Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part Two

Perhaps more so than in any previous work, Nietzsche is the quintessential warrior-philosopher in Twilight of the Idols. But we should take care in interpreting this. For him this is a style of living that is non-violent. Rather, Nietzsche advocates an aggressive, creative personal as well as cultural confidence and inner strength.  It is, paradoxically perhaps, a source of joy. For the most part I will present aspects of the work not referenced by Julian Young in the prior post.

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part.  Only excess of strength is proof of strength. - A revaluation of all values, this question-mark so black, so huge it casts a shadow over him who sets it up – such a destiny of a task compels one every instant to run out into the sunshine so as to shake off a seriousness grown all too oppressive.  Every expedient for doing so is justified, every 'occasion' a joyful occasion.  Above all, war.  War has always been the grand sagacity of every spirit which has grown too inward and too profound; its curative power lies even in the wounds one receives.

“This little book is a grand declaration of war; and as regards the sounding-out of idols, this time they are not idols of the age but eternal idols which are here touched with the hammer as with a tuning fork – there are no more ancient idols in existence....Also none more hollow....That does not prevent there being the most believed in; and they are not, especially in the most eminent case, called idols...” (from the Forward dated 30 September 1888)

As in the Genealogy, Nietzsche seeks to attack and annihilate the unquestioned assumptions of western civilization.  Even though he considered Twilight a “recreation,” he nevertheless deals with topics that were going to be at the foundation of the revaluation project.  His intent is to critique art, culture, religion, capitalism, democracy, among other major philosophical issues.  This aggression can be seen in the choice of subtitle for the book: “How to Philosophize with a Hammer”.  It is equally apparent in his title for the section of short sayings which opens the work - “Maxims and Arrows”, which contain some of his most famous remarks.

“Which is it?  Is man only God's mistake or God only man's mistake?” (I, 7)

From the military school of life. - What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (I, 8)

“If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how. - Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that.” (I, 12)

“How little is needed for happiness! The note of a bagpipe. - Without music life  would be a mistake. The German even thinks of God as singing songs.” (I, 33)

Nietzsche begins his attack upon the unquestioned assumptions that lead to basic falsehoods in modern society by analyzing language and its relationship to the human 'ego' itself.  “Language belongs in its origin to the age of the most rudimentary form of psychology: we find ourselves in the midst of a rude fetishism when we call to mind the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of language – which is to say, of reason.  It is this which sees everywhere deed and doer; this which believes in will as cause in general; this which believes in the 'ego' , in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and which projects its belief in the ego-substance on to all things – only thus does it create the concept of 'thing'....Being is everywhere thought in, foisted on, as cause; it is only from the conception 'ego' that there follows, derivatively, the concept of 'being'....At the beginning stands the great fateful error that the will is something which produces an effect - that will is a faculty....Today we know it is merely a word....” (III, 5)

He dismisses the probability that there is an “apparent” world, a “better” world than this, as “phantasmagoria”. Such thinking leads of decadence of every kind.  Against this, the “tragic artist is not a pessimist – it is precisely he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian...” (III, 6)  Fundamentally, not only accepting but embracing the uncertainty and difficulty of this life in this world gives the discerning reader a glimpse that the revaluation project is fundamentally Dionysian in nature.

Nietzsche follows this section of Twilight with “How the 'Real World' at last Became a Myth.”  This is a very brief thought experiment consisting six progressive theses.  First, the “real world” is attainable to the wise and virtuous, Next, it is unattainable but promised to the wise and virtuous.  Thirdly, the real world becomes “a consolation, a duty” because it is not unattainable but undemonstrative. Next, it becomes fundamentally unknowable and our “duty” to it is questionable.  Fifth, the real world has no use, there is nothing to have duty toward and it should be abolished. Finally, the real world is abolished and, along with it, the apparent world.

The warrior-philosopher criticizes the popular (and largely unquestioned) assumption that our well-being should direct us toward peace and tranquility.  Rather than a legitimate goal for the benefit of humanity he sees such things as a harmful weakness. “Nothing has grown more alien to us than that desideratum of former times 'peace of the soul', the Christian desideratum; nothing arouses less envy in us than the moral cow and the fat contentment of the good conscience....One has renounced grand life when one renounces war....

