Nietzsche Never Went Mad, He Walked Off Like Cassady by Paul Michael Whitfield


Image of German humor magazine Fliegende Blätter’s 1892 “Rabbit and Duck”


Madness, of course, is multifarious.

It’s August. I value August. I like beginnings, for example, and August begins de dicto with the first letter of what we name the alphabet and de re the season of the harvest of endings for beginnings—autumn, itself de dicto so too. August is prudence and eo ipso sanity. It is power, with which madness is often inversely related.

August has been power for some time, in the West. Pax Romana, two centuries of relative peace in Rome, was inaugurated by the ruler Augustus who, like his famous predecessor, Julius Caesar, would be honored by the gift of a month being named after him—Caesar’s July the only other such honor. Yet another of the regent’s many names, it meant ‘venerable’ or ‘esteemed’, and was meant to give notice of his continued successes for the de jure Republic—de facto, of course, he was, as power often is, an autocratic (however benevolent) ruler. Both names—Caesar’s and Augustus’s—were common epithets for later, also autocratic sovereigns of Rome. Power begetting power to the letter.

The letters of language the alpha-bet. The power of language ex vi termini, so to speak, because power is responsibility, and responsibility is a bet. It’s a form of hospitality, which I’ll talk about later vis-à-vis Heidrun Friese.

Yes, that rhymes a bit there, and, yes, so too is sanity all these. The epistemological tree of knowledge and the etymological tree of language. The Abrahamic and geometric beliefs of those from whom I descend consecrate two theoanthropomorphic trees, knowledge of good and evil growing with life. The entwining branches of reason and synapse reaching toward that cognate Sol.

lovely tree, isn’t it?

I grew up around eucalyptus. I grew up on Vargas Road, after my maternal patronym—Azorean loves there on our plateau. I grew up in the East Bay, outlying these avenues of San Francisco.

The reason for naming where I live what it’s named, one of its names, California, is the conquest of lands brimming with culture. It’s the idealized fiction of it, even—the glorious setting of its whole conquest. I mean to say it comes from a book about people going to America and taking land from those already there, that was read and loved by people who chose to do exactly what they read, and then, to name the place after what they’d read in the book about doing it, upon doing it. Seriously. Imperiously.

California is a queen for conquest. I am inhabitant and inheritor of a victim—the finally diagnosed contagion of the ἐπιστήμη of λόγος.

We weren’t from there, you know. Just needed a place to stay, while coming to join in the righteous and god-fearing resources of the glorious bounty of his… yeah… you get it. Reasons for being here and so we went there. There’s a living in dying, you know.

there’s a logic to it.

Lewis Carroll wrote a children’s book based on logic. It’s rather novel, I can say that. However, I think the point of the book is that that isn’t to say much of anything, all things considered—as logic goes down a hole and never leaves, for Alice, dreaming, because Carroll wrote literature influenced by his mingling the vicissitudes of modern logic into stories he told for his nieces.

The world a land of ad-venture—signs of the wonder full game in living.

Of Alice’s adventure, I read closely that untimely tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and that dormouse. Carroll is known for packing his tale full of potential interpretations and symbolism. Gilles Deleuze was famously intrigued, for example.

Madness is this party’s theme, and there are histories to madness. There are histories of it. My fellow columnist Tini Ngatini’s thoughts, for example. Michel Foucault’s, which famously caused quite the stir with Jacques Derrida. Foucault the professed Nietzschean.

The West knows madness, and therein lies the force of these terms. The power in the words and the wordsmiths of the world, and the thought that power is method, and that I am against method.


Image of the Cover of Paul Feyerabend’s 1975 Against Method (partial)


The method of the party, for example.

Some party, this—some state of affairs. The party line, the personal nightlives—the good.

The Greeks and their eudaimonia.

the good life.

It’s just a part of everything else, after all. There is the bad. There is wrongdoing and error. There are those considered insane—synoptically incorrect, in some sense, so to speak. It’s been this way for some time now, too. There are paintings studied for insight into artists who died confined in asylums.

Alice is directed to the mad by the Cheshire Cat, and arrives at their party in media res. The hare had lost his mind during or just after the month of his namesake, because of the hatter’s previously good relationship with Time spoiling due to the Queen of Hearts’ poor opinion of the hatter’s objectionable recital of a (modified) ‘Twinkle Little Star’, the party becoming forever in media res and Alice a (somehow) later and unwelcome interruption.

The dormouse, often abused while dozing, is soon picked as their storyteller, politic conversation with Alice going awry, and pieces together a story about three sisters who lived in and ate treacle, at the bottom of a well of it, even learning to draw treacle along with everything that begins with ‘M’—relating that letter to ‘T’, a relation which becomes more explicit after the party with the Mock Turtle (really a tortoise, and friends with an outright imaginary griffin) and its sad nostalgia for the bygone and obscure unity of an academic and subterranean age, and is itself related, as a relation, to a reciprocal relation of the former letter to ‘H’, ‘M’ becoming the middle figure of an allegorical syllogism, so to speak, perhaps—before Alice, offended by that mad hatter yet again, abruptly leaves, and the poor dormouse is last seen being shoved into a teapot by the hatter and hare.

So, she arrives, has the worst time, and abruptly leaves. That’s how Alice fares at the party.

That’s how logic fares in the world. I recall Plato’s Charmides, its aporetic elenchus and the elusiveness and superfluous meaninglessness of wisdom.

There is nonsense in all of this, as Carroll’s lyrical epigraph to his tale suggests. There is the mad.

Notable is the complete absence of conversational rapport at this party. Nothing said between Alice and her companion partiers ever goes well. Either she’s been offended, or caused offense, or simply doesn’t understand what she’s told at all, and while we’re given some of Alice’s own perspective—for example, she’s very interested in questions about eating and drinking, to which we can attribute the dormouse’s fascination with treacle, and is so much less than keen to switch places at the table when candidly directed to do so by the hatter—her companion’s perspectives are almost uniformly opaque, as we’re told nothing—even the conversation they hold among themselves is senseless to the reader. I mean, who indeed knows why the butter ‘wouldn’t suit the works’?

The hatter even denies knowing the answer to his own now very famous riddle, Carroll himself giving his reply only later as afterthought for ardent fans, suggesting what is the manifold meaninglessness of the whole party tout court. Utter madness, down to the dormouse’s syrup, that treacle, which I think of as a complex element that suggests skepticism and decadence as resolution to confusion. Immanuel Kant called pure reason the logic of illusion, you know, whatever that means in the end, I guess.

A further mark of the party’s novel part to play in the novel is their introduction by the cat, who relates them to everyone else in Wonderland: the grinning feline tells Alice that not only are the partiers mad, but everyone else is, too, including Alice and the cat stating it all so.

The lot of them, beginning to end, the whole of Wonderland, quite, quite mad.


Image of an illustration by John Tenniel for the 1865 first edition of Alice in Wonderland (partial)


The partiers, of course, say little to Alice, who thinks herself sane. They speak as if confused about everything, even having spoken to her—expertly following some topoi of the epoche she hasn’t the faintest chance of catching let alone employing. They’re absent even as they sit at the table. They talk and drink, and nothing gets said, nothing gets done—timeless perplexity. It’s a party of parties and a party for parties.

Parties suggest the state, the partisan, and eo ipso those who must not be named. The terrible and the unethical—the ex communicado and the damnatio memoriae. The city’s vagrant. The outliers…

Foucault writes of a City of Reason being founded where the mad are nothing but mad, at the price of estranged citizenship. There is a sense of method, and Foucault studies those facilities which are the site of exchange between sane and insane—houses of confinement first built for lepers only later becoming asylums, and each as a harbor for the constant mooring of the Ship of Fools. The relation of the city to the mad is both real and imaginary—those ships of the ejected mad sent both somewhere and nowhere by both real and imaginary expulsion and isolation.

He writes: “Incessantly cast in this empty role of unknown visitor, and challenged in everything that can be known about him, drawn to the surface of himself by a social personality silently imposed by observation, by form and mask, the madman is obliged to objectify himself in the eyes of reason as the perfect stranger, that is, as the man whose strangeness does not reveal itself. The city of reason welcomes him only with this qualification and at the price of this surrender to anonymity.”

Madness changes over time for Foucault—continuity is more historiographical than historical—and he observes prima facie relevant medical knowledge as the 20th century’s historical instantiation.

Today’s pathologists studying the lack of a lack of a lack.

The madness of the 16th century is different from that of the 18th. The experience of and response to it, tending from the awe-full fear of the animal in man—eo ipso its equally awe-full cage—to the developing theory of man’s foray into his ‘self’, into being human qua intellectual qualia, knowledge learning more about knowledge.

The former, earlier, is perhaps more external—a beast of the inhuman sensualities of mysterious, noncognitive agency, and eo ipso a sort of civil foil as a wild Stranger—the latter, a self-reflective madness, perhaps more internal, in inverse relation to man’s ‘divine’ grace and psychic faculties, their prudence, and eo ipso more of a darkened mirror—the empty, faceless Stranger. I recall Herodotus’s folk etymology of the word ‘barbarian’, being the work and word of Greeks who named those others, those not Greek in table and tongue, as they sounded—’bar bar bar…’—letters and language everywhere, even elsewhere (the radical modern’s rather ageist anti-aestheticization of the infant’s ‘dada’, for example).

One doesn’t understand the mad, however, in any case. That is the form of the continuity.

the ends of reason and the end of reason.

I wonder if this continuity is myopia, or the observation of something and the history of knowing about it? Both Aristotle and Descartes discount out-of-hand the opinions of those they call mad. No reason to even think of such thoughts, let alone their analysis.

I wonder, are these pathologized ‘psychos’ more-or-less the same? Is theirs a path or paths? Is madness a recurring thing or something new ‘each time’, later evaluated and so labeled as itself? To what all do we refer when we speak about madness? ‘I don’t know.’ Is this, too, merely naturalized anthropology, so to speak? If the mad aren’t human? Foucault discusses art, articles, studies, journals, private letters, medical and state records, encyclopedias…

Is the proliferation of knowledge the proliferation of a plethora of interpretive histories? What do I do when I wish to ask, as I just did now, “What, in the end, is madness?”, if such a wish is to ask, “What does it mean?”, I wonder.

Madness is formidable, powerful, and not just Carroll’s wondrous partiers can recall a lot in this regard.


Image of Hieronymus Bosch’s c. 1490-1500 The Ship of Fools (partial)


Alice spends most of the time in Wonderland smaller than she is, shrunk down by eating and drinking, and only begins to expand back to her usual size near her adventure’s denouement at the Knave’s trial in the King’s court. Eating and drinking relate, I think, to Alice’s propensity for wishing, her curiosity, and her constant desire to be aware and in control of whatever situation she comes upon while in Wonderland—to epistemic power. To reason and rationality, as it were.

After the hatter’s nervous testimony in the case against the knave, when he’s put on the spot by the king to state his evidence and falters under the queen’s piercing gaze, Alice’s growth, eventually becoming problematic for the entire ‘pack of cards’, whose court of justice she’s found herself in at last, finishing her adventure in waking up to her sister’s caress of her hair imagined as her own swiping at the attacking cards, is at first only problematic for the dormouse, who can’t breathe because of her ‘ridiculously’ increasing self. As, telling her, she has ‘no right’ to do so ‘here’. There’s a law to this land (somehow).

The court case, perhaps, is concerned with Alice’s reason for being in Wonderland, by way of eating, drinking, and that wishful curiosity. Knavery, to be sure, as alluded to, I think, in Carroll’s introduction of her eating and drinking, and eo ipso her growing and shrinking, by way of her ostensibly quite wise for her young age—definitely not ‘childish’ like those other children her age, Alice thinks—sensibilities toward things labeled ‘poison’.

Alice knows, you see.

The witnesses called before Alice herself is at the stand are the hatter and the Duchess’ cook, and we read the latter’s latent answer to cross-examination corrected, after first bluntly refusing to give her testimony, as the tale’s final mention of the partiers, when she replies that tarts are made of pepper. ‘Treacle’, the dormouse mumbles. Nobility’s cook thinks that tarts are made of pepper and it’s the mad of the mad who correct her—no, they say, it’s treacle all the way down (the well, as it is).

It’s the untenable relation between logic and its adversarial other—a sickening sweetness of there being wrong among the good, regardless of which way we slice it. That we can fail—we can fail to understand, fail to know, fail to do good. We can be confused by everything at a party, because none of it seems to make sense except some in the particulars and even then merely perhaps.

That logic only goes so far, but going further is something we nevertheless can do. We can indeed be irrational. In María Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman’s provocatively titled 1983 paper, “Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for ‘The Woman’s Voice’”, there are thoughts that recall this element of existence.

They speak to those who aim to theorize with others different from themselves—others othered by the hands of power—and remind prospective feminist scholars of what to expect, and where they are to be ready to have their entire world thoroughly and critically disrupted, put to question on all sides and given no quarter, thought of purely as object of mistrust—as those others have had done to them.

It is this such praxis I imagine when reading Alice’s exchanges with the hatter, the hare, and the dormouse. The Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement of commitment to the “continual examination” of their politics. The world is there to talk about, it is.

There is a world of difference between Alice and her new companions, whose name also begins with that alphanumeric letter, so to speak, of autumn, and these chaotic ambiguities and misunderstandings venture a metaphysical cacophony to the tale.

A lesson for the moralistic reader is palpable: just listen, Paolo Freire, too, had counseled—listen to those who are oppressed for the way out of oppression. Here them.

I note that Freire’s thoughts wouldn’t be done justice, I think, if taken as placing the work of ending oppression in the hands of the oppressed—instead, there’s the idea of active listening. Desmond Tutu’s wise words reproach those who are neutral, for the very real and culpable part they play in abetting situations of injustice, and the thoughts of my fellow columnist Anwar Uhuru, for example, are imperative in light of current and longstanding tragedies.


Image of Franz Pohl’s c. 1864-1922 The Exterminating Angel (partial)


Carroll seems to have felt there were morals to Wonderland, himself. The duchess, whose cook is at the stand later in the king’s court, is prone to offering a moral for everything, and offers readers the following: “Oh, ‘tis love, ‘tis love, that make the world go ‘round!”, “Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves”, “Birds of a feather flock together”, “The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours,” “Be what you would seem to be,” and, a revision of this last, one of the more difficult passages of the book, “Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”

I’m sure I’ve gotten that down right, yes.

If anything is obvious, I think, it’s Carroll’s dexterity with the English language. His also dexterous (and English) sense of humor, of course, as well.

Carroll also had a command of mathematical logic. He wrote academic papers. One way I like to think of Wonderland is along the lines of its being a complex metaphor for a non-classical, trivalent (or n-valent) topology, and this, because Carroll studied Western logic in the midst of its revolution.

Alice embodies, perhaps, all those well-versed, ‘old boy’ logicians who’d found themselves rather adrift in the serious, leaping gains made in the field—much of it showing up in David Hilbert’s problems of 1900 and the proliferation of schools of thought over the next fifty years (to say nothing of the formation of structures which would abet the rise of Analyticity, e.g., Bernard Bolzano’s critique of Kant, which, as a philosopher of the US academy, jr. academic, I attest even today).

Alice finds herself in a place where concepts like contradiction, mutual exclusion, quantification, and correspondence, all slip away as parts of something more complex than proof and refutation. I recall Graham Priest’s 1998 paper, “What Is So Bad About Contradictions?” and the implosion of the reign of the classical logician’s explosion, and the introduction to Margaret Cuonzo’s 2014 book on paradoxes: “Is There Trouble in Paradox?”

Wonderland, indeed (and in deed, as it were). Port-Royal problems, anyone? Pascal? No? Wonderful.

This revolutionary place nevertheless has its own magnificent logic—its own bewildering science. It is the advent of this newfangled and coherent difference that Wonderland would represent, and Alice’s disjointed conversations, here at the party and elsewhere, are a series of caustic episodes where she finds herself at the mercy—and, at times, the lucky advantage—of her old beliefs and dispositions.

That the partiers at least seem to be disconcerted by Alice’s responses could caution against thinking, when all seems lost and beyond oneself, of others to be any better off, let alone doing well in whatever the ways they would wish. That to think of the self says a specious little in the way of thinking of the other, for whatever it might be worth to do so nevertheless, because, as we might draw from Victor Hugo, nihilism, of course, “has no substance.”

The madness of Foucault’s madness… the lunatics and merry fools of the confines of the imminent asylum the legatees of beings now only of mere verisimilitude. The gaping horror, the incessantly wailing vessel of infant tyrants marooned here among our plants and animals—flora and fauna—the duchess’ wailing baby becoming a grunting pig in Alice’s arms, to run off into the forest and wild.

It really is turtles all the way down. Mock turtles, treacle, and terrible things, nevertheless, in the end.

the mad and the bad.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, it’s said, asked on his deathbed: “Tell them I had a wonderful life.” He had written that even standing by a large tree and looking up at it, greeting it so, “Lovely tree!”, only does so much alethiologically, however much it necessarily, trivially, does epistemologically. That there are problems with classical models of knowledge, such as what Edmund Gettier’s 1963 paper, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” gave notice to, those serious equivocations in its mere three pages, and problems still in all these many modern opinions.

Logic does little to help things like what David Hume’s thoughts about induction might point to, perhaps, for example. (Get it? Example!? I can’t believe I get to write this!)


Image of Raphel’s 1509-11 The School of Athens (partial)


Sense and sensibility. Rules. Life black tie.

Writing at the end of his, in Europe in 1951, Wittgenstein was thinking about the logic of certainty. He observes situations like teaching a child what a tree is by ostensive definition, standing there stating aloud:

Lovely tree, isn’t it?

He writes: “My ‘mental state’, the “knowing”, gives me no guarantee of what will happen. But it consists in this, that I should not understand where a doubt could get a foothold nor where a further test was possible.”

“it is as if “i know” did not tolerate a metaphysical emphasis.”

He reproaches us philosophers: “Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit.” That we’re to remember there will be nonsense in it all—in the world at large.

Friese wrote about the idea of hospitality, which I suggested is relevant to everything here. Friese’s clarification of what that concept means—work characteristic of philosophers, if you ask Wilfrid Sellars—in her 2004 paper, “Spaces of Hospitality” begins with exegesis of Franz Kafka’s unfinished, deathbed novel The Castle.

That place of a castle where K is a stranger no stranger to what it’s said Kafka said, on his deathbed, were K’s own deathbed “auxiliary circumstances” vis-à-vis, Friese now, “the usual order of things.”

The order of things, I said. We’re in the thick and thin of it all, I think, it is. Hospital. The Latin hospes and the Greek Ἐμπειρικοί, whatever Sextus Empiricus’ statements to the contrary, as it were, I guess.

Friese writes: “The question that the arrival of the other raises is thus that of responsibility – the response to a request posed by an Other – and how to do justice to its unmistakable, irreducible singularity and subjectivity.”

Hospitality is the tension of agreeing with someone. Agreements are a form of drawing terms, and are kept to per those terms, as is hospitality. Violating the terms disavows the agreement. I think of both language and knowledge as similar in just this such sense, where not only is the use of the alphabet, and conversation, and understanding, and knowing, and reason, etc. ad infinitum est in intellectu, an agreement with terms to be kept, but so too are all these merely parts of a far more insensible and wondrous, far more wide and real whole.

Land as far as the eye can see, and still yet further.

It isn’t for nothing, I think, that the three sisters in the dormouse’s tale live at the bottom of a well while Alice, too, enters Wonderland, having followed that White Rabbit out of sheer curiosity, by the tail, by falling ever so far down a well, and, further, while falling even falls into a dreamy state, coming to ask the same questions, over and again, about the very animals (bats and cats) heard in that recital judged objectionable by the queen, getting the whole party stuck in timelessness, in Carroll’s adept use of mise en abyme.

Arms within arms, and G. E. Moore looking down at his hand and back up at you.

Here it is. You see it.

Wittgenstein, famously in response to Moore, even renders demonstration—a tool of reasoning that Aristotle held hallow for resting inferentially on first principles of inviolable efficacy—some sort of powerless peripateticism. Even inference, Wittgenstein writes, is only so much itself and such so much use. Certainty is self-confidence, so to speak, and nothing more. Spiritless, certainty is… being no more right than when saying aloud that it’s raining in one’s dream when it is in fact, unbeknownst to one as merely dreaming, raining while one sleeps.

Alice was dreaming, and thought up a great many mad things—Carroll, an astute scholar of logic’s lacks and dead-ends.

logic’s sense and senselessness.

There is another ship that comes to mind for me, these days, when I think about that ship of fools and all these thoughts. W. V. O. Quine discussed Otto Neurath’s metaphor of the ship of science, where changes needed to the methods of science are done in media res—out at sea instead of at port—while synchronous with their use in the activity of science. The methods and acts both in flux, like a couple of seaworthy salvors, and as Foucault writes of the logic of the City of Reason: “This discourse, in its logic, commands the firmest belief in itself, it advances by judgments and reasonings which connect together; it is a kind of reason in action.”

I might point to my hand repeatedly in my dream, scientific in exhortation as a dreamer.

Lovely hand, isn’t it? Lovely land, isn’t it?

Like some ship of Theseus, everything flows, and the river you stepped in… well…

I confess to thinking Nietzsche never went mad. I think he was sick and gave up caring enough to be understood. I think he finally decided the logic of sense wasn’t worth the time of day, perhaps.

About this, of course, I may wrong. I may, further, even be somewhat mad for it.

C’est la vie… une mal du siècle.

August’s Accompaniment

Boris’ 1998 LP Amplifier Worship

%d bloggers like this: