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.”