Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In Honor of Schopenhauer

After the initial slow response to The Birth of Tragedy, Fritz was pleased overall with the more immediate reaction to his lectures on education and his first two essays. The polemic on Strauss had garnered much criticism, which - increasingly - came to validate to him his critique of the "pseudo-culture" of contemporary Germany. He humorously labeled his critics "ink-slingers" and "ignoramuses." (Cate, page 182)

He did accept certain criticisms as constructive, however. His long-time academic friend,
Erwin Rohde, wrote regarding the piece on history that he failed to develop “his arguments sufficiently, leaving the puzzled reader ‘to find the bridges between your thoughts and your sentences’. He advised his friend to read ‘the finest’ English essayists; for, notwithstanding their ‘dreadful common sense style’, they marvelously understood ‘the difficult art of logical exposition without resort to peremptory insistence’.” (Cate, page 193)

Nietzsche’s “peremptory insistence” would not leave the budding philosopher’s style as it developed. Rohde truly knew the man and his mind.

His next essay featured a slight change in tone though the cultural message was still most pronounced. He decided to produce a piece of admiration for the person who had influenced his thought more fundamentally than anyone,
Arthur Schopenhauer. The essay, entitled Schopenhauer as Educator, was not so much a tribute to Schopenhauer's actual work but to his manner of living, his manner of style toward life, which Fritz sought to adopt in his own intimate way.

Predominately, Nietzsche began, men are lazy and fearful. These two qualities dominate the “convenience and indolence” in which common culture exists. Nietzsche starts with this “peremptory insistence”. “When the great thinker despises men, it is their laziness he despises; it is laziness that makes them mass-produced, indifferent, unworthy of association and instruction. The man who does not want to belong to the mass has only to stop being lazy with himself.” (section I)

Schopenhauer assisted Nietzsche by being among “true educators and molders” who demonstrated that “your true nature does not lie hidden deep inside you but immeasurably high above you.” (I) “Read your own life and, by so doing, understand the hieroglyphs of universal life. (3)

“Every man carries within him a creative uniqueness, as the core of his being; and when he becomes aware of this uniqueness, a strange radiance surrounds him, the aura of the unusual. To most men this awareness is intolerable because, as I observed earlier, they are lazy, and because each man’s uniqueness shackles him to burdens and troubles.” (3)

Contemporary culture was in decline, Nietzsche once more insisted. “In all this secular turmoil, the educated are no longer a beacon or sanctuary; day by day they become increasingly restless, mindless, and loveless. Everything, contemporary art and scholarship included, serves the approaching barbarism. The educated has degenerated into culture’s greatest enemy by denying the general malaise with lies and thereby impeding physicians.” (4)

“At present almost everything on earth is determined by the grossest and most malignant forces, by the selfishness of financial profiteers and by military despots. The state, controlled by the later, attempts – as does the egotism of the money-makers – to reorganize everything, beginning with itself, and to become the bond and pressure linking all the opposed forces. It wants, that is, the same idolatry that men once accorded the Church.” (4)

For Nietzsche, the “heroic” task of the truth seeker inevitably involves suffering. “Schopenhauer’s Man voluntarily imposes upon himself the suffering of truthfulness, and this suffering serves to destroy his individual will and to prepare him for the total upheaval and reversal of his nature whose attainment is the real meaning of life.” (4)

Nietzsche clearly defined his conception of Schopenhauer’s Man as “to be disinterested and wonderfully serene as regards himself and his personal welfare; in intellectual pursuits, filled with a fierce, consuming fire, far removed from the cold and contemptuous neutrality of what is called ‘pure scholarship’; exalted high above sulky and peevish contemplation; always ready to sacrifice himself as the first victim of the truth he has discovered; and deeply conscious of the sufferings that must necessarily result from truthfulness.” (4)

Fritz had a very Prussian as well as European way of looking at life. Prussian passion. He went on to refer to terms he defined more clearly in the previous essay on history.

