Friday, December 31, 2010

The Love of (One's) Fate

Julian Young’s philosophical biography of Nietzsche gives good context for Fritz’s body of thought in 1882, ten years after publishing his first metaphysical affirmation. “The Gay Science is about everything under the sun. There is, however, a central argument which, in spite of its aphoristic formulation, is remarkably, even rigorously, systematic.” (page 326)

“Nietzsche’s first five books, the ‘Bayreuth” works, were written for the (of course literate) world at large, were contributions to the culture wars of the times. And some of them were indeed, wholly or in part, rants….By Human, All-Too-Human, he had given up writing for ‘the people’ at large, writing now, explicitly, ‘for free spirits’ alone. These remain the target audience in The Gay Science.

The Gay Science’s central argument can be divided, it seems to me, into three stages. First, it develops a general account of what it is to be a ‘thriving’ or ‘people’, a general theory of cultural ‘health’. This, theory of cultural evolution which made its first, embryonic appearance in the third of the Untimely Meditations, receives a more detailed statement in Gay Science than in any other work. Second, it uses the general theory to diagnose and display the unhealthy condition of the present age. Finally, it derives from the general theory and account of the direction in which our culture must move if it is to recover its health. This outline of a future world is then offered as the ideal whose realization is to constitute the life-defining mission of the free spirits for whom the book is written.” (page 327)

The great quest is still the elevation of human culture to higher levels. The funny thing is even though Nietzsche is in many respects isolated in his view of the world he nevertheless writes about genuine social change. In this way he was, of course, na├»ve. But, that isn’t meant to undermine the wonderful philosophy he wants to teach us, as becoming, self-creating individuals.

“The basic effect of a ‘faith’ or ‘morality’ is to turn individuals into ‘functions’ or ‘instruments’ of the community. For those who are, by nature, ‘herd-types’, this does them no harm….Free spirits may be of either ‘second’ or ‘first rank’. The former simply say ‘No” to current conventions but live lives that are otherwise without significance. The latter, Nietzsche’s true readers, are ‘the seed bearers of the future, the spiritual colonizers and shapers of new states and communities’, the Columbus-types who discovered the ‘lands’ and horizons.” (page 328)

“Nietzsche’s central insight is that both the ‘herd instinct’ and free-spiritedness are essential to a thriving community. The former binds individuals together as an adaptive unity capable of collective, in particular self-preserving, action….Modernity, then, is in a state of decay, ‘corruption’: the old faith has gone, leaving us with a chaos of second-rank free spirits each pursuing a private egotism.” (page 329) This is, perhaps, Nietzsche’s most surgically devastating insight yet, leading simultaneously, perhaps, to the source of his highest inspiration.

“…the morality of the new faith must find a new source of authority. No longer able to base itself on the ‘hard’ power of threat and reward, it must turn to ‘soft’ power – power without coercion – the power of art.” (page 331)

“That Nietzsche’s future society will contain leaders and followers of all sorts – in provocative language ‘masters’ and ‘slaves’ – is not in itself an objection to it. And he may in fact be right that a society with a ‘rank ordering’ is typically happier than one without….it needs to be remembered that his chosen readers are the creative free spirits, the potential ‘seed-bearers and colonizers of the future’. This is why he stresses the uniqueness of his readers; why he says, to repeat, that ‘we’ want to become ‘new, unique, incomparable’, i.e., embodiments of new, and potentially community-saving, life-forms.” (page 334)

“…just as art glamorizes and so empowers new life forms by ‘exciting envy and emulation’, so too will the lives of the creative free spirits. They will become ‘educators’, inspirational role models of the new culture….the self is not something we simply discover. Rather, it has to be created: not created from scratch, but created by ‘sculpting’, ‘pruning’, ‘gardening’, or ‘landscaping’ the set of drives which are things we simply discover ourselves to have.” (page 335) This is something I personally take to be a truth.

The naivety, however, of Nietzsche’s belief that a culture can be created (when, in fact, you might end up with a “cult” if you’re lucky these days) and human consciousness will ascend to this “higher” level of Being has its foundations where individuals seek to sculpt themselves (not sculpt each other) and form a community.


Dawn, as we saw, offered some advice on self-sculpting. The Gay Science elaborates on its account. The heart of what it adds is the idea of making one’s life into artwork….Particularly in bustling modernity, our lives rush from one incident to the next….To become a coherent self we need less action and more reflection: for a time, at least we need the vita contempletiva.” (page 335)

Some of the mature Nietzsche starts to solidify. Among the mature Nietzsche you will find amor fati. Young summaries the way Nietzsche worked his “embryonic” understanding of eternal recurrence. For Nietzsche, we must love living, embracing the fickle ways of life. This is the Nietzschean concept of amor fati and it is central to understanding Nietzsche's concept of eternal return.

“Since all the facts in one’s life are ‘necessary’ in the sense that, being past, they are unalterable, ideal happiness consists in loving absolutely everything that one had done and had happened to one. And what this means – since even a single ‘negation’ is a failure of amor fati – is, in a word, that one needs to be able to love the ‘eternal return’.” (page 336)

“One thing we need to learn from those pianists who (life himself) are ‘masters of improvisation’, says Nietzsche, is the ability to incorporate what in most hands would be a bad mistake into the beauty of the whole. We must, that is, have the flexibility to modulate our life-narrative in the face of new exigencies. At any point in our lives we must, that is, deploy our ‘skill in interpreting and arranging events’ – our ‘literary’ skill in constructing the ‘hero’ of our lives – to enable us to discover, as it were, a ‘personal providence’ running through them.

“’…everything that befalls us continually turns out for the best. Every day and every hour life seems to want nothing else than to prove this proposition again and again.’


“’Of course, narrating one’s life so that nothing one would prefer to be without is easier said than done. But the one Nietzsche line known to almost everyone – ‘what does not kill me makes me stronger’ – indicates one important technique: we need to have turned, or be confident we will turn, a traumatic event into a ‘learning’ or, in some other way a ‘growth’ experience. This then – desiring the eternal return, i.e., amor fati – is Nietzsche’s ideal of happiness. Guiding our attempt to ‘sculpt’ our lives into a unitary self is the requirement that everything that happens to us – everything we remember happening to us – turns out for the ‘best’. Of course, few if any of us match up to this ideal – Nietzsche himself did not, not at least in January, 1882, since amor fati was merely a New Year’s resolution.” (page 337)

Another mature concept of Nietzsche’s, one I personally embrace in my own intimate sense of truth and wonder, is that it is impossible for any human being to completely relate to vastness of “Truth”. Impossible. Young continues…

“There is no perspective on the world that uniquely captures the truth about it. This leaves us with two possible ways of understand Nietzsche’s position. The first possibility is that he subscribes to…’postmodernism’; we have numerous world interpretations serving different practical purposes, but the idea that any of them could correspond to reality makes no sense. Our world interpretations cannot be false to reality, but neither can they be true to it. The second possibility, which I shall call ‘plural realism’, is that Nietzsche, like Spinoza, thinks reality is multi-aspected, so that different perspectives reveal – truly reveal – different aspects of it. Each of them reveals a truth but not the truth. The Gay Science’s discussion of truth and knowledge takes place on a level of high metaphor which makes it hard to decide whether it subscribes to postmodernism or plural realism. Cultural change…happens through shifts in perspective. This makes it tremendously important to Nietzsche to insist that our access to the world is perspectival, indeed that there are indefinitely many possible perspectives on it.” (page 338)

Here Nietzsche teaches that there are not only many human drives but also many human perspectives. This captures the essence, I think, of the chaos of our social existence. Yet, it surrenders nothing in terms of the possibility for meaningful growth and development of the human spirit in society. This is essential, deep Nietzsche.

“I want to learn more and more how to see what is necessary in things as what is beautiful in them – thus I will be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love from now on!” (from The Gay Science, aphorism 276)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Life as a means to Knowledge"

Many of the more contemporary translators of The Gay Science prefer to use Nietzsche’s other intended title for the work, The Joyous Science. This is in some measure due to how the word “gay” is now commonly accepted in western culture, as homosexual.

Regardless of which word you use, however, part of Nietzsche’s intent was to contrast the title against Thomas Carlyle’s famous phrase (at the time) in classifying economics as "The Dismal Science". This in and of itself can be seen as rather humorous and I’m sure Fritz chuckled at his parody.

Rudiger Safranski offers another interesting glimpse by a prominent Nietzsche scholar into The Gay Science. His perspectives integrate Nietzsche’s thought with his private life, thus reinforcing the important distinction that Nietzsche’s rational thinking was actually applied to his manner or style of Being. (Nietzsche doesn’t use the word “being,” that’s my projection.)

“He composed it in a state of bliss. Weeks would pass that were free of physical pain and oppression. Sunny strolls took him to the outlying areas of Genoa. The book is replete with references to the varied coastal landscape, the cliffs, the villas, and summer houses that dotted the hills, and the vistas of the sea. This scenery, in which success in life was revealed to Nietzsche, crops up time and again in The Gay Science, as in the following passage: ‘This area is studded with images of bold and high-handed people. They have lived and have wanted to live on – they tell me this with their houses, which are built and decorated for centuries to come and not for the fleeting hour; they were positively disposed to life, however angry they often may have been with themselves.’” (Safranski, pp. 233 – 234)

Many scholars contend that Nietzsche is not really a philosopher at all. He did not logically develop arguments and often his thinking is ambiguous and/or poetic. Not strictly philosophic in the traditional sense of Plato or Kant. But, Nietzsche did much of this intentionally, to turn the reader back upon their own thoughts and feelings. To read Nietzsche is to find aspects of Nietzsche within, but with a different voice since, as persons, we are not Nietzsche.