“'Peace of soul' can, for example, be the gentle radiation of a rich animality into the moral (or religious) domain.  Or the beginning of weariness, the first of the shadows which evening, every sort of evening, casts.  Or a sign that the air is damp, that south winds are on the way.  Or unconscious gratitude for a good digestion (sometimes called 'philanthropy'). Or the quiescence of the convalescent for whom all things have a new taste and who waits....Or the condition which succeeds a vigorous gratification of our ruling passion, the pleasant feeling of a rare satiety.  Or the decrepitude of our will, our desires, our vices.  Or laziness persuaded by vanity to deck itself out as morality.  Or the appearance of a certainty, even a dreadful certainty, after the protracted tension and torture of uncertainty.  Or the expression of ripeness and mastery in the midst of action, creation, endeavor, volition, a quiet breathing, 'freedom of will' attained....Twilight of the Idols: who knows? Perhaps that too is a kind of 'peace of the soul'...” (V, 3)

Nietzsche critiques moral authority and whether traditional morality is beneficial or harmful.  He advocates the style of the "immoralist".  This is not an outright "wicked" person in the traditional sense.  It is a warrior who questions morality as it interferes with "higher" society, as it attempts to restrain instinctual human diversity.  “Let us consider finally what naivety it is to say 'man ought to be thus and thus!'  Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the luxuriance of a prodigal play and change of forms: and does some pitiful journeyman moralist say at the sight of it: 'No! Man ought to be different?' ... In so far as morality condemns as morality and not with regard to the aims and objects of life ... it is a specific error with which one should show no sympathy, an idiosyncrasy of the degenerate which has caused an unspeakable amount of pain! … We others, we immoralists, have on the contrary opened wide our hearts to every kind of understanding, comprehension, approval.  We do not readily deny, we seek our honor in affirming.  We have come more and more to appreciate that economy which needs and knows how to use all that which the holy lunacy of the priests, the diseased reason of the priest rejects; that economy in the law of life which derives advantage even from the repellent species of the bigot, the priest, the virtuous man - what advantage? - But we ourselves, we immoralists, are the answer to that...” (V, 6)

In “The Four Great Errors” Nietzsche delineates fundamental assumptions humans make about reality that are untrue and are the basis for all kinds of confused behavior and interpretation of experience in western civilization.  The first is “The error of confusing cause and consequence.  There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the consequence for the cause: I call it reason's intrinsic form of corruption.  Nonetheless, this error is among the most ancient and most recent habits of mankind: it is even sanctified among us, it bears the names 'religion' and 'morality'.  Every proposition formulated by religion and morality contains it; priests and moral legislatures are the authors of this corruption of reason.” (VI, 1)

Though Twilight is not 'officially' part of the revaluation project, Nietzsche takes the opportunity in the work to proclaim the very first revaluation: “The most general formula at the basis of every religion and morality is: 'Do this and this, refrain from this and this – and you will be happy!  Otherwise...' Every morality, every religion is this imperative – I call it the great original sin of reason, immortal unreason. In my mouth this formula is converted into its reverse - first example of my 'revaluation of all values': a well-constituted human being, a 'happy one', must perform certain actions and instinctively shrinks from other actions, he transports the order of which he is the physiological representative into his relations with other human beings and with things.  In a formula: his virtue is the consequence of his actions.

“My restored reason says: when a people is perishing, degenerating psychologically, vice and luxury (that is to say the necessity for stronger and stronger and more and more frequent stimulants, such as every exhausted nature is acquainted with) follow therefrom.  A young man grows prematurely pale and faded.  His friends say: this and that illness is to blame.  I say: that he became ill, that he failed to resist the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, an hereditary exhaustion....My higher politics says: a party which makes errors like this is already finished – it is no longer secure in its instincts.  Every error, of whatever kind, is a consequence of degeneration of instinct, degeneration of will: one has thereby virtually defined the bad. Everything good is instinct – and consequently easy, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, the god is typically distinguished from the hero (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity.” (VI, 2)

