Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“New Departures and High Mountains”

Note:  I find certain books in my Nietzsche collection of distinguished merit.  I have already mentioned Beyond Selflessness as an outstanding example of Nietzsche scholarship.  Another is Nietzsche in Turin by Lesley Chamberland.  I plan to review this work (and several others) when the philosophic-biography portion of this blog is completed.  In this post I quote extensively and exclusively from Chapter 6 of Chamberland's excellent work.  It is the best overall intimate summary of Nietzsche I have found regarding his life and work in 1888.  It fits perfectly between The Case of Wagner and Twilight of the Idols.

The Wagner Case, 'funny but at base almost too serious', had pressed upon him, but by the end of May Nietzsche was ready to resume his main task: to draw a line under the past, sum up his achievements, and consummate their message with a new work or works 'transvaluing all values'. To Resa von Schirnhofer he asked without further elucidation: 'Do you understand the trope?'  Perhaps they had talked over these long-standing ideas of his in Nice.  To Brandes, having already explained he was making a mission out of his disbelief in culture, and 'circling round this paramount problem of values, very much from above and in the manner of a bird, and with the best intention of looking down upon the modern world with as unmodern an eye as possible', he preferred to elaborate.

“'My problem this time is a curious one: I have asked myself what hitherto has been hated, feared, despised by mankind – and of that and nothing else I have made my gold...'

“He sought 'values' he believed would be more helpful to humanity than the Christian teaching concerning universal afflictions, loneliness, and suffering, which were so much his own. But 'values' is a difficult word to use when Nietzsche regarded them all as relative. It is better to say he scanned the psychological horizon for a vantage point, and point of stability, 'beyond'.  A man enlightened by seeing life from above, 'from beyond good and evil', could one day redescend to a full and excellent existence. Zarathustra showed the way.  But again enlightened, aufgeklart is a word in the wrong tradition.  Verklart the experience of Schoenberg's Verlart Nacht, 'Transfigured Night', seems closer to Nietzsche's transvalued world.

“The fullness and excellence of a transfigured existence was the goal of Nietzsche's art of life.  It was his only positive teaching that individual strength emanated from self-knowledge and self-management. He spoke of Herrenmoral and meant 'self-mastery morality'.  It mattered how a man ate, how he lived, how he organized his day.  It mattered for the sake not of his image but his soul. Between Nietzsche's view of the artistically shaped life and the popular notion of lifestyle today a qualitative gulf seems to yawn.  On the other hand Nietzsche at least maintained that 'image' was the only reality there was, and he might be called a lifestyle guru today.

“Zarathustra's favorite metaphor is of inner life overflowing its confines like honey from a jar.  There is poise, there is invigoration, happiness, sexual fulfillment, intoxication, sadness, pious love, hurt silences and deep quiet in Nietzsche's writing, and many other emtions and sensations besides.” (pp. 87-88)

“Thus originated the transvaluation task.  Its beginnings in a critique of self-inflicted human pain explain the title of the next book he would write in 1888, Twilight of the Idols. The 'idols' were concepts hitherto cherished by humanity, such as love and benevolence, selfishness and truth, which Nietzsche would now show had long since been turned into weapons against the full development of humane individuals.

“Destroying the idols, which would become Freud's totems, was the work of the psychologist in Nietzsche. The first Existentialist we might also call him.  The psychologist's role – to change the metaphor to another of Nietzsche's favorites from the classical world – was to point the ways out of labyrinth for souls who had lost faith I received moral guidance.  It was the same job of emotional reinforcement Dionysus had been doing in all of Nietzsche's work since The Birth of Tragedy, supplying an alternative to Christian faith and Schopenhauerian pessimism without resort to a too simple materialism.” (page 90)

“The most complete statement of his philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil, had been published two years now and still he had only a handful of readers worldwide and so few people understood.  Twilight of the Idols was yet another attempt to explain his whole outlook in one short excursion, and only after it could he sit down to The Antichristian. This post-Christian send-off for readers still actively seeking the meaning of life he designated the first 'transvaluation' volume. Into it he would put all his sympathy for human pain and all his hatred of the Christian church for exploiting that pain as a means of 'herd' control – the opposite of 'self-mastery morality'.  Twilight would form, as Nietzsche's books so often did, one to another, once again a kind of prelude, an introduction.  A magnificent recapitulation of the Dionysian, sweeping across the millennia from Aristotle on tragedy to what would become Freud on Eros and Thanatos, the life urge and the death wish, ends Twilight. Nowhere better does Nietzsche set out the finally modulated psychology of inner plenitude, that keen sense of joy he had despite a wretched life.” (page 91)

