Monday, April 30, 2012

Rules that Serve the Art of Life

Lest we think that Nietzsche was so caught up with Becoming in the Now that he left himself ungrounded, Rudiger Safranski, as usual, offers an insightful but less considered influence during this period.  Nietzsche teaches "be truthful to the earth".  By this he means that metaphysics has its basis in tangible biology.

“The metaphorical style of presentation in Zarathustra only hints at its biological contents.  In his notebooks from the period of Zarathustra, Nietzsche was more forthright.  He wrote that the 'goal' was the ‘evolution of the entire body and not just the brain’.  Overt references to the specifics of the physical evolution of man would have been ill-suited to the pathos of Zarathustra's speeches.  Ought Zarathustra to have said something about, for instance, the quantity of hair, musculature, arm length, or head size of the Übermensch?  This would have been unintentionally comical.  In matters concerning the physical appearance of the Übermensch, Zarathustra confined himself to this advice for those contemplating marriage: ‘Do not reproduce yourself, but rather produce upward!  May the garden of marriage help you do this.’" (page 261)

“Nietzsche retained two basic Darwinian ideas: the theory of development in the specific arena of the theory of evolution, and the idea of the struggle for existence as a driving force of evolutionary development.  Of course, he interpreted the struggle for existence not as a fight to survive but as a fight to overpower.” (page 266)
The will to power, as the central energy at work in the world, affords the Übermensch a incomparable degree of human freedom, one that is inevitably frowned upon (if it is known) by the herd culture of human commonality.  “The Übermensch himself furnishes the law of action, which is therefore an individual law beyond traditional morality.  Traditional morality serves to keep the ordinary person in check, but can only stand in the way of an Übermensch.

“Hence the Übermensch also becomes a great player who abides only by the rules he has set for himself.  He will not, however, keep on playing to the point of exhaustion or boredom.  One feature of the sovereignty of an Übermensch is the strength to break off the game.  Those who decide when to break off the game are the ones who wield the power.  The Übermensch is this sort of powerful player.  Although he may join in the game we call morality for a specific period of time, he does so with loose restrictions.  For him there is no categorical imperatives, which strike a weak subject's conscience like lightning, but only rules that serve the art of life.  An Übermensch is also able powerfully to play out the urges and goes that are normally called 'evil'.  But they cannot be crude; they must be refined.  The Übermensch should appropriate the entire spectrum of human vitality in a formative way.” (pp 265-266)
“The Übermensch represents a higher biological type and could be the product of deliberate breeding.  However, he can also function as an ideal for anyone who wishes to gain power over himself and cultivate his 'virtues,' anyone who is creative and knows the whole spectrum of the human capacity for thought, fantasy, and imagination.  Nietzsche's Übermensch is the consummate realization of human potential and, in this sense, is also a response to the 'death of God.'” (page 271)

But, according to Safranski, this wielding of intimate power is not dictatorial in nature.  On the contrary, a better understanding of it would involve becoming more child-like. “His Zarathustra wishes to be like the sun, radiating light and pleasure.  He comes across as a benevolent man.  A doctrine of joie de vivre might sound effortless in the abstract, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in reality.  It would entail restoring childlike spontaneity or, to put it in philosophical terms, mediated immediacy. 

"Zarathustra uses graphic imagery to convey the idea in the speech 'On the Three Metamorphoses'.  The initial stage of this process takes the form of a 'camel,' burdened with a plethora of "Thou shalts".  The camel turned into a 'lion,' who fights the whole world of "Thou shalts" once he has discovered his 'I want,' but, because he fights, he is bound to the 'Thou shalt' in the negative sense.  His ability to exist is consumed in an urgent need to rebel.  There is too much spite and tension in this 'I want,' and the true leisure of creative volition is still lacking.  A sense of self and fullness of life have yet to be achieved.  These attributes are possible only when one becomes a child again and regains one's initial childlike spontaneity toward life on a new level: 'The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel that moves on its own, a first movement, a holy pronouncement of 'yes'.”(page 277)
“The 'Übermensch,' 'eternal recurrence,' and the 'will to power' form the triad of doctrines in Zarathustra.  The 'will to power' is first mentioned in Zarathustra's speech on self-transcendence.  The ideas developed in this speech are introduced by three songs immediately preceding it: 'The Night Song,' 'The Dancing Song,' and 'The Tomb Song'. These songs explore the relationship between life and love, and point up the dire aspects of self-referentiality in loving.  'The Night Song' includes a graphic illustration: 'But I live in my own light; I drink the flames back into me as they break out of me'.  In 'The Dancing Song,' Zarathustra comes across a bevy of dancing girls.  He wants to dance with them, even though the 'spirit of gravity' holds him back, but the 'little god' stirs within him as well.  This 'little god' is a satyr, a Pan who wants to move and is on the hunt for 'butterflies.'  Zarathustra does want to dance, but in his self-referentiality he muses about dancing instead of simply dancing." (page 279)

“As the progression from night song to dancing song to tomb song demonstrates, there is a rebirth from the grave of suffocating depression, induced by the memory of creative power that is inherent in us but manages to slip away and must therefore be seized deliberately and boldly.  There is obviously no endeavor that could or should be activated without the 'will to...'” (page 281)
“The will to power inheres not only in the inorganic and organic world but also in the process of knowledge itself.  Knowledge is an expression of the will to power.  'You want to bring all being to be point of being thinkable: because you doubt, with good reason for your doubts, whether it is already thinkable'.  Hence there is a hermeneutical circle of the knowledge of power: the will to power in knowledge discovers the will to power in the world as we know it.” (pp. 282-283)

