Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nietzsche on Hamlet (Commonplace Book)

The Dionysian man resembles Hamlet: both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get round to action. Not reflection, no -- true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action.


brad said...

That sounds true. I'm so depressed now. I'm going to hit myself in the head with a pot. Knock some of that true knowledge out. Then drink a veil of illusion smoothie.

Patrick Sanders said...

Would agree that Miller's Batman is a sort of Dionysian hero?

Geoff Klock said...

Brad: veil of illusion smoothie is my new favorite phrase.

Patrick: Batman, like Hamlet, is offended by seeing the true chaos of the world. But unlike Hamlet, Batman jumps right in there and demands to control it. I would say that Moore's Joker is more like Nietzsche's Hamlet. Batman is more like Nietzsche's Apollo, limiting and makeing sense of Dionysian madness. Just off the top of my head here; I could be very wrong.

Roger Whitson said...

Hey, is this quote from Birth of Tragedy? Because I'm thinking that his later stuff on the Dionysian would lead him to a different conclusion re: Hamlet. As far as comic figures go, I'd say that Moore's Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen would be an even closer fit to the Nietzschean Dionysian. But, as far as the later Dionysian, I'd say that Morrison's Mr. Nobody from the Brotherhood of Dada in Doom Patrol or Moore's Promethea would be closer to the later Nietzschean analysis of the Dionysian.

The later characterization of the Dionysian, if I remember correctly, is the one who is able to affirm the truth of the eternal return of the same and Mr. Nobody's affirmation of madness and art in his transformation of the dreariness of everyday life into art is really close to that affirmation. Also, Promethea's ability to, not only bring about the apocalypse at the end of the series, but affirm the fightfulness of an end and transform that end into a beginning--I think--bespeaks of the affirmation of the Dionysian. Hamlet, for me, is too melancholy, to really affirm the eternal return.

Geoff Klock said...

Roger: This is from Twilight of the Idols. I would have to check the whole thing, but let's slow down and notice this: Nietzsche, here, says IN THIS, the Dionysian man resembles Hamlet -- Here, he does not say they are one and the same. You are right on every count on the eternal return though.

Patrick Sanders said...

Hamlet makes sense of the world by consciously choosing to do what the play is forcing him to do: fufilling his role in a revenge drama and killing Claudius.

Miller's Batman and Hamlet are alike (or at least to my mind) in that instead of bringing order to chaos, they impose their own form of chaos. They create a greater chaos to suppliant a lesser chaos. This makes them Dionysian heroes.

(I rather insist on seeing Hamlet as a hero; a total wanker, yes, but a hero)

To me Moore's Joker is more like Macbeth, in that his only repose to the chaos of the universe is become the living embodiment of that chaos.

Patrick Sanders said...

Thinking about it further, it seems to me that the only truly Dionysian man was Nietzsche himself. And even he had his failings, his moments of action. ^_^

Geoff Klock said...

Patrick: that is a fair point. Hamlet's status as a hero is up for a lot of debate; I don't make the connection because I don't see Hamlet as a hero, but I could understand why someone would. It's the genre thing for me: Batman defines the superhero genre; Hamlet is annoyed to be in a revenge tragedy.

Roger Whitson said...

I don't think that Hamlet is "annoyed" per se, to be in a revenge tragedy, it is just that he's in the middle of an impossible decision. He can't figure out whether, on the one hand, the ghost is of his father or on the other, if it is some demon that has taken the shape of his father. For me, I'm caught between John Updike's reading of Hamlet (from Claudius and Gertrude) where Hamlet is this whiny little brat and Derrida's Hamlet from Spectres of Marx, where Hamlet is literally forced into "righting" the universe... "the time is out of joint! / Oh cursed spite..." etc.

So, it is more than annoyance on Derrida's part, it is this calling that Hamlet HAS to pay attention to--the call of the dead, but a call that could--just as easily--be nothing but his own insanity, or a demon, or something much much worse.

So, Hamlet resembles Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith, taking a leap over the abyss of absurdity. Perhaps that is what makes him close to the Dionysian.