“The error of false causality” and “The error of imaginary causes” follow.  Nietzsche sees western values as subject to “phantoms and false lights” and the best example of the confusion over cause and consequence is traditional morality and religion itself. “Morality and religion fall entirely under the psychology of error: in every single case cause is mistaken for effect;  or the effect of what is believed true is mistaken for the truth;  or a state of consciousness is mistaken for the causation of this state.” (VI, 6)

Then we come to “The error of free will.”  Essentially, Nietzsche discusses the importance of “free will” to the Christian concept of “guilt” - a life freely willed is a life that makes guilt and punishment possible.  But Nietzsche destroys the concept of free will as a fiction, thereby there is no basis for “guilt” or for any accountability whatsoever. Instead: “We invented the concept of 'purpose': in reality purpose is lacking … One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole....But nothing exists apart from the whole!” (VI, 8)

We have touched on this before but it bears repeating, by denying the existence of a free will Nietzsche runs into a potential inconsistency in his philosophy.  How can the “free spirit” or the “ubermensch” aspire to “higher culture” with no will of their own?  Nowhere does Nietzsche seem to consider the problematic nature of his position and perhaps he did not view it as an issue at all.

After Nietzsche's hammer smashes traditional morality in section VII by declaring “there are no moral facts whatever”, he proceeds to critique German culture as a problem of higher education.  The key to the future, for Germany and otherwise, is to be educated in how to properly think, that is, to develop a kind of plasticity of mind.  “Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill which the possession of intellectual light feet communicates to the muscles! … For dancing in any form cannot be divorced from a noble education, being able to dance with the feet, with concepts, with words: do I still have to say that one has to be able to dance with the pen - that writing has to be learned.”  (VIII, 7)

Next Twilight arrives at what I consider to be the core of the work, section IX “Expeditions of an Untimely Man”, the longest section of the work.  The title alone suggests that, as throughout his body of work, Nietzsche views himself as ahead of his time; of communicating concepts that are beyond modernity to whatever comes next.  Nietzsche is an explorer into realms of reality that lie beyond the well-worn cultural paths of traditional religion, philosophy, and psychology.  A higher person keeps their eye on the higher overall goal for society as a whole.  This person is inherently creative (in some form), the "grand style" for living emerges out of a euphoria of abundance.

“To experience from a desire to experience – that's no good.  In experiencing, one must not look back towards oneself, or every glance becomes an 'evil eye'. A born psychologist instinctively guards against seeing for the sake of seeing; the same applies to the born painter.  He never works 'from nature' – he leaves it to his instinct, his camera obscura to sift and strain 'nature', the 'case', the 'experience'....He is conscious only of the universal, the conclusion, the outcome: he knows nothing of that arbitrary abstraction from the individual case.” (IX, 7)

Towards a psychology of the artist. - For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.  Intoxication must first have heightened the excitability of the entire machine: no art results before that happens.  All kinds of intoxication, however different their origin, have the power to do this: above all, intoxication of sexual excitement, the oldest and most primitive form of intoxication....The essence of intoxication is the feeling of plenitude and increased energy.  From out of this feeling one gives to things, one compels them to take, one rapes them – one calls this procedure idealizing.  Let us get rid of a prejudice here: idealization does not consist, as is commonly believed, in a subtracting or deducting of the petty and secondary.  A tremendous expulsion of the principle features rather is the decisive thing, so that thereupon the others too disappear.” (IX, 8)

“In this condition one enriches everything out of one's own abundance: what one sees, what one desires, one sees swollen, pressing, strong, overladen with energy. The man in this condition transforms things until they mirror his power – until they are reflections of his perfection.  This compulsion to transform into the perfect is – art.” (IX, 9)

“The most powerful men have always been inspired architects; the architect has always been influenced by power.  Pride, victory over weight and gravity, the will to power, seek to render themselves visible in a building; architecture is a kind of rhetoric of power, now persuasive, even cajoling in form, now bluntly imperious.  The highest feeling of power and security finds expression in that which possesses grand style.  Power which no longer requires proving; which disdains to please; which is slow to answer; which lives oblivious of the existence of any opposition; which reposes in itself, fatalistic, a law among laws: that is what speaks of itself in the form of grand style. (IX, 11)

