Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part Two

Perhaps more so than in any previous work, Nietzsche is the quintessential warrior-philosopher in Twilight of the Idols. But we should take care in interpreting this. For him this is a style of living that is non-violent. Rather, Nietzsche advocates an aggressive, creative personal as well as cultural confidence and inner strength.  It is, paradoxically perhaps, a source of joy. For the most part I will present aspects of the work not referenced by Julian Young in the prior post.

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part.  Only excess of strength is proof of strength. - A revaluation of all values, this question-mark so black, so huge it casts a shadow over him who sets it up – such a destiny of a task compels one every instant to run out into the sunshine so as to shake off a seriousness grown all too oppressive.  Every expedient for doing so is justified, every 'occasion' a joyful occasion.  Above all, war.  War has always been the grand sagacity of every spirit which has grown too inward and too profound; its curative power lies even in the wounds one receives.

“This little book is a grand declaration of war; and as regards the sounding-out of idols, this time they are not idols of the age but eternal idols which are here touched with the hammer as with a tuning fork – there are no more ancient idols in existence....Also none more hollow....That does not prevent there being the most believed in; and they are not, especially in the most eminent case, called idols...” (from the Forward dated 30 September 1888)

As in the Genealogy, Nietzsche seeks to attack and annihilate the unquestioned assumptions of western civilization.  Even though he considered Twilight a “recreation,” he nevertheless deals with topics that were going to be at the foundation of the revaluation project.  His intent is to critique art, culture, religion, capitalism, democracy, among other major philosophical issues.  This aggression can be seen in the choice of subtitle for the book: “How to Philosophize with a Hammer”.  It is equally apparent in his title for the section of short sayings which opens the work - “Maxims and Arrows”, which contain some of his most famous remarks.

“Which is it?  Is man only God's mistake or God only man's mistake?” (I, 7)

From the military school of life. - What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (I, 8)

“If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how. - Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that.” (I, 12)

“How little is needed for happiness! The note of a bagpipe. - Without music life  would be a mistake. The German even thinks of God as singing songs.” (I, 33)

Nietzsche begins his attack upon the unquestioned assumptions that lead to basic falsehoods in modern society by analyzing language and its relationship to the human 'ego' itself.  “Language belongs in its origin to the age of the most rudimentary form of psychology: we find ourselves in the midst of a rude fetishism when we call to mind the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of language – which is to say, of reason.  It is this which sees everywhere deed and doer; this which believes in will as cause in general; this which believes in the 'ego' , in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and which projects its belief in the ego-substance on to all things – only thus does it create the concept of 'thing'....Being is everywhere thought in, foisted on, as cause; it is only from the conception 'ego' that there follows, derivatively, the concept of 'being'....At the beginning stands the great fateful error that the will is something which produces an effect - that will is a faculty....Today we know it is merely a word....” (III, 5)

He dismisses the probability that there is an “apparent” world, a “better” world than this, as “phantasmagoria”. Such thinking leads of decadence of every kind.  Against this, the “tragic artist is not a pessimist – it is precisely he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian...” (III, 6)  Fundamentally, not only accepting but embracing the uncertainty and difficulty of this life in this world gives the discerning reader a glimpse that the revaluation project is fundamentally Dionysian in nature.

Nietzsche follows this section of Twilight with “How the 'Real World' at last Became a Myth.”  This is a very brief thought experiment consisting six progressive theses.  First, the “real world” is attainable to the wise and virtuous, Next, it is unattainable but promised to the wise and virtuous.  Thirdly, the real world becomes “a consolation, a duty” because it is not unattainable but undemonstrative. Next, it becomes fundamentally unknowable and our “duty” to it is questionable.  Fifth, the real world has no use, there is nothing to have duty toward and it should be abolished. Finally, the real world is abolished and, along with it, the apparent world.

The warrior-philosopher criticizes the popular (and largely unquestioned) assumption that our well-being should direct us toward peace and tranquility.  Rather than a legitimate goal for the benefit of humanity he sees such things as a harmful weakness. “Nothing has grown more alien to us than that desideratum of former times 'peace of the soul', the Christian desideratum; nothing arouses less envy in us than the moral cow and the fat contentment of the good conscience....One has renounced grand life when one renounces war....

“'Peace of soul' can, for example, be the gentle radiation of a rich animality into the moral (or religious) domain.  Or the beginning of weariness, the first of the shadows which evening, every sort of evening, casts.  Or a sign that the air is damp, that south winds are on the way.  Or unconscious gratitude for a good digestion (sometimes called 'philanthropy'). Or the quiescence of the convalescent for whom all things have a new taste and who waits....Or the condition which succeeds a vigorous gratification of our ruling passion, the pleasant feeling of a rare satiety.  Or the decrepitude of our will, our desires, our vices.  Or laziness persuaded by vanity to deck itself out as morality.  Or the appearance of a certainty, even a dreadful certainty, after the protracted tension and torture of uncertainty.  Or the expression of ripeness and mastery in the midst of action, creation, endeavor, volition, a quiet breathing, 'freedom of will' attained....Twilight of the Idols: who knows? Perhaps that too is a kind of 'peace of the soul'...” (V, 3)

Nietzsche critiques moral authority and whether traditional morality is beneficial or harmful.  He advocates the style of the "immoralist".  This is not an outright "wicked" person in the traditional sense.  It is a warrior who questions morality as it interferes with "higher" society, as it attempts to restrain instinctual human diversity.  “Let us consider finally what naivety it is to say 'man ought to be thus and thus!'  Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the luxuriance of a prodigal play and change of forms: and does some pitiful journeyman moralist say at the sight of it: 'No! Man ought to be different?' ... In so far as morality condemns as morality and not with regard to the aims and objects of life ... it is a specific error with which one should show no sympathy, an idiosyncrasy of the degenerate which has caused an unspeakable amount of pain! … We others, we immoralists, have on the contrary opened wide our hearts to every kind of understanding, comprehension, approval.  We do not readily deny, we seek our honor in affirming.  We have come more and more to appreciate that economy which needs and knows how to use all that which the holy lunacy of the priests, the diseased reason of the priest rejects; that economy in the law of life which derives advantage even from the repellent species of the bigot, the priest, the virtuous man - what advantage? - But we ourselves, we immoralists, are the answer to that...” (V, 6)

In “The Four Great Errors” Nietzsche delineates fundamental assumptions humans make about reality that are untrue and are the basis for all kinds of confused behavior and interpretation of experience in western civilization.  The first is “The error of confusing cause and consequence.  There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the consequence for the cause: I call it reason's intrinsic form of corruption.  Nonetheless, this error is among the most ancient and most recent habits of mankind: it is even sanctified among us, it bears the names 'religion' and 'morality'.  Every proposition formulated by religion and morality contains it; priests and moral legislatures are the authors of this corruption of reason.” (VI, 1)

Though Twilight is not 'officially' part of the revaluation project, Nietzsche takes the opportunity in the work to proclaim the very first revaluation: “The most general formula at the basis of every religion and morality is: 'Do this and this, refrain from this and this – and you will be happy!  Otherwise...' Every morality, every religion is this imperative – I call it the great original sin of reason, immortal unreason. In my mouth this formula is converted into its reverse - first example of my 'revaluation of all values': a well-constituted human being, a 'happy one', must perform certain actions and instinctively shrinks from other actions, he transports the order of which he is the physiological representative into his relations with other human beings and with things.  In a formula: his virtue is the consequence of his actions.

