That I love, that is all I am capable of. Just give me the object of my love.
A typically Mediterranean hero in terms of his origin, Don Juan epitomizes eros, Dionysian lust, freedom, sensuality, all of which are immanent to the South and its abundance of sun, light and lack of inhibition. Don Juan symbolizes the continuity of a typical Mediterranean myth: the myth of travel, quest, nomadism (originally associated with Odysseus, but also with the primarily erotic paradigm of The Odyssey as an "ontologized" quest, yearning and voyage.
If we reach for the etymological metaphors that are today so popular, we find two interesting lines of definition at the root of the word "seduction". The first at the root of the word "seduction" - sedducere - pointed out by Shoshana Felman, reveals self-separation, separation from oneself, in the name of a more powerful Other. The other line of definition shows that at the root of the word seduction is se aductere, thus meaning - self-liking, a narcissistic focus on self, exhibitionist "self-production", the presence of latent forms of auto-eroticism. We can view (or take) both etymologies as correct: the first cautions us about the outcome (consequence) of seduction, including the "object-victim" aspect, while the second focuses on the actual motive of seduction, primarily describing the "subject-hunter" aspect.
Another interesting fact is at play here. In addition to being a practitioner, Don Juan is also a theorist of Don Juanism, i.e. of a specific type of existence-as-seduction, forever starting from the beginning, from the "ideal zero". Shoshana Felman holds that this basically anaphoric structure of his existence actually implies the rejection of loyalty-as-a-principle-of-the-end, and even more - death. In other words, for Don Juan the repetitiveness of human beginnings and enthusiasms has the preventive function of a defense mechanism against the fear of death and inexorable physical demise of every living being.
Seduction brings us to a universal erotic relativism: the principle of repetitiveness at the same displaces principled belief in someone's unique value: the uniqueness of the human subject, his (more exactly her) singularity, becomes subjected to the principle of exchangeability i.e. generic sameness. Don Juan's essentially epic urge to accumulate women actually points to a deeper homological kinship that prevails between his "endless, serial lust - and - the abstraction of money". As Delaise and Gattari put it so well, the desire machine is a marriageless (unconnected) machine of constant return (directed primarily at oneself). It is this generic exchangeability, both in itself and as the substitution of (irreducibly different) women, that through a (universal) concept of birth such as Woman becomes not only indicative for learning about the specific inpiduality of Don Juan, but also highly useful for another, this time typological interpretation of what is still today the prevailing, epochal modality, that being the social exchange (circulation) of capital. At their functional core, both modalities are identical, both are subjected to the same cumulative (quantitative) principle of amassment and depersonalization, both are self-referential (directed primarily at themselves). Or, as a womens magazine put it so pregnantly, if haphazardly, the unstated message of every seducer is: "you can get me but you can't keep me." We would simply add, the same thing applies to money: it is hard to hold on to.
A deeper look at the archetypal, typically Mediterranean character of Don Juan, reveals the immanent theme of "sparagmos" - futile heroic sacrifice. The "sparagmos" theme, "built" into the dominant generic forms of Mediterranean culture, irony and satire, points, among other things, to the modalities of self-denial, self-parody, self-negation - widely used in shaping Don Juan's fatal (life) end. Thus it turns out that the heroic figure of the fatal lover and seducer, the challenger of phantasmagoric boundaries, the self-appealing advocate of chaos, is in the end "sacrificed" (futile, typically Mediterranean "sparagmos") with a view to preserving the equally abstract socio-cultural order that produced him in the first place!
Thus perhaps Don Juan should not be viewed merely as a libidinous libertine! Perhaps his lechery is merely a symptom rather than the ultimate end, telos and essence. "By definition" we know that the performance of his "lechery" is not vulgar, but rather elegant and refined, based on sovereign rhetorical skill (it is not without reason that seduction is said to be the discourse of unfulfilled promises). His expression is creatively inspired by the rhetorical magic of love and the illusion of the moment; it is absolutization of the moment (and momentary women), short-lived exultation over the moment, its epiphanic extolling. Don Juan is the annulment of time in the sense of continuity, duration, and survival.
