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)