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[VIDEOS] I Lecture for Twenty Hours on Nietzsche’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: PRELUDE TO A PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE
by Joseph Suglia
The following is a partial transcript of a fifteen-part video series that I held during the Great COVID-19 Recess, the massive Shutdown, from April until June 2020. I lecture on my English translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future [Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft]. Below is a partial transcript of the commentary; the words below are my own, not Nietzsche’s. If you would like to listen to the translation and the full commentary, you will have to listen to the videos themselves.
Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia. And this is a video series. A video series in which I will be lecturing on my translation into English of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future [Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft] by Friedrich Nietzsche.
I’d like to begin with a quotation from Herman Melville’s Typee. This is the epigraph for this video series. “Although the object in view [of missionary work] be the achievement of much good, that agency may nevertheless be productive of evil. In short, missionary undertaking, however it may be blessed of heaven, is in itself but human; and subject, like everything else, to errors and abuses. And have not errors and abuses crept into the most sacred places…?”
When Nietzsche hypothesizes that Truth is a woman, he is alluding to a myth. He is alluding to the myth of Isis. Isis, as you might know, is regarded as the Goddess of Nature. And Isis is always veiled. Isis was forever shrouded, cloaked in a veil. Nature hides itself. We all know this proverb, we all know this proverb.
Nature withdraws, Nature recedes. The motto of Isis is: “I am she who always was and who always will be, and no mortal shall ever pull down my mantle.” My veil, my shroud.
And the myth of Isis is beautifully represented by a poem by the German eighteenth-century writer and thinker Friedrich Schiller. It is a poem entitled “Das verschleierte Bild zu Saïs.” That could be translated as “The Veiled Image at Saïs.” Sais is a city in Egypt where a statue of Isis was situated. The poem is about a young man, a disciple of Isis, who wants to see the goddess unveiled. That is, he wants to see the Truth naked. So, one night, he steals into the Temple of Isis with the hope of ripping away the veil that conceals the statue which represents the Truth of Existence, tearing away the veil and bolding the Goddess of Truth in her divine nudity. So, in other words, he wants to see the Essence of Nature. Within the temple, he reaches out to remove the veil of Isis and hears the words inside of himself: “No mortal may move this veil, only I myself may lift it.” He wants to behold the naked truth and takes off the veil from the statue. What happens then? The next morning, the priests come into the temple and find the young man lying dead on the floor of the temple, lying blanched, stretched out at the statue’s base.
Now, this is an allegory. This is an allegorical fable about the essence of truth. The metaphysical presumption—and Nietzsche is here calling the metaphysicians “dogmatists.” He means metaphysical philosophers. Metaphysical philosophers are those who believe that the world has a foundation. An unshakeable, irrefutable, unchangeable foundation. And Nietzsche is an anti-foundationalist. He’s a critic of metaphysics. He’s a critic of the metaphysical need that his unofficial mentor Schopenhauer believes in. I mean, Schopenhauer came up with that term, “the metaphysical need,” das metaphysische Bedürfnis, the metaphysical requirement. Well, it’s the emotional investment, this emotional necessity or impulse to believe that there is a stable, immutable foundation behind the whirlwind of appearances. And anyone who believes that behind the whirlwind of appearances there is a stable foundation, an eternal foundation is thinking and feeling metaphysically. Metaphysical desire is the desire for a foundation, for stasis, behind, below, or beneath the maelstrom, the whirlwind of phenomena. But for Nietzsche, as he writes, the perspectival is the condition of life. And what does he mean by this? He means that there is nothing behind the world, the world is appearance, the world is appearances of appearances, the world is veils of veils, masks of masks. And the metaphysical disciple of Truth can tear off veil after veil all he wants, in a kind of forced striptease, it doesn’t matter, it will all be in vain. He will never behold the naked truth. There is no naked truth. There is no truth behind the chaos of appearances. There are only appearances, there are only perspectives and perspectives of perspectives.
Now, this gets very difficult because if you think of it, there is only surface but no depth. But could we even use the word “surface” anymore? Can there be such a thing as a depthless surface? I’m not sure. We may not even use the phrase “hollow appearance” anymore, we may not even use the phrase “empty phenomenon.” Because phenomena are all that we have. Appearances are all that we have. The world of appearances is objective truth. And that is it. Nietzsche is affirmative of life itself. Life itself is the surface, is imagery without profundity. Life is liberated and liberating, and Nietzsche is a prophet and an affirmer of life. A thinker who celebrates and affirms life. And he is a critic of metaphysics, which he sees as a sickness, which is why he hates Plato.
Well, Nietzsche hates and loves Plato. He hates the Platonic concepts of the “Good in Itself” and the “Pure Spirit.” Plato believed in the eidos, in the idea that is divorced from the world of appearances. Why? Well, everything that occurs in the world is subject to decomposition. Everything decomposes because everything occurs in time. So, according to Plato, something must exist outside of time, and what exists outside of time? The ideas, and Kant was following Plato. Kant believed in the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality. These are atemporal and aspatial, hypertemporal and hyperspatial.
When I say, “hyper-” I mean the exact meaning of that prefix. Sometimes, people use the prefix “hyper-” to mean “excessively.” No, when I use the prefix “hyper,” I mean “away from,” “beyond,” so please keep that in mind. So by “hyper-,” I mean “supra-,” “beyond,” “away from.”
I don’t want to get too deep into Plato and Kant, though. I just want to make the point that Nietzsche is not a metaphysician, not even the last metaphysician, as Heidegger erroneously describes him. Heidegger is wrong about many things. No, no, Nietzsche is a perspectivalist. That is to say, he is someone who rejoices, who exults in the play of appearances, in the free play of masks, of veils, of surfaces, if may even use that term.
There is more to say. So, in the case of the Temple of Isis, if you were to see Nietzsche as a disciple of Isis, and he was only a disciple of the truth behind appearances, he was only a metaphysical thinker when he was very young and under the sway of Christianity and Plato, and later under the sway of Schopenhauer, whom he later rejected. In Menschliches allzumenschliches, in Human, All-Too-human, you see him taking a distance from Schopenhauer, his unofficial mentor. But then, he breaks from Schopenhauer absolutely in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, The Gay Science, and Nietzsche annihilates Schopenhauer in Also Sprach Zarathustra. I mean, he sees Schopenhauer in that book as a Preacher of Death, and not in a good way. And certainly in this book, he does, as well. This is not to say that he retains nothing of Schopenhauer… I’m sorry, I’m getting off topic, this is a tangent.
So, the dogmatists—again, I call them “metaphysicians” or “metaphysical philosophers”—they are suitors who are trying to court Dame Truth, Lady Truth. They are trying to woo Lady Truth. They are in love with truth; I mean, that is what a philosopher is. Technically, the word “philosopher” means “lover of wisdom,” but you get the point. So, a dogmatic metaphysical philosopher loves the Truth, and this philosopher is awkward, clumsy, and is fumbling around and lunging in a kind of inappropriate way, in a creepy way, in a stalkerish way at Lady Truth. Trying to take off her veil. In a way that is violating and disgusting and despicable.
And Nietzsche is not like that. Nietzsche is very cool, and he knows not to lunge at Lady Truth. This is an allegory, of course. He’s not going to lunge and fumble around. No, he’s going to keep his distance, he’s going to be very remote, laid-back, nonchalant. And he doesn’t try to remove the garment, the gown, the vestment of Lady Truth because he knows that there is nothing behind the veil, he knows that the veil is everything. But if he were to remove the veil, he would only find another veil and another veil. I know this is an overworked metaphor, but you can think of Chinese Boxes. You know, the image of a box within a box, and then another box inside of that box. Or of a Russian doll. I think that everyone knows Russian dolls. There’s a doll, and then there’s a doll inside of the doll. It’s a mise-en-abyme structure. You see it in the engravings of M. C. Escher, for instance. I’m sure that many of you know Escher.
For anyone who has been trained theologically and who has been raised under the sway of religion and who might no longer be under the sway of religion, I can see how all of this could be quite dispiriting, to say the least. It could make somebody desperate. “Oh, wait, you mean there’s nothing except for images and images of images, replicas and replicas of replicas?” Nothing but veils and masks, and there is no deeper truth, no profundity. I could see how that could cause someone to despair. But don’t despair! Because life is so rich in all of its vicissitudes, in all of its vagaries. Life is inestimably rich. I wouldn’t say that it is infinite, for Nietzsche. This is my interpretation of Nietzsche, one of my many interpretations of Nietzsche. Fin.
My name is Joseph Suglia, and I am going to be lecturing on Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, by Friedrich Nietzsche extemporaneously.
The presupposition of all that we have read thus far: Nietzsche is saying, in essence, that the human animal is inaccessible to itself, that the core of the human animal is unknown to that animal, that the essence of the human animal is opaque to itself. Consciousness is nothing more than a thin, iridescent membrane, a pellicle on the surface of the unconscious mind. Consciousness is a membranous film. To use another metaphor, a Nietzschean metaphor: We are astride tigers, which are the totality of the unconscious mind. Everything that we think, write, and say bubbles up from the unconscious mind. All consciousness is explicable by reference to the unconscious mind.
Now if that is the case, and surely it is—all of Freudian psychoanalysis and modern psychology proceeds from this point of departure—if human beings are primarily unconscious beings, they practice a kind of self-misknowledge. The Delphic oracle “Know thyself” is based on a false assumption. There is only self-misknowledge. There really is no such thing as self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is hetero-consciousness; self-consciousness is the consciousness of the stranger, the foreigner. Self-consciousness is an alien, anonymous, impersonal consciousness.
If this is true (and surely it is), what does this say of us and our self-evaluations, self-assessments, self-interpretations? It means that every interpretation that we put forward about ourselves is an erroneous interpretation and should be regarded as such. So, for example, we have all met people who tell us how empathic, how compassionate they are. Altruism, other-centeredness is a myth. Altruism, voluntarism, empathy, other-directedness—all of these things are rooted in an aggressive self-assertiveness; they are based on the vaunting desire for superiority over others, the desire to assert one’s strength in opposition to the weak. Nietzsche rejects, for instance, the supposed “purity of compassion.”
Nietzsche is taking lofty ideals and bringing them down into the mud of the human-all-too-human world. He is saying, “You think that your ideals are pure, you think that they are autogenously produced? You think that your ideals, your values have a pure, separate origin? You think that they come from an otherworldly place? No, they come from the slime, the muck, the mud, the quag of the human experience.”
So, someone who claims to be a loving person is not so loving as one thinks. As Nietzsche writes elsewhere (in Also Sprach Zarathustra), love is really the desire for assimilation and appropriation, the desire for control and possession, the desire to own another human being. Is he wrong about this? And maybe if we were to be honest about our “negative” emotions and our human psychology, we would stop deceiving ourselves, as much as we can.
We are self-deceptive creatures. If most thinking is unconscious activity, if the majority of intellectual activity is unconscious, the human animal is a deluded creature. The human animal is the one mendacious organism, the creature that lies to itself all of the time. So, love is not pure, and why would love be a value?
My video series on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is written from this perspective, if you are interested.
What Nietzsche is saying: He is reducing “Good” to “Evil.” This does not make of him a philosopher of “Evil.” He does not believe in “Good” or “Evil,” so “Good” and “Evil” should be placed in quotation marks. So, he is saying that what culture calls “Good” is reducible to what culture calls “Evil.” He is not some devilish philosopher who exclaims, “Let Evil be my Good!” while twisting his Vercingetorix moustache. He is not Machiavelli. He is not even Timon, the famous misanthrope of Athens.
“Good” does not exist, according to Nietzsche, and neither does “Evil.” He is not a philosopher of Evil. Not at all. He thinks that “Good” and “Evil” are abstractions and mystifications. Humanity would be better without them, and once we slough off these antiquated, false concepts, humankind would be able to rise to its fullest height, to its zenith, its “Great Noon.” This is what Nietzsche calls der Übermensch, the time of overhumanity.
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What Nietzsche is saying is amazingly shattering: He is suggesting that mathematics is a fabrication, which it is. It is not, as Kant believed, an analytic or synthetic a priori. Logic is also a fabrication. These are human systems of thought, and they have nothing to do with reality, with life.
Nietzsche is not asking a question, such as “Is this statement true?” “Is this logical proposition true?” or “Is this metaphysical claim true?” He is asking: “What is the value, if any, of this proposition for life?” Perhaps it is necessary to believe all of this junk in order for the human species to live and to perpetuate itself. Perhaps there is an evolutionary benefit in believing in logic and mathematics. Perhaps human beings need these lies, these fictions, in order to live. Are logical propositions evolutionarily necessary? I can’t think of a more radical thing to say about logic than that—radical in the etymological sense of the word, which means “to the radix,” “to the root,” to the basis.
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All philosophers are advocates of their own uncritically accepted, irrational prejudices.
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All philosophy is a form of autobiography.
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Is Nietzsche suggesting that philosophers care more about money and other personal concerns than they do about philosophy? If he suggesting this (and I hope that he is not!), he is very close to what Schopenhauer writes about university philosophy. Is Nietzsche suggesting that academic philosophers are not preprogammed to do philosophy? Is he suggesting that there is no predestination to the business of philosophy? Is he suggesting that academic philosophers are not congenitally philosophical, that they are not born to philosophize? No, he could not possibly be suggesting that!
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Discussion of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) from a Nietzschean perspective. Timothy Treadwell humanized the bears. He appeared to believe that bears are human beings in bear costumes. He thought that bears were zoömorphs, human beings in the shape of non-human animals. Treadwell did not understand or accept the boundless indifference of nature, the measureless neutrality of nature.
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Discussion of natural-law theory. Those who see justice and order in nature—anyone who thinks that nature is just, fair, organized, or prestabilized—are exporting and projecting their own ideas of coherence, organicity, onto nature. They are transferring their ideas of order, logic, justice, decency, goodness onto the blank screen of nature.
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The Stoics wanted to practice self-mastery. They wanted to tyrannize themselves. The real point of departure is drawing a distinction between the controllable and the uncontrollable, between problems that one can change and problems that one cannot change. Nietzsche lets no one off the hook, not even the determinists (those who believe in necessity as opposed to the free will). This is an explosive and implosive book.
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Nietzsche is suggesting that the body is what we are aware of before all else. If one is short of breath, if one is sick (and we are struggling through an age of dis-ease), one will not be able to philosophize. One is aware of the palpations and the palpitations of the body, the appetites of the body, before all else; the awareness of the body comes before all reflection. When Nietzsche emphasizes the body, in Also Sprach Zarathustra and in this book, it should be seen as a riposte to the German Idealists. The speculative idealists, such as Schelling and Hegel, write as if the body never existed. Nietzsche is acknowledging the body: We are not minds with bodies attached to them; the mind is propped on the plinth, on the pillar of the body. The human animal is mostly corporeal. The mind is just superadded to the body. How, then, could human beings rightfully see themselves as being superior to all other animals? How, then, could human beings justifiably see themselves as “the measure of all things”? How, then, could human beings see themselves as the masters of the Planet Earth?
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I probably should talk about Jacques Derrida. It is perhaps scandalous to say this, but Jacques Derrida is overrated. Believe me, I spent ten years of my life reading Derrida in English and in French. I am not coming from a place of ignorance. I will say that there is nothing in Derrida that I cannot read in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.
If I wanted to be unkind, I would say that Derrida is a Franco-Nietzschean, a philosophical mountebank, a circumlocutionist, and a philosophaster. All Derrida has written is that there is nothing pure, that all foundations, all origins, all logoi are woven into the web of language. Every concept belongs to the network of language, the linguistic web. Derrida doesn’t like the word language, though, because it has too much to do with speech. It is too phonocentric for him (langue means “language” or “tongue”).
Everything that you read in Derrida you can find in Nietzsche, in Wittgenstein (“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt”), in Blanchot, in Levinas. The later Derrida writes about how “every other is absolutely other.” That came from Levinas. The idea that language is a self-sufficient, autonomous, and impersonal network, a space in which no one speaks and nothing is reflected, is derived from Blanchot.
When Nietzsche writes of “the honeymoon of German philosophy,” he is mocking Hegel’s “speculative Good Friday.”
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Schelling and Hegel pander to godly, the religious, the pious, whereas Nietzsche does not. Nietzsche is a reprobate thinker.
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Kant asks, “How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?” Kant’s answer to his own question, “They are capacitated by a capacity,” is a non-answer, a tautology.
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In Molière’s play The Imaginary Invalid, a physician explains that the soporific property of opium is a “virtus dormativa” (a “dormitive virtue”). In other words, opium puts people to sleep by putting people to sleep. The tautologous non-response of the physician is resemblant of Kant’s tautologous non-response to his own question: “Synthetic a priori judgments are capacitated by a capacity” (to paraphrase).
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It is high time to replace Kant’s epistemological question with another question: “What is the value of such judgments for life?” What is the evolutionary benefit of such judgments? Do they enhance, promote, intensify life? If they do not, why do we care about them?”
Perhaps it is necessary for human beings to lie to themselves in order for humankind to survive. Perhaps it is necessary for humanity to believe in such lies in order for humanity to survive, in order to evolve. Could it be that randomized natural selection demands self-deceptions, camouflages, subterfuges, simulations, chicanery, mendacity, fakery, charlatanry, lies? Perhaps humankind needs lies in order to propagate itself, to proliferate itself, to perpetuate itself.
This means that such questions might still be false. Perhaps it is necessary to believe that synthetic a priori judgments are possible in order for humankind to flourish.
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As soon as you say or write something about your feelings or sensations, the feeling or sensation dies.
All language lies. But even this may not be said, for if all language is false, then there is something which is true. Perhaps what Nietzsche is doing here is universalizing falsehood and thereby superseding the distinction between the “true” and the “false.”
