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Sometime ago Gorm asked me if i had ever read Nietzsche, and i never really answered. So. What do i think of him?

Well, let’s face the facts. That moustache could not have been real. Something like that would require a steel frame. The inertia would hamper him turning his face, not to mention air resistance. It must have been poetic license from the painter. It must have.

But besides this, simply no one has thought deeper and mightier ideas than him. I believe his oeuvre will remain the most significant thing in philosophy for the next 500, 1000 years.

Nietzsche is actually an old friend. He’s my medicine for when i am down. I am writing this on the aftermath of a big depressive crisis, which only receded after a reread of the fifth chapter of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches.

He is also one of the few authors i’ve cared enough to read more than 2 or 3 books from. Tough i never bothered too much with the young Nietzsche. Like this Apollo vs. Dyonisius thing, so popular amongst my fellow art students. Or the stuff about science.

My first memory of Nietzsche is from an older guy at technical school (around my 15 years) who used to say that reading Nietzsche is useless before you’ve got yourself a PhD on philosophy. And i guess i’ve already told this story in the blog, but anyways, someday i stumbled upon “Twilight of the Idols, or How One Philosophizes with a Hammer” (Götzen-Dämmerung), whose subtitle was so fun that i couldn’t resist to open it from time to time to read through the first chapter of the book, called Maxims and Arrows, a section with brief aphorisms. And those were lovely — always catchy and evil and precise.

I also guess this happened at the same time that my best ideas were taking shape, when i was making the first Doxa zine and getting all politic and opening my eyes to the vast world all around me.

For anyone out there that really thinks that Kant and Plato are the real big guys, i have to say: Nietzsche does not create systems, he does not waste his time with big overarching explanations for the world, and he does not force a top-down understanding upon the world. And it is easy to think that philosophy is this, this form of thinking, this structure building. I even guess this kind of thing is important.

But Nietzsche’s thought is even more important than that. It reaches out. It conquers new ground. It goes beyond limits that we didn’t know were there before him. His philosophy creates strenght from within.

Virtually anything that’s interesting in philosophy today has a touch of him. Even when it disagrees with him. The disagreements themselves sometimes are unthinkable without Nietzsche.

I would even venture that the one cool Bush guy was a Nietzsche reader!

Either way, the full scope of his ideas is certainly not understood clearly, and it will take much more than just hard work to get there. The 500 years i was predicting before is what i think will get for people to rethink things equivalent to Nietzsche’s thought in terms that will allow them to be understood by more than 1% of the population (just imagine a world where, let’s be greedy, some 6 or 7% of the population actually understand the moustache guy! Uau! Just imagine…) And this is not “translating”, it is actually rethinking, in a very important and precise meaning.

[Don’t take by the above that i pretend to have understood Nietzsche, i’ve got my own particular and not guaranteed rereading of his ideas, and this is all, but even this goes a long way. Also, i recommend Nietzsche even if you do not believe to be understanding anything. Take comfort on my own position…]

Finally, if you still can’t spell his name easily, use this trick: the Z-S-C-H are in the order they appear on a QWERTY keyboard, from left to right.

5 Comments

  1. I can relate, strongly, to your feeling for Nietzsche. To me, he is the greatest writer of all times. And of course, the most envigorating medicine I’ve yet encountered.

    It was only a few years ago that I learned to appreciate the rich history of philosophy Nietzsche fails to give credit to, even though he is completely dependent on it. Schopenhauer and Kant in particular. Darwin also quickly comes to mind, although I guess he wasn’t really a philosopher.

    I’ve started reading Kant and Cassirer, and think I’ve found in them a possible blueprint which could result in something very close to the system Nietzsche only ever hinted at. (I hold that such hints make out the power of Nietzsche. It makes you the reader creative, because he doesn’t disclose the whole story. It makes you a philosopher.)

    I’ll come back to recommend a book for you when I’ve read more myself. If you’re interested in the phenomenon of myth-making, I’m quite sure you’ll love Cassirer. I was beside myself when I found him. It was like meeting the intellectual equivalent of a long lost family member.

    Btw, if it’s not rude to ask, what was the subject matter of your depression? (Supposing of course that you had an explicit problem.)

  2. Gorm, you should read R. Kevin HIll’s “Nietzsche’s Critique’s: The Kantian Foundations of His Thought.” It’s written by a former professor of mine, and he argues that Nietzsche was actually quite cognizant of his relationship to Kant, and that to truly appreciate what he (Nietzsche) was saying we should be too. As For Darwin, Nietzsche was also aware of and quite critical of him. He refers to him a number of times.

    As for his mustache, I think the most famous pictures of him with it were taken after he had his mental breakdown in 1889, and it was part of the spectacle his sister had created of him to make money.

  3. Thanks, Joe! I’ve put it on my amazon list, together with a couple of other books I found through one of the reviews of Hill’s book:

    * “Nietzsche and the transcendental tradition” by Michal Steven Green.

    * “Nietzsche’s Anthropic Circle: Man, Science, and Myth” by George J. Stack. Quote from the description: “It is shown that instrumental fictionalism was adopted by Nietzsche in order to put in question the pure objectivism of science.” Extremely tempting!

    I’m thrilled to learn that the Radical Kantianism interpretation of Nietzsche is alive at present. That makes studying it all the more interesting, as I can find living people to talk to :)

  4. Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” makes certain connections between Nietzsche and the Enlightenment, though in order to critique him as part of it. I’m not so sure he understands Nietzsche’s critique of morality though, the foundations of which extend back thousands of years before the Enlightenment.

    Even Hegel anticipates the figure of Nietzsche decades before he was even born. There is a moment in the Phenomenology of Spirