As many important historians have noted, Kanye West is kind of a dick. Between the multiple MTV music award rants, his delusions of grandeur, and his messiah complex, there’s a whole lot general douchebaggery to go around, and has been for some time. Yet, while Kanye’s self-proclaimed arrogance-as-steam-powered-dream-life may seem to be nothing more than a disheartening phenomenon of the modern world, I would submit for your consideration one Peter Abelard. “But wait”, I hear you cry, “how could an acclaimed philosopher and theologian possibly have anything to do with a man who apparently thinks that he would belong in a modern day Bible have anything in common?” To that question, I would submit the following arguments:
Exhibit A) What with the interrupting and yelling all the time.
Kanye, of course cemented his reputation as one of the great jackasses of the twenty-first century when he memorably took to the stage uninvited at the MTV Music Video Awards to inform one Ms. Taylor Swift that he was “’happy for [her] and gonna let [her] finish”, way back in 2009. What many have forgotten is that, while memorably awful, this was hardly Ye’s first foray onto an MTV stage. Recall, for instance, his delightful turn at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards when he rushed the stage to denounce Justice and Simian, following their win of Best Hip-Hop Artist over the man himself, despite the fact that Kanye’s Touch The Sky music video “…cost a million dollars. [And] It had Pamela Anderson in it.” Surprisingly these well-reasoned arguments did little to sway the judges/audience/Justice and Simian into agreement, even despite the fact that Kanye pointed out that “If [he] do[es]n’t win, the award show loses credibility.” It is in these sorts of moments that we first begin to see the correspondence between Messrs West and Abelard, because while Kanye may have brought back the art of the random public rant, Abelard had that shit down to an art in the twelfth century.
Abelard, as fans of Kanye West will no doubt be aware, first came to prominence in the early twelfth century during his studies in Paris, where he initially studied under William of Champeaux, a student of Anselm of Loan, and an outspoken proponent of Realist theory. (Realism according to most hip-hop fans, of course, argues that our reality is ontologically distinct from our concept of the phenomenal world, and thought in general, natch.) While Abelard was down with this particular brand of thought from the outset, he quickly developed his own ideas on the subject, and created his own branch of philosophy called Conceptualism, which argues that universals only exist within our own mind’s perception of them. Anyway, obviously, bitches went crazy for that, and pretty soon Abelard was the biggest thing in Paris, despite his relatively young age. Fame then worked its age old magic on Peter just like it did to Yeezy, and pretty soon he was an insufferable twat who by his own admission “Began to think [himself] the only philosopher in the world, with nothing to fear from anyone…” because that’s just how fame works.
Of course, this new found celebrity also seems to have suggested to Abelard that it would be an awesome idea rock up to other people’s lectures, maybe even lectures given by his old master William, and then probably just yell for a while about how stupid Realism is, and how you’re much smarter, and everyone should actually be a Conceptualist, because I just screamed that at you right now. Straight up, Abelard thought about philosophical debate as an actual fight, and said that “[He] preferred the weapons of dialectic to all the other teachings of philosophy, and armed with these [he] chose the conflicts of disputation instead of the trophies of war.” This particular state of events is, of course, slightly different to Kanye’s stage-jumping in that Abelard’s impromptu-debate victims actively worked to get his ass kicked out of Paris so they could, you know, get some work done or whatever, whereas Kanye seems to still be a regular fixture at awards shows, much to the delight of train-wreck aficionados world wide.