“Every individual may be regarded as representing the ascending or descending line of life.  When one has decided which, one has thereby established a canon for the value of his egoism.  If he represents the ascending line his value is in fact extraordinary – and for the sake of the life-collective, which with him takes a step forward, the care expended on his preservation, on the creation of optimum conditions for him, may even be extreme.  For the individual, the 'single man', as people and philosophers have hitherto understood him, is an error: he does not constitute a separate entity, an atom, a 'link in the chain', something merely inherited from the past – he constitutes the entire single line 'man' up to and including himself....If he represents the descending development, decay, chronic degeneration, sickening ( - sickness is, broadly speaking, already a phenomenon consequent upon decay, not the cause of it), then he can be accorded little value, the elementary fairness demands that he takes away as little as possible from the well-constituted.  He is not better than a parasite on them...” (IX, 33)

A criticism of decadence morality. - An 'altruistic' morality, a morality under which egoism languishes - is under all circumstances a bad sign.  This applies to individuals, it applies especially to peoples.  The best are lacking, when egoism begins to be lacking.  To choose what is harmful to oneself. To be attracted by 'disinterested' motives, almost constitutes the formula for decadence....Disintegration of the instincts! - Man is finished when he becomes altruistic. - Instead of saying simply 'I am no longer worth anything', the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent says: 'Nothing is worth anything - life is not worth anything'....Such a judgment represents, after all, a grave danger, it is contagious – on the utterly morbid soil of society it soon grows luxuriously, now in the form of religion (Christianity), now in that of philosophy (Schopenhauerism). (IX, 35) 

“Our softening of customs – this is my thesis, my innovation if you like – is a consequence of decline; stern and frightful customs can, conversely, be a consequence of a superabundance of life.  For in the latter case much may be risked, much demanded and much squandered.  What was formerly a spice of life would be poison to us....We are likewise too old, too belated, to be capable of indifference – also a form of strength: our morality of pity, against which I was the first to warn. That which one might call l'impressionisme morale, is one more expression of the physiological over-excitability pertaining to everything decadent.

“Strong ages, noble cultures, see in pity, in 'love of one's neighbor', in a lack of self and self-reliance, something contemptible.  Ages are to be assessed according to their positive forces - and by this assessment the age of the Renaissance, so prodigal and so fateful, appears as the last great age, and we, we moderns with our anxious care for ourselves and love of our neighbor, with our virtues of work, of unpretentiousness, of fair play, of scientifically – acquisitive, economical, machine-minded – appear as a weak age....Our virtues are conditioned, are demanded by our weakness....'Equality', a certain actual rendering similar of which the theory of 'equal rights' is only an expression, belongs essentially to decline: the chasm between man and man, class and class, the multiplicity of types, the will to be oneself, to stand out – that which I call pathos of distance - characterizes every strong age.” (IX, 38)

Nietzsche believes that the highest form of human freedom is to be found in the individuals who overcome the greatest personal challenges. In my opinion, he is completely correct in this regard. Seeking freedom in "liberty" and "rights" is a hollow shell upon which all manner of cultural errors occur. “One would have to seek the highest type of free man where the greatest resistance is constantly being overcome: five steps from tyranny, near the threshold of the danger of servitude.  This is true psychologically when one understands by 'tyrants' pitiless and dreadful instincts, to combat which demands the maximum of authority and discipline towards oneself – finest type Julius Ceasar...” (IX, 38)

Genuine individual and cultural strength comes from affirming and overcoming the challenges of life. “The psychology of the orgy as an overflowing feeling of life and energy within which even pain acts as a stimulus provided me with the key to the concept of the tragic feeling, which was misunderstood as much by Aristotle as it especially was by our pessimists.  Tragedy is so far from providing evidence of pessimism among the Hellenes in Schopenhauer's sense that it has to be considered the decisive repudiation of that idea and the counter-verdict to it.  Affirmation of life even in its strangest and sternest problems, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types - that is what I call Dionysian, that is what I recognized as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet.  Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion through its vehement discharge – it was thus Aristotle understood it – but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction....And with that I again return to the place from which I set out - Birth of Tragedy was my first revaluation of all values: with that I again plant myself in the soil out of which I draw all that I will and can - I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus – I, the teacher of eternal recurrence...” (X, 5)

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