“My restored reason says: when a people is perishing, degenerating psychologically, vice and luxury (that is to say the necessity for stronger and stronger and more and more frequent stimulants, such as every exhausted nature is acquainted with) follow therefrom.  A young man grows prematurely pale and faded.  His friends say: this and that illness is to blame.  I say: that he became ill, that he failed to resist the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, an hereditary exhaustion....My higher politics says: a party which makes errors like this is already finished – it is no longer secure in its instincts.  Every error, of whatever kind, is a consequence of degeneration of instinct, degeneration of will: one has thereby virtually defined the bad. Everything good is instinct – and consequently easy, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, the god is typically distinguished from the hero (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity.” (VI, 2)

“The error of false causality” and “The error of imaginary causes” follow.  Nietzsche sees western values as subject to “phantoms and false lights” and the best example of the confusion over cause and consequence is traditional morality and religion itself. “Morality and religion fall entirely under the psychology of error: in every single case cause is mistaken for effect;  or the effect of what is believed true is mistaken for the truth;  or a state of consciousness is mistaken for the causation of this state.” (VI, 6)

Then we come to “The error of free will.”  Essentially, Nietzsche discusses the importance of “free will” to the Christian concept of “guilt” - a life freely willed is a life that makes guilt and punishment possible.  But Nietzsche destroys the concept of free will as a fiction, thereby there is no basis for “guilt” or for any accountability whatsoever. Instead: “We invented the concept of 'purpose': in reality purpose is lacking … One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole....But nothing exists apart from the whole!” (VI, 8)

We have touched on this before but it bears repeating, by denying the existence of a free will Nietzsche runs into a potential inconsistency in his philosophy.  How can the “free spirit” or the “ubermensch” aspire to “higher culture” with no will of their own?  Nowhere does Nietzsche seem to consider the problematic nature of his position and perhaps he did not view it as an issue at all.

After Nietzsche's hammer smashes traditional morality in section VII by declaring “there are no moral facts whatever”, he proceeds to critique German culture as a problem of higher education.  The key to the future, for Germany and otherwise, is to be educated in how to properly think, that is, to develop a kind of plasticity of mind.  “Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill which the possession of intellectual light feet communicates to the muscles! … For dancing in any form cannot be divorced from a noble education, being able to dance with the feet, with concepts, with words: do I still have to say that one has to be able to dance with the pen - that writing has to be learned.”  (VIII, 7)

Next Twilight arrives at what I consider to be the core of the work, section IX “Expeditions of an Untimely Man”, the longest section of the work.  The title alone suggests that, as throughout his body of work, Nietzsche views himself as ahead of his time; of communicating concepts that are beyond modernity to whatever comes next.  Nietzsche is an explorer into realms of reality that lie beyond the well-worn cultural paths of traditional religion, philosophy, and psychology.  A higher person keeps their eye on the higher overall goal for society as a whole.  This person is inherently creative (in some form), the "grand style" for living emerges out of a euphoria of abundance.

“To experience from a desire to experience – that's no good.  In experiencing, one must not look back towards oneself, or every glance becomes an 'evil eye'. A born psychologist instinctively guards against seeing for the sake of seeing; the same applies to the born painter.  He never works 'from nature' – he leaves it to his instinct, his camera obscura to sift and strain 'nature', the 'case', the 'experience'....He is conscious only of the universal, the conclusion, the outcome: he knows nothing of that arbitrary abstraction from the individual case.” (IX, 7)

Towards a psychology of the artist. - For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.  Intoxication must first have heightened the excitability of the entire machine: no art results before that happens.  All kinds of intoxication, however different their origin, have the power to do this: above all, intoxication of sexual excitement, the oldest and most primitive form of intoxication....The essence of intoxication is the feeling of plenitude and increased energy.  From out of this feeling one gives to things, one compels them to take, one rapes them – one calls this procedure idealizing.  Let us get rid of a prejudice here: idealization does not consist, as is commonly believed, in a subtracting or deducting of the petty and secondary.  A tremendous expulsion of the principle features rather is the decisive thing, so that thereupon the others too disappear.” (IX, 8)

“In this condition one enriches everything out of one's own abundance: what one sees, what one desires, one sees swollen, pressing, strong, overladen with energy. The man in this condition transforms things until they mirror his power – until they are reflections of his perfection.  This compulsion to transform into the perfect is – art.” (IX, 9)

“The most powerful men have always been inspired architects; the architect has always been influenced by power.  Pride, victory over weight and gravity, the will to power, seek to render themselves visible in a building; architecture is a kind of rhetoric of power, now persuasive, even cajoling in form, now bluntly imperious.  The highest feeling of power and security finds expression in that which possesses grand style.  Power which no longer requires proving; which disdains to please; which is slow to answer; which lives oblivious of the existence of any opposition; which reposes in itself, fatalistic, a law among laws: that is what speaks of itself in the form of grand style. (IX, 11)

“Every individual may be regarded as representing the ascending or descending line of life.  When one has decided which, one has thereby established a canon for the value of his egoism.  If he represents the ascending line his value is in fact extraordinary – and for the sake of the life-collective, which with him takes a step forward, the care expended on his preservation, on the creation of optimum conditions for him, may even be extreme.  For the individual, the 'single man', as people and philosophers have hitherto understood him, is an error: he does not constitute a separate entity, an atom, a 'link in the chain', something merely inherited from the past – he constitutes the entire single line 'man' up to and including himself....If he represents the descending development, decay, chronic degeneration, sickening ( - sickness is, broadly speaking, already a phenomenon consequent upon decay, not the cause of it), then he can be accorded little value, the elementary fairness demands that he takes away as little as possible from the well-constituted.  He is not better than a parasite on them...” (IX, 33)

A criticism of decadence morality. - An 'altruistic' morality, a morality under which egoism languishes - is under all circumstances a bad sign.  This applies to individuals, it applies especially to peoples.  The best are lacking, when egoism begins to be lacking.  To choose what is harmful to oneself. To be attracted by 'disinterested' motives, almost constitutes the formula for decadence....Disintegration of the instincts! - Man is finished when he becomes altruistic. - Instead of saying simply 'I am no longer worth anything', the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent says: 'Nothing is worth anything - life is not worth anything'....Such a judgment represents, after all, a grave danger, it is contagious – on the utterly morbid soil of society it soon grows luxuriously, now in the form of religion (Christianity), now in that of philosophy (Schopenhauerism). (IX, 35) 

“Our softening of customs – this is my thesis, my innovation if you like – is a consequence of decline; stern and frightful customs can, conversely, be a consequence of a superabundance of life.  For in the latter case much may be risked, much demanded and much squandered.  What was formerly a spice of life would be poison to us....We are likewise too old, too belated, to be capable of indifference – also a form of strength: our morality of pity, against which I was the first to warn. That which one might call l'impressionisme morale, is one more expression of the physiological over-excitability pertaining to everything decadent.

