Monday, May 15, 2017

Ecce Homo: Part Two

The subtitle to Nietzsche's autobiographical work is “How One Becomes What One Is.”  It tells, in often satirical fashion, the story of Nietzsche's philosophical journey; the twists and turns, the mistakes and breakthroughs, that led him to write his 'great task' though, of course, he only completed the first part of the revaluation project.  The rest of it never came to fruition, buried as scattered and unripe thoughts and fragments captured in his private notebooks.

These selections from the work should suffice to give readers unfamiliar with Ecce Homo a taste of its potent prose.


“The last thing I would promise would be to 'improve' mankind.  I erect no new idols; let the old idols learn what it means to have legs of clay.  To overthrow idols (my word for ideals) – that is rather my business. Reality has been deprived of its value, its meaning, its veracity to the same degree as an ideal world has been fabricated...The 'real world' and the 'apparent world' – in plain terms: the fabricated world and reality...The lie of the ideal has hitherto been the curse on reality, through it mankind itself has become mendacious and false down to its deepest instincts – to the point of worshiping the inverse values to those which alone could guarantee it prosperity, future, the exalted right to a future.” (Forward, 2)


“A being who is typically morbid cannot become healthy, still less can he make himself healthy; conversely, for one who is typically healthy being sick can even be an energetic stimulant to life, to more life.  Thus in fact does that long period of sickness seem to me now: I discovered life as it were anew, myself included, I tasted all good and even petty things in a way that others could not easily taste them – I made out of my will to health, to life, my philosophy...For pay heed to this: it was in the years of my lowest vitality that I ceased to be a pessimist: the instinct for self-recovery forbade to me a philosophy of indigence and discouragement...And in what does one really recognize that someone has turned out well!  In that a human being who has turned out well does our senses good: that he is carved out of wood at once hard, delicate and sweet-smelling.  He has a taste for what is beneficial to him; his pleasure, his joy ceases where the measure of what is beneficial is overstepped.  He divines cures for injuries, he employs ill chances to his own advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger.  Out of everything he sees, hears, experiences he instinctively collects together his sum: he is a principle of selection, he rejects much.  He is always in his company, whether he traffics with books, people or landscapes: he does honor when he /chooses/, when he admits, when he trusts.  He reacts slowly to every kind of stimulus, with that slowness which a protracted caution and a willed pride have bred in him – he tests an approaching stimulus, he is far from going out to meet it.  He believes in neither 'misfortune' not in 'guilt': he knows how to forget - he is strong enough for everything to have to turn out for the best for him.  Very well, I am the opposite of a decadent: for I have just described myself.” (Why I Am So Wise, 2)


“War is another thing.  I am by nature warlike. To attack is among my instincts.  To be able to be an enemy, to be an enemy – that perhaps presupposes a strong nature, it is in any event a condition of every strong nature.  It needs resistences, consequently it seeks resistances: the aggressive pathos belongs as necessarily to strength as the feeling of vengefulness and vindictiveness does to weakness....every growth reveals itself in the seeking out of a powerful opponent – or problem: for a philosopher who is warlike also challenges problems to a duel.  The undertaking is to master, not any resistances that happen to present themselves, but those against which one has to bring all one's strength, suppleness and mastery of weapons – to master equal opponents...Equality in the face of the enemy – first presupposition of an honest duel.” (What I Am So Wise, 7)


“One becomes what one is presupposes that one does not have the remotest idea what one is.  From this point of view even the blunders of life – the temporary side paths and wrong turnings, the delays, the 'modesties', the seriousness squandered on tasks which lie outside the task – have their own meaning and value....For the task of a revaluation of all values more capacities perhaps were required than have dwelt together in one individual, above all antithetical capacities which however are not allowed to disturb or destroy one another.  Order of rank among capacities; distance; the art of dividing without making inimical; mixing up nothing, 'reconciling' nothing; a tremendous multiplicity which is none the less the opposite of chaos – this has been the precondition, the protracted secret labor and artistic working of my instinct.  The magnitude of its higher protection was shown in the fact I have at no time had the remotest idea what was growing within me – that all my abilities one day leapt forth suddenly ripe, in their final perfection.” (Why I Am So Clever, 9)


As Cate pointed in the previous post, Nietzsche goes into great detail about his personal habits in Ecce Homo.  His beliefs and experiences regarding diet, location, hobbies, all sorts of intimate details are shared with the reader.