If you read Nietzsche’s late notebooks, or his early essay “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne,” you will find the assertion (to paraphrase) that truth is a lie. But if you say something like this, aren’t you assuming that your own statement is apodictically true? Is this a paradoxical statement (or a koan), and is Nietzsche aware that such a statement is paradoxical?
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Nietzsche is slighting his former unofficial teacher Schopenhauer. The beginning of the end of the love affair between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche took place when Nietzsche thought deeply about Schopenhauer’s “metaphysical need” or “metaphysical requirement” in the notebooks that were collated into Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Schopenhauer’s “metaphysical requirement” is the alleged emotional necessity for human beings to believe in a world beyond this world, a permanent structure, an eternal structure outside of the maelstrom, the whirlwind of appearances.
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The official topic of this book is the moral biases of philosophers, but as you will see, as we proceed, this book deals with a multitude of different subjects. It is not a unified or coherent book. The meaning of this book is not reducible to One Thing. Even this chapter, which is supposed to concern the moralisms of philosophers, does not merely concern the moralisms of philosophers.
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The Platonists and the Stoics have this in common: They both enjoy mastering their senses because their sensuality is so powerful. The Stoics and the Platonists practice abstention from pleasure because they experience pleasure in self-overcoming; they are thwarted, self-stultified, self-repressed hedonists. It reminds me of what T.S. Eliot writes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: Only those with strong personalities understand the necessity of depersonalizing their poetry (to paraphrase).
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Nietzsche is savagely, ferociously dismantling philosophical concepts, one after the other, such as “immediate certainty,” “absolute knowledge,” the “thing in itself,” “disinterested judgment,” the “cause in itself.” He reveals them as self-contradictory. Certainty is mediated; someone has to serve as the mediator or mediatrix in order to establish “certainty.” Knowledge, by definition, is relative to a human subject. Things do not exist “in themselves” independently of relation. There are no things, only relations between things. “One should finally release oneself from the seduction of words”—the films of Jean-Luc Godard suggest a similar distrust of language.
Even the assertion “I think” contains an abundance of problematical presuppositions. A genuine thinker will not take the proposition “I think” for granted—and perhaps that thinker will not even call oneself a “thinker,” much less a “philosopher.” What right do we have to assume that there is a self-contained, uncontaminated subject that produces thoughts? No, “I” do not think. Thoughts surface, appear, bubble up in mind, and I have no idea where they come from. Who is to say that “I” am the cause of my thoughts? Why do I have the subject-hypothesis added to my “thinking”? And let us pretend that we know what “thinking” means (we do not), for the purposes of argument. What right do we have to say that there is a stable, self-sufficient, self-contained, uncontaminated subject that is the agent, the cause of thoughts? I don’t know what I am going to be thinking, saying, or doing next.
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Why do I believe in cause and effect? The window shatters, and I assume that I know why the window shattered. How do I link the so-called “effect” to the so-called “cause”? Is that something that exists objectively in the world? No, that is my mind playing a trick on itself. It is legerdemain, a prestidigitation, that connects a so-called “effect” to a so-called “cause.”
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I am going to keep on talking, until I drop from fatigue.
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It is a linguistic superstition to assume that every form of activity must be preceded by an actor.
This is Nietzsche’s critique of the self. There is no such thing as the self, a changeless center of consciousness. The “I” exists, but it is just a word, a representation. You don’t have a self, and neither do I. The way that I am speaking to the camera now is much different from the way in which I would speak to a family member, a friend, a cashier at a convenience store, the person who trims my hedges, the person who carries my mail, the person who delivers Chinese food to my door. There are many “selves,” if one must use the word “self.” Every human being is a multiplicity of “selves,” and one “self” is dormant when another self is active, and depending on the context in which I find myself, one “self” will be activated and the others will vanish.
Consciousness is like a Magic-8 Ball. The other “selves” disappear when one “self” is activated.
There are other ways of criticizing the concept of selfhood. When you are working out, jogging, etc., are you aware of yourself? While you are exercising or dancing or listening to music, “I” do not exercise, dance, or listen to music. It exercises, dances, listens. “I” do not write my books; the books are writing themselves.
There are yet other critiques of the concept of the self. When people discuss the “self,” they are assuming the existence of a changeless center of consciousness. Where is this center revealed in Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging?
I might be aware of food in the supermarket, my neighbors, trees, dogs, the rain, but then if I direct my consciousness to myself, why am I not a phenomenon in the way in which they are phenomena?
Whatever comes into the open field of consciousness, within the horizons of consciousness, is a phenomenon, an appearance. Self-consciousness is fictionalization, deception.
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Sam Harris is not the first person to refute free-will theory, voluntarism. Spinoza and Hume did so before Nietzsche, but Nietzsche’s refutation of voluntarism is the most devastating and coherent counter-argument to the theory of the freedom of the will.
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Karl Popper developed but two interesting concepts, and one of them is “unfalsifiability” (die Unfalsifizierbarkeit), irrefragability, irrefutability. An argument is strong if it is falsifiable, not if it is unfalsifiable. A strong argument is an argument that could be proven false, under certain conditions. If you come across an argument that someone sets forth and there is no way of disproving it, then it must be discounted out of hand. If someone asserts the existence of a purple Pegasus, a giant winged horse that is snorting and beating its hooves on the asphalt and beating its wings uselessly and does not defend this allegation and does not show you any evidence and merely says, “You will just have to take my word for it,” the auditor has every right to repudiate, to reject that claim, for it is unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable. A stick-figure drawing of a purple Pegasus or a Photoshopped image of a purple Pegasus is not sufficient evidence of the existence of a purple Pegasus. A painting of a purple Pegasus is a weak argument because the evidence is faulty, but at least it is an argument, even though there are “holes” in the document. It is a stronger argument than an unfalsifiable claim that the purple Pegasus exists and “you will just have to believe me”; at least the person who provides evidence in the form of a line-drawing of a purple Pegasus is making an argument, as dubious and as weak as that argument is. To assert the existence of the purple Pegasus without evidence is to opine, to give an unfalsifiable, and hence rejectable, opinion. It is not the making of an argument.
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Schopenhauer presents the hypothesis, the intuition that only the Will is self-evident (this is an unfalsifiable claim). Only the Will is known to us, according to Schopenhauer. The Will, for Schopenhauer, is vitality, the vital force of Nature that pulses, that throbs, that palpitates within us and keeps the human species going, it keeps life going. The Will is blind, it is insistent, it is vigorous. It is not just non-intellectual, it is pre-intellectual. The Will is the life-will, the will that drives forward the reproduction of the human species. However, the Will is not precisely identical to the libido, though the late Nietzsche and Freud seem to make that identification. The libido is a form in which the Will manifests itself.
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To return to the official subject of this book: the moralistic biases of philosophers. Traditional philosophy is the philosophy of the crowd and evinces the uncritically accepted assumptions of the crowd. Philosophers come from the crowd. They are not apart from the crowd; they are a part of the crowd.
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For Nietzsche, “the Will” is complex, “the Will” is multiple. It should not be merely presented as “the Will,” as if it were something simple and self-explanatory. This reminds me of the concept of “love.” The word “love” connotes a multiplicity of meanings: the love of a child for one’s parent, the love of a parent for one’s child, the love of a priest or a rabbi or an imam for one’s congregation, the love of God, romantic love. There are many different modes of loving: the love of humanity, the love of animals, the love of the planet (whatever planet one happens to be on at the moment), the love of art, the love of literature, the love of music (melophilia). But isn’t it interesting that one word, “love,” verbally unifies all of these different denotations?
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Is the concept of the free will a fetish? Is it something that we want to believe in because it gives us pleasure? Don’t we want to be the captains of the ships of our minds? Don’t we want to be the motorists of the automobiles of our bodies? Don’t we want to believe that we have authority over our bodies and our minds? Don’t want we want to believe that we are in command of our “selves,” in control of ourselves? Doesn’t such a belief, which is a false belief, give us pleasure? There is no such thing as the freedom of the will.
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Every human being is 1,001 people. Every human being is a plurality, a multiplicity, a congeries of “subjectivities,” “souls,” or “selves,” if we must use these words. Each human being is a society of “selves.” If you talk to your parents, you are one person. If you talk to your neighbor, you become a different person. When you talk to your eldest child, you are a different person. When you speak to your younger child, you are a different person.
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Concepts are not spontaneously, autogenously produced. Every concept belongs to a system. Passages such as this demonstrate that Jacques Derrida is not original, that he is not as innovative as his ovine acolytes assume that he is. The point here is that meaning does not occur in isolation. Meaning is relation, relativity, relationality.
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Anyone who divides the world into a “suprasensible” part and a “sensible” part is thinking metaphysically.
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Grammatical systems make possible metaphysical systems. Because we think in a grammatical language, we believe that every action has a subject; this is metaphysics. Language conditions our thought. What would it take for us to stop thinking metaphysically? Would we have to invent a language? How interesting is it that there are some languages that are subjectless, non-subjectified. Japanese is only one of many null-subject languages.
The middle voice suppresses agency, subjectivity. The middle voice is much like the passive voice, except there is no form of the verb “to be.” An example of the middle voice is: “The cheese sells for one dollar per pound.” Where is the subject in this sentence? There is none.
Incidentally, Heidegger writes about the middle voice in Sein und Zeit, Being and Time.
Nietzsche writes about the statement, “It lightnings,” “Es blitzt,” in On the Genealogy of Morality. Who is doing the lightning? Where is the subject? Who is doing the snowing or the raining (to use more familiar English-language examples) in the statements “It is snowing” and “It is raining”? There is a pure process, a pure doing without a doer, a pure asubjective activity. Why do we impose a subject upon every process? Why do we superadd to a subject to every procedure?
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There are traces of East Asian thought, of Hinduism, in Schopenhauer and in Nietzsche. The Hindu concept of samsāra can be found, transmuted, in Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same.
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The idea of the freedom of the will is the idea that we are self-created agents. It is the idea that we are gods, and as gods, we are self-responsible, free, autonomous, self-directed. If you believe in the free will (and Sam Harris does not go into this in his 2012 book Free Will), you believe you can rip yourself out of temporality and spatiality, like a god, without a personal history, without any kind of evolutionary history, without any connection to the history of the species to which you belong.
Sam Harris, who pretends that he is the first person to ever refute free-will theory, does not acknowledge Nietzsche once in his book on the free will, even though Harris studied Philosophy as an undergraduate at Stanford University and even though Harris’s first unpublished novel included Nietzsche as a character and even though Harris recommends a few English translations of Nietzsche on his Web site.
Sam Harris ceased being interesting almost immediately after he published his book Free Will in 2012. I consider this book to be excellent, and it has a permanent place in my library (though the fact that the text never refers to other thinkers’ refutations of voluntarism is troubling: not just Nietzsche’s, but Spinoza’s, Hume’s, Kant’s, Schopenhauer’s, et al.). It has been profoundly disheartening to watch such a sharp, bright mind atrophy over the past eight years. Sam Harris is now a Twitter philosopher—that is to say, he is now a non-philosopher or a philosophaster. His blitheness toward classical and modern philosophy is disconcerting. His dismissiveness toward Aristotle is absolutely astounding: “Aristotle is great and all, but he has done great damage to the history of science,” Harris said during one of his recent Ask Me Anythings. Is Harris unaware that there would be no science without the categories that Aristotle developed? And in conversation with Douglas Murray, who has proven himself to be far more intellectually agile than Harris: “Did [Schopenhauer] write [‘Religion: A Dialogue’] before or after he threw his housekeeper down the stairs?” This tabloid rumor appears to be all that Harris knows of Schopenhauer—or all that interests him. I did benefit from listening to Harris’s critique of the concept of subjectivity when he came to the Chicago Theatre circa 2018, but he was only recapitulating what he said circa 2011. Name me a single new or insightful thing that Harris has said since 2013! Anyone who discusses the economics of podcasting while on a podcast loses my respect as a philosopher. He talks about online conservative commentators (many of whom are not worthy of speech) more often than he talks about philosophy. Instead of discussing ideas, he discusses individual human beings. This would be fine if he discussed individual human beings from an intellectual point of view, but he no longer does so. You might find my words severe, but I am being (to use a Harris phrase) “intellectually honest.” No genuine philosopher would sell a telephonic application, and I doubt that a guru would endorse a telephonic application on meditation, of all things.
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Nietzsche could have taken the hard line of determinism and written: “You apostles of the free will, you are all wrong. Determinism is the way to go. One should follow a thoroughgoing, mechanistic determinism and reject the ‘freedom of the will.’” But notice what Nietzsche does instead. As I said in the previous video, Nietzsche lets no one off the hook. Nietzsche is vigorously and rigorously criticizing the determinists, as well! Anyone who believes in the “unfree will” is operating from a place of pathos, is exhibiting as much pathos as the advocates of the “free will,” and it is too much pathos for Nietzsche. There is neither a “free will” nor an “unfree will,” and those of you who want to disabuse yourselves of the illusion of the “free will” while retaining the illusion of the “unfree will” are also wrong. The “unfree will” is also a mythology.
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Zarathustra, the alter ego of Nietzsche, encourages apostasy. He wants to apostatize his apostles. “Only by betraying me are you loyal to me” (to paraphrase the text). Nietzsche is suggesting through the mask of Zarathustra. Nietzsche believes in the piety of treason, when it comes to his followers.
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Nietzsche’s theory of life (not an ontology, as Heidegger writes) is that all of life is bound up with relativities of power. Everything could be explained by reference to the language of power relations. People such as Jordan Peterson (and Douglas Murray) criticize this idea as too monistic, though Peterson is criticizing Foucault, not Nietzsche. Peterson, apparently, is unaware that Foucault’s theory of power relations canalizes the ideas of Nietzsche. Peterson believes that life is about accountability and competence, not power. I doubt that Peterson has read very much of Nietzsche at all. There is no such thing as accountability or responsibility, according to Nietzsche, who Peterson seems to think of as his precursor. This is mystifying! I don’t know where Peterson got that from. Nietzsche and Peterson are antipodal. According to Nietzsche, the illusion of responsibility is a manifestation, is an instantiation of the will-to-power! And we are supposed to believe that competence has nothing to do with power!
I would like to conclude by saying that the idea of life as the will-to-power is not as simple as Peterson and his followers think that it is.
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The personality of the philosopher reveals itself, comes on stage, unwittingly. Philosophers who subscribe to the “unfreedom of the will” do so for psychological reasons. They want to free themselves from the feelings of regret, guilt, self-resentment, self-accusation. They want to overcome some misstep in their past. The voluntarists (those who believe in the freedom of the will) think that they are their own demiurges, they are the technicians of the machinery of themselves. This is nonsense, but the opposite is nonsense, as well. The determinists want to answer for nothing and demand, out of a kind of self-contempt, to unload their self-blame on to someone else. The determinists pathologize criminality, etc.
How interesting to observe that Nietzsche does not even exempt himself from critique! Even he believes in a “necessary and calculable course of the world”! Anyone who believes that there is an intrinsic lawfulness in the world is introjecting one’s own concept of lawfulness into the world—a concept that is, of course, inherited from culture. One is injecting, inserting, introducing human, all-too-human concepts into nature. Life has neither laws nor organization. What about the laws of physics? These are descriptive rules, not preinscribed rules. The concepts of legality that natural-law theorists find in nature they put into nature. To channel Heidegger, we find in a text what we put into a text (this is the “hermeneutic circle”). If we think that nature is benevolent, this is because we have the interpretive desire for nature to be benevolent. To be as charitable as possible: What if we were to claim that nature is innocent? The only word to precisely describe nature is “indifferent,” but even that word is probably problematical.
Why is it a projective and introjective misinterpretation to call nature “innocent”? Because the concept of innocence implies the counter-concept of guilt. Remember that all concepts are relational concepts. The concept of “Good” does not exist except in relation to concept of “Evil.” “Good” and “Evil” form a doublet. “Nature” and “culture,” “innocence” and “guilt” form doublets, which is to say that they are inherited and uncritically accepted concepts. We have the tendency to anthropomorphize nature, when we call nature “peaceful.” A tour guide who calls nature “peaceful” or “designed to please the eye” is anthropomorphizing nature—literally, putting nature into the form of the human. This is fatuous folderol. Nature does not care about us. The world is not cruel, but neither is it kind. When a volcano explodes and douses people with magma, most people would say that this is not quite as cruel as if an entire army were to slaughter the residents of a village. Think of the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal. Or the 1630 volcanic irruption in Furnas, Portugal. Are these tragedies? No, they are not, for a tragedy is a spectacle. Who is the spectator? Is death a spectacle? Is it even kind to call death a “tragedy”? A tragedy is a show, which is opposed to comedy. People who say that “life is a comedy” are just as naïve as those who say that “life is a tragedy.” Even to say that life is a comedy is to falsify the world.
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Nietzsche is implying: Philosophy has been superficial for most of its history because it has been contaminated by moralism and metaphysics. This has led to a misrepresentation of life, of the world, of the human being.
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Hatred, jealousy, envy, greed—Nietzsche is suggesting that all of these “bad” feelings are part of the economy of life, and they are needed not just for the human species to survive, but to grow, to proliferate, to enlarge itself. Such affects are necessary for the expansion of life, not just for the sustenance and maintenance of life.
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Perhaps life is an abyss. Perhaps life has no foundation. Nietzsche is sympathetic to those who do not even want to think such a nightmarish thought. And yet let no one consider Nietzsche to be negative or nihilistic. He is a life-affirming thinker.
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Life is liberating and liberated.
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Nietzsche writes for readers who have not yet been born. They are what he calls the free spirits.
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Nietzsche throws a party for himself at the conclusion of Part One.
