Nietzsche, Lars von Trier, and Antichrist

maj 18, 2009 at 2:45 pm 8 kommentarer

It fascinates me that a person can have so much influence. On one hand his ideas are awful, terrible, rejected, despised by the established western world. On the other hand there is something fascinating by him, something that draws you towards him, something new and original, something which you cannot refuse to give attention. It is even more fascinating that this man saw it coming so far in advance that almost no-one understood it when he proclaimed it. He was like a prophet, not in the traditional sense of being divinely inspired, but in the sense of being an oracle of what is to come through an analysis of the season of time. He knew it by intuition, he could feel it, and he gave expression to it. Another feature of his prophetic ministry is the fact that he never saw the impact of his message. He died, but his ideas are flourishing.

Of course the only person I could possibly have in mind in the above is Friedrich Nietzsche.

In popular thinking this is also known as postmodernism even though it is difficult to describe this phenomenon as a unified movement. There are many variances of postmodernism, but I still think it is fair to say that there are common features. One of them is that they can all be traced back to Nietzsche’s philosophy a century (!) ago. It is simply fascinating that a person who lived a century ago can have such an all-encompassing influence on society and popular belief.

I have not seen Lars von Trier’s movie and I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity in the nearby future. I doubt that anyone here in Kenya would understand the movie, even less that they would show it in the cinemas or sell it in the stores. But I can tell from the descriptions, reviews, and interviews what to expect. This is postmodernism in is extreme form.

I was immersed into my own cultural and philosophical milieu. I’m a product of my own time, hence I cannot deny that I’m truly fascinated when I read about the movie. Rejection of relativism and embracement of relativism is a popular trend, but few have been ready to go all the way. At certain points, particularly times of crisis, the popular understanding is inherently unstable because it lacks consistency. Most people display evidence of an absolute foundation when it counts, either Christian, humanistic/atheistic, Muslim, Eastern religious, etc. Denying that an unsupported, presuppositional foundation exists is therefore to live in a state of denial.

Nietzsche – and Lars von Trier – take the postmodern critique of the Cartesian (i.e. from René Descartes) philosophy to its logical and necessary conclusion: nihilism. I can tell from the reactions on the movie that this point has been reached, both through the descriptions of it, but also by the very fact that some people walked out in protest against it. The philosophical conclusion was simply unbearable to them. It was too outspoken. It offended them.

It is not a surprise that von Trier received inspiration for the movie from his own depression. The romantic denial of fear, anger, lust and desire, is replaced with acceptance, indeed fascination and promovation of these elements, for they are essential parts of what it means to be human. His philosophical world is guided by themes about the cosmos, the ur-person, the foundational desires and feelings – the “Antichrist”! In the art of making movies such expressions can be caught by means of extreme slowmotion. By so doing, he is able to create a sense of static sorrow, static anxiety, static paranoia (“statisk sorg, statisk angst, statisk paranoia”, interview with Lars von Trier).

Now, I have lived in a different culture than my own for some years now and as an outsider I can see how people have difficulties in distinguishing between culture and Christianity. They claim (sometimes American) cultural elements to be Christian because their cultural identity is so much mixed up with their Christian identity. This is true of Christianity in every culture. Why would we then claim that it is any different in the West? However, Lars von Trier opposes all religion as evil:

I have always seen Protestatism as the great brute, but religion is some crap altogether, I’m sure about that (Jeg har jo altid set protestantismen som det store udyr, men religion er i det hele taget noget lort, det er jeg sikker på). Interview with Lars von Trier.

I think I understand him quite well (apart from his absolute certainty!). In this he is not any different from Nietzsche, his great inspirator:

I have had Nietzsche’s Antichrist on my table since I was 12. You know, this is his great encounter with Christianity (Jeg har haft Nietzsches Antichrist liggen på mit bord, siden jeg var 12. Det er jo hans store opgør med kristendommen). Interview with Lars von Trier.

I’m have sympathy for his intention, but, as I have written elsewhere on this weblog,  he and Nietzsche fail to distinguish culture from Christianity.

What Descartes was for modernism, Nietzsche wasa for postmodernism. In his famous parable, The Madman, the Madman was not claiming responsibility for killing God, but prophesied the inevitable outcome of what the philosophical establishment had done implicitly and unknowingly. Enlightenment Christianity had erroneously maintained that the infinite God can be comprehended by finite human reasoning. Such a claim, however, is blasphemy and idolatry, because it rejects the qualitative difference between Creator and created humans. What Nietzsche did not realize was that his proclamation was not directed towards Christianity per se, but towards the Cartesian paradigm, two systems which at that time were inextricably bound together (Postmodern Christian Theology).

Lars von Trier’s attack on Christianity is, as is Nietzsche’s, misplaced because it assumes that the culture of modernity is itself Christianity. But that’s a faulty claim. Therefore, I do not as a postmodern Christian feel attacked by him.

I must say that Lars von Trier is fascinating. Whether you like it or not, at least he is closer to being consistent than pop-philosophical, shallow claims that will not last when seriously challenged. I would have loved to watch the movie, not so much because I think I fully agree with him – though I think much of it would resonate within me – but rather because I sense that this is the final test for me to see if I really understand and feel postmodernism.

