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 na├»ve 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)

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