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.

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