The Modern and the Postmodern 7th assignment {Coursera / Wesleyan}

Butler writes that gender “is a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint.”

Discuss how her idea of improvisation compares with notions of creativity and self-invention we have seen in one other writer we have read this semester.

The “normal-different”

Judith Butler’s “Undoing Gender” critically reflects the political feminist movement, continuing her previous work on gender theory and queer studies. In her work, the notion of gender is described as “performative” and re-defined as “a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint”. [Butler 2004: p.1]

For Butler the question is not “what is really real” or what is really feminine or masculine. She approaches the issue of gender identity not as self- defining per se but rather as a product of social rituals in combination with individual improvisation.  At this point we are presented with a paradox; although people themselves strive for obtaining a unique, genuine role within the post-modern society, the latter still dictates norms in which gender roles must be “performed”. In this way, the individual mimics- creatively enough – a theatrical performance; the mask worn is what society conforms, the artist is the individual self, seeking to please the crowd in an endless effort to reinvent himself first. The postmodern men or women become creative in search for a self – definition; they are still bound however by the politically-correct norms of society.  Society argues that “difference is […] code for heterosexual normativity” [Butler 2004: p.202-203], thus implying that any transgression could be “unliveable”.

The seemingly non-academic writing style of the author gives way to practical examples of her analysis, especially concerning linguistic discourse.  Towards the end of her book, Butler  tries to exhibit that “…a prohibition on certain forms of love becomes installed as an ontological truth about the subject: The “am” of “I am a man” encodes the prohibition “I may not love a man,”…” [Butler 2004: p.199]. Chapter 5 of her book is attributed to kinship and heterosexual dominance in family ties and role-models [Butler 2004: p.102-130]. Gay marriage – a new creative, self-inventing proposal in order to belong – is taken as case in point and the author asks herself whether conforming to legal sanction of the marriage institution actually excludes those who do not wish to adhere to the nuclear, hierarchical prototypes.

The stable pair who would marry if only they could are cast

as illegitimate but eligible for a future legitimacy, whereas the sexual

agents who function outside the purview of the marriage bond and

its recognized, if illegitimate, alternative form now constitute sexual

possibilities that will never be eligible for a translation into legitimacy.” [Butler 2004: p. 106]

Žižek is another post-modernist thinker that has been associated with creativity and the self-invented Real. His main political and philosophical inspiration is attributed to the vast applicability of Freudian psychoanalysis and radical leftist political stance. Žižek likes using hype Lacanian terms such as the “Other” and the “Real” but he frequently adorns his speech with unconventional pop culture references.  Similar to Butler, the philosopher wonders:

Why does the decline of paternal authority and fixed social and gender roles generate new guilts and anxieties, instead of opening up a brave new world in which we can enjoy shifting and reshaping our multiple identities?” [Žižek 1999]

Again we see the self-identity struggle is marred by the social surroundings which allow little room for the “Other”. Power mechanisms that dominate society are attributed to libidinal Freudian pleasure taken when one exercises / obeys the law. We are growing in a society pseudo – liberal where acceptance is a guise for further restriction of the “Self” indirectly. The postmodern man / woman is reflexive when he listens to modern day doctrines;

 “This reflexivity undermines the notion of the Post-Modern subject free to choose and reshape his identity. The psychoanalytic concept that designates the short-circuit between the repression and what it represses is the superego.” [Žižek 1999]

It seems according to both authors the pursuit of self-identity and self-invention is contrary to populace beliefs not entirely a process of creativity; it is rather marked within boundaries of what society indicates or finds acceptable. Could the term “normal different” emerge in such a context? Perhaps.

Works cited:

Butler, Judith.  “Undoing Gender”.  2004.
Žižek, Slavoj. “You May!” London Review of Books, vol. 21. March 1999. Web.  Retrieved  8th May 2013 from:


Optional assignment: The Modern and the Postmodern {Coursera / Wesleyan}

Optional assignment: Compare at least two of our thinkers on the possibility of “coming to terms with the past.”  How do they understand the importance of understanding history or memory?


Defiance of memory against time in art


Coming to terms with our past denotes huge emotional strength, which at times humans fail to exhibit; letting go is a hard thing. Nostalgia according to a popular universal law is one of the most powerful aspects of life. It is in our history and memory where we find things were much better, more proper.  However, reminiscing the old hides the danger of failing to accept what’s innovative and new. How are we to attain progress if we insist on inhabiting the past? Prominent literature figures like Virginia Wolf and Charles Baudelaire have spent extensive amount of their work exploring issues arisen as regards memory and history.

It is hard for the average fiction reader to follow Virginia Wolf’s “stream of consciousness”. It is like we are sucked in the very minds of the protagonists, trying to follow their chain of thought and their inner preoccupations; at the same time a plot, perhaps insignificantly so, unfolds.

In “The Lighthouse” [3] we witness the symbolic depiction of the sea as a figurative metaphor of time. The beautiful calm sea turns violent and waves come crushing to the shores, much like time abruptly brings about change.  Woolf is talented in visual description: what we see is also what we should try to perceive.  The second chapter exhibits strongly the devastating alterations that come to pass within a ten year bracket.  Recounting the deaths of Prue and Andrew Ramsay, Woolf’s sentences become few and short. Symbolism again dictates that their deaths were either violent (war victim) or unjust (during childbirth); either way time causes premature loss. Mrs. Ramsey’s death is also indicative of untimely departure, leaving Mr. Ramsey almost helpless and unable to continue his philosophical research.

Near the novel’s conclusion Lily finally gets to finish up the painting she started ten years ago (again the past is echoed). Can art be our only consolation of stability in an ever-changing world? Lily contemplates: “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.” The forces of time may be unrelenting; neither Mr. Ramsay’s philosophy nor Mrs. Ramsay’s social gatherings were able to preserve memory. However art seems, according to Woolf, to be able to attain our experiences, meaningful moments of our lives.

Charles Baudelaire was also a man, whose art was meant to capture the fleeting little precious moments of life “for art is long and time is brief «as he suggested.  In his prose – like poetry he deploys symbolism and images taken from the “modern” urban boulevards of 19th century Paris. Again visual imagery – much like in Woolf’s writings – plays a crucial role in evoking nostalgia and intimacy for the past, as a true Romanticist would attempt.

Two of the poems in Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” [1] are mainly focused on the poet’s views concerning the passing of time. ‘Enivrez-Vous’ (“Get drunk”) calls for intoxication and indulging in life’s sinful pleasures. Time flees quickly and change comes in the form of death. So in turn men must seek ways to “Get drunk! Stay drunk! On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!” if they do not wish to end up “martyred slaves of Time”. Art and pleasures again can save the day and push back time’s decaying omens. The poem “Already” – in French “Deja” – poses a puzzling riddle for the poet. How is it that in all its power, nature cannot save the humans from mortality?

Time seems indeed devastating and unbeatable. Yet memories of the past and even the sweetness of the present can be preserved through the medium that these two predominant artists know all too well. Literatures, poetry, paintings or whatever the ancient Muses inspire keep the past intact as time runs with incredible speed, stampeding everything in its wake.

Shakespeare once wrote a sonnet [2] explaining that yet another force is able to stand against the menacing Time: true love. The beauty of art and love transcend time, providing mortals with immortal values. As the years pass, rest assured we will still enjoy the writings of Baudelaire, Woolf and Shakespeare. Such is the power of memory in the arts.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

(Sonnet 116)




  1. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from
  2. Shakespeare, William: Sonnets.1609. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from
  3. Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse. 1927. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from










The Language of Hollywood Coursera / Wesleyan Course :A review

Today I am going to shamelessly use this space and promote the newly founded site of – It contains everything you need to know about MOOCs, reviews, suggestions, how -to’s and lots of interesting ideas.

It also features my first publication which I hope you ‘ll find insightful.


As always feedback, comments and shares are most welcome….Off to my Mooc studying now…..            

6th writing assignment: The Modern and the Postmodern {Coursera/ Wesleyan}

“What human beings seek to learn from nature is how to use it to dominate wholly both it and human beings. Nothing else counts.” — Horkheimer and Adorno

Discuss how the idea of domination plays a role in two of the authors we have read this semester (you may write on Horkheimer and Adorno [as one thinker]).


The slave –master dialectic: A critical view in Marx and Engel’s theory of dominant classes versus the Frankfurt School interpretation


In the sphere of political theory it was Marx and Engels who first talked about the domination of other human beings within the context of “class struggle”. [Engels & Marx (2005): Section 1, §1] For Marx and Engels the working class (proletariat) is suppressed by the bourgeoisie in the capitalist society. The means to such domination relationship are purely economic; commodities and accumulation of wealth are what discern the classes from one another. In order to undo the class bondages, the Communist manifesto dictates “All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the laborer lives merely to increase capital, and allowed to live only so far as the interest to the ruling class requires it.” [Engels & Marx (2005): Section 2, §20] The emerging theory of the 19th century political philosophers is summarized accordingly into: “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation”. [Engels & Marx (2005): Section 2, §30] Abolition of domination meant to cease the overexploitation of the working force. Both writers’ interpretation of the post Industrial Revolution era was mainly an effort to enhance class consciousness, a way for the working class to define itself against its oppressors, so that in turn another social Revolution would take place.

The Frankfurt school was a neo-Marxist society of thinkers who chose the path of critical theory in order to support their philosophy. Adorno and Horkheimer in particular experienced the rise of National Socialism in Germany and drew at the same time parallel comparisons to Stalin’s regime, witnessing the extremes of totalitarianism in both cases.

In their attempt to define what lures the masses into being under control they placed the roots of modern domination in the Enlightenment tradition, stating that the quest for knowledge was nothing more than a self-fulfilling myth; thus, the Marxist theory of social struggle is reinterpreted within the slave-master dialectic as “Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings”. [ Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): p.6] The “subject” [Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): 5ff] is no longer promoting its self-awareness within the modern, knowledgeable society. Instead, “The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual and in the scorn poured on the type of society which could make people into individuals” [Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): 9], what makes society even more susceptible to control.

The writers commence their critical claims early on in their work by giving the instrument with which knowledge seeks to enslave us. “Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It aims to produce neither concepts nor images, nor the joy of understanding, but method, exploitation of the labor of others,* capital.” [Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): 2] Adorno and Horkheimer point at the link between the progress of technology and the ensnaring of the human society.  Both writers address the issue of mass culture as another distinct instrument of social domination. “The countless agencies of mass production and its culture* impress standardized behavior on the individual as the only natural, decent, and rational one.”[ Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): 21] The standardized products of human labor, blunt to the senses and leaving little room for thought, serve as a tool to manipulate the homogenized society into passivity.

In comparison to Marx it seems that the proletariat did little to free itself from the materialistic ideals of the bourgeoisie in the years following the “The Communist Manifesto”. One could rather argue it embraced the affluence of goods, further becoming absorbed in a homogeneous, consumerist world; the prized Revolution never came in the capitalist societies and the elite classes retained their dominant roles.

Human history has exhibit extreme cases of domination; power and the will to rule over nature and others is seemingly an insatiable human need to become Gods ourselves. Perhaps that is why man will always seek to dominate nature and other people: “In their mastery of nature, the creative God and the ordering mind are alike. Man’s likeness to God consists in sovereignty over existence, in the lordly gaze, in the command.” [ Adorno & Horkheimer (2002): 6]



Adorno, T. W., & Horkheimer, M. (2002). Dialektik der Aufklärung () (G. Schmitt-Noerr, Trans.). In G. Schmitt-Noerr (Ed.), Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments Cultural Memory in the Present Series (pp. 1-34). N.p.: Stanford University Press. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from

Engels, F., & Marx, K. (2005, January 25). The Communist Manifesto. In Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 20, 2013

The Modern and the Postmodern 5th assignment {Coursera /Wesleyan}


The Kantian echo in the works of Emerson

The Age of Enlightenment bequeathed Europe with challenging ideas. The predominance of faith and kingship were highly disputed, whereas doctrines gave rise to sciences and intellect. Nevertheless, not all of those “enlightened” reached common ground. Delving further into a quest for the philosophical “truth”, men of logic proclaimed different versions for it. 

John Locke’s theoretical approach of knowledge was one of empiricism; we are born as “tabula rasa”, we perceive the world with our sensors from then on, a posteriori. Thus, a child is born without innate thinking but rather the predisposition to imitate his immediate surroundings. He dictates parents as regards their offspring’s upbringing:

Let me give two cautions. 1) The one is, that you keep them to the practice of what you would have grown into a habit with them, by kind words, and gentle admonitions, rather as minding them of what they forget, than by harsh rebukes and chiding, as if they were willfully guilty. 2) Another thing you are to take care of, is, not to endeavor to settle too many habits at once, lest by variety you confound them, and so perfect none. When constant custom has made any one thing easy and natural to ’em, and they practice it without reflection, you may then go on to another”.  [Locke 1693: Sec. 66]

Emerson’s views upon the matter are initially introduced with the phrase: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, —that is genius.”  [Emerson 1847: §1] Individualism, according to the great American thinker, is astoundingly more profitable in terms of personal thought and self-development; emulating others is simply redundant repetition of second-hand notions, hardly allowing room for personal growth. Indeed the Transcendentalism movement, which Emerson upheld, seems at odds with John Locke’s theory of Empiricism. So how does one define Emerson as a figure of Enlightenment?

Emerson’s “self-reliance” is expressed in his Kantian motto “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself”. [Emerson 1847: §50] Arts, religion, society or anything devaluing individualism is falsified.  Having given the very definition of the “Aufklärung”[ Kant 1784], Kant instructs the exodus of man from role models imposed upon him. We begin our lives with our sensory organs, we continue with the use of reason but neither experience nor pure thought is above one another.  “Sapere Aude” [Kant 1784] is exactly what Emerson demands of his fellow Americans:

 Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born. [Emerson 1847: §33]

The transcendental idea of Enlightenment– first mentioned in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason – is portrayed in Emerson as Intuition versus Tuition [Emerson 1847: §21ff]. A difficult task – even for the thinker himself – to fully understand the metaphysics of the soul, yet one can be sure whether such is present in a man or not. “Here is the fountain of action and of thought” [Emerson 1847: §25], after all.

Emerson understood that perhaps an application of the transcendental idealism version of Enlightenment might not be practically applicable. Nevertheless he preached perfection in an imperfect world, citing Kant as his primary inspiration.

It is well known to most of my audience, that the Idealism of the present day acquired the name of Transcendental, from the use of that term by Immanuel Kant, of Konigsberg, who replied to the skeptical philosophy of Locke, which insisted that there was nothing in the intellect which was not previously in the experience of the senses, by showing that there was a very important class of ideas, or imperative forms, which did not come by experience, but through which experience was acquired; that these were intuitions of the mind itself; and he denominated them Transcendental forms. The extraordinary profoundness and precision of that man’s thinking have given vogue to his nomenclature, in Europe and America, to that extent, that whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought is popularly called at the present day Transcendental.

Although, as we have said, there is no pure Transcendentalist, yet the tendency to respect the intuitions, and to give them, at least in our creed, all authority over our experience, has deeply colored the conversation and poetry of the present day; and the history of genius and of religion in these times, though impure, and as yet not incarnated in any powerful individual, will be the history of this tendency.[Emerson 1842]

Works cited:

Emerson Ralph Waldo: The Transcendentalist  (1842)

Emerson Ralph Waldo: Essays: First Series. Self-Reliance (1847)

Kant Immanuel:  Critique of Pure Reason (1781)

Kant Immanuel: What is Enlightenment ( 1784)

Locke John: Some thoughts concerning Education (1693)

The Modern and The Postmodern 4th assignment {Coursera / Wesleyan}

ESSAY PROMPT 2: Describe how two of the following thinkers make use of memory or history in their work: Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Freud and Woolf

Memory serving to the hyper-ego


                Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud offered society an array of ground-breaking thoughts and stimulated philosophical discussions that constantly raise substantial debate.  To draw comparisons between these two figures or highlight their differences would be most challenging for a scholar; thus it might be of benefit to focus on one emerging commonplace in their works, namely that of history and / or memory.

Civilization and Its Discontents by Freud sheds light to the very first psychoanalytical attempts and the theory surrounding the continuous present struggle of the human nature against our past primal instincts in the name of social conformity. On the Genealogy of Morality by Nietzsche the origins of moral infringements and how these evolved to modern-day prejudices are traced. Specifically, the second essay depicts through the explanation of punishment the infamous “will to power”.

Freud suggests that the power of memory and “preservation in the sphere of the mind” is infinitely stronger as “in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish”.[16]In fact, he borrows evidence for his assumptions from historical archaeology; the Roman Empire’s past is well preserved amidst ruins and scattered remains, beneath all the modern buildings. [16-17]And yet how is it possible that the same piece of land holds both worlds? How are we to distinguish between a church and the ancient temple upon the latter was built? “If we want to represent historical sequence in spatial terms” Freud remarks “we can only do it by juxtaposition in space: the same space cannot have two different contents”. It seems that for Freud even the history of a glorious city such as Rome fails to provide room for the simultaneous existence of memory and modernity. According to Freud the true grounds, where the past is preserved and can be traced back is the human mind. Only there he concurs “is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible, and …we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms.” [18]

The dominant power of memory and the past emerges in the work of Nietzsche as well.  In the second essay, we find the following statement:

Indeed, there is perhaps nothing more fearful and more terrible in the entire prehistory of human beings than the technique for developing his memory. “We burn something in so that it remains in the memory. Only something which never ceases to cause pain remains in the memory”—that is a leading principle of the most ancient (unfortunately also the longest) psychology on earth. We might even say that everywhere on earth nowadays where there is still solemnity, seriousness, mystery, and gloomy colours in the lives of men and people, something of that terror continues its work, the fear with which in earlier times everywhere on earth people made promises, pledged their word, made a vow. The past, the longest, deepest, most severe past, breathes on us and surfaces in us when we become “solemn.”” [p.3]

Nietzsche insinuates a paradox occurring in modern era. Man is plagued by guilt and “bad conscience”; in his hour of solemnity and remorse he feels the past as a burden, our ill-doings stay with us just like the eternal torment of Sisyphus.  Nevertheless, the past and its people were not regarded as solemn but on the contrast “cheerful”! Through the transaction of “punishment” – freed of all moral repercussions – one could ease the pain inflicted upon him by simply punishing the culprit or redeeming oneself to his debtor. Things were simple in historic times.

Both scholars were considered beacons of thought each in their own time respectively. Nietzsche witnesses the fallouts of the Industrial revolution whereas Freud picks up a lot of similar ideas during the First World War timeline. In both cases, the memory and past serve as liberating forces; Nietzsche’s tribal God-mode opposite the Freudian “oceanic feeling” of wholeness. Intriguingly so, none seems to base those claims on data or empirical analysis; their historical references seem to serve such a purpose; yet one considers their notion of the past a somewhat personal view, elevated strictly on the premises of philosophical theory.    

Works cited:

Freud, Sigmund: Civilization and Its Discontents New York: W.W. Norton (1961)

Nietzsche, Friedrich Genealogy of Morals, essay 2 Leipzig (1887)

The Modern and the Postmodern: Coursera 1st writing assignment

How did Kant define Enlightenment? Use Kant’s definition to discuss whether either Rousseau or Marx is an Enlightenment figure.

Die Aufklärung


According to Kant (1784), “die Aufklärung” is “man’s emergence from his self – incurred immaturity” ; in other words, one attains the supreme level of maturity and emancipation at the same time through the wise use of logic, science and education. In his attempt to avoid stirring political persecution against him or instigate rioting thoughts, Emmanuel Kant proclaimed a preference to a more mediocre course of action, i.e. a “middle course”. “Sapere aude” (Kant 1784) against dogmatic principles of the time, would not necessarily mean any hazard to the established status quo of the elite. His definition of the enlightened Man was rather careful. “Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!” (Kant 1784) he exclaims is what a noble ruler should bid his people. After all, the public needs vast amounts of time allotted, before Man can truly begin to think for himself, before he reaches the ultimate level of Enlightenment.


Upon viewing the case of Jean Jacques Rousseau, one might have considered this Swiss philosopher to be the exact opposite of the majority of Kant’s contemporaries. In truth, Rousseau sought to be enlightened by succumbing to inner passions and emotion (thus having a profound impact to Romanticism), when Voltaire and others spoke of pure logic. Rousseau was deeply religious while philosophers of the Revolution denounced God and King. Can one portray the man as a paradigm of Enlightenment? If we are to abide by Kant’s definition, then the answer to this question could indeed be positive. Rousseau does in fact praise emancipation and enlightenment; his way of unshackling the chains of immaturity however is one of rebirth, a return to nature’s cradle.

Being an admirer of the classics, Rousseau (1750) reminisces about the glory of the mighty Roman Empire and that of the ancient Greeks; Socrates himself, as he boldly states, was appalled by the hubris of men of the arts and the high opinion they carried for themselves. And to proceed to current day and age, he adds another example of man’s faulty state of mind: “It requires only a little sun or snow, only the lack of a few superfluities, to melt down and destroy in a few days the best of our armies.” In short, Rousseau is angered by idle thinkers, who in vain search for the truth, when the truth lies in doing. He even more so aggressively approaches vanity and the creation of useless “needs” that science –or too much “thinking” – has had to offer.

Can we really be free when we as people are enslaved by objects? Even worse, who is truly mature and conqueror of knowledge while under the oppression of another (owner of more objects than us)? If we wish to become enlightened we must first seek unity of the human clan – that cannot be achieved within “civilized” society, simply because society will not allow it. Rousseau (1754) remarks: “As long as men remained satisfied with their rustic cabins […]as long as they continued to consider feathers and shells as sufficient ornaments, and to paint their bodies of different colours, to improve or ornament their bows and arrows, to form and scoop out with sharp-edged stones some little fishing boats, or clumsy instruments of music; in a word, as long as they undertook such works only as a single person could finish, and stuck to such arts as did not require the joint endeavours of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy, as much as their nature would admit, and continued to enjoy with each other all the pleasures of an independent intercourse; but from the moment one man began to stand in need of another’s assistance; from the moment it appeared an advantage for one man to possess the quantity of provisions requisite for two, all equality vanished; property started up; labour became necessary; and boundless forests became smiling fields, which it was found necessary to water with human sweat, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to sprout out and grow with the fruits of the earth.”

