Zarathustra vs Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 6: ‘On the Pale Criminal’
vs “Bonnie and Clyde”, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot (Initials B.B. and Bonnie and Clyde, 1968)

Here is the scenario: someone has robbed and killed; they have been caught, and thus face death themselves. Why – as in the title of the chapter – is this criminal, this murderer, pale? ‘An image made the pale man pale’. This image is the memory of the murder. Yet, Zarathustra observes ‘Equal to his deed was he when he did it’. However this act ‘he could not endure after it was done’ – guilt, perhaps; or the threat of the trouble now brought upon himself. Murderers betray themselves when they do not accept their act, and do not accept responsibility for their act. Furthermore – the criminal, ‘before the deed’, will find a reason for the murder. ‘”What is the point of blood?”’ asks our ‘meagre reason’, our I, thought, our spirit. ‘”Do you not want to steal something too? Or to take revenge?”’

Such a narrative informs the trajectory of the wonderful Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot romp (which appears on both their albums of the same year, 1968), ‘Bonnie and Clyde’.


With a repeating acoustic guitar riff that infects the body like a virus, backed by minimal strings low in the mix, and a wonderful, incessant vocalised ‘whoop’, Serge and Brigitte play the parts of Bonnie and Clyde. Their delivery of the lyrics – adapted for two voices from a poem, entitled ‘The Trail's End’, written by Bonnie Parker herself in the weeks before she and Clyde Barrow died – is semi-spoken, semi-sung. In the Gainsbourg-Bardot version, Brigitte/Bonnie tells us: ‘When I came to know Clyde long ago / He was a loyal, honest, upright guy’ [‘Moi lorsque j'ai connu Clyde autrefois / C'était un gars loyal, honnête et droit’]. Accordingly, while ‘They say we're cold-blooded killers’ [‘On prétend que nous tuons de sang froid’], murder becomes necessary as they must silence their victims ‘when they start shouting’ [‘De faire taire celui qui se met à gueuler’]. As Serge/Clyde tells us: ‘It ain't much fun but we got no choice’ [‘C'est pas drôle mais on est bien obligé’]. Yet there is another explanation for these crimes: ‘I really think it's society / Which has spoilt me forever’ [‘Il faut croire que c'est la société / Qui m'a définitivement abimée’].

Brigitte/Bonnie and Serge/Clyde articulate Nietzsche’s three moments: thought, act, and memory. These are non-causal relations: ‘the thought is one thing, the deed is another, and another yet is the image of the deed’. Three madnesses which see the murderer as a ‘heap of sicknesses’, ‘a ball of wild snakes that are seldom at peace’, a ‘poor body’ which has ‘interpreted for itself’ – it has interpreted the world as a reflection of itself, as a world of ‘murderous pleasure and greed for the joy of the knife’. And overcoming the human in oneself is externalised – and interpreted as the overcoming of other humans through murder.

Why do we kill? Zarathustra identifies two apparent conditions: killing in the first instance, without or before the law, with no legal mandate; and – in the second instance – killing as the enactment of a lawful judgement, in response, for example, to a prior killing. The ‘pale criminal’, and ‘Judges and sacrificers’ (the cops – for example). Yet these two conditions are merely appearances because – for Zarathustra – we kill because we want to kill when caught up in ressentiment which is acted upon as revenge. We then love to kill; and blood must flow. To be human becomes to be a killer of humans; homo sapiens is homo homicidium. Such evil – of course – is historical: ‘once doubting was evil and will to self. At that time the sick became heretics and witches: as heretics and witches they suffered and wanted to inflict suffering.’

And so Zarathustra also addresses the ‘judges and sacrificers’. Posed as a question, Zarathustra asks ‘You would not kill, you judges and sacrificers, until the beast has nodded?’ And answers, ‘Behold, the pale criminal has nodded’. Now the judges and sacrificers have reason to murder. Their own ressentiment and revenge given mandate through the law. ‘And you, scarlet judge, if you were to say out loud all you have already done in your thought, everyone would cry out: “Away with this filth and poison-worm”’. These good people disgust Zarathustra, ‘and verily it is not their evil. How I wish they had a madness through which they might perish, just like this pale criminal’. The criminal overcomes the human in themselves through their own death, and by a mad circuitous route:  ‘The only way out was death’ sings Brigitte/Bonnie in the final verse of the song; ‘But more than one followed them to Hell,’ adds Serge/Clyde. ‘When,’ in unison ‘Barrow and Bonnie Parker died’.

First Part: Chapter 7 - Lupe Fiasco

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