“Before we can watch Nietzsche resume work as a poet and philosopher, German writer, psychologist and artist, we have to get him up into the Swiss Alps from Turin for the summer.  He left on 6 June and was still complaining about the dislocation in mid-July.  Only this time, after the personal trauma of the journey, the reasons for his misery were shared by all the early season visitors to the Upper Engadine village of Sils Maria.  The weather played such cruel tricks that some guests went home, not seeing, as Nietzsche observed, why they should pay to freeze in the snow-enveloped hotel in July when they could be more comfortable at home in Hamburg.  He took another moment of unwonted worldliness to wonder how the hotels would survive the loss of income, before allowing his own problems once again to close in.  Until the weather improved he would go through a debilitating period of depressed introspection, to which he gently attached the label melancholy.  No work would be done until August.” (page 92) 

“He had been coming to Sils and round about for more than eight years, and there had written parts of The Science of Joy, Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Genealogy of Morals.  So he set off in a good heart, with a new suitcase and some lean continental sausage...supplied by his mother to provide for his evening meals.  Grocery supplies in Sils were very limited, he knew from experience, and to eat in the hotel twice a day was beyond his meager budget.  The correspondence with his mother over the next month would be dominated by the need for more sausage from Naumburg, of a higher quality than the first batch which was too dry and the second which was too salty.  He also requested and received a tablecloth so that he might eat his solitary suppers in an orderly and pleasing fashion, and some Zwieback (French toast) for his breakfast, equally impossible to buy in Sils.” (page 93)

“...the problem in 1888 was that sickly Nietzsche was quite the opposite of his own ideal.  In 1888 he only sat post-chaise, queasy, locked into himself, and thinking.  The landscape passed him by.  In Sils moreover he began a bout of migraine.

“But at least he could collapse into familiar lodgings. An austere wood-pannelled upstairs room with a small window facing south, furnished with a bed, a table and washstand, he had made his own for several years now.  He rented it from the Durisch family and left 'a basket of books' each year for his return....Nietzsche often shivered in that room and several times resolved to find another warmer one, but for such troublesome things as moving he didn't have the will.” (page 94)

“Weather, because of its apparent bearing on his health, was another of his obsessions, and made even devoted Koselitz sigh.  Yet when the atmosphere lifted Sils was once again Nietzsche's perla perlissma, 'with a definite Latin quality' and 'a wealth of colors, in which it is a hundred times more southerly than Turin.'  The colors were in June the brilliant deep pink of the alpine rose and intense blue hues of gentian.  He put on the new horsehair hat bought for the purpose in Turin and walked out to inspect the damage of recent avalanches.” (page 95)

“He would have walked anywhere, though he did love Sils. He had a childlike joy in motion and that same vitality was reflected in his hardy pleasure in cold water, a quality he passed on to his 'son' Zarathustra. Nietzsche plunged into pools when others found them icily forbidding, and sluiced himself from a cold jug every morning.  Such a constitution gave him a natural kinship with Epicurus, which is to say his highly reactive body prompted him to enjoy the world, not reject it, and to admire in all ages thoughtful connoisseurs of happiness.  His physical vitality, despite his sickness, was one of his chief instinctive weapons against Christianity.” (page 96)

“High mountain metaphors, especially in Zarathustra, show Nietzsche straining after energy, grandeur, and resourcefulness, which, palpable in the material world, would also express human spiritual strengths and give inspiration for the Ubermensch, a creature undoubtedly born of the view from 'higher up' rather than the idea of dominating his fellow men.  As if to reinforce the connection between posterity between his human ideal and his ideal landscape, Nietzsche said of Sils: 'I know nothing so suited to my nature as this piece of Over-Earth [Ober-Erde].'” (pp.97-98)

“The Ubermensch was the one who could get, as far as is possible for a human being, 'beyond' the world which his humanity obliged him to contemplate. Whether Nietzsche's message is metaphysical here, suggesting some possibility of conscious transcendence, is very difficult to determine.  It was less a two-tier value system he sought to compensate for the apparent limitations of human existence, rather a better way of seeing that that existence was indeed limited.  The high vantage point gave him not a sense of the world below being inferior to some higher realm, but a sense of the sheer relativity of judgments. The paradox was that the realization of limitation was liberating.” (page 99) 

Zarathustra was a hilltop survey of the resentful spirit and the impoverished spirituality of the modern world, with its unthinking mass movements, its vengeful class antagonisms, its insensitivity to nature and poetry, its hidden and institutionalized brutalities, insipidness, false righteousness and cultural feebleness,  Nietzsche's other books exuded the spirit of the mountains too, whenever they were saying a Yes to the Over-Life, and a No to the subordinate, enslaved one.” (page 100)

“To demolish religion and philosophy as if they were rickety old buildings, he swung a lump of iron through the air, knocking through the venerated outer walls and exposing the insides as empty.  In Twilight under the heading 'What I owe to the Ancients', Nietzsche seemed to see his own explosiveness even emerging from within the Greek midst, that is, from wherever reason was breaking down:

“'I saw their strongest instinct, the will to power, I saw them trembling at the intractable force of this drive, I saw all their institutions evolve out of protective measures designed for mutual security against the explosive material within them...The Socratic virtues were preached because the Greeks had lost them...'

“I cannot doubt, given the fascination most of us feel watching buildings crumble, that Nietzsche found his huge philosophical project exciting.” (page 102)

“So far the demolition of reason.  As a self-proclaimed immoralist Nietzsche hammered away at moral philosophy too, abjuring selflessness and compassion and a fixed notion of the good.  Here too there is a kind of brutal toughness at work which repels, while a sensitive spirit sets out a cogent case behind the combative facade.  Nietzsche's famous rejection of pity (Mitleid), for instance, demonstrates how pity diminishes the integrity of the other.  If I flood another person with pity I may dull his or her ability to find strength from within, for pity is a crippling kind of sympathy which confirms misfortune and woe, expressing the idea: 'Yes, hasn't life treated you badly, you deserve to feel sorry for yourself.'” (page 103)

“There is no pity on the world of Dionysus.  Dionysian life positively celebrates human capacity by looking absurd existence in the eye.  In all this it is difficult not to side with Nietzsche.  To reject pity is not unloving, rather the contrary: it is the only way to treat the other as an equal and whole person.

“Moreover, I bring myself in here as the lingering friend because at last with the transvaluation of pity we come very close to Nietzsche as a philosopher and man.  Menacing was not only the self-pity which obviously threatened him as he lay vomiting in strange, dark rooms about Europe, without friends and without success, but also the legacy from his Pietist childhood.  We only have to remember that morally stuffy German front room in which he grew up, a devout lad at the mercy of a disappointed mother, two unmarried aunts and a grandmother, tofeel with him the desire to open all the windows and eventually blow up the vicarage....Franziska Oehler-Nietzsche's son, until he came to his independent adult senses, was pious and obedient to the  on this point of ridicule.  But, lord, how the then burst out, released by Wagner and by philosophy!  That was the explosion, the dynamite in his own life and having experienced it he knew what kind of good he wanted to bring to humanity.

“It was good.  Nietzsche's detractors overreact to the mere idea of a person not feeling pity as being somehow monstrous,  Nietzsche's new moral alchemy was more subtle, converting pity into a value which might be called 'the integrity of the personality'.  In the 'flatland' Nietzsche confronts us with social problems as fresh today as they seemed to him over a hundred years ago.” (page 104)

“'Man is something that must be overcome' was Zarathustra's teaching.  Nietzsche's position was founded on such compassion for the suffering human race, such a strong vision of misery human beings faced, that he required them to be strong in themselves.

“We have moved on heedlessly since his day.  An over-abundant or perhaps misplaced sympathy: is it not on this that the prevalent cure-all belief in social psychotherapy is founded?  Psychotherapy as an attitude of life encourages many people to assume that forces outside their doing are to blame for the disturbances within.  Does it thereby create strong, responsible individuals?
Psychotherapy has become incorporated into the Welfare State.  How Nietzsche, with his sensitivity to language, would have balked even at the name, which might be translated back into German as der Mitleidsstaat, and given a Nietzschean reading as the state which killed God.  He retaliated eloquently in advance, in Twilight, only flipping over into excess with a manic statement open to gross misinterpretation out of context: 'The sick man is the parasite of society.'

“Arrogance is built into Nietzsche's mission and his style....What comes over from a reading of Nietzsche's works of demolition is therefore actually a great love for philosophy and a fine sense of irony.  He took the whip to cant and its purveyors, but only like Christ to the erring children of God.  Nietzsche's position was a radical modesty, quite new to a philosophical tradition dominated by the self-centered 'I think therefore I am' and 'therefore the world is'.  'What do I matter!' stands over the door of Nietzsche's thinker of the future in Daybreak.  Nietzsche's radical modesty meant philosophy would never be the same again.  It could barely trust its own words.

“In Sils, having settled down, he would work on Twilight towards the end of July, pointing out the error of assuming there even existed a determining 'I', supported by something called the individual will, which then caused events to happen in the world.  The so-called inner life was murkier or perhaps simply empty:

“'The “inner world” is full of phantoms and false lights; the will is one of them.  The will no longer moves anything, consequently no longer explains anything – it merely accompanies events, it can also be absent […] And as for the ego!  It has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words: its has totally ceased to think, to feel and to will!...What follows from this? There are no spiritual causes at all.'

“'Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word.' he had written in Beyond Good and Evil.  Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of readers who have appropriated 'will to power' as the exercise of blunt, brute force.” (pp. 106-107)

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