The Will of Angelina Jolie


When I heard that Angelina Jolie had decided to have a preventative double mastectomy, upon discovering that she has the ‘faulty’ gene BRCA1, I was reminded of this:

‘You tremble, carcass? You would tremble a lot more if you knew where I am taking you.’

The words are attributed to the French General Turenne (1611-75). Sometimes during battle his body would tremble with fear and so he command it with words, as one would a servant. (That’s him above at the Battle of the Dunes June 14th, 1658).

The Turenne quotation appears in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs (first published 1887), in the section in which he examines human will.

Nietzsche is unimpressed by modern ‘man’, for whom the ‘will’ exists mostly to justify guilt, as something to blame. Against this, Nietzsche argues that the will is the energy of the feeling of life. It is itself an emotion, the emotion of command over oneself. We are at the same time the commanding and the obeying parties.

For Nietzsche, the will of the modern human is broken; it no longer commands anything.

The same, it seems, cannot be said of Angelina Jolie. She did not succumb to self-pity or hopelessness. She ruled her emotions, they did not rule her. Her decision to have her breasts surgically removed is impressive precisely because it suggests an enormous strength of will. Not fearlessness, but courage, i.e., not an absence of fear, but an ability to overcome it.

One must need strength, otherwise one will never have it. But one never knows whether one has it, or not, until after one acts. Hence courage.

But there is more to this than meets the eye.

Perhaps it was the triumph of one kind of fear (the fear of leaving her children motherless) over another kind of fear (the fear of losing two attributes of femininity.)

And then there is the power of the ideology of DNA and the biological determinism it entails. I’ll examine this in the next post.

One thought on “The Will of Angelina Jolie

  1. Perhaps fear did rule her. Fear of cancer occupying her body. It may have been that this fear was greater that her fear of public rejection of her “disfigurement”. This is the fear that powers deterministic science of the body. Nevertheless, Jolie’s decision – whatever the motivation or underlying emotions – was a brave one.

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