On the Perversity of the Bodybuilding Movement
"Let the bodybuilders remain in the gymnasium and the academics in the library."
Slothfulness and irreligion are privileges afforded to few generations, and they are little appreciated by those fortunate enough to be able to indulge in them. Just as an inclination toward the spiritual has historically been motivated by its perceived material rewards — whether it be the Steppe tribe who worshipped a flock of birds for their having appeared in a propitious moment of a battle, or the conversion of the Khazaar people who, upon hearing of the economic success of the Jewish people, took to circumcising themselves en masse — so too has the cultivation of physical strength been governed by the twin beasts of necessity and want: by either the obligation to defend what one already has, or by the desire to conquer what another possesses; elaborating systems of global trade, growing soft and delicate upon pleasure, and preparing oneself to be conquered by the next marauding tribe.
Strong men create good times, so the saying goes. And those lucky enough to succeed them find themselves at the top of Fortuna’s ever-spinning wheel, relieved of the obligation of strength, knowing that sooner or later the wheel will inevitably roll down upon its descent. To play the strongman as one is teetering on the edge of inevitable civilizational decline would be as mad as to have cultivated slothfulness on the way up. With equal measure we would no sooner practice religious devotion in times of material comfort than we would have subscribed to agonistic humanism during times of plague.
But just as there are those who continue in their devotion to the old Church when one of the more recent, more practical incarnations of the faith would do just fine, so too do there exist those who dedicate themselves disproportionately to the cultivation of the body, assuming the Herculean task of trying to reverse civilizational collapse by going to the gym.
These right-wing Bodybuilders are differentiated from other muscle-builders by the distinctly philosophical way in which they approach lifting weights. Their existence is a reaction to the slothful, feminised cult of neoliberalism which celebrates weakness and conformity, their raison d'être to distinguish themselves from the chaff of society, whose common practices, beliefs and language have rendered them virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Hard times create strong men, as the other part of the saying goes. But these are not men who have experienced any particular material hardship, and the absence of historical necessity is a continual source of embarrassment for them. Their identity is instead bolstered upon a sort of memetic language. “Slonking eggs,” the “chad-virgin” dichotomy and the allusion to the existence of a new type of male known as the ‘Sigma’ are all regular features of the nomenclature all of which are easily recognisable to the movement’s members. A recent article which appeared in the American Mind cleverly employs as its banner an image of Apollo juxtaposed with a lineup of grey-faced “non-playable characters”. This, though it may baffle the general reader, is sure to raise a wry smile from the Bodybuilder, for whom the grey faced figures represent his contempt for his fellow man; the Apollo, as the article makes clear, referring to a process of “individualisation,” which is to be achieved through “self rule, mastery and worthiness for freedom” [sic].
Despite this imagery and language being very funny, it also serves a didactic purpose, establishing a set of norms, beliefs and language which those who wish to participate in the movement must subscribe to. The bodybuilding movement is in many ways the mirror image of the “social justice” movement which it abhors: Both recognise that in order to linearize a person’s thought and inculcate in them a certain philosophy, it is imperative to first get them using a language which has said philosophy woven into its very fabric. Stock phrases such as “my body, my choice” or “man is both the marble and the sculptor,” are to be repeated verbatim, with little to no variation, with the purpose of propagating, rather than examining, the ideas behind them. This sort of language is useful when it comes to creating that essential friend-enemy distinction: Just as the liberal left draws a distinction between allies and bigots, those perceived as being in opposition to the bodybuilding movement are characterised variously as either “cringe” or “based”.
Memetic symbology, as clever as it may be, can prove a shaky foundation for an escape from the Hell of modernity. A sturdier footing upon which the movement climbs is its penchant for the literary, the references of which are so few that they can be listed here in their entirety: The Greeks, Ernt Jünger and Yukio Mishima. It would be unwise to take the brevity and apparent disparity of this list for a lack of erudition within the movement. Rather, it has proved to be a demonstrably effective means to unite as many people as possible under as small and precise a banner as can be conceived. The choices are, for the most part, wise. The Greeks, a civilization of paganistic quasi-homosexuals who practiced a superfluous form of physical exercise would seem to present a fruitful role model. Jünger, with his emphasis on the glory of war, is a fine choice too. In the case of Mishima, however, one must hold some reservations. His mother tongue, and the language in which he wrote, presents potential semiotic and interpretational problems for a movement for which values above all order, clarity and simplicity.