“Strong ages, noble cultures, see in pity, in 'love of one's neighbor', in a lack of self and self-reliance, something contemptible.  Ages are to be assessed according to their positive forces - and by this assessment the age of the Renaissance, so prodigal and so fateful, appears as the last great age, and we, we moderns with our anxious care for ourselves and love of our neighbor, with our virtues of work, of unpretentiousness, of fair play, of scientifically – acquisitive, economical, machine-minded – appear as a weak age....Our virtues are conditioned, are demanded by our weakness....'Equality', a certain actual rendering similar of which the theory of 'equal rights' is only an expression, belongs essentially to decline: the chasm between man and man, class and class, the multiplicity of types, the will to be oneself, to stand out – that which I call pathos of distance - characterizes every strong age.” (IX, 38)

Nietzsche believes that the highest form of human freedom is to be found in the individuals who overcome the greatest personal challenges. In my opinion, he is completely correct in this regard. Seeking freedom in "liberty" and "rights" is a hollow shell upon which all manner of cultural errors occur. “One would have to seek the highest type of free man where the greatest resistance is constantly being overcome: five steps from tyranny, near the threshold of the danger of servitude.  This is true psychologically when one understands by 'tyrants' pitiless and dreadful instincts, to combat which demands the maximum of authority and discipline towards oneself – finest type Julius Ceasar...” (IX, 38)

Genuine individual and cultural strength comes from affirming and overcoming the challenges of life. “The psychology of the orgy as an overflowing feeling of life and energy within which even pain acts as a stimulus provided me with the key to the concept of the tragic feeling, which was misunderstood as much by Aristotle as it especially was by our pessimists.  Tragedy is so far from providing evidence of pessimism among the Hellenes in Schopenhauer's sense that it has to be considered the decisive repudiation of that idea and the counter-verdict to it.  Affirmation of life even in its strangest and sternest problems, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types - that is what I call Dionysian, that is what I recognized as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet.  Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion through its vehement discharge – it was thus Aristotle understood it – but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction....And with that I again return to the place from which I set out - Birth of Tragedy was my first revaluation of all values: with that I again plant myself in the soil out of which I draw all that I will and can - I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus – I, the teacher of eternal recurrence...” (X, 5)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part One

Like The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche's next work, Twilight of the Idols, was considered by its author as a “relaxation” from the revaluation project, though it is perhaps more accurate to describe Twilight as yet another (one could count Beyond Good and Evil as well) prelude to the project. He addresses many of the themes intended for the project and specifically mentions the "revaluation of all values" a few times throughout the course of the work.  Still, it was apparently not structured in a way that Nietzsche intended for the project itself.  Twilight is a "free-form" or in some sense "casual" approach to the issues involving the project rather than a work consisting of a series of critiques and ideas progressing one upon the other, as is more the case with The Antichrist.  

“It was begun, as Nietzsche reports, on August 18 and finished twenty days later on September 7.  Though it incorporates notebook material that was originally intended for his masterwork, there are no notebook sketches of this specific work, so Nietzsche's implication that it was a work of inspiration rather than prescription is partially correct.

“Originally it was to have had the rather downbeat title Idleness of a Psychologist.  But it took little effort on Koselitz's part to persuade Nietzsche that this was inadequate to the major significance of the content....So the work became Twilight of the Idols. Though this brilliant pun on Wagner's Twilight of the Gods was intended to allow the work to follow The Wagner Case in cashing in on the Wagner market – he called it a 'twin' of that work, which should be published in a format that made this clear – it is actually a somewhat misleading title since, for once, Wagner hardly appears.

“As the Preface puts it, though the subtitle is, 'How One Philosophizes with a Hammer', the hammer that 'sounds out' the idols is used as if it were a tuning fork.” (Julian Young, page 497)

“The majority of his most famous epigrams come from Twilight.  One suspects that the euphoria of release from the unrewarding slog on the masterwork produced a moment of effortless creative intensity.” (page 498)

As with several earlier works, fundamental topics of Twilight of the Idols are the nature of reality (as a foundation for revaluation), as well as the affects of "ressentiment" and "decadence" upon modern culture. Here Nietzsche is a hard realist. “...since there is no 'true' world, it makes no sense to call 'this' one a merely 'apparent' world.  There is only one world and 'this' is it.

“But what is 'this' world?  Nietzsche continues to promote scientific over commonsense realism.  It is not just the 'true world' that is a fable; 'things' are as well, a projection of our inner life.  We mistakenly think there is a thing called the 'I' which causes our actions (the Genealogy argues that this is an illusion of grammar) and then extend this schema to the outer world so that it becomes populated with a whole lot of 'I'-like things causing 'actions' to happen.  But this is mere projection.  Things in general, including material atoms, not to mention Kant's 'thing in itself', are projections.  Boscovitch's conception of a world of forces remains our best account of the nature of fundamental reality.

“But what is the character of these forces? At the time of writing Beyond Good and Evil the concept of force needed 'supplementing' by the notion of the will to power. Yet in Twilight Nietzsche is strangely reticent. There is no mention of supplementation, indeed the very phrase 'will to power' only occurs four times in the entire work, and never in conjunction with natural forces.  The suggestion arises, once again, that the grand metaphysics of reality as 'will to power and nothing else' has been abandoned, leaving us to understand forces purely in terms of their effects.” (pp. 498-499)
Nietzsche also explores human freedom in the work. While he rejects the idea of 'free will' as misguided, he nevertheless believes in a certain flavor of freedom. “'My idea of freedom', he writes, is that it is a matter of 'being responsible for oneself', maintaining one's 'distance', 'becoming indifferent to hardship', 'being prepared to sacrifice people to your cause, yourself included'.  To be free means that 'the instincts which take pleasure in war and victory have gained control over other instincts', the instinct to 'happiness', for instance, happiness, at least, as conceived by 'grocers, Christians, cows, females, Englishmen, and other democrats'.  Freedom is not a birthright.  Rather one 'becomes free' by being a 'warrior' on the internal battlefield of the soul.  The degree of freedom one possesses is measured by the degree of 'resistance one has overcome, the amount of effort it costs to stay on top'.” (page 499)

The authentic nature of human happiness is also a major theme in Twilight.  “'Formula for my happiness', he writes, 'a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal; in other words, a life-defining cause.  This point emerges in one of Twilight's most memorable aphorisms: 'If you have your why? in life you can put up with almost any how?  Man does not strive for happiness, only the Englishman does.'  The 'Englishman' here is John Stuart Mill, a  protagonist of the 'Utilitarian' principle that we should all seek to produce 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.  True happiness, is always a by-product of one's 'work', of active commitment to the 'straight line' of one's life, one's life-defining 'goal'.

“More, however, than focused commitment is required for happiness.  As Nietzsche emphasizes – over emphasizes – a socialist may be committed to the cause of the worker's revolution, yet be consumed by ressentiment against capitalist oppressors and so far be far from happy. Happiness requires the overcoming of ressentiment, of repressed hatred and lust for revenge: one must 'redeem' evils done to one in the past (for example, the Salome affair) by showing that, as Nietzsche's most famous (but not best) epigram puts it, 'What does not kill me makes me stronger'.  And it requires too the overcoming of guilt.  If you want to be happy, Twilight instructs, 'Don't be cowardly about your actions! Don't abandon them afterwards! The pang ('bite' in German) of conscience is obscene'.  As one must redeem evils done to one, so one must redeem actions done by one.  In short, the 'straight line' that defines both one's goal and one's identity must 'narrate' one's life in such a way that everything that is done to or by one finds its justification, its 'redemption', within one's life as a whole.

