Even for our grandparents a “house,” a “well,” a familiar tower, their very clothes, their coat: were infinitely more, infinitely more intimate; almost everything a vessel in which they found the human and added to the store of the human. Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, “dummy life.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke*
Reality is not what it used to be. Today, it is no more than a globalized Disney-world of eternally recycled schmaltz.
“Dummy life” indeed! Pure Mickey Mouse!
What’s more, the reality of the United States of America today—as it was a century ago when Rilke wrote the lines above, and as it first started to be even decades before that—is as the original producer, promulgator, and pusher of all the “sham things” to which reality as a whole has been reduced in this day of our global sham world of pure Disney figures. It is above all from the United States that dummy life began pouring across all borders.
Of course, that’s not the image of itself that the United States carefully cultivates. That is, it’s not the sham reality that the United States pushes on everyone everywhere as the Disney simulacrum of itself—the image behind which the United States disguises itself—disguising itself even, and above all, from itself.
The image of itself that the United States of America endlessly recycles about itself to everyone, including itself, is that it is, of course, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” a land of “liberty and justice for all.”
As with all such Disney-world images, that image of the United States of America is a total fabrication, something made up to camouflage what the United States truly is—beyond and before all sham and dummy images of itself it may project as its recyclable reality.
* * *
At one point in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Mariner Books, 2018), Alexander Chee, an American gay may of Korean descent, writes that the United States of America is a nation where "you are allowed to speak the truth as long as nothing changes."
Here’s another way of saying the same thing: The U.S. is a nation where all speaking has become vacuous. It is a nation where only sham, dummy truth can be spoken without severe punishment.
Even worse, all the sham things and dummy life that constitute our ever-recycling reality today, where the drug of Disneyland garbage has gone global thanks to the U.S. having done such a great job as a pusher, don’t just keep us from saying the truth. They keep us from even seeing it any longer. We’re all so drugged we don’t even know we’re on drugs any more.
* * *
“The eternal recurrence of the same.”
That’s the standard translation of Nietzsche’s “Das ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen.“
That translation, however, may hide more than it reveals.
That’s because das Gleiche does not necessarily mean “the same.” It often means “the equivalent” or “the like.” For one thing to be gleich another is for the two to be equivalent, the way any two hot dogs or any two rolls of toilet paper are equivalent. When it comes to das Gleiche, “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” as the common expression has it.
The thing is, however, that when it comes to something one truly loves, to take one prime example, seeing one is not at all seeing them all. In such cases, each and every thing is just itself, and not just one of a hundred and fifty or even an infinite number of other things that are called by the same general name.
For example, if one loses a loved one, then one does not just rush out and get a equivalent replacement. Having a beloved die is not at all the same as having one’s car battery go dead. If the battery goes completely dead, then one just needs to throw it in the garbage along with all the other garbage and go get a new battery. But if one’s beloved dies, it’s a very different matter.
The best, most beloved cat I ever had—and I’ve had cats all my life till now—died in March of this year. She was a blue-point Siamese named Simone.
After Simone died, some well-meaning friends suggested that once I got through my initial grief over losing her, I should get myself another cat. I used a lesson my daughter taught me long ago when I made a similar suggestion to her after the death of a pet she loved, and replied (at least to myself, if not to my friends) that I did not want another cat! I wanted Simone!
Given family histories and medical conditions, my wife might well outlive me. If so, then when I die, I hope my wife does not just rush out and get herself some other husband to replace me. If she does eventually marry again, I hope she does not do so in order to replace me with some mere equivalent.
I do not intend ever to have another cat, because there can only be one Simone. Even if I should find myself unexpectedly having another cat, that other cat will never replace Simone. That other cat will truly be an altogether different cat, not just an equivalent copy.