Thursday, December 15, 2005

Down with Friedrich

It has been a longstanding visceral, deepseated reflex of mine to abhor Nietzsche – no doubt largely thanks also to my protestant pietist background (and the rational-liberal present) to which this constant strutting, this ridiculous posturing is a total anathema. I hardly can read the bloody stuff: the feverish hysteria, the girlish exclamations... That is supposed to be good style? God is dead, most likely, but why should we have a collective tantrum about such a thing? And is it not ridiculous to aim to be “masters” of our own fate, when firstly we definitely are not, and secondly, are not even capable of defining what that mastery could really mean.

But, and there is so often a but with him, in later years there has grown some reluctant respect for his thinking. Or, more accurately, for his attitude towards the experience of being in the world. In this vehement insistance to think, to be for yourself, to make your own definitions, there is actually much to admire. Of course we must live like that – life would not be meaningfully lived otherwise. But (hmm, another one) apart from that I still have very little actual interest for him. He either says self-evident things or obviously silly and meaningless things. And not at all innocently: I can well see how the Nazi misreading grew out of his thought - if profound, theoretical strutting is aped, you will get nasty, brutal and primitive real life strutting. And worse. Himmler’s misreading for example was very chilling indeed. Nietzsche is not innocent in this as little “Nazi” as he actually so obviously was.

But the most striking image of all are of his later years: his lost sanity, his incoherent, mad, pitiful ravings - and the awful misuse of his philosophy by his poisonous sister. Not a master of his fate then, not a master at all. As none of us ever is and never will be.

2 comments:

helsinkian said...

Since I both like and dislike Nietzche, I usually tend to be bored by those who say he sucks and those who say he's the greatest. When I saw the "Down with", I thought, yawn, another one of these very simplistic readings of the complex man. But your post was very nice and reasoned, yeah, you don't like him but you've clearly given him more than a thought or two.

Since you like coherence, I understand you don't like Nietzsche. Now I don't like his style that much and I don't think he was that terribly original a thinker. But he's highly readable and he has a huge historical significance and some of the greatest plays, novels and poems ever written have been inspired by his vision.

Nietzsche can't be escaped. He made his mark and he changed philosophy (not because he was original but because everybody was reading his works) forever. You tell it like it is, Nietzsche was insane but in his insanity very human and very like the most of us and a fitting philosopher for the insane century of bloodletting to come.

But he was also a poet, not just a philosopher. As a poet and essayist he wasn't so bad and he gave huge inspiration to better writers to come. As a philosopher he doesn't really qualify but since most philosophers bore most nonphilosophers, then Nietzsche with his enormous appeal to the nonphilosophers was making philosophy better known to the general public.

If philosophers say they are basing their thinking on Nietzsche, I think, not my kind of philosopher. When poets say Nietzsche has been a huge influence to them, I think, that could probably be a good read, something much more sophisticated than Nietzsche himself. Many writers use Nietzsche in a good way. The Übermensch usually appears as a very problematic figure in literature and those artists who get their inspiration from Nietzsche can retain a very healthy critical distance to him.

Reading Nietzsche and discussing his works isn't really that interesting to me. But discussing the context in which he wrote can be very fruitful indeed. There's no escaping his shadow, love him or hate him or be ambivalent about him which would be my position.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I concede I am quite ambivalent as well. It is not possible to escape him (I admit very reluctantly). But I do believe that this is more due to his unforgiving, unconditional, vehement attitude to life than to the often very silly arguments he actually made. He is an example to all of us, if only we would forget what he literally said...