Sunday, February 28, 2010

“Practical Affirmation of the World”

Rudiger Safranski’s book on Nietzsche is one of my favorites. He puts HH into its own perspective. I believe it is a great, independent work that needs to be judged on its own merits rather than simply in context for how it sets up Nietzsche’s mature thought.

Safranski highlights what I believe to be the central nature of Nietzsche’s thought at this time. HH itself has several other philosophical threads, however, than the one presented here. That is what makes it such a great work. It is a loose association of indirectly connected things.

“Thus, in Human, All Too Human, absolute reality was designated coolly as the logically ‘disclosed essence of the world.’ With this concept, Nietzsche sought to hold himself aloof from ‘religion, art, and morality,’ all of whose presentments, feelings, and states of ecstasy somehow drew him to the mystery of the world. These are illusions, he explained, and with them ‘we are not touching the ‘essence of the world in itself.’’ We remain in the realm of the imagination, and no amount of presentiment will carry us further. And yet we cannot do without this concept of the ‘disclosed essence of the world.’ It is necessary as a logical postulate to understand the relativity and perspectivism of various accesses to reality. We cannot know anything about this disclosed essence of reality; it only serves to liberate us from the prison of our concepts of the world. The ‘disclosed essence of the world’ is an empty point, a vanishing point, a new way out into indeterminacy.” (pp. 160-161)

HH is an announcement of a novel way to look at reality. Trying to embrace it openly as things happen without any human contrivance or system to imply meaning to what happens.

“Nietzsche, who wanted to accept the ‘disclosed essence of the world’ for the time being only as a cooled-off logical postulate after his Dionysian excesses, was, of course, delighted with the logician who portrayed the world of becoming as absolute reality, because this severe man evoked visions of a Heraclitean world. At the same time, Nietzsche wished not to revel in imagery and visions but to conduct and experiment in radical nominalism. ‘To the extent that human beings have believed in concepts and names of things as in external truths over long periods of time, they have acquired a pride they have used to elevate themselves above animals, in the firm belief that in language they had knowledge of the world.’ Human base their actions on the proud awareness that they are also capable of using the world of knowledge to ‘shake the very foundations of the world as a whole.’” (page 162)

“Just as ‘Dionysus’ had been Nietzsche’s magic word to shake the world out of its slumber, now he was trying out Kantian composure. He repeatedly stressed that this logical and nominalist denial of the world (which disputes the absolute truth value of the world of experience) was altogether compatible with a ‘practical affirmation of the world.’” (page 164)

“’That which we now call the world is the result of a number of errors and fantasies that arose gradually along the development of organic beings as a whole. They have coalesced and are now handed down to us as a collected treasure of our entire past – as a treasure, because of the value of our humanity rests on it.’ We can consider this history of experience a ‘treasure’ only if we are prepared to relinquish the absolute point of reference. We should stop brooding about the ‘First and Last Things’ and move beyond a vertical orientation in order to achieve a horizontal perspective. Of course, horizontal science will not be able to liberate us altogether from the ‘power of ancient habits’ of feeling, which would not even be desirable. It would be sufficient if feelings were ennobled and knowledge enhanced within the framework of their basic limitations. What matters is distance rather than transcendence. Using a scientific approach, we can ‘elucidate’ our own history, customs, knowledge, and feelings, and ‘lift ourselves above the whole process, at least for a moment or two.’ Nietzsche concluded this aphorism with the following observation: ‘Perhaps we will then realize that the thing in itself is worthy of Homeric laughter, since it seemed to be so much, virtually everything, but is actually empty, that is, devoid of meaning.’” (pp. 165-166)

“Meaning, significance, and truth do not lie at the beginning or at the end. Reality is everything that is in flux. And we ourselves are also in flux. We recognize change and eventually realize that not only the objects of knowledge, but the process of knowing is itself subject to change. All philosophers share a ‘hereditary defect’: they cannot grasp the fact ‘that the faculty of knowledge has also evolved, while some of then envision the entire world spun out of this faculty of knowledge.’” (page 171)

“The hypothesis of a biological evolution of knowledge leads us into the murkiness of a world devoid of knowledge, which we are entirely incapable of imagining. We cannot perceive non-perception. If the ‘clever animals invented knowledge’ in a remote corner of the solar system on a star, and if after a few short breaths by nature the humans died and the star froze, how does nature live on without being recognized?” (page 172)

“Mind and body once constituted a whole that was infused with spirit. Now the other extreme has been reached, and the whole is infused with nature. In the past, nature was an embodied spirit, but now the spirit is nothing but a sublime form of nature. On the path from spiritualization to naturalization, the idea of freedom falls by the wayside, and, along with it, the accountability for actions and responsibility we associate with freedom.” (page 175)

We are composed of many drives or impulses as a person. We are a multiplicity of things, many of which we have no control over. They are of our animal nature. This is an important point Nietzsche will amplify in later works.

“Nietzsche denied the existence of freedom and laid claim to it at the same time – even in this very act of denial. He was free to explain away freedom. The antinomy of freedom implies that it is experienced from a dual perspective. As a creature who acts spontaneously, I experience the freedom of action on my inner stage. My intellect, however, drawing on the laws of causality, teaches me that culture does not make leaps and neither do I; everything is casually determined. We act now, and we will always be able to find a necessity and causality for our actions in retrospect. In the moment of action and choice, causality does not help us, yet we must decide nonetheless. The experience of freedom is like a revolving stage: we live from freedom, but when we try to analyze it, it cannot be grasped.” (page 176)

Still, Sanfranski can’t help placing HH in the context of Nietzsche later writings, because – in truth – HH is the legitimate masterwork cornerstone for his mature philosophy. HH presents a rather bleak and pathetic world in which every given person “of higher culture” must, in spite of everything, seek to understand and tap in to their unique expression of power. The key to this was mastery over self despite the fact that everything is causal and freedom largely illusionary. This is, of course, close to – if not actually – being a contradiction in thought that Nietzsche never really acknowledged or considered. It is important to understand that it would not be a contradiction in Fritz’s mind. That helps you to understand him better.

“Nietzsche knew that the ‘dividual’ way of life was now inevitable. The path back to prehistoric harmony within individuals – if it ever existed at all – had been closed off. A basic breach and inner disjunctions have become part of conditio humana. Nonetheless, Nietzsche would continue to insist that we ‘make a whole person of ourselves’. This quest for wholeness would not entail overcoming the dividual mode of existence, which would be impossible, but effective self-configuration and self-instrumentation. We need to take charge of our impulses, learn to smooth over our disjunctions, and become the conductor of our medley of voices. The ominous ‘will to power’ – which, as we will see later, builds up to a cosmic explanation and directive of grand-scale politics in Nietzsche’s later years – is always tuned to a concert pitch, and signifies a quest of self-empowerment. Nietzsche’s works as a whole are an extended chronicle of the complex events in an experiment to attain power over oneself.” (page 185)