But he never revenges his father's murder except obliquely, like he jumps over the abyss after being goaded into it by the poisoned dagger of Laertes. "Well, I'm dead anyway, so why not..." Perhaps, for Shakespeare, one can only truly act when one is on the verge of dying or has already died.

Perhaps, if it IS a genre thing, it is so only to the extent that the genre has gone haywire--like the world, like the universe, like everything in the play--and one cannot tell whether everything is wrong or whether we, as readers or the "audience," are simply messed up.

Geoff Klock said...

Hamlet does say that he cannot tell if the ghost is really his father or if is a demon. But his "impossible decision" is solved by the play he helps write that lets him know for sure that Claudius killed his father just as the ghost described. After act 3 scene 2 he KNOWS -- he does not have to make a "leap of faith" because he knows "the call of the dead" is real. He even hears Claudius confess. He just doesn't care that much. Also: Hamlet SAYS he has the impossible decision you describe but that does not mean he really does -- it may just be an excuse to do what he likes best, which is discuss theater with the actors for a while and write some of a play. He hardly seems, during the theater discussion with the lead player, for example, to be in a hurry to learn the answer to his dilemma.

The thing that has gone haywire in the revenge tragedy is HAMLET -- he should be more like Laertes or Fortinbras, a man up for revenge or at least a fan of killing. He is the wrong kind of character for this play -- he is brilliant person surrounded by genre stereotypes -- and so it all goes to hell.

Sorry to make this a big deal, but I literally just finished teaching this play for 6 weeks and am now, today, grading my student's Hamlet papers. So it's kind of on the brain. I was planning on responding later but I couldn't concentrate on grading. So here I am.

Roger Whitson said...

Or he's a whiny little brat who can't--or won't--or takes pleasure in not--making a decision.

The fact that you can't tell is what makes the play so powerful for me. Or at least I can't tell. Sure, he says ALOT in the play, and he says--many times in fact--that he has proof of Claudius's guilt, etc. When I taught the play--a few years ago--I taught it in the context of Medieval Memory systems (ala Frances Yates) and how Hamlet is caught up in a transition from this more medieval memory to a spectral, modern memory (ala Derrida, mourning, the uncanny).
He has a clearly deleneated role that he muddles or that is muddled for him. When, for example, one of the watchmen at the beginning of the play (I can't remember precisely who) says "There's something rotten in the State of Denmark," he's noting this transition. The death of the king effects the very ontology of Elsinore, making everything wretched, making memory run wild with thoughts of ghosts (who occupy a place between being and non-being, who aren't disciplined by the structures of thought and memory passed down by the traditions of oral cultures). Ghosts are, in Hamlet if not in Macbeth and elsewhere in Shakespeare, extremely modern.

The fact that Hamlet can't revenge his father, ascend to the throne and carry on in his place, be a dutiful son and prince, nor can he simply forget these things--shows just how precarious his situation is. He can't be these things because he won't jump--and I'm going back on alot of stuff here--but he won't make the Kierkegaardian leap of faith until the end when he is nearing death and has to do something to end the play. He is splayed between the ancient and the modern, occupying neither space. And so, yes, maybe I do agree with you. Maybe the play is supposed to be a revenge tragedy and maybe the ghost is supposed to instruct Hamlet clearly on what to do and how to carry on his name. But Hamlet, despite being his father's double (in the name) can't fully take on his role.

But I can't think he is simply annoyed. I think Hamlet's response in the play goes far beyond annoyance and hints at a modern futurity that none of the characters can fully sympathize with. Hamlet is the son who is uneasy and anxious about his inheritance. The anxiety is reflected in the ghost, in a Freudian uncannyness that frames the play and makes everything uncertain.

Sorry for taking so long to respond, but I've been busy.

Geoff Klock said...

That memory stuff sounds interesting. Have you read Carruthers' Book of Memory, it's quite good.

"Annoyed" was not a great word choice, what I meant was COSMICALLY ANNOYED.

I think we are actually mostly in agreement. Freudian anxiety seems good here, as does the futurity none of the characters can sympathize with. I am just not as sure what I think of the inheritance stuff. But I will think about it.

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