nietzsche

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers

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It’s hard to read the old-fashioned way, slowly and deliberately. Few of us have the patience, the concentration, or the time. When we do read, we skim, trying to get a quick “take” on the topics of the day, often conveniently served up as prepackaged excerpts by our modern media machine. We flit from one thing to the next, never pausing to think about what we’ve just read, because in our media-saturated, technology-obsessed age we just don’t have time. Worse, our bad reading habits are symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Real learning, real knowledge, and real culture have been supplanted by the shallow, utilitarian instrumentalism of modern life. The evidence is mounting. Humanities departments are losing students to the sciences and other more useful majors, where they are stuffed with facts and outfitted with skills, better to serve the state as productive citizens; our cultural models are the average heroes of a popular culture. Our culture is in decline. And we read only the headlines.

That may sound like the latest jeremiad in The New Criterion or The New Republic, but it’s actually a paraphrase of Friedrich Nietzsche’s preface to a series of lectures he delivered in the winter of 1872. […]

Nietzsche saw this image of modern print culture embodied in modern journalism’s endless pursuit of the news. In the face of the modern media machine, he longed for timelessness, but one not simply stripped of its time and place. Instead, it was an ethos of active resistance to the “idolatrous” need for the new, the latest headline, the latest commentary, the latest feuilleton. It was intended to enlist those few who were not, as he put it in the Basel lectures, “caught up in the dizzying haste of our hurtling era” and dependent on its short-lived pleasures. It was a call for calm readers.

{ The Hedgehog Review | Continue reading }

photo { Ana Cecilia Alvarez }

The desert grows

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Dr. Yalom, I would like a consultation. I’ve read your novel “When Nietzsche Wept,” and wonder if you’d be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.

No doubt Paul sought to pique my interest with his email. […] Ten days later Paul arrived for his appointment. […]

“I was in philosophy at Princeton writing my doctorate on the incompatibility between Nietzsche’s ideas on determinism and his espousal of self-transformation. But I couldn’t finish. I kept getting distracted by such things as Nietzsche’s extraordinary correspondence, especially by his letters to his friends and fellow writers like Strindberg.

“Gradually I lost interest altogether in his philosophy and valued him more as an artist. I came to regard Nietzsche as a poet with the most powerful voice in history, a voice so majestic that it eclipsed his ideas, and soon there was nothing for me to do but to switch departments and do my doctorate in literature rather than philosophy.

“The years went by,” he continued, “my research progressed well, but I simply could not write. Finally I arrived at the position that it was only through art that an artist could be illuminated, and I abandoned the dissertation project entirely and decided instead to write a novel on Nietzsche. But the writing block was neither fooled nor deterred by my changing projects. It remained as powerful and unmovable as a granite mountain. And so it has continued until this very day.”

I was stunned. Paul was an old man now. He must have begun working on his dissertation well over a half-century ago. […]

“Tell me more,” I said. “Your family? The people in your life?”

“No siblings. Married twice. Divorced twice. Mercifully short marriages. No children, thank God.”

This is getting very odd, I thought. So talkative at first, Paul now seems intent on giving me as little information as possible. What’s going on?

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

‘Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.’ –Epictetus

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The term ‘perspective’ comes from the language of vision. We literally see things from and with a particular perspective. Our eyes are located at a particular point in space, from which some things are visible and others are not, e.g. the top of the table, but not its underneath. A scene looks different from different perspectives. […]

Nietzsche is saying that philosophical beliefs about truth and goodness are part of a particular perspective on the world, a short-sighted, distorting perspective. One of its most important distortions is that it denies that it is a perspective, that its truths are unconditional, that it represents the world as it truly is. But philosophers are wrong to think that it is possible to represent or hold beliefs about the world that are value-free, ‘objective’, ‘disinterested’. […]

We can support Nietzsche’s argument by an evolutionary account of human cognition. We can’t possibly take in everything around us. We must be selective in order to survive at all. So from the very beginning, our intellects are responsive to our interests, our biological instincts and all that develops from them – our emotions, desires and values. So we do not and cannot experience the world ‘as it is’, but always selectively, in a way that reflects our values. […]

If Nietzsche claims that all our knowledge is from a particular perspective, then his claims about perspectives and his theory of perspectivism must itself be from a particular perspective. So is what he says about perspectives objectively true or not?

{ Michael Lacewing | PDF }

image { Camille Henrot, still from The Strife of Love in a Dream, 2011 }

I now regard my having been a Wagnerian as eccentric. It was a highly dangerous experiment.

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‘No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.’ –Antonin Artaud

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Many scholars have argued that Nietzsche’s dementia was caused by syphilis. A careful review of the evidence suggests that this consensus is probably incorrect. The syphilis hypothesis is not compatible with most of the evidence available. Other hypotheses – such as slowly growing right-sided retro-orbital meningioma – provide a more plausible fit to the evidence.

