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


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


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


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.


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


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?


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


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


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.


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


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


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


{ Michel Foucault, interview, 1982 | Continue reading }


{ Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1888 }


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

More fours fives and nines than a deck of cards


Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1968) introduces the importance of a philosophy of difference. (…)

Repetition may be variable, and thus may include difference within itself. (…)

A simple repetition is a mechanical, stereotyped repetition of the same element, while a complex repetition is a repetition which has difference hidden within itself. (…)

1) that everyone already knows how “thought” is to be defined; 2) that common sense and good sense guarantee this knowledge and understanding; 3) that recognition of an object is determined by the sameness of the object; 4) that representation can appropriately subordinate the concept of difference to the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed; 5) that any error which occurs in thinking is caused by external rather than internal mechanisms; 6) that the truth of a proposition is only determined by what is designated by the proposition; 7) that problems are only defined by their solutions; and 8) that learning is only a means of gaining knowledge. Deleuze explains that these eight postulates are significant obstacles to the understanding of difference and repetition.

{ Alex Scott | Continue reading | Quote: Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 304, 1882 }

‘There are no fewer things in the mind that exceed our consciousness than there are things in the body that exceed our knowledge.’ –Deleuze


{ Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and philosophy, 1962 | Continue reading }


The body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at.

Again, no one knows how or by what means the mind moves the body, nor how many various degrees of motion it can impart to the body, nor how quickly it can move it. Thus, when men say that  this or that physical action has its origin in the mind, which latter has dominion over the body, they are using words without meaning, or are confessing in specious phraseology that they are ignorant of the cause of the said action, and do not wonder at it.

{ Spinoza, The Ethics, 1673 | Continue reading }

Thing is if you really believe in it. Blind faith. Lulls all pain.


When, well after Spinoza, Nietzsche will launch the concept of will to power… (…)

We cannot understand anything in Nietzsche if we believe that it is the operation by which each of us would tend towards power.

Power is not what I want, by definition, it is what I have. I have this or that power and it is this that situates me in the quantitative scale of Beings.

Making power the object of the will is a misunderstanding, it is just the opposite. It is according to power that I have, that I want this or that.

{ Deleuze on Spinoza | Continue reading }

The motivation for me was them telling me what I couldn’t be, oh well


Eternity! What mind of man can understand it? And remember, it is an eternity of pain. Even though the pains of hell were not so terrible as they are, yet they would become infinite, as they are destined to last for ever. But while they are everlasting they are at the same time, as you know, intolerably intense, unbearably extensive. To bear even the sting of an insect for all eternity would be a dreadful torment. What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell for ever? For ever! For all eternity! Not for a year or for an age but for ever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny little grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness; and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air: and imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun.

{ James Joyce, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, 1916 | Continue reading }

[Deep is the pain … But deeper is the joy… Pain says Go! … But joy wants eternity.] Never yet have I found the woman by whom I should like to have children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love thee, O Eternity!

{ Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883 -1885 | Continue reading }

image scanned from { John Waters, Director’s Cut }

The fiends need me, I ain’t around it, bones ache

{ Nietzsche’s ‘last days’ in Weimar in the summer of 1899. Whether these clips are authentic has been debated. }

‘Insanity in individuals is something rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.’ –Nietzsche


Much of the time groups of people end up thinking and doing things that group members would never think or do on their own. This is true for groups of teenagers, who are willing to run risks that individuals would avoid. It is certainly true for those prone to violence, including terrorists and those who commit genocide. It is true for investors and corporate executives. It is true for government officials, neighbourhood groups, social reformers, political protestors, police officers, student organisations, labour unions and juries. Some of the best and worst developments in social life are a product of group dynamics, in which members of organisations, both small and large, move one another in new directions.

{ Spectator | Continue reading }

photo { Joan Jett and Lita Ford }

Never yet have I found the woman by whom I should like to have children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love you, O Eternity!

‘Writing well is the best revenge.’ –Susan Sontag


{ Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1888 }