120 Days of Moral Deterioration: Pasolini’s Salò in the Misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s on the Genealogy of Morality

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  • Topic: On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
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120 Days of Moral Deterioration: Pasolini’s SALÒ in the Misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality

“Because we’re not their masters, even the most bizarre manias derive from a basic principle of refinement. Yes, old buggers. It’s a question of delicacy.”

-The Bishop, in SALÒ or the 120 Days of Sodom

“No festivity without cruelty; such is the lesson of the earliest, longest period in the history of mankind – and even in punishment there is so much that is festive!”

-On the Genealogy of Morals, 2nd essay, 6th section

A Call for Transvaluation

In the continuous struggle to make something of who we are and what we are doing here, exactly, we find that are at a loss for definition; the murk of our times has saturated what meaning we can come to, rendering us philosophically immobile. Grappling with the demands of reality while keeping up with the pace of post-modernity proves to be a daunting responsibility, but alas, it is a chore we must reconcile ourselves with. As Nietzsche proclaims, “We remain unknown to ourselves, we seekers of knowledge, even to ourselves: and with good reason,”[1] he begins to assemble the foundations for what would be a thorough investigation - - a search, for that sense of comfort we associate with certainty - - as we (re-)discover who we are, and what it means to be us.

The troubling implication of not knowing ourselves is, quite obviously, we cannot expect to understand our own operations. In choosing to act in a certain manner, does the question of whether it is good or bad (or right or wrong, or even - - good or evil) still come into the picture? Do we simply know if what we are doing is good, or otherwise? How did we ever learn to make the distinction (and consequently, a wide separation) between the two apparent poles of morality, given the vast expanse of human experience?

As we consult our quasi-metaphysical code of conduct time and again, the outward rigidity of what we understand to be our morals becomes a thing of normality; it fades into the natural order of the world, making reality and morality seem as if they were strictly indivisible principles.[2] But while there is truth in the irrevocable connection between our surroundings and what we value, we must also consider how they are linked - - that is, the assessment of our values relies heavily on how we react to our surroundings. The basis for what we understand to be right, wrong, good, bad, or evil comes from our experience of life. The idea of morality being a pre-determined set of rules, something that precedes people, then becomes problematic.

But first, an observable objection: does an experience-based morality mean morality is a mere subjective matter? Do people then have a sort of personal morality, because they are evaluating according to their own experiences? Such doubts, of course, stem from that ingrained perception of a fixed morality. As Nietzsche puts forward the seeming and timely imperative of transvaluation[3] (i.e., the re-assessment of our values, sometimes in order to make way for an understanding of a differing idea), we are faced with the possibility that the table of values that has systemized the way we (re)act could be the product of several personas re-evaluating and re-hashing our morality. Because morality springs from human experience, it cannot be completely devoid of bias, or prior valuation. And then of course we must take into account the vicissitudes of existence, how life and living has transformed and continues to transform as time progresses. We can be certain, then, that the way people respond to reality has changed and continues to change as well. People, as rational beings, can only adapt to the world, as all beings tend toward survival.

Therefore, it would not be accurate to think of morality as a matter of individual discernment. Its connection to human experience does not cause it to be subjective, that is, the understanding of good and bad is...
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