His servant Zganarel says at one point: "You see in my master the greatest criminal the earth has ever held, a dog, Satan, Turk, heretic, who believes in neither God nor the devil, who considers everything the rest of us believe in to be foolery".
Don Juan's (erotic) relativism shows its deeper roots to lie in atheism! Profoundly refuting the values of the established order, Don Juan, it transpires, is first and foremost an atheist, an iconoclast, a non-believer, and only then - a seducer. In the opinion of Hans Meyer, his fatal end during a dinner at the commanders was actually his punishment for having mocked the church, since an unbreakable connection prevailed at the time (the time of the Counter-Reformation) between the throne, the church altar and the nobility. Similarly, Julia Kristeva sees Don Juan as the social symbol of disassembling monotheism: God-father and ruler, the symbol of the Father's transformation, the father's authority (as in the root of the word "perversion", or: pereversion).
Don Juan suggests and symbolizes anarchy: disagreement with and disrespect for authority, the social power scale, patriarchal values. He is the logical implication of patriarchal culture, its mythology and erotology, based on the supreme promise and topos of marriage as the "ideal" existential (read: socio-economic) solution (going back to childhood, nurtured within the scope of children's obsessions with fairytales and the marital happy-end they usual result in)
To the extent that the principle of subjectivity presumes susceptibility and adaptation to certain restrictive, self-determining norms and rules of conduct, and thus to a certain (necessary) stereotyping of a character model, Don Juan (and not just his women) is actually a non-subject. Kristeva describes Don Juan as maniness, polyphony, who does not have his personal nucleus, his interiorness. With Don Juan we can already discern the philosophical (Schopenhaueresque "crisis of the subject". Don Juans reply to Schopenhauer (another opponent of marriage), the forefather of nihilism, would be: "I am nothing, since I am everything."
Don Juan denotes, among other things, triumph of the mind, because he never fully succumbs to the senses, to emotional intoxication. Seduction is, after all, a matter of lucidity and the lucid manifestations of the mind; hence it is also a modality of the lust for power. Thus there is the unwritten rule that famous literary and screen seducers are superior in character, sovereign in their art of self-control, self-possession and in their sentimental affinities. Hence, perhaps, Don Juan delights far more in himself, in his own game, in his indisputable charm, feeling of triumph over (physical, but also social and moral) boundaries, than in his actual liaisons (or women per se). And hence, perhaps, it is not so far from the truth to posit that Don Juan is an androgynous being, capable of discovering in himself the traits of both sexes and then ideally distributing them; he is the female supra-husband, as Meyer put it.
Don Juan is the personification of the passion for change, the passion of the butterfly. First described by Fourier and later adopted by R. Barthes, this passion presumes the avoidance of any lasting connection of the subject with the object, as well as delight in change itself, in dynamism and persity.
Thus we recognize in Don Juan a universal principle that is far broader than the starting premise of eroticism. Don Juan is actually the consequence of the inability to believe in someone or something fully, and of non-acceptance of a single (be it spiritual, philosophical or erotic) identity. This is escapism from an imposed form, from compulsion-for-form, which society itself imposes on us in the aim of maintaining its own mental economy. Don Juan is the inability to be (only) one thing. Thus, he is essentially faithful to the irony principle, to dialogism, ambivalence, the exotopic, corrective and creative distance.
Given these aspects, Kierkegaard looks at Don Juan as a philosophical problem, Meyer compares him with Faust (who is also a libertine, but an intellectual libertine), Camus sees him as an example of the absurdity of man, as an illustration of his own philosophical position. It is interesting, however, to note another comparison in this context. Achille Bonito Oliva maintains that the critic is a cognitive Don Juan, or someone who has no style of his own because he possesses all styles, someone who is in a state of non-definition, who is always transitive. "Like Don Juan, the critic strives to form collections and move toward new conquests, never satisfied with his catch, he is ready for new exploits. He does not wish to amass wealth, but rather to taste the magnetism of the tip of the arrow, the irresistibility of his own exploits".