This is due to an unusual feature in the Japanese language known as Kaki-Bundo which alters the very meaning of Japanese texts as they pass through time. While Western languages may be said to be relatively stable, with Shakespeare and even Chaucer arriving to us comparatively undeformed by the centuries which separate them from us, the Japanese language is a much stranger, more complex beast. The inherent textual fluidity of Japanese has seen Mishima's novel Confessions of a Mask interpreted variously by its Japanese readership as a detective novel, a meditation on modernity as well as highbrow homoeroticism according to the era in which it has been read. This is because the Japanese language evolves with such rapidity and rapacity according to the various, interloping cultural waves which it experiences, that not only do the connotations of its words change as they do in ours, but so too do its denotations. With the meaning of words and sentences changing from year to year, or even month to month, various plot mechanisms supposedly present in the original reading of the novel find themselves completely transformed, if not altogether absent, in subsequent interpretations. This is the Kaki-Bundo effect.
Mishima arrives to us Westerners via the crooked road of translation, a practice which distorts meaning at the best of times. With relatively static languages like French or German frequently losing their original meaning as they pass through the translator’s grinder, a language as distant as Japanese stands little chance of survival. Applied to Japanese, translation gives us only a snapshot of the language in that particular moment, which becomes redundant as soon as the language itself undergoes a slight cultural mutation. The text known to us as Confessions of a Mask has been translated with such widely varying titles as Una Berenjena Habladora in Spanish, Vaters Loch in German and Poitrine de Porc Pour Mon Garçon in French. Translation of Mishima, or of any Japanese writer, makes little sense from a literary standpoint. One of the reasons why Mishima is such a celebrated figure in his own country is because of his mastery of Kaki-Bundo, having written in such a way that subsequent readings have, despite their enormous stylistic and thematic changes, remained and continue to be both comprehensible and beautiful in their own right, while the works of many of his contemporaries have seen themselves degenerate into arid nonsense. Mishima, if anything, is the poster boy for linguistic relativism.
This oversight by the bodybuilding community is perhaps not surprising. It is a movement led not by those dedicated principally to the cultivation of the mind, but the body. That is the movement's strength, but it comes at an obvious, unavoidable intellectual loss. The irresistible thought is this: that each well-developed muscle of a bodybuilder represents a language he never learned, a study of Homer he never underwent, an interesting fact he never memorised. But this accusation is rightly criticised. A man cannot dedicate himself to two pursuits without being mediocre in both.
Let the bodybuilders remain in the gymnasium and the academics in the library.
That’s all very good and well, but it still remains for us to replace Mishima with a more suitable candidate. Writers like Hemingway, Tom Clancy and Brett McKay would be amongst the obvious choices. They are all exemplary of the direct, simple and decidedly masculine style favoured by the Bodybuilding movement. But let us turn once again to the Greeks for inspiration. The following quote, attributed to Socrates, is often cited by bodybuilders:
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
The source of this quote remains elusive. It is doubtful that Socrates ever said it, but this is quite immaterial for a movement more interested in brawn over brain. The quote inspires, and that is all very well if one needs motivation to lift a heavy object, but it falls down if one is trying to give a movement any intellectual steam. What Socrates did say regarding physical fitness, if Plato is to be believed, is that it has a specific but determined role in the body politic of any functioning civilization. Plato conceived of a tripartite system of government in which an intellectual class of guardians would rule, a lower class of producers would produce, and a defensive class of warriors known as auxiliaries would defend. This warrior class
should have no property; their pay should only meet their expenses; and they should have common meals. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God.
In other words, the warrior class is to be kept firmly in its place, with comfort and pleasure being strictly prohibited, for “luxury and avarice will turn them into wolves and tyrants.” In the ideal body politic the brain thinks, the arms act and the feet march. But when the arms and the legs begin to think, and to supersede the brain, then the whole thing is turned topsy-turvy. That is no basis for a political movement.
The implications for the current bodybuilding movement are obvious. A world of untapped intellectualism orbits it: Individuals well-studied in philosophy, in languages, in literature, poetry and interesting facts, but who have little time for physical training. A class of academics, scholars and epigrammatists who could spearhead the movement, giving it form and direction, an intellectual respectability and cohesion that its gym-going proponents never could. In order for that to happen, the arms must submit to the brain. Let us hope that they have courage and good sense to do so.