Curtis Cate reminds us that Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power is actually a refinement of something Arthur Schopenhauer taught.  "At the center of Schopenhauer's conception of the world was the notion that in all forms of organic life a kind of cosmic life-force of Will is at work, primarily intended to assure (through procreation) the survival of the species.  Giving this basic concept a new, fateful twist, Nietzsche now substituted 'the struggle for mastery' for the 'struggle for survival'.  Even in the act of procreation there is an element of domination and an element of submission.  (When unwilling and resisted, the act is known as 'rape'.). And what is true of the sexual act is, no matter what the 'moralists' might claim, true of all human relations.  Human beings do not approach each other in a purely passive or neutral spirit.  Instinctively, and most of the time unconsciously, each individual, whether male or female, nitrites to size up 'the other' in an effort to determine if and in what way he or she might be superior or inferior.”  (page 421)
Though Zarathustra’s proclamations are always authoritative, Cate points out that Nietzsche developed the central ideas of the work with difficulty and uncertainty. “As a holy subjective confession of Nietzsche's philosophical doubts, torments and aspirations, the third volume was in many places as eloquent as the second part.  But towards the end the tragic Pathos clearly got the better of sober Reason.  To the extent that there is something inescapably pathetic about all forms of Dionysian exuberance - not for nothing in ancient Greek mythology was Dionysus a suffering god who was torn to pieces (before being reconstituted by his earth-goddess of a grandmother), as we're his devotees, the maenads - it can be said that the 'grand finale' of the Zarathustra 'symphony' was quintessentially Dionysian, rather Apollonian, even though it was intended to be a powerful affirmation of Nietzsche's positive, anti-Schopenhauerian, ja-sagend attitude to life and the cosmos.  The result, in any case, was something unique in the history of modern philosophy: a prose poem rising and descending to lyrical heights and depths, full of anger and sweetness, light and somber darkness, joyful gaiety and sadness.

“Almost all of Nietzsche's favorite themes were at one point or another reiterated, sometimes in trenchant phrases calmly stolen from the Bible and refashioned.  Thus, for example, as Zarathustra in the opening chapter ('The Wanderer') climbs the mountain from which he wants to view the sea and the ship that is to carry him to the 'blessed isles' (of philosophical serenity) - this being in the deeper sense his 'road to greatness' - he reflects: 'He who had always spared himself much will in the end grow sickly from too much self-sparing.  Praised be that which hardens!  I do not praise the land where butter and honey flow!'  This was a restatement, in more poetic form, of Nietzsche's 'resistentialist' conviction that where everything is easy, where there are no obstacles, where there is no resistance, nothing but mediocrity can result." (pp.437-438)
Nietzsche reacted to much of Schopenhauer’s influence from various Hindu traditions recently made known to European society.  “This conception of the world as an unending cycle was no invention of Nietzsche's, even if the 'abysmal' inexorably of this thought had occurred to him one day as he was walking along the edge of the Sils lake near Sils-Maria.  It was a reiteration in his own words of the age-old wisdom of Hindu India - according to which no living being dies, but through a process of karma is doomed to be reborn in a never-ending cycle of reincarnation.  For, from in the inexorably turning Wheel of Life there is no escape, save for those - the Brahmans, the supremely wise and righteous - whose souls are at long last blissfully dissolved into the all-embracing Spirit-of-the-Universe of Brahma.  This was the pessimistic view of life which his old Pforta schoolmate Paul Deussen seemed to have adopted and justified in his book on the Vedanta teachings; and it was precisely this kind of Schopenhauer pessimism - for Schopenhauer too had felt a weakness for Hinduism - that Nietzsche was most determined to combat.

“This explains Zarathustra's 'smiling anger' and his rebuke to his will-meaning animals, likened to 'joking fools and barrel-organs' grinding out the same old hackneyed themes and refrains.  The truths that his animals were mouthing we're no more than half-truths, and it was what was not said that was deeper, more disturbing, more 'abysmal'.  For the hideous truth that Zarathustra had so far stifled, which he had been unwilling to pronounce when coaxed and challenged by his voiceless 'it' in the 'Stillest hour' conclusion of the second volume, the ghastly truth that had crawled into his mouth and throat like a black serpent, and which, like the tormented Shepherd of his nightmarish vision, he had with difficulty bitten and spat out, was not simply the depressing notion that Life is an eternal repetition, and eternal recurrence of what had happened before, but that this repetition brings with it the eternal recurrence and reappearance on earth of those whom, in Zarathustra I, the poet-prophet had called the 'superfluous ones' (a term Nietzsche had prudently avoided in the next two books):  which is to say - mediocre human beings.  Man, St. Augustine had proclaimed, was born with a stigma, the stigma of original sin, for which he must atone and strive to overcome for all his life on earth.  Rousseau had brashly tried to claim the opposite: that Man, uncontaminated by the evils of social coexistence, is born free and good.  Both of them were wrong, for Man in the collective aggregate was above all born - mediocre.  (pp. 443 - 444)
This growing sense of the mediocrity of ‘the herd’ apparently began to feel like a uninspiring weight upon Fritz in his daily life.  It was during these years of writing Zarathustra and working on more extensive ideas in his notebooks that Fritz began to feel increasingly isolated from and grew less-tolerant of mundane society.  “He sought refuge in self-discovery and self-invention and now felt open to attack from all sides.  He was always friendly, but vulnerable to any indications of chumminess on the part of others.  He was offended when people saw him as one of them.  Hatred festered toward everything that had dragged him down: the milieu of Naumburg, his family, his sister, his mother, ultimately his friends as well - and, of course, Wagner.  All of them had failed to understand him, but felt they had a right to his friendliness and compassion.  No one treated him in a manner befitting his station in life.  During his Zarathustra period, he was exquisitely sensitive to remarks he considered insulting.” (Safranski, page 270)

The self-absorbed isolation and sensitivity would become much more pronounced in the final sane years of Nietzsche's life.