebellum South, to discourse on the liberal vs servile arts. For us moderns, not so much. (Automatizing the work process is not real answer; the prole on the assembly line is still a degraded tool, and the modern web designer at Starbucks uses devices assembled by slaves in Asia). And it’s easy to boast about “never having worked for a paycheck” where you’re a Sicilian aristocrat.
We Americans have preferred to draw on other aspects of the Roman tradition, such as would hold up Cincinnatus as a role model: a man who, when called to lead Rome, was ploughing his fields, and lamented that his crops would not be taken care of, and his family would starve. (Remember when Hillary said she and Bill were “penniless” when they left the White House?)
“It is worth while for those who … suppose that there is no room either for great honor or virtue, except where wealth is found, to listen to his story.” – Livy 3.26
Yes, factory workers and the like are degraded specimens of humanity (thus the hypocrisy of the North) but the yeoman farmer, man and wife, have been the American ideal. Indeed, they are the very paradigm of “those who exercised material activities, but with a certain qualitative character, and on the basis of an authentic and free vocation” to whom “the term ‘work’ was not applied.”
For Evola, blue jeans are a sign of “the plebeian character that has increasingly come to predominate in the Western world, a civilization that increasingly is shaped by the lowest strata of any complete social hierarchy”. The fact that they have now become so common so as to be perceived by almost everyone as “normal” – to the point that to even question the normalcy of wearing them is seen as a sign of being “ignorant” and “out of touch” – in no way affects the validity of Evola’s point.
From the Wikipedia entry on Jeans:
‘Research on the trade of jean fabric shows that it emerged in the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nimes, France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may be the origin of the word “jeans”. In Nimes, weavers tried to reproduce jean but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, from de Nimes, meaning “from Nimes”. Genoa’s jean was a fustian textile of “medium quality and of reasonable cost”, very similar to cotton corduroy for which Genoa was famous, and was “used for work clothes in general”. Nimes’s “denim” was coarser, considered higher quality and was used “for over garments such as smocks or overalls”. Nearly all Indigo, needed for dying, came from indigo bush plantations in India till the late 19th century. It was replaced by indigo synthesis methods developed in Germany.
Copper rivets for reinforcing pockets are a characteristic feature of blue jeans.
By the 17th century, jean was a crucial textile for working-class people in Northern Italy. This is seen in a series of genre paintings from around the 17th century attributed to an artist now named The Master of the Blue Jeans. The ten paintings depict impoverished scenes with lower-class figures wearing a fabric that looks like denim. The fabric would have been Genoese jean, which was cheaper. Genre painting came to prominence in late 16th century, and the low-life subject matter in all ten paintings places them among others that portray similar scenes.
Denim is not the only sturdy cotton fabric used for everything from working clothes to fashion items. There is also dungaree. Dungaree was mentioned for the first time in the 17th century, when it was referred to as cheap, coarse thick cotton cloth, often colored blue but sometimes white, worn by impoverished people in what was then a region of Bombay, India a dockside village called Dongri. This cloth was “dungri” in Hindi. Dungri was exported to England and used for manufacturing of cheap, robust working clothes. In English, the word “dungri” became pronounced as “dungaree”.’
In the 50’s, jeans became a fashion among bourgeois American college students, as a sign of “rebellion”.
Evola would, no doubt, have been aware that jeans were introduced in the United States by a Jew, Levi-Strauss (Löb Strauss).
‘The criterion he seems to be introducing here is “the advent of the formless, chaotic, and the “ugly” are signs of a destructive process: not of power but of impotence. It has a regressive character.” In other words, artistic revolt is good when it moves to a new form, bad when it is just degenerating into the formless.
But what is “formless”?’
Sanskrit does not distinguish between “form” and “beauty” – the same word, “rupa” is used for both notions. For the Aryans, beauty is that which has form, and hence, ugliness is formlessness.
“In reality, what is here at work is rather what the Germans call Schadenfreude, a spiteful pleasure, a variety of sadism, of sadistic enjoyment. One enjoys seeing not upright, but fallen, failed, or degenerate man: not the upper limit, but the lower limit of the human condition (we could repeat here, at least in part, what we will say later about the “laughter of the gods”). There was a time when it was mostly Jewish (and Russian) writers and artists that were active in this domain; today, the phenomenon has become ubiquitous.”
Compare this with the following quote from a text Evola wrote in the 30’s:
‘[T]hese are the specific and easily multiplied examples of an activity with a thousand faces but with one single effect: to disintegrate, degrade and subvert. It is “Schadenfreude“: taking pleasure in degrading, corrupting, dirtying, sensualizing, opening the doors to the “underground” of the human soul, in order to unleash it and satisfy it. The Schadenfreude characteristic of the Judaico-Levantine soul, that once was the soul of the “man of redemption.”‘
Evola is simply observing that the Schadenfreude that he sees as characteristic of Jews has, through a kind of contagion, become ubiquitous in the post-war, Americanised (which for Evola means Judaised and negrified) West, to the point that “Aryans” have unconsciously begun to take pleasure in all forms of degradation, including self-degradation. That, in essence, is the “enjoyment of vulgarity” – the opposite of those who “remain standing”.
Evola’s point about Schadenfreude being a characteristic trait of Jewish psychology is as valid today as ever. A particularly blatant example of Jewish Schadenfreude are, for example, Eli Roth’s “torture porn” films, not to mention his appearance as the sadistic “Jew bear” in the film “Inglourious Basterds”. Or generally, the Jewish taste for scatological “humour”. The Jewish penchant for “dirtying” and degrading is obvious in the pornography industry, which is largely owned and run by Jews. Most of the pornography produced by it focuses on the degradation and humiliation of white, and in particular, blonde (Nordic-looking) women, and through them, the symbolic humiliation of the whole white race. A humiliation and degradation that whites are then conditioned to consume, i. e., enjoy, internalise and ultimately participate in.
The Beatles of all people with their lovely singalong melodies, neatly structured songs and proper voices … I wonder what the Baron would say today about all those screeching ugly infernally distorted chaotic sadistic Black Metal furies that hail his name and writings.
Also Evola’s English seemingly was bad enough not to see that it wasn’t cockroaches that were evoked in their name and also miss the pun on “beat”. Beetles are very interesting, beautiful creatures, as his comrade Ernst Jünger might have testified.
In any case, this has to be the worst thing I have ever read of Evola. There are some points, but generally it comes across as ignorant, bourgeois, stuck-up old man ranting. I’m all with Camille Paglia here, and say that “Rock is Art”.
As an ignorant, stuck-up young man, I feel compelled to come to the defense of my elders!
There are things more important than Art, to which Art is in service. And I don’t believe I’ve ever heard an apology for Rock music that does not boil down to a simple phrase: “It’s mine, so I can’t totally hate it”. This is a healthy attitude to have – if one already enjoys good health.
If Evola had written in English, he might have mentioned the dung beetle.
On the whole, I agree that it is not a strong piece.
Evola’s point is simple. The flouting of bourgeois convention in order to appear “emancipated” is just a further step in the process of involution if it means descending to a level BELOW that of the bourgeois, to the level of the plebeian, formless masses.
“To anyone who speaks of freedom from convention here, one should reply that all convention has different aspects; conventional or not, certain customs are — or were — intrinsic to a given class, are — or were — its “style” and distinguishing mark. To take pleasure in flouting them simply means wanting to transgress all limits and all boundaries, and opening oneself to that which lies below.”
An anti-conformist, anti-bourgeois attitude has, for Evola, two possible aspects. In this article, he describes the positive aspect in the following way: “in general, conformism consists of residues of bourgeois mores and culture which do not deserve to survive, and which are increasingly affected by processes of dissolution which have become irreversible. Under certain conditions, these processes of dissolution may even be a prerequisite for a new and better order.” That is, in essence, the Nietzschean attitude of the “right-wing anarchist”. On the other hand, Evola has no sympathy for the “reverse conformism” that in most cases characterises the contemporary “anti-bourgeois” attitude, a false anti-conformism “which has descended from Nietzschean heights to the level of solidarity with the Negro” and that simply follows, more or less unconsciously, the general process of regression characteristic of modernity.
Another Traditionalist heard from:
“The vital music of our time is jazz, rock, disco, the popular song. What people call modern music, most often abstract compositions completely devoid of acoustical or psychological meaning, only interests a small group of conditioned music lovers. I, for one, find it deadly boring. Nowadays even the masterpieces of romantic music are too often played coldly, precisely, with no thought for anything but technique. Gone are the days when simple folk would go about humming Verdi arias or Neapolitan songs to themselves, when children learned die Forelle or Standchen without ever having heard of Schubert. A gloomy, disquieting silence has fallen upon a modern society that is saturated with the blare of radio music and the images of television advertisements. Sometimes I sit down at the piano and play a Schubert impromptu, a short piece by Grieg, a Mozart fantasia, or a melody by Faure only to remind myself that music still exists. Other times I turn to my vina and suddenly feel myself enveloped in a world of beautifully precise and meaningful sounds, full of poetry and emotion. What the fate of contemporary music may be, I cannot say. I do not believe that it can be leading to anything. People seem to have forgotten that music is a language – the language of the soul, the language of the gods. ”
— Alain Danielou, The Way to the Labyrinth: Memories of East and West, New Directions, New York 1987; translation by Marie-Claire Cournand. Page 315-16
A large part of the problem is educational/practical. The Rock and Pop Star often appear as ‘studied amateurs’. Punk music, which is deliberately atrocious, is a ‘D.I.Y’ music. This is fairly appealing, especially when you see a lot of concert musicians who cannot actually do anything for themselves or speak in their own voice musically.
There have been movements to reintroduce folk song, dance, ballads. To teach the singing of catches and canons, learning by ear, and simple accompaniment at the keyboard. Everything that can be learned by a youth, and which used to define an amateur as an amateur.
These attempts have consistently been opposed by all the usual suspects, because ‘folk’ is a construct. We were allowed to don our cardigan sweaters, grow our neck-beards, and sip at the very weak tea of post-WWII folk music, whose records we could find in the World Music section.
Yes, the idea is to disparage “learned” styles as unnatural, affectations,etc. and laud the “natural” as long as the latter is crude, such as the singing of a Bob (((Zimmmerman))). Soon the learned tradition is forgotten. Thus, rather than a return to actual “roots” the deracinated populace is simply ripe for being swept up in some newly manufactured genre, like “folk” or “rock”. ( Some even claim this happened to rap, reconfigured into million-selling gangsta rap). Thus Evola’s earlier point that people should have pursued European folk music but instead dived into commercialized pop, jazz, etc.
Like “democracy” the people are supposedly “liberated” but actually are steered into the sheeple pens by the media/corp/elite.
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