If you want to explore further on Christian postmodernism, you can see my earlier post on postmodern Christian theology HERE (though dealing mostly with it from a philosohical/epistemological/theological perspective). You can read about the movie HERE (in Danish) and interviews HERE (some in Danish, some in English).

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Definition of rhythm Nye billeder i online fotoalbum

8 kommentarer Add your own

  • 1. Mikael  |  maj 24, 2009 kl. 11:04 am

    Jeg deler ik din fascination af filmen og har overhovedet ik lyst til at se den. Tror den vil sætte alt for mange ubehagelige forstyrrende billeder i mit hoved, som jeg ik vil ku glemme og som vil påvirke mig på en negativ måde.
    Jeg vil dog meget gerne gå til kilden og læse noget mere nietzsche. Tror der ligger visdom gemt der, som kan hjælpe mig og andre forvirrede hoveder på vandringen fremover. 🙂

    Svar
  • 2. Dorthe Dalsgaard  |  maj 25, 2009 kl. 9:57 am

    Jeg holder med Mikael. Har heller ikke lyst til at se filmen, men det kommer vel ikke bag på dem der kender mig.

    Svar
  • 3. Søren Dalsgaard  |  maj 25, 2009 kl. 11:58 pm

    @ Mik: Men hvis nu Nietszche of von Trier grundlæggende siger de samme ting, er det så ikke lige så dårlig påvirkning? Eller tænker du at det er fordi det ene er ord og det andet er billeder?
    @ Dorthe: Jeg må vel være en af dem der kender dig, og nej, det kommer ikke bag på mig 😀
    Ved måske heller ikke om “lyst” er det rigtige ord at bruge. Men jeg er nysgerrig efter at se hvad en neurotisk nihilist son von Trier egentlig går og filosoferer over.

    Svar
  • 4. Mikael  |  maj 26, 2009 kl. 10:29 am

    Præcis. Jeg har læst en okay grundig beskrivelse af filmens plot og jeg ved at hvis jeg så det, så ville det påvirke mig alt for meget. Jeg ville ikke turde gå i en dunkel skov og lignende. Og hvis der er noget jeg ikke gider have mere af i mit liv, så er det irrationel frygt.
    Derimod påvirker det mig ikke nær så meget på skrift.
    Og så har von Trier åbenbart en forkærlighed for udpenslede sexscener.
    Og nej, det er ikke tit du hører mig være så moralsk. 😉

    Svar
  • 5. Søren Dalsgaard  |  maj 26, 2009 kl. 12:29 pm

    Hehe, det er vel ikke moralisering – blot ansvar for dit eget velbefindende …

    Svar
  • 6. Mikael  |  maj 26, 2009 kl. 12:29 pm

    Ja, der er ikke andre til at tage det end mig.

    Svar
  • 7. JulieW  |  august 4, 2011 kl. 11:06 am

    det er svært at dømme noget, som man ikke har undersøgt. jeg vil vove at påstå, at det er meget muligt at kunne se hans film og selv vurdere, hvor man vil stå. hvis man er sikker på, hvor man står, kan man bedømme ud fra dét, og selv bestemme om man vil lade sig påvirke negativt. omvendt er jeg også af den overbevisning, at man skulle se på andre end ens egne tankeverdner og se, om der er hold i det. hvis man kan konkludere med valide argumenter, at man ikke vil hoppe med på den vogn, så går man videre en tand mere oplyst.
    det er ignorant bare at ignorere ting, der virker skræmmende. vi kan ikke være sikker på, hvordan denne verden er bygget op, og vi er nødt til at stille spørgsmål, nødt til at tvivle og nødt til at tvivle på truismer.

    Svar
  • 8. Henrik Vittrup  |  maj 18, 2012 kl. 1:21 am

    You are completely wright.
    I have just this second seen Melancholia, and searching the net for Trier, Nietzche your blog come out.
    I did not see Antichrist, still waiting because I know, I have to be in a particular strong mood that day, because I know he will tear my heart out with pure thruth.

    I did not know about the relationship between Nietzche and Trier, but a particular scene, while pondering my mind for placing Trier in a philosophical context, gave me the answer. Animal Philosophy by Nietzche. Trier is the most concentrated animalist according to Nietzche on this planet, nothing less, in my personal opinion of course.

    Of several reasons I am not antireligous, just the opposite, I am protestant, catholic, jewish, muslim, shamamism, Inca-stuff, Hindu, Inuit, what some call Polyreligious, I really do not care that much what people call my philosophy on the matter of religion.
    I know religion works to a better understanding of humanism.

    Animal philosophy is a small book in Nietzches enourmous production and not known by many.

    Just happens to be the most strongly argumenation and critic of society I have come across. – I would even allow my self to in a small group of course, actually only when I am alone, to call it a post-postmodern text, with neocolonial traits.

    Never the less, I do totaly agree upon your intensely sharp analysis, and I would consider my self privilegied, if you have any comment on Animal Philosphy on whatever subject and/or at a glance look Animal Philosphy up, and then give me your comment, how ever brief, you would have interest in.

    Thanks again and regards to both of you,
    Henrik Vittrup
    You can look me up on google if you want to, and I would be happy to tell you more of the deeper reasons of my professionel interest in understanding animal philosphy…

    Svar

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