“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

-Upton Sinclair





Ressentiment — the French translation of the English word resentment — is a concept in philosophy and psychology, particularly developed by the existentialist philosophers. It refers to a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior, serving as a defense mechanism that prevents the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.

Soren Kierkegaard first introduced the term in the 1800’s, and Nietzsche expanded upon it in Beyond Good and Evil in connection with the master-slave question and its resultant birth of morality.

On the account given in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, the Judeo-Christian moral order arose as an expression of the ressentiment of the weak against the power exercised over them by the strong. A tool used to thwart that power, it had over time become internalized in the form of conscience, creating a “sick” animal whose will is at war with its own vital instincts. Thus Nietzsche arrived at Kierkegaard’s idea that “the crowd is untruth”: the so-called autonomous, self-legislating individual is nothing but a herd animal that has trained itself to docility and unfreedom by conforming to the “universal” standards of morality. The normative is nothing but the normal.

Jean-Paul Sartre used the term bad faith to describe a highly similar phenomenon of blaming one’s own failure on external factors and therefore denying responsibility for oneself.

Favorite Passages from ‘Anton Chekhov: A Life’ (1998) by Donald Rayfield


Here are some of my favorite passages from Donald Rayfield’s rather brilliant biography of Anton Chekhov:

“Who would have thought that such genius would come out of an earth closet?” (p. 3)

“Nobody foresaw that Chekhov, after weighing Tolstoyanism, would reject it. The liberal and hedonistic elements in Chekhov’s make up rebelled against Tolstoy’s puritanism, just as Chekhov’s expressive understatement was ill suited to Tolstoy’s lapidary edifying style.”  (p 183)

In a letter to his publisher and close friend Aleksey Suvorin:

“What writers of the gentry had free from birth, we the underclass have to pay for with our youth. Why don’t you write the story of a young man, the song of a serf, a former shop boy, chorister, schoolboy, and student, brought up on deferring to rank, on kissing priests’ hands, submitting to others’ ideas, thankful for every crust, thrashed many times, who tormented animals, who loved having dinner with rich relatives, who was quite needlessly hypocritical before God and people, just because he knew he was a nonentity — write about this young man squeezing drop by drop the slave out of himself and waking one fine morning feeling that real human blood, not a slave’s, is flowing in his veins.”  (p 186)

In 1889, Chekhov buys a set of Dostoevsky’s works, reading them for the first time. He remarks in his diary: “Good, but very long and immodest. A lot of pretensions.”  (p 190)

The crude and bawdy exchanges between Anton and his brother Aleksandr, which appear throughout the biography, are a riot. Aleksandr writes in one letter: “Engulfed by carnal lust (after long abstinence) I bought in a chemists’ a condon (or condom – the devil knows) for 35 kopecks. But as soon as I tried to put it on, it burst, probably from fear at the sight of my shaft. So I had no luck. I had to tame the flesh again.”  (p 194) Continue reading

Film vs. Literature

F. Scott Fitzgerald believed that the novel, “the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion,” was taking a back seat to “mechanical and communal art that, whether in the hands of Hollywood merchants or Russian idealists, was capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion.”