“Nietzsche was well aware of why he did not present it in a pure and simple form, but instead, as a master of circuitousness, dropped hints and clues – usually from the sidelines. He organized his gardens of theory in such a way that anyone on the outlook for their central arguments would almost inevitably fall flat on his face. Nietzsche hid out in his labyrinth, hoping to be discovered by means of long, winding paths. And why should we not lose our way on the search for him? Perhaps it would even be the best thing that could happen to us. Later Nietzsche had his Zarathustra tell his disciples: if you have yet to find yourselves, you have found me too soon. Hence he arranged his books in such a way that the ideal outcome of a reader’s search for ideas would culminate in an encounter with the reader’s own ideas. Discovering Nietzsche in the process was almost beside the point; the crucial question is whether one has discovered thinking per se. One’s own thinking is the Ariadne to which one should return.” (page 234)

The animal aspects of our nature are to be emphasized in order to gain a proper perspective on ourselves in the scheme of existence. As such, reason is not necessarily the most important, or even most appropriate, aspect of our Being.

“Thus, although the world of nature is dominated by an imaginary teleology, the original ‘instinct to preserve the species’ is still very much intact, and continues becoming more refined, subtle, roundabout, indirect, and imaginative. Human life increases in sophistication and invents ways and means to render itself interesting. It would be foolish to long for a return to primitive nature. Man is an inventive animal that promises something to life in order to get something from life in return. Man is also an ‘imaginative animal’ whose unique sense of pride originates in the human penchant for fantasy. Humans have one more ‘condition of existence’ to fulfill than any other animal” ‘the human being needs to believe, to know, from time to time, why he exists; his species cannot thrive without periodic confidence in life! Without faith in the existence of reason in life!’

“There is less to ‘reason in life’ than meets the eye. It considers itself absolute, but is actually only one thing among many. In the great ‘musical mechanism,’ it is a mere cog of bolt. It feels free, but remains tied to the apron strings of nature. It regards itself as an achiever and yet is merely an effect. Isn’t that a laugh! But reason, for the sake of its self-esteem, does not wish itself or its creativity to be laughed at. When Nietzsche chimed in with his own laughter, he did not wish to mock reason. The laughter in The Gay Science is not denunciatory. It recognizes and even celebrates human imagination, but keeps in mind that the products of the imagination are in part pure invention. Nietzsche was not out to attack, but to seek comic relief.” (p. 235 – 236)

Collective human consciousness remains an unfinished work in progress. It is not so much a product of evolution as it is a limitation, discovering our errors in experiential understanding.

“We should not overestimate the power of consciousness and overlook that fact that it is still in the process of development and growth. For the time being, consciousness is not fully prepared to ‘incorporate’ the enormous reality and its cyclical flow, which is devoid of any purpose, substance, and meaning, Nietzsche was taking up the notion of incorporation again here, as he had in 1881 in a series of notebook entries. We see the sun go up as we always have and fail to notice that we are living on a shifting foundation. We do not absorb the end and the new beginnings in our sense of life. We construct an imaginary horizon of time around ourselves, which is not the actual one, but it allows us to remain convinced of our own importance. Although we may have a Copernican worldview – and in our era and Einsteinian one – when it come to incorporation, we are still Ptolemaists. Nietzsche wrote that we need to understand ‘that as of now only our errors have been incorporated into us and that all our consciousness is based on errors!'” (page 237)

Ultimately, we cannot escape the fundamental reality of our instincts. Being is primarily instinctual and “truth” is merely what we choose to culturally accept. Being is inescapably instinctual.

“…when we judge things to be ‘true’ or ‘false,’ there cannot be a standpoint outside of this instinctual behavior; only varying degrees of overwhelming strength, feelings of pleasure and displeasure, sufficiency and force of habit can be differentiated. Nietzsche reviewed the complex history of truth once again from this perspective. When new knowledge enters the picture, a ‘vortex’ throws the usual and accustomed truths into question. This situation remains relatively benign as long as it stays on the level of purely intellectual uncertainty and innovations. But when it becomes the kind of knowledge that intrudes on the life and customs of a culture, and when people have incorporated aspects of previous knowledge to contend with, a struggle arises for new incorporation. In the process, the new insights can be regarded as ‘madness’ (The Gay Science, aphorism 76) and face adamant opposition because they blatantly challenge the conditions of life of an entire culture without offering an appealing alternative of being strong enough to accomplish incorporation on their own. Thus, incorporation implies that the truth of truth is its strength to render itself true. Truth is confirmed in the process of incorporation.” (pp. 240 – 241)

“Nietzsche always maintained an indisputable standard for judgment. For him, the formation of ideas was a matter not just of creating images but of forging paths to (self-)knowledge. An idea struck him as ‘true’ if it brought together meaning and style to constitute a unit that was sufficiently strong and lively to endure his often unbearable pain and provide a vital counterbalance to it.” (page 242)

“Aphorism 324, a virtually programmatic explication of the title The Gay Science, declares: “No! Life has not disappointed me! Quite the contrary; with each passing year I find it truer, more desirable, and more mysterious – ever since the day when the great liberator came to me, the idea that life could be an experiment for the seeker of knowledge – and not a duty, not a disaster, not a deception! – As for knowledge itself: for others it may well be something different, for instance, a bed or way to a bed, or a form of entertainment, or leisure – for me it is a world of dangers and victories in which heroic feelings also have their dance floors and playgrounds. – ‘Life as a means to knowledge’ – with this principle in our hearts, we can not only live boldly, but even live joyously and laugh joyously.” (page 243)

Safranski’s summary of The Gay Science comes back to its beginning. From its composition in a “state of bliss” to its declaration to “live joyously” Nietzsche was plumbing the depths of human existence. And he was happy. For me, this is a fundamental Nietzschean understanding of human reality. The yawning abyss meets “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Find that in yourself and you will have found the still developing mind of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The First Hammer Blow

The final proofs for The Gay Science were completed mid-June 1882 at Naumberg based upon Nietzsche’s work in Genoa and Messina. The book was published in August. It is traditionally seen as a transitional work, while remaining grouped with HH and Daybreak overall. But, in this work Nietzsche is much bolder and extravagant with his expression, reflecting the happy freedom in which he felt himself enwombed. Here is the first large-scale example of Nietzsche being outrageous in his acclamations, what he would call philosophizing “with a hammer” in a later work.

“God is dead.” (from aphorism 108) There is probably no more famous quote or idea in all of Nietzsche’s writings. It easily ranks with Rene Descartes’ assertion “I think, therefore, I am” as one of the more commonly known contentions among those comparative few of us that know anything at all about the history of western philosophy. Nietzsche’s most infamous formulation in the book is also one of his most misunderstood.

“Nietzsche is not saying, as it were: you have been told that there is a God, but verily I say unto you, There is no God. What he does say is that ‘God is dead.’ This is the language of religion; the picture is derived from the Gospels; and Hegel had also spoken of the death of God. Nietzsche infuses new meaning into this old image, while still implying that God once was alive. It seems paradoxical that God, if he lived, could have died. But ‘God is dead’; ‘we have killed him’; and ‘this tremendous event…has not yet reached the ears of man’ – that is an attempt at a diagnosis of contemporary civilization, not a metaphysical speculation of ultimate reality.” (Kaufmann, page 100)

Nietzsche is not tearing established perceptions of human realty apart (that is a by-product of the Nietzschean method). Rather, he is openly questioning everything and then criticizing aspects of alleged reality that simply do not offer clearly objective foundations. As we have seen in his earlier works, he wants to build something new, something more solid and relevant to the experience of modern humanity.

Of course, Nietzsche was an atheist in a strictly Christian perspective but it is incorrect to assume that his lack of belief is inherently a lack of spirituality. Far from it. This is an important point. Nietzsche did not strive to “overcome” living a spiritual life. Instead, he wanted to discover an uncompromising new spirituality (and live vita contemplativa) that addressed the specific needs of modernity. “We will never understand Nietzsche if we do not realize that for him ideas possessed actual spiritual and physical reality on par with passions. He might have said: How could his thoughts not be ‘true’ if they engaged him, as he wrote in The Gay Science, in an extraordinary activity, a ‘perpetual stair climbing-like motion and at the same time a feeling as though resting on clouds’?” (Safranski, page 242)

Nietzsche began The Gay Science with more or less a summary of his fundamental philosophy to date. “…the unusually long paragraph he devoted to the subject in the opening section…was as subtle and complex as he ever wrote. Its basic propositions may be summarized as follows:


"1) There is no basic, unquestionable teleological purposiveness to human existence, for in the cosmic context of the universe the human being is ‘boundlessly wretched’ as the fly or the frog.
2) For this reason life is essentially tragic.
3) Human beings, by exhibiting a desire to live, have helped to perpetuate the species.
4) Even ‘evil’ men have contributed to the survival of the species – by fighting, using guile to overcome enemies, force, craft and cunning to tame certain animals, etc. If, from the very beginning of their history, human beings had been uniformly ‘good’, the human species could not have possibly have survived.
5) Because of their need to believe that there must be a sense of purposiveness to their brief lives – in which respect they differ from other animals – human beings at all times have heeded the founders of moral codes and religions, even though such persons have regularly kindled religious wars and battles over moral evaluations. In getting people to believe that they were serving the interests of God, they were in fact promoting a belief in the value of human life and thus helping to preserve the species, which might otherwise have yielded to the suicidal extremes of pessimistic despair.
6) Even better than religious dreaming, however, is Man’s capacity to laugh at the vanity of human existence – an ability which in the long run has invariably eroded and undermined the doctrines of the Zwecklehrer (final-goal teachers).
7) Given Man’s need to believe in the purposiveness of existence, ‘serious’ faith-dispensers keep popping up and imperiously declaring: ‘There is one thing that must absolutely not be laughed about any longer!’
8) There thus results a permanent conflict between the comic and the tragic. Or, as Nietzsche put it, ‘not only laughter and joyous wisdom but also tragic, with all of its sublime irrationality, belong to the means and necessities of the preservation of the species’.
9) All religious beliefs consequently have their day, but also experience a rebirth, according to what Nietzsche called ‘this new law of ebb and flow’.