Exhibit B) Crazy Self-Aggrandising Statements and Haters
As our previous discussion makes clear, both Abelard and Kanye had the random yelling about how awesome they were game on lockdown, but as we all know Ye’s ability to big himself up has never ended on a stage which he was not invited to take. Far from it, and as many scholars have argued, it’s on Twitter where Mr. West has really been able to cast off the fetters of routine egomania, and say the craziest shit imaginable on a regular tip. For example, take this particular gem from the 20th of July, in which Kanye invites us to a spirited discussion of his oeuvre thusly, (and sic throughout, obviously), “I open the debate… The 2nd verse of New Slaves is the best rap verse of all time….meaning … OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF RAP MUSIC, PERIOD”. Other gems include “you may be talented, but you’re not kanye west”, as well as odes to his amazingness outside the studio such as “I got the best leather pants collection since the 80’s …If I must”, “I make awesome decisions in bike stores!!!” We round this selection out with the award for most obvious tweet of possibly forever, with Kanye’s “I love me”. (One time he also tweeted “Do you know where to find marble conference tables? I’m looking to have a conference…not until I get the table though”. That doesn’t have anything to do with this discussion, but as far as I’m concerned it is the best tweet of all time.) Of course, he’s also aware of how his general awesomeness is influencing others as well, as evidenced by his statement that he “WILL SPARK A GENERATION OF THINKERS WHO WILL QUESTION TRADITIONAL THOUGHT UNTIL THEY FIND THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH”.
YOU ARE WELCOME EVERYONE.
The tour-de-force that is Kanye’s twitter makes one lament that social networking didn’t exist for Abelard. Just think if he had been able to pour his drunken ego-centric heart out to us, as well. I swear we would all be in a better place now if it had. (Confidential to geeky medievalists, an Abelard twitter account would probably rule. You could maybe just retweet stuff Kanye put up as Abelard. Get on it.) Failing that, however, we’ve got M. Peter’s Historia Calamitatum which is basically the world’s longest humble brag. Essentially homeboy can’t go a single paragraph without reminding us of the fact that he’s, like, totally the smartest ever. In the middle of an anecdote about how he had to go home to the provinces because he was sick and was, in his words, “cut off from France” he takes that time to let us know that “…for that very reason, I was sought out all the more eagerly by those whose hearts were troubled by the lore of dialectics.” When in the middle of a scholastic challenge friends told him he might want to study: “To this I replied indignantly that it was my wont to win success, not by routine, but by ability.” When he sort of realises that he’s been bragging for a few chapters: “But even were I to be silent, the fact proclaims itself, and its outcome reveals the truth regarding it.” Indeed, Kanye would agree with him on that one, because as we all know it’s “Hard to be humble when you stuntin on a jumbotron.” (Preach.)
Of course in with all this awesome self-love we see a commensurate amount of pressure from the scourge of the player world-wide: the haters. Now, it is a truth universally accepted that haters gonna hate, and that they have always and ever had difficulty focusing that hate on its correct target, the game. Sadly, when you’ve got money, fame, and talent, the haters are gonna find you eventually, cuz like Abelard says “the amount of financial profit as well as glory … cannot be concealed … for the matter [is] talked of.” When big ballin is your hobby, haters are gonna come round, just waiting for you to slip up. Now, the players could lower their game a bit and theoretically go under the radar, but fuck that, cuz if they start slipping, as Kanye acknowledges “ life would be easier, but you all wouldn’t be as entertained. My misery is your pleasure.” Likewise, Abelard acknowledges that it is not just his money but his skill that keeps the haters hatin’ because, it’s “logic [which] has [him] hated in the world.”
Haters, WHAT IS YOUR DEAL? Can’t you just let a couple motherfuckers be badass? Damn.
Despite this hardship though, both of our boys keep working, driven of course by their brilliance, and also because as Ye, has reminded us all “your haters, [are] your biggest fans.” Abelard concurs on that point, because his brilliance was actually enough to straight up turn haters into lovers, and he was about to see to it that “those who before had clung most vehemently to [his] former master, and most bitterly attacked [his] doctrines, … flocked to [his] school.” What now, bitches?
Exhibit C) Oh, but these assholes, these ego maniacal total douchebags…they’re right.
They know they’re full of it, but if you produced like this, you’d probably act like a bag of dicks too…
- “The first key to wisdom is defined, of course, as assiduous and frequent questioning.”