“The man who regards his life as merely a point in the evolution of a race, a state, or a field of knowledge, the man who therefore wants to belong wholly to the history of Becoming, has not mastered the lesson given him by existence and must therefore set about learning it over. This eternal Becoming is a fiction, a puppet-play, over which man forgets himself, a distraction in the true sense of the word, which disperses the individual to the four winds; the endless silly game which Time, the great baby, plays before our eyes, and with us. The heroism of truthfulness lies in our someday refusing to be Time’s toy. In Becoming, everything is hollow, false, shallow, and contemptible; the riddle which man must solve, he can only solve in Being, in being what he is and not something else, in the immutable. …The heroic man scorns his own misery or well-being, his virtues and vices; he scorns to make himself the measure of things….His strength lies in forgetting himself; when he thinks of himself, it is to measure the distance between himself and his goal, and it is as though what he saw behind and below him were a wretched pile of rubble.” (4)

“We rarely transcend our animal existence; we ourselves are the animals that seem to suffer senselessly. But there are moments when we understand this. The clouds break, and we see how we, together with all of nature, aspire toward Man as something standing high above us.” (5)

Nietzsche praised philosophy and art as critical to higher culture, and he seemed to still accept the importance of religion in culture, at least as a social force, as well. “They are those true men, those no-longer animals, the philosophers, artists, and saints. In their appearance and through their appearance, Nature, who makes no leaps, makes her only leap of joy! For the first time she feels that she has reached her goal, the point at which she intuits that she will have to unlearn her goals, and that she has staked too much on the game of life and Becoming.” (5)

But the influence of these great men is rendered negligible by national militarism and capitalism. “What the moneyed interests want when they clamor constantly for education and culture is ultimately nothing but money. I conclude therefore that conditions for the production of genius have not improved in modern times. It is, in fact, quite likely that the next millennium will produce several new ideas that might make the hair of our contemporaries stand on end. The belief that culture has a metaphysical meaning…”(6)

Nietzsche advocated the return to great thinking and the ability to transform culture, a common theme of his at this time. “So their task might be defined as preparing for the rebirth of Schopenhauer, that is, of philosophical genius….what will in every way possible oppose the rebirth of philosopher, is, in a word, the imbecility of modern human nature….such claptrap notions as ‘progress,’ ‘general education,’ ‘nationalism,’ ‘modern state,’ ‘struggle of church and state.’” (7)

Fritz quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, who he had been reading and admiring, near the end of the essay and underlines. “A new degree of culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system of human pursuits.” (8) Nietzsche shared the rather naïve but admirable Emersonian concept that rational, spiritual change could be achieved in society as a whole in order to elevate it.

Unfortunately, society had far to go in this regard. “But if this is how matters stand in our times, then the dignity of Philosophy is trampled in the dust, and she seems in fact to have become absurd or irrelevant. For this reason all her true friends are obliged to bear witness against this confusion and to prove that it is not Philosophy but her false servants and unworthy worthies who are absurd and irrelevant. Better yet, let them prove in their actions that the love of truth is mighty and terrible.” (8)

Nietzsche advocated a cultural desire for metaphysical definition and exploration. He seemed to think such a transformation of society (among the select few) was possible. If Fritz had a “faith” in 1874 it was in this (to us rather innocent) possibility.

Young summarizes this meditation this way: "It is about overcoming the 'laziness' that makes human beings seem like 'factory products...pseudo-men dominated by public opinion'. Though most of us inhabit that condition, none of us (none, at least, of Nietzsche's proper readers) is really comfortable with being a merely 'herd' type. It is, moreover, a condition we can escape: 'The man who does not wish to belong to the masses needs only to...follow his conscience, which calls to him: "Be yourself! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.' '...your nature lies, not concealed deep within you but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be.' The true self is a 'task' to be performed rather than a pressure to be released." (page 195)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Value of History

During the final three months of 1873, Fritz suffered from acute, nauseating headaches. He spent one day out of every three in bed, with the curtains drawn, unable work, teach, read by lamplight, and often unable to write at all. Yet with the assistance of friends he was able to conceive of and largely dictate a new essay which went beyond anything he had written or lectured on to date. The result was "History in the Service and Disservice of Life", a work which contained the embryonic elements of most of his future philosophical system.

He began by proclaiming the fundamental importance of studying history – but only in the context of what it can do for culture in the present. “…we need history, but not in the way the pampered dilettante in the garden of knowledge, for all his elegant contempt for our coarse and graceless needs and wants, needs it. I mean, we need history for life and action, not for the smug evasion of life and action, or even to gloss a selfish life and a base, cowardly action. Only insofar as history serves life do we wish to serve history.” (Forward)

Once again, this was all a matter of culture, yet at a deeply personal level. “…the great moments in the struggle of individuals form a chain; that in them a great mountain ridge of mankind takes shape through the millennia; that the peaks of such long-lost moments might be still alive, still luminous, still great, for me – that is the crucial idea in the belief in humanity which the demand for exemplary history expresses.” (section 2, the emphasis throughout all these quotes is Nietzsche’s. He began to underline his words for special accentuation.)

Nietzsche decreed that there were three ways of viewing history. “Monumental” history recognized the “heroic” deeds and persons of the past. “Antiquarian” history was appreciative, directed toward the revering and preserving tradition. “Critical” history served to define obsolete aspects of the past and discarding them.
Each of the three possessed their limitations. The monumental approach could obstruct the birth of present greatness. The antiquarian could stagnate life through the encouragement of living in the past. With the critical, Nietzsche’s favored approach, there was a danger of not realizing the extent to which the present is influenced by the past.

Ideally, cultures find a balance between understanding the past and using that understanding to enrich and elevate the present. “Every man, every nation, requires according to its goals, strengths, and necessities, a certain knowledge of the past, a knowledge now in the form of exemplary history, now of antiquarian history, and now of critical history. What is never needed is a crowd of pure thinkers merely observing life, or individuals hungry for knowledge who are satisfied by knowledge only, whose sole purpose is the increase of knowledge. What is always needed is history whose aim is life and which must therefore be subject to the authority and ultimate control of life.” (4)

History is clearly meant to serve the present not to simply be known and appreciated for what it was. “In order to live, man must possess the strength, and occasionally employ it, to shatter and disintegrate a past. He does this by haling the past before a tribunal, interrogating it carefully, and in the end condemning it.” (3)

Once again, Nietzsche is rather elitist about history’s usefulness to “great” persons forging a present cultural value. “Only from the highest power of the present can you interpret the past. Only by the most vigorous exertion of your noblest qualities will you sense what in the past is great and worth knowing and preserving. The past always speaks with an oracular voice. Only as master builders of the future, who understand the present, will you comprehend it.” (6)

Yet, contemporary society doesn’t measure up; it fails to appreciate history properly. “Overproud European of the nineteenth century, you are raving mad! Your knowledge does not fulfill nature; it merely kills your own nature. Assess your height as a man of knowledge by your depth as a man of action. True, you climb toward heaven on the sunlight of knowledge, but you also sink downwards towards chaos.” (9)

Also in section 9 Nietzsche makes this statement: “ ' The goal of humanity cannot lie in the end [Ende] but only in its highest specimens’. Perhaps there is no more basic statement of Nietzsche’s philosophy in all his writings than this sentence. Here is the most crucial point of his philosophy and theory of values – no less than the clue to his ‘aristocratic’ ethics and his opposition to socialism and democracy.” (Kaufmann, p. 149)