Perhaps, then, Don Juan is another, more attractive name for the uninhibited mind: never appeased, never monogamously faithful to a single discovery; never satisfied with the knowledge that has been mastered; eroticised by his inquisitive imaginings of endlessness; a true libertine - someone who creates and introduces liberty, love and creativity as synonyms.
Distrustful and uncompelled by the "conspiracy of inpidual identity", in principle free and open to the principle of otherness, Don Juan is the embodiment of the pantheistic logos: one person, man or woman, epitomizes all people - God is everywhere, on the other side, and nowhere. There is no real reason why we should tie ourselves permanently to an existential form, to only one kind of love, to only one person, or even to oneself; actually we never fully belong to anyone (not even to ourselves).
In fact we do not exist as stable, irrefutable subjects, but it seems that only Don Juan is capable of admitting this to himself, and making it his modus vivendi, his carte blanche for journeying toward nothingness, his oxymoronic nirvana.
For Camus, Don Juan belongs to the category of absurd people, people who do not believe in the profound sense of things: shrewd, lucid people, marked by the curse of an abundance of knowledge, because of their courage and brazenness to peek "behind the curtain" (be it of the social, moral, philosophical or even cosmic order). They are marked by this hunger for the unending; Don Juan is actually a being of yearning and transgression. He is quite close to Batailles' interpretation of archaic orgiastic eroticism - whose ritual meaning takes shape in this collective inter-flow and surrender to pine "blind force", of the cosmic spirit in the face of which one should remain anonymous, liberated from oneself, self-oblivious, ecstatic.
On the basis of romantic contempt for and dislike of limits, Don Juan is compared with his counterpart Faust, who is an intellectual libertine, obsessed with an analogous desire to compete with the heavens, with the order, even at the cost of the darkness of the underworld and the disorder of ones own scandalous, excited spirituality.
Don Juan functions as a being of illusion: he only seemingly loves and adores women, only seemingly bows to love, which, being abstract and pure, remains untamed in only one direction or in only one privileged person. Don Juan only seemingly exists, loves and promises: he is, so to speak, an ideal, non-existent (in terms of concrete form) figure. He talks constantly and it is only thanks to his performance through language that he creates a hypothetical world of the future, of promises, projects, meaning and the telos of love.
Don Juan actually despises women; he despises their impotence as critics and their unreserved readiness to surrender themselves to utopian dreams of private happiness and self-realization. Don Juan himself remains coldly calculating, thanks to his "absolute relativism", his authentically nomadic restlessness, and the imperative that by constantly reexamining everything he is peeling away the layers of illusion, of the seemingly bright exterior. Don Juan is nihilistic despair; for him life's grains of sand are constantly slipping through his fingers; instead of lamenting, he with his cynical smile and curiosity is working to his own detriment.
It is paradoxical yet true that Don Juan is a self-destructive figure; he expends himself in order to see how long the game with his own life will last. He has plunged into double (exhibitionist and voyeuristic) enjoyment; he passes like time itself through his own life and the lives of endlessly unhappy women, unable to stop himself, to settle down and rest.
Besides being irresistible, a legendary seducer and lover, a paradigmatic philosophical non-believer, a skeptic, a glutton, Don Juan is also a metaphor for the eternal struggle between existence and non-existence, being and nothingness. He who cannot be one being, he who cannot accept being at all - perhaps because he realizes the destructive march of time and the ephemeral quality of all attempts, enthusiasms and projects - he who is constantly tempted by non-being, by boundaries, by what (if anything) separates life from death, he who is a fellow-traveler of illusion, emptiness, coldness (the metaphysical, invincible, unremitting coldness of loneliness) - can he, Don Juan, ever help anyone, ever save anyone from non-being with his own love, when he himself is incapable of wresting free from the claws of relativism and nihilism (that "most awkward guest"), of resisting his authentic contempt for and weariness with the world, man, God, morals, science, art, love, that fundamental bitterness, that devaluing of existence wherein it is stripped of meaning, that "will for nothingness" and its propagation.