“Most human beings, he pointed out, do not worry too much about matters of final ends and morality. They take life as it comes. In other words, they are intellectually lazy – as he has already indicated at the start of his third ‘Untimely Meditation’, devoted to Schopenhauer. To this vast majority even the ‘most talented of men and noblest of women’ belong. But at this point Nietzsche let fall the hammer that was already beginning to make him famous. What, he roundly declared, did he care about the kind-heartedness, the delicacy, even the genius of such persons if they harboured but tepid feelings about faith and moral judgments, and above all were not possessed by a deep-seated longing for certainty – which, in the final analysis, is what ‘separates superior from inferior persons’? After which he added - and this must have come as a surprise to those of his readers (the vast majority) who had given his books a superficial reading – that he personally preferred a ‘hatred against Reason’, which he had found among certain pious persons, to the indifferent lukewarmness of the rest; for among the haters could at least be found ‘a bad intellectual conscience’. (Precisely the kind that had been so splendidly and pathetically exemplified by that sublimely anguished, scientifically minded, passionately despairing Catholic, Pascal.)” (Cate, pp. 356-357)

Once again, Nietzsche is not seeking to destroy anything. That is merely the consequence of his primary drive toward a truth that transcends commonly accepted values. He wants to build the foundation for a “higher culture.” He primarily wants to construct not obliterate. In this regard, The Gay Science is the cornerstone for all his future work. Hollingdale makes plain that Nietzsche is slowly developing his more mature philosophy. All the basic building blocks are present. The “hammer-like” quality of his thinking was more or less required given the catastrophically profound nature of the questions with which Nietzsche wrestled.

“In The Gay Science Nietzsche continues the experimentation of the preceding works, but his final conceptions – the will to power, the superman and eternal recurrence – are all present in embryo. In addition, the ultimate basis of all this experimenting, the disappearance of the metaphysical world, is kept clearly in mind.” (Hollingdale, page 138)

“Morality, deprived of any metaphysical origin or supernatural sanction, cannot have any ‘everlasting worth’ but must be the consequence of a ‘necessity’ felt by those who frame and live by it: there are, in fact, moralities but there is as yet no morality. That this may lead to the nihilism against which Nietzsche was trying to fight is a new instance of the ‘true but deadly’: he speaks of 'the dreadful alternative’ of the coming generation: ‘…either do away with your venerations or with yourselves! The latter would be nihilism, but would the former not also be – nihilism? – This is our question mark.’ Not until he had formulated his theory of the will to power was he able to venture an answer to this question.” (Hollingdale, pp. 140-141)

“In an early aphorism called ‘Towards a theory of the sense of power’ he suggests that good and ill actions both derive from the power-drive.” (Hollingdale, page 142) “The superman and the eternal recurrence also make preliminary appearances in The Gay Science. The picture of the superman is as yet vague, but certain traits are distinctive: Nietzsche is feeling his way towards an ‘image of man’ which embodies the power-impulse and somehow employs it as a creative force.” (Hollingdale, page 143)

“Nietzsche arrived at the theory of eternal recurrence as a consequence of two requirements: the need to explain the world and the need to accept it. The former is a general requirement of all philosophically-inclined minds, the latter a special requirement of a philosopher whose inquiries seemed to be leading to nihilism: to understand the necessary character of all phenomena – even, or especially, the ‘evil’ – would be to avoid the logically absurd posture of ‘rejecting’ a world that cannot be other than it is.” (Hollingdale, pp. 145-146)

“It provided Nietzsche with a new picture of a non-metaphysical reality, a reconciliation of ‘becoming’ with ‘being’, a goal for mankind. As it appears in The Gay Science the idea is simply a suggestion, a ‘what if?’: its full implication could be established only after the theory of the will to power and the superman had been clearly formulated.” (Hollingdale, page 147)

To a large extent, then, The Gay Science is the end of Nietzsche’s formulation of the central problems with modernity. The problem of antiquated morality. The problem of inferior or decadent culture. The problem of economic influence upon Being. The problem of expressing humanity within an indifferent universe. The problem of human motivation and psychology. And so on.

The problems are now defined, clarified and articulated in a sense that the end result of it all, nihilism, is known to Nietzsche. The question then becomes how to respond, what to do about it, how to find a genuinely relevant way of Being and Becoming that can bear the weight of the effects of this emerging nihilism and overcome the challenges of it. As Hollingdale points out, that answer is a process, a journey, just beginning, to which Nietzsche would devote the rest of his productive life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giddy Days

Nietzsche began taking notes for Morgenrote II during that first summer at Sils-Maria. These notes often reflect the inspired happiness of a free spirit. The intimate gaiety welling up in him became the basis for the title of his next great philosophic work, after he had given up on the idea of a sequel to Daybreak. The foundation for his happiness, however, lies in a singular idea that came to him one day while hiking in August 1881. Weather permitting, Fritz hiked several hours a day in the clean mountain air.

What came to Fritz as he walked by a boulder along Lake Silvaplana was the idea and experience of “the eternal return of the same.” A couple of scattered aphorisms touch on the basics of this concept in The Gay Science and I will discuss it in a later post. For now, he chose to be mysterious with his friends about his revolutionary philosophical idea. But, it filled him with extraordinary motivation and joy.

In the world of Nietzsche scholarship there is disagreement about exactly what he meant by this rather startling idea. As he wrote to Peter Gast: “Thoughts have climbed above my horizon of a kind I have never before seen – I cannot speak of them…the intensity of my feelings make me shiver and laugh…walking yesterday I…wept not sentimental tears but tears of jubilation: and as I wept I sang and talked nonsense, filled with a new vision that I have had in advance of other human beings.” (Young, page 318)

He left Sils-Maria and returned to Genoa where he began converting his hiking notes into a broader, structured text. He evidently worked alone at a rather brisk pace between brief spells of illness. Genoa was very pleasant at the beginning of 1882. Fritz glowed. “A miserable Christmas, marred by a major paroxysmic fit, probably due to excessive inspiration, was followed by an extraordinary spell of fine weather – no wind, no clouds, no rain! – which made the month of January 1882 the most wonderful Fritz had ever enjoyed. One Genoese old-timer assured him that he had never seen anything like it in more than three-score years. It was so unseasonally mild that Nietzsche could sit out of doors in the morning without feeling at all cold, and by the end of the month the peach-trees were bursting prematurely into blossom – to the consternation of fruit-growers who knew that a touch of frost could wipe out their annual crop. Bouyed by the splendid weather, Nietzsche by the middle of the month had virtually completed the third of the planned five chapters of Morgenrote II. On 28 January he sent the manuscript – Books VI to VIII – to Koselitz in Venice.” (Cate, page 314)

During this time, Fritz attended performances of the opera Carmen, which he adored. In Georges Bizet, Fritz felt he had at last found music that surpassed the supposed decadence that Wagner ended up with in his opera Parsifal. Fritz wrote that Carmen was “’…witty, strong, here and there profoundly moving. An authentic French talent for comic opera, not at all disoriented by Wagner, a true pupil of Hector Berlioz. I had not thought something like this was possible!’ The following month (December 1881) he attended another performance and simultaneously heard that the composer he had only just discovered was, in fact, dead. (Bizet died in 1875 at the age of thirty-six, shortly before the first performance of Carmen.) He was devastated.” (Young, page 321) Even though he had not attempted any new personal compositions since his Tribschen days, classical music remained a cornerstone of Fritz’s intimate life.

Writing was difficult for Fritz. His eyes some days would not allow it at all. When his eyesight was functional, he would write furiously, his eyes very close to the page, abusing his momentary ability to see well. His handwriting was notoriously difficult to decipher. “On 4 February Paul Ree reached Genoa, bringing with him a Danish typewriter, which had been slightly damaged in its loosely assembled wooden casing during a bumpy trip on successive trains. A Genoese mechanic was summoned to repair the damage. Writing the next day to Fritz’s sister Elisabeth in Naumburg, Ree said that never since their first meeting in Basel in 1872 had he seen her brother looking so well and in such high spirits. He was living in a cosy room which, though situated in the heart of the city, was wonderfully quiet since it overlooked a monastery past which no carriages were allowed to pass. The afternoon of Ree’s arrival in Genoa Nietzsche took him down to the shore, where they stretched out – like ‘two sea-urchins’ – on the sun-warmed sand.” (Cate, page 315)

Ree’s visit lasted five weeks and his friendship was welcomed by Fritz. The two went on holiday together. “Towards the end of Ree’s stay, Nietzsche took him up Genoa’s curving coast as far as Monte Carlo, in whose famous casino, as Fritz reported to his mother and sister on 4 March, he did not play while ‘Ree at least did not lose. It is as regards position, natural beauty, art, and human beings, the paradise of hell…This entire coast is unbelievably expensive, as though money has no value,’ added the rather impecunious Fritz. His claim that Ree had lost no money at the roulette-wheel was a glib falsehood…For by the time he left Genoa, Paul Ree was so ‘strapped’ that he had to borrow some money from Nietzsche to pay for the train fare to Rome.” (Cate, page 316)

“On a more serious level, Ree’s visit clearly turned Nietzsche’s mind to scientific matters, since March he wrote Koselitz of his admiration for Copernicus and Roger Boscovich, ‘the two greatest opponents of how things look to the untutored eye’. Boscovich, he continues, has ‘thought atomic theory through to its ultimate conclusion’, which is that ‘nothing exists but force’ – gravity, electromagnetism, and so on.” (Young, page 323) Fritz was nurturing the foundation for his later philosophy concerning Power.

