The Problem of Evil
in Literature, Film, and Philosophy (FRENGEN 265) Class #4:|
Reading assignments for today's seminar were Dostovesky's
Notes from the Undergound (1864),
Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought (2002), "Terror: After September 11" (pp. 281-288),
and two papers by Professor Dupuy "Theory of Mimetic Desire and Underground Psychology"
(René Girard's philosophy) (17 pages)
& "Anatomy of 9/11: Evil, Rationalism, and the Sacred" (27 pages). Professor Dupuy was kind
to download his PowerPoint presentation from his laptop to my USB drive after class (4-27-2009),
so I'm sharing it below in HTML with my added commentaries and web links for a deeper understanding
on the problem of evil.
Slides from Professor Dupuy's PowerPoint Presentation:
(#89) Was 9/11 the manifestation of a new form of evil?
(#90) John Claggart from Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd (1951):
"O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness! Would that I never encountered you! Would that I lived
in my own world always, in that depravity to which I was born. There I found peace of a sort,
there I established an order such as reigns in Hell [...] Having seen you, what choice remains
to me? None, none! [...] For what hope remains if love can escape? If love still lives and grows
strong where I cannot enter, what hope is there in my own dark world for me?"
Britten-Pears DVD Collection Highlights (1:27/5:55)
(#91) Book Cover: Jean-Pierre Dupuy's
Avions-nous obulié le mal?: Penser la politique après le 11 septembre
YouTube: Argus Leader video on September 11, 2001 "Terrorists Attack U.S."
(#92) Plane Hitting WTC Towers
9/11 was harder to bear
than a natural disaster
because "you know they
wanted to kill you."
The Demonic in the Heart of Darkness
Commentary: Heart of Darkness (1902)
is a novella by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924).
The story tells about an Englishman Marlow as a ferry-boat captain for a Belgian
trading company going down the Congo River. The theme of "good and evil" is employed
by Conrad to contrast civilization and savagery. The river is a metaphor for the evil
serpent in the jungle garden. Conrad deals in this novel with the dark heart of mankind.
Like the Chinese philosopher Hsün Tzu, Conrad believes that man in inherently evil and
his evil is only masked by civilization.
"Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem is the 20th century's
most important philosophical contribution to the problem of evil"
Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (2002)
Hannah Arendt, Letter to Gershom Scholem, July 24, 1963
||"Evil is never 'radical', it is only extreme;
it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension.
It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely
because it spreads like a fungus on the surface.
It is 'thought-defying', because thought tries
to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and
the moment it concerns itself with evil,
it is frustrated because there is nothing.
That is its 'banality'|
"I am a sick man....
I am a wicked man.
An unattractive man.
I think my liver hurts.
However, I don't know a fig
about my sickness, and am not
sure what it is that hurts me..."
Opening words of Fyodor Dostoevsky's
Notes from the Underground (1864)
Nikolai Ge, The Last Supper (1863), State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Commentary: Gospel of John XIII.21: "When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me."
In Notes from the Underground (1864) Dostoevsky uses Ge's Last Supper (1863)
painted a year earlier as his example of an unnatural blending that
results in this kind of lie: he criticizes Ge for creating a Jesus who,
though he may be "a very good young man," is "not the Christ we know."
He goes on, "Nothing at all is explained here; there is no historical
truth here; there is not even any truth of genre here; everything here
is false. No matter from which point of view you judge, this event could
not have happened this way: everything here is disproportinate and out of
scale with the future." (Robin F. Miller,
Dostevsky's Unfinished Journey, 2007).
Artistic interpretation of Ge's painting: Ge reinterpreted the Last Supper
in the light of problems of the 1860s. Since the time of
Leonardo da Vinci,
the composition of Jesus and his disciples seated at a long table had been repeated
many times (e.g. Ghirlandaio,
including at the Imperial Academy, where the Last Supper had been a
traditional subject. Ge chose to portray Jesus silently meditating, while the words
he just spoke ("One of you will betray me") causes confusion among his disciples.
Ge uses contrasts of light and dark to suggest the confrontation between good and evil.
His dramatic lighting transforms Judas into a dark unearthly silhouette. By contrast,
Christ and the Apostles are bathed in the warm glow of a candle, which Judas blocks
from view. (Dartmouth College: 19th Century Russian Art: "Ideological Realism")
Alexandre Cabarnel, The Birth of Venus (1863), Metropolitan Museum of Art ART POMPIER
Commentary: Art Pompier literally "Fireman Art",
is a derisory late 19th century French term for large "official" academic art paintings
of the time, especially historical or allegorical ones. It derives from the fancy helmets,
with horse-hair tails, worn at the time by French firemen now only for parades - which are
fatally similar to the Greek-style helmets often worn in such works by allegorical personifications,
classical warriors, or Napoleonic cavalry. It also suggests half-puns in French with Pompéin
("from Pompeii"), and pompeux ("pompous"). Pompier art was seen by those who used the term as
the epitome of the values of the bourgeoisie, and as insincere and overblown.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry, Alfred Agache, Alexandre Cabanel
and Thomas Couture are among the classic Pompier artists. (Wikipedia)
Commentary: Professor Dupuy showed this "Art Pompier" work done in the same year (1863) as
Nikolai Ge's The Last Supper to contrast the artistic style of the French school at the time.
