Monday, August 11, 2008

The Misanthrope

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

AT first awhile sits he,

With calm, unruffled brow;
His features then I see,
Distorted hideously,
An owl's they might be now.
What is it, askest thou?
Is't love, or is't ennui?'
Tis both at once, I vow.

Misanthropy is a general dislike, distrust, or hatred of the human species or a disposition to dislike and/or distrust other people. The term is also applicable to those who self-exile themselves or become loners because of the aforementioned feelings. The word comes from the Greek words μίσος ("hatred") and άνθρωπος ("man, human being"). A misanthrope or misanthropist is a person who dislikes or distrusts humanity as a general rule.

"So that is what hell is. I would never have believed it. You remember: the fire and brimstone, the torture. Ah! the farce. There is no need for torture: hell is other people." (No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre)

Highlights from this scintillating interview with Slavoj Zizek, 59:

* What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Their sleazy readiness to offer me help when I don't need or want it.
*What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy.
What do you owe your parents?
Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.
*To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
To my sons, for not being a good enough father.
What is your favourite smell?
Nature in decay, like rotten trees.
What is the worst job you've done?
Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.

In case people miss the point, I can best describe the affectation conveyed by this narcissistic self-hater as it was once described by someone I knew: "It's Black Russian time inside the mediadream. Ha. Private joke."

The intensity, the brooding, the trenchant contempt, the flamboyant self-contempt, the romantic, Byronic indifference and despair, the total lack of joy, the total lack of pity, the decadent melodramatics --- yea, dark Russian dream is just about right.
How do I know it is affectation and theatricals? Well, I can't make a watertight case but it simply does not compute with the man who only recently got married to a very beautiful and very young woman and who seems to have gone to some trouble to create a striking visual image, colour-coordinating his wedding gear to her choice of dress and red roses. One gets the impression that once you peel off the mask of extravagant rhetoric and permanently hooded brow, you will find another mask underneath, of extravagant rhetoric and permanently hooded brow.


At 6:29 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Misanthropes are better than sociopaths, at least for the rest of us. They tend to direct their hatred inward rather than outward.

At 7:30 PM EDT, Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Misanthropes ARE sociopathic, no?

Still, I'm not convinced that Zizek is at all misanthropic. He clearly enjoys the company of people far too much to be really misanthropic; I expect he's just "taking the piss," as they say.

I often find myself disagreeing with his assertive declarations, especially his habit of demanding that we retreat from the urgency of situations that obviously demand immediate and robust humanitarian intervention and instead sit around philosophizing about crap. But I do find his approach quite bracing, and his critiques of the Left are, in my estimation, spot on.

At 11:58 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Misanthropes ARE sociopathic, no?"

Not exactly. I think the former are more likely to commit suicide, the latter are more likely to murder.

I have known a variety of people who I would describe as misanthropes. They hate people, they hate society, etc. but they were not violent people, at least not towards others. They were much more likely to hurt themselves.

The few sociopaths I have met are all doing serious time in prison for violent acts.

Big difference there. I can drink a beer with a misanthrope but I do not like spending any time in the company of sociopaths, even when they are safely behind bars.


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