Author Archives: John Griogair Bell

About John Griogair Bell

My name is John. I'm the enigmatic super villain, known only, to some, as the Librarian.

But those people, they were killing America. They were killing the dream. They were all the Constitution this and the Constitution that. But they cherished only the parts they liked. They didn’t feel it extended to us.

C Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust

Hermetic quote Cargill Sea of Rust killing the dream

Out From Boneville

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith.

Smith Out from Boneville

I was recently surprised to find Bone mentioned among a list of indispensable comics works in Neil Gaiman’s introduction to The Best of the Spirit. Remarking this fact to my Other Reader in a local comics shop, along with the circumstance that I had never read Bone and hadn’t ever had it personally recommended to me, multiple store personnel, overhearing, piped up that they followed the title themselves and recommended it strongly. So, now I’ve finished the collection of the first six issues from the early 1990s, and I did enjoy it. It was somewhat different from my expectations. 

Given its origins as a black-and-white underground comic, along with the art style and presentation of the covers, I was expecting something like the early issues of Dave Sim’s Cerebus (at that point a Conan parody featuring an aardvark), and in fact protagonist Fone Bone bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Cerebus as drawn in Sim’s later work. But as I read the Bone comics, I was most reminded of the work of Charles M. Schulz. It was as if the writer/artist of Peanuts at the height of his powers had decided to undertake a fantasy epic. The pacing of the dialogue, the facial expressiveness of the characters, the telescoping of major events into the gutter between two panels, all showed the sort of technique that I associate with Schulz’s best work. 

This first volume introduces a robust set of characters, and sets a dramatic tableau, but it does not complete a plot arc. I’m sure I’ll read at least one more collection.

Nietzsche and the Gods

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nietzsche and the Gods edited by Weaver Santaniello, foreword by John J Stuhr.

Santaniello Stuhr Nietzsche and the Gods

Nietzsche and the Gods is a pleasantly diverse assortment of eleven papers on religious themes in Nietzsche’s writing. Editor Santaniello has divided the papers according to religious tradition: Judaism, Hellenic paganism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Although all of these pieces are informed by considerable scholarship, some of them are rather dispassionate analyses, and others are out-and-out sermons for which Nietzsche is the exemplum (positive or negative), while most fall somewhere in between. All but three of the papers (the ones by Sallis, Parkes, and Tillich) are original with this volume.

The two papers in the Judaism section are quite different from one another. Tim Murphy offers an thorough and accessible examination of Nietzsche’s evaluations of Judaism. But the Wyschogrod and Hood paper examining Nietzsche’s influence on the mature work of Martin Buber is extremely recondite, to the point where I wondered if they weren’t “playing” the reader with their post-modern theological erudition.

Unsurprisingly, about half of the section on “The Greek Gods” is given over to discussion of The Birth of Tragedy. It is the primary object of study in John Sallis’ “Shining Apollo,” as well as half of the issue in Lawrence Hatab’s analysis of “Nietzschean Expressions of the Sacred.” But I found more value in Weaver Santaniello’s own “Socrates as the Ugliest Murderer of God,” one of the shortest papers in the collection. 

Both of the papers in the Buddhism section emphasize congruities between Nietzsche’s views and the scholars’ understandings of actual Buddhism, as distinguished from Nietzsche’s largely Schopenhauer-based ideas about Buddhism. From a Thelemic perspective, I was especially interested in the weight placed on horticultural metaphor in both Nietzsche’s writing and the Buddhist sources referenced by Robert Morrison. Graham Parkes’ comparative discussion is oriented to overcome not only Nietzsche’s misunderstandings of Buddhism, but also American preconceptions about Zen–which Parkes faults for being informed by the Soto tradition to the exclusion of the more Nietzschean Rinzai strain.

The most generally useful of the papers in the Christianity section is Thomas Brobjer’s study of Nietzsche’s evolving relationship with Christianity prior to his final overtly anti-Christian phase. Brobjer carefully combs published and unpublished writings, while deflecting Nietzsche’s later anti-Christian reconstructions of his earlier motives. I was rather disappointed in Jerry Clegg’s paper regarding “Nietzsche on Pistis versus Gnosis“; I found its wholesale collapse of Will to Power and Will to Truth into the respective terms of the pistis-gnosis dialectic to be insufficiently substantiated. Paul Tillich’s “Escape from God” was surprisingly palatable to me. I’m not sold on the closeness of the kinship between Luther and Nietzsche offered by Tillich, but his readings of Nietzsche are fair, and his evident aim in this piece is to use Nietzsche’s thoughts in the tempering and refinement of an existentialist theology over and against the “sin of religion.” 

There is only one paper in the final section on Islam, and I was fairly nonplussed by this piece on “The Consequences of Atheism” by pious Sufi Henry Bayman. While acknowledging Nietzsche’s genius, Bayman chiefly construes him as a culprit in what he sees as the apocalyptically disastrous faithlessness of modernity, as well as a Faustian demonstration of the atheist’s comeuppance. 

Overall, I found this book to offer a great amount of material for reflection, both in connection with the study of Nietzsche’s work, and in the general philosophy of the religious traditions at issue. The impressive variety of the contents should assure readers with corresponding interests that at least a couple of pieces will amount to highly informative reads.

Nietzsche

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nietzsche by Lou Salomé, translated and edited by Siegfried Mandel.

Salomé Mandel Nietzsche

This book is principally a 1988 translation of Lou Salome’s Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken (“Friedrich Nietzsche in His Works,” 1894). The original text is one of the earliest pieces of scholarship on Nietzsche, but is curiously hybridized with elements of memoir, since Salome was a personal student of Nietzsche’s during his late “formerly professor, and now a wandering fugitive” phase of work. This circumstance, amplified by Nietzsche’s affection for her (he proposed a marriage which she declined) entitles her to a certain privileged perspective on the ideas of a thinker whose paradoxical core involved a vigorous interplay of the objective and the idiosyncratic. “Unforgettable for me are those hours in which he first confided to me his secret, whose inevitable fulfillment and validation he anticipated with shudders.” (130)

Salome identifies “the conflict between the need for God and the compulsive need to deny God” as the cornerstone of Nietzsche’s struggle, which made him into a “sacrificial animal,” the remains of which were then “a dual figure–half-sick and suffering; half-saved, a laughing and superior human.” (89) In all of this, however, she surprisingly takes him to have missed his destiny rather than realized it. Writing of the break with Wagner and Nietzsche’s academic resignation, she remarks, “One cannot escape the feeling that the greatness reserved for him passed him by.” (56)

Translator Siegfried Mandel provides a lengthy introduction, focused on a late-20th-century appreciation of Nietzsche’s biography, both prior to and during his association with Salome. In particular, Mandel takes some pains to arrive at conclusions about Nietzsche’s sexual identity and experiences. Mandel also repudiates the allegations that Nietzsche was syphilitic, and works to dissociate the actual man from the rumors that helped to inspire Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus. (xli)

The translation leaves out many of Salome’s original annotations, a considerable portion of which consisted solely of extensive quotes from Nietzsche’s published works. But Mandel also reinserts [in brackets] some omitted language in correspondence reproduced within Salome’s text. Mandel’s own endnotes are largely explanatory, and imply that he is addressing himself to a readership with little prior familiarity with Nietzsche. Indeed, as a basic introduction to Nietzsche’s thought, the book is serviceable, although its peculiar perspective and unique judgments also give it great interest to those who have already studied Nietzsche at length.