“Nietzsche sums all this up with a panegyric to Goethe – the human personality he admires more than any other.  A spirit like Goethe, he says, 'who has become free, stands in the middle of the world with a joyful and trusting fatalism, in the faith that only what is individual is reprehensible, that everything, is redeemed and affirmed in the whole - he does not negate any more...a faith like this is the highest of all possible faiths: I have christened it with the name Dionysus'.  This 'highest faith' is of course the faith that constitutes amor fati (love of fate), the faith that allows one to will eternal return.  Perfect happiness is the ability to will eternal return.” (pp. 500-501)

According to Young, Nietzsche goes into some detail as to what makes eternal return specifically a Dionysian concept. “...cognitive insight occurs in the Dionysian state.  In the state, one guarantees to oneself 'eternal life' by rising above 'all death and change'.  One transcends life as an individual by identifying with, identifying oneself as, 'the overall continuation of life'.  This 'being oneself the eternal joy in becoming', is the state in which one identifies with, understands, what one's 'true life' is....a great deal of Nietzsche's philosophy has been a preparation for this validation of Dionysian feeling, for validation of the idea that one's 'true' self is universal, that individual life is 'untrue'...this anatta, no-self ontology, as well as the broader rejection of 'things' in general, is a meeting point between Nietzschean and Buddhist ontology. But it is grounded in solid Western philosophizing, in the thinking of 'the philosopher, Dionysus', the thinking of all those who follow Heraclitus (in whose company Nietzsche feels 'warmer and in better spirits than anywhere else') in rejecting being and beings as 'an empty fiction'.

“Saying 'the triumphal yes to life' even in the face of its most terrible aspects is, of course, willing the eternal return.  So, to return to our original question, in calling 'Goethe's faith', willing the eternal return, 'Dionysian', Nietzsche's point is that it can only be achieved through transcendence of the ego, identification with the totality of existence.” (page 503)

Of course, throughout Twilight Nietzsche continues to frame a favorite topic of his (expressed more fully in his next work The Antichrist), namely the psychological harm Christianity does to Western civilization.  “Christian indoctrination directs one to become, like Christ, free of 'negative' drives such as aggression and (especially) sexual lust.  To the extent one has such drives (even if one's adultery is only 'in the heart'), one s supposed to feel bad. The ultimate aim is their 'castration', becoming unable ever to experience them again.  'Castration' is the preferred technique of the weak-willed in general.  Trappists have so little faith in their ability to be corrupted by worldly things that they have to leave the worldly world entirely.  The disastrous, incredibly wasteful, mistake underlying 'castration', however, is its failure ever to ask how the passions might be 'spiritualized, beautified, deified':

“'The spiritualization of sensuality is called love.  It is a great triumph over Christianity.  Another triumph is our spiritualization of hostility.  It consists in a deep appreciation of the value of having enemies: in brief, one comes to act in the opposite way to the way one used to act.' (TI V 3)

“One values one's enemies, Nietzsche continues, because one only discovers one's identity when faced with opposition.  This is as true of individuals as of political parties.

“Spiritualization, sublimation, is a matter of providing a drive with a new, spiritual expression in place of its old, crudely physical one, so that it becomes no longer harmful. Notice, however, an element in Nietzsche's conception of sublimation not previously made fully explicit: sublimation does not merely vent the dangerous drive (so that it becomes something merely neutral, as when aggression is vented on a football field) but rather transforms it into something that is the 'opposite' of what it used to be, something positively beneficial.  Thus – this presumably is what Nietzsche's cryptic remark means – the setting of the sex-drive in the context of love transforms the 'other' from a sex object to be used into a person to be respected and cared for.  And the spiritualization of hostility becomes a kind of competitive friendship.” (page 504)

“Spiritualization is the response then, to the charge that Nietzsche offers nothing to deal with the harmful effects of human drives and passions.  At the center of 'all religions and moralities', says Nietzsche, is the idea that virtue is the path to happiness: 'do this, don't do that – and then you'll be happy!  Otherwise...'.  We, however, he continues, say exactly the opposite: '...a well-formed person, a 'happy one', has to perform certain acts and will instinctively avoid others.  In a word: his virtue is the effect of his happiness.'

“Nietzsche emphasizes the importance of this insight by calling it the first example of his 'revaluation of all values', meaning, presumably, that the first injunction of his new morality is: Become a 'happy', 'well-formed', (his favorite terminology) 'healthy' person!

“The 'selfishness' of fully healthy people has, says Nietzsche, 'extraordinary value' since 'the whole of life advances through them'.  Healthy, happy people benefit us all.  Who are they?  The answer to this question we know already: they are people like Goethe and Mirabeau who, the Genealogy observes, being free form the 'worm' of ressentiment, exhibit true love of their neighbors. The people who benefit us all are those who are never motivated by guilt, fear, hatred, or ressentiment, people who, 'trusting' that even the most repellent things and persons contribute to some greater good, display an extraordinary and universal benevolence towards the world that 'negates' nothing.  The more like Goethe we become, the greater the value of our (unselfish) selfishness.” (page 505)

Nietzsche remains highly skeptical and critical of German society in Twilight.  He felt that the imperial aspirations of Bismarck and the Reich traded the potential of an elevated culture for the all-too-human crudeness of power politics. “As always, a major focus of Nietzsche's critique of the current German scene is higher education....he observes that whereas the true goal of the university is to create fine human beings, those of both outstanding intellect and character, the university of the Reich has become a factory for turning men into machines, machines designed for civil service.

“A final strand in Nietzsche's critique of modern Germany, and by implication Western modernity in general, a critique of what he takes to be a developing trend, is his rejection of 'liberal institutions' – by 'liberal' he seems to mean institutions governed by the idea of 'equal rights for all', which makes this critique part of the ongoing critique of 'equal rights'.  'Liberal institutions' would thus seem to include women's emancipation, universal education, parliamentary democracy, social welfare, trade unions, and the like.

“...Nietzsche's theory of communal health: along with the occasional 'random mutation', a thriving community requires a powerful 'will to tradition', a tough, authoritarian conservatism that makes departure from tradition difficult. This is where 'liberal institutions' fail.  Take marriage.  It used to be 'indissoluble for life' with sole 'juridical authority' invested in the husband, a clarity in the chain of command which gave it a 'center of balance'.  Now, however, it is based on love, a notoriously fickle foundation on which to base anything at all.  And with 'equal rights' for women its former clarity of purpose is gone.  Instead of walking, modern marriage 'limps along on both legs'.  It is, consequently, disappearing social degeneration (the decay of 'family values', a similar spirit would say today) is the effect.” (pp. 507-508)

“Evidently, Twilight's better society will be one of illiberal institutions.  It will be a society that, while supporting elitist educational institutions that nurture the exceptional types who carry the seeds of its future development, will at the same time make it difficult for them to carry out their task.  It will be, moreover, a society of firmly maintained hierarchy.  Take the question of the workers.  What the modern machine economy demands is, effectively, industrial slaves. But at the same time, wishy-washy liberalism insists on providing them with education, the right to vote and the right to unionize.  The result is that they develop the desire to become themselves the masters. And the consequent of that is social strife and misery. 'If you want slaves', Nietzsche concludes, 'it is stupid to train them to become masters.'