“...these little things – nutriment, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are beyond all conception of greater importance than anything that has been considered of importance hitherto.  It is precisely here that one has to begin to learn anew.  Those things which mankind has hitherto pondered seriously are not even realities, merely imaginings, more strictly speaking lies from the bad instincts of sick, in the profoundest sense injurious natures – all the concepts 'God', 'soul', 'virtue', 'sin', 'the Beyond', 'truth', 'eternal life'...But the greatness of human nature, its 'divinity', has been sought in them...All questions of politics, the ordering of society, education have been falsified down to their foundations because the most injurious men have been taken for great men – because contempt has been taught for the 'little' things, which is to say for the fundamental affairs of life....My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity.  Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it – all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity – but to love it...” (Why I Am So Clever, 10)


“My time has not yet come, some are born posthumously. - One day or other institutions will be needed in which people live and teach as I understand living and teaching: perhaps even chairs for the interpretation of Zarathustra will be established.  But it would be a complete contradiction of myself if I expected ears and hands for my truths already today: that I am not heard today, that no one today knows how to take from me, is not only comprehensible; it seems to me right.” (Why I Write Such Good Books, 1)


“I shall at the same time also say a general word on my art of style.  To communicate a state, an inner tension of pathos through signs, including the tempo of these signs – that is the meaning of every style; and considering that the multiplicity of inner states is in my case extraordinary, there exists in my case the possibility of many styles – altogether the most manifold art of style any man has ever had at his disposal.  Every style is good which actually communicates an inner state, which makes no mistake as to the signs, the tempo of the signs, the gestures - all rules of phrasing are art of gesture.  My instinct here is infallible.” (Why I Write Such Good Books, 4)


At this point Nietzsche proceeds to make a critique and assessment of his work up through The Wagner Case.  It is interesting to note how much analysis (in some cases how apologetic) he devotes to each volume in his body of work. The Birth of Tragedy receives a little over five pages.  The Untimely Essays a bit less than five pages.  Human, All Too Human about six pages.  Daybreak gets two and a half pages. Surprising to me is the fact that he devotes only one page to The Gay Science, one of his best overall works.  The famous Thus Spoke Zarathustra receives nine pages, the most of any work.  My favorite Nietzsche work, Beyond Good and Evil gets only a page and a half. Genealogy of Morals, considered by many to be his best philosophical effort – one page. Twilight of the Idols is worthy of two pages. The Wagner Case merits six and a half pages, which perhaps reflects Nietzsche's struggle to balance his personal anguish regarding Wagner in comparison with the wider achievements of his other works and particularly with respect to the revaluation project.


Nietzsche summarizes The Untimely Meditations as “altogether warlike”.  Daybreak is cast as the beginning of his “campaign against morality”, specifically “the struggle against the morality of unselfing” by which Nietzsche means the “decadence” that manifests itself as “resistance to the natural instincts” of ourselves as persons. His extremely brief review of The Gay Science declares that “in practically every sentence of this book profundity and exuberance go hand in hand”.  He sees the “positive” aspects of these books undergoing a transformation into the next phase of his life's work found in Beyond Good and Evil. He writes: “The task for the immediately following years was as clear as it could be.  Now that the affirmative part of my task was done, it was the turn of the denying, the No-saying and No-doing part: the revaluation of existing values themselves, the great war – the evocation of the day of decision.”


There is nothing particularly insightful or new, even in summation, offered for the freshly completed Twilight of the Idols or The Wagner Case, nor in his brief thoughts on the Genealogy. Rather it is with the sections devoted to The Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spoke Zarathustra that Nietzsche brings more substantive thinking to bear, perhaps achieving his best writing for the section of his autobiography dealing with his body of work.


For The Birth of Tragedy, his most popular work during his lifetime due to its Wagnerian connections, he writes: “The book's two decisive novelties are, firstly the understanding of the dionysian phenomenon in case of the Greeks – it offers the first psychology of this phenomenon, it sees in it the sole root of the whole Hellenic art.  The other novelty is the understanding of Socratism: Socrates for the first time recognized as an agent of Hellenic disintegration, as a typical decadent.  'Rationality' against instinct. 'Rationality' at any price as dangerous, as force undermining life!” (BOT, 1)


Nietzsche attempts to disconnect Wagner and Schopenhauer from this work, but his attempts are unconvincing. Nevertheless, he contextualizes his first book as the beginning of a meaningful process of self-discovery. He quotes from Twilight of the Idols (his intention is to connect his first book with his latest efforts): “'...beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – the joy which also encompasses joy in destruction...'  In this sense I have the right to understand myself as the first tragic philosopher - that is to say the extremist antithesis and antipodes of a pessimistic philosopher.  Before me this transposition of the dionysian into a philosophical pathos did not exist: tragic wisdom was lacking – I have sought in vain for signs of it even among the great Greeks of philosophy, those of the two centuries before Socrates.  I retained a doubt in the case of Heraclitus, in whose vicinity in general I feel warmer and more well than anywhere else.  Affirmation of transitoriness and destruction/, the decisive element in a dionysian philosophy, affirmation of antithesis and war, becoming with a radical rejection even of the concept 'being' - in this I must in any event recognize what is most closely related to me of anything that has been thought hitherto.” (BOT, 3)


Nietzsche contextualizes Zarathustra as a work primarily dealing with “the idea of eternal recurrence, the highest formula of affirmation that can possibly be attained.”  He continues, rather boastfully: “This work stands altogether alone.  Let us leave the poets aside: perhaps nothing at all has ever been done out of a like superfluity of strength. My concept 'dionysian' has here become the supreme deed; compared with it all the rest of human activity seems poor and conditional.  That a Goethe, a Shakespeare would not for a moment have known how to breathe in this tremendous passion and solitude, that Dante is, compared with Zarathustra, merely a believer and not one who first creates truth, a world-ruling spirit, a destiny – that the poets of the Veda are priests and not even worthy to unloose the latchet of the shoes of Zarathustra – all this is the least of it, and gives no idea of the distance, of the azure solitude, in which the work lives.” (Z, 6)


“I walk among mean as among fragments of the future: of that future which I scan.  And it is with my art and aim to compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance.  And how could I endure to be a man, if man were not also poet and reader of riddles and the redeemer of chance!  To redeem the past and to transform every 'It was' into and “I wanted it thus!' - that alone I would call redemption.


“I emphasize one final point: the italicized line provides the occasion.  Among the decisive preconditions for a dionysian task is the hardness of the hammer, joy even in destruction,  The impressive 'become hard', the deepest certainty that all creators are hard, is the actual mark of a dionysian nature.” (Z, 7)


One aspect of Ecce Homo is that Nietzsche takes every opportunity to stitch his collective body of work together as always having dealt with themes that were actually only fully fleshed out in his later efforts. It is true the undercurrents of what Nietzsche later called “decadence” and the “dionysian” perspective occasionally graced his early and middle works, but not to the degree of emphasis we find in his 1888 writings.  So, perhaps somewhat disingenuously or at least self-deceptively, Nietzsche connects The Birth of Tragedy with Twilight of the Idols


For all its satire and poetry and insightful musings, Ecce Homo shows patterns in the evolution of Nietzsche's thought that are more convenient in the name of metaphysical consistency than they are accurately portraying his earlier works and the development of his philosophy. Nietzsche writes of “wrong-turnings” (existential and philosophical investigations that don't pan out and cause one to back track to their “main” path) on the path of self-discovery throughout Ecce Homo but in reality he fails to apply any personal wrong-turning specifically to his works.

Ultimately, all of this autobiographical and intellectual self-analysis manifests itself in the beautiful egoism that makes up the last section of the work.  Here Nietzsche discusses his legacy as if he knew Ecce Homo was the end of his sane life.  


“I know my fate.  One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful – of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified.  I am not a man, I am dynamite....I do not want 'believers', I think I am too malicious to believe in myself, I never speak to the masses...I have a terrible fear I shall one day be pronounced holy: one will guess why I bring out this book beforehand; it is intended to prevent people from making mischief with me...I do not want to be a saint, rather even a buffoon...Perhaps I am a buffoon....the truth speaks out of me. - But my truth is dreadful: for hitherto the lie has been called truth. - Revaluation of all values: this is my formula for an act of supreme coming-to-oneself on the part of mankind which in me has become flesh and genius. It is my fate to have to be the first decent human being, to know myself in opposition to the mendaciousness of millennia...I was the first to discover the truth, in that I was the first to sense - smell - the lie as lie...My genius is in my nostrils...I contradict as has never been contradicted and am none the less the opposite of a negative spirit....For when truth steps into battle with the lie of millennia we shall have convulsions, an earthquake spasm, a transposition of valley and mountain such as has never been dreamed of.  The concept politics has then become completely absorbed into a war of spirits, all the power-structures of the old society have been blown into the air – they one and all reposed in the lie: there will be wars such as there have never been on earth.  Only after me will there be grand politics on earth.” (Why I Am A Destiny, 1)


“...the over-valuation of goodness and benevolence by and large already counts with me as a consequence of decadence, as a symptom of weakness, as incompatible with an ascending and affirmative life: denial and destruction is a condition of affirmation.” (Why I Am A Destiny, 4)


“In the concept of the 'selfless', of the 'self-denying' the actual badge of decadence, being lured by the harmful, no longer being able to discover where one's advantage lies, self-destruction, made the sign of value in general, made 'duty', 'holiness', the 'divine' in man!” (Why I Am A Destiny, 8)


As explained in our review of the Genealogy selfishness is more authentic to the free spirit than selflessness.  Being-for-others is decadence - only actions that are meaningful of our own choosing (our intimate Being-in-myself) are authentic.  So selfishness in this sense, at least, is superior from Nietzsche's perspective.

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