Exiting the manor, I see that my butler is holding open the door of my DG mobile.
–Nietzsche, old chap! How are you this fine morning?
–Can’t complain, sir. (He turns, shields his mouth with his hand, and vomits a little. Pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the ends of his prodigious mustache.) I beg your pardon. A bit of a migraine, as usual. But I’m naturally delighted to be at your service.
–That’s very kind of you. Tell me, Nietzsche. What’s with the fake British accent? You always liked having a laugh at the English.
–Well, I am your projection, sir, and therefore hardly myself. If I were, I doubt very much we’d have any sort of acquaintance at all. You’ve a little too much coal in you and not enough diamond. Still, I can hardly blame you for using me like this. Whatever exists, having somehow come to be, is again and again reinterpreted to new ends, exapted by a superior power. And so it is with you and me, sir, or, at least, with you and my name, you and the dead letter of my thoughts. As they say, the dead lion knows only one thing: that it is better to be a live dog.
–I thought it was better to never have been born.
Nietzsche smiled at this. Or at least I think he did. The mustache made it difficult to tell. Perhaps I merely thought he smiled because his eyes sparkled. But then his eyes were always sparkling. I continued.
–Anyway, dear friend, tell me what you think of this phenomenon of conversion disorder.
–What would you like me to say?
–Ha! You always could smell a lure from miles away. Well, I was thinking about the things you said about the dancing plagues of the Middle Ages.
–Ah, yes the dances of Saints John and Vitus. I remember. I had an enduring fascination with those choreomaniacs.
–Would it be fair to say that your fascination with them terminated in ambivalence?
–That would only be fair to say if you consider my writings simultaneously, as a kind of aphoristic constellation. If you consider them in succession, you would have to say that I quite radically reversed my position on them.
–I guess I was thinking in terms of simultaneity rather than succession. In any case, you explicitly refer to them on two occasions in two very different ways. Would you care to remind those who are overhearing us what you said in each case?
–God, I hate you.
–Speak, projection. I promise to release you after this.
–Great, now you think yourself a Prospero. Vanity works wonders on even the smallest of souls.
–Shut up and speak.
–In my first major public relations disaster, also known as The Birth of Tragedy, I related the John/Vitus dancers to my conception of the Dionysian. I thought choreomania was a sign of the Dionysian power of de-individuation. I thought I recognized in these dancers the Bacchic choruses of my beloved Greeks. I represented the dances as deeds that demolished the barriers that Apollo had set up between individuals. I represented them as the means by which men were restored to the primordial unity of the world. I represented the dancers as being seized by the Dionysiac power that produced all of existence in the first place. I represented them as relinquishing themselves to that power, of having no choice to do so. I thought that in becoming a marionette of the drunken god a man expressed his sense of belonging to a community prior to and greater than himself.
–Sort of like Marx’s idea of Gattungswesen.
–Don’t try to make me into a socialist.
–You weren’t unequivocally against socialism, dear one. In fact, in Human—
–La la la la. Don’t change the subject.
–But digressiveness is inherent to philosophy! And given your idea of masks and caves…
–Yes, yes. It’s all a rich tapestry. But let’s not try our readers’ patience any further than what necessity dictates.
–Ha! “Our readers,” right. Anyway, you spoke of the dancers again, much, much later. And quite drastically changed your tune.
–That was in your favorite book of mine, The Genealogy of Morals. I had come to see (or I had written in a way that it appeared that I had come to see) the dances of Saints John and Vitus as signs of another power, the power of the ascetic ideal.
–Talk about a 180.
–Definitely. I now saw that the dances were the effects not of release or restoration to the primordial unity. They were the effects of the tremendous repression of the will to power. The epilectic shudderings of the dancers were signs of degenerating life. In them, one could see how the ascetic ideal was choking the life out of life.
–It’s strange to think that an ideal can compel, overpower, overmaster, control.
–That’s only if you think of an ideal as a linguistic construction. What I mean by the ideal is more of a physical or physiological force that subtends the individual. Like Althusser’s notion of ideology.
–How much of a Socratic yes-man you sound! Is this conversation rigged? Don’t answer that.
I scoffed. He continued.
–In any case, while it may seem I changed my mind on the significance of the dancing mania, I at least remained consistent in one sense.
–What sense is that?
–In the sense that I believe the phenomenon arises outside of the individual. In the sense that the individual is swept up or captured by something that subtends him, and that, as it were, exists prior to him.
–By the way, it’s not cool to exclusively use the masculine pronoun anymore. Either use the feminine or both or the plural.
–I’m doing it on purpose to piss you off. Plus it’s in character.
–Fine, I suffer tremendously from white liberal guilt and the shame of being a man. Now you know. Do continue.
–I don’t have much more to say. The important point is that the phenomenon has a collective origin. If the physicians of your day want to talk about conversion disorder as “psychosomatic,” they should therefore be very careful. Because they will lead the sufferer to believe that it is all in her head (i.e. her psyche), when it is so clearly not. I would like to think that a proper therapeutic approach demands an understanding of the origin of the phenomenon outside the “individual mind.” Isn’t that so, Professor Challenger?
A voice from inside the car issued forth.
–Of course, it is. By the way, Nietzsche, thanks for last night.
–Always a pleasure, Professor.
Nietzsche gestured gracefully for me to get in.
–Thank you, Nietzsche, I said. I hope you soon feel better. When I return, let’s get together again.
–Alas, the world will not have it any other way.
–A joke, sir. Nothing more.