“What any society needs, he continues, is a stratum of 'modest and self-sufficient types, Chinese types'....the basic shape of society needs to be the 'pyramid' of Plato's Republic with a stratum of workers forming the 'broad base'.  Within that basic shape, however, there will be many fine-grained distinctions.  Since 'reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types' it is stupid to say, as 'moralists' do, that 'man ought to be thus and thus!' to 'paint a picture on the wall and say ecce homo'.  Whatever morality the new society possesses, it will have differential rights and duties for different kinds of people.  Though hierarchical, it will be the opposite of homogeneous.” (page 508)

“'Every healthy morality', Nietzsche asserts, every 'natural' morality, serves 'some rule of life'.  It is, we know, 'the voice of a people's will to power', its will to live and thrive. And so too, we have just seen, is its art.  There is thus a coincidence between healthy art and healthy morality: the 'valuations' that are validated by a community's art are the valuations of its morality.  This takes us back to the task assigned to art in Human, All-Too-Human of 'imaginatively developing' shining images of the 'great and beautiful soul', back to the 'monumental' figures of the second Untimely Meditation and, ultimately, back to Wagner and The Birth of Tragedy's assertion that, 'art and people, myth and morality' are 'necessarily and closely intertwined' in a healthy community.  On the connection between art and society nothing has changed.” (page 509)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“New Departures and High Mountains”

Note:  I find certain books in my Nietzsche collection of distinguished merit.  I have already mentioned Beyond Selflessness as an outstanding example of Nietzsche scholarship.  Another is Nietzsche in Turin by Lesley Chamberland.  I plan to review this work (and several others) when the philosophic-biography portion of this blog is completed.  In this post I quote extensively and exclusively from Chapter 6 of Chamberland's excellent work.  It is the best overall intimate summary of Nietzsche I have found regarding his life and work in 1888.  It fits perfectly between The Case of Wagner and Twilight of the Idols.

The Wagner Case, 'funny but at base almost too serious', had pressed upon him, but by the end of May Nietzsche was ready to resume his main task: to draw a line under the past, sum up his achievements, and consummate their message with a new work or works 'transvaluing all values'. To Resa von Schirnhofer he asked without further elucidation: 'Do you understand the trope?'  Perhaps they had talked over these long-standing ideas of his in Nice.  To Brandes, having already explained he was making a mission out of his disbelief in culture, and 'circling round this paramount problem of values, very much from above and in the manner of a bird, and with the best intention of looking down upon the modern world with as unmodern an eye as possible', he preferred to elaborate.

“'My problem this time is a curious one: I have asked myself what hitherto has been hated, feared, despised by mankind – and of that and nothing else I have made my gold...'

“He sought 'values' he believed would be more helpful to humanity than the Christian teaching concerning universal afflictions, loneliness, and suffering, which were so much his own. But 'values' is a difficult word to use when Nietzsche regarded them all as relative. It is better to say he scanned the psychological horizon for a vantage point, and point of stability, 'beyond'.  A man enlightened by seeing life from above, 'from beyond good and evil', could one day redescend to a full and excellent existence. Zarathustra showed the way.  But again enlightened, aufgeklart is a word in the wrong tradition.  Verklart the experience of Schoenberg's Verlart Nacht, 'Transfigured Night', seems closer to Nietzsche's transvalued world.

“The fullness and excellence of a transfigured existence was the goal of Nietzsche's art of life.  It was his only positive teaching that individual strength emanated from self-knowledge and self-management. He spoke of Herrenmoral and meant 'self-mastery morality'.  It mattered how a man ate, how he lived, how he organized his day.  It mattered for the sake not of his image but his soul. Between Nietzsche's view of the artistically shaped life and the popular notion of lifestyle today a qualitative gulf seems to yawn.  On the other hand Nietzsche at least maintained that 'image' was the only reality there was, and he might be called a lifestyle guru today.

“Zarathustra's favorite metaphor is of inner life overflowing its confines like honey from a jar.  There is poise, there is invigoration, happiness, sexual fulfillment, intoxication, sadness, pious love, hurt silences and deep quiet in Nietzsche's writing, and many other emtions and sensations besides.” (pp. 87-88)

“Thus originated the transvaluation task.  Its beginnings in a critique of self-inflicted human pain explain the title of the next book he would write in 1888, Twilight of the Idols. The 'idols' were concepts hitherto cherished by humanity, such as love and benevolence, selfishness and truth, which Nietzsche would now show had long since been turned into weapons against the full development of humane individuals.

“Destroying the idols, which would become Freud's totems, was the work of the psychologist in Nietzsche. The first Existentialist we might also call him.  The psychologist's role – to change the metaphor to another of Nietzsche's favorites from the classical world – was to point the ways out of labyrinth for souls who had lost faith I received moral guidance.  It was the same job of emotional reinforcement Dionysus had been doing in all of Nietzsche's work since The Birth of Tragedy, supplying an alternative to Christian faith and Schopenhauerian pessimism without resort to a too simple materialism.” (page 90)

“The most complete statement of his philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil, had been published two years now and still he had only a handful of readers worldwide and so few people understood.  Twilight of the Idols was yet another attempt to explain his whole outlook in one short excursion, and only after it could he sit down to The Antichristian. This post-Christian send-off for readers still actively seeking the meaning of life he designated the first 'transvaluation' volume. Into it he would put all his sympathy for human pain and all his hatred of the Christian church for exploiting that pain as a means of 'herd' control – the opposite of 'self-mastery morality'.  Twilight would form, as Nietzsche's books so often did, one to another, once again a kind of prelude, an introduction.  A magnificent recapitulation of the Dionysian, sweeping across the millennia from Aristotle on tragedy to what would become Freud on Eros and Thanatos, the life urge and the death wish, ends Twilight. Nowhere better does Nietzsche set out the finally modulated psychology of inner plenitude, that keen sense of joy he had despite a wretched life.” (page 91)

“Before we can watch Nietzsche resume work as a poet and philosopher, German writer, psychologist and artist, we have to get him up into the Swiss Alps from Turin for the summer.  He left on 6 June and was still complaining about the dislocation in mid-July.  Only this time, after the personal trauma of the journey, the reasons for his misery were shared by all the early season visitors to the Upper Engadine village of Sils Maria.  The weather played such cruel tricks that some guests went home, not seeing, as Nietzsche observed, why they should pay to freeze in the snow-enveloped hotel in July when they could be more comfortable at home in Hamburg.  He took another moment of unwonted worldliness to wonder how the hotels would survive the loss of income, before allowing his own problems once again to close in.  Until the weather improved he would go through a debilitating period of depressed introspection, to which he gently attached the label melancholy.  No work would be done until August.” (page 92) 

“He had been coming to Sils and round about for more than eight years, and there had written parts of The Science of Joy, Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Genealogy of Morals.  So he set off in a good heart, with a new suitcase and some lean continental sausage...supplied by his mother to provide for his evening meals.  Grocery supplies in Sils were very limited, he knew from experience, and to eat in the hotel twice a day was beyond his meager budget.  The correspondence with his mother over the next month would be dominated by the need for more sausage from Naumburg, of a higher quality than the first batch which was too dry and the second which was too salty.  He also requested and received a tablecloth so that he might eat his solitary suppers in an orderly and pleasing fashion, and some Zwieback (French toast) for his breakfast, equally impossible to buy in Sils.” (page 93)

“...the problem in 1888 was that sickly Nietzsche was quite the opposite of his own ideal.  In 1888 he only sat post-chaise, queasy, locked into himself, and thinking.  The landscape passed him by.  In Sils moreover he began a bout of migraine.

“But at least he could collapse into familiar lodgings. An austere wood-pannelled upstairs room with a small window facing south, furnished with a bed, a table and washstand, he had made his own for several years now.  He rented it from the Durisch family and left 'a basket of books' each year for his return....Nietzsche often shivered in that room and several times resolved to find another warmer one, but for such troublesome things as moving he didn't have the will.” (page 94)

“Weather, because of its apparent bearing on his health, was another of his obsessions, and made even devoted Koselitz sigh.  Yet when the atmosphere lifted Sils was once again Nietzsche's perla perlissma, 'with a definite Latin quality' and 'a wealth of colors, in which it is a hundred times more southerly than Turin.'  The colors were in June the brilliant deep pink of the alpine rose and intense blue hues of gentian.  He put on the new horsehair hat bought for the purpose in Turin and walked out to inspect the damage of recent avalanches.” (page 95)

“He would have walked anywhere, though he did love Sils. He had a childlike joy in motion and that same vitality was reflected in his hardy pleasure in cold water, a quality he passed on to his 'son' Zarathustra. Nietzsche plunged into pools when others found them icily forbidding, and sluiced himself from a cold jug every morning.  Such a constitution gave him a natural kinship with Epicurus, which is to say his highly reactive body prompted him to enjoy the world, not reject it, and to admire in all ages thoughtful connoisseurs of happiness.  His physical vitality, despite his sickness, was one of his chief instinctive weapons against Christianity.” (page 96)

“High mountain metaphors, especially in Zarathustra, show Nietzsche straining after energy, grandeur, and resourcefulness, which, palpable in the material world, would also express human spiritual strengths and give inspiration for the Ubermensch, a creature undoubtedly born of the view from 'higher up' rather than the idea of dominating his fellow men.  As if to reinforce the connection between posterity between his human ideal and his ideal landscape, Nietzsche said of Sils: 'I know nothing so suited to my nature as this piece of Over-Earth [Ober-Erde].'” (pp.97-98)

“The Ubermensch was the one who could get, as far as is possible for a human being, 'beyond' the world which his humanity obliged him to contemplate. Whether Nietzsche's message is metaphysical here, suggesting some possibility of conscious transcendence, is very difficult to determine.  It was less a two-tier value system he sought to compensate for the apparent limitations of human existence, rather a better way of seeing that that existence was indeed limited.  The high vantage point gave him not a sense of the world below being inferior to some higher realm, but a sense of the sheer relativity of judgments. The paradox was that the realization of limitation was liberating.” (page 99) 

Zarathustra was a hilltop survey of the resentful spirit and the impoverished spirituality of the modern world, with its unthinking mass movements, its vengeful class antagonisms, its insensitivity to nature and poetry, its hidden and institutionalized brutalities, insipidness, false righteousness and cultural feebleness,  Nietzsche's other books exuded the spirit of the mountains too, whenever they were saying a Yes to the Over-Life, and a No to the subordinate, enslaved one.” (page 100)

“To demolish religion and philosophy as if they were rickety old buildings, he swung a lump of iron through the air, knocking through the venerated outer walls and exposing the insides as empty.  In Twilight under the heading 'What I owe to the Ancients', Nietzsche seemed to see his own explosiveness even emerging from within the Greek midst, that is, from wherever reason was breaking down:

“'I saw their strongest instinct, the will to power, I saw them trembling at the intractable force of this drive, I saw all their institutions evolve out of protective measures designed for mutual security against the explosive material within them...The Socratic virtues were preached because the Greeks had lost them...'

“I cannot doubt, given the fascination most of us feel watching buildings crumble, that Nietzsche found his huge philosophical project exciting.” (page 102)

“So far the demolition of reason.  As a self-proclaimed immoralist Nietzsche hammered away at moral philosophy too, abjuring selflessness and compassion and a fixed notion of the good.  Here too there is a kind of brutal toughness at work which repels, while a sensitive spirit sets out a cogent case behind the combative facade.  Nietzsche's famous rejection of pity (Mitleid), for instance, demonstrates how pity diminishes the integrity of the other.  If I flood another person with pity I may dull his or her ability to find strength from within, for pity is a crippling kind of sympathy which confirms misfortune and woe, expressing the idea: 'Yes, hasn't life treated you badly, you deserve to feel sorry for yourself.'” (page 103)

“There is no pity on the world of Dionysus.  Dionysian life positively celebrates human capacity by looking absurd existence in the eye.  In all this it is difficult not to side with Nietzsche.  To reject pity is not unloving, rather the contrary: it is the only way to treat the other as an equal and whole person.

“Moreover, I bring myself in here as the lingering friend because at last with the transvaluation of pity we come very close to Nietzsche as a philosopher and man.  Menacing was not only the self-pity which obviously threatened him as he lay vomiting in strange, dark rooms about Europe, without friends and without success, but also the legacy from his Pietist childhood.  We only have to remember that morally stuffy German front room in which he grew up, a devout lad at the mercy of a disappointed mother, two unmarried aunts and a grandmother, tofeel with him the desire to open all the windows and eventually blow up the vicarage....Franziska Oehler-Nietzsche's son, until he came to his independent adult senses, was pious and obedient to the  on this point of ridicule.  But, lord, how the then burst out, released by Wagner and by philosophy!  That was the explosion, the dynamite in his own life and having experienced it he knew what kind of good he wanted to bring to humanity.

“It was good.  Nietzsche's detractors overreact to the mere idea of a person not feeling pity as being somehow monstrous,  Nietzsche's new moral alchemy was more subtle, converting pity into a value which might be called 'the integrity of the personality'.  In the 'flatland' Nietzsche confronts us with social problems as fresh today as they seemed to him over a hundred years ago.” (page 104)

“'Man is something that must be overcome' was Zarathustra's teaching.  Nietzsche's position was founded on such compassion for the suffering human race, such a strong vision of misery human beings faced, that he required them to be strong in themselves.

“We have moved on heedlessly since his day.  An over-abundant or perhaps misplaced sympathy: is it not on this that the prevalent cure-all belief in social psychotherapy is founded?  Psychotherapy as an attitude of life encourages many people to assume that forces outside their doing are to blame for the disturbances within.  Does it thereby create strong, responsible individuals?
Psychotherapy has become incorporated into the Welfare State.  How Nietzsche, with his sensitivity to language, would have balked even at the name, which might be translated back into German as der Mitleidsstaat, and given a Nietzschean reading as the state which killed God.  He retaliated eloquently in advance, in Twilight, only flipping over into excess with a manic statement open to gross misinterpretation out of context: 'The sick man is the parasite of society.'

“Arrogance is built into Nietzsche's mission and his style....What comes over from a reading of Nietzsche's works of demolition is therefore actually a great love for philosophy and a fine sense of irony.  He took the whip to cant and its purveyors, but only like Christ to the erring children of God.  Nietzsche's position was a radical modesty, quite new to a philosophical tradition dominated by the self-centered 'I think therefore I am' and 'therefore the world is'.  'What do I matter!' stands over the door of Nietzsche's thinker of the future in Daybreak.  Nietzsche's radical modesty meant philosophy would never be the same again.  It could barely trust its own words.