Fritz fumbled with the typewriter. “’This machine,’ as he typed to Franz Overbeck, ‘is as delicate as a small dog and causes a lot of trouble – and some amusement. What my friends must invent for me is a Vorlese-Maschine’ [a reading-out-loud-machine] ‘otherwise I am bound to fall behind and will no longer be able to provide myself sufficiently with intellectual nourishment. Or rather: I need to have a young person nearby, who is sufficiently intelligent and well educated to be able to work with me. Even a two-year marriage would serve this purpose – in which case of course a couple of other requirements would have to be taken into account.’” (Cate, page 316)

With the initial draft for his next work largely completed Fritz made a spontaneous, inexplicable decision to visit Sicily. For a brief time no one knew his whereabouts. “In Genoa he had experienced a mood of intense exaltation. Like Columbus he felt he had sighted a new world. There he was in Genoa…possessed of a secret that would shake the earth. There he was, il santo tedesco, about to depart to the end of the world, to that ‘rim of the earth’ where, according to Homer, happiness dwells. He had felt like dancing in the streets…He laughed and cried and grimaced and felt like shouting from all the rooftops who he was…” Feeling full of himself Fritz decided to embark, alone, on a mini-voyage of discovery. It is interesting that he traveled so much even though it seemed every journey brought a new bout with illness. “It was a terrible journey; the new Columbus was seasick most of the time. When he finally reached Messina on the first of April, he was more dead than alive and had to be carried ashore on a stretcher.” (Peters, page 88)

He spent the first three weeks of April 1882 there. “We know little about Nietzsche’s voyage from Genoa to Messina – except that it was made on a brig or schooner bound for Sicily, of which he was the only passenger….He felt a Dionysian need to free himself from the mental stranglehold of critical cognition and to give vent to his ‘creative’ genius, which – now that he had abandoned musical compositions – expressed itself spontaneously in verse….(Fritz) wrote his mother and sister on 1 April, the marine voyage unleashed a nervous fit that ‘fully resembled sea-sickness: when I came to, I found myself in a pretty bed by a quiet cathedral square; in front of my window a pair of palm-trees…I must, after the bad experiences of the last few years, make an attempt to live by the sea also in the summer.’” (Cate, pp 320-321)

Fritz was obviously torn between the mountains and the sea. Nevertheless, his “Dionysian need” found new expression in his brief time at Messina. “While in Messina, Nietzsche completed a set of eight poems, Idylls from Messina, which he published in Schmeitzner’s new journal, the Internationale Monatschrift, in May, 1882.” (Young, page 325)

Fritz wasn’t just writing poetry. “It was here that he completed most of the fourth part of Morgenrote II, which he finally decided to turn into a separate work, entitled Die frohliche Wissenschaft – literally ‘the joyous science’, or ‘joyous knowledge’ in the older, broader meaning of the German word, and for which he himself later chose the sprightly Provencal title of la gaya scienza.” (Cate, page 321)

One particular poem is revealing and strangely foreboding given what was to happen next in Fritz’s personal life. He later included it in The Gay Science. It was entitled "Song of a Theocritical Goatheard", the rather esoteric heading was a play on words: “The Greek poet Theocritus (third century BC) is considered the father of pastoral poetry. A ‘theocritical goatheard, using word play, is thus both pastoral and critical of God (theo)'." (note, the Cambridge University Press translation, page 254)

Fritz wasn’t the best of poets but, for reasons of future postings, I want to include this one. It is a rather mediocre, but highly romantic, effort.

I lie here, stomach aching,
With bed bugs in my pants.
Close by, the noise they’re making!
I hear it, how they dance…

She was supposed to slip away
And join me as her lover.
I wait here like a stray –
There is no sign of her.

She promised she would come,
how would she be untrue?
Does she chase everyone
Like my old goats do?

That silken dress, pray tell!
Proud girl, have you been good?
Does more than one buck dwell
In this little wood?

Lethally love makes us wait,
It burns, it hardens!
As hot night germinate
Toadstools in gardens.

Love eats away at me
Like seven deadly sins –
I’ll never eat again.
Farewell, dear onions!

The moon sets in the sea
And stars fade from the sky.
Grey dawn comes ‘round for me –
I just want to die.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vita Contemplativa

“We have to learn to think differently – in order that at last, perhaps very late on, we attain even more: to feel differently.” (Daybreak, from Aphorism 103)

Nietzsche’s self-creation, the triumph of Becoming in an amoral universe indifferent to human Being, has some universal characteristics. First of all, it is not universal in the sense of being exactly the same for every person. Each individual must find their own way, as long as that way does not rely upon certain misguided traditions.

Insofar as the individual is seeking happiness, one ought not to tender him any prescriptions as to the path to happiness: for individual happiness springs from one’s own unknown laws, and prescriptions from without can only obstruct and hinder it.” (from Aphorism 108)

Secondly, as we have seen, self-creation takes place within a complexity of pre-conscious, instinctual drives that motivate human behavior.

Thirdly, self-creation is inherently an intimate path of reflective living that shuns the influences of common economic, political, and social life. In Daybreak, Nietzsche refers to this path as vita contemplativa. Happiness and fulfillment are not to be found in the ways of the ignorant masses or in the activities of business or politics or in any aspect of existing culture. A new culture must come forth. Its foundations are in human beings properly discovering the contemplative life.

Aphorism 440 stresses, however, that this does not mean that the contemplative person abandons the world. On the contrary, the self-creator is to transform the world and find happiness within the world. “Do not renounce: - To forego the world without knowing it, like a nun – that leads to fruitless, perhaps melancholy solitude. It has nothing in common with the solitude of the vita contemplativa of the thinker: when he chooses that he is renouncing nothing: on the contrary, it would be renunciation, melancholy, destruction of himself if he were obliged to persist in the vita practica: he foregoes this because he knows it, because he knows himself. Thus he leaps into his element, thus he gains his cheerfulness.”

The self-creation from vita contemplativa is the foundation for true happiness.

A fourth universal quality to self-creation is to have an experimental (not “fixed”) approach to living.

“Who would now be in a position to describe that which will one day do away with moral feelings and judgments! To construct anew the laws of life and action – for this task our sciences of physiology, medicine, sociology and solitude are not yet sufficiently sure of themselves: and it is from them that the foundation-stones of new ideals (if not the new ideals themselves) must come. So it is that, according to our taste and talent, we live an existence which is either a prelude or a postlude, and the best we can do in this interregnum is to be as far as possible our own reges and found little experimental states. We are experiments: let us also want to be them!” (from Aphorism 453)

It is particularly revealing of Nietzsche’s mind that he held “experimental states” (of awareness and expression in life) in high esteem. It is a specific quality of vita comtemplativa to experiment with experience of Being and to Become in that way.

Towards an evaluation of the vita contemplativa: - Let us, as men of the vita contemplativa, not forget what kind of evil and ill-fortune has come upon the man of vita activa through the after-effects of contemplation – in short, what counter-reckoning the vita activa has in store for us if we boast too proudly before it of our good deeds.” (from Aphorism 41)

Nietzsche lists four primary segments of western developed society that are most likely (but not necessarily) to exhibit the qualities for the contemplative life. Those who have “religious natures”, those who live artistic lives, those who study philosophy, and those who devote themselves to scientific research. Each of these “paths” are potentially contemplative but can be corrupted by such things as, in the case of science for example, the potential for “utility” within vita activa.

Vita activa is the life of commerce, politics, activity in the world toward the world is the antithesis of vita contemplativa. “Political and economic affairs are not worthy of being the enforced concern of society’s most gifted spirits: such wasteful use of the spirit is at bottom worse than having none at all. They are and remain domains for lesser heads, and others than lesser heads ought not to be in the service of these workshops: better for the machinery to fall to pieces! But as things now stand, with everybody believing he is obliged to know what is taking place here every day and neglecting his own work in order to be continually participating in it, the whole arrangement has become a great and ludicrous piece of insanity. Our age may talk about economy but it is in fact a squanderer: it squanders the most precious thing there is, the spirit.” (from Aphorism 179)

Remarkably, Nietzsche here makes it quite clear that he acknowledges a “human spirit” precisely because he finds the ways of vita activa, which obviously exists, worse than nothingness in spiritual terms. You cannot be “wasteful” of something that does not exist. Clearly, Nietzsche recognizes the spiritual aspect of life and means to link that to vita contemplativa.

This is not to suggest that Nietzsche thought there was such a phenomenon as “pure spirituality.” In Aphorism 39 he labels such thinking as “a prejudice.” He states that a purely spiritual expression of Being “has taught deprecation, neglect or tormenting of the body and men to torment and deprecate themselves on account of the drives which fill them.” Nietzsche clearly believes everything has a fundamental physical, drive-related, basis. Spirit rests upon the body which is clearly finite.

His critique of vita activa reveals itself in every way in opposition to vita contemplativa and, therefore, we can learn much about the latter through the criticism of the former.

Fundamental idea of commercial culture. – Today one can see coming into existence the culture of a society of which commerce is as much the soul as personal contest was with the ancient Greeks and as war, victory and justice were for the Romans. The man engaged in commerce understands how to appraise everything without having made it, and to appraise it according to the needs of the consumer, not according to his own needs; ‘who and how many will consume this?’ is his question of questions. This type of appraisal he then applies instinctively and all the time: he applies it to everything, and thus also to the productions of the arts and sciences, of thinkers, scholars, artists, statesmen, peoples and parties, of the entire age: in regard to everything that is made he inquires after supply and demand in order to determine the value of a thing in his own eyes. This becomes the character for the entire culture, thought through in the minutest detail and imprinted in every will and every faculty: it is this of which you men of the coming century will be proud: if the prophets of the commercial class are right to give it into your possession! But I have little faith in their prophets.” (Aphorism 175)

Business people. – Your business – is your greatest prejudice: it ties you to your locality, to the company you keep, to the inclinations you feel. Diligent in business – but indolent in spirit, content with your inadequacy, and with the cloak of duty hung over this contentment: that is how you live, that is how your want your children to live!” (Aphorism 186)

Young sees the signifcance of Nietzsche's advocacy of the contemplative life within the context of Fritz's concept of 'higher culture', revealing fundamental, theoretical characteristics of such a culture. "...the new culture will place a high value on 'idleness', will make a great deal of space for the 'vita contemplativa'. Active men are 'generic creatures', herd types: since they act rather than think, they have no chance of thinking, in particular, that there might be something wrong with the culture which they inhabit and which shapes their actions." (page 260)

The goal of vita contemplativa is to give proper focus toward the inner workings of the individual human being. It is Nietzsche’s firm feeling that such a posture toward Being leads to important insight and revelation about who we are as individuals. This inner work and particularly the discovery inherent in self-creation form the basis for lasting joy.

