Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part One

Like The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche's next work, Twilight of the Idols, was considered by its author as a “relaxation” from the revaluation project, though it is perhaps more accurate to describe Twilight as yet another (one could count Beyond Good and Evil as well) prelude to the project. He addresses many of the themes intended for the project and specifically mentions the "revaluation of all values" a few times throughout the course of the work.  Still, it was apparently not structured in a way that Nietzsche intended for the project itself.  Twilight is a "free-form" or in some sense "casual" approach to the issues involving the project rather than a work consisting of a series of critiques and ideas progressing one upon the other, as is more the case with The Antichrist.  

“It was begun, as Nietzsche reports, on August 18 and finished twenty days later on September 7.  Though it incorporates notebook material that was originally intended for his masterwork, there are no notebook sketches of this specific work, so Nietzsche's implication that it was a work of inspiration rather than prescription is partially correct.

“Originally it was to have had the rather downbeat title Idleness of a Psychologist.  But it took little effort on Koselitz's part to persuade Nietzsche that this was inadequate to the major significance of the content....So the work became Twilight of the Idols. Though this brilliant pun on Wagner's Twilight of the Gods was intended to allow the work to follow The Wagner Case in cashing in on the Wagner market – he called it a 'twin' of that work, which should be published in a format that made this clear – it is actually a somewhat misleading title since, for once, Wagner hardly appears.

“As the Preface puts it, though the subtitle is, 'How One Philosophizes with a Hammer', the hammer that 'sounds out' the idols is used as if it were a tuning fork.” (Julian Young, page 497)

“The majority of his most famous epigrams come from Twilight.  One suspects that the euphoria of release from the unrewarding slog on the masterwork produced a moment of effortless creative intensity.” (page 498)

As with several earlier works, fundamental topics of Twilight of the Idols are the nature of reality (as a foundation for revaluation), as well as the affects of "ressentiment" and "decadence" upon modern culture. Here Nietzsche is a hard realist. “...since there is no 'true' world, it makes no sense to call 'this' one a merely 'apparent' world.  There is only one world and 'this' is it.

“But what is 'this' world?  Nietzsche continues to promote scientific over commonsense realism.  It is not just the 'true world' that is a fable; 'things' are as well, a projection of our inner life.  We mistakenly think there is a thing called the 'I' which causes our actions (the Genealogy argues that this is an illusion of grammar) and then extend this schema to the outer world so that it becomes populated with a whole lot of 'I'-like things causing 'actions' to happen.  But this is mere projection.  Things in general, including material atoms, not to mention Kant's 'thing in itself', are projections.  Boscovitch's conception of a world of forces remains our best account of the nature of fundamental reality.

“But what is the character of these forces? At the time of writing Beyond Good and Evil the concept of force needed 'supplementing' by the notion of the will to power. Yet in Twilight Nietzsche is strangely reticent. There is no mention of supplementation, indeed the very phrase 'will to power' only occurs four times in the entire work, and never in conjunction with natural forces.  The suggestion arises, once again, that the grand metaphysics of reality as 'will to power and nothing else' has been abandoned, leaving us to understand forces purely in terms of their effects.” (pp. 498-499)
Nietzsche also explores human freedom in the work. While he rejects the idea of 'free will' as misguided, he nevertheless believes in a certain flavor of freedom. “'My idea of freedom', he writes, is that it is a matter of 'being responsible for oneself', maintaining one's 'distance', 'becoming indifferent to hardship', 'being prepared to sacrifice people to your cause, yourself included'.  To be free means that 'the instincts which take pleasure in war and victory have gained control over other instincts', the instinct to 'happiness', for instance, happiness, at least, as conceived by 'grocers, Christians, cows, females, Englishmen, and other democrats'.  Freedom is not a birthright.  Rather one 'becomes free' by being a 'warrior' on the internal battlefield of the soul.  The degree of freedom one possesses is measured by the degree of 'resistance one has overcome, the amount of effort it costs to stay on top'.” (page 499)

The authentic nature of human happiness is also a major theme in Twilight.  “'Formula for my happiness', he writes, 'a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal; in other words, a life-defining cause.  This point emerges in one of Twilight's most memorable aphorisms: 'If you have your why? in life you can put up with almost any how?  Man does not strive for happiness, only the Englishman does.'  The 'Englishman' here is John Stuart Mill, a  protagonist of the 'Utilitarian' principle that we should all seek to produce 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.  True happiness, is always a by-product of one's 'work', of active commitment to the 'straight line' of one's life, one's life-defining 'goal'.