“In Sils, having settled down, he would work on Twilight towards the end of July, pointing out the error of assuming there even existed a determining 'I', supported by something called the individual will, which then caused events to happen in the world.  The so-called inner life was murkier or perhaps simply empty:

“'The “inner world” is full of phantoms and false lights; the will is one of them.  The will no longer moves anything, consequently no longer explains anything – it merely accompanies events, it can also be absent […] And as for the ego!  It has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words: its has totally ceased to think, to feel and to will!...What follows from this? There are no spiritual causes at all.'

“'Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word.' he had written in Beyond Good and Evil.  Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of readers who have appropriated 'will to power' as the exercise of blunt, brute force.” (pp. 106-107)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wrestling with a Demon

We have already covered Nietzsche's close association with Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima here and here, among other places earlier in Nietzsche's life. In the final months of his sanity, Nietzsche veered off course from his Revaluation of All Values project. Cultural “strength” and the threat of “decadence” were two overarching themes which he revisited (as he would in more detail in his next work, Twilight of the Idols). It was from this perspective that he became obsessed with Wagner again or, perhaps more accurately, he chose to write about an old but constant intimacy. He had never fully dealt with his indisputable adoration (as a young professor) of the composer, nor with the falling out between the two that culminated around 1878. He devoted two short works to the subject of Wagner and his music in 1888. 

The first published piece was The Wagner Case or The Case of Wagner, in May 1888. It is a tedious attempt to demonstrate the limitations and inadequacies of Wagner as an artist. Later, Nietzsche contra Wagner (completed on Christmas Day 1888) featured excerpts from previous writings, in order to prove that the first work was part of a process of thought - not some spontaneous ravings of a disgruntled former disciple who now referred to Wagner as “one of my sicknesses.” For Nietzsche, Wagner became the epitome of cultural decadence. 

Julian Young writes: “Towards the end of the Turin spring, Nietzsche decided to take time out from work on the 'masterwork' to write The Wagner Case. Why he did this is unclear. On the one hand, he describes it as 'recreation', on another as (yet another) 'declaration of war' on Richard Wagner....The truth, I think, is that relative to the – as Nietzsche was finding – increasingly difficult task of making the Will to Power the masterpiece he wanted it to be, descent to the level of polemics was a relaxation, a release of intellectual tension. 

“War with Wagner, and all he stood for – German chauvinism, anti-Semitism, decadence in art – was, then, one motive for the work. But another, pretty clearly, was the desire to be noticed. In the 1880's Wagner remained a 'hot' cultural topic. The German Emperor (Friedrich) had declared the Wagner movement a matter of national importance. Moreover, the last of Nietzsche's works to be widely read was his Wagner at Bayreuth - a work in which he appeared as a protagonist for Wagner. Why not, then, re-enter the fray, but this time on the other side? Anything to do with Wagner, one way or the other, could be guaranteed to sell.” (Page 492) 

The Wagner Case is a relatively slight work. To someone familiar with his earlier works from Human, All Too Human onwards, most of the Wagner-critique is familiar, even tiresomely so: Wagner is the purveyor of cheap feelings of transcendence-to-bliss that offer his world-and-work-weary audience a vague substitute for the no-longer-believable 'redemption' of Christianity. (In 1888, of course, hardly anyone was familiar with those earlier works, so readers then would have found nothing tiresome in the critique.)” (page 493) 

“Wagner is an interesting case-study, Nietzsche holds, because the 'decadence' of his art sums up – and its overwhelming success proves – the 'decadence' of modernity in general....Nietzsche defines decadence as a 'neurosis' in which the 'exhausted are attracted by what is harmful to life.” (page 493) 

“Nietzsche says [Wagner] is infected by the 'decline in the power to organize' characteristic of all aspects of modern life. The result is that his works are structureless – the principle of 'infinite melody' is merely an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. In reality Wagner is nothing more than a gifted 'miniaturist'....The 'democratization' of Western modernity has reduced it to an 'anarchy of atoms'. And since it lacks the disciplined unity of a shared morality (a 'game-plan' as I called it) that is necessary to survive in a competitive world, it suffers from 'declining life', and is moving inexorably towards collapse and death.” (pp. 494 – 495) 

“The second passage in which The Wagner Case offers something more than the routine case against Wagner is section 4, which offers 'the story of the Ring'. An analysis of the genesis and nature of his Ring cycle....Like all Wagner's operas, Nietzsche observes, the four operas of the cycle add up to a 'story of redemption'....Wagner's 'ship' struck the 'reef' of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Under Schopenhauer's spell, Wagner realized with shame that what he had done was to 'translate optimism into music'. Redemption in the Ring is thus transformed from socialist utopianism into death and nothingness – which is what makes a work of decadence par excellence.” (page 495) 

“A notable deficiency in The Wagner Case is the absence of any suggestion of any discussion, any mention, even, of The Mastersingers, Wagner's most obviously life-affirming, un-transcendentalist, celebration of a community and art flexible enough to accept novelty while preserving tradition. Even if the Ring ends up being decadent, it would be most implausible to apply that epithet to The Mastersingers. This, one suspects, is precisely why Nietzsche pretends it does not exist: its admission would destroy the simplicity of the polemical flow. 

"A further weakness in the work is the absurdity of calling Wagner a musical 'miniaturist', incapable of large-scale organization. It is true that his music is not unified by the logic of Mozart and Haydn. But...Wagner was in the business, not of following the old, but of inventing a new musical logic. Nietzsche's denying him the right to do so merely reveals, once again, his pwn innate musical conservatism. The person who really was a miniaturist was Nietzsche himself.” (page 496) 

R. J. Hollingdale echoes Young in seeing the theme of “decadence” in the heart of The Wagner Case. (page 209) “The discussion of this polemic has usually neglected to distinguish between the personal motives for Nietzsche's attack on Wagner and the substance of that attack – or even more often has ignored the substance altogether....The similarity in method between The Wagner Case and the Untimely Meditation on David Strauss has not been sufficiently noted, nor that the ungentlemanly treatment accorded Wagner is the same kind of treatment accorded Strauss, with whom Nietzsche was not personally involved: on the contrary it was assumed from the first that The Wagner Case owed its existence solely to its author's inability to forgive Wagner for once having enslaved him. Those of his friends who were still Wagnerians were offended on Wagner's behalf at the disrespectful tone of the work: 'I have given my nearest and dearest a dreadful shock,' Nietzsche wrote Brandes on the 20th October. 

“That Wagner had been dead five years – he died in February 1883 – seemed to aggravate the offense, and it was to meet the charge of apostasy against the dead Master that Nietzsche prepared Nietzsche contra Wagner, which consists of passages drawn from each of his books from Human, All Too Human to Genealogy designed to show that his opinions on Wagner had not changed since 1878, five years before Wagner's death. 

“It seems to me of some importance, then, to try to establish what The Wagner Case is about. It is, of course, an attack on Wagner, and an attack from several sides. In 1888...Wagner was in the process of deification not simply as a great composer, or even as the creator of Bayreuth, but as a man....Nietzsche knew, of course, that Wagner was no saint...Wagner also stood in high esteem as a thinker. He himself brought out his own 'collected works'...Nietzsche's protest of Wagner's 'literature' is another aspect of The Wagner Case with which no one today can have ground to quarrel. 