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All of the current ideas of psychology and philosophy are archaic and are restraining, inhibiting, and Nietzsche wants to disinhibit us from moral cargo because it is burdening us. The burden of inherited concepts is preventing us from looking at human beings in the eyes and saying, “This is who we are. This is who I am” without shying away from our “badness.” The point is to develop an incorporative attitude toward our “badness,” our culturally unacceptable impulses.
If Carl Jung helped to make Nietzsche the household appliance that he is today, perhaps we owe Jung a debt of gratitude.
Instead of disavowing, repudiating, repressing these so-called “negative” affects, the “negative” dimensions of the human being, we should incorporate them, and that would make for a more extraordinary philosophy and would make for more extraordinary human beings, for we would be more honest with ourselves about who we are.
Nietzsche is inviting us, encouraging us, exhorting us to overcome dualisms—dichotomies such as those between Good and Evil, between Heaven and Earth, between compassion and selfishness, between nature and culture. When seen from this perspective—I’ve been bashing Derrida quite a bit, but when seen from this perspective—Jacques Derrida is not very original, is he? Because one of the hallmarks of deconstructionism is the traversal of binary oppositions. Nietzsche traversed binary oppositions long before Derrida and the deconstructionists. So, according to Nietzsche, all oppositions are false oppositions. There are no oppositions, in other words; they don’t exist, they are abstractions, they are intellectual mystifications, they are falsifications, they are misrepresentations of the world. Anyone who says, for example, that you have the ‘masculine’ at one pole and the ‘feminine’ at the antipode, anyone who says that masculinity is counterposed to femininity, anyone who says such a thing is thinking in a false and misrepresentative manner. No, there isn’t an Either-Or distinction between the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’; there is an axis between two poles. I am borrowing the term “axis” from Brian Eno and his diary A Year with Swollen Appendices. Eno writes about how it is more pensive to think in an axial way. So, instead of thinking, for instance, between ‘masculine’ on this side and ‘feminine’ on the other, there is an axis, a continuum, and there are gradations, degrees, nuances, shades, hues between two extremes. There is a scale of differentiation between one polarity and the other polarity, so one may say with justice, “Oh, your haircut is more masculine than his haircut, but your haircut is more feminine than her haircut,” and “Her shoes are less feminine that that person’s shoes.” Of course, what is ‘more feminine,’ ‘less feminine,’ ‘more masculine,’ ‘less masculine,’ etc., is at the discretion of any individual. There are many other examples of false dichotomies that one may adduce, and every dichotomy is traversable, every dualism is supersedable, and they all should be displaced if one is to think non-metaphysically. What of the artificial difference between the law enforcer and the criminal, inasmuch as both the police office and the criminal are attracted to the same thing: criminality? The saint and the voluptuary are two sides of the same menu, aren’t they, since both have an intense relation to physical pleasure? Love versus hatred is another such false opposition, since love and hatred are by no means opposed; they belong to the same emotional complex. There are only gradations between them, for loving often bears within itself hatred. There can be no love without hatred, and there can be no hatred without love. I know that it might not be immediately apparent what I am talking about, but consider the fact that love really is an obsession and so is hatred, and one quickly blends into the other. What about the distinction between friendship and enmity? Have you noticed how easily one category passes into the other, how quickly the one transposes with the other, how swiftly our friends become our enemies? But sometimes, more happily, our enemies become our friends. So, there are no binary oppositions in reality; they just exist as inherited concepts, and we would do well to overthrow them, we would do well to dispense with them.
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Every profound thinker ought to wear a mask. Use your subtlety to disguise yourself. Dramatize yourself, perform, for life is performance. And do you not see a covert agreement between Nietzsche and Shakespeare on this point? If you think about Shakespearean philosophy and dramaturgy, the world is a stage, and we are performers, whether we admit it or not, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.
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Even though Nietzsche is a household appliance at this point, I would argue that he is still obscure, considering how often he is miscited and misinterpreted.
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Nietzsche, to his credit, is conscious of the unacknowledged educational value of humor.
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As Bataille remarks (in “Hegel, Death and Sacrifice”), Hegelian philosophy is a philosophy of tragedy. Lacoue-Labarthe makes the same point. Nietzschean philosophy, by contrast, is a philosophy of comedy: incipit comoedia. And this is where I become critical of Nietzsche (and I’ve said this in my previous video on Nietzsche), for it is equally naïve to say that life is a comedy as it is to say that life is a tragedy (a satyr-play). Perhaps if he had lived longer, his thinking would have expanded and deepened.
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I spoke in my last video about the universalization of the lie, how, for Nietzsche, the lie becomes universal and hence becomes the new “truth,” which then supersedes the distinction between lying and “truth-telling.” You can find something similar in Kafka’s The Trial, in which Josef K. remarks that “lying would become a universal principle,” if one were enjoined to accept something as necessary rather than as true. This is the perfect description of a totalitarian dictatorship.
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We are always speaking in a monologue, we are always only talking with ourselves and to ourselves, but one may soliloquize in the presence of others. There is an unbridgeable abyss between one human being and another, but perhaps we should nonetheless try to reach over and overcome that abyss—even though such attempts will always be in vain.
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Schopenhauer believes that the need for sociality, the need for friendship, is the sign of an inner deficiency, and if you are a fully formed human being, you are like a flower which blossoms only for itself. For Nietzsche: If you are a thinker, a knower, a philosopher, you might want to overcome your solipsism and go out into the public sphere, if only to observe the public sphere. I am cautious not to write, “out into the world,” for every living human being is in the world. Go out into the public sphere to gather knowledge and to observe human behavior, which might be interesting from a psychological and sociological point of view. This raises the question: Is it possible to be a solipsist who engages with the public sphere? Perhaps or perhaps not, but, according to Nietzsche, if you remain aversive, quiet, and proud in your solitary fortress, you are not made for knowledge; you certainly are not predestinated for it. This path of reflection marks a difference with the earlier Nietzsche of “On the Flies in the Marketplace,” a sermon in Also Sprach Zarathustra.
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Antonin Artaud writes, “I love the cinema, but the cinema does not yet exist.” Nietzsche writes for his equals, those who have not yet been born, the free spirits, his imaginary friends.
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The Stoic is too superior to experience hatred, tragedy, aggression, or even misfortune as misfortune.
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Kant’s ideal of disinterested aesthetic contemplation is nonsense. Have you ever looked at a painting that you found enrapturing and felt “disinterested” while doing so? And let us keep in mind the meaning of the phrase “without all interest” (ohne alles Interesse). It signifies a detached, dispassionate, disembodied observation, certainly without emotion or appetite, in a scientific manner. Kant actually believed that such is the way in which to assess the beautiful in art. A judgment of beauty, of all “things,” should be without all interest. This is utter nonsense. It is impossible for any living, sentient, conscious human being to suppress one’s instincts and visceral impulses. Aesthetic evaluation is appropriative (according to Nietzsche), and there is often desire for what is imaged; the appetites are activated, the desires come into play in the process of aesthetic judgment. Kant was dead wrong in his discussion of aesthetic contemplation.
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The pleasure produced by an idea proves absolutely nothing about the soundness or validity of that idea. Anyone who thinks in this manner is practicing a Logical Fallacy known as the argumentum ad consequentiam, which is the false argument that if an idea, policy, program, ideology, dogma, work, etc., produces a positive effect, it must be coherent, good, wholesome, salutary, valuable, truthful, beneficial, etc. If a statement causes displeasure, this does not mean that it is inaccurate, either. Nor does it mean that a depressing philosophy, such as Schopenhauer’s, is accurate because it is depressing, which would be the “Goth” way of looking at philosophy. Schopenhauer was one-sided; he only saw life from one of its many valences.
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Nietzsche was a thinker of the Enlightenment, of the late Enlightenment, but he went further than any other “enlightened” thinker did, any other thinker of the Aufklärung. Kant criticizes (that is to say, delimits) faith, but nonetheless makes a space for pure practical reason, which he never criticizes.
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Nietzsche privileges phenomena over the so-called “true world” (which he knows does not exist). He then dispenses with the distinction between the phenomenal world and “the true world” altogether. Nietzsche does not believe in “the truth.” Appearance is all. But this means we have to rethink the false dichotomy between “truth” and “phenomena.”
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Life-hating philosophers such as Descartes would pretermit the world, would prescind the world from consciousness. By beginning one’s reflection with consciousness (as Descartes and the whole of phenomenology does), one articulates the desire to have done with the world, as if one could be a floating brain in a vat, much like the husband in Dahl’s short story “William and Mary.”
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Nietzsche requires a new language to surpass metaphysics.
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Nietzsche is deferring to the authority of artists because artists are masters of appearances, crafting, fabricating, fantasticating worlds. All known worlds are worlds of artifice, for we percipients are fictionalizers.
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Those who think metaphysically superadd a subject to every process and procedure. What about “It is raining”? Who is doing the raining? There may be a hypothesis about the putative agent who produces the rain, but this remains hypothetical.
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Language is all that we have. How could we see to the other side of language? Nietzsche is rattling the prison bars of language, which I respect. Does Nietzsche know that language is a prison? There is no way out of language. Wittgenstein knows this “fact,” and the plagiaristic Derrida is canalizing Wittgenstein on this point (whom Derrida never names, as far as I know).
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Our passions, our affects, our sensations are reality. They are not extrinsic to reality. To quote Schopenhauer, “The hand that grabs the tree branch can never let go of itself.” The hand only touches itself. The eye that sees the waves rushing in to the shore never sees beyond itself. The world is my perception of the world (the tautology is intentional).
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Schopenhauer divided the world into two valences: Representation (Vorstellung) and the Will. By the “Will” (which is closely affine to the body, though it is not identical to the body), Schopenhauer means that insistent, persistent, throbbing, palpitant will-to-live. Life is the will-to-live. Life is the propulsion, the pulsion, of its own reproduction. Life promotes nothing other than its own replication. Life is the replicable, the self-replicative itself. Life replicates, duplicates, reproduces itself. The meaning of life is that life reproduces life, and whatever we do, whether we produce children or not, whatever we do is for the sake of the future generation of the living, in order to keep life going, to benefit the succeeding generation of the living. To keep ourselves alive, sure, but also to keep the human species alive, to perpetuate the human species.
Now, I must be brief because I don’t want this to become a seven-hour video, but permit me to say that Nietzsche departs from Schopenhauer on this point. Life is not the will-to-live, according to Nietzsche. It is the will-to-power, by which Nietzsche means that all of existence is bound up with relativities of power. Every human being has the desire to become God—each human being has the desire for preponderance, sovereignty, superiority over all other beings. On the level of all living organisms: Each organism (not merely human organisms) has the will to be more powerful than all other organisms. All relations between organisms are relations of power. Even those organisms that are subordinate, reactive, passive are manifesting the will-to-power.
Everything that we do is an instantiation of the will-to-power, and that includes the drive to continue life. The drive to continue life is not reducible to giving birth to children. Anyone who is invested in architecture or agriculture is also committed (whether “consciously” or not) to the continuation of life—specifically, to the continuation and the perpetuation of the human species, if we are talking about human beings, human beasts. People who write books are trying to continue life. The drive to continue the human species is usually unconscious, as Schopenhauer in one of his better moments slyly suggests. We think that we are autonomous beings, but we’re really acting in the service of the species, more than in the service of anything else. Nietzsche takes this in a much different direction: To say that life is the will-to-power, as Nietzsche does, does not mean that “power” is the object of some “will.” It means that life itself is the power-will, if that makes sense.
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To say a few words about Nietzsche’s politics. What is Nietzschean politics? From time to time, there is a sympathy for the aristocratic and a contempt for democracy, which Christopher Hitchens finds off-putting, as do I. Nietzsche sees democracy as a kind of leveling-out, a leveling-off, but one thing that I will say, in Nietzsche’s defense, is that he is not a proto-fascist, not even close. What would be a political system that Nietzsche finds ideal? Probably the same political system that Plato advocates. A philosophocracy, a rule by the philosophers, a cognocracy, a rule by the knowers. He believed in a rule by the intelligent.
It is not Nietzsche’s fault that he is vulgarized by Ayn Rand, whose writings I am very proud never to have read. I only leafed through her The Virtue of Selfishness, and it seemed like a vulgarization of Nietzsche to me.
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“Every profound mind loves the mask.” Deep feeling should show itself only as its obverse. If you love your parents, pretend that you have a cold relationship with your parents while in public. Conceal your feelings by showing your feelings as their opposite. “Tenderness and the tremble are reserved for the sophisticated.” A deity would disguise itself as the poorest of the poor, as the shabbiest hobo. Why? Whenever beauty is displayed, it dies. Whenever the divine shows itself as it is, it ceases to be divine. Whenever violence is represented, it quickly falls into the banal.
Greatness dissimulates itself as its opposite. Those who fly high into the sky are perceived as being small by those below: This conceit is derived from Schopenhauer. Thales was laughed at by a washerwoman as he precipitated down a well.
When I come across certain overpoweringly beautiful passages, I will not comment on these passages because I do not wish to tarnish them with my commentary; leave them as they are, in their purity.
Don’t give the most precious things names, for language shrivels up what is ripe and fresh. In order to signify, in order to mean something, language may not be restricted to any unique context; language must generalize in order to signify anything at all. The generality of a sign kills off the uniqueness of the particular thing or being that is named. If I say, “This is a hawk,” I am no longer referring to the singular bird that I perceive. I am reducing the hawk to a hawk, one hawk among other hawks. I am killing that unique hawk; I am committing avicide. Hegel and Blanchot are in concurrence on this point. Language kills because it generalizes.
Language composes and decomposes—it makes the thing or being that is named trite, paltry.
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There are no common values, for what is valuable does not belong to the Most, to the All-Too-Many.
And so we continue. There is no question that Pascal was a polymath; this is the person who invented the calculator. He was a brilliant mathematician, as well as a religious thinker, but he only became a religious thinker in 1654, when he had a near-death experience. He nearly collided with a horse-drawn carriage. This anecdote is disputed by some scholars, but I like to believe in it, out of faith! After this near-collision, he dedicated, devoted his intellect to God and became a religious intellectual. Some claim that the term “religious intellectual” is an instance of antiphrasis, such as can be found in The Most Lamentable and Excellent Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (“cold fire,” “sick health”). I don’t necessarily believe that, though. He pledged his mind to Christianity. He was terrified of scientific revolutions, such as those occasioned by the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo. The real intellectual scandal was not that we no longer live in a geocentric cosmos (we live within a heliocentric system, rather); the real intellectual scandal, the real intellectual horror show is that we do not live in a closed world but rather in infinite space. In the posthumously published notebooks entitled Pensées, Pascal writes, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” So, there was a sense in which he recoiled, shrunk back from scientific discovery, and one may argue that there is a limitation to his thought, but the point that I want to make is that Pascal used his prodigious intellect to ratify the basic principles of Christianity. Indeed, Pascal paved the way for Kierkegaard and his “leap of faith.” There is a point at which faith is irrational; there is a point at which you cannot intellectually justify your faith. Faith means believing without any reason to believe—believing what you believe, even though there is no reason to believe it. Not believing despite the fact that there is no evidence to support your belief, but even believing because there is no evidence to support your belief. Faith is the spitefulness toward evidence in any form. Thus, faith cannot be intellectually grounded, and Pascal knew this. Pascalian faith is really believing with the heart rather than with the head: You believe because you believe.
The problem is with the Pascalian wager, which truly is a form of intellectual suicide (to channel Nietzsche). Essentially, this is a way of turning faith into God into a casino, a casino at which the faithful gamble. It’s a way of gambling one’s faith, but the game is rigged in advance. In its most basic form, the Pascalian wager is this: “Just believe in God; you have nothing to lose. If you don’t believe in God, you might have everything to lose.” I have heard theologians criticize this phony argument; I have heard Catholics criticize this phony argument, one of the most bogus arguments ever set forward. It really is a fake argument, from beginning to end, and I’m almost certain that Nietzsche was thinking of this pseudo-argument when he writes about the suicide of reason orchestrated by Pascal. Some have claimed that the Pascalian wager is a legitimation of hypocrisy, and indeed, it is. My objection, however, is that I don’t choose what I believe. Quite simply, I believe whatever I am persuaded to believe in, by the force of evidence. If I am convinced that something is true, then I am convinced that something is true. I don’t desire to believe in something and then program my mind to believe in that thing; believe is not a matter of auto-brainwashing. Pascal thinks that faith is a matter of free will and also a matter of desire. I find this idea repellent and false. It is a kind of intellectual miscarriage, and I do agree with Nietzsche on this point.
After his near-collision with the horse-drawn carriage at midnight, in the summer of 1654, Pascal becomes an intellectual charlatan, with his talk of the logic of the heart, the non-intellectual faith of the heart, his terror before the measurelessness of space, the infinitude of space, the immeasurable vastness of space, and the wager, which no serious theologian takes seriously, which even Catholic priests have refuted, and which is indeed, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a protracted self-sacrifice of the intellect.
This is the real line that Pascal crosses, according to Nietzsche: Pascal’s whimpering that “The Me is hateable,” Le moi est haïssable. The deadliest of all sins in Christianity is pride, and this outrages Nietzsche. He is scandalized by the slander against human dignity, self-worth, self-love which is inherent to the diabolization of pride. If you have read Also Sprach Zarathustra, you will know that Zarathustra teaches human beings to love themselves, albeit not in a spiritualistic, mystical, shopping-mall New Age way. The human animal should learn to love itself, not despite all of its ugliness, darkness, and flaws, but because of its ugliness, darkness, and flaws. Only after such a self-recognition will humankind rise to its greatest height. This is why Nietzsche deposes many of the so-called virtues. He suggests, for instance, that meekness should not angelized, should not be lionized to the status of a virtue; meekness should not be considered as a transcendent good. Meekness shows a deficiency in intellect or “spirit,” for Nietzsche. Conversely, we should elevate some of the vices—#NotAllVices—we should beatify some of the vices, which are not as vicious as modern culture makes them out to be. There is nothing wrong with pride, for example. Pride is the feeling that you are everything and that the admiration of others is nothing (you are substantial, regardless of what anyone else says). Vanity is the feeling that you are nothing and that the admiration of others is everything. The feeling of the proud that they are everything and their refusal to allow themselves to be treated disrespectfully might become vaingloriousness, which is a problem, however. But why should pride be considered a vice? And this is Nietzsche’s inaugural attack on traditional morality: Nietzsche is suggesting that religion meekens and weakens the human being by praising self-abnegation, self-renunciation, self-hatred, self-debasement, self-humiliation, lowliness, as if the Earth belonged to the meek and the Kingdom of Heaven would be given to those who abase themselves. This is something that Nietzsche cannot abide; he cannot tolerate self-hatred. If anything, Nietzsche wants to inspirit the dispirited and the broken-spirited; he is a positive, life-affirmative thinker, despite the media stereotypes about him.
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Tertullian, irrespective of what Nietzsche claims, writes, “I believe it because it is inept,” not “I believe it because it is absurd.” This is a good example of the Mandala Effect.
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Moderns don’t understand the significance of the Cross. Most do not brood over the meaning of the Cross, which is a paradox. God is infinite and eternal, and yet God is humanized as Jesus, who is then crucified. The infinite is finitized, the eternal is temporalized, and the divine is anthropomorphized and mortalized. The Crucifix is a paradox, for it signifies the finitization of the infinite, the temporalization of the eternal, and the mortalization of the immortal.
I haven’t taken public transport in a while, since all of us are struggling through a quarantine that was incurred by the terrible pestilence known as “COVID-19,” but if you do take the train during rush hour, do you really believe that all of the yuppies who you see are brooding over their immortal souls? Do you really think they are contemplating the meaning of the Cross? Do you think they’re thinking about Jesus and the Crucifixion? And yet most Americans consider themselves to be Christians, according to the polls. But how “Christian” are they while they are engrossed by their iPhones?
* * * * *
Now, Nietzsche is alluding to something that he will fully explain in On the Genealogy of Morality. The noble, the powerful nominate themselves as “the good,” whereas the poor, the oppressed are designated by the higher classes as “the bad.” An inversion of values comes with the ascendancy of the priestly class. The noble will be renamed “the evil,” and the poor will rename themselves “the good.” What enrages the slave is not the sadism of the aristocrat. What the slave cannot stand is the blithe unconcernedness, the superb indifference, the superior nonchalance, the ironical playfulness of the aristocrat, the emperor, the patrician, the lord. This is what drives the slave mad and catalyzes the slave’s wrath and propels the slave to insurrections, such as the French Revolution. This book was written only ninety-seven years after the French Revolution, in Oberengadin, Switzerland, which is 788 kilometers from Paris. Nietzsche must have experienced the seismic resonance, or at least the seismic reverberations, of the French Revolution.
The plebeian thinks in absolutes; the plebeian thinks unconditionally. The plebeian only thinks in the categories of “Good” or “Evil.” The plebeian has the attitude: “I am good because you are evil. You are evil; therefore, I am good.” The imputed “evil” of the patrician is the condition for the plebeian’s feeling of one’s own “goodness.”
It is not so much that the upper classes, the aristocracy, are malicious or sadistic; it is that they don’t care, they are indifferent.
* * * * *
Of all the ancient thinkers, Epicurus is the closest to Nietzsche. It is not that Epicurus denies the existence of the supernatural; it is that he thinks that the gods are unconcerned with us. From a probabilistic perspective, extraterrestrials might very well exist (cf. the Fermi paradox), but if they do exist, why would they be concerned with us? All we may say of the gods, from this perspective, is that they are absolutely otherwise than this world; they are the photographic negative of this world. This places Epicurus and Nietzsche in more intimate proximity to the Lurianic Kabbalah (God is ein sof, “no end”), to Gnosticism, and to other forms of apophatic theology than one would customarily acknowledge.
* * * * *
Nietzsche writes of the paroxysms, the spasms of world-negation that beset those who desire fervidly the annihilation of the world.
* * * * *
A miracle is the suspension, the rupture, the interruption, or disruption of descriptive or prescriptive natural law. The first instance of a rainbow is miraculous. The first time that human eyes beheld a rainbow, it was perceived as miraculous. Science brings things down to the level of the comprehensibly human. To scientific eyes, a rainbow is a stratum of moisture against which sunlight refracts, creating an iridescent sheen. Is birth a miracle? There is a branch of science called “embryology,” and approximately 360,000 human beings are brought into the world each day. How could human birth, then, a process which is scientifically explicated and so common as to be regular, be considered a “miracle”? If an elephant gave birth to a mouse, that would rightly be regarded as a miracle, since it has never been known to happen before.
* * * * *
We know from Schopenhauer that the Will is irreducible, and Nietzsche affirms the will-to-will. The Will generates meaning. The Will would rather will nothingness than not will at all (to channel Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality).
* * * * *
Let us pretend, for the purposes of argument, that there is such a person as a saint and another type of person such as a sinner. Why is one not the obverse of the other? Why do they not belong to the same system dialectically? To say that they are polarized would be to commit an intellectual error. To assert that they are antithetical would be to draw an artificial distinction.
* * * * *
Nietzsche is, again, asking us to take affects, inner experiences, states of mind that are traditionally considered to be negative (such as pride, such as ambition, such as selfishness) and valorize them, vaunt them, elevate them, lionize them. Perhaps some of the so-called “vices” are not so bad, and perhaps some of the “virtues” aren’t so virtuous. Here is another Nietzschean inversion.
The morality of opposing values contaminates psychology and philosophy; such opposing values as “Good” and “Evil” are merely intellectual oppositions, ghosts of the mind (to canalize Stirner, whom Nietzsche certainly read), inherited concepts which are transferred on to the world as if they were really existent things or really existing characteristics of people.
* * * * *
Why have the most powerful people bowed down before the ascetic? Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s most benevolent Caesars, prostrated himself before the slave Epictetus. Marcus knew the insignificance of wealth and power; all that he admired was wisdom, it did not matter through which vector that wisdom was transmitted, it did not matter in which vessel that wisdom was contained. Alexander the Great, after having been slighted by the half-naked, homeless, barrel-dwelling philosopher Diogenes Laertes, said to his soldiers: “If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes.” Then, there’s the more recent example of François Duvalier, President of Haiti, supplicating before Mother Teresa.
The potentate is overawed by the self-abstention, the self-denial, of the ascetic and wonders: “Why would you give up so much pleasure? My categories of understanding cannot be applied to this phenomenon. The unworldliness of the ascetic, the giving up of sensuous pleasures, is mystifying to me.”
Could it be that Emperor Constantine—who converted to Christianity and founded the first Christian empire, making Byzantium the new seat of the Roman Empire—was under the sway of an ascetic, as well? Could it be that he was in awe of the power of the saint? Nietzsche does not explicitly pose this question, but it ought to be posed. Christianity transmuted from the religion of the powerless to the religion of the powerful. Some of us are old enough to remember the television mega-preachers of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Jim Bakker, with his apocalyptic feed buckets, and Jerry Falwell, with his suspicious anti-homosexualism. Many of them had a gospel of affluence: “The more money that I fleece from you, my bleating flock, the more I can advertise my gospel of self-aggrandizement.” Such was the defense of their gross accumulation of wealth.
* * * * *
Nietzsche praises the Hebraic Bible, not the so-called “Christian Bible.” The so-called “New Testament” is a mere appendix and should have been published separately.
* * * * *
All metaphysics is religious—after all, it holds that there exists another world, a world other than the world in which we find ourselves, a suprasensible world. Metaphysics is preoccupied with a stable, immutable, extraworldly foundation.
* * * * *
What if thinking were the condition and the cogito, the thinking thing, is superadded to the process of thinking? What if thinking preceded the “I” that thinks? What if the “I” were superimposed onto the activity of thinking? Perhaps the self, the subject, is a grammatical fiction. The “I” is a hypostatized synthesis.
Nietzsche writes of Kant: “The possibility of a phenomenal subject… might not have been foreign to him…” And it wasn’t foreign to him! Kant writes of auto-affection in the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of The Critique of Pure Reason, Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft. In both editions (the 1781 and 1787 editions), Kant writes of the self having a feeling for itself, “self-affection.” If everything that we perceive is subject to the universal condition of sensibility (time), everything is an appearance. This means that the self is an appearance to itself; the self phenomenalizes itself.
* * * * *
The Vedanta philosophy (Hinduism) inspired Nietzsche—in particular, the Nietzschean thought experiment known as “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same.”
* * * * *
The near-sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the sacrifice of children to the daemon god Moloch—the sacrifice of children was too barbarous, too unsophisticated, too undignified for the Romans, who were always vornehm. The sacrifice of children is translated into quadragesimalism, the sacrificing one’s nature (one’s physical inclinations) through fasting. Celibacy is not mentioned, but it might as well have been.
Parenthetically: The myth of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia is reinterpreted in the film The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).
* * * * *
Once you start worshipping rocks, pieces of wood, material objects, such as relics, the belief in the god might actually be preserved. The avatar for the god would be merely regarded as a paltry effigy, if one regards it ironically, as if it were a disguise that the god wears; the mask conceals yet reveals at the same time. Everyone knows that the relic doesn’t directly represent or transmit the divine. This is one way of preserving the supernatural.
But there is another outcome of worshipping rocks and pieces of wood. If you reduce the divine to an effigy, belief in the god will die. Nietzsche’s cosmeticization of the mask, his glorification of the mask is continuous with his thinking. For Nietzsche, appearance is being; appearances are all that we have. Kant was wrong; there is no “thing in itself” outside of human perception. Nietzschean phenomenology is a phenomenological ontology. Whenever you name something, that thing dies. If I say that it is 4:10 p.m. now, in a minute, it won’t be. Language quickly grows stale; words no longer name the thing that was indicated. Language kills off the referent in order to signify anything at all. Perhaps by naming the divine, one kills the divine. By fetishizing the relic, by investing it imaginarily with supernatural properties, one kills the supernatural.
Nietzsche is gleefully anticipating the assassination of the supernatural, as he is welcoming the coming philosophers, if we may even use the word “philosophers.” Nietzsche’s imaginary friends, the free spirits, would be pleased—those to whom he writes and for whom he writes, those who have not yet been born and will only be born long after he is gone.
Nietzsche is addressing the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, die Ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen. Now, despite what other people might tell you, including Cambridge University Press, this is not the first published reference to the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Nietzsche has already written about this doctrine in The Gay Science, Paragraph 285, in which he uses the phrase die ewige Wiederkunft von Krieg und Frieden, “the eternal return of war and peace.” There is also another reference to the Eternal Recurrence of the Same in Paragraph 341 of The Gay Science, in the form of a hypothesis (to paraphrase): What if a daemon were to visit you in your most solitary solitude, in your loneliest loneliness and tell you that you are going to have to live your life over, again and again and again? Would you throw yourself to the ground and gnash your teeth and cry and tear your hair out? Or would you thank the daemon and praise the daemon as if it were a god and affirm that you wanted your life to be repeated, recalled, restored, revived again and again and again? Would you say to the daemon-god, “Yes, I want this to happen and to happen repeatedly, for all of eternity!”?
The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is, essentially, Nietzsche’s version of the Kantian Categorical Imperative. Imagine that your life were to repeat itself for all of eternity. Let this thought, this imagining, guide your conduct. Phrased more precisely: Live your life as if it were to repeat itself for all of eternity. Or in a more Kantian phraseology: Act as if your life were to recapitulate itself eternally. That is: Act as if everything that you say and do were to replicate itself without ceasing, without limit.
This is a thought experiment. Nietzsche is not describing how time works, how time unfolds itself. Nietzsche is not subscribing to the Hindu doctrine of samsāra, though he is reinterpreting it, reappropriating it, revising it for his own purposes. In samsāra, you might be revived (after your death) as an owl, as a fox, as an Egyptian vulture, as an Ashera cat. The end of the cycle and recycle of rebirth and redeath is nirvana, which is not an overrated American rock band from the 1990s, but rather the extinguishment of the candle of life. Nirvana is the cessation of the spooling of the cycle of rebirth and redeath and is fervently desired. You want the recycling to end, for my gods, do I have to come back as a flamingo? Do I have to come back as a toad, yet again? I don’t want to be reincarnated. I don’t want to undergo the endless cycling and recycling of birth and death of samsāra. No, I want my candle to be extinguished, I want my candle to be snuffed out, and again, the snuffing-out of the candle is called nirvana, the extinguishing of the candle of life.
So, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is not the myth of reincarnation. Again, it is this: Imagine that everything that you say and do will have been repeated eternally, and live your life in accordance with this imagining.
So, in other words, live as if there were no present moment. The “now” is already the past, which is recuperated as the future. The future is perfect. There is no present, there is only the future perfect, prolepsis. Nothing is; everything will have been. There is no “was,” there is only the “will have happened,” for the past is recuperated in the future.
Nietzsche means: This is the only life you have—we are all mortal, we are all limited in space and in time. Why don’t you live your life as if everything that you say and do will have been eternally repeated?
However, one may also see the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same as a theory of history. This is the second connotation: The second dimension of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is a theory of history or a theory of historicity. It suggests that every age has a fixed set of elements, but these elements are rearranged, in each epoch, into a different series of permutations.
The world is finite. The world contains within itself a finite set of elements: There is a Plato in each age, a Napoleon in each age, a Virgin Mary in each age. There is a finite number of typologies or characterologies.
All of these typologies will be endlessly re-permuted, will transmute themselves in different permutations.
So, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same is a theory of history, though Nietzsche is not suggesting that we are immortal or that we will be reincarnated. He is not subscribing to the myth of metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, the movement of a soul from one body to another.
* * * * *
In Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes of the “three metamorphoses of the spirit.” He means the three stages of consciousness, the three transmogrifications of consciousness. Not everyone reaches the third stage, and many do not even reach the second stage.
The first stage is that of camelinity; one is like a camel. This is the stage at which one inherits, bears, and defends concepts that are transmitted by your parents, by your teachers, spiritual leaders, political leaders, ideologues, mystics, etc. One is assimilating traditional concepts. This is the stage of education and culture. It is the stage of indoctrination, really, and of ideologization. Some never transcend the cameline stage.
The second stage is an antithetical, antipodal stage, in which the mind wages a war against all of the conventions, traditions, and ideologies that one absorbed as a “camel.” One is, at this stage, leonine, like a lion; one is antagonistic, one is “anti-,” one is opposed to social norms, conventions, traditions. There is a great deal of aggression at this stage. This is the stage at which Arthur Fleck turns into The Joker. This is the stage at which The Joker is stuck. You are fighting against traditions, attacking and attacking, attacking institutions, such school and church. This is what Nietzsche did for most of his period of lucidity, I’m afraid.
Nietzsche did not live long enough to enter the third stage. If you accede to the next stage of consciousness, the third stage is that of the child. This is the final transmogrification of the mind. You become forgiving, patient, obliging, accommodating—not “accommodating” in the sense that you sacrifice your position, but rather indulgent because you understand people, the mechanical way in which they act, you understand there is no such thing as free will, you understand that human beings behave in a mechanical way, they do what they are trained to do, what they are taught to do, unless they evolve into the lion or the child.
Notice that the first stage is not the stage of childhood. Childhood is the final and highest stage, the Buddhistic stage, the stage of the highest form of consciousness, the stage of universal consciousness, of enlightenment, alertness, awareness, wakefulness, awakenedness, whereas the previous two stages were stages of benightedness, of intellectual darkening.
Why am I bringing this up? The mature stage of human consciousness is the stage at which you look at everything with the eyes of a child, and there is no desire for revenge in your heart. I forgot to say this earlier: The person of ressentiment clings to the “It Was,” the Es War. Everything that happens in the past, you celebrate and affirm, by wanting it to happen yet again and again, noch einmal, for all of eternity. This is the stage of joyful knowledge, the consciousness of the child, which is not naïve, but ironic, for the child is the wise one. Childhood is the most evolved, transcendent stage of human consciousness, the terminal stage of the human intellect (I know that “intellect” and “consciousness” do not mean the same thing), not the initial, inaugural stage of human consciousness. This is the stage at which the human being looks at the world, oneself, other human beings with a knowing innocence, knowing yet unknowing at the same time. You know why people are doing what they are doing; you smile knowingly yet unknowingly, without bitterness. Perhaps you are smirking a little; there might be some smugness and self-complacency in your smile.
The person of ressentiment is someone who adheres to the past, the “It Was.” One knows that the past is immovable and irrevocable; time is irreversible, immutable. The person of ressentiment is aggrieved because one knows that one cannot change the past yet wants to change the past. One grows revengeful toward the “It Was,” toward the past. This “Spirit of Revenge” is something that is observable in very wealthy and very powerful people; they have all of the money in the world, perhaps, and all in the power in the world, but they don’t have youth. Their possibilities have been sapped, their possibilities have dried up; they have been exhausted. So, they look at the past with eyes of revengefulness. They want to change the past, but they can’t.
Nietzsche’s response to the person of ressentiment is (to paraphrase) “No, you say to the past: ‘I am glad that what happened, happened, and I would gladly replay the past eternally.’” I don’t say “infinitely,” because “infinitude” means “spacelessness.”
* * * * *
If you truly believe in the immortality of soul and sin and redemption, why wouldn’t you give up everything worldly and from morning until night and perhaps even throughout the night spend your days and nights in an insomniacal haze and daze? Why wouldn’t you do nothing but pray, abstaining from all worldly delights? Why wouldn’t you devote yourself purely to the soul and to the health of the soul, and isn’t it the case that anyone who is genuinely religious requires a great deal of leisure time? And if this is the case, doesn’t religion depend on opportunity? And if the religiously ethical are the only truly moral people, doesn’t morality depend on opportunity? And if that is the case, then what do you say to those who lack the opportunity to be pious, what do you say to those who do not have the leisure time, perhaps because of poverty, to be devout? Are they not good people? Are they not moral people?
Only the wealthy have the luxury to be contemptuous of work. Only the wealthy have the leisure time to dedicate to their immortal souls.
Those who are busy have no time to be religious. Does that mean that they are immoral people? Because they have no time to be religious?
And did religion die in modernity because of the requirement of industriousness, of sedulousness? “Modernity” (if we must use that word) is not a time of piety, of pious devotion to the divine, to the supernatural. It is almost a cliché at this point to say that in the modern world, divinity vanishes. It is almost banal to say that.
Notice how contemptuous Nietzsche is of the irreligious. He is not letting the irreligious scholars off the hook. He doesn’t let the determinists or the free spirits off the hook. He doesn’t even let himself off the hook.
The industrious type thinks: “Why are all of these people funneling into the church? Can you make money from it? What advantage is to be derived from boring oneself in a church? What is the pleasure, diversion, distraction?” When he or she is not required to have truck with the godly, the pious, the faithful, the industrious type of person avoids them as if they were a pandemic.
Nietzsche looks at the architecture of a church. All of the alcoves, niches, confessional cells, partitions, sacristies, hidden passageways—all of these architectural features scream of shame.
Nietzsche has greater contempt for people of modern ideas than he has for the religious. He is indulgent toward the charmingly religious. But he is mercilessly mocking of modern thinkers and their modern ideas. He is unforgiving toward the “modern.”
Nietzsche is being ironical—I will allow that. But he is also being gentle and accommodating toward the religious. Does religion not give power a kind of theological backing? Does religion not give support to dictatorships? This explains theocracies. It wasn’t enough that Henry VIII was the King of England; he was the religious leader of England, the sovereign of the Anglican Church, as well. He broke with the Church of Rome when it declined his request for a conjugal annulment in 1534. He was revered as a religious leader, not merely as a political leader. Religion promotes obedience to a leader, and this is all that a political leader demands: absolute obeisance, submission from one’s followers. Religion is the spiritualization of the political. Religion sublimates politics; however, I would go further. The religious is the political, inasmuch as it wants domination and institutionalization. And all politics is a form of religion, insofar as it is based on the worship of a ruler.
Religion, Nietzsche argues, sanctifies and legitimates political power. If Jordan Peterson ever read beyond the first paragraph of this book, he would probably distort the meaning of the passages in which Nietzsche gives an ironical and relative defense of religion.
A dialectical thinker, Nietzsche also gives us a counter-argument and polemicizes against religiosity.
* * * * *
If you are a fundamental teacher, why do you have subjective experiences? You experience in order to teach; you do not teach in order to experience. You gather and reflect on your subjective experiences so that you have something to teach. Someone who does nothing but teach has nothing to teach. One must have experiences in order to teach. Shaw once said, “Those who cannot do, teach.” But this proposition may be inverted: Those who cannot teach, do.
* * * * *
A discussion of The Leech in Also Sprach Zarathustra.
* * * * *
All profundity requires a disguise, a simulation or a form of dissimulation, camouflage, by way of the opposite appearance. Profundity must disguise itself as shallowness or else it will be subject to vulgarization. If profundity were to show itself as itself, it would become debased, common. As Nietzsche has told us before, the phrase “common value” is self-contradictory, a contradictio in adjecto, an instance of antiphrasis. There can be no common good, for what is good is rare.
* * * * *
There are 7.8 billion people on the Planet Earth, and you tell yourself, “This person is the person I was made to love, I was born to love this person.” Love is a form of psychotic obsession. Love is the passage from the indefinite article (“a person”) to the definite article (“the person,” “the only person in the world”). When you are in love, you singularize and particularize and isolate one human being out of 7.8 billion human beings. What is this if not madness? If you think only one person is worthy of your love, this is a form of psychotic fascination.
* * * * *
Is it not possible to kill with politeness? A writer receives a boilerplate letter of rejection from a press: “We will put your manuscript on file should more opportunities arise.” A person you want to date rejects you with unbearable politeness: “Thank you for your expression of interest. I will keep your message on file and make it available to my Instagram followers.” A clerk says to you: “My pleasure.” A Disneyworld employee says to you: “Have a Disney Day!” These are all examples of malicious politeness. There is an unmistakable dimension of humiliating brutality that is inherent to polite formulae. Politeness (as Zizek puts it) is ambiguous: On the one hand, politeness shows a superficial concern for a person’s sensitivity, but beneath that, there is a kind of brutal disregard for a person’s feelings. Respectfulness is a screen behind which disrespectfulness and insensitivity lurk; it is possible to be politely aggressive or aggressively polite. If one has not observed that, one has not observed life with any degree of care.
* * * * *
The idea that character comes from repeated activity is an Aristotelian idea: We are what we do habitually. You do the right thing, something virtuous, again and again and again. That creates a habit, and habit creates a good character. However, Nietzsche neither believes in “virtuousness,” nor in the “good character.”
I should apologize in advance for the sound emanating from my window. The neighbors are having fun in the pestilential sun, even though we are in the throes of a pandemic and a lockdown, a shutdown, a closedown, so from time to time, you will hear my reveling neighbors as they revel.
* * * * *
Geniuses are intolerable, unless they deprecate themselves.
* * * * *
Why is it that so many intellectuals are voyeurists, scopophiliacs, Peeping Toms and Peeping Teresas? It is not the case that many intellectuals have this paraphilia because they are intellectually curious. No, the exact opposite is the case: Freud posited that these are people who are originally voyeuristic and thereby become intellectuals. So, in other words, their intellectuality, their intellectual curiosity, their research is nothing more than a sublimation of their voyeuristic impulses.
* * * * *
First come the unconscious, instinctive tendencies, the inclinations, the proclivities, the predilections, which are by no means rational, which are pre-rational, pre-intellectual, pre-conscious, pre-critical, pre-reflective. We have physiological impulses. We camouflage them, costume them, disguise them, decorate them with our principles. And two people with the very same principles might have been led to them by two entirely different instincts. It makes me think of political conservatives—one might have been driven to conservativism by an authoritarian father; the other might have been driven to conservativism by a liberal father. One is reverential toward authority and tradition out of deference to The Father; the other has a father who is aversive to authority and thus the child swings to the opposite direction politically (toward the reactionary). Our politics come from obscure, muddy, murky places.
* * * * *
Concerning self-denigration, which is unhealthy (as opposed to self-deprecating, which is quite healthy): How many people have you met who claim to be worthless, insignificant? People who tell you that they feel as if they were nothing? But they are still talking to you, and by talking to you about the nothingness that they are pretending to be, they are taking that nothing and converting it into a positive by virtue of the fact that they are presenting it in the form of a linguistic statement.
Anyone who says, “I am lonely” is no longer lonely because by saying how lonely you are, you are opening the possibility of communication. Whenever communication takes place, a void is avoided. So, someone who reproaches oneself, rebukes oneself, censures oneself is still respecting oneself as the promulgator, as the proponent, as the producer of the statement by virtue of transforming the negative into a linguistic positive, into a communicative positive. A nullity is nullified.
* * * * *
There is an economy of sociopathy. Does not everyone have a sociopathic element within one? You might be watching a video of the firebombing of Dresden—filmed from a Lancaster aircraft, from an aerial view—and you see the white flashes detonating below. Do you feel empathically while watching the video? If you see grainy black-and-white footage of a toreador being gored by a bull? If you feel no empathy for the figure in the image, does that not mean that you are a sociopath, at least at that very moment? Feeling no empathy for another’s suffering might be considered a form of sociopathy. Nietzsche seems to be alluding to a person who is loveless, who is a genuine sociopath. This person has no empathy; when this person is conscious of being loved, one’s “hidden elements” bubble up to the surface, are revealed to the sociopath, but also to those who surround the sociopath.
* * * * *
A matter that is explained ceases to concern us. Interpretation is always geared toward an absence. We don’t interpret things that are accessible to us; we interpret those things that are inaccessible to us, and once we sufficiently explain a matter, it ceases to be interesting, of course. So, that absence (of what we did not understand) becomes a presence.
* * * * *
But what about ourselves? One of the points that Nietzsche makes repeatedly in Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits is that human beings are self-concerned. We are self-related, and self-relatedness lies at the bottom of all human conduct. So, we are basically selfish, we human animals. And no matter how “selfless” we human beasts think that we are, we are essential self-concerned. But knowing oneself is not on the table, for if we knew ourselves, we would know that we are self-preoccupied and perhaps even solipsistic, and this is an inadmissible thought. We do not know ourselves; human beings are not accessible to themselves. There is only a self-unknowing, according to Nietzsche. The “Know Thyself” proclamation is the news from the Delphic Oracle.
* * * * *
If I am the pitier, the one who pities, that would be harshness, oppression, tyranny for my neighbors. For if I pity my neighbors, then I am reducing them to objects of my pity, I am taking away their dignity and their autonomy. We pity wounded dogs, wounded cats, homeless people, podcasters (what a strange fate it is to lecture on Nietzsche on the internet!). We pity those creatures, those organisms because we feel that, in some deep sense, they are impaired, they are defective, they are not on our level, and so the person who pities is on a transcendent level because the pitier can always withhold, withdraw, rescind one’s sense of pity for the pitiful. Indeed, the pitier may forbear from dispensing pity altogether—to anyone. Such is the prerogative of the one who has pity; pity is a form of self-transcendence. This means that the person who pities is the one who has all of the power, and the person who has pity has no power. How many people have you met who have said to you something like this?: “Don’t pity me, whatever you do. Yes, I am going through a bad time right now. I am going through a divorce (etc.), but don’t pity me.” Because if you pity the pitiful, you make the pitied feel as though one were an object, you make the pitied feel as if one were subhuman. Pity is subhumanizing for the one who is pitied. To become the object of pity is to be insulted viciously. It is depersonalizing. It means that the person whom you pity is not even worthy of being your adversary.
* * * * *
What is the difference between hatred and contempt? Hatred is an intense preoccupation, an obsession, and as I’ve said elsewhere, hatred is closely affine to love. Hatred is closely related to love, whereas contempt is not closely related to love. Hatred and love are two dimensions of the same emotional complex. Hatred and love interpenetrate, intermesh, intermingle. Now, contempt is something different from hatred; one should not conflate hatred with contempt. I would say that contempt is hatred’s icy cousin. Interestingly, the word Verachtung (“contempt”) contains Achtung (“respect”), and the ver– is privative. Contempt is misrespect.
So, Nietzsche is suggesting that amiability—superficial friendliness, formalized intimacy, intimate formality—connotes contempt rather than hatred. When one is coldly friendly to other human beings, there is a great deal of malice ensconced in one’s polite formulae. When one is polite, that politeness masks a great deal of contempt. One is not obsessed with the person of whom one is contemptuous. No, rather, contempt is a kind of sneering condescension. There is a real distance between the one who is contemptuous and the one who is regarded as contemptible. If you are contemptuous of someone, if you find someone contemptible, then that person is not regarded as being on the same level as you, whereas, in a curious way, in hatred, there is a kind of parity between the hater and the hated, there is a kind of equalization, a kind of leveling-off between the one who hates and the one whom is hated, a kind of linearity or lateral attitude. One hates one’s enemies, but one does not feel contempt for them. In a strange way, we only hate people who we care about in some way. I mean, we only hate people who have affected us and whom we consider worthy enough to be our enemies.
* * * * *
The three transformations of consciousness—the “three metamorphoses of the spirit”—end with the child, not with an old man. This is why Stanley Kubrick’s somewhat overestimated film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ends with the star child. The film is a misinterpretation of Nietzsche; it literalizes the Nietzschean text in a way that I am not comfortable with. If anyone disbelieves that the film has anything to do with Nietzsche, notice the Richard Strauss music, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra. In a strange way, Full Metal Jacket (1987) is more loyal to the Nietzschean text than is 2001: A Space Odyssey. If I want to see a light show, I will go to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
* * * * *
The Enlightenment thinkers who criticize immorality are paving the way for a critique of morality—a critique of the idea that human beings are intrinsically moral or immoral, a critique of the idea that morality is valuable or necessary. Pointing out the immorality of the clergy, for instance, is a step on the ladder that leads to a full-blown critique of morality—which, in turn, will lead to dispensing with morality, getting rid of the labels “moral” and “immoral” altogether. And then, throwing down the ladder because it is no longer needed. Because one has reached the height at which morality is now beneath one. The Nietzsche of 1878-1881 repeatedly emphasizes that those who are anointed as “virtuous” are not (necessarily) virtuous, that those who are celebrated as “heroes” are not heroic, those who are proclaimed as “saints” have selfish motives and are hardly saintly, etc. This critique of the “immorality” of others is a step on the ladder which leads to the surpassing of morality itself.
* * * * *
Nietzsche tells us that one should separate from life in the way in which Odysseus separated from Nausicaa—not lovingly, but blessingly. Odysseus on his homeward mission does not give in to the charms of the young woman Nausicaa; he remains loyal to his wife Penelope, who is rebuffing the importunities of her suitors in Ithaca. He doesn’t cross the line with Nausicaa, he doesn’t let things go too far. He does not love Nausicaa, he does not allow himself to be enchanted by her, nor does he allow himself to be lured to his watery destruction by the sirens, nor does he allow his ship to be crashed against the rocks. Nietzsche is setting up an analogy to the ideal relation to mortality. In the same way as Odysseus parted from Nausicaa, one should part from this world: that is, non-erotically, without any enduring attachment, without being engrossingly attached to the world. One should bless the succeeding generation, the living, and wish it well, etc. Perhaps Nietzsche is advising sophrosyne as an attitude. One should comport oneself—this is Nietzschean “ethics”—to one’s coming death without adhering greedily to the world which one is departing. Do not cling to life, in other words, as you approach your own finitude, your own impossibility! Where is the “adhesion,” where is the “clinging” in the Nietzschean aphorism? It is suggested by the word “lovingly.” Love is a form of obsessive adhering, a kind of obsessive clinging to the beloved—in this case, Nietzsche is recommending that we not obsessively glom on to the world.
* * * * *
The one who praises another person is implying: “I am your equal.” This is why accomplished artists and performers are not flattered when the fanatic says, “I love your work.” Celebrities might be indulgent toward their flatterers, but they are not genuinely flattered. The best way to “praise” a celebrity is by echoing that celebrity, since that is all any narcissist desiderates.
* * * * *
Current Prime Minister of Great Britain Boris Johnson coined the term imbecilio (a fake rhetorical trope) to describe feigned stupidity or feigned ignorance. I use the term irony, since the original meaning of the word is “disingenuousness” or a “display of affected innocence.” Perhaps Nietzsche is suggesting that we are all ironists.
* * * * *
In Book Four of Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche derides the self-anointed “higher human beings,” those humanists who sanctify knowledge, those humanists who godify scholarship. They make of the épistémè a religion and thus resurrect religious morality—even though they profess to be irreligious. The soi-disant “higher human beings” worship a donkey in a cave: This is a figure of how they are assifying themselves.
* * * * *
When you discover that your beloved loves you back, you cease loving the person whom you once loved. When your love is returned, when you receive recompense for your loving, which was previously unrequited, you feel disappointed. Reciprocal love is a disappointment. “Wait, this person is lowly enough… to love even me? If that person thinks that I am worthy of love, then that person is not worthy of my love.” If you receive love back from the person over whom you previously languished, then you’re disappointed. Perhaps there is a certain self-hatred or masochism at the heart of unrequited loving.
* * * * *
What is the difference between vanity and pride? A proud human being feels oneself to be everything, while everyone else might as well be nothing. A vain person feels oneself to be nothing and everyone else to be everything. A proud person feels that one is solid, substantial, worthy of respect. A vain person only sees oneself through the vision, through gazes of others.
* * * * *
Your admiration for others dies once you become the cynosure, the cathexis of the crowd.
* * * * *
The one who condemns the “degeneracy” and “corruption” of others is setting up a partition behind which the condemner hides one’s own “degeneracy” and “corruption.” The moralist claims that “depravity” exists somewhere so that one is able to hide behind the screen of “depravity.”
Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia, and I would like to recite for your benefit Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, which is my English translation of Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft by Friedrich Nietzsche. This is the eighth video in the video series dedicated to my English translation of the text.
In Paragraph 126, Nietzsche writes: “A people is nature’s detour to arrive at six or seven great men.—Yes: and then to circumvent them.”
The landmine detonates in the first part of the aphorism. Every population produces Napoleon, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Friedrich der Grosse, Nietzsche, et al.
* * * * *
It recalls Hölderlin’s Der Tod des Empedokles, which is fragmentary and which exists in many different versions. Empedokles claims that the Sicilian city Agrigento should be razed to the ground, incinerated, for the sake of one excellent girl, Panthea, Eine Vortreffliche. However, Nietzsche then turns things around and tells us that a population then will circumvent these very same men…
* * * * *
In Paragraph 128, Nietzsche writes, “The more abstract the truth you wish to teach, the more you must entice the senses to it.”
Here, Nietzsche is close to Schopenhauer, who writes, “The truth cannot appear naked before the people,” Nackt kann die Wahrheit vor dem Volke nicht erscheinen. Concepts should be sensitized, sensuousized. Kant writes something similar in his Transcendental Logic: Concepts without examples are empty, and examples without concepts are blind.
* * * * *
In Paragraph 133, Nietzsche writes, “Whoever does not know how to find the way one’s ideal lives more frivolously and more impudently than the person who has no ideal.”
Cynics are thwarted idealists. No one can realize one’s ideal, for it is impossible to realize any ideal. How common it is for idealists to devolve into spendthrifts, wastrels, libertines, reprobates! How many bars are populated by crushed and stultified idealists!
Anyone who is idealistic in the modern world will hit a wall very quickly, very early. To return to Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity, the modern world is a world of equalization, which does not mean “equal rights.” It is a world in which everyone is dragged down to the lowest possible level so that everyone will be posited as the same. Equalization here means mediocritization. Everyone is reduced to the Same, and the Same is the lowest stratum. Under such adverse conditions, it is extremely difficult for the intellectually gifted to germinate and to evolve.
However, the intellectual flattening of the crowd will lead to intellectual deepening of the free spirit!
* * * * *
In Paragraph 134, Nietzsche writes: “From the senses originate all believability, all good conscience, all appearance of truth.”
People often are persuaded by the sound of a person’s voice. The form of what is said, and the appearance of the person who is saying it, dominates the content of what is being said. When discussing appearances, one would do well not just to refer to the optical. The sonic, the aural, is also an appearance. If someone is abrasive- and antagonistic-sounding, we are less likely to believe what that person has to say. People are so easily swayed by the way in which the speaker speaks, if the speaker speaks unctuously and mellifluously. If the orator is at the center of the video screen, and if the orator speaks with authority, speaks with conviction, speaks with confidence, the audience is much more likely to be swayed by the arguments that are being put forth. The auditors are much more likely to believe what the orator is saying if the orator speaks with the appearance of surety. The speaker with the microphone holds all of the aces. If there is a speaker at the podium, the audience is expected to laugh at all of the speaker’s jokers and if there is a dissident in the audience, someone who says, “I don’t believe what you are saying; I have a counterargument,” that dissident will be shouted down and ridiculed by the auditors. We human primates, we are so shallow. And most of us only feel alive when we are surrounded by a crowd of like-thinkers. So, if something strikes our senses in a striking way, optically or sonically, if it is verisimilar, it will often be accepted as “the truth,” in quotation marks, even if that statement is specious, casuistical. And this is in keeping with Nietzschean phenomenology, which prescinds the thing-in-itself.
* * * * *
- Phariseeism is not the degeneration of the good human being; a considerable part thereof is rather the condition of all being-good.
There is no such thing as deep faith. A Pharisee is someone who is only superficially dedicated to one’s faith, someone who follows the letter of the law, but not its spirit, much like, in another religion, Siddhartha, who only followed the surface tenets of Hinduism at the beginning of Herman Hesse’s novel of which he is the eponym. Siddhartha is a young man who is training to become a Brahmin, but his heart isn’t in it. He is a hypocrite, at the beginning of the novel. Nietzsche is suggesting that hypocrisy is the condition of all religiosity. The point is, to put it another way, that the letter-of-the-law skipping-along-the-surface of religious observation is as deep as it gets, according to Nietzsche.
* * * * *
- The one seeks an accoucheur for his thoughts, the other seeks someone whom he can assist: a good conversation thus originates.
In every conversation, there is a mother—the one who gives birth to the main idea of the conversation. And in a sense, the mother is just talking to herself, in every conversation. In every dialogue, one interlocutor gives birth; the other assists in the birth of the conversational subject. The other interlocutor serves as a midwife, an accoucheur, who assists in the birth of the main idea of the conversation.
In other words, every conversation is a soliloquy, a monologue. There is an unbridgeable, uncrossable abyss between both interlocutors, between both members of the conversation. It is impossible to suture this gap. We are endlessly talking to ourselves, about ourselves. We are always talking about ourselves, even when we pretend to be talking about other people and things that are unrelated to us. However, while in conversation, we are monologists, soliloquists, in the presence of a witnesses.
* * * * *
- We do the same while waking as while dreaming: We only invent and imagine the person with whom we have intercourse—and then forget it immediately afterward.
We normally think of a divide between wakefulness and dreamfulness. The movement from wakefulness to dreamfulness is called the hypnagogic state; the movement from dreamfulness to wakefulness is called the hypnopompic state. Notice what Nietzsche does here: He conflates wakefulness with dreamfulness. Even while we are awake, we fabricate the reality that we experience. Nietzsche’s example: We construct an image of the person with whom we are speaking—and then forget that we are the constructors.
Nietzsche means: We fantasticate, we invent the world—a world which we then experience. The world is our construction. We are all artists, all of us. But very few of us see ourselves as artists who are crafting, who fashioning the lives that we are living. The point is not to create in order to live; the point is to live in order to create. The main idea is to live as if we were the authors of the books of our lives.
* * * * *
- The abdomen is the reason that the human being does not so easily take oneself for a god.
As I have written elsewhere, if I may quote myself, every human being has the desire to become a god, and all gods deserve to be slaughtered—metaphorically speaking. I don’t mean that literally. Perhaps all of us desire to become gods, but the fact that we have stomachs and intestines is a sign of our finitude. The physiological need to ingurgitate, the gastrointestinal system is symptomatic of the fact that we are limited, in so many ways, including our susceptibility to sickness. We are limited in space, we are limited in time. We are not illimitable. It is difficult to deify any animal that defecates.
* * * * *
- Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster thereby. And when you look too long in an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
Neither “Good” nor “Evil” exists as a reified category. That is the meaning of the main title of this book, Beyond Good and Evil. And anyone who struggles against Evil, which is imaginary, in the name of Good, which is also imaginary, might very well become evil in the process. Moralists who fight against evil are in jeopardy of being evil themselves—that meaning is obvious. A witchfinder, a witch-hunter, takes on the mantle of the Good in order to eradicate Evil. But such a witchfinder might very well become diabolized in the struggle against fictitious Evil. This meaning is, again, obvious, but the question is, why? Because the Good which the witchfinder serves is fictitious. The first problem is that both Good and Evil are fictitious—when I say, “fictitious,” I just mean “fabricated,” “created,” “made.” The second problem is that the concept of Good is nothing more than a mask for the concept of Evil. So, Good is actually Evil.
Moralists are fascinated by that which rejects or escapes morality. They are fixated on the filth, the depravity, the Evil that they condemn. Morality is intimately bound to what it repudiates and tries to exorcise. That is to say, morality is actually already immorality.
If you would like to see a film about how the Good is dialectically related to the Evil, seek out The Witchfinder General (1968), the great final film of Michael Reeves, who died at the age of twenty-five. There is a character named Marshall, who is a Roundhead soldier—a Roundhead supported the Parliament of England during the English Civil War in the seventeenth century—who indefatigably pursues the sinister, sadistic Matthew Hopkins, who is the witch-hunter of the title. In any event, at the end of the film, Marshall, a Protestant warrior, is completely sullied, completely demonized while undergoing the process of righteous vengeance. He falls into total corruption.
The second part of the aphorism—“when you look too long in an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This means that when a thinker thinks deeply about the world, the experience of thinking will deepen the thinker. The world is the abyss. A thinker becomes a deeper human being by thinking into the abyss—and the abyss has no end. There are no answers in the abyss. This experience is nauseating because the world has no foundation. Once you recognize that the world has no foundation, this recognition will make you more profound.
* * * * *
- That which an age considers evil is usually an unseasonable echo of what was formerly considered good—the atavism of an old ideal.
You can hear in this aphorism the reverberations of a book that has not yet been written: Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality, Zur Genealogie der Moral. Nietzsche’s central argument in Essay One of that book, which will be written in the following year, is that what Christianity considers “evil” was once considered “good.” What is “evil” today was what the Roman patrician considered “good”—namely, nobility, the aristocratic attitude, irony, sophistication. What was considered “good” in Roman Antiquity is transmuted into “evil” in the Christian era.
* * * * *
- “Where the Tree of Knowledge stands, there is forever Paradise”: so speak the oldest and youngest serpents.
Nietzsche is here suggesting: There is no knowledge in Paradise; there is only the Tree of Knowledge. If you eat the fruit that grows on the Tree of Knowledge, you will be evicted from Paradise and forced into a broken world, and you will live in a slum of knowledge. But at least you will have your liberty and your critical thought. This is not what I am saying; this is my interpretation of what Nietzsche is suggesting.
* * * * *
- Talking about oneself a great deal can also be a means of concealing oneself.
This is the paradox of openness: Openness is a screen. The most fundamental trait of unhiddenness is darkness, obscurity, concealment. This is to say that displays of honesty or candor might be affectatious.
* * * * *
- In praise there is more importunacy than in blame.
Words of praise are invasive to an accomplished person; an accomplished person is not flattered at all by hymns to one’s greatness. The accomplished person dismisses such flatteries as meaningless. Praise is invasive, importunate, intrusive because the one who praises assumes equality with the one who is being praised. The person who is praising is actually praising oneself—the person who praises is saying, in essence, “I am your equal,” “I am equal to the person to whom I am dispensing praise.”
“You are a famous artist, and your work is excellent”: Anyone who says this is presupposing that the artist and the encomiast are equal. “I identify with you; I am as great as you are.”
When an interview called Mick Jagger’s onstage presence “electrifying,” Jagger responded with contempt: “Flattery.” Mick Jagger has always found flattery presumptuous. Flattery is an imposition.
* * * * *
- Now and then, one embraces a beloved person out of love of humankind (because one cannot embrace everyone): but that is precisely what may not be revealed to the beloved…
Might Nietzsche be suggesting that, sometimes, we love individuals because they are substitutes, placeholders, proxies, surrogates, stand-ins? For whom? For what? Nietzsche tells us: For the whole of humanity. The need to release one’s social instincts on someone is a pressure, and the pressure grows intense. One loves an individual arbitrarily, in other words. The person whom you love is fungible, is replaceable by another. But no, he couldn’t be suggesting that!
* * * * *
- One does not hate when one disesteems but only when one esteems the hated person as one’s equal or as one’s superior.
Precisely. Once you despise your rival, your rival ceases to be your rival. One hates the rival; one doesn’t despise the rival. Hatred and despisement are not identical concepts.
* * * * *
- Ultimately, one loves one’s desires and not the thing or person desired.
Nietzsche was immensely influenced by La Rochefoucauld, the seventeenth-century French thinker who wrote so many brilliant aphorisms. Indeed, Nietzsche’s aphoristic style really comes from La Rochefoucauld. In any event, La Rochefoucauld writes of love: “It is with love as it is with ghosts—it is often spoken of, but seldom seen.” In other words, love does not exist—or, more precisely, love is a linguistic construction. If no one talked about love, no one would believe in love.
And is this not the case? There was no such thing as romantic love before Petrarch wrote his romantic sonnets to his unrequited love, Laura. One could also look at the love songs of the twelfth-century French troubadours as a source for our contemporary understanding of love.
Love is a concept, and it has a history. Everything historical has a beginning and an end. Here is a frightening question: Is the concept of romantic love approaching its end? Think about it.
One of the things that I argue in my video series devoted to Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is that love is a hallucination, and we fall in love only with our own hallucinations while we are in love. We think we are in love with the beloved; in fact, we are in love with a simulacrum of the beloved. We never really know the other human being. The other human being is always inaccessible to us; what we do is we transfer our imago on to someone else, but that is only always our own imago.
The word imago, in psychoanalysis, means our idealized image of someone; usually an imago is the idealized image of a parent. So, we project our imago on to the blank screen of the beloved—this might be the imago of The Mother, of The Father, or of someone else entirely. This is why Nietzsche might be suggesting that love is an illusion and the object of love is an illusion, as well. And sometimes, a delusion, which is far worse than an illusion.
* * * * *
- The familiarity of superiors embitters because it may not be returned.
This might be an obscure reference to an obscure author, but this aphorism reminds me of a short story by Roland Topor, the great French writer Roland Topor, entitled “The Blue-Eyed Boy.” It is one of the most disturbing stories that you could read. It’s about a young man who works in an office; he only has one arm, and he finds that his boss is excessively, suspiciously sweet to him. His boss brings him candy, his boss brings him champagne and always asks how he is doing. The boss gives the blue-eyed boy a raise, even though the boy is a fairly new employee, which, of course, exercises the boy’s colleagues and galvanizes their resentment toward him. The boy is naturally suspicious and is wondering, “Why is my boss giving me special treatment?” The other employees, in turn, wonder: “Why is our employer lavishing such attention of the blue-eyed neophyte and not upon us?” The awkward position into which the blue-eyed boy is thrown is this: He cannot return the familiarity or the generosity of his superior, which places him in a relation of one-sided dependency on the institutional superior. Such graciousness embitters the subordinate because the subordinate does not have the power to reciprocate the graciousness. Exceptions are made for the subordinate, but the subordinate is not permitted to make exceptions for his superior because there is an inequality there, a power-relation. Could this relationship be replicated in the relation between parent and child? I think so. There are parents who are excessively friendly toward their children, which generates endless problems for the child. The child grows resentful toward the parent when the parent is overly chummy and palsy toward the child perhaps because the child knows or pre-knows that the intimacy is insincere and may be revoked at any moment. In the 1999 film American Beauty, the father Lester Burnham addresses his daughter, who is played by Thora Birch, as “buddy.” Such familiarity could only cause disturbances in the father-daughter relation, and it does manifestly in the film.
* * * * *
- “I am shaken, not because you lied to me, but because I no longer believe you.”
Right. I have to rethink you, and thinking causes me distress. There is such a thing as under-thinking, and many of us under-think perhaps from a fear of thinking. For thinking does often cause discomfort.
What better of way of spending the quarantine than by reading Nietzsche?
There is a phrase here that Nietzsche borrows from Schopenhauer: liberum arbitrium indifferentiae, which, loosely translated, means “the indiscriminate free choice.” It is an all-too-vast freedom, an arbitrary freedom, a laisser-aller liberty, a do-what-you-like liberty in which one choice is as good as any other, a do-what-you-want-to-do freedom. This sort of indiscriminate freedom is the enemy of art and the enemy of productivity.
What Nietzsche is suggesting, by contrast, is restraint. Art requires the restraint of form. Where does freedom come from? It comes from restraints that are imposed upon oneself. One imposes limits upon oneself and works within those limits. The limits of freedom are the limits that one has oneself circumscribed. Freedom isn’t just do-whatever-you-please; it doesn’t mean “do-whatever-surfaces-in-your-consciousness” or “act randomly.”
Freedom means legislating the law—you are the legislator of your own law, and you work within the perimeters of that law (the word is not “parameters,” incidentally). Your own margins, your own boundaries, your own limits, the space that you yourself have set up, have installed.
This is why laisser-aller writers do not create literature. They create fiction, perhaps, but they are incapable of creating literature. I was thinking about this earlier this morning. I was thinking of Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger. These are laisser-aller writers. They write without self-compulsion, they write without self-restraint. I have written about this elsewhere, but it seems to me that a writer of literature is someone more than just a typist, someone more than just a fictioneer, someone more than just a commercial fiction writer. Commercial fiction has no enduring value, except, perhaps, as a historical document. Fiction that is made for money is devoid of value. No, literature, genuine literature, is written for the benefit of the author who creates it and for no one else and not in order to make money. It does not follow from this that all writing that is created for the sake of the author is literature, and the process of writing literature is this: Be arbitrary and random in the first draft, and then rigorously and vigorously go over the text and make deletions. Never begrudge deletions. Never begrudge the excision of a word or a phrase that is repetitious, stale, or empty. Never uproot a cliché begrudgingly. Rigorously and vigorously go over that text again and again until it is as close to perfection as it is possible to be.
* * * * *
Nietzsche is suggesting that we are all artists. We are not all artists in the genuine sense, however. We are not all artists in the sense of “creators of works of art.” He is much more fastidious than that, as am I. My standards for what constitutes “art” are much higher than that. But we are all artists in a sense because we fabricate the world, we construct a world that we know, and one of the things that we do, as Nietzsche will point out, is absorb and assimilate new sensations and new impressions within a familiar framework. This is what all human beings do: We familiarize, we translate what is fresh, what is new into a language with which we are familiar. So, for example, while we are reading, we seldom read syllabically, we usually don’t read each word of the text before us, and we poeticize, we fabricate, we projectively introject letters and entire words that we don’t actually read. We guess what the unread portion of the sentence is. We read, perhaps, five or six words in a ten-word sentence and then “color” the rest of the sentence. Because we are the colorists and the flavorists of the world of our experience. When we look at a tree, we do not see the totality of the tree; we poetically fantasticate the leaves and the branches that we never actually see. We do not see what is behind the corner of the building. We fantasize reality; we are the fantasists, the fabulists. We construct the invisible by activating the play of the transcendental imagination, and all that we perceive is the synthesis of the transcendental imagination. This is why we are all fictionists, poets—but only in the broadest senses of those words. (I am not saying, for instance, that we are all “poets” in the genuine sense of that word.) We introject our “own” meaning into the text of the world.
Now, I have a personal example; I hope that this interests you. I was talking the other day about the Michael Reeves’s film The Witchfinder General (1968). I adduced this film as an example of the diabolization of the self-appointed moral good. If you are very sensitive, I disrecommend this film—“to disrecommend” is not a word, but it should be one.
In any event, you have a young soldier named Marshall who is indefatigably seeking out a wicked witchfinder named Matthew Hopkins and his associate. Now, the associate of Hopkins violates Marshall’s girlfriend. In fact, both of these sinister, sadistic men are preying upon the young woman through the film; they are the predators, and she is the prey. Marshall wants revenge. And Hopkins and his associate, his toady, his minion, these two vile men, these two vile “witchfinders” are discovered by Marshall, and Marshall wants his revenge, but in the process of exacting his revenge, Marshall enters a space of total self-corruption, a space of complete depravity. Marshall becomes what he rejects. He is the one who fights against devils and becomes a devil thereby.
I have seen this film twice—the second time was very recently. The film was seen by me as a teenager and then, secondly, on the large screen at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago. The ending of the film seemed, the second time around, to be completely different to me than it did the first time around.
My imagination fictionalized the film. I was the co-director of the film; the film was not just directed by Michael Reeves. I embellished, ornamented certain things, de-emphasized certain things, highlighted other things. The film that I saw as a teenager that I saw recently, nor is it the film that I am remembering now.
This leads me to infer that there are as many editions of The Witchfinder General as there are viewings of the film. If the film has been seen 564,303 times, then there are at least 564,303 versions of The Witchfinder General.
Inside of me there are at least three versions of The Witchfinder General: the one that I saw as a teenager, the one that I saw recently, and the one that I am thinking of now.
If I may continue Nietzsche’s path of reflection, it follows that human beings are animated by the will-to-power. That everyone, every human being, has the desire for appropriation, the desire for assimilation, the desire for possession. All of us do. Love is a form of appropriation. Compassion is also appropriative.
And this is yet another difference between Nietzsche and his unofficial teacher, his ex officio mentor, Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer believes that human beings are motivated by three impulses: compassion, egoism, or malice. Notice what Nietzsche does. Nietzsche erases compassion from that list, or, more precisely stated, he relegates compassion to egoism or malice. Nietzsche reduces compassion, he distills compassion to malice or to egoism. There is no such thing, for Nietzsche, as pure compassion, it doesn’t exist for him. That is because, according to Nietzsche, there is no such thing as pure selflessness. All compassion is the instantiation of the desire for appropriation.
You are compassionate toward those for whom you feel pity. And what accompanies pity? Contempt. For whom do we feel contempt? For those whom we consider inferior to us. And those whom we want to own, to possess, to appropriate. We want to make those for whom we feel pity, those for whom we feel compassion, the instruments, the implements, the utensils of our power. Someone who needs our compassion needs us. And recognizes us as the sovereign, the superior, as the one who has more power than they. For whom do we feel compassion? Those who are powerless or those who we feel have an inferior degree of power in relation to our level of power.
Remember: For Nietzsche, all relations are power-relations, every relationship is a relationship of power. A few more remarks on this remarkable passage. Notice the examples that Nietzsche gives us. The third lover does not want his beloved, the woman he loves, his inamorata, to love a phantasmal version of himself. That isn’t enough for him. It’s not enough for him that she loves the phantasm. No, no, he wants the beloved to love him in his nakedness, in his factuality, in his ugliness. He doesn’t want the beloved to love the illusion, he doesn’t want the beloved to love the mask. No, no, again, the third lover wants his beloved to love him in all of his ugliness. And the fourth lover wants the beloved to love him in all of his wickedness, in all of his sinisterness. Not despite his malicious qualities, no, the fourth lover wants the beloved to love him because of his malicious qualities.
So, satisfaction with mere external obedience is not possible for advanced human beings, for what Nietzsche is doing here is giving us a scale of mastery and of masterfulness, an ascending scale of mastery and of masterfulness. You see, the most sophisticated, the most pensive, the most profound masters do not want to be simply obeyed. That is not enough for them. It’s like the father who says to his son, “Son, put down that X-Box. We’re going to Grandma’s house. Get in the SUV now! You’re coming whether you want to or not.” That is the authoritarian father. But then there is the totalitarian father. The totalitarian father knocks gently on the son’s bedroom door and says, “Hey, ace, come on, do you want to go to Grandma’s house?” And the son says, “No, Brian, I want to play Call of Duty.” “Yeah, come on, champ, come on, sport, let’s go to Grandma’s house. You know that you really want to go. You know that it will make you a better person.” So, the totalitarian ruler demands the desires of his subjects to comply and to conform. It’s not the authoritarian ruler who says, “You’re going to do this whether you want to or not.” No, this is the totalitarian ruler who wants to get inside of the head of his or her subjects, his or her followers. You see, the totalitarian ruler is the more sophisticated ruler because he or she wants to possess the soul of his or her object of power. External obedience is not enough for the totalitarian ruler. So, mere obedience is not enough. It is not enough to obey the love, you have to have Achtung, which is love for the law. You see, you mustn’t merely obey the law, you must obey the law with every fiber of your being. You must believe in the law. You must be in love with the law. You must absorb the law, you must interiorize the law. According to the totalitarian dictator, the law must become part of you. You must willingly and completely submit yourself to the law, when we’re talking about totalitarian dictatorships. The totalitarian dictator does not merely mandate submission to the law. Reluctant obedience, reluctant submissiveness is not enough, reluctant conformism is not enough for him or her. That would be mere force. In the German, Kraft, which has nothing to do with artificially processed cheese. No, the opposite of that is Macht, power.
There is a dyad between Kraft and Macht, between force and power. They don’t mean the same thing. Opposed to force is power. Force is mere compulsion; you force a person to do what you want that person to do. But the obedience, again, is merely external. You force a person to say what you want that person to say. You force that person to act according to your schema. But power is much deeper than that, and it’s much more intrusive, it’s much more interiorizing and infiltrating and insinuating and insidious. Power is. Power comes inside of you. Power issues into you, it insinuates its way into you. That’s one way of distinguishing power from force. Force is violence or the threat of violence, but power is much more effective. As opposed to force, power suffuses your entire being. What am I talking about? Remember the parable of the Wind and the Sun. The Wind and the Sun make a bet: Who can get the man below them, below the heavens, to remove the hat from his head? Well, the Wind blows the hat from the man’s head. The Wind sets in motion its gusts and its thrashes, it billows the hat from the man’s head. It buffets the man with its violence. The Sun, on the other hand, beats down upon the head of the man until the man swelters, and the man willingly, voluntarily, removes his own hat from head. The Sun gets the man to remove his own hat. Well, who emerges victorious? Obviously, the Sun is the victor, the Sun triumphs over the Wind. Why is that? The goal is to remove the hat from the head of the man, but the Sun is much more subtle. The Sun beats down its rays upon the head of the man and gets the man to remove his own hat. Well, the Wind represents force, that is to say, Kraft, and the Sun represents power, Macht. The man is uncomfortable and voluntarily removes his own hat. Thus, who wins? Clearly, the Sun because the Sun gets the subject to do what the Sun wants him to do. The Sun is able to realize its desires through the vehicle, through the vector of the man. That’s much different than exerting mere compulsion, mere force, mere violence. So, one of the things that Nietzsche is suggesting is that the mask is necessary to secure power, to accede to power, and in order to exceed in power. And Machiavelli taught us that, Machiavelli whom Nietzsche certainly read. Yes, you need to be crafty, you need to be cunning, you need to be deceptive in order to secure power, everyone knows that. Yes, in order to occupy a position of authority, one has to be mendacious. Everyone knows that from Machiavelli. But then once one becomes a leader, a ruler, a sovereign, one is no longer satisfied with the mask-wearing of one’s toadies, one’s stooges, one’s minions, one’s flatterers. Even though one needs to wear a mask in order to occupy a position of authority, once one accedes to a position of power, one is no longer satisfied with the mask-wearing of one’s followers, one’s subjects, one’s courtiers. The courtiers flatter and they flatter and they flatter, but the sovereign is never satisfied with their empty flatteries because he knows that their flatteries are hollow. The sovereign does not want masked devotion from his subjects. He wants genuine admiration, genuine obedience, genuine dedication. And he will be satisfied with nothing less than that. He is satisfied by nothing less than maskless, unfeigned, undisguised devotion.
Power is never absolute because “absolute” means without any exceptions, any limitations, any qualifications. But power desires its absoluteness. Power wants to absolutize itself—that is the nature of power. Power wants to become absolute; power is satisfied with nothing less than its own absolutizement. To say it once more: If power does not reach its own absolutizement, it will not be satisfied with itself. And even though power wields a mask, wears a mask, dons a mask, it is not satisfied when its followers wear masks. Power demands absolute complaisance—not complacency. That is to say, affability, obeisance, the desire to please authority at all costs. That’s what power demands from its subjects.
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Nietzsche is implying that if one is a real psychologist of morality, in the scientific sense, one would not moralize, one would not impose one’s morals onto the object of one’s study. One would not be sanctimonious, if one were a genuine psychologist of morals. One wouldn’t make moral judgments, in other words. Don’t adjudicate in a moral way upon one’s subjects.
You know, I am reminded of Nietzsche’s interpretation of The Tragedy of Macbeth by Shakespeare, in Daybreak, Morgenröthe. Nietzsche makes the point therein that it is quite delightful to read Macbeth because Macbeth is the figure of a heroic villain or a villainous hero, though Nietzsche does not use those phrases. But Nietzsche does see in the figure of Macbeth a heroic villain or a villainous hero. And we as spectators or readers of the play, take a kind of delight in Macbeth’s commitment to evil and we vicariously enjoy Macbeth’s commitment to evil. The reason that Macbeth is so captivating is that he is so vigorous, so dynamic, he is full of vitality, he is affirmative of life in all of its violence, in all of its tumultuousness. And that is why we identify with Macbeth, because he possesses those very traits. So, we as spectators or as readers are able to enjoy the blissfulness of evil, the freedom of evil, in the context of a spectacle. A spectacle that cannot affect our lives in any direct sense. It’s a spectacle. That is why Macbeth is so captivating, both Macbeth the character and the play entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
I differ from Nietzsche on this point because it seems to me that Macbeth is neither good nor evil. He has no free will. He has no moral responsibility whatsoever. He is buffeted by the forces of necessity. He is carried along by the winds of necessity. So those moralizing commentators who see Macbeth as a fallen angel, as a sinner, as someone who has fallen from grace, they are wrong. Macbeth is presented as being quite sympathetic in the play, and a close reading of the text would bear that out. But I also think that Nietzsche is wrong on Macbeth.
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Nietzsche writes about equalization, the leveling-off of distinction, in the modern world. Equalization and leveling-off mark modernity. They mark the modern world. The modern world, modern culture, is not rigorous enough for Nietzsche. And it is intellectually stultifying. Nietzsche is writing about how, in modernity, standards have been softened, whether we are talking about intellectual standards or political standards or linguistic standards or aesthetical standards or literary standards, any kind of cultural standards have been mollified, have been lowered, have been dumbed well down in the modern world. Everyone has been levelled off, has been reduced to the Same. Nietzsche is not writing against equal rights here. Yes, he can be contemptuous of democracy, but that is not the point here, that is not the point he is making. What Nietzsche is opposed to is the banalization of the world and the normalization of the world, the making-average, the making-ordinary, the making-mediocre of the world, and the reduction of the standards, the dumbing-down of standards that characterize modernity. The making-same of every human being, the reduction of differences to the identical. The leveling-off of differences between people, the destruction of singularity, of uniqueness. Modern culture is a culture in which everyone is expected to be the same, and no differences are tolerated. The reduction of distinction, the reduction of talent, the levelling-off of all nuance. The eradication of all differences between one human being and another is what marks the modern world. This is not a defense of tyranny, this is not a defense of dictatorship. Far from it! Quite the opposite. No, this is an attack on the modern world and the age of modernity, which is the age of the crowd, what Nietzsche calls “the herd.” And a crowd can easily convert itself into a mob, and mobs are violent. If modern history has taught us anything, it has taught us that fact. Again, this is not a critique of civil rights or of equal rights, and this passage should not be misrepresented in such a fashion. To do so would be to practice bad philology. This is Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the modern world. In the modern world, differences are reduced to the Same, to the universal Same, to universal sameness, to indistinguishableness, to banality. That is what Nietzsche is suggesting.
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And does Nietzsche think of “progress”? It should be clear. Progress in the modern world is mediocritization, progress is the making-mediocre of everyone and everything so that every cultural production must be mediocre. If it’s truly daring and exciting and complex and profound and challenging and provocative, it will be decried not merely as “bad,” it will be decried as wicked, as sinister, as evil, as immoral! For the very fact that it will make someone think! For a play, a book, a poem, a film that makes someone think, that challenges the conventional way in which one thinks, that destabilizes one’s relationship to the world, to other human beings, to oneself. That work will be demonized; it will be diabolized. Decried as evil. And what is good? What is good is the average, and the fundamental trait of the modern world is the making-average, the making-ordinary, the making-normal, the making-banal of everything. As I would say, and the mediocre shall inherit the Earth.
And this is what is happening today. The most mediocre people you will ever meet in your life are occupying positions of authority. We live in a mediocracy, the rule of the mediocre. Just the most normal, unremarkable, boring, unimpressive, unextraordinary people you will ever meet in your life occupy positions of authority. And if someone does show even the modicum of a glimpse of a tincture of a jot of an iota of a scintilla of talent, that person will be ostracized, even persecuted and oppressed for being “too different.” Those who show intellectual sophistication, young people who show promise, are persecuted for wrongthink, especially in the United States of Mediocrity.
In America, intelligence is reviled as if it were a vice; this exactly what Nietzsche is writing about. Intelligence is vilified as if it were a crime, or writing differently or on a more sophisticated manner than others. One is regarded with suspicion if one does that. You must not really know what you’re talking about if you do that. Because everyone must use the use the same words, and everyone must think the same way. One of the things that I’ve noticed, and this is my diagnosis of a culture that Nietzsche did not live to see but that he foresaw, it is true that the vocabulary of the average person is expanding, but have you noticed how everyone uses the same words and phrases and slogans? Everyone says the same thing. Why is that? Because everyone is thinking the same thing. And if you think differently than the crowd, the crowd will come after you in a flaming brigade, with pitchforks and torches. This is not so much what I am saying, it is what Nietzsche is saying: The exceptional are not merely persecuted and ostracized. No, it’s worse than that. Their very exceptionality is regarded as evil. The fact that they are sophisticated, the fact that they are truly exceptional is regarded as a form of evil. So, morality does nothing more than sublimate popular prejudices. But this is sublimation without sublimity. Because popular prejudices are raised up to the moral good, but the moral good is by no means sublime.
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Well, it’s clear what Nietzsche is suggesting, isn’t it, when he writes of a “new task”? Modern culture is a culture of minimization. It is not an appropriate breeding ground for exceptional human beings, and as a result, humanity cannot flourish, cannot blossom, cannot grow to its highest height. Humanity cannot keep pace with its promise in a culture that is inimical to it, in a culture that is adversarial to it, in a culture that only gives exceptional human beings adverse conditions. No exceptional human being can grow in the dryness, in the aridity of this desert. No, new conditions need to be established in order for exceptional human beings to grow, to develop, to reach their greatest height, in order for them actualize their possibilities. Of course, not all possibilities can be actualized, but some of them can, and human beings are not living up to their greatest potentiality because of this culture in which they do not live—no, it’s a culture in which they disintegrate, in which they decompose, in which they putrefy, in which they rot, that is the culture which Nietzsche is diagnosing here. Is Nietzsche incorrect? Is he wrong?
A human being is fully itself when one is alone, and the greatest human being is the one who is capable of standing alone.
Nietzsche never actually writes these words; these are words that came to the surface of my mind as I was reading his work.
Here I am, sheltered in my lazaretto in this time of plague, reading for your benefit Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche, which is my English translation of Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft.
This is the eleventh video in the series devoted to the recitation of my English translation of the book. I will also be lecturing on the text from time to time.
Just parenthetically, before I read the translation, let me make a number of general comments about what I will be reading in this video: Firstly, Romanticism and skepticism exist in tandem, according to Nietzsche. Romanticism and skepticism are complementary. They are both forms of volitional paralysis and intellectual paralysis. Remember: Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity is that the most fundamental characteristic of the modern world is the petrification of the Will. The stiffening of the Will is the malady of modernity. The Will exists—because the will always exists and will always exist—but the Will is calcified. No one has an active, vigorous, striving will anymore, not in the modern world.
To add on to this idea: The Romanticists and the skeptics are lotophages, which means “lotus-eaters.” They are opium-eaters, in other words, and opium puts to sleep almost anyone who takes it. They are narcoticizing themselves, they are taking sleeping aids, soporifics—they are sleeping their way through life.
Now, the reference to Hamlet might not be immediately clear. Please allow me to explain, to clarify. Hamlet represents hesitancy, of course. He represents hesitantism, to coin a term. A philosophy of hesitancy. He is reluctant, he delays, he temporizes, he defers his decision to kill off his incestuous, fratricidal drunkard idiot stepfather Claudius.
When he sees the usurper Claudius, who usurped the throne of Denmark from his father, in Act Three: Scene Three, Hamlet is hesitant to kill him. Because Claudius is praying. And Hamlet is worried that if Hamlet slaughters Claudius at that moment, Claudius’ soul will ascend to the divine. Hamlet doesn’t believe that Claudius is good enough for the divine.
So, this reference to Hamlet exists in the text to point out that the skeptics are forever unwilling to commit to apodictic assertions. The skeptics delay incessantly, constantly—they are reluctant to make definitive statements about the way that things are.
This is another self-contradiction in this book, for Nietzsche told us earlier that a genuine philosopher will be reluctant to make any absolute claims, such as “I think.” Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is a remarkably complex and self-contradictory book, if the word “book” even applies.
I disagree with almost everything that Jordan Peterson has said about Nietzsche, but the one statement that Peterson has made about Nietzsche that I agree with is: Beyond Good and Evil is not a book.
Indeed. I concur. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is not a book, if by “book” we mean a unified, organic totality. The text is not an organic, organized totality with coordinated parts—if it is a book, it is a book that cancels itself out as a book; it is a book that renounces its status as a book. The text deals with so many sundry topics, that it doesn’t have anything like a unifying thesis. The closest thing to a thesis is the idea that moral prejudices have contaminated philosophy, and philosophers would do well to jettison moralisms and invent their own values rather than subscribe to conventional morality.
Fourthly: I’ve been trying to disengage Nietzsche from the alt-rightists, the hard Right, the neo-Right, the extreme Right, from the neo-fascists because Nietzsche was none of these things. For those who think that he is, let me ask you: Have you ever encountered a fascist who was not a nationalist? Have you? Why would Nietzsche have renounced his German citizenship? He gave up his citizenship and was no longer a German national. On almost every page of this book, he reviles, vilifies modern German culture. And if I am wrong about this, and I’m not, why does Nietzsche suggest that the Will, which Nietzsche valorized, is more powerful in England, Spain, and Corsica than it is in modern Germany. Nietzsche is no Germano-centric thinker, far from it. He remarks again and again that modern German culture is afflicted with a volitional paralysis. He praises French music to the sky.
Who is Nietzsche’s favorite composer? Do you know? I’ll wait.
No, not Wagner, only the young Nietzsche. Not anymore. Not in the period of intellectual maturity.
Beethoven? No, though Nietzsche does write some approvingly things about Beethoven in Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits.
Do you give up?
Nietzsche’s favorite composer in the last years of his lucidity is Bizet.
How could Nietzsche be legitimately considered a German nationalist if his favorite musical composer is Bizet?
Shaw writes of Nietzsche’s taste in music (to paraphrase): “As I eat bread, Nietzsche favors Bizet! As I eat bread and drink water, Nietzsche favors Bizet! He prefers Bizet to Mozart! He prefers Bizet to Beethoven! As I eat bread and drink water, Bizet!”
And here, to my eyes and ears, Nietzsche sounds more like an internationalist, a cosmopolitan, than he does a German nationalist.
Notice the sulfurous remarks that Nietzsche directs at the German media. In Also Sprach Zarathustra: “They spew their bile and call it a newspaper!” And in this very book: “The Germans invented gunpowder. All respect to them for that! But then they ruined it: They invented the press.”
So, Nietzsche was no proto-fascist. For if fascism means anything, and George Orwell opines that it is just a word that we apply to things which we do not like, fascism is nothing if not an anti-intellectualist ideology that easily gives rise to an anti-intellectualist organization. Now, I’m not calling Nietzsche an “intellectual” because that word really implies a divide between one’s intellectual life and one’s private life, and Nietzsche recognizes no such distinction, and so the “intellectual” thinks in the service of an institution; the “intellectual” is paid to think institutionally in order to facilitate the maintenance of the institution. The “intellectual” is an instrument in the service of an organization. But I mean that fascism is anti-intellectualist in a different sense: It is pitted against critical thought, which is the ability to think for oneself. Under fascism, everything exists for the benefit of the State or for the Nation—Mussolini says, “State” and Hitler says, “Nation.” “Fascism” comes from the Latin fascis, which means “bundle,” and everything, under fascism, is bundled around the State or the Nation. At the center of any fascist society is one leader, one ideology, and one book—think of Hitler, Mussolini, or Mao Zedong. The individual is relegated to the State or the Nation, under fascism. This means that the church and the university exist for the sake of the State or for the sake of the Nation under fascism, and there is no place in a fascist state or a fascist nation for independent-mindedness. All of this is to underline the fact that Nietzsche’s free thinkers, his free spirits, his invisible friends of the future, are nothing if not independently minded.
So, what does Nietzsche expect from those who have not yet been born? His future readers, his imaginary friends, the free spirits? The coming generation, the approaching generation, the succeeding generation? Not the generation that will come tomorrow, but the generation that will come the day after tomorrow? He writes for them, if he writes for anyone other than himself. He expects them to build a philosophers’ republic, a philosophocracy or a cognocracy. A society that will be governed by free thinkers, those who do not think in a doctrinal, doctrinaire, or dogmatic manner.
Now, one might say to me: “Aren’t you trying to liberalize Nietzsche?” In a sense, I am—but this comes from my deep conviction that Nietzsche is an anti-fascist thinker. He certainly is no conservative, since he wants to conserve very little. And I think that the alt-right, the extreme Right needs to find someone else to call its philosophical cheerleader because it is not Nietzsche. Might I suggest Hegel? Now, Hegel is a reactionary political thinker if there ever was one. It is necessary to extricate, to disengage Nietzsche and his writings from the reactionaries. Nietzsche exists in far greater proximity to liberalism than he does to conservatism.
When Nietzsche was writing this book, in 1886, it was the age of Bismarck and Bismarckian unification, right? Bismarck unified Germany.
But immediately before that, from 1815 until the regnancy of Bismarck, Germany was fractured, fissiparous, fragmentary, broken up into micro-polities, micro-states, microscopic principalities. There really was no unified Germany from 1815 on, until Bismarck knotted everything together, because the Congress of Vienna instituted what was called pejoratively, deprecatorily Kleinstaaterei, which I would translate as “small statehood.” Again, that is a term of abuse, “small statehood.” There really was no unified, unitary Germany. Germany was composed of about thirty-nine small states, and there was very little communication among these states; there was very little ideological unity among these states. You couldn’t even call the German confederation at that time “Germany” or a coalescence, coalition, or consortium of states, so divided was the German federation at that time. It was a loose assemblage, a loose agglomeration of micro-states. It was a very weak federation—it was called der Deutsche Bund.
If you’d like to read more about Nietzsche on Kleinstaaterei, read the passage in Also Sprach Zarathustra in which Nietzsche vilifies the state as “the hundred-headed monster.”
When Nietzsche writes of the “mindless enthusiast of handsome grenadiers,” he is thinking of Friedrich Wilhlem I, Frederick William I, who is not named in this text, and who was, from 1714 until 1740, the King of Prussia.
Friedrich Wilhelm I was known as the soldier king, as a “manly, manly, manly man,” which is silly. He had a kind of silly, exaggeration vision of manliness, of virility. And he was worried that his son wasn’t manly enough to be a world leader—I will turn to his son presently. But before I do: Please don’t take Nietzsche literally. Nietzsche is not endorsing this silly concept of masculinity; he’s making fun of it. Why else would Nietzsche call Friedrich Wilhelm I a “mindless enthusiast of handsome grenadiers who had grown into big men”?
Friedrich Wilhelm I: This is the man who creates another imposing world leader, a leader who Nietzsche calls “a military and skeptical genius.” That is Friedrich der Grosse, Frederick the Great. He will become the successor to the Throne of Prussia.
Now, what is the relevance of all of this? For Nietzsche, Friedrich der Grosse, Frederick the Great represents modern skepticism. He spends his days colloquizing with dangerous French thinkers in salons. The father suspected a broken will in his son. It is the oldest story in the world: The father is cold, and the father’s coldness furthers the son’s descent into the rebelliousness, into the self-obsessiveness, into the negations of skepticism. It is the oldest story in the world. That is the reason why Nietzsche is writing about Frederick the Great, Friedrich der Grosse, to begin with. Nietzsche hates skepticism, and he hates Romanticism, and he thinks that both skepticism and Romanticism are forms of intellectual passivity. More significantly, they are, again, manifestations of the stagnation, the ossification of the Will. Now, Romanticism, by that name, did not exist in the mid-eighteenth century, but there was perhaps a kind of proto-Romanticism, according to Nietzsche, in the form and figure of Friedrich der Grosse.
The point of all of this is that Nietzsche is collimating, drawing parallels between the mid-eighteenth century and the late nineteenth century. Nietzsche is writing in the late nineteenth century.
When Nietzsche writes, “Men were missing”; that is not what Nietzsche believes. Nietzsche is here ventriloquizing Friedrich Wilhelm I, who had an outmoded ideal of virility, of masculinity.
Skepticism is, for Nietzsche, the great spider that threatens to spin its web around the Planet Earth, and Nietzsche is an arachnophobe who wants to exterminate that spider.
So, when you read this passage, you have to operate on multiple levels simultaneously. On the one hand, Nietzsche is making fun of Friedrich Wilhelm I. On the other, Nietzsche sympathizes with his aversion to skepticism. Skepticism was spider that was threatening to devour his son! So, Nietzsche is suggesting that Friedrich Wilhelm I was right to be fearful of skepticism the spider!
I was going to say this later, but let me say it now: Nietzsche’s theory is that the skepticism of Frederick the Great paved way for skepticism and for Kantianism, which I know is not really skepticism, but rather the middle road between skepticism and dogmatism.
But anyone who thinks that sensibility is the base level of knowledge and sensation is the threshold of cognition is not really a rationalist. Sensibility is immediate knowledge, it is the most direct relation to the thing, for Kant, and knowledge is finite.
Another argument. The free spirit, according to Nietzsche, has absolutely no confidence that the truth is pleasant. Simply because an idea is agreeable, that doesn’t mean that it is true. Simply because an idea is exalting, elevating, simply because you feel enthusiastic about an idea, that doesn’t mean that the idea is true. If a book enchants you, that doesn’t mean that its contents are true. I’ve spoken about this before, but Nietzsche is, in this section, dissecting, criticizing what logicians call the Logical Fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam, “the argument from consequence,” which is this: If an idea gives me pleasure, if a theory gives me a pleasure, if a doctrine gives me pleasure, if a work gives me pleasure, then that idea, theory, doctrine, or work must be true, it must be valuable, it must be beneficial, it must be health-promoting, it must be meaningful, it must be sound, it must be valid. But the pleasure produces by a work or an idea proves absolutely nothing about its truth or its meaningfulness or its valuableness. Nothing!
Now, the idea that I might be revived after my death as a hammerhead shark might produce a positive emotional outcome. I might believe, with every fiber of my being, that I am coming back after my death as a hammerhead shark. Perhaps for my entire life, I have believed, with total conviction, that I will be resurrected after I die as a hammerhead shark. So what? That doesn’t mean that I will be revived as a hammerhead shark!
Nietzsche wants more intellectual rigor in nineteenth-century German culture. And his criticism of modern German culture is that it is not intellectually rigorous enough; indeed, it is intellectually slack and stultifying for any burgeoning free spirit.
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are concurrent on the following point: A human being is fully itself when one is alone, and the greatest human being is the one who is capable of standing alone. If we need others, that is a deficiency within ourselves. The weaker we are, the needier we are—and neediness here means the need for other human beings. The strong person, the strong human being needs no one other than oneself. The strongest human being is the flower that blooms only for itself. Or to use another metaphor, the strongest human being is a concave mirror, the mirror that bends toward itself. There is consonance between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on this point. But they differ in that Nietzsche thinks that radical solitude is the means of freeing oneself from morality by becoming capable of creating one’s own values.
Let me conclude my opening marks with a few more remarks about shame: Nietzsche wants to liberate the human animal from shame and from guilt. Do not let guilt drag you down below the waves, into the depths, into the fathoms! One of the connotations of Kafka’s fragmentary novel The Trial [Der Prozess] is that guilt suffuses the totality of the self-responsible subject. You might remember that, in the novel, Josef K. is accused of having committed a crime, but he is never told what that crime is. It is as if guilt were not reducible to any particular, nameable crime—Josef K.’s crime is unnamed because it is unnamable, it is not specific. The name of the crime is insignificant. The point is that Josef K. feels guilty and ashamed for being alive. His crime is the crime of having been born. And his shame will outlive him. Your very existence is guilty—this is what the self-responsible subject is trained to feel. How to free yourself from guilt and shame: Create your own morality!
Parenthetically: When Nietzsche writes, “bloodline,” he doesn’t mean hereditary succession; he puts “bloodline” in quotation marks. He doesn’t mean biological succession. He is intending generations of culture—generations of culture are necessary in order to breed the free spirit.
Another parenthetical remark: If you give up the ghost of the free will, you recognize that choice does not come from the domain of consciousness. The ultimate source of decision-making is not consciousness; it is the unconscious mind. But if you give up the ghost of the free will, a practical aftereffect might be that you love less and you hate less. Why? Because you recognize that no one is responsible for oneself.
Permit me to make a few remarks on the seventh section of the text, “Our Virtues.”
Nietzsche is implying here that morality is the invention of the intellectually weak, the intellectually inferior, those who aren’t very bright, those who aren’t very intelligent. They use morality as a means of equalizing themselves with the intellectually superior, the intellectually sophisticated. It’s a brilliant argument, really. Why is this? How is this?
Well, morality provides the mediocre with a kind of making-easy, a kind of easy leveling-off, a going-linear, a plateauing, a making-ordinary, making-average, a banalization. So, in other words, if you apply the standards of morality to everyone, you bring the intelligent down to the stratum of the mediocre. Then, the intellectually adept are lowered to the level of the most blockheaded blockhead on the block. And, conversely, the most mediocre mediocrity is raised, is elevated by the grace of morality.
And this is a corollary to the above argument: Belief in a god might be necessary to ground moral judgments. Perhaps some of the godly—not all of the godly, but some of the godly, some of the faithful—believe in a deity, in a celestial demiurge, in order to give anchoring to their moral judgments. And they need their moral judgments in order to improve their self-image, their self-confidence.
Even the most unremarkable person can be superior to everyone else, from a moral point of view. And what is the basis of one’s moral superiority? Belief in a god.
A moralist might say to a smarter person: “OK, you are smart and successful in this world. BUT YOU ARE A SINNER! You are a reprobate, a transgressor. So, perhaps I am a bit more than just your equal. I am your superior, morally!” This explains the moralist’s interest in morality perfectly, does it not?
You see, morality is a kind of insidious, devious, sanctimoniousness, according to Nietzsche. It is the idea that I-am-morally-superior-to-you-even-though-you-did-better-on-the-IQ-examination-than-I-did. “Even though your Intelligence Quotient is higher than mine, I am a morally better human being than you are!” And morality is the only standard that matters, for the moralist (according to Nietzsche).
“You’re a bad person, and that makes me a good person. I feel as if I am a morally good person on the basis of your wickedness, your evilness, your infamy. This means that I need you to be sinister in order to feel myself as good. So, I need you to be evil (they say) in order to vaunt my moral goodness. And I need my moral goodness because I don’t want to compete with you in the cerebral arena. I cannot compete with you intellectually, but I can compete with morally”: This the motive of the envious moralist.
But of course, there is a great deal of disagreement on the foundation of morality, whether morality even has a firm foundation to begin with. So, what the moralist does is anchor one’s moral adjudications in the belief in a deity.
This is a delicious argument that Nietzsche is making, even if you disagree with it.
The leitmotif of the book comes up in this section: Truth is a lady, and no one should do her any violence. One should be respectful of Dame Truth. The word for “truth” in German is feminine, die Wahrheit, and the associated pronoun is “sie,” which means “she.” We’ve already come across the metaphor of Lady Truth in the Preface.
In Paragraph 231, Nietzsche points out the closures of his own thinking. And he is suggesting that his reflections on women or Woman are deeply flawed. He posits that all dogmatism is a form of stupidity, and I, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, I, too, am stupid, for I have axioms, uncritically accepted presuppositions, prejudices, and preconceptions. There are certain things that I hold as axiomatic that shouldn’t be held as axiomatic. This is my stupidity; there is a point at which I am unteachable. And Nietzsche is admitting that his thoughts on womanhood are stupid; he is acknowledging here his own unteachableness when it comes to womanhood, and his remarks on womanliness should be read within that framework. This is why, in Paragraph 231, Nietzsche puts “Woman in itself” in quotation marks. This is also why Nietzsche derides the Goethe of Faust II, who celebrates the “Eternal Feminine Which Pulls Us In,” das Ewig-Weibliche / Zieht uns hinan. Goethe is deriving this trope from Dante, incidentally. Nietzsche ridicules this idea of the eternal, celestial, divine feminine, which is really a masculine ideal, in the same way that Nietzsche ridicules the dogmatists for misunderstanding Lady Truth. Nietzsche does not believe in an essentialized, hypostatized, reified femininity. There is no such thing as the essence of the feminine, and Nietzsche acknowledges this in Paragraph 231. In other words, Nietzsche parenthesizes the very reflections on Womanhood that he puts forth—he suspends them, he brackets them out.
This is why Nietzsche writes, in Paragraph 231, that his “truths” are merely “my truths,” they are merely his truths. This is not arrogance. It is not as if Nietzsche were suggesting that his truths are the only truths that matter. No, he is suggesting that these are only his truths and they shouldn’t be taken so seriously. And his so-called “truths” cancel themselves out, they actively negate themselves, which is why whatever Nietzsche writes about women should be taken as something in which he himself does not believe.
What Nietzsche wants to do is to expose, reveal, disclose, uncover and ridicule his own non-educability. Nietzsche never claimed to be a god; however, anyone who claimed to be a god, Nietzsche pulled down into the muck and the filth of our human, all-too-human world. Nietzsche is an apostate to the godhood which is himself.
And when Nietzsche writes, “will,” I think he means the will-to-power.
The beyond is the space in which the free spirit hovers because the free spirit is above it all. The free spirit floats, the free spirit levitates over all dichotomies, over all oppositions, over all dualisms. And all dichotomies are false dichotomies, all oppositions are false oppositions, all dualisms are false dualisms. You see, the free spirit doesn’t choose a side. The free spirit chooses neither a Pro nor a Contra, neither a For nor an Against. The free spirit doesn’t belong to any party or any ideology. The free spirit, again, hovers, floats, levitates over all ideologies, including nationalistic ideologies, including patriotic ideologies. So, the free spirit might dunk into such ideologies, might indulge in such ideologies from time to time, as Nietzsche writes that he does. You know, perhaps for one hour in a year, he might pretend to be a patriot—but that’s just a mask that he wears. He then takes the mask off and puts the mask back on again once a year and takes the mask off again. Such is the thinking-life of the free spirit, der Freigeist.
[I comment on Nietzsche’s philo-Judaism.]
If Nietzsche lived to be 200 years old, would he have been an advocate of the European Union?
This video is, for the most part, the recitation of my English translation. Commentary is relatively minimal.
There is relatively little commentary in this video. I recite my English translation, and that is it, for the most part.
I recite the final poem of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.
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