Another favorite painting of mine at the Metropolitan is Pierre-Auguste Cot's The Storm (1880).
Until I took Art History classes at Columbia, I didn't realize that these paintings are now considered
as kitsch art and superficial. See "Good and Bad Art"
an essay by John Canaday on "What Is Art?" (1980).
Nikolai Ge, What Is Truth? (1890), State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Commentary: Ge's painting depicts the scene from
Gospel of John, XVIII.37-38:
"Jesus: Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice. Pilate says unto him, What is truth?"
Jesus does not reply and remains silent. Buddha also maintains silence when questioned by
his disciples. Silence from sages does not imply they don't know the answer. In some cases,
silence is the correct response to certain questions. Since Jesus and Buddha are embodiment
of the truth, they need not verbalize about it, just as the Sun need not declare that it is light.
Artistic interpretation: In 1876 Ge abandoned his career and moved to the Ukraine, but he returned to painting
in the 1880s. The themes of Christ and the Gospels resurfaced in his work at this time.
The figure of Jesus in Ge's paintings reflects the phases and experiences of the artist's
own psyche, enabling us to see these last images of Jesus as self-portraits. Ge's
"What is Truth (Christ and Pilate)" was removed from exhibition under pressure from the Church.
Although Ge was inspired by genuine religious feeling, his mute, haggard Jesus offended some.
(Dartmouth College: 19th Century Russian Art: "Ideological Realism").
Tolstoy explained Pilate's bearing in Ge's painting in a letter to one of his American followers:
"What can such a ragged beggar say to him, the friend and interlocutor of Roman poets and philosophers,
about truth?" For an educated skeptic like Pilate, "truth [was] an empty word." Thus, the "good-natured
and self-satisfied" Roman turned on his heel and left Jesus simply standing there. The critic Nikolai Mikhailovski
said that Pilate posed his question "good-naturedly and while laughing skeptically," but also with "a certain mocking
contemptibility." He clearly expected no answer at all, since he immediately turned to go. For Mikhailovski,
Ge had interpreted the popular view of Pilate's question which is generally read as contemplative and profound
in a completely new way, representing it as the thoughtless, throwaway remark of a sophisticated skeptic. According to Tolstoy,
it is enough to look at "Pilate's face groomed, self-satisfied, and dulled by a life of luxury" in order "to appreciate
the chasm" that separates the two men. In an 1890 review of the painting, the writer Danil Lukich Mordovtsev wrote that
Ge's Pilate corresponded to the "type of well-fed, corpulent Roman from the time of Lucullus." To him, Pilate's question,
posed "with smug irony," was as much as to say: "Your truth‹what is it to me? And what are you talking to me about it for?"
More analyses of this painting by Russian artists appear in Walther K. Lang,
"The Atheism of Jesus in Russian Art"
Nikolai Ge, Golgotha (1893), State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Commentary: Ge's painting depicts the scene from
Gospel of Matthew, XXVII.33:
"And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull".
Ge's "The Calvary (Golgotha)" (1893) remained an unfinished work, painted a year before his death
at age 63. In 1884, Nokolai Ge bought and moved to a small farm in Ukraine. He became acquainted
with Leo Tolstoy and was an enthusiastic follower of his philosophy, and painted a
Portrait of Tolstoy (1884)
showing the famous author at his desk in deep concentration writing. Following Tolstoy's example, Ge sought
fulfillment in hard physical labor. He learned the trade of stove-fitting and practiced it free of charge
for the needy. His appreciation of Christianity was entirely focused on its ethical-moral teachings,
and he was evidently in agreement with Tolstoy's views. in a letter to Ge, Tolstoy expressed his doubt
on the church's dogma on Christ's resurrection: "I don't believe and never have believed
that he was resurrected in body, but I have never lost the belief that he is resurrected through his teachings."
Ge represented Christ as an ordinary mortal and as the preacher of a new doctrine that stood in marked contrast
to the socio-political system of his day. This pleased Tolstoy, who thought that many noteworthy representations
of Christ as a God-man had been produced in the past, but that "Today's art cannot stand in such a relationship
toward Christ. That is why we are now making attempts to represent the moral appreciation of the life and lessons of Christ."
(Walther K. Lang, "The Atheism of Jesus in Russian Art")
Artistic interpretation: Golgotha or Calvary is the spot where Jesus
was crucified (Matthew 27.33, Mark 15.22, Luke 23.33, John 19.17). It was a little knoll rounded like a bare skull.