The contemplative life, rather than the “active” life, is particularly inspirational and uniquely beneficial as we interact within society. It brings about spiritual “pregnancy”, the conception and birth of happiness through “ideal selfishness.”

“Is there a more holy condition than that of pregnancy? To do all we do in the unspoken belief that it has somehow to benefit that which is coming to be within us! – has to enhance its mysterious worth, the thought of which fills us with delight! ‘What is growing here is something greater than we are’ is our most secret hope: we prepare everything for it so that it may come happily into the world: not only everything that may prove useful to it but also the joyfulness and laurel-wreaths of our soul. This is ideal selfishness: continually to watch over and care for and to keep our soul still, so that our fruitfulness shall come to a happy fulfillment! Thus, as intermediaries, we watch over and care for to the benefit of all; and the mood in which we live, this mood of pride and gentleness, is a balm which spreads far around us and to restless souls too.” (from Aphorism 552)

There are references to happiness sprinkled throughout Daybreak. Nietzsche had good reason to include these in his most profound thoughts. He was entering what would prove to be the happiest time of his life.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I am "We"

Daybreak is devoted to several major topics and a plethora of minor ones. It is a fine example of Nietzsche’s still early (philosophically speaking) expansive mind toying with a wide range of ideas. Among them…

Morality is custom. "Truth" becomes accepted not because it is inherently true, but rather because whatever the claim of truth is gets ingrained over generations of consistent cultural use. All great men, by contrast, are considered evil to begin with because they advocate a way of life that challenges custom to some degree. We touched on this in the previous post.

Modern society built around a system of mass commerce is a threat to our humanity. “To the devil with setting a price on oneself in exchange for which one ceases to be a person and becomes a part of a machine! Are you accomplices in the current folly of the nations – the folly of wanting above all to produce as much as possible and to become as rich as possible?” (from Aphorism 206) In this regard, although he certainly would resent the comparison, Nietzsche is carrying forward the basic critique of society that he shared with his former friend Wagner.


Wagner's perspective is summarized by Julian Young: "Since the masses are trained to be nothing but machine-parts, and are in any case exhausted by work, they are capable of nothing but cheap, mindless pleasures in the moments of leisure allowed them. But, since cheap consumerism produces ever diminishing returns, boredom becomes the salient mood of modernity. In the consumer society people are 'bored to death by pleasure'." (page 113)

Nietzsche reiterated the decentered nature of our humanity in the scheme of things. We aren’t that special in the indifferent universe. “The new fundamental feeling: our conclusive transitoriness. – However high mankind may have evolved it cannot pass into a higher order, as little as the ant or the earwig can at the end of its ‘earthly course’ rise up to kinship with God and eternal life. The becoming drags the has-been along behind it: why should an exception to this eternal spectacle be made on behalf of some little star or for any little species upon it! Away with such sentimentalities!” (from Aphorism 49)


"So you want this lovely consciousness of yourself to last forever? Is that not immodest? And you earth-dwellers, with your petty conception of a couple of thousand little minutes, want to burden eternal existence with yourselves everlastingly! Could anything be more importunate!" (from Aphorism 211)

Nietzsche definitely echoes, supports, refines much of what he previously said in Human, All Too Human.

For me personally, the greatest contribution Nietzsche made in Daybreak was the establishment of a very vivid theory of human behavior, a theory where you and I are a multitude of private impulses or motivations or drives.

His meta-contention is that self-creation should take the place of art and religion in our intimate lives and cultures. Importantly, self-creation takes place within a schema of rather powerful, perhaps even tyrannical, effects of distinctive, intimate drives within the individual human psyche.

From Aphorism 119 – “However far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones: their number and strength, their ebb and flood, their play and counterplay among one another, and above all the laws of their nutriment remain wholly unknown to him. This nutriment is therefore a work of chance: our daily experiences throw some prey in the way of now this, now that drive, and the drive seizes it eagerly; but the coming and going of these events as a whole stands in no rational relationship to the nutritional requirements of the totality of drives: so that the outcome will always be twofold – the starving and stunting of some and the overfeeding of others. Every moment of our lives sees some of the polyp-arms of our being grow and others of them wither, all according to the nutriment which the moment does or does not bear with it….today’s prompter of the reasoning faculty was different from yesterday’s – a different drive wanted to gratify itself, to be active, to exercise itself, to refresh itself, to discharge itself – today this drive is at high flood, yesterday it was a different drive that was in that condition. Waking life does not have this freedom of interpretation possessed by the life of dreams, it is less inventive and unbridled – but do I have to add that when we are awake our drives likewise do nothing but interpret nervous stimuli and, according to their requirements, posit their ‘causes’?”


These drives are fundamentally amoral, which is a basic reason Nietzsche attacks the metaphysics of morality the way he does. He believes he has found a superior explanation for human behavior that does not need what we typically call 'moral'. "In itself it has, like every drive, neither this moral character nore any moral charcater at all, nor even a definite attendant sensation of pleasure or displeasure: it acquires all this, as its second nature, only when it enters into relations with drives already baptised good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people have already evaluated and determined in the moral sense." (from Aphorism 38)

“…mostly we have little or no understanding of the viper’s nest of ‘drives’ and emotions that are inside us…if we are to take control of our lives – if we are to be ‘selves’ rather than ‘failed selves’ (or ‘ex-selves’) – a precondition is, as Epicurus emphasizes, to ‘know oneself’, to understand our own natures…Nietzsche talks, for example, of self-‘sculpting’ or self-‘gardening’ (self-landscaping one might say) as a matter of allowing undesirable drives to wither by removing oneself from places and company which stimulate them…..Nietzsche clearly advocates ‘self-mastery’ through self-‘cultivation’ and disapproves of ‘letting the plants grow up and fight their fight out among themselves’…’self-making is a matter of ‘bringing forth’…it is a mistake to think of Nietzschean self-creation as a matter of creating, like God, ex nihilo. Self-creation is, to repeat, self-cultivation.” (Young pp. 305-306)

“The expression ‘drives’ is subject to misinterpretation because it automatically brings to mind a system of primitive, basic biological urges, which was precisely Nietzsche’s intention. He depicted a highly differentiated network of subtle motions. The sensual and mental blend into a swarm of abstruse events in which even a ‘deep’ thought is merely superficial. This is not a reductive process, but rather a demonstration of how all senses are engaged in the philosophical progression of thought. It is easy to contend that thoughts are a collaborative effort and elevate them wherever possible into the sphere of language and consciousness. This attempt can succeed only if language is able to stretch its wings, becoming free, mobile, and elastic in the process, flying over the broad landscape of humanity, constant vigilant, but not in search of prey.” (Safranski, pp. 216-217)

“Our impulses are in a state of chaos. We would do this now, and another thing the next moment – and even a great number of things at the same time. We think one way and live another; we want one thing and do another. No man can live without bringing some order into this chaos. This may be done by thoroughly weakening the whole organism or by repudiating and repressing many of the impulses; but the result in that case is not a ‘harmony,’ and the physis is castrated, not ‘improved.’ Yet, there is another way – namely, to ‘organize the chaos’: sublimation allows for the achievement of an organic harmony and leads to that culture which is truly a ‘transfigured physis.’” (Kaufmann, page 227)

Ultimately, self-creation comes from an understanding of the multiplicity of drives within each unique person. Such understanding is rare and distinctive among human beings, separating self-mastery from the custom and morality of the herd. From Aphorism 9 – “Self-overcoming is demanded, not on account of the useful consequences it may have for the individual, but so that the hegemony of custom, tradition, shall be made evident in spite of the private desires and advantages of the individual: the individual is to sacrifice himself – that is the commandment of morality of custom. Those moralists, on the other hand, who, following in the footsteps of Socrates, offer the individual a morality of self-control and temperance as a means to his own advantage, as his personal key to happiness, are the exceptions.”

“Nietzsche identifies six modes of ‘working on oneself’. Of pruning those aspects of one’s nature one wishes to deny expression: one can deny a drive gratification so it eventually withers (giving up smoking, for example), restrict its expression to certain limited times and places (carnivals, ancients and modern), overindulge it so as to generate disgust (risky Nietzsche points out, because the horse-rider often breaks his neck), associate the drive with some painful thought, as when the Christian associates the idea of the devil with sex (aversion therapy), build up a rival drive by constant gratification, and finally, like the ascetic, one can weaken the whole bodily system so that all drives, including the one to be dealt with, are deprived of vehemence.” (Young, page 306)

As usual with Nietzsche, there is a paradox here. Nietzsche believes that human beings do not possess free will but, rather, always act under the subtle influences of biology and cultural tradition, impossibly bound to these influences, not free at all. So, if we are not free as individuals to this modest extent then how can we truly ‘sculpt’ and ‘cultivate’ ourselves? Nietzsche is aware of this possibility and paradox.

From Aphorism 109 – “…that one desires to combat the vehemence of a drive at all, however, does not stand within our own power; nor does the choice of any particular method; nor does the success of failure of this method. What is clearly the case is that in this entire procedure our intellect is only the blind instrument of another drive which is rival of the drive whose vehemence is tormenting us: whether it be the drive to restfulness, or the fear of disgrace and other evil consequences, or love. While ‘we’ believe we are complaining about the vehemence of a drive, at bottom it is only one drive which is complaining about another; that is to say, for us to become aware that we are suffering from the vehemence of a drive presupposes the existence of another equally vehement or even more vehement drive, and that a struggle is in prospect in which our intellect is going to have to take sides.”

It is interesting to note the intensity Nietzsche wishes to convey about the effects of drives upon us as individuals. “Vehemence” is not an uncommon (or inaccurate) translation and its use suggests the passion with which Fritz experienced life itself, his own intimate being. Life is a passionate experience.