“A third object of attack is Wagner's ambiguity: his insistence that his music was more than just music, that is contained unspeakable depths of meaning; his obfuscation where his own work was concerned. Nietzsche contrasts the world of Wagnerian music-drama with that of Carmen and says he prefers the latter. The antithesis is so extreme that its polemic intent is obvious, Nietzsche's genuine admiration for Bizet notwithstanding: Wagner is of course a much 'greater' composer than Bizet – a fact Nietzsche never thinks of denying – but his god is Wotan, 'the god of bad weather', and with all his power and genius he cannot achieve what Bizet achieves easily: 'la gaya scienza' light-footedness; wit, fire, grace;...the shimmering light of the South; a smooth sea – perfection'. 

“Fourthly, there is Nietzsche's assertion that Wagner was an actor, and that he represented the 'arrival of the actor in the music world'. The claim is debatable but not outrageous or absurd; it is, on the contrary. One with which many would agree. 

“The gravamen of Nietzsche's polemic is, however, none of these charges; it is that Wagner is 'decadent'. There is no ambiguity about what he meant by 'decadent' in this case: he meant that Wagner was part of the artistic decadence of the latter half of the nineteenth century.” (pp. 209 – 211) 

“Wagner, the 'artist of decadence', became conscious of himself through the 'philosopher of decadence', Schopenhauer, and thenceforth followed the path he had previously followed blindly. 

“Nietzsche attempts to relate all the prominent characteristics of Wagner's nature and art to this basic thesis that he was neurotic: so, for example, he asserts that 'the musician now become the actor' and that 'this total transformation of art into a decided symptom of degeneration (more precisely, a form of hysteria)'. The title of the work, too, it should be noticed, refers specifically to this thesis: Wagner is a 'case'.” (page 212) 

“The virulence of The Wagner Case is, as I have noted, similar to that of the polemic against Strauss, and in both works Nietzsche is criticizing, by means of prominent figure, the Germany of his day: the difference between them is that in the case of Wagner there is a background of personal association. 

“In his last year of sanity his opposition to Wagner's world-outlook changed into antipathy towards the man himself, in the same way as the critical attitude he had adopted towards the Reich from its foundation changed into detestation of the German people as such. The cause was similar in both cases: in the later it was the failure of his countrymen to show the slightest appreciation of him or his work, in the former the humiliating sight of Wagner's increasing fame and popularity.” (page 213) 

“More than all this, Wagner's persistent association of eroticism with death was a predilection the 'decadents' knew how to appreciate: although on the deepest level a symbol for perfect sexual union, it appealed in a more literal way to a generation of writers who saw in it an expression of their own profound nihilism. 'Have you noticed,' Nietzsche asks, 'that the Wagnerian heroines have no children? - They cannot have them...Siegfried “emancipates women” - but without hope of prosperity'. This remark is not as irrelevant as it may seem....Wagner's heroines do not live for love, they die for it; and their 'redemption' is be found only in annihilation.” (pp. 214 – 215) 

Der Fall Wagner is a protest in advance at the course art was to take during the closing decade of the century; and it should be clear why Nietzsche did not draw back from the 'tastelessness' of making it: the decadence of which he accused Wagner was the most influential expression then current of the nihilistic tendency of contemporary Europe and of the Reich in particular, which he saw as the gravest danger this civilization had ever faced.” (page 216) 

Rudiger Safranski inquires: “What is decadence? For Nietzsche, it is a major cultural force, like the Dionysian and Apollonian, shaping not only the artist sphere but all areas of life. Decadence can be summed up as the attempt to draw subtle pleasures from the phantom pain of a vanished God. 'Everything that has ever grown on the soil of impoverished life, all the counterfeiting of transcendence and of the beyond, has it most sublime advocate in Wagner's art''.” (page 309) 

“Decadence is more the pleasure in pleasure than pleasure itself, and more suffering in suffering than actual suffering. Decadence is religion and metaphysics that blink.” (page 310) 

Nietzsche contra Wagner is a carefully selected collection of critical material directed at Wagner in Nietzsche's previous works. There is nothing new in it. Walter Kaufmann explains: “The book was designed to show that The Case of Wagner had not been inspired by sudden malice, and that Nietzsche had taken similar stands. Nietzsche sometimes wrote in relative haste, though the difference between the books he prepared for publication and the notes others published after his death remains considerable. Nietzsche contra Wagner is perhaps his most beautiful book, and those seeking commentary to The Case of Wagner would surely have been referred to the later, still briefer book, had they asked the author.” (page 151) 

It is worth noting that the subtitle for Nietzsche contra Wagner is “Out of the Files of a Psychologist.” This is important as it reveals that Nietzsche saw himself as much as a psychologist as a philosopher. Indeed he may not have made much distinction between the two academic disciplines with regard to his work. He had claimed to make psychological insights at least as far back as Beyond Good and Evil. The only portion of the short work not taken (and reworked, mostly shortened) from Nietzsche's previous books is the introduction, dated “Turin, Christmas 1888.” 

Here Nietzsche states his intention to prove that he and Wagner are “antipodes.” He also takes the opportunity to vent: “...this is an essay for psychologists, but not for Germans. I have readers everywhere, in Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Copenhagen and Stockholm. In Paris, in New York – I do not have them in Europe's shallows, Germany.” Of course, the truth was that, although he was becoming better known, he still had few readers anywhere and most of those who knew him best from Germany had fallen out with him (for various reasons) long ago. So, this was Nietzsche's “all too human” whining and despair for Europe's disregard for him – reflecting his lonely state of mind just before insanity gripped him. 

Wagner remained a heavy weight upon Nietzsche, given the amount of energy and focus (will power) he devoted to the subject as he began his great revaluation of all values project, and given the fact that Nietzsche was still so obviously enamored with Wagner (his was thrilled by the overture of Parsifal in 1887, as previously mentioned) while being simultaneously repulsed by what Wagner had become in the end. A decadence of art and culture. 

A sample of Nietzsche's ramblings in The Case of Wagner should suffice before we move on. “Wagner increases exhaustion: that is why he attracts the weak and exhausted. Oh, that rattlesnake-happiness of the old master when he always saw precisely 'the little children' coming to him! “I place this perspective at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage – all of them problems of hysterics – the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required ever stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choice of his heroes and heroines – consider them as psychological types (a pathological gallery!) - all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner is a neurosis. 

“Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves – and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are the weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success - his success with nerves and consequently women – has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever too. - Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.” (from Aphorism 5, The Case of Wagner) 

Finally, the significance of Wagner as a symbol of the wider problem of decadence in the arts and society is best exemplified in this quote: “When in this essay I declare war upon Wagner – and incidentally upon a German 'taste' – when I use harsh words against the cretinism of Bayreuth, the last thing I want to do is start a celebration for any other musicians. Other musicians don't count compared with Wagner. Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep. If Wagner nevertheless gives his name to the ruin of music, as Bernini did to the ruin of sculpture, he is certainly not its cause. He merely accelerated its tempo – to be sure, in such a manner that one stands horrified toward this almost sudden downward motion, abyss-ward. He had the naivete of decadence: this was his superiority. He believed in it, he did not stop before any of the logical implications implications of decadence. The others hesitate - that is what differentiates them. Nothing else.” (from the Second Postscript)