They gave him vinegar to drink and crucified Jesus with two thieves. They that passed by reviled him. The chief
priests mocking him saying "He saved others; himself he cannot save." Ge portrays Jesus putting his hands
to his face with his bare feet with the two thieves behind him. An accusatory finger points at Jesus
"THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." The scene is total humiliation of Jesus. "And about the ninth hour
Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say,
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This was the theme of Ingmar Bergman's film
Winter Light (1962) where the pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjönstrand) quoted
these last nine words of Christ on the Cross as expressing doubt of God, his Father in Heaven
who did not answer him in his moment of need. When I first saw this film at Cornell (circa 1965),
it raised doubt in me too. Later, I realized that these nine words came from
So Jesus was citing it to fulfill the ancient prophecy that "the assembly of the wicked
have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet."
From the Underground Man to Nuclear Deterrence
The Underground Man challenges the officer to a duel.
When two people walk toward each other, the first one to swerve is a "chicken".
A similar situation is when two cars coming in opposite direction, the car
which swerves in a "chicken". James Dean undertook such a challenge in this
Video Clip from Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell saw the gruesome parallel between "chicken games"
and nuclear brinkmanship: Each side wants the other side to back down to turn aside
although neither is willing to do so itself. A head-on collision awaits. Russell said:
"That's the exact situation of nuclear deterrence."
(Russell's Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, 1959).
(Also David P. Barash, The Survival Game, 2004)
The Chicken Race
Video Clip from Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Commentary: Judy (Natalie Wood) belongs to the high school gang of Buzz Gunderson. The thugs challenge Jim Stark
to a "Chicken Race" with Buzz (Corey Allen), racing stolen cars towards an abyss. The one who first
jumps out of the car loses and is deemed a "chicken." The "game" ends in tragedy for Buzz; the strap
on the sleeve of his leather jacket becomes caught on the car door and he is unable
to jump before it goes over the cliff. Jim's friend, John "Plato" Crawford
(Sal Mineo) looked apprehensive
about the "Chicken Race" challenge, and was relieved that Jim managed to stay alive.
It is interesting that three of the actors died tragically. James Dean was killed in
a car crash at age 24, near Cholame, CA at the junction of Highways 46 and 41
(Sept. 30, 1955). Sal Mineo was stabbed to death at age 37 in an alley in West Hollywood
by a pizza deliveryman who had no idea who Mineo was (Feb. 12, 1976).
Natalie Wood slipped accidentally from her boat and drowned at age 43 near
Santa Catalina Island, CA (Nov. 29, 1981). On the other hand, Corey Allen
whose character Buzz died in the film when his car ran off the cliff,
became a successful TV director and is still alive in 2009 at age 74.
Theory of Mimetic Desire
"The morphogenetic power of imitation"
by Jean-Pierre Dupuy
Commentary: Notes from this 17-pages paper were added to the slides (#104-#106) below
which did not contain any text in Professor Dupuy's class presentation on April 27, 2009.
René Girard's Oeuvre
Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, Paris, 1961
[Deceit, Desire, and the Novel]
La violence et le sacré, Paris, 1972
[Violence and the Sacred]
Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde, Paris, 1978
[Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World]
Le Bouc émissaire, Paris, 1982
Shakespeare: A Theater of Envy, Baltimore, 1990
Achever Clausewitz, Paris, 2007
Wikipedia: René Girard
YouTube: Imitation Conference: Girard on Mimetic Theory
The Mimetic Triangle
Desire is fundamentally mimetic. Our desires tend not to be our own but those of
the models we either consciously or else unwittingly admire and imitate. Girard
terms such models mediators. The basic pattern is a triangle, the vertices of which
are the self, the object, and the mediator. Desire is fundamentally "triangular".
Desire is not a single line of force running between the self and its object.
The triangularity of desire is a simple notion, but it has broad and
complex implications. It explains the obvious but otherwise perplexing fact that
desire may not only cause rivalry my mediator automatically becomes my rival
since we desire the same object but also depend on it to the point
that without rivalry, desire itself threatens to languish.
Commentary: René Girard on "Triangular" Desire: Don Quixote chose
Amadis as the pole star for brave and amorous knights, that those who fight for love and chivalry
should imitate him. The spatial metaphor which expresses this triple relationship is obviously
the tirangle. The object changes with each adventure but the triangle remains. The barber's basin
or Master Peter's puppets replace the windmills; but Amadis is always present.
The Model-Obstacle Theory or Double Bind
The desire of the mediator creates the value of the object in the first place and
calls forth the subject's desire. But then the mediator stands between the subject
and the object. The instigator of desire has become automatically the major
obstacle to the fulfillment of desire. At this point the subject may wish to destroy
the obstacle. But if he does so, he destroys the instigator of desire and therefore
the value of the object. Desire needs a rival to survive, because the fulfillment of
desire is its end (= its termination). Rivalry is built into the structure of desire.
In the Beginning was Double Mediation
If mimesis is universal, the triangle cannot be the originary figure. The mediator's
desire must itself be an imitated desire. Whom does the mediator imitate? The simplest
(and most complex!) case is when the mediator imitates the subject while the subject
imitates the mediator. Such a situation occurs when the model imitates in the other
the desire the other first found in him. This is all the more likely in a world in
which there are few effective cultural barriers to rivalry and in which each denies
that he models himself on anyone else.
"The coquette knows a lot more about desire than Freud does. She knows very well that desire
attracts desire. So, in order to be desired, one must convince others that one desires oneself...
If the narcissistic woman excites desire, this is because, when she pretends to desire herself
and suggests to Freud a kind of circular desire that never gets outside itself, she offers an
irresistible temptation to the mimetic desire of others. Freud misinterprets as an objective
description the trap into which he has fallen. [...] The coquette seeks to be desired because
she needs masculine desires, directed at her, to feed her coquetry and enable her to play her
role as a coquette. She has no more self-sufficiency than the man who desires her, but the
success of her strategy allows her to keep up the appearance of it, since it offers her a
form of desire she can copy... To sum up: in just the same way as the admirer caught up in
the trap of coquetry imitates the desire that he really believes to be narcissistic, so the
flame of coquetry can only burn on the combustible material provided by the desires of others."
René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
Commentary: 1929 Films: Ruth Taylor in
The College Coquette;
Mary Pickford in
|The Stone Guest
Mozart's Don Giovanni
|"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."|
"After changing its models into obstacles, mimetic desire [...] changes obstacles into models [...]
Henceforth desire always hastens to wound itself on the sharpest of reefs and the most redoubtable
René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
(a) I desire the Being of the mediator, but not of any mediator:
he must be worthy of my taking him as Mediator, he must be strong and powerful...
(b) The best sign that this is indeed the case is his success, his victory
i.e. my defeat.
La Comédie Saint-Michel: Molière's Dom Juan
Poster of naked bodies in skull
The person I am telling you about is a young bride, the most winsome in the world,
who has been brought here by the man she is about to marry. By chance I saw this
couple of lovers three or four days before their journey. Never have I see two
persons so happy with each other, nor seen so much love shine forth. The visible
tenderness of their mutual ardor stirred up my emotions; I was struck in the heart,
and my love started with jealousy. Yes, at first,
I couldn't bear to see them so
happy together; spite inflamed my desire, and I imagined the extreme pleasure of
being able to disturb their mutual understanding and break the bond linking them...
Molière, Dom Juan, Act I, Scene 2
Opera Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iZHwbxLBO0
(Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing "La ci darem la mano" from Act I of Mozart's Don Giovanni).
Note: Don Juan wants to destroy Zerlina in the opera for her happiness excludes him,
much like John Claggart in Herman Melville's novel who wished to annihilate Billy Budd.
Jean-Pierre Dupuy: It seems to me, in light of this profound but yet enigmatic distinction,
that the 9/11 terroists, were by no menas moved by anything resembling l'amour de soi,
or self-interest (interest in oneself), but by l'amour-propre, in the sense that
they were more keen on overturning the obstacle that the towers of power represented
for them, than on the actual possession of anything that could be labeled good.
(Dupuy's "Theory of Mimetic Desire and Underground Psychology", p. 15)
Rousseau in Manhattan
Satanic image in smoke of 9/11 WTC Towers
(many such images were shown on TV & newspapers)
|"The primitive passions all aimed directly at our happiness and concerned us
only with related objects. These passions have l'amour de soi as their only
principle and are all essentially loving and tender; but when they are diverted from
their objects by obstacles, these passions focus more on overturning the obstacles
to happiness than on the actual possession of this happiness. Then the primitive
passions change in nature, becoming irascible and hateful. And this is how l'amour de soi,
which is an absolutely good sentiment, becomes l'amour-propre, a relative
sentiment by means of which we compare ourselves to others. It is a sentiment that
requires preferences, and the pleasures that it affords are purely negative, being
sought not in the satisfaction of our own well-being, but in the misfortune of others."
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dialogues (1782)
Jean-Pierre Dupuy: I'm the guilty party here for calling this class
"Problem of Evil". Evil shouldn't be our concern It's a broader question.
We're too fixated on evil. Next week we'll discuss Hannah Arendt's papers (slide #94).
What is evil? It's beyond thought. Thought means going to the roots.
Radical implies going to the roots. Radish is a root isn't it?
Evil has no root it's just a surface phenomenon.
The demonic concept of evil is portrayed by Joseph Conrad
in his Heart of Darkness (slide #93).