CAP (Centre for Art and Philosophy) is an interdisciplinary research platform based at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Most of its members have been or are still working at the department as lecturers, researchers or affiliates.

The Polemics of Ressentiment

17/05/2014

A two-day transdisciplinary conference, Rotterdam 17-18 May

Co-organized with WORM

Confirmed speakers: Maziar Afrassiabi, Joseph Cohen, Sjaak Koenis, Christoph Narholz, Saul Newman, Merijn Oudenampsen, Robert Pfaller, Marc Roelli, Simon Scott, Jack Segbars, Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Sjoerd van Tuinen, Frank Vande Veire, Guido Vanheeswijck, Daniel de Zeeuw

The rise of populism, cynicism, fanaticism and fundamentalism challenges us to reconsider the problem of ressentiment, characterized by Nietzsche as the self-poisoning of the will by way of interiorization of trauma in the form of a postponed and imaginary revenge. Whereas its conceptualization dates back to the nineteenth century and has gradually dissolved in the course of twentieth century emancipatory processes, the concept of ressentiment is now making a comeback in political discourse. The aim of this conference is to dramatize the polemogenous and thus essentially divergent senses in which the concept of ressentiment has and can be used today.

Ever since Scheler, we have often been told that, throughout modern history, ressentiment has been the basic affective pathology of ideologies of protest on the left and the right. From Romanticism to Jacobinism, from Marxism to National-Socialism, and from feminism to post-colonialism, in each case ‘explosions’ of envious but impotent anger would explain why utopian struggle unavoidably leads to violent dystopia. Thus it has become a platitude of liberal conservative discourse that we should give up the militant passions of egalitarian struggle and content ourselves with the jaded realism of global capitalism in order to put an end to the dialectical cycle of ressentiment. But what if the self-gratification of anti-ressentiment rhetoric stems from a depoliticizing psychologism that is itself laden with ressentiment? Wasn’t it Nietzsche’s lesson that moral pacification is precisely the way by which the priest changes the outward direction of the ressentiment of his herd inwardly, thus organizing bad conscience? Indeed, does neo-liberalism not cultivate ressentiment as a strategy of control, a tactic fostering of sad passions such as envy, hope, nostalgia, indignation and anxiety in people who, in the name of an exhaustive self-preservation that leaves all utopian critique in its wake, will renounce their own power and give in to secrecy and cowardice, turning their guilt inward and their hatred outward?

As Sennett has famously argued, a passive receiving of publicness has condemned isolated and disempowered citizens to the indifference and loss of critical judgment typical of the man ofressentiment. With Girard, we may add that today’s citizens live in a global winner-take-all-society that subjects its members to ruthless competition while imposing on them a taboo on revenge. There has emerged a cultural industry that, alternating between sentimentality and cruelty, has private resignation and public spectacle, victimhood and identity claims converge. Rather than judging over revolutionary politics by reducing it to some self-discrediting ressentiment, then, shouldn’t we seek to explain and overcome this subjective identification with impotence as a prison we choose to live in? Perhaps the political problem of ressentiment is not the alternative of revolutionary hatred and counterrevolutionary remorse, but the genealogical question first raised by Spinoza: why do we often fight for our own slavery as if it were our beatitude?

ABSTRACTS

SATURDAY 17 MAY & SUNDAY 18 MAY

Anxious networks 

Maziar Afrassiabi & Jack Segbars

In this paper we aim to locate instances of ‘ressentiment’ in Contemporary Art, art's latest manifestation in the wake of global transition, its destabilising effects and technocratic governance. We will do this by examining art's increased drive toward accountability as a self-regulatory process, whether it is through notions of meaning, utility or political effect. We will explore the structural logic and networks of legitimization underlying the convergence between art’s politicization, aesthetization and socialization on the one hand and the Humanities and politic's aesthetization on the other, by investigating art forms that project societal and political effect.

Resentment and democracy

Sjaak Koenis


I don’t see resentment (as cultivated by populists) as one of the greatest threats of democracy. Those who fear populism associate resentment with the undermining of democracy. I think resentment (in most cases) plays a more productive role: it is the raw material from which both justice-claims and frustrated rancor can be molded. I want to discuss three sources of resentment in postwar liberal democracies like The Netherlands. First there always is a tension between the elite and the people. This elite can never permanently appeal to some claim to superiority, because time and again the people can (and will) send away ‘the best’.  Second there is always a tension between what democracy promises and what it delivers, can deliver. Freedom and equality of conditions (Tocqueville) will always be in tension with the existing inequalities, because people have different talents etc. So equality remains a yielding horizon which produces resentment and discontent. Thethird form of resentment has to do with the fact that democracies sooner or later undermine the communities in which citizens have organized themselves, from religious or other identity-communities to the national state perceived as a cultural community.


Failure as Triumph. The political Anthropology of the Death Drive in Slavoj Žižek
Christoph Narholz

 Ressentiment shall be taken out of its common polemical usage and be introduced as a systematic concept. This calls for the supplementation of the historical first ressentiment in metaphysics with the contemporary second in empirical theories. The move is afforded by our situation after Nietzsche; the supplementation follows with recourse to Kant’s ethics. After outlining a formalized concept of ressentiment, allowing for the stated supplementation, I describe exemplarily Slavoj Žižek’s political anthropology of the death drive as a figure for such second ressentiment. It will be shown that an empirical-theory format can reiterate the metaphysical gesture of turning displeasure and powerlessness through morals into a dubious promise of pleasure and power. This argumentation produces suggestions for alternatives free of ressentiment.