“More, however, than focused commitment is required for happiness.  As Nietzsche emphasizes – over emphasizes – a socialist may be committed to the cause of the worker's revolution, yet be consumed by ressentiment against capitalist oppressors and so far be far from happy. Happiness requires the overcoming of ressentiment, of repressed hatred and lust for revenge: one must 'redeem' evils done to one in the past (for example, the Salome affair) by showing that, as Nietzsche's most famous (but not best) epigram puts it, 'What does not kill me makes me stronger'.  And it requires too the overcoming of guilt.  If you want to be happy, Twilight instructs, 'Don't be cowardly about your actions! Don't abandon them afterwards! The pang ('bite' in German) of conscience is obscene'.  As one must redeem evils done to one, so one must redeem actions done by one.  In short, the 'straight line' that defines both one's goal and one's identity must 'narrate' one's life in such a way that everything that is done to or by one finds its justification, its 'redemption', within one's life as a whole.

“Nietzsche sums all this up with a panegyric to Goethe – the human personality he admires more than any other.  A spirit like Goethe, he says, 'who has become free, stands in the middle of the world with a joyful and trusting fatalism, in the faith that only what is individual is reprehensible, that everything, is redeemed and affirmed in the whole - he does not negate any more...a faith like this is the highest of all possible faiths: I have christened it with the name Dionysus'.  This 'highest faith' is of course the faith that constitutes amor fati (love of fate), the faith that allows one to will eternal return.  Perfect happiness is the ability to will eternal return.” (pp. 500-501)

According to Young, Nietzsche goes into some detail as to what makes eternal return specifically a Dionysian concept. “...cognitive insight occurs in the Dionysian state.  In the state, one guarantees to oneself 'eternal life' by rising above 'all death and change'.  One transcends life as an individual by identifying with, identifying oneself as, 'the overall continuation of life'.  This 'being oneself the eternal joy in becoming', is the state in which one identifies with, understands, what one's 'true life' is....a great deal of Nietzsche's philosophy has been a preparation for this validation of Dionysian feeling, for validation of the idea that one's 'true' self is universal, that individual life is 'untrue'...this anatta, no-self ontology, as well as the broader rejection of 'things' in general, is a meeting point between Nietzschean and Buddhist ontology. But it is grounded in solid Western philosophizing, in the thinking of 'the philosopher, Dionysus', the thinking of all those who follow Heraclitus (in whose company Nietzsche feels 'warmer and in better spirits than anywhere else') in rejecting being and beings as 'an empty fiction'.

“Saying 'the triumphal yes to life' even in the face of its most terrible aspects is, of course, willing the eternal return.  So, to return to our original question, in calling 'Goethe's faith', willing the eternal return, 'Dionysian', Nietzsche's point is that it can only be achieved through transcendence of the ego, identification with the totality of existence.” (page 503)

Of course, throughout Twilight Nietzsche continues to frame a favorite topic of his (expressed more fully in his next work The Antichrist), namely the psychological harm Christianity does to Western civilization.  “Christian indoctrination directs one to become, like Christ, free of 'negative' drives such as aggression and (especially) sexual lust.  To the extent one has such drives (even if one's adultery is only 'in the heart'), one s supposed to feel bad. The ultimate aim is their 'castration', becoming unable ever to experience them again.  'Castration' is the preferred technique of the weak-willed in general.  Trappists have so little faith in their ability to be corrupted by worldly things that they have to leave the worldly world entirely.  The disastrous, incredibly wasteful, mistake underlying 'castration', however, is its failure ever to ask how the passions might be 'spiritualized, beautified, deified':

“'The spiritualization of sensuality is called love.  It is a great triumph over Christianity.  Another triumph is our spiritualization of hostility.  It consists in a deep appreciation of the value of having enemies: in brief, one comes to act in the opposite way to the way one used to act.' (TI V 3)

“One values one's enemies, Nietzsche continues, because one only discovers one's identity when faced with opposition.  This is as true of individuals as of political parties.

“Spiritualization, sublimation, is a matter of providing a drive with a new, spiritual expression in place of its old, crudely physical one, so that it becomes no longer harmful. Notice, however, an element in Nietzsche's conception of sublimation not previously made fully explicit: sublimation does not merely vent the dangerous drive (so that it becomes something merely neutral, as when aggression is vented on a football field) but rather transforms it into something that is the 'opposite' of what it used to be, something positively beneficial.  Thus – this presumably is what Nietzsche's cryptic remark means – the setting of the sex-drive in the context of love transforms the 'other' from a sex object to be used into a person to be respected and cared for.  And the spiritualization of hostility becomes a kind of competitive friendship.” (page 504)

“Spiritualization is the response then, to the charge that Nietzsche offers nothing to deal with the harmful effects of human drives and passions.  At the center of 'all religions and moralities', says Nietzsche, is the idea that virtue is the path to happiness: 'do this, don't do that – and then you'll be happy!  Otherwise...'.  We, however, he continues, say exactly the opposite: '...a well-formed person, a 'happy one', has to perform certain acts and will instinctively avoid others.  In a word: his virtue is the effect of his happiness.'

