Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one’s own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be “blamed” for one’s own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external “evil.”
There are a few different conceptions of ressentiment and its wikipedia page is pretty good at outlining the different definitions. As the above brief description explains, ressentiment is a projection onto the world of a painful relation of one’s self to one’s self. Most people have focused on the question of identity, of the distribution of ill will and the construction of the ‘external scapegoat’. Deleuze isolates three characteristics of Neitzsche’s ‘ressentiment’:
Deleuze interpreting Nietzscheâ€™s conceptualization of ressentiment discusses three characteristics. First, there is the inability to admire, respect or love. Second, there is passivity. Third, there is the imputation of wrongs, the distribution of responsibilities and perpetual accusation. (Deleuze, 1983).
I have encountered ressentiment in myself a number of times and I have documented it here in different ways. Here are the top posts from my blog. There are many other instances on the topic, but not in such a sustained way. It shows that I have not really changed the way I understand ressentiment.
1. Singular Complementarity, June 17, 2005
In this post I discuss how falling in love is not a relation between two people, but the folding of two already infinitely folded zones of intensity/sensation. In the second half of the post I warn of a danger.
There is a gamble in the meeting-gesture. This, of course, is the danger.
There are folds that are so worn and habitualised they become creases that scar the surface and will never be sufficiently folded in any other way again. They are the dead areas of the surface and within such proximities there is only darkness. Even if such dark areas are already infinitely folded they operate as blunt surfaces or jaggard formations of folds. These surfaces can become weaponised gestures that are weilded when the soft comfort of complementary folding becomes the acrimony of the crease. Each gesture ceases to be a meeting and becomes an attack of weaponised surfaces. The brightness of midday is eclipised by the shadows that form at dusk. In the end, the surfaces can be so dark even the attacks become empty and instead it simply becomes the meeting of shadows. However, here and now nothing is final.
Joy can only be reclaimed by a gesture, a meeting that forms complementary folds at the speed of sensation. If all one ever brings are weaponised surfaces that are blunt and jaggard and which carry the expectation of an anxious folding to be wrought upon and by the Other so as to render a complementarity, then joy is short lived. Eventually all that is left is a blunt and jaggard surface.
Rather than the meeting of supple folds, a love born of ressentiment is born of complementary dead zones of intensity. People turn these hard jaggard surfaces of themselves to the world as a defence. The only antidote is more love and the strength and courage to envelope an other’s folds into the supple folds of your heart.
2. Now, letting go, July 5, 2005
This post was inspired by pretty epic breakup (got dumped in the US) and the song Mr Brightside by The Killers.
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
â€˜Cause Iâ€™m Mr Brightside
The Killers track captures in a beautiful lyrical manner the required disposition for engaging with the world again after having one’s heart broken and allowing one’s self to refold the world into one’s self anew. I am currently listening to this track on repeat as a kind of hipster mantra for warding off feelings of ill will. In the post I use the analogy of the Adam and God ‘just touching’ image of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and offer a somewhat heretical reading. What if Adam was ‘letting go’ of God? Anyway. ‘Letting go’ is a process:
Sure, part of you dies, and it is gone forever, only to be resurrected in un/pleasant dreams. But there is a joy in â€˜letting goâ€™. There is. The world is refolded into oneâ€™s self. Instead of a short circuit of desire between your self and an other, the circuit opens up to the world. Another part of the world is born and that is what needs care. The eager to-come of Destiny that never does, for it is always becoming on the bright side of our souls. […]
The pain of letting go and the necessary disaffection that allows oneâ€™s self to let go of oneâ€™s past copy. We are always somewhere in between. Between two copies of ourselves. Letting go of you means letting go of my self. […]
To allow ourselves to refold the world into our selves again. This is what I now welcome and care for, like a wandering stranger whom I have chanced upon: the new stranger of my self in the world.
Wow, that last sentence is killer. I am a pretty good writer sometimes!
3. produce openings on the world October 27, 2007
I return to the common theme here of welcoming the world into myself, producing openings on the world. I draw on the famous symptomology of post-war US culture David Riesman of three â€˜characterâ€™ types: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. Riesmanâ€™s three character types are interesting because of their processual nature; they are not innate traits, but capacities of subjectivity evident only through interaction. I have large block quotes from the text to describe what these are, but the relevant bit is towards the bottom of the post, where I describe a woman of ressentiment:
Sometimes the clash between characters exists in a single person. How to produce openings on the world that arenâ€™t filtered through the tortured, guilt-ridden â€˜gyroscopeâ€™ of the â€˜inner-directedâ€™ character? It requires so much work and patience. Sometimes too much. Sometimes it is necessary to give up and accept the fact that being â€˜inner-directedâ€™ produces a resource of a sort of strength, which is entirely destructive, but which at least allows the person to exist in the world and continue struggling in impossible situations. When all recourse is exhausted then it is terribly sad especially when beautiful and intelligent people lock away the world from themselves and will never know what it means to be part of something much larger. It is terribly sad when someone becomes this character, and cannot face the world.
I do offer a description of a kind of feminist Ãœbermensch (for purely selfish reasons, because they are as sexy as fuck):
There is nothing sexier than a woman who knows her place in the world. This does not mean she subjugates herself to patriarchal norms. Rather she uses that knowledge to orientate herself in creative and life-affirming ways. Normally this requires an infrastructure of education or the grace of intuition.
4. she left the bit with the most toast crumbs, September 5, 2009
In this post I explore the more complex problem of producin new openings on the world so as to enable new foldings of the world to ‘take’ or ‘develop’
Anyway, the counter-intuitive point I have been trying to think through is the way the development of new intimacies can awaken both old and new estrangements. Folding new and exciting elements of the world into the composition of my subjectivity has somehow made me reassess my solitary existence as instead being one of loneliness. When you meet new people or rediscover old friendships you are not simply becoming intimate (at whatever degree from romantic to almost sibling-like and everything in between) you do not simply form a relation with a person as an object, but a person as a fold of the cosmos and folds of folds, whole universes of meaning.
All of this has happened over a matter of weeks and is a bit surreal, so I have come to a number of tentative, but nevertheless sufficient stop-gap conclusions.
1. The miasma of estranged intimacies and intimate estrangements I am currently experiencing is a powerful force. â€˜Miasmaâ€™ in the sense of the ancient Greek â€˜pharmakonâ€™ (from which â€˜pharmacyâ€™ is derived), which can be both poison and medicine depending on the measure. Ethically I need to harness this force and use it to soberly affirm something good in the world. In this circumstance, the â€˜goodâ€™ is mostly personal in character.
2. I need to be brave to affirm this force. I am brave, almost to the point of stupidity sometimes, so that is ok.
3. I need to learn to appreciate new estrangements and new intimacies whatever their composition, both the potential (that is, imagined future states of) disappointment and excitement are part of this. I am trying to do this through measures of active â€˜letting goâ€™ and â€˜embracingâ€™, rather than a paranoid-reactionary â€™slipping byâ€™ or â€˜clingingnessâ€™.
There is a complexity to this process, one that requires care and, above all, patience, to let the other person or people fold the world in their own time.
So most recently, how to ward off my own ressentiment:
I am pretty hardcore when it comes to enduring what life throws my way. It is easy when I feel contempt for most of the world and all the stupidities that it contains. I guess it is easier to think about what I wonâ€™t do.
I offer a list of axioms for warding off ressentiment, the full descriptions of each of these are in the blog post:
I wonâ€™t stop falling in love.
I wonâ€™t stop rolling the dice.
I wonâ€™t fret about not understanding.
I wonâ€™t stop inviting people into my world.
I wonâ€™t stop listening to special songs.
I wonâ€™t stop writing my poem.
What I have forgotten about ressentiment is the temporal dimension. There is a contradictory movement of dispising the present while being incapable of imagining the future or past, because any kind of temporal relation is derived from a projection of the present, ie ‘This painful present will continue” “This present is a repetition of the past, nothing changes.” This is why it is so hard to imagine a new opening on the world and a different way of relating to the world, because you become literally locked in time.
To break free of ressentiment means to break time itself; to go to war against all possible futures and all possible pasts that suck life out of itself.