Asceticism and Eroticism in Gandhi, Thoreau and Nietzsche
An essay in geo-philosophy
Postdoctoral Scholar, Harvard University
How is desire attracted to frugality? Is there no inducement to frugality in the absence of other-worldly incentives? These questions clearly have environmental and political consequences that will critically influence our future ideas of morality. At the same time, we might acknowledge that excess, of various celebratory, erotic, and aesthetic varieties, can be as much a life-giving value. How do we move between the poles of frugality and excess? I argue that the question of frugality is intimately tied to the history of religion, more specifically to ascetic ideals, variably actualized in different places and times. In this paper, I explore the tension of frugality and excess in relation to three figures, each from a different continent, who share a lifelong preoccupation with ascetic ideals, Gandhi, Thoreau and Nietzsche. Taking Gandhi and Thoreau to be instances of a this-worldly ethic of frugality, Nietzsche provides a productive counterpoint, in his critique of Judeo-Christian and Hindu-Buddhist ascetic ideals, and the sensual counter-ideal he envisions with Dionysius. I explore these disagreements and resonances in five domains that give us coordinates for the frugality-excess problem: Diet, Erotics, Economics, Relation to Truth, and, War and Peace. In conclusion, I suggest that we might think of this framework of thought as ‘geo-philosophy’.
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© borderlands ejournal 2010