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All Too Human
September 13, 2007 1:27 PM   Subscribe

One should speak only when one may not remain silent; and then speak only of that which one has overcome—everything else is chatter, "literature," lack of breeding. My writings speak only of my overcomings: "I" am in them, together with everything that was hostile to me.
On January 3, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche walked into the Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin and saw a horse, fallen, beaten brutally by its master. Nietzsche embraced it, and thereafter never regained his reason. The story might be mythical, or borrowed. If so, it is hardly alone; myths about Nietzsche--his Nazism, his syphilis--seem to confirm his dictum that "truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions." But separating the man from the myth is impossible: Nietzsche was Zarathustra, he was Heraclitus. Like his ancient antecedents, he spoke in aphorisms and hymns, in fragments; like a bird, he fled south for the winter. "Only a fool, only a poet..."
posted by nasreddin (74 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
No links to the Nietzsche Channel, the site goes down too easily.
posted by nasreddin at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nietzsche--his Nazism,

Huh? National socialism was founded in 1919. Nietzsche died in 1900. Perhaps you mean the Nietzchism of some Nazis, no the Nazism of Nietzsche.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


You're right, dda.
posted by nasreddin at 1:40 PM on September 13, 2007


Yep, syphilis is a bitch.
posted by mullingitover at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2007


Huh? National socialism was founded in 1919. Nietzsche died in 1900. Perhaps you mean the Nietzchism of some Nazis, no the Nazism of Nietzsche.

Yeah, this always annoys me. In Nietzsche's case you have a guy that rampantly anti-nationalism and believes religiosity is an unfettered madness being blamed for a movement based on hyper nationalism and unbounded persecution of a particular religion.

Bad people can take a person's ideas, twist them, and do bad things. That doesn't make the original person or their ideas bad. I see it with creationists arguing that we should reject Darwin's ideas because it inspired eugenics. I heard that basic argument dozens of times during while taking a Women's Studies sequence in college (we should reject this or that study/research/theory not on it's merits, but because even entertaining the idea will provide ammunition to people who wish to oppress women).

Oh well, I guess that's life.
posted by Jezztek at 2:01 PM on September 13, 2007


Nietzsche says, "out of chaos comes order."
posted by COBRA! at 2:05 PM on September 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, blow it out your ass, Howard.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 2:11 PM on September 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't get it.
posted by dazed_one at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2007


Not only did Nietzsche dare to claim that individual human beings and societies can (and should!) strive to become ever greater and stronger, he went so far as to suggest that it's up to each of us to determine what is great, and what is strong.

Given a society that increasingly prefers to embrace mediocrity over risk and accomplishment, it's no wonder Nietzsche has been so maligned.
posted by vorfeed at 2:14 PM on September 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Henry. Thankyouverymuch.
posted by COBRA! at 2:17 PM on September 13, 2007


vorfeed, the tryouts for the libertarian soliloquy contest are down the hall past the women's bathroom in room 504; there's a little stand-up sign with white letters pointing the way. Watch out for the puddle, the janitor said he'd clean it up later. This is the chess club.
posted by felix at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2007


"God is dead."
- Nietzsche

"Nietzsche is dead."
- God
posted by ericb at 2:33 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nietzsche was tight. He was off the hook.
posted by oncogenesis at 2:34 PM on September 13, 2007


Wow, that Dave McKay really likes Nietzsche, and we really like Dave McKay's site about Nietzsche.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:35 PM on September 13, 2007




felix, the axe-grinding room is two doors down, on the left.
posted by poweredbybeard at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2007


vorfeed, the tryouts for the libertarian soliloquy contest are down the hall past the women's bathroom in room 504; there's a little stand-up sign with white letters pointing the way. Watch out for the puddle, the janitor said he'd clean it up
later. This is the chess club.


I'm not a libertarian. One would think the fact that I put societies on an equal level with individuals in my post would have tipped you off. Since it didn't, for your future reference: libertarianism is generally associated with an obsession with ownership rights and freedom from the interference of the state, culminating in a severe restriction or elimination of the powers of the state. None of that has anything to do with what I wrote. Perhaps you could use some directions to the English department?

p.s. Thanks for proving my point -- the very idea that one can or should strive become better is now considered mock-worthy, and I don't think that's a good thing.
posted by vorfeed at 2:44 PM on September 13, 2007 [6 favorites]



"God is dead."
- Nietzsche

"Nietzsche is dead."
- God


"Nietzsche is God."
- The Dead
posted by Godbert at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2007 [6 favorites]


Nice post, nasreddin, thank you.
posted by semmi at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2007


these comments have been very helpful. Thanks.
posted by Postroad at 3:06 PM on September 13, 2007


Thanks, nasreddin, for the excellent post. Nietzsche has to be one of the most misunderstood philosophers (not that there is any shortage of misunderstood philosophers, of course).
posted by blucevalo at 3:09 PM on September 13, 2007


"I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous--a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite."
-Nietzsche
posted by PHINC at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


he spoke in aphorisms and hymns, in fragments

Except when he wrote long essays.
posted by limon at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I once bet on a horse just because his name was Nietzsche's Buddy. I lost. Great name for a horse, though.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:17 PM on September 13, 2007


This thread is beyond good.

And Evil.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2007 [5 favorites]


I once beat a horse just because his name was Nietzsche' Buddy. I did time for that one.
posted by nola at 3:31 PM on September 13, 2007


Sorry, nola, it looks like that one was already dead.
posted by nasreddin at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2007


As a German I can tell you that I have seen nothing in German literature that comes near the magic of the language used in Thus Spoke Zarathustra . It is not language, it is music...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:36 PM on September 13, 2007


I'm still finding my Nietzsche.



Has anyone seen it?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:44 PM on September 13, 2007


I prefer it in the original Klingon.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:45 PM on September 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but where's the part where Nietzsche's original?

I heard somewhere that all he did was to elaborate Don Quixote again, in tedious moralizing tones.
posted by washburn at 4:02 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


yoyo_nyc: Perhaps this magic, musical language is why the opening fanfare of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra is equally transcendant.

A sterling FP, nasreddin. Nietzsche is pietzsche.
posted by rdone at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2007


It is not language, it is music...
And once upon a time I couldn't resist the urge to borrow some of it, probably none to its benefit.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2007


I had a philosophy professer once, who said that Keirkegaard to Nietzsche was impossible faith to impossible nihilism. While it's a vast oversimplification, I enjoy using that as a lens with which to regard the two men.

Two other things I'd note—First, having been required to read Nietzsche in high school, I think he's possibly the most extreme example of philosophy requiring re-readings (like good music takes more than one listen). I know I certainly pulled all of the wrong messages out of him in high school, and rather loathed him. He seemed like a bit of a toady, and certainly encouraged the worst impulses of many of my cohort.
Second, I think that his beliefs about aphorism and myth, especially when combined with Heidegger's assault on metaphysics, were some of the most interesting parts appropriated by the Nazis. Shame about that Holocaust thing, because the Nazis could have been so much more interesting without the reduction to absolute rhetorical evil.
posted by klangklangston at 4:12 PM on September 13, 2007


Oh, DW Washburn, why don't you go save somebody else?
posted by klangklangston at 4:16 PM on September 13, 2007



p.s. Thanks for proving my point -- the very idea that one can or should strive become better is now considered mock-worthy, and I don't think that's a good thing.


I'm sorry, I was mocking not the idea that one can or should strive to be better, but the extremely silly canard that "daring" (sic) to claim that betterment is a good idea is met with the wrath of the (faceless, presumably homogenous, obviously evil) "society".

I mean: pretty much everyone in the house, senate, presidency, position of power, celebrity, punditry, or so forth is a corporate millionaire; even such slight mediocrity as Paris Hilton is only famous because she was a hyper-wealthy heiress. So your impassioned screed for the society to recognize the ubermensch is muddled at best.
posted by felix at 4:40 PM on September 13, 2007


Ah, I'm doing fine. Thanks though, all the same.
posted by washburn at 4:41 PM on September 13, 2007


That syphilis is a hell of a drug.

"I am no man, I am dynamite"

You know who else was dynamite?

Jimmy JJ Walker.

(nifty post)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2007


“Without music, life would be an error.”

(I wonder of that's the best translation, though...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:08 PM on September 13, 2007


I found in the library of my school a copy of Nietzsche's musical composition(s?). Terrible composer, good thing he gave it up.

To the syphilis link: The author of the piece claims that

"According to Dr Sax, the suggestion that Nietzsche caught syphilis from prostitutes arose in 1947. In a book condemning Nietzsche's role in Nazi philosophy, Lange-Eichbaum alleged that a Berlin neurologist had once told him that the philosopher "had infected himself with syphilis in a Leipzig brothel during his time as a student there, and that he had been treated for syphilis by two Leipzig physicians"."

yet the very book he's referring to has a passage from 1925 claiming

"For as Nietzsche himself very clearly indicated in Jena, he had during the 1870-71 campaign, which he took part in as a medical corpsman, contracted syphilis, which soon afterwards, still during his days in Basel, had manifested itself in a syphilitic infection of the retina of his eyes; Professor Schiess, ophthalmologist in Basel at the time, had treated this disease. Nietzsche's own data were that precise and accurate." link

So it strikes me as a bit dishonest there.

Either way, that whether he had syphilis or not comes into play in critique of his writings is appalling. Since what, after all, does that have to do with whether or not he was correct unless, of course, one wants to believe philosophies based upon appeal to authority.
posted by kigpig at 5:09 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great Post! I was reminded about my reading of Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good & Evil” Boredom being rife in High School required solutions that in retrospect were obvious. My favorite deception was to place my current paperback (usually SiFi) inside the textbook giving the appearance of involvement in the lesson. English was taught by a decrepit briney penguin outa of a Stephen King novel. While lost in reading Beyond Good & Evil, I was pinched by the penguin. Seizing my book she held it over her head and raucously croaked “pornographic impiety” to a stunned classroom. Now I was publicly perplexed with half-knowledge and shame. Maraschinoed to the whole affair was a 3 day suspension. School suspension felt like a redress of sorts. There remained the verbal shell shock, a feeling of having been in UFC octagon with a disguised languid crone who was in reality a Catholic Bruce Lee. A later reading of Nietzsche completed the affair where he defined jokes as "epigrams on dying feelings" Excuse my going on so.
posted by Rancid Badger at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


The bit about the horse and the embrace, huh. I thought that was Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Cool post.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 5:27 PM on September 13, 2007


Either way, that whether he had syphilis or not comes into play in critique of his writings is appalling.

I think it's relevant only insofar as it might serve as an explanation of why went mad. Among philosophy enthusiasts in the present day at least, I've never seen it presented as a critique of his writings or philosophy.
posted by treepour at 5:57 PM on September 13, 2007


But separating the man from the myth is impossible:

It's interesting, I think that elucidates the problem right there. I don't think the man or the myth matters when considering his arguments. I think Celine wrote somewhere that an artist is usually only a shambling apology for the art since whatever was good in them went into the art. How much more so that rings for philosophers who spend so much of their lives in their heads it's a miracle they can be around other humans at all.
posted by lumpenprole at 6:00 PM on September 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


Either way, that whether he had syphilis or not comes into play in critique of his writings is appalling.

The assumption being that the work must stand on its merits, independent of context. I have always found this idea appealing. But I'm also aware that clever language can make many things seem wise that are not, sane that are really nutbar-fruity.

We accept it with regard to philosophy. And we accept it with regard to empirical science: If the data is there, we presume that the arguments are sound, even if the arguer is not.

But that's not necessarily warranted. Some arguments are sufficiently complex that we take them at face value for a long time. By the time we've gotten a deep enough understanding that we could expect to know where the argument fails, we're bought in, so to speak.

That's not to say I've ever found anything in Nietzsche that I thought was insane (though he does get a bit histrionic in singing his own praises in some of his prefaces). It all more or less made sense to me when I was reading a lot of it. But as I get older, it seems more like musing and less like philosophy. That's probably because philosophy itself seems to me to be a less and less legitimate enterprise, the older I get.

(My own favorite Nietzscheisms are "Whatever is done out of love lies beyond Good and Evil" -- not least because I don't believe you can really understand that particular aphorism unless you've been a little bit mad -- and the bit in [I think -- all my Nietzsche is in boxes] the preface to Twilight of the Idols where he describes 'philosophizing with a hammer': A tuning hammer. The idols are so rotten that all he has to do is strike a clear note....)
posted by lodurr at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2007


I remember two things about Nietzsche. First, your enemy will tell you what you want to hear. Your friend is the one who will tell you the truth, even if you don't want to hear it.

Second is my favorite quote: Have you ever seen the face of your friend asleep? It is but a rough and imperfect picture of your own.
posted by tizzie at 6:57 PM on September 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Christ, the horse story makes me want to cry like a goddamn baby.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:05 PM on September 13, 2007


Mighty waters draw much stone and rubble along with them; mighty spirits many stupid and bewildered heads.
posted by ogre at 9:14 PM on September 13, 2007


I have always read that following the sanity incident in 1889 he lost touch, not longer being lucid (contrary to wording of linked passage), has anyone ever read anywhere what topics were of interest to Nietzsche during this period? I wish their were some record of what Nietzche was like in insanity other then "disfunctional".
posted by sjjh at 10:46 PM on September 13, 2007


I'm sorry, I was mocking not the idea that one can or should strive to be better, but the extremely silly canard that "daring" (sic) to claim that betterment is a good idea is met with the wrath of the (faceless, presumably homogenous, obviously evil) "society".

Modern society's reaction to Nietzsche is not wrath so much as it is disgust and easy scorn; thus, it's more like his ideas are met with the mock of the faceless, presumably homogeneous, obviously evil "society". Your snarky knee-jerk reactions ("extremely silly canard", "sic", "lulz libertarianz", etc) are precisely what I'm talking about -- the straightforward expression of heroic ideals is simply not socially acceptable. "Oh, I'm not mocking the idea that one should strive to do better, it's just that you said it so funny, like you actually mean it!" Oops, ha ha, silly me!

I mean: pretty much everyone in the house, senate, presidency, position of power, celebrity, punditry, or so forth is a corporate millionaire; even such slight mediocrity as Paris Hilton is only famous because she was a hyper-wealthy heiress. So your impassioned screed for the society to recognize the ubermensch is muddled at best.

Money has nothing to do with the ubermensch. The journey to ubermensch is about overcoming your human limitations, thereby re-inventing yourself and your personal morality. Hell, even power is not strictly necessary, though Nietzsche believed that any true ubermensch would have a great influence over people.

So, unless you really think that, say, Paris Hilton is deeply into challenging herself toward constant improvement, continually chanting "yes" as she forges and re-forges a morality of her own choosing -- "a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement" -- I'm going to say that no, Nietzsche's ideas haven't been recognized. Not in the least.
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 PM on September 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


I have always read that following the sanity incident in 1889 he lost touch, not longer being lucid (contrary to wording of linked passage), has anyone ever read anywhere what topics were of interest to Nietzsche during this period? I wish their were some record of what Nietzche was like in insanity other then "disfunctional".

Mostly, as far as I can tell, he sat on the porch of his mother's house and didn't say much.

But here are some letters he wrote in January 1889:
Turin, ca. January 4, 1889: Letter to Cardinal Mariani, Vatican Secretary of State

My beloved son Mariani ..

My peace be with you! Tuesday I shall be in Rome, in order to pay my respects to His Holiness ...

The Crucified
Turin, December 31, 1888
To August Strindberg in Holte

Dear Sir,

You shall soon hear my response to your novella—it will sound like a rifle shot. I have convoked a conference of princes in Rome, I intend to have the young Kaiser face a firing squad.

Auf Wiedersehen! For we shall meet again. Une seule condition: Divorçons ...

Nietzsche Caesar
Turin, ca. January 4, 1889: Letter to Franz Overbeck1

To friend Overbeck and wife.

Although you have so far demonstrated little faith in my ability to pay, I yet hope to demonstrate that I am somebody who pays his debts—for example, to you. I am just having all anti-Semites shot.

Dionysus
posted by nasreddin at 11:28 PM on September 13, 2007


May I make a slight criticism of this post? The fact that there are so many myths surrounding Nietzsche does not confirm his dictum that "truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions". Rather, if we first accept his dictum that "truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions", then it would follow that all the myths surrounding him count as truths by this definition, and then there would be no sense in referring to them as "myths".

It really irks me when people infer from a particular falsehood to a relativization of truth, and it brings out the dictator in me.
posted by creasy boy at 12:05 AM on September 14, 2007


Let's not forget the indignities inflicted on his work by his charming sister Elisabeth, Nazi and anti-semite. The standard text here is Ben Macintyre's Forgotten Fatherland, which is a damn good read for those who have any interest in these things. This is one of the worms that crawled out of the woodwork when the DDR archives were opened after the fall of the Wall.
posted by Wolof at 1:43 AM on September 14, 2007




May I make a slight criticism of this post? The fact that there are so many myths surrounding Nietzsche does not confirm his dictum that "truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions". Rather, if we first accept his dictum that "truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions", then it would follow that all the myths surrounding him count as truths by this definition, and then there would be no sense in referring to them as "myths".


I don't fully agree. If you read his essay, Nietzsche is actually making a more sophisticated argument: human existence is based on lies, truths are merely petrified versions of these lies, and it is impossible to think clearly without recognizing the fundamentally metaphorical and deceptive nature of discourse. The fact that these are "myths" in the sense of not-truths is somewhat irrelevant; the point is that Nietzsche is immersed in an undifferentiated soup of myth, fantasy, and reality, which demonstrates in practice the breakdown of alethic distinctions Nietzsche proposed in theory.
posted by nasreddin at 1:44 AM on September 14, 2007


Well, I'll admit that I haven't read Nietzsche for a long time and don't recall his argument. My point was more general: that the existence of widely believed untruths does not invalidtate truth; in fact, for us to even speak of "untruths" in the first place there has to be a contrast to truth. Now let me see if I can apply this to what you just said:

Nietzsche is actually making a more sophisticated argument: human existence is based on lies, truths are merely petrified versions of these lies, and it is impossible to think clearly without recognizing the fundamentally metaphorical and deceptive nature of discourse.

So applied to the case of Nietzsche's biography, this means: the whole undiffierentiated soup of statements about Nietzsche are all lies; and some of those lies, namely those that have persisted, are truths.

But then your post is characterizing the situation wrong. The "myths" like him being a Nazi are not myths, but, having persisted and hardened, are truths. In fact all the beliefs that have persisted about Nietzsche are not myths but truths. And so it turns out that people believe a whole lot of truths about Nietzsche, and so the case of Nietsche doesn't exemplify any particularly problematic situation for truth at all other than a bunch of people believing a bunch of truths about a famous person to be true.

To argue the other way around: misinformation cannot confirm this kind of relativism about truth, since for it to be misinformation in the first place there has to be a distinction between misinformation and true information, and thus if truth is that relative, then it's not misinformation in the first place but just plain old information.

I don't like Nietzsche but I'm trying very hard to be fair, so I hope you'll tell me it's more complicated than this.
posted by creasy boy at 2:38 AM on September 14, 2007


Ultimately I think it makes much more sense to read Nietzsche as literature than as philosophy.

It would make a fantastic biopic. In fact, it would make several: I am currently in talks with Ron Howard / Akiva Goldsman (Russell Crowe will don much makeup and a thick accent to play a spectral Burkhardt to Rupert Everett's N.), Minghella / Ondaatje (Chaz Palmintieri paints Nietzsche as a locus of European intrigue, jockeying for position between Richard Wagner and a cabal of shadowy politicoes, as he is haunted by hallucinations that mingle Austrian bordellos with military field hospitals and knacker's yards), Clint Eastwood (I've stipulated that he use Richard LaGravenese, and he's amenable so long as I'll consider instead an adaptation of Zarathustra -- he's considering putting Hilary Swank in drag, and may call on Morgan Freeman as The Hermit), and Spike Lee (Tommy Lee Jones will play a domineering Overbeck, here cast as Nietzsche's lover, opposite Ethan Hawke with Jodi Foster in a dual role as Elizabeth and as a jilted Cosima Wagner).

(There's a persistent rumor that I have been in talks with Paramount to hire Singer for an Uberman pic starring Jude Law, but these are false. Paramount is on their own on that one.)

The films will be released at two-week intervals in the dark spring of 2009, along with action-figures randomly modeled on the lead-actors in each film. Prior to release, I will be inviting first-tier critics to screenings of all four films, at which they will be shot.

Yours,
Coyote
posted by lodurr at 4:23 AM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


“Without music, life would be an error.”

(I wonder of that's the best translation, though...)


Probably my favorite Nietzsche quote. Not sure if that's the best translation in terms of accuracy, but in regarding "literature as music" I say it wins. I read a version on one of the linked sites that replaced "error" with "mistake", but that just doesn't work as well, doesn't have the same punch.
posted by ChestnutMonkey at 9:19 AM on September 14, 2007


I see your point, creasy boy, but I still don't agree. Here's why.


To argue the other way around: misinformation cannot confirm this kind of relativism about truth, since for it to be misinformation in the first place there has to be a distinction between misinformation and true information, and thus if truth is that relative, then it's not misinformation in the first place but just plain old information.


You're kind of begging the question here. Essentially, you're assuming that the "default" value is truth: that is, in the absence of a viable heuristic for distinguishing truth from lies, all statements become true. But Nietzsche is saying the opposite: deception and dissimulation form the core of our experience, which is why it's so strange that a desire for truth could ever emerge in the first place. In other words, false rumors about Nietzsche continue to be lies, while true rumors are merely lies that have acquired some social legitimacy--but the instability of these myths itself exposes their lying nature.
posted by nasreddin at 10:46 AM on September 14, 2007


"Ultimately I think it makes much more sense to read Nietzsche as literature than as philosophy. "

Especially as that's how Nietzsche intended to be read.

"Modern society's reaction to Nietzsche is not wrath so much as it is disgust and easy scorn; thus, it's more like his ideas are met with the mock of the faceless, presumably homogeneous, obviously evil "society". Your snarky knee-jerk reactions ("extremely silly canard", "sic", "lulz libertarianz", etc) are precisely what I'm talking about -- the straightforward expression of heroic ideals is simply not socially acceptable. "Oh, I'm not mocking the idea that one should strive to do better, it's just that you said it so funny, like you actually mean it!" Oops, ha ha, silly me!"

Perhaps because the uncritical exhaltation of the heroic myth was a huge part of Fascism? Perhaps because the heroic myth is almost always a rhetorical dodge, disingenuous and manipulative? Perhaps because what qualifies as "heroic" is heavily disputed and subjective, yet people who want to exhault heroes almost always do so at the expense of nuance? Perhaps because, fundamentally, it's rational to realize that the extreme individualism required for the ubermensch is counter-productive to the interests of a society, and since more people are likely to try to become heroic caricatures than deserve consideration for Supermen, it's wise to dissuade them?

I mean, not to let the air out of your Bill O'Reilly moment.
posted by klangklangston at 10:55 AM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]



Perhaps because the uncritical exhaltation of the heroic myth was a huge part of Fascism? Perhaps because the heroic myth is almost always a rhetorical dodge, disingenuous and manipulative? Perhaps because what qualifies as "heroic" is heavily disputed and subjective, yet people who want to exhault heroes almost always do so at the expense of nuance? Perhaps because, fundamentally, it's rational to realize that the extreme individualism required for the ubermensch is counter-productive to the interests of a society, and since more people are likely to try to become heroic caricatures than deserve consideration for Supermen, it's wise to dissuade them?


What you're missing, klang, is that Nietzsche is valuable precisely because he allows us to move away from the uncritical, naive, politically tainted narrative of heroism. Nietzsche isn't Carlyle: he's not worshiping great men as such. He's acknowledging them as people who could transcend the mediocrity of their society. For Nietzsche, the uncritical reiteration of the standard heroic narrative is just as bad as the mediocrity of the "last man."


Especially as that's how Nietzsche intended to be read.

If "literature" means "stories not intended to be serious, just some damn words on a page" then that's totally wrong. See the blockquote in the post, for instance.
posted by nasreddin at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2007


Heh, I just realized that the four FPPs that I've bookmarked and plan to read this weekend - when I have to time to repeatedly run from the computer to the dictionary and the encyclopedia and back again - are all nasreddin's.

Nice work, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2007


You're kind of begging the question here. Essentially, you're assuming that the "default" value is truth: that is, in the absence of a viable heuristic for distinguishing truth from lies, all statements become true.

well, sorry to butt in, but i've always wondered why the opposite should hold then--in other words, what makes this claim true:

deception and dissimulation form the core of our experience,

...If it, too, is at core deception and dissimulation? It's a self-negating proposition, essentially like the claim "This statement is false"--only it ups the ante a bit more to say "all statements are false," a categorical assertion that refutes itself.

Nietzsche's analysis (or at least your interpretation of his analysis) seems to make roughly the same formal mistake as the error it tries to correct: Assigning a 'default' truth value of false to statements and claims about experience. But statements are in fact neither true nor false, a priori. Statements are socially constructed pointers to presumed external circumstances or conditions--statements, in themselves, are neither inherently true nor false. The claim that a statement is intended to make (which is not identical with the form the particular statement takes) may have a truth-value, but statements (or propositions, to use a different terminology) in themselves are just objective features of nature, like leaves: They just are what they are, they aren't anymore inherently dishonest than they are inherently honest.

Granted, it would be nice if it were possible to somehow simplify the evaluation of the truth value of a proposition down so much that it could be carried out before the fact, without regard for the particulars of the proposition, but that's not how it works. As Nietzsche rightly argues, statements about the world--even those whose claims are demonstrably true--are not themselves truths. But by the same argument, statements about the world--even those that are demonstrably false--are not lies. They're just statements.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:46 AM on September 14, 2007


Perhaps because the uncritical exhaltation of the heroic myth was a huge part of Fascism?

So? Heroic myth was once an integral part of many human societies that were not fascist. Including ours. But by all means, let's throw out much of our human inheritance because the Nazis liked it, too!

Also, as nasreddin points out, Nietzsche's concept of the heroic is anything but "uncritical". The entire point is constant, unrelenting critique of everything, especially one's own morality.

Perhaps because the heroic myth is almost always a rhetorical dodge, disingenuous and manipulative?

Like I said before, this tends to be the modern view of these myths, but it's not necessarily the only one. Heroic myth is only "a rhetorical dodge, disingenuous and manipulative" if people don't actually believe in it -- for those who do, it has nothing to do with manipulation and everything to do with expressing something important in an honest manner. And again, there's not just one "heroic myth", here. Nietzsche is trying to get people to write their own myths, working in the medium of their own flesh and spirit.

Perhaps because what qualifies as "heroic" is heavily disputed and subjective, yet people who want to exhault heroes almost always do so at the expense of nuance?

Nietzsche's work states that the heroic is subjective, ever-changing, and based in the physical reality of the world. His heroes are not empty idealists, and they are not necessarily supposed to be exulted. The entire point is self-improvement and actualization to the point of the heroic, NOT the creation of any external hero myth.

Perhaps because, fundamentally, it's rational to realize that the extreme individualism required for the ubermensch is counter-productive to the interests of a society, and since more people are likely to try to become heroic caricatures than deserve consideration for Supermen, it's wise to dissuade them?

In other words: "most people do not deserve to learn or grow or strive; best to keep them from doing so, in the interests of society". And you were saying something about Fascism, earlier?

Also, the point is not to "deserve consideration for Supermen". The ubermensch is not a destination. It's a never-ending journey, one that all human beings are capable of starting on. I don't think it's fair to say that we should dissuade people from teaching themselves piano, just because hardly anybody is ever going to make it to Carnegie Hall...

I mean, not to let the air out of your Bill O'Reilly moment.

It's funny how many people here can't seem to deal with these concepts outside of the petty, partisan political context. All I'm saying is that people should strive to embody that which seems greatest to them. This is not a political stance in the least. I don't have a certain ideal in mind here -- other than my own, which works for me but probably not for you -- I just think that we'd have a better world if people were more interested in working toward greatness, however they might define it.

But wait... you know who else strove to embody a personal ideal? Quick, everybody, no more ideals!
posted by vorfeed at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


'deception and dissimulation form the core of our experience'.... [is] a self-negating proposition, essentially like the claim "This statement is false"--only it ups the ante a bit more to say "all statements are false," a categorical assertion that refutes itself.

Well, not really. It's more like saying 'no statement is known to be true.' That's a little different. I always took that as the thing in Nietzsche's view that required such courage: Living in a world where you were continually having to deal with the idea that you very well might be wrong, yet going on anyway.

That said, I never got the impression that he was big on just decieving yourself and bulling through. He heaped great invective on great figures that he saw as doing that.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on September 14, 2007



Nietzsche's analysis (or at least your interpretation of his analysis) seems to make roughly the same formal mistake as the error it tries to correct: Assigning a 'default' truth value of false to statements and claims about experience. But statements are in fact neither true nor false, a priori. Statements are socially constructed pointers to presumed external circumstances or conditions--statements, in themselves, are neither inherently true nor false. The claim that a statement is intended to make (which is not identical with the form the particular statement takes) may have a truth-value, but statements (or propositions, to use a different terminology) in themselves are just objective features of nature, like leaves: They just are what they are, they aren't anymore inherently dishonest than they are inherently honest.


Unfortunately, I don't have time at the moment to fully respond to your excellent point. I'd just like to point out, though, that you (seem to) have an analytic, Russellian interpretation of the relationship between claims and statements. This is not necessarily bad or wrong, but it's anachronistic: before Bertrand Russell, the idea that the meaning of a statement is the logical proposition it expresses was just not articulated. I also don't think that you and Nietzsche (even my crude interpretation of him) disagree all that much; if the truth value of a statement is indeterminate, Nietzsche's argument still holds true.
posted by nasreddin at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2007


"If "literature" means "stories not intended to be serious, just some damn words on a page" then that's totally wrong. See the blockquote in the post, for instance."

No, "literature" means "literature, as opposed to philosophy." Which is why he did stylistic things like put such an emphasis on narrative and on aphorism. He invited ambiguity and interpretation, and reacted against the propositional and Hegelian forms of philosophy (despite being pretty good at them).

"What you're missing, klang, is that Nietzsche is valuable precisely because he allows us to move away from the uncritical, naive, politically tainted narrative of heroism."

But he doesn't necessarily replace it with anything more critical or less naive, though he is explicitly anti-political (well, as such, but politics has a way of creeping into everything).

"So? Heroic myth was once an integral part of many human societies that were not fascist. Including ours. But by all means, let's throw out much of our human inheritance because the Nazis liked it, too!"

Let's just stop there—if you can understand how there'd be a backlash against the anti-modernist use of the Hero in Nazi rhetoric, especially in America and France after WWII, you're an idiot. You asked a "why" question (which, yes, was obviously a bloviating rhetorical moment), and I answered. Right or wrong, a large part of public skepticism towards the idea of the Hero comes from post-war collapse, especially once Continental philosophy was brought to America during the late '60s. Things like that shouldn't have to be said amongst reasonably intelligent people, but here we are.

"Heroic myth is only "a rhetorical dodge, disingenuous and manipulative" if people don't actually believe in it -- for those who do, it has nothing to do with manipulation and everything to do with expressing something important in an honest manner."

Right. And what historical context are current claims likely to be evaluated in? Hey, have you heard of the heroes of 9/11? If we don't bomb Iraq, their sacrifices will have been in vain. Even if that is an honest sentiment, it's a stupid one that uses a manipulative version of the heroic myth, and it's a pretty goddamned common one. So you're going to have to excuse me if I'm not going to grant your dudgeon over the mistreatment of heroism by skeptics.

"Nietzsche's work states that the heroic is subjective, ever-changing, and based in the physical reality of the world. His heroes are not empty idealists, and they are not necessarily supposed to be exulted. The entire point is self-improvement and actualization to the point of the heroic, NOT the creation of any external hero myth."

And yet, in your first comment, you lash out against "society" for embracing mediocrity—that's exactly an externilization of heroic myth.

"In other words: "most people do not deserve to learn or grow or strive; best to keep them from doing so, in the interests of society". And you were saying something about Fascism, earlier?"

Right, that's exactly what I said. Tell me when your mom takes your helmet off, so we can continue this enlightening debate.

"It's a never-ending journey, one that all human beings are capable of starting on."

I don't remember that from Nietzsche—I remember him being pretty explicit about how the vast (Christian) masses were incapable of achieving the position. Further, and this is what you don't seem to get, Neitzsche's message was one of radical individualism which he rightly understood cannot work in a society. Bringing that down to the level of "learning to play piano" shows you either didn't read him or didn't understand him.

"It's funny how many people here can't seem to deal with these concepts outside of the petty, partisan political context. All I'm saying is that people should strive to embody that which seems greatest to them. This is not a political stance in the least. I don't have a certain ideal in mind here -- other than my own, which works for me but probably not for you -- I just think that we'd have a better world if people were more interested in working toward greatness, however they might define it."

Oh, bullshit. You were the one trotting out crap about a straightforward expression of heroic ideals—heroic ideals are socially constructed, and your nattering here about them to Nietzsche what Rand is to rationalism. That you've sunk to such a weak case after expending such effort attempting to rebut folks like Felix shows that you just don't get it, and would be better off with your Patterson guides than more Nietzsche.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Boy, you guys sure do love to put people down for having a different interpretation of Your Favorite Philosopher than you do.
posted by lodurr at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2007


I also don't think that you and Nietzsche (even my crude interpretation of him) disagree all that much; if the truth value of a statement is indeterminate, Nietzsche's argument still holds true.

I think you're right, nasreddin. My issue, I think, was just with the way you originally formulated Nietzsche's position.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2007


This is not necessarily bad or wrong, but it's anachronistic: before Bertrand Russell, the idea that the meaning of a statement is the logical proposition it expresses was just not articulated.

this is an excellent point, btw. i wonder, though, how many of the seemingly contradictory and paradoxical aspects of nietzschean philosophy just vanish completely under the application of more rigorous methods of analysis. but then, what fun would reading nietzsche be if he weren't so oblique?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2007


Right or wrong, a large part of public skepticism towards the idea of the Hero comes from post-war collapse, especially once Continental philosophy was brought to America during the late '60s. Things like that shouldn't have to be said amongst reasonably intelligent people, but here we are.

You might re-read my posts. I never asked "why" people dislike Nietzsche, or "why" they don't appreciate his values! I know why. I just don't think it's a good thing. I think we've gone too far, and in doing so, destroyed something of value. You can see it in this thread -- the very possibility of greatness or heroism, even when defined on a personal basis, seems distasteful to you. That makes me sad.

Right. And what historical context are current claims likely to be evaluated in? Hey, have you heard of the heroes of 9/11? If we don't bomb Iraq, their sacrifices will have been in vain. Even if that is an honest sentiment, it's a stupid one that uses a manipulative version of the heroic myth, and it's a pretty goddamned common one. So you're going to have to excuse me if I'm not going to grant your dudgeon over the mistreatment of heroism by skeptics.

Again, the public concept of the hero has nothing to do with Nietzsche! He was not talking about holding up this person and that person as heroes. He was talking about a method by which people might become their own heroes.

And yet, in your first comment, you lash out against "society" for embracing mediocrity—that's exactly an externilization of heroic myth.

Um, what heroic myth would that be? Other than "not mediocrity"? Disliking mediocrity does not require a specific external heroic myth, it simply requires one to understand that mediocrity, in and of itself and no matter the particulars, is by definition not heroic. No matter how you personally define greatness, it's by definition NOT how you define "the lack of greatness"! My problem isn't with mediocrity per se, it's with our embrace of mediocrity. It's with saying that mediocrity is an acceptable goal, and that people shouldn't strive past it because doing so is not compatible with "the interests of a society".

Besides, I never "lashed out" at society. All I've said is that it's no wonder our society doesn't appreciate Nietzsche, and that I think things might be better if it did.

I don't remember that from Nietzsche?I remember him being pretty explicit about how the vast (Christian) masses were incapable of achieving the position.

Yes, because Christianity is fundamentally incompatible with this kind of morality. However, human beings are not biologically Christian, correct? Thus, it is possible for them to change. Nietzsche was extremely pessimistic about the likelihood of that -- and for good reason -- but it's important to remember that his argument was not a biological one. The ubermensch comes from humanity, not just one particular part of humanity. Not everyone can complete the journey, but as far as I can remember, Nietzsche gives no reason why everyone cannot (as opposed to will not) try. Except women, who he didn't seem to regard as real people... but that brings me back to the point, which is to question everything. Even, and perhaps especially, Nietzsche!

Further, and this is what you don't seem to get, Neitzsche's message was one of radical individualism which he rightly understood cannot work in a society. Bringing that down to the level of "learning to play piano" shows you either didn't read him or didn't understand him.

I don't agree. There's nothing about the ubermensch that "cannot work in a society" -- maybe not our society, but in a society. The ubermensch was supposed to reject societal ideas, if they didn't fit himself, but he was also supposed to lead, inspire, and re-create society through creative works. Nietzsche quite rightly understood that much of the value of creation lies in its social context, and that the ubermensch could not come about without society, both as his antecedent and his artistic medium. I believe his hope was that, someday, society would strive to produce ubermenschen, and in so doing, create a society worthy of their appearance.

Oh, bullshit. You were the one trotting out crap about a straightforward expression of heroic ideals?heroic ideals are socially constructed, and your nattering here about them to Nietzsche what Rand is to rationalism.