Nietzsche’s philosophy is filled with paradoxes and inconsistencies he either never recognized or of which he was aware but never attempted to resolve. Apparently, in the case of psychological drives, Nietzsche thought that some drives are more controllable than others. In any case, I agree with Nietzsche that human Being is more about Becoming within a multiplicity of drives and the resulting suggestion that we are not rationally in control of ourselves. We often express things or behave in ways that we don’t intend because we are, like animals and even many plants, instinctual beings. I am a collection of drives that can be fine-tuned to some degree if I am only aware of them, despite the fact that there is no escaping the general tyranny of drives on our humanity.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche believed that higher culture was possible among ‘free spirits’ who devoted themselves to self-creation. To step out of the norm. To let custom go. These were inspired, adventurous acts. To become an ‘argonaunt’. The challenge, for Nietzsche, is not so much how do we cultivate ourselves in spite of the fact we have no genuine free will, that is merely our only legitimate opportunity in an cold, impersonal universe. The challenge, rather, is to break free from the previously unquestioned assumptions about morality and custom so that self-creation is possible.

“We become so caught up in our daily routines and ensnared in our many obligations and habits that anxiety and opportunism gain the upper hand. As a result, we are not sufficiently composed to let the world work its magic. We fail to provide it with a stage on which to appear as an epiphany, rich and enigmatic, and give ourselves the opportunity to warm up to it. For this to be possible, we must not become too established as creatures of habit. Leeway is required to allow consciousness to observe itself, not in an autistic sense, but in such a way that receptivity for the world can be experienced on an individual level. This degree of attention to the way in which the world is ‘given’ to us entails a decided departure from our customary attitude toward the world. We need to undergo a genuine transition in attitude, the kind we experience every morning when we awaken.” (Safranski, page 218)

Individuals who break free from the habit of herd mentality and focus upon orchestrating their multiplicity of drives attain a higher expression of life. Importantly, the “power” once granted custom over our individuality is transferred to our intimate Being. Aphorism 437 – “Privileges. – He who really possesses himself, that is to say he who has definitely conquered himself, henceforth regards it as his own privilege to punish himself, to pardon himself, to take pity on himself: he does not need to concede this to anyone else, but he can freely relinquish it to another, to a friend, for example – but he knows that he therewith confers a right and that one can confer rights only out of possession of power.”

It is through acts of self-creation that human beings harness the basic power inherent in life. This existential encounter with power would later blossom in Nietzsche’s thought. The “Will to Power” is in some respects built upon the foundation of a multiplicity of drives.

Nietzsche’s theory of psychological drives pre-dates the work of Sigmund Freud. To my knowledge, Nietzsche did not invent psychological drive theory but it was something he came up with independently of any influence he had been exposed to in his academic life. For me personally, this is a deeply insightful understanding of our basic humanity. It presents the clearest understanding of how and why human Being expresses itself as it does in this world.

Self-creation is a bold act in the face of a seething diversity of forces working, largely unconsciously, within each of us. The ability to “conquer” yourself when you are made up of multiple, competing drives that are not entirely controllable is nevertheless the goal of our Being, the core of Nietzsche’s basis for the expression of power within humanity, and the greatest work any of us can attempt in an indifferent universe. To take joy in spite of this paradoxical juxtaposition is largely the cornerstone of Nietzsche’s early work and perhaps best exhibited in his next great work.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Daybreak

The title Morgenrote is translated more ways than any other work by Nietzsche. It is known in English as The Dawn of Day, The Dawn, Dawn, and Daybreak, among others. But, its literal translation is “Morning Glow”. This is noteworthy because Nietzsche meant for the book to be about a new beginning, a fresh start, not metaphysically, but intimately. The "morning glow” is more than just the sun rising, it is the feeling a human being gets from the sun rise. So, the title is meant to be read on several levels, connecting the vast possibilities of new ideas and experiences of the universe and humanity with the inspired moment an individual might feel in while basking the glow of morning.

As usual, much of the book was conceived during hikes through shaded terrain. Nietzsche jotted down the most basic ideas on a pocket notepad for fleshing out later. His eyes during this time still permitted a good deal of reading, though this would soon change.

“His long, lonely walks through the woods of Marienbad unleashed another flood of fruitful ruminations, similar to the torrent that had submerged him the previous summer in St. Moritz. His restless mind had been stimulated by several books on morality sent to him by Franz Overbeck, and by two valuable studies of Brahmanic and Buddhist beliefs and practices written by the brilliant young Basel philologist, Jacob Wackernagel. He had also received a collection of Saint-Beuve ‘portraits’ of eighteenth-century French thinkers, recently translated by Ida Overbeck and published by Schmeitzner in Chemnitz, which fortified his conviction that the new anti-metaphysical, non-Christian ‘morality’ he was bent on developing would continue the pioneer work the French moralists had begun before being overtaken by the twin disasters of the political revolution of 1789 and the Romantic ‘counter-revolution’ that had followed it.” (Cate, page 299)

Daybreak is different from Nietzsche’s earlier works in that it is intended more as an inspirational reference than as a methodical philosophical exposition.

“The book, says Nietzsche, is not for ‘reading straight through or reading aloud, but for dipping into, especially when out walking or on a journey; you must be able to stick your head into it and out of it again and again and discover nothing familiar around you’. It is intended, in other words, not as a theoretical treatise but as a spiritual resource – like, for example, the Bible. The book, Nietzsche writes, is only for slow reading; it must be read ‘lento’….it gives the appearance of being written in a ‘stream of consciousness’: the five ‘books’ have not titles and there is no obvious reason why one stops and another starts. So, Dawn is a text for meditation…the basis for the work is the use, even the passionate use, of reason. Nietzsche comments on the ‘intoxication’ with the newly discovered art of reasoning that speaks through ‘every line’ of Plato’s dialogues, and deplores the glorification of anti-reason in how ‘philosophy is done today’.” (Young, page 297)

In Daybreak, Nietzsche continues to decentralize human experience in relation to the universe. There is, at bottom, nothing particularly special about us compared to the whole of nature, which is indifferent to us.

“Nietzsche kept stressing the extent to which human beings, far from being a completely separate and superior species, are related to the animal and even the vegetable world of Nature….Even the search for the ‘truth’, which might at first seem so ethereal and altruistic, is…at heart a search for personal assurance and security, which Man shares with animals.” (Cate, pp. 305-306)

The point is stressed that new thinking is always considered ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’ though much of it is sometimes adopted by humanity later on. Such was the case of Socrates, Jesus Christ, and Martin Luther. Innovative living is always disapproved of by established cultural norms.

“Generally speaking, such free-doers and free-thinkers have always been regarded as ‘evil men’. However, if their attempts at ethical reform are not immediately crushed and stamped out, they are gradually transmuted and metamorphosed with the passage of time from ‘evil’ into ‘good men’. This was the first embryonic formulation of what later became one of the cardinal principles of Neitzsche’s philosophy: the transformation or ‘transvaluation’ – Umwertung, which in German suggests an ‘overthrow’ and a ‘reversal’ – of existing values into something radically different.” (Cate, page 306)

Nietzsche continues his assault on Christianity, particularly to the extent that it weighs the human spirit down and is harmful to ground-breaking approaches to life.

“One of Nietzsche’s most persistent reproaches against Christianity was that it had developed into a doctrine of implicit self-abasement, thus robbing Man of what should be his self-reliant dignity and independence. Thanks to the very notion of human sinfulness the all perceiving, omniscient God of the Christians had been transformed into an omnipresent, intrusively obnoxious keyhole peeper, a divine ‘Big Brother’.” (Cate, page 310)

Biographer Julian Young summarizes Nietzsche’s position in contemporary language that both represents what Nietzsche thought and offers the perspective in terms that are intentionally provocative, as were Nietzsche’s choice of words in his day and time.

“The Bible, for instance, that supposedly divinely inspired source of infallible truth, was actually cobbled together by Paul, out of hatred for the Jewish law. Frustrated by his inability to fulfill the law on account of the all-too-human in his nature, this fanatical and tortured soul invented, as it were, a new game with a new set of rules, in order to destroy the old law. Even if it were still possible to sin, he made it no longer possible to sin against the Jewish law.

“Similarly the reason Christianity spread so rapidly through the Roman Empire, elbowing aside all rivals religions, had nothing to do with the power of truth or evidence. It spread, rather, as one might put Nietzsche’s point, on account of effective ‘marketing techniques’. Its ‘proselytisers’ (i.e., ‘sales people’), by engaging in dramatic sales techniques such as voluntary martyrdom, fooled their audiences into accepting the tripartite geography of heaven, earth, and hell, and so were able to proffer both a stick and a carrot: they were able to terrify with threats of eternal damnation for unbelievers and seduce with promises of eternal bliss for the faithful. In general, then, the power of Christianity has never had anything to do with truth. From the point of view of reason and truth, it has, rather, a ‘pudenda origo (shameful origin)’ in Paul’s revenge and in the deployment of sophisticated marketing techniques. In a word, Christianity is a ‘con-job’. (Young, page 300)

By opening the customary nature of morality itself to critical examination, Nietzsche is giving us the best possible example of what he means by ‘free-thinking’ in relations to ‘custom’.

“…what chiefly engrossed him was the idea that morality had developed out of a desire for power and the fear of disobedience, and Morgenrote is mainly devoted to an examination of morality in this light. The first difficulty about the ‘problem of morality’ that Nietzsche faces is that hitherto it has not been thought a problem at all.” (Hollingdale, page 132)

“A morality establishes itself through becoming custom, and this is the origin of civilization: ‘First rule of civilization…: any custom is better than no custom’. Nietzsche proposes two fundamental grounds why people act according to custom: from fear and from desire for power; and Daybreak contains a large number of experiments with both. ‘All actions may be traced back to evaluations, all evaluations are either original or adopted – the latter being by far the most common,’ he writes. ‘Why do we adopt them? From fear.’ Thus he suggests that mankind developed the faculty of sympathy (‘feeling with’) from its onetime need to understand the meaning of the bahaviour of other people and animals.” (Hollingdale, page 134)

So, what does Nietzsche offer in terms of transcending the traditional moral underpinnings of Christianity and western custom? Self-creation. We are to dig inside ourselves honestly, see who we are, and simultaneously work on genuine becoming and self-overcoming. “Nietzsche talks, for example, of self-sculpting or ‘self-gardening’ (self-landscaping, one might say) as a matter of allowing undesirable drives to wither by removing oneself from places and company which stimulate them. This, word for word, is what Schopenhauer says with respect to acquiring ‘what in the world is called “character”’…The ideal condition of the soul, he says, is ‘fruitfulness’; ‘spiritual pregnancy’; being ‘pregnant’ with some ‘idea’ or ‘deed’. But as with literal pregnancy, ‘self-making’ is a matter of ‘bringing forth’, a fact which ‘ought to blow to the winds all presumptuous talk of “willing” and “creating”’. So it is a mistake to think of Nietzschean self-creation as a matter of creating, like God, ex nihilo. Self-creation is, to repeat, self-cultivation. Nietzsche (from childhood a devotee of the ‘Protestant work ethic’) emphasizes that self-cultivation is a matter of hard work.” (Young, pp. 305-306)

“He clung resolutely to the difference between being and consciousness not for the sake of sober enlightenment, but in order to preserve the mysterious nature of being. To Nietzsche, the principle of individuum est ineffabile meant discovering a vastness within the individual as well, even though people might be thrown by it and feel more comfortable escaping into what is familiar and customary. The ‘majority’ of people have nothing more pressing to attend to than seeking out a ‘phantom of their ego’ that provides protection from the overwhelming vastness of themselves. This phantom can be found in other people. The ways in which others judge me or what I imagine their judgments might be, and what I myself do to generate a particular image to the world and to myself – these impressions and actions engender a situation in which ‘one person is always in the head of the other, and this head in turn in stall other heads.’ How real is this reality? In this ‘wondrous world of phantasms’, everything is real, but it is the reality of the unleashed power of collective self-evasions.” (Safranski, page 212)

To avoid such “collective self-evasions” and, more importantly, to discover and master the “vastness of the individual” is fundamentally a matter of psychology. One must come to terms with oneself. Importantly, (this is another reason Nietzsche is so difficult to grasp for some people) these terms differ in each individual. Nietzsche’s personal self-overcoming is like yours and mine in only the most general sense. When you get down to specifics of the work of self-creation, the establishment of a new morality, the unshackling of the chains of the former basis for human values, each person must discover their own intimate course. And, this course involves coming to terms and mastering a plethora of “drives” that motivate and permeate each of us.

We are to become “Argonauts of the spirit”. That is how Nietzsche concludes Daybreak. But, this drive theory needs to be fleshed out more to be better understood and is, for me personally, his greatest insight into humanity to this point in his lifework.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Wanderer finds Sils-Maria

Fritz ended his professorship at Basel as sick and broken as he had ever been. He first returned home to his sister’s and mother’s care. The family, still slightly strained over Fritz’s unchristian thinking, nevertheless remained on intimate, friendly terms. Fritz thought of becoming his mother’s gardener in the autumn of 1879. One can reasonably assume that Fritz got his hands dirty with at least some minor tending of the soil and shrubs of his mother’s home in Naumberg. He took a liking to it, but it was a fleeting thought for such a restless mind hungry to express itself.

“’My existence is a fearful burden,’ Nietzsche wrote to his doctor, Otto Eiser of Frankfort am Main, in January 1880: ‘I should have thrown it off long ago had I not been making the most instructive tests and experiments in the intellectual-moral field precisely in this condition of suffering and almost complete renunciation – this joy in seeking for knowledge carries me to heights where I overcome all torments and all hopelessness. On the whole I am happier than ever before in my life: and yet! continual pain; for many hours of the day a feeling much like seasickness; a semi-paralysis which makes it hard for me to talk, alternating with furious attacks (the last one had me vomiting for three days and nights, I longed for death.)’” (Hollingdale, page 125)

Fritz stayed home for roughly five months. In February 1880, he was accompanied by Heinrich Koselitz (Peter Gast - see pic at right) on a winding trip that ended up in Venice until mid-summer. During this time he began to write (on days when his eyes permitted it) and worked with Koselitz on the follow-up book to Human, All Too Human ultimately entitled in German as Morgenrote.

“Nietzsche’s life in Venice soon settled into a regular, generally nerve-soothing routine. After a long, bracing walk in the morning along the north-facing sea-front and a Spartan lunch, he was usually joined at 2:15 p.m. by Koselitz, who spent the next hour and a half reading out loud, or sometimes taking dictation. A second reading session took place in the evening from 7:30 to 9 o’clock.

“By adopting a simple diet of risotto and calf’s meat, in addition to a frugal supper of porridge, Nietzsche managed to survive his first six weeks in Venice without a single stomach upset. But, he wrote on 3 May to his sister Elisabeth (who had by now returned to Naumberg) ‘the intellectual diet is an unbelievably difficult thing for the productive man, and I have to atone for each offence’ – he meant of ‘free-thinking’ and hurried note scribbling – ‘with a nervous seizure.’ These notes were intended for a new book…

“It was all too good to last – the inexpensive food (two or three times cheaper than in Basel), the calm, sleep-filled nights in an airy, high-ceilinged bedroom, the daily reading sessions and conversations with the ‘unexcellable’ Koselitz. For, after the rains had set in early June, the bracing sea breezes lost their freshness, the climate turned sultry, the temperature began to rise. It was time to find a cooler habitat for the torrid summer months.” (Cate, page 298)

After Venice, Fritz and Koselitz journeyed through Italy, enduring almost constant rainy conditions, which disturbed Fritz. Nietzsche wandered aimlessly in search of a place where he could get well, often blaming his problems on humidity and temperature and subtle changes in weather. He wanted bright, sunny days – either on a mountain top or at seaside. Yet, he also needed darkened spaces for his eyes, preferably a wooded region in which to take daily walks in the shade. His illness never went away while he stayed in Bohemia and he was unable to work, though he did take long walks on good days and made some notes. It was an unproductive and likely discouraging summer. By September he was home with mother again. For five weeks this time. Morgenrote remained unfinished.

While under Gast's assistance, before his stumbling return home to his mother, Fritz was a tremendously demanding burden for Gast. In a letter Gast recorded: “You have no idea what I endured…, how many a night I lay down and tried to sleep and when I thought about what had happened during the day, and saw that I had done nothing for myself and everything for other people, I was often seized with such rage that I threw myself into contortions and called down death and damnation on Nietzsche. I have hardly ever felt so bad as I did during this time…Then, when I had at last managed to get some sleep at four or five in the morning, Nietzsche would often come along at nine or ten and ask if I would play Chopin for him.” (Hollingdale, page 127)

Due to his inability to settle anywhere for long, constant illness and general apathy resulted in little progress on Morgenrote for a number of months. Work picked up again in the fall, when the summer humidity and rain had passed. Still, Fritz exhibited a somewhat neurotic compulsion about living quarters. At first he wanted to winter in Naples. Then he quickly changed his mind and moved to Genoa, “changing his lodgings four times in only a few days.” (The Good European, page 235) This was the activity of a very uncomfortable and unsettled human being. Still, when he finally settled Nietzsche remained in Genoa for six months.

Fritz had now been battling with his increasingly fragile and difficult health for about nine years. “If we seek the basic reason Nietzsche was perpetually ill from about 1872 onwards, we have it in the fact that he made no serious effort to follow medical advice; and if we ask ourselves why he did not, the answer, I think, is that he was convinced from the first that he was incurable and feared he would die before he had written all he wanted to write: the compulsive character of his work…probably has its roots in this fear.” (Hollingdale, p. 130)

This compulsion eventually won out over inactivity and Nietzsche began writing again in Genoa, often straining his eyes to the point of headache. The demanding Fritz, with Koselitz’s grumpy yet faithful assistance, completed Morgenrote by March 1881. He remained in Genoa until April when he began to travel again, very ill, aimlessly until he settled in Sils-Maria, where he stayed three months.


“The three midsummer months Nietzsche spent in the village of Sils-Maria were, in terms of health and weather, more tempestuous than calm. July by Engadine standards, was unusually hot, with successive thunderstorms, each of which laid him low with another nervous seizure. August was no better, with dramatic changes of temperature and, in the middle of the month, a wintry snowfall and such an onset of cold that in his small, unheated, pine-walled room Nietzsche suffered a chilblained finger and had to write to his mother and sister in Naumberg, begging them to send him a pair of gloves and thick woolen stockings.” (Cate, p. 311)

At Sils-Maria Fritz fell into another routine. It began with his obsession with how his diet affected his stomach. “It now included meat as well as macaroni for the midday meal – the standard supper fare for local farmers and shepherds. As ever an ‘early bird’, he got up at five o’clock in the morning and began the day by washing himself from head to foot with cold water from a porcelain jug and basin in his room. When not forced to remain in bed, he spent five or more hours walking through the dense pine forests. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. he sat in the dark to give his eyes a rest – as he had done at Genoa where, as he wrote his mother on 24 August, he was always back home ‘every evening without exception from six o’clock on; never theater, concerts, etc. You cannot imagine how thriftily, indeed how stingily I have to husband my intellectual powers and my time, so that such a suffering and imperfect being as myself can nonetheless bear ripe fruit…’ He could not write more than fifteen minutes at a time without having to lie down and rest his eyes. Forced to ration the time devoted to reading, he forewent his pleasure of reading music scores or works of fiction, restricting himself to books on scientific subjects.” (Cate, p. 312)

Despite the weather, Fritz felt very comfortable in Sils-Maria. “’I know of nothing more suited to my nature than this high piece of land,’ Nietzsche wrote (to Overbeck); and indeed in the high Alpine village of Sils-Maria he had found which came nearest in his later years to being permanent residence.”(Hollingdale, page 128) So, despite the weather, Fritz adored the space.