{ Journal of Medical Biography | PDF }

From his late 20s onward, Nietzsche experienced severe, generally right- sided headaches. He concurrently suffered a progressive loss of vision in his right eye and developed cranial nerve findings that were documented on neurological examinations in addition to a disconjugate gaze evident in photographs. His neurological findings are consistent with a right-sided frontotemporal mass. In 1889, Nietzsche also developed a new-onset mania which was followed by a dense abulia, also consistent with a large frontal tumor. […] An intracranial mass may have been the etiology of his headaches and neurological findings and the cause of his ultimate mental collapse in 1889.

{ Neurosurgery | PDF }

If you are Greek, when is actually the optimal time to simply stop paying your bills?

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When Nietzsche says, as he frequently does, that “the truth is terrible” he has in mind three kinds of terrible truths: (1) the terrible “existential” truths about the human situation (the inevitability of death and suffering); (2) the terrible “moral” truth that “life is essentially something amoral”; and (3) the terrible “epistemic” truth that most of what we think we know about the world around us is illusory.

These terrible truths raise Schopenhauer’s question: why continue living at all? Nietzsche’s answer, from early in his career to the very end, is that only viewed in terms of aesthetic values can life itself be “justified” (where “justification” really means restoring an affective attachment to life).

{ Brian Leiter /SSRN | Continue reading }

artwork { Rodolfo Loaiza }

‘Reality doesn’t impress me.’ –Anais Nin

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In 1889, when Friedrich Nietzsche suffered the mental collapse that ended his career, he was virtually unknown. Yet by the time of his death in 1900 at the age of 55, he had become the philosophical celebrity of his age. From Russia to America, admirers echoed his estimation of himself as a titanic figure who could alter the course of history. (…)

Suffering from violent migraines, Nietzsche resigned his academic post when he was 34 and began the life of a little-heeded nomad-­intellectual in European resorts. With escalating intensity, he issued innovative works of philosophy that challenged every element of European civilization. He celebrated the artistic heroism of Beethoven and Goethe; denigrated the “slave morality” of Christianity, which transfigured weakness into virtue and vital strength into sin; and called on the strong in spirit to bring about a “transvaluation of all values.” The “higher man” — or as Nietzsche sometimes called him, the “overman” or “Übermensch” — did not succumb to envy or long for the afterlife; rather he willed that his life on earth repeat itself over and over exactly as it was. (…)

If God was dead, so too were equally fictitious entities like the self. There was no objective truth, only the truth-effects engendered by the workings of power and the instabilities of language. (…) More brilliantly than anyone, Nietzsche understood the peril of modern nihilism and the need to cultivate robust souls who would strive to achieve excellence without authoritative religious belief. (…)

Several decades before Nietzsche wrote, “What does not kill me makes me stronger,” Emerson wrote, “In general, every evil to which we do not succumb, is a benefactor.”

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

Plain and simp the system’s a pimp

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Since morals didn’t come from a God, where did they come from?

Nietzsche answered that question in 1887 with his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best, and by far the clearest, introduction to Nietzsche’s overall project. In short, the first essay in the three-part Genealogy argues that morality itself, the whole idea of good versus evil, came about when weak people figured out a way to make strong people feel bad about being strong. The reason we feel that we should take pity on the weak, or feel bad for imposing our wills on others, is that long ago, in some dark, underground workshop of the spirit, the weak had invented “morals” to compensate for their weakness.

Instead of just straightforwardly hating their enemies, they declared that their superiors stood under the judgement of a higher authority, God, whose law condemned them. And then, amazingly, they had convinced the strong to accept these twisted ideals as The Way Things Ought To Be.

{ Fred Sanders | Continue reading }

Norman Bates: It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes.

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Supposing truth is a woman - what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart?

{ Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1885-86 | Continue reading }

related { circa 1730: Female orgasm officially demoted. }

‘Most people ignorantly suppose that artists are the decorators of our human existence, the esthetes to who the cultivated may turn when the real business of the day is done. Far from being merely decorative, the artist’s awareness is one of the few guardians of the inherent sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit that we have.’ –Robert Motherwell

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On January 3, 1889, two policemen approached Nietzsche after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin, Italy. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground.

In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings — known as the “Wahnbriefe” (”Madness Letters”).

To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: “I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished.” Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome in order to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.

On January 6, 1889, Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day, Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided that Nietzsche’s friends had to bring him back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time, Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of insanity.

In 1898 and 1899, Nietzsche suffered from at least two strokes which partially paralysed him and left him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900, he had another stroke during the night of August 24 / August 25, and then died about noon on August 25.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading | Photos: Nietzsche in 1899 }

Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the unexpected had just happened

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Only great pain, the long, slow pain that takes its time—on which we are burned, as it were, with green wood—compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put aside all trust, everything good-natured, everything that would interpose a veil, that is mild, that is medium—things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such pain makes us “better;” but I know that it makes us more profound.

{ Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882 }

image { Niki Shelley | Jewelry }

Yesterday never comes back

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{ Michel Foucault, interview, 1982 | Continue reading }

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{ Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1888 }

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{ Friedrich Nietzsche born October 15, 1844 | bio | Michel Foucault born October 15, 1926 | bio }