The Politics of Ressentiment and the Problem of Voluntary Servitude
Saul Newman

This paper seeks to expand Nietzsche’s understanding of ressentiment though the problem of voluntary servitude, identified by Etienne de la Boétie in the sixteenth century. In asking the simple question – why do men obey? – La Boétie drew attention to the central enigma of political power: people can only be dominated if they allow themselves to be. I relate this to the question of ressentiment in Nietzsche through an understanding of slave morality, which places the blame for one’s oppression on the Other, in opposition to which one’s own identity of suffering is constructed. This allows us to gain a critical insight into the way that identity politics of all kinds is based upon an insistence on victimhood, as well as the way that revolutionary discourses of the past have sought to liberate the suffering masses from their oppression and exploitation, only to impose new forms of oppression upon them. It also gives us a way of explaining the apparent hegemony of neoliberalism, in which we voluntary comply, in the name of our own freedom, with forms of subjectification through which we are governed. However, I argue that the true insight of the voluntary servitude hypothesis is that if power is ultimately an illusion that we constitute, we are, and always have been, much freer than we realise. The answer to the problem of ressentiment in politics, then, is the affirmation of an ontological freedom (anarchy) – freedom as the starting point of politics rather than its end goal.

 

Remnants of ressentiment: the Dutch mass culture debate revisited
Merijn Oudenampsen

The meteoric rise to political stardom of the charismatic right wing populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, led to a series of concerned reactions from Dutch journalists, academics and intellectuals. A prominent theme in the debate that ensued was that of the spoiled voter and/or consumer, whose vote was said to be motivated by ressentiment or rancour. These observations were largely inspired by the tradition of mass culture theory, a paradigm in which modernisation is seen negatively, uprooting the masses and debasing high culture. Some would point to Menno Ter Braak’s writing and the thesis that equality leads to rancour, others wrote of the envysystem or jealousymodel, again others pointed to Durkheim and Tocqueville. All posited that the emancipation of the masses - the increase in equality and wealth – caused the animosity that was at the root of the populist vote. These reactions attest to the continuing presence of the mass culture paradigm in the Netherlands. In this lecture we will explore the origin and the impact of that vision on the emergence of Dutch populism.

The Problem of Ressentiment in Nietzsche and Deleuze`s Nietzsche
Simon Scott

 

The importance of Nietzsche to the development of Deleuze’s thought is well documented.  However, scholarship has ignored the significance of the account of ressentiment and bad conscience in Nietzsche and Philosophy. This account diverges significantly from that given by Nietzsche, for whom bad conscience requires no ressentiment.  On Deleuze’s account, on the other hand, ressentiment is a necessary precondition of bad conscience and the two co-exist in a dialectical relationship, as the key reactive types that express the struggle between forces as active forces become reactive.  In my paper I consider these different formulations and the implications arising from them.  I ask if, given the different problems motivating their treatment of reactionary life, either provides the resources for a true philosophy of affirmation.


Envy, Mother of all Sins?

Frank Vande Veire

Ressentment is often connected with envy. Envy seems to be the kernel of ressentment. It is not just that you badly want to have what the other has, but that the the pure fact of the other having it, makes it for ever impossible for you to enjoy it, even when you would possess it. The other spoils every possible enjoyment you could get from it. Our hypothesis is that envy is the sin of all sins, that all other ‘cardinal sins’ can be deduced from it: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath and pride.

The revenge of the masses in the media: ressentiment or amor fati?

Daniel de Zeeuw

In this lecture I explore Jean Baudrillard's reflections on the apparent hyper-conformity of 'the silent majorities' and the media through the lens of the Nietzschean opposition between ressentiment and amor fati. This reading enables me to explicate the ambivalence of Baudrillard's rendering of these majorities: as a kind of revenge and as such a prototypical instance of ressentiment, but at the same time also as a fatal strategy (resembling amor fati, Nietzsche's antidote to ressentiment). How to go about this apparent contradiction? And how does its deconstruction enable a critique of the conventional narrative that casts the transition from mass to participatory media as a qualitative transformation with political implications?

CALL FOR PAPERS

We invite papers of 20 minutes from philosophy, cultural studies, gender studies, social and political theory, sociology, cognitive science, social psychology, history, comparative literature, psychoanalysis and other relevant disciplines. Please send a 300 words abstract to 323450mg@student.eur.nlbefore 28 February 2014.

Possible questions to be addressed:

-What is the relation between morality, justice and ressentiment today?
-What are the main media and institutions by which ressentiment is currently organized (e.g. religion, ideology, financial debt)?
-How do judicial practices, bureaucratic organizations and forms of political democracy stir and/or attenuate ressentiment?
-If there exists an intrinsic link between ressentiment and theoretical critique, then how does one address ressentiment critically and clinically, i.e. without further fueling ressentiment?
-What are the differences between Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment and later conceptions (Weber, Scheler, Adorno & Horkheimer, Girard, Sennett, Dworkin, Rawls, Deleuze, Connolly, Sloterdijk etc.)?
-Are there philosophical precursors to the concept of ressentiment (e.g. Spinoza’s theory of the sad passions, Augustine on envy etc.)?
-Or neuro-political equivalents?
-What do writers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, John Osborne, Albert Camus, Jean Amery, Michel Houellebecq and W.G. Sebald teach us about ressentiment?
-Can ressentiment be overcome and by what techniques (e.g. forgiveness)?
-How does ressentiment relate to other affective constellations such as shame, guilt, bad conscience, disgust, anger, envy, hatred, fear, suspicion, paranoia, narcissism, cynicism?
-What is the nature of ressentiment’s essential relation to (messianic) time?
-Is ressentiment the father or the child of modernity?