“Nietzsche emphasizes the importance of this insight by calling it the first example of his 'revaluation of all values', meaning, presumably, that the first injunction of his new morality is: Become a 'happy', 'well-formed', (his favorite terminology) 'healthy' person!

“The 'selfishness' of fully healthy people has, says Nietzsche, 'extraordinary value' since 'the whole of life advances through them'.  Healthy, happy people benefit us all.  Who are they?  The answer to this question we know already: they are people like Goethe and Mirabeau who, the Genealogy observes, being free form the 'worm' of ressentiment, exhibit true love of their neighbors. The people who benefit us all are those who are never motivated by guilt, fear, hatred, or ressentiment, people who, 'trusting' that even the most repellent things and persons contribute to some greater good, display an extraordinary and universal benevolence towards the world that 'negates' nothing.  The more like Goethe we become, the greater the value of our (unselfish) selfishness.” (page 505)

Nietzsche remains highly skeptical and critical of German society in Twilight.  He felt that the imperial aspirations of Bismarck and the Reich traded the potential of an elevated culture for the all-too-human crudeness of power politics. “As always, a major focus of Nietzsche's critique of the current German scene is higher education....he observes that whereas the true goal of the university is to create fine human beings, those of both outstanding intellect and character, the university of the Reich has become a factory for turning men into machines, machines designed for civil service.

“A final strand in Nietzsche's critique of modern Germany, and by implication Western modernity in general, a critique of what he takes to be a developing trend, is his rejection of 'liberal institutions' – by 'liberal' he seems to mean institutions governed by the idea of 'equal rights for all', which makes this critique part of the ongoing critique of 'equal rights'.  'Liberal institutions' would thus seem to include women's emancipation, universal education, parliamentary democracy, social welfare, trade unions, and the like.

“...Nietzsche's theory of communal health: along with the occasional 'random mutation', a thriving community requires a powerful 'will to tradition', a tough, authoritarian conservatism that makes departure from tradition difficult. This is where 'liberal institutions' fail.  Take marriage.  It used to be 'indissoluble for life' with sole 'juridical authority' invested in the husband, a clarity in the chain of command which gave it a 'center of balance'.  Now, however, it is based on love, a notoriously fickle foundation on which to base anything at all.  And with 'equal rights' for women its former clarity of purpose is gone.  Instead of walking, modern marriage 'limps along on both legs'.  It is, consequently, disappearing social degeneration (the decay of 'family values', a similar spirit would say today) is the effect.” (pp. 507-508)

“Evidently, Twilight's better society will be one of illiberal institutions.  It will be a society that, while supporting elitist educational institutions that nurture the exceptional types who carry the seeds of its future development, will at the same time make it difficult for them to carry out their task.  It will be, moreover, a society of firmly maintained hierarchy.  Take the question of the workers.  What the modern machine economy demands is, effectively, industrial slaves. But at the same time, wishy-washy liberalism insists on providing them with education, the right to vote and the right to unionize.  The result is that they develop the desire to become themselves the masters. And the consequent of that is social strife and misery. 'If you want slaves', Nietzsche concludes, 'it is stupid to train them to become masters.'

“What any society needs, he continues, is a stratum of 'modest and self-sufficient types, Chinese types'....the basic shape of society needs to be the 'pyramid' of Plato's Republic with a stratum of workers forming the 'broad base'.  Within that basic shape, however, there will be many fine-grained distinctions.  Since 'reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types' it is stupid to say, as 'moralists' do, that 'man ought to be thus and thus!' to 'paint a picture on the wall and say ecce homo'.  Whatever morality the new society possesses, it will have differential rights and duties for different kinds of people.  Though hierarchical, it will be the opposite of homogeneous.” (page 508)

“'Every healthy morality', Nietzsche asserts, every 'natural' morality, serves 'some rule of life'.  It is, we know, 'the voice of a people's will to power', its will to live and thrive. And so too, we have just seen, is its art.  There is thus a coincidence between healthy art and healthy morality: the 'valuations' that are validated by a community's art are the valuations of its morality.  This takes us back to the task assigned to art in Human, All-Too-Human of 'imaginatively developing' shining images of the 'great and beautiful soul', back to the 'monumental' figures of the second Untimely Meditation and, ultimately, back to Wagner and The Birth of Tragedy's assertion that, 'art and people, myth and morality' are 'necessarily and closely intertwined' in a healthy community.  On the connection between art and society nothing has changed.” (page 509)

No comments: