Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A Work of Cold Passion"

Some of the best scholars of Nietzsche’s work readily place HH in the context of his later, more mature concepts, particularly the Will to Power, which is something we shall consider much later. For now, it is sufficient to note that the foundation for grander ideas all began with this comparatively modest effort.

“In Human, All Too Human and in notes of that period – to summarize – Nietzsche sought to explain the following phenomena in terms of the will to power: our tendency to conform rather than realize ourselves; the elevation of gratitude to the status of a virtue; the desire of neurotics – and perhaps also others – to arouse pity; Christian self-abasement; and striving for independence and freedom. Of all these sundry manifestations of the will to power, Nietzsche probably approved only of the striving for freedom.” (Kaufmann, page 186)

“The essential purpose of Human, All Too Human is to explain reality without reliance upon metaphysical ideas, and by explaining it to arrive at a knowledge of the ‘preconditions of culture’. Its method is ‘experimentalism’. Its general tendency is towards the abolition of the ‘higher qualities’ (i.e. those for which a supra-terrestrial origin might be supposed) through understanding them as transformations of ‘lower’ qualities (i.e. those which people have in common with animals). The particular quality which appears to offer the greatest scope for development is the desire for power. In these respects Human, All Too Human is a genuine first stage in a quite specific and easily comprehensible Nietzschean philosophy.” (Hollingdale, page 124)

In spite of his underlying emphasis on Power, Hollingdale can still appreciate the fresh mind that Nietzsche possessed at this time. The beginnings of ideas, before Nietzsche had anything more than a nebulous blueprint of where his philosophy might take him – and the rest of the world.

“For the Nietzsche of Human, All Too Human nothing is beyond criticism – and there is strong suspicion that all ‘idols’ of our reverence will turn out to be hollow and all-too-human when subjected to scrutiny. His new ‘psychological’ tools are brought to bear upon them, with results that amply support this suspicion. The power of myths and illusions to sustain anyone possessed of an uncompromising intellectual conscious is undermined when one sees through them; and so one may have little other choice, if – as for Nietzsche – Kierkegaardian leaps of faith are out of the question, and a Schopenhauerian negation of life is repellent. Human, All Too Human is a work of cold passion…in which everything in human life that might seem to be of loftier origins is called before the tribunal of scrutiny, with humbling results. Yet the spirit of the investigation is profoundly and pervasively affirmative; for the passion that drives it is not only that of honesty that will tolerate no nonsense or groundless wishful thinking, but laso of a desperate search for enough to work with and ways of doing so to sustain ourselves despite all.


“But if we as to make something worthwhile of ourselves, we have to take a good hard look at ourselves. And this, for Nietzsche, means many things. It means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about the world and ourselves from the natural sciences – most emphatically including evolutionary biology, physiology and even medical science. It also means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about human life through history, from the social sciences, from the study of arts, religions, languages, literatures, mores and other features of various cultures. It further means attending closely to human conduct on different if human interaction, to the relation between what people say and seem to think about themselves and what they do, to their reactions in different sorts of situations, and to everything else about them that affords clues to what makes them tick.” (Hollingdale’s introduction, pp. xv – xvi)

Ultimately, HH is the basis for a new kind of investigation into human experience, an investigation combining variables that had heretofore not been connected, to cast light by a means never before illuminated. In this sense this work is groundbreaking…and earth-shattering. A quality Nietzsche would never relinquish in the great expanse of philosophical composition that would erupt over the final ten years of his sane life.

Cate is a bit more discerning where HH is concerned. He does not place it with hindsight into a category of Nietzsche’s later thought. Instead, Cate sees HH in its own right, as a philosophical statement worthy in and of itself. Nietzsche attacks audaciously attacks the foundations of primary German philosophical thinking.

“All of modern teleology – the assumed ‘purposiveness’ or ‘final goal’ of human evolution, which Kant had discussed in his Critique of Judgement and which Hegel had elevated to the status of quasi-religious dogma – was founded on this kind of flawed thinking. For, Nietzsche roundly declared, ‘everything is becoming; there are no eternal facts: just as there are no eternal truths. Which is why the historical philosophy is from now on badly needed and with it the virtue of modesty’. (Cate, page 251)

“Nietzsche was here establishing a hierarchy of cultural values in which Schopenhauerian metaphysics was superior to Christianity, Wagnerian music superior to Schopenhauer’s metaphysics because less mentally constricting, while his own Freigeisterei (free-thinking) was superior to all three as a truly ‘liberating’ conception of life and the world unburdened by medieval torments, pessimistic premises, and neo-Gothic symbolism.

“Those wishing to attain this higher stage of philosophical awareness must, Nietzsche continued (in section 28), learn to discard hackneyed terms like ‘optimism’ and ‘pessimism’. Why should any rational being wish to proclaim himself an ‘optimist’ and claim the world is the work for a ‘good’ God, and indeed that ours is the best of all possible worlds (a reference to Leibniz’s Theodicy, mercilessly lampooned by Voltaire in Candide), since he no longer needs the hypothesis of a God?” (Cate, pp. 255-256)

“The wise man is the one who can learn to live with things as they are – this was the Epicurean ideal Nietzsche was to uphold for most of his sane life – and not try to excommunicate and extirpate desires. The person who thus learns to live quite happily with himself will no longer be tormented and impressed by terms such as ‘hellfire and damnation’ and ‘sinfulness’ – evanescent notions that falsify one’s view of life and the world.”

In his introduction to Hollingdale’s translation of the work, Richard Schacht highlights the importance of basic building block and influence on HH that Nietzsche expressed between the publication of HH back toward The Birth of Tragedy. It is a succinct, fundamental expansive thought of almost fearful openness. This expression came in the form of an incomplete essay entitled “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” written in 1873 but not published until after Nietzsche’s death. To read it one must remember that Nietzsche was defining the immensity of freedom in the universe and there was still an affirmation to life despite the starkness of its uncompromising nature. HH was building the affirmation in the face of this…

“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’ – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold , and the clever animals had to die.

“One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only it owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it.” (opening two paragraphs, 1873, published posthumously)

What makes Nietzsche so difficult for so many to understand, or so misunderstood, is that it is very difficult for us to reconcile such vastly universal randomness and indifference with our intimate human desires and still remain fundamentally positive about human life itself. Our customs teach us that the meaning of life is such and such. We seek meaning innately, universally. It is probably part of our genetic make-up to do so. But, in truth there is no meaning outside of the meaning we ourselves give to things. It is difficult for us to accept this precarious situation as inspiring or heroic or especially with contentment. But, Fritz means it that way.

Fear not the open, endless insignificance of humanity. Rather, boldly express your human Being. Embrace it to the fullest without the crutches we have heretofore invented to help us sleep at night.