Jules de Gaultier: Super-Nietzschean

Benjamin De Casseres

EVERYTHING that is ultra-modern comes from Schopenhauer. He completed the work of Kant and inaugurated modernity. His “World as Will and Idea” and his essays were the starting points of Nietzsche, Wagner, Flaubert, de Maupassant, and Turgenieff. Goethe himself admitted his debt to the philosopher of Frankfort. His influence is universal. His ideas dominate those who have never read a page of his. Schopenhauer is the father of the modern world. He is a columbus, a Copernicus.

Jules de Gaultier stems directly from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He is the author of five or six volumes which are the most complete and the most masterly studies of the Life-Illusion which exist. The formula of Schopenhauer, the great generalization of which everything was an expression, was “the Will-to-Live.” Nietzsche’s final generalization was “the-Will-to-Power.” De Gaultier’s final generalization is “the Will-to-Illusion.”

These three generalizations are not antagonistic. Jules de Gaultier accepts both the formula of Schopenhauer and the formula of Nietzsche and demonstrates that they are parts of a supremer generalization still: the Will-to-Illusion. All life is an expression of the Will-to-Live and the Will-to-Power, but both the Will-to-Live and the Will-to-Power depend for their very existence on the instinct to illusion that exists in every animate thing. The Will-to-Illusion, to unreality, to lie, is inherent in every life-movement. Movement itself cannot be conceived of without it.

Jules de Gaultier calls this universal truth—a truth from which depend among mankind those other two truths, the Will-to-Live and the Will-to-Power—Bovarysm, or the power that a being has of conceiving himself otherwise than he is (se concevoir autre qu’il n’est). Life is carried on by an act of the imagination perpetually repeated. Every human being sees himself as he is not. An ideal and a lie are one and the same thing. [87] The life of Madam Bovary, or the Instinct-to-Romance, is the life, in one form or another, of every creature. Error, irrationality, a perpetual becoming, are the very bases of life. From the instinct to bovaryse, or to create the world as it exists imaginatively, flows all the comedy and tragedy of existence. It is the secret of history and the secret of religions. From the tragic viewpoint we are all Hamlets and Madame Bovarys; from the comic viewpoint we are all Malvolios and Don Quixotes.

The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy—from both his racial and individual infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimer and to-morrow keep him alive. There is no absurdity that he will not seek to perpetuate in order to escape the Dreadful Truth. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie.

Those few who pride themselves on their power to look the Real in the face without flinching are as thoroughly duped as the poorest clod. Schopenhauer to escape the Real invented a Nirvana. Flaubert sought relief in the Art-Lie. Nietzsche took refuge in the Overman. Jules de Gaultier has built on the granite of the Real or the True a magical Palace of Perception, thus bovarysing himself. But it must be said of Jules de Gaultier that he is the first to glorify and divinize the Lie, and in his magic Palace of Perception he is a willing prisoner. He is an Œdipus at Colonna, but an Œdipus with wide-open eyes. He glorifies what Schopenhauer execrated and is the golden dome that surmounts the edifice erected by Nietzsche. He accepts life as an amazing frolic of antithetical forces. He who sees the mechanism of the Game and enters it freely with a bound and a shout and a superb Dionysiac Yea, knowing from the first that it has no other meaning than what appears on its surface—such a person (and such a one is Jules de Gaultier) [88] may be said to have achieved the limit of human freedom. To him the war against Reality has become a sport. Sometimes he is on one side, sometimes on the other. From his tent in the clouds he contemplates the antics of man and the ruses of the Real. He gives himself heartily to the drama, and utters silently and with what withering irony: “Thy will be done, O most admirable Dramaturge!”

“The world is my idea,” said Schopenhauer. Jules de Gaultier has changed this axiom to “the world is my invention.” That is his metaphysic, if he has one. Imagination creates the Real. Schopenhauer’s formula that man by “dint-of-wishing” will in the long run become the thing he wishes to be, Nietzsche’s command given to men that they shall endeavor to “surpass themselves” and Jules de Gaultier’s dogma that all reality, social as well as cosmic, exists first of all as a figment in the brain and is externalized by a long series of trials and imitations, are at bottom the same.

It is a new cosmogony. Man is himself a god, a fabricator, and his workshop is in his skull. His brain is the loom of the Unconscious, and with the stuffs he weaves there he dresses the external world. Kant had already made man the inventor of Time and Space. Jules de Gaultier makes him the inventor of all that is through the supremacy and dynamic quality of his imagination.

Life is, therefore, a perpetual exfoliation of the Real. Everything first exists as a thought, a fancy, a wish, a need in a mind, either consciously or unconsciously, before it takes form and substance. All things are created in the manner in which Pygmalion created Galatea. All the absurdities of dreamland will some day be commonplaces. The Imaginative Will of man is the Artist par excellence, the Impresario of the world-comedy. It bungles and botches and strikes in the dark a million million times; but it pays the penalty for its daring in the end by the complete and irretrievable externalization of its mental and emotional poses, and carries on the profound legend of Nemesis. Don Quixote ends by being Prospero—and Prospero ends by reading Aristophanes and Heine. The Real is the child of our [89] imagination, and when it stands before us in all its naked, menacing ugliness we rant and roar because the glory of the dream vanished in the birth-throes.

Without this perpetual illusion life cannot be carried on. The Ideal is the one thing needful. It is the law of evolution. It is the leit-motif of Change. It is the mask of the forever hidden Ironist. The Ideal is the Witch of the World. Brangaene! Brangaene! divine procuress, with thy deadly love-poison ever at our lips! Monstrous begetter of deadly passions, torrential images, tumescent visions—and shabby realities!

The real world passes through the portals of sense and in the penetralia of the mind is deformed and modified by the endless deformations and modifications already enthroned there. When it is reborn it comes forth glorified, bedizened, aureoled in the garments of the imagination. Thus Tolstoy assumes the manners of a peasant, the soldier hearing the call to arms already sees himself as a newer Napoleon and beholds himself crossing Europe, the middy just enlisted in the navy struts unconsciously up and down the deck as he saw Nelson do it in a picture book, the youth who has his first speaking part given him by his theatrical manager conceives himself as a future Booth or Irving. And it sometimes comes about that auto suggestion ends in complete realization and that the Real is created by a Fiction.

There are two empires. Schopenhauer called them Will and Idea, Nietzsche personified them as Dionysus and Apollo, Jules de Gaultier has called them the Vital Instinct and the Instinct to Knowledge.

Instinct wills, creates, carries on the work of the species. The Intellect destroys, negatives, satirizes and ends in pure nihilism. Instinct creates life, endlessly, hurling forth profusely and blindly its clowns, acrobats, tragedians and comedians. Intellect remains the eternal spectator of the play. It participates at will, but never gives itself wholly to the fine sport. It fuses with Instinct, but never loses its identity. It is eternally on the watch, for the ruses of Instinct are uncountable. It lives to trap the Intellect that has broken the shackles and escaped from its dungeons. The Intellect freed from the trammels of the [90] personal will soars into the ether of perception, where Instinct follows it in a thousand disguises, seeking to draw it down to earth.

In this rise into the azure of pure perception, attainable only by a very few human beings, the spectacular sense is born. Life is no longer good or evil. It is a perpetual play of forces without beginning or end. The freed Intellect merges itself with the World-Will and partakes of its essence, which is not a moral essence, but an æsthetic essence. Life is good because it is sublime. The great evils of existence, from this supreme height, give to the Intellect, freed for the moment from the mere act of living, the same pleasure that the most unlettered person derives from the woes of Hamlet, Lear, Œdipus and Phædra. The grandeur of the tragedy of man is the justification for life. The cosmos is an atelier. Life is like a cinematograph performance where a hidden Operator throws on the screen of Time a moving-picture show that lasts for an eternity.

The Superman? He is the man who participates in life and watches his own antics with an indulgent irony. He is the man who is both actor and spectator at once. He is the man who commits all the follies of sentiency for the sake of the gesture and in order to analyze his sensations. He is the man who reinvents and reappraises himself each day; one who walks ahead of himself perpetually; one who dances with joy on the catafalque of yesterday; one who indulges every passion and is the supreme of culture.

He is Wagner rather than Napoleon. He is Goethe, Spinoza, Walt Whitman, Stendhal. He is also Jules de Gaultier.


Source: The Forum, January 1913, pp. 86-90