"A nihilist is someone who does not crack in the face of authority, who does not accept any article of faith, whatever respect he may be held in". The Russian writer Ivan Turgenyev wrote this, before Nietzsche, in his novel Fathers and Children in 1860, describing the basic principle of nihilism, the principle of disputing and refuting all principles save for those of absolute skepticism, relativism and atheism.
"All people resemble each other in both body and soul minor changes mean nothing. One human sample suffices to be able to judge all others. People are the same as trees in the woods, no botanist would accept to study every beech tree inpidually", says Bazarov, the first literary hypostatic nihilist.
Encouraged by the epistemological Darwinian cut that refutes the previously irrefutable pine genesis and identification of the human being, Bazarov's statement stands out in today's post-modernist discussions about the crisis, disintegration and decentered quality of the subject, about the fractional particles of the great insatiable order (of language, society, text, symbols). The process of depersonalization, insight into so-called inconclusive identity (I am not I) are simply the extended tentacles of the Medusa of nihilism who voraciously swims the sea of our media hyper-reality, while we have not the faintest idea of her essential deontologizing nature.
Bazarov does not just talk like a physician: like Nietzsche he reaches out for this physiological elaboration of love, based on his frustrating experience with Ana Odintsova, the woman he is deeply, youthfully, passionately in love with. But this is hopeless love since, speaking openly about her aimlessness, her lack of will to live and above all her inability to "be lastingly tied to anything", Ana has gone even farther than he in her nihilism. (Given this fact, is woman a more authentic nihilist than man? Does she possess an even greater, if still theoretically unexamined and unproven gift for nihilism?)
Another Russian writer, F.M. Dostoyevsky, elaborates his nihilistic syllogism in an even more radical and consequential way in his novel The Demons (1871): the hypothesis of the non-existence of God can be proven and confirmed only by suicide, hence, by destroying both conceptually and literally the instance that remains after the death of God as the metathesis of pine self-will: that is man's I, or the first person singular.
Ivan Karamazov's famous premise in The Brothers Karamazov, a novel published in 1880, that "if God is dead, then everything is permitted" is still challenging today, especially for articulating and elaborating Sartre's existentialism. In the spirit of the biblical missive of St. Paul, we might add: permitted perhaps, but not worth doing.
The abstinence syndrome of nihilism, refraining from any form of engagement, be it moral, creative, religious, social, amorous or other, is one more indication that illuminates the universal nature of the nihilistic and at heart absurdist ethos.
Perhaps, in addition to the ideological, epistemological and apophatic aspect there is also the socio-psychological aspect of nihilism: by citing the works of Kristeva, we can interpret the victory of inhibition (abstention) and the asymbolic (belonging to nothingness) as resulting from the basic inability to identify with a Third (with the father, with form, with the Scheme) and this identification is by its very nature phallic and symbolic.
Nihilism, as Heidegger puts it, is incurable: "Nihilism reminds us somewhat of cancer, of something diseased. In terms of the being of nihilism, there is no prospect or basic pretense of being cured".
Perhaps the only actual outcome of nihilism is simply writing: the letter, caused by the very rush of futility, cynicism, by the extolling of phantasms, by melancholic unrest, radical ideas and conditions to which the homeless spirit, the spirit of the ontological Homeless Person succumbs.
"I paint out of vanity, I write because I have nothing else to do and to advertise, I place my causa in a hopeless thing, in nothingness", says Julius Evola, denuding and deciphering the seemingly exalted mission of creativity.
Following these, but far more extreme doubts in terms of itself, modern art has subjected itself to the most ferocious experiences, experiments and tribulations, which led to the very brink of silence. The poetic fundaments of aesthetic silence, like minimalistic strategy, are those moves through which art tries to reduce, fragment and overcome itself, this time switching to theory, concept, program.
In less radical forms, modern art is articulated through the dominant hypertexts of parody, ridicule, the negation of tradition and artistic conventions, genres and reception modalities, deliberately pesting itself of hermeneutic meaning, turning instead to the void, nonsense and delusion.
"Nothing is as certain as Nothingness", is the aphoristic observation of one of the great novices of nothingness in literature, Samuel Beckett. The immense force of nothingness led the German philosopher Junger to coin the syntagm "riding the Tiger", thereby metaphorically calling nihilism a powerful, attractive, irresistible and refined beast.
The obsession with nothingness in the postmodern age is slowly becoming a culturological topos: "Metaphysical nihilism has reached its peak in the postmodern: the postmodern is the last literary embodiment of metaphysical, cognitive, social and moral nihilism", writes the Slovene theorist Janko Kos.
Studying the roots and sources of nihilism, we inevitably notice two dominant traditions: the Slav and the German. The first is more literary-artistic, and the second more philosophically articulated. Can one speak of the Slav being of nihilism? One of the most interesting interpretations regarding the Slav predetermination toward nihilism comes to us from Kristeva. She herself spent her life in a transgradient position, caught between two cultural traditions: her own, native (Bulgarian, Slav) and her adopted (French, Cartesian) tradition. She makes an interesting connection between Eastern Orthodoxy and nihilism: according to Kristeva, Eastern Orthodox apophasis, i.e. the refusal to limit God conceptually, generates the "most persistent form of nihilism in European culture: I am God, who is not there".
Is Nietzsche right, then, in saying that the roots of nihilism lie in the Christian moral interpretation of, i.e. in "essential and fundamental disgust and satiation with life"?
"A free man is amoral because he wants in all matters to depend on himself and not on any tradition; in all original conditions of the human race, evil means the same as inpidual, free, self-willed, unpredictable, irresponsible".
In proclaiming the submission to customs and morals as a kind of dogma, Nietzsche is calling for liberation of the inpidual, for a new morale of freedom, for inpidual yearning for infinity, the kind of yearning that is also particular to Don Juan, that incurable skeptic and restless spirit of the Mediterranean.
"Science today is a hiding-place for all kinds of ill-humor, mistrust, bad conscience and guilt. It is restlessness, caused by a lack of ideals, suffering because of the lack of great love, dissatisfaction because of the unwillingness for moderation".
Nor is science, that heir of Socratism, of the Apollonian, rational principle, spared the nihilistic split. On the contrary, Nietzsche sees in it suffocation, desolation, anxiety, caused by dogmatic, Jesuit radicalism which demands inpidual self-sacrifice as well. "Look, we know what you are learning, that all things always return, and with them so do we, and that we have already been here countless times before, like everything else".
The repetitiveness of experience in Zarathustra's above statement is analogous to the repetitiveness or more precisely the anaphoric nature of Dan Juan's existence in love. Perhaps this conscious repetitiveness, the abolished uniqueness of all things, delineates the path of nihilistic ideas which then blend into Buddhism, the great oriental refuge of inarticulable, untouchable, non-present Nothingness.
"All great things destroy themselves through the act of self-abolition, this is imposed by life's law, the law of inevitable self-overcoming of the essence of life".
Is nihilism a manifestational form of the inscribed death instinct - Thanatos, an instinct, which is complementary to every life (spiritual) process? Is it true, as said regarding Don Juan, that "only death can seduce the seducer"? Does that mean that the theme of sparagmos, futility and cannibalism which pervades myths about Osiris, Orpheus and Christian eucharistic rituals is actually a universal civilizational paradigm?
And yet, Nietzsches position on the self-destructive nature of "great things" bears the deep impression of a personal predetermination for pain and suffering. Perhaps to an extent cynical, the judgment passed on him by his beloved yet unattainable Lou Salome is that Nietzsche needed to suffer - so that he could create...
He kept "destroying and creating" himself, along with the world, about which he wrote and which, in his pain, was his point of departure. He is very much like the great phoenix of myth, except that for this wanderer of the spirit and life, for this self-exile, for this essentially (and perhaps involuntary) homeless person, the outcome of every new fall, and of every new burnout, remains uncertain to the end.
Thus Nietzsche's perpetual tendency to leave - he left his original profession, his home and ultimately his mind - basically reflects the Don Juan tendency not to tie oneself to one space, time, person or existence. The refusal to subordinate oneself to any other than the creative instinct, perverse enjoyment in the lascivious nudity of the mind, which remains common to both nomads, Nietzsche and Don Juan, the eroticism of resistance, the rejection of "life's deception", may, on the other hand, be examples of a different, this time perverse dogmatism.
But at the same time it is a resonance of the melancholic verse of Helderine when he says:
"I would like to celebrate, but what?
And with others to sing
But in this solitude I miss - the pine".Does man become an "incurable" lover of nothingness, the Don Juan of yearning and the spirit, when in its immensity, untamed condition and unwillingness to fit into existing forms, his inpidual energy far exceeds the possibility for application in the real, concrete world? Are the dimensions of cosmic, virtual time-space inevitably activated in such a case? In the wake of Don Juan's unquenchable thirst for the absolute, are we entering nihilistic "madness", forever despising every port, every haven?
Is the passionate critic Don Juan at his most dangerous in relation to himself?
Inaccessible to love, yet eternal langhueur d'amour.
P.S. Langhueur d'amour = vagabond/thief, i.e. Thief of love...
- On the Mediterranean as a cultural topos, see Paul Valery: "Mediteranska nadahnuca" in Pesnicko iskustvo, Beograd, 1980; Ivo Vidan, "Mediteranska ceznja engleske knjizevnosti" in: Tekstovi u kontekstu, Zagreb, 1975.
Shoshana Felman, Skandal tijela u govoru, (Zagreb, 1993.
- Dalibor Cvitan, "Mediteranski sparagmos" in Zgranut pred zlom, Zagreb, Northrop Fry , "Mit zime - ironija i satira" in Anatomija kritike, Zagreb, 1979.
- Hans Meyer, Doktor Faust i Don Huan, Novi Sad, 1988.
- Julia Kristeva, "Don Zuan ili da obicas mozeneto", in Literaturata, Sofia, No. 1, 1995.
- Roland Barthes, Sad, Furije, Lojola, Beograd, 1979.
- Achille Benito Oliva, Prirucnik za letenje, Novi Sad, 1993.
- Albert Camus, Mit o Sizifu, Sarajevo, 1989.
- Georges Battailles, Erotizam, Beograd. 1980.
- Julius Evola, Metafizika seksa, Cacak, 1990.
- Janko Kos, Na poti v postmoderno, Ljubljana, 1995.
- Julia Kristeva, "Bugarijo, stradanie moe", in Nase pismo , Skopje, dekemvri, 1995.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Osvit, Beograd, 1979.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogija morala, Beograd, 1986.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Tako govorese Zaratustra, Skopje, 1978.
- Krasimir Delcev, "Niccse v eroticen triagolnik" in Literaturen vestnik, Sofia, No. 38, 1994.
- On nihilism as an immanent Russian attitude to life, see: Gary Saul Morson, "Bakhtine at the Present Moment", in: American Scholar, Washington, Spring, 1991.
- St. Pauls missive is: "I am permitted everything, but not everything works in my favor".
- Julia Kristeva, Crno sunce, Novi Sad, 1994.
- Perhaps Don Juan is also an example of a so-called conceptual person, as interpreted by Delaise and Gattari in Sto e filozofija, Skopje, 1996.