The idea that one should strive toward greatness IS a heroic ideal. It's an ideal; "impressive in size or scope; grand". I have said several times that the kind of heroic ideals I'm talking about ARE NOT the socially constructed kind. They are the Nietzschean kind -- continually made and re-made by individuals struggling to improve themselves. I don't know how many times I can make that explicitly clear before you bother to extend me the courtesy of basic reading comprehension!
posted by vorfeed at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2007


The assumption being that the work must stand on its merits, independent of context. I have always found this idea appealing. But I'm also aware that clever language can make many things seem wise that are not, sane that are really nutbar-fruity.

We accept it with regard to philosophy. And we accept it with regard to empirical science: If the data is there, we presume that the arguments are sound, even if the arguer is not.


Nietzsche would have been the last to accept this. In a number of places his criticism of a belief rests upon an unflattering psychological portrayal of the one holding it. He states this explicitly somewhere early on in Beyond Good and Evil. If we take Nietzsche seriously, and on his own terms, then we are completely justified in an ad hominem response to his position. But that said, I find him more congenial than not.

It's easy to caricature the ubermensch but Nietzsche wasn't particularly coherent from one description to the next. I'm not sure that there is some doctrine to be distilled from his works where one can say Nietzsche promotes this set of propositions. What he was consistently critical of (like most philosophers), was pity. It isn't constant praise of the conqueror. Nietzsche was a man of great sensitivity and, in his daily life, courtesy as well. I don't claim that it is all a matter of rhetorical utility, but part of his acclaim for Napoleon and Caesar can be ascribed to their being figures of activity.

The excerpt from Bertrand Russell is bad to the point of being comic. Over the last 20 years or so there have been a number of papers, and I believe a couple of books on the affinities between Nietzsche and Buddhism, or more generally, 'Eastern' thought.

---

Perhaps because, fundamentally, it's rational to realize that the extreme individualism required for the ubermensch is counter-productive to the interests of a society, and since more people are likely to try to become heroic caricatures than deserve consideration for Supermen, it's wise to dissuade them?

I don't agree with this in it's characterization of overcoming as "extreme individualism" and "counter-productive to the interests of a society", but it gets at something interesting. Lawrence Lampert wrote a couple of well regarded commentaries on Nietzsche. He views Nietzsche as having recognized the esoteric character of Plato's work and sought to reverse it. Plato promotes the idea of an eternal and ideal metaphysical order, that in some not quite understandable way, matches up with language. As others have said, the vision is one of being (stable, eternal, true), and so the emphasis is on knowing (importance of knowledge to virtue). Nietzsche, being a careful reader, knows Plato does not himself believe what he has written. Perhaps Nietzsche with his focus on competition, thought Plato was his only peer as a thinker and a stylist and so worked to overturn him. Perhaps he saw that imagining and believing in some transcendent standard resulted in coercing one's self and limiting the field of possibility. It's easy to picture him finding that repulsive, and it motivating his work. But that's all speculation. Whatever the motivation, the emphasis is on chaos and creating.

Even though, Nietzsche recognizes the possibility, and skewers the thug in "The Pale Criminal" as being more a victim of his own compulsive passions rather than an expression of freedom, it is the case that "more people are likely to try to become heroic caricatures than deserve consideration for Supermen". And I think Plato would say that it is wise to dissuade them. I also suspect that with Nietzsche's championing of the ego, the pale criminal might be the only possibility. This is a pretty involved reading of Nietzsche, and Plato as well for that matter. I haven't done it justice, but you can turn to Lampert on Beyond Good and Evil if you are interested. He is more optimistic about the value of uncovering this metaphysical 'deception' than I am. Deception is a stretch; the notion of there being something that corresponds to our abstractions is almost implicit in our use of language. In this reading, Plato isn't some trickster, he's pointing out what is the case to those who are interested but also prudent, and doing so in a way that does not provoke the appetite of the forceful. OK, he is a bit of a trickster.
posted by BigSky at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


While I have a basic understanding of Nietzsche (*heart* my Philosophy minor), most of the things I'd be adding to this thread have been covered and then some.

However!

Except women, who he didn't seem to regard as real people...

Aristotle didn't regard women as real people. Nietzsche did. He very clearly regards men and women as different, but I don't know that he'd call women lesser.

He's very, very blunt about the idea that the roll of a woman is procreation. He seems to believe that they are limited in their ability to go through the transcendent moral process by their role in society (gotta make babies, not change the world!).

But they are people. It's just that they're people whose best purpose in life is making more people.

Sexist, yeah, sure. But I can't remember anything in the aphorisms or elsewhere that points to seeing women as sub-human in the same sense that Aristotle did.
posted by sparkletone at 3:11 PM on September 14, 2007


PS: This has been a fascinating discussion for me, and makes me want to go dig out the unread of the two Nietzsche books I have (there's one that I read in its entirety, going above and beyond what was required for class, because I found it so aggravating, fascinating, and delightful, and the other that I've yet to crack).
posted by sparkletone at 3:16 PM on September 14, 2007


Aristotle didn't regard women as real people. Nietzsche did. He very clearly regards men and women as different, but I don't know that he'd call women lesser.

He does give women a role in the process of overcoming (childbirth), but even at best, it's an explicitly weaker and more passive role... and his thoughts on weakness and passivity are clear. To me, the key is that Nietzsche did not consider equality to be something that should apply to human beings. If he had to choose a lesser sex -- and his concept of the lack of equality among humans suggests so -- working solely from his writings, I think his choice is pretty obvious.

I could see it your way too, though. Whether the role of women in Nietzsche's writing is inferior or "just different" is something people have been arguing ever since!
posted by vorfeed at 3:56 PM on September 14, 2007


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