Nietzsche makes an interesting comparison between “Becoming” (which is the action of history itself) and “Being” (which is the act of living in the Now). He encourages us to direct ourselves toward Being by finding a balance between the “unhistorical” and the “supra-historical”. “By the term unhistorical I mean man’s skill and power to forget, his ability to seclude himself within a limited horizon. By supra-historical I mean those forces which direct our eyes away from Becoming and toward that which gives existence its eternal and unchanging character, toward art and religion. Scientific scholarship – for it is this that would speak of poisons – sees in these forces and powers forces antagonistic to its own since, according to it, only that view of things is true and genuine, that is, scientific, which everywhere observes the Becoming, the historical element, always ignoring the Being element of the eternal.” (10)

A proper use of history would be to cleanse culture of such confusion. “A hygiene of life has its own place at the side of science, and one of the principles of this hygiene would be that the unhistorical and the supra-historical are the natural antidotes to the suffocation of life by history, by historical sickness.” (10)

But, ultimately, the higher culture must come from the struggle toward something new, not old, not traditional. “Each of us must organize his own inward chaos by concentrating on his own true needs. At some point his sincerity, naïve strength, and honesty of character must rebel against constant imitation – against imitated speech, imitated learning, imitated behavior. It is then that he begins to grasp the fact that culture can still be something very different from adornment of life – that is, nothing but a sham and disguise, since all ornaments conceal the thing they adorn. In this way the Greek concept of culture – in contrast to the Roman – will be revealed to him, the concept of culture as a new and improved physis, unified, without the gulf between interior and exterior, without dissimulation and convention; of culture as harmony of life, thought, appearance, and will.” (10)

Hollingdale finds traces of most of Nietzsche’s mature writings in this important essay: “Yet the cardinal concepts of his mature philosophy are already present in the Meditation on history, even if they are still unrelated” the concept ‘organizing the chaos’ leads to the chapter ‘Of Self-Overcoming’ in Zarathustra, in which the will to power is first described; the idea that ‘the goal of humanity cannot lie in its end but only in its highest specimens’ leads to the Ubermensch, the man who has organized the chaos within him; the outlook of the supra-historical man leads to the eternal recurrence. He has also been brought up more sharply than before against his typical problem of the ‘true but deadly’. Darwinism is true but represents a calamity; the teaching that reality is ‘becoming’ and never is, is also true, but likewise a calamity. Neither can be denied: ultimately both will be surmounted.” (page 102)

At this point in his philosophical life, Nietzsche seems to have been concerned with the fundamentals of cultural mediocrity and decay. Having already attacked “philistine” education and “journalism” as harmful influences, with this essay he added “historical sickness” to the pathology of cultural decay. Ancient Greek culture remained his guiding light and the standard by which he made comparison.

Safranski: “Nietzsche kept returning to his central idea of how knowledge of and belief in the power of the past had worked to the detriment of vitality. He reminded us that the Greeks were exposed to the chaos of history; Semitic, Babylonian, Lydian, and Egyptian cultures and traditions made inroads into Greek traditions, and the Greek religion was a ‘veritable battle of the gods throughout the East’. All the more remarkable is the vigor with which Greek culture learned ‘to organize the chaos’ and achieve its true richness. Greek culture succeeded in forming a spacious, yet delimited, horizon. The Greeks described a circle that life could fulfill and in which it could fulfill itself.” (page 124)

Obviously, it was not Nietzsche’s intent, however, to apply the details of ancient Greece in the contemporary setting, but only to use them as a conceptual inspiration for forging a new society which (as he wrote closing the essay) “…may hasten the collapse of an entire decorative culture.” (10)

"In all its phases, Nietzsche's philosophy attaches extreme importance to the exceptional individual, refrred to, at different times, as 'the genius', 'the free spirit', 'the higher type', 'the philosopher of the future', and 'the superman'. Nietzsche says that talk of the subordination of the individual to 'the wellbeing of the whole' is oftern misunderstood: it should be subordination not to the state or to powerful individuals but to the highest individual, the 'highest exemplar'; not to the 'strongest' but to the 'best'." (Young, page 179)