Morgenrote was published at the end of June, most of it had been conceived and dictated in Venice and Genoa. Meanwhile, Fritz began work on a “sequel” to Morgenrote just as he had written sequels to Volume One of HH. This sequel, however, would turn out to be a completely separate work. One in which he would first announce his most infamous proclamation that "God is dead." But, that was still in the future during Fritz’s summer of 1881.

His ideas and thoughts at the time of Morgenrote, often conceived on long walks on days of improved health, fueled a complete zest for life. Fritz wrote his mother that same summer: “’There could never have been a man to whom ‘depressed’ applied less. Those who divine more of my life’s task and its ceaseless demands think me, if not the happiest of men, at least the most courageous. I have weightier things to consider than my health, and therefore I am ready to bear that too.’” (Hollingdale, page 129)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sign-post to the future, sign-post to joy

Volume Two of HH is divided into two parts. “Assorted Opinions and Maxims” and “The Wanderer and His Shadow.” Both of these “post-initial printing” thoughts were published separately. Both contain a great deal of inspired optimism and belief that human progress. Nietzsche never waivered from this basic sense of wonder about the possible future of humanity even as his critique of humanity became massive and catastrophic. This was not a contradiction in the mind of Nietzsche …it was and is a balancing act.

There exists a hopeful Nietzsche that rarely gets mentioned but is fundamental to his philosophy. Fritz became a much heavier and harsher critical philosopher but he remained steadfast in the belief that the human experience of meaningful joy is possible and, in fact, is necessary.

From Aphorism 99, Volume 2, Assorted Opinions and Maxims – “The poet as signpost to the future. – That poetic power available to men today which is not used up in the depiction of life ought to be dedicated, not so much to the representative and imaginative reconstruction of the past, but to signposting the future: - not, though, as if the poet could, like a fabulous economist, figuratively anticipate the kind of conditions nations and societies would prosper better under and how they could then be brought about. What he will do, rather, is emulate the artists of early times who imaginatively developed the existing images of gods and imaginatively develop a fair image of man; he will scent out those cases in which, in the midst of our modern world and reality and without any artificial withdrawal from or warding off of this world; the great and beautiful soul is still possible, still able to embody itself in the harmonious and well-proportioned and thus acquire visibility, duration and the status of a model, and in so doing through the excitation of envy and emulation help create the future. Strength, goodness, mildness, purity and an involuntary inborn moderation of the characters and their actions: a level ground which it is repose and joy to the feet to walk upon: countenances and events mirroring a luminous sky: knowledge and art blended into a new unity…all of this would make up the general and all-embracing golden ground upon which alone the tender distinctions between the different embodied ideals would then constitute the actual painting – that of an ever increasing elevation of man.”

From Aphorism 179 – “Our age’s good fortune. – There are two respects in which our age may be called fortunate. With respect to the past we have enjoyment of all the cultures that have ever been and of their productions, and nourish ourselves in the noblest blood of every age; we still stand sufficiently close to the magical forces of the power out of whose womb they were born to be able to subject ourselves to them in passing with joy and awe: whereas earlier cultures were capable of enjoying only themselves, with no view of what lay outside….In the respect to the future there opens out before us, for the first time in history, the tremendous far-flung prospect of human-ecumenical goals embracing the entire in habited earth. At the same time we feel conscious of possessing the strength to be allowed without presumption to take this new task in hand ourselves without requiring supernatural assistance; indeed, let our undertaking eventuate as t may, even if we have overestimated our strength, there is in any case no one to whom we owe a reckoning except ourselves: henceforth mankind can do with itself whatever it wishes.”

The hope of Nietzsche is based on setting aside fundamental misconceptions and growing beyond them.

Aphorism 270 - “The eternal child. – We think that play and fairy tales belong to childhood: how shortsighted that is ! As though we would want at any time of life to live without play and fairy tales! We give these things other names, to be sure, and feel differently about them, but precisely this is the evidence that they are the same things – for the child too regards play as his work and fairy tales as his truth. The brevity of life ought to preserve us from a pedantic division of life into different stages – as though each brought something new – and a poet ought for once to present a man of two hundred, that is, who really does live without play and fairy tales.”

Science, no less than religion, creates an unhealthy need for certainty that is one of the errors human beings need to correct. Indeed, in this regard science is a progeny of religion. It is interesting that Nietzsche advocates the virtues of “indifference.” His later philosophy uses a “hammer” to make its point. Hardly the indifferent posturing he so readily proclaims in “The Wanderer and His Shadow” written in 1879.

From Aphorism 16, Volume 2, The Wanderer and His Shadow – “Where indifference is needed. – Nothing could be more wrongheaded than to want to wait and see what science will one day determine once and for all concerning the first and last things….The impulse to desire in this domain nothing but certainties is a religious after-shoot, no more. We have absolutely no need of these certainties regarding the furthest horizon to live a full and excellent human life: just as an ant has no need of them to be a good ant. What we need, rather, is to become clear in our minds as to the origin of that calamitous weightiness we have so long accorded these things, and for that we require a history of ethical and religious sensations. Where we could establish nothing for a certainty it has been our practice from old boldly to fantasize, and we have persuaded our posterity to take these fantasies seriously and for truth, when all else has failed by resorting to the detestable assertion that faith is worth more than knowledge. What is now needed in regard to these last things is not knowledge against faith but indifference against faith and supposed knowledge in those domains.”

This indifference is meant intimately, as the appropriate interaction of the free spirit with the human world. Privately, of course, there is a passionate distaste for accepted values whether moral, scientific, or artistic.

Regardless of the errors besetting humanity, self-overcoming and discipline is an essential quality to cast-off these fundamental, metaphysical mistakes.

Aphorism 53 – “Overcoming of the passions. – The man who has overcome his passions has entered into possession of the most fertile ground; the colonist who has mastered the forests and the swamps. To sow the seeds of good spiritual works in the soil of the subdued passions is then the immediate urgent task. The overcoming itself is only a means, not a goal; if it is not so viewed, all kinds of weeds and devilish nonsense will quickly spring up in this rich soil now unoccupied, and soon there will be more rank confusion than there ever was before.”

Overcoming the basic mistakes, like the Judeo-Christian God of Wrath, is the path to joy and a bright future.

Aphorism 183 – “Wrath and punishment has had its time. – Wrath and punishment is a present to us from the animal world. Man will have come of age only when he returns this birthday gift to the animals. – Here there lies buried one of the greatest ideas man can have, the idea of progress to excel all progress. – Let us go forward a few thousand years together, my friends! There is a great deal of joy still reserved for mankind of which men of the present day have no more than a scent! And we may promise ourselves this joy, indeed testify that it must necessarily come to us; only provided that the evolution of human reason does not stand still! One day we shall not be able to find it in our heart to commit the logical sin that lies concealed in wrath and punishment, whether an individual’s or a society’s: one day, when heart and head have learned to dwell as close to one another as now they still stand far apart. That they no longer stand as far apart as they originally did is fairly apparent if we look at the total course of mankind; and the individual who has behind him a lifetime of inner labor will have a proud and joyful awareness of distance over come and closer proximity achieved, and will thus feel entitled to venture to harbor even greater expectations.”

The effects of the mature manufacturing basis of high capitalism upon the individual human being was a great concern of Nietzsche’s, as it was for many late-Romantic artists and thinkers.

Aphorism 288 – “To what extent the machine abases us. – The machine is impersonal, it deprives the piece of work of its pride, of the individual goodness and faultiness that adheres to all work not done by a machine – that is to say, of its little bit of humanity. In earlier times all purchasing from artisans was a bestowing of a distinction on individuals, and the things with which we surrounded ourselves were the insignia of these distinctions: household furniture and clothing thus became symbols of mutual esteem and personal solidarity, whereas we now seem to live in the midst of nothing but an anonymous and impersonal slavery. We must not purchase the alleviation of work at too high a price.”

In today’s terms, to reframe Nietzsche for myself personally, we must not purchase the efficiency (“alleviation of work”) in driving consumer culture capitalism (“the machine”) at the cost of enslaving ourselves to that culture. Nietzsche fundamentally distrusted the mechanization of the economy and how that changed society, particularly in its “dehumanizing” aspects (see previous post, HH Volume One, Aphorism 283, my emphasis). This is echoed throughout HH and dates back to his friendship with Wagner (see May 29, 2009 post).

Nietzsche felt self-mastery was a discipline to be practiced, among other ways, by subtle techniques.

Aphorism 305 – “The most needful gymnastic. – A lack of self-mastery in small things brings almost a crumbling capacity for it in great ones. Every day is ill employed, and a danger for the next day, in which one has not denied oneself some small thing at least once; this gymnastic is indispensible if, one wants to preserve in oneself the joy of being one’s own master.”

From self-mastery in small, daily things to the disassembly of major cultural constructs, Nietzsche wants to overcome the limitations of the personal self as well as overcome the mistakes of our culture. At the very end of HH Volume Two, Nietzsche comes full circle back to his original beginning in Volume One. Our values as a culture are largely based upon fundamental, readily accepted, errors.

From Aphorism 350 – “These chains, however, I shall never cease from repeating, are those heavy and pregnant with errors contained in the conceptions of morality, religion and metaphysics. Only when this sickness from one’s chains has also been overcome will the first great goal have truly been attained: the separation of man from the animals.”

To that degree, HH is truly a proclamation of first steps toward a new kind of humanity. Nietzsche closes with a fairly clear outline of how his vision for higher humanity and culture would express itself in an individual.

From Aphorism 350 (continued) – “Only the ennobled man may be given freedom of spirit; to him alone does alleviation of life draw near and salve his wounds; only he may say that he lives for the sake of joy and for the sake of no further goal; and in any other mouth his motto would be perilous: Peace to all around me and goodwill to all things closest to me.”