Amazingly enough, Rousseau’s works are still applicable to this day. And perhaps logic can drive a man so far, as to initiate change. Rousseau’s embodiment of Kant’s definition is one of true revolution of thought.


  1. Kant, Immanuel: An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” 1784. Prussia. as seen online :
  2. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”. (Translated by Ian Johnston) 1750. Paris. As seen online:
  3. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: “A Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind” 1754. Geneva. As seen online:

The Modern and the Postmodern: Coursera 3rd writing assignment

Darwin wrote that: “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” Compare Darwin’s view of the persistent effects of the past with at least one other writer covered so far in the course (please try to write about someone you haven’t written about in the previous assignments). 


Primal instincts and the seek for pleasure in the works of Darwin and Baudelaire


ImageDarwin’s theory of evolution strongly indicates the presence of a common ancestor of all living creatures – man himself included – , who over time and within the process of “natural selection” came to be modified in order to adapt each to their own surroundings. Thus Darwin boldly claims “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin”,  (Darwin 1871) suggesting that we are indeed nothing more than a successful mutation of a primal. As it was expected, his views raised controversy especially among the men of faith.

Darwin’s views about our genealogical past were not a result of painless efforts; Darwin was notably a meticulous scientist, who spent years of research in order to complete his work on the species that inhabit our planet and the origins of humans. He was more so diligent in writing about his endeavors not in a scholarly manner – as one might have expected from a man of letters – but in layman’s terms. By doing so he passed on precious scientific knowledge to people that were hardly accustomed to terminology of the sort, provoking mixed emotions to a huge populous even to this day.

In his work “the Descent of Man” the final Chapter digresses towards the moral differences between man and beasts, claiming that “…the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.” (Darwin 1871) According to his reasoning, our relationship with God and the vast power of social habit were hugely responsible to maintain those primary instincts and develop them to a more decent humane conduct. He concurs “ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor.” (Darwin 1871) As one observes, it is well within our nature to commune with each other, to sympathize even from the early stages of evolution. Darwin (1871) elaborates upon the matter:  “The motive to give aid is likewise much modified in man: it no longer consists solely of a blind instinctive impulse, but is much influenced by the praise or blame of his fellows. The appreciation and the bestowal of praise and blame both rest on sympathy; and this emotion, as we have seen, is one of the most important elements of the social instincts”. However our beliefs and higher principles such as faith in God were under no circumstances “innate or instinctive”. They were byproducts of social grouping.

Darwin provoked public opinion with his work in the mid-19th century yet his views about human basic instincts and our dormant past were actually supported in a completely different  field namely art. Baudelaire, the infamous French poet, shares the belief that intense emotions that even violate social standards and etiquette are indeed equal parts of human nature and goes on a step further; perhaps our bestial origins are actually better than the reformed social ones.

In the “Eyes of the Poor” (Baudelaire 1869), the Darwinian sympathy emerges as he observes that the glasses were too small to satisfy the upper middle class’ thirst for luxury; the eyes of the impoverished family outside the café haunt him. Yet, as social surroundings indicate, his companion doesn’t share the same thoughts. She is rather taken aback and irritated by their presence.

The themes unraveled in “Le Spleen de Paris” bear testimony of how man has become a social beast and if let outside the social grid he will eventually fall prey to his inner primal instincts. Pleasure for one is the ultimate medium, with which one seeks to express himself. Other motifs include narcotics and sexuality, both marginalized by the “comme – il – faut” society of the time.  It seems as if Baudelaire is biased against the prejudiced conformity and considers bourgeoisie a hypocritical hybrid; “the Rope” (Baudelaire 1869) is an excellent portrayal of how motherhood and innate motherly feelings are denominated in exchange for profit.

To sum up, Darwin theory of evolution is backed by considerable scientific data; it is in Baudelaire however that we find empirically how much we can change  – both positively and negatively – as humans based on the social surroundings we choose to abide by. It should have made one wonder: Is our hairy ancestor the true monstrosity?


Works cited:

1. Baudelaire, Charls: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869

2. Darwin, Charles: The Descent of Man. 1871