- “We call the intention good which is right in itself, but the action is good, not because it contains within it some good, but because it issues from a good intention. The same act may be done by the same man at different times. According to the diversity of his intention, however, this act may be at one time good, at another bad.”
- “Finally, the usage of everyday speech is such that most things are expressed in accordance with the judgement of the bodily senses, even if the reality is otherwise. For although there is no place in the entire universe that is entirely empty and not filled either with air or some other body, still we say that a box in which we perceive nothing by sight is entirely empty. For judging according to what we see with our eyes, we say that the sky is sometimes starry, sometimes not, the sun sometimes hot and sometimes not, or that the moon gives more light or gives less, or even does not give light at all, when, however, these things which do not always appear to us uniformly, in fact always remain uniform.”
Also, even when they are swaggering around like cockmonsters…they’re totally right.
As rude as it was, Kanye came correct on the whole Taylor Swift thing. Can you even name the video she won for? But can you do part of the single ladies dance? Yeah, though…
And as lame as it is of Abelard to run into someone else’s lecture and start yelling, if you’re that good a philosopher, you could probably show your own damn student up. Just sayin’.
As much as it is important to continue this rant, we must be very clear on one point about the Abelard/Kanye comparison: Kim Kardashian ain’t no Heloise.
This remains a guiding principle in the Abelard/Kanye discussion. Having said that, there are many things about the whole Kimye situation that are mirrored in the relationship of Abelard and Heloise.
Specifically, of course, I mean that Abelard’s career was pretty much ruined by the fact that he couldn’t help boning Heloise, and well, when was the last time you respected Kanye? I know, right?
Abelard would be the first one to tell you this. He straight up admitted that he stopped concentrating on work the minute he got access to Heloise’s pants, because “…it became loathsome to [him] to go to the school or to linger there; the labour, moreover, was very burdensome, since [his] nights were vigils of love and my days of study.”
Kanye hasn’t exactly come out and admitted this in the same way, but all you need to do is look at his discography to see that his output and its quality is well down since we hit the Kim era.
For Abelard the whole thing was even more fraught, of course, because anyone involved in medieval universities was obliged to take holy orders. So by getting down with Heloise he was breaking his vows, and essentially excluding himself from scholastic life. That’s why Heloise fought so hard not to marry him. “She asked how she could ever glory in [Abelard] if she should make [him] thus inglorious, and should shame herself along with [him]. “
I mean that, again, is pretty much the exact opposite of Kim, who knew she needed to lock Kanye down as fast as possible, for her own damn good. However, Kanye’s weakness for Ms. K is one of the most oft-cited arguments about why Kanye is a massive tool. It doesn’t exactly make his art totally irrelevant, but it calls it into question.
The other perfect parallel between the family lives of our two heroes is their penchant for naming their kids some crazy shit. Witness: Abelard and Heloise named their son Astrolabe. That’s not like “Oh medieval names are pretty funny.” That’s they named their kid the equivalent of “Map and Compass”, but for the stars. That shit was crazy then, too.
If I need to explain to you why naming your kid after a device which helps you chart the position of stars is like naming your kid after a direction, we’re pretty much done here.
The point here is that while no one is going to try to tell you that Kim stands “out above all by reason of her abundant knowledge of letters”, she’s had a similar influence to that which Heloise did. Having said that, Heloise was bad for Abelard’s career because of the patriarchy and the structure of higher education in the medieval period, while Kim is bad for Kanye’s because she’s basic as hell. Still, it’s worth a mention.
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For more hip hop history see:
On the concept of the Renaissance and Outkast’s Hey Ya
These hoes ain’t loyal – on prostitutes and bad bitches in medieval and hip hop culture
On Hotline Bling and courtly love
Considering bad motherfuckers: Hildegard of Bingen and Janelle Monáe
*(This was originally posted as a series of blogs starting 29 July 2013 here.)