‘While the noble man lives in trust and openness with himself (gennaios‘of noble descent’ underlines the nuance ‘upright’ and probably also ‘naïve’), the man of ressentiment is neither upright nor naive nor honest and straightforward with himself. His soul squints; his spirit loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as his world, hissecurity, his refreshment; he understands how to keep silent, how not to forget, how to wait, how to be provisionally self-deprecating and humble’.
Ressentiment (pronounced /rəsɑ̃tiˈmɑ̃/), in philosophy and psychology, is a particular form of resentment or hostility. It is the French word for “resentment” (fr. Latin intensive prefix ‘re’, and ‘sentir’ “to feel”). Ressentiment is 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 jealousyin the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.
‘Ressentiment is not to be considered interchangeable with the normal English word “resentment”, or even the French “ressentiment”. While the normal words both speak to a feeling of frustration directed at a perceived source, neither speaks to the special relationship between a sense of inferiority and the creation of morality’.
I am drawn to Nietzsche’s concept of ‘ressentiment’. I love how he has made a new meaning out of an existing word. The French word ‘ressentiment’ is taken by Nietzsche and twisted subtly, so it becomes edgier, harder, more meaningful.
Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse refers to the powerlessness and resentment the amorous subject can feel towards ‘the loved object’ – perceiving him or her to be the cause of the lover’s suffering.
I’ve felt my own ‘ressentiment’ myself. I can relate to both Nietzsche and Barthes’ versions of it. And when you take away the symbolic ’cause’ of your suffering, what are you left with? Not an absence of suffering but a different way of perceiving it.
I like the picture at the top because it is not clear who is the ‘big meanie’. Is it the girl standing up screaming, or the person by her side, perceiving the shouting. Because when you feel ‘victimised’ or full of ‘ressentiment’ you can actually be quite aggressive.
This old classic pop song, You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrissette is a great embodiment of the feeling of ressentiment:
‘It’s not fair to deny me of the cross I bear that you gave to me’
could have been written by Nietzsche or Barthes. I used to play the song all the time when I was getting over my first Big Love. I know it off by heart. Literally.
I like ‘ressentiment’ – I think it is an integral aspect of the human psyche. But it is worth keeping in check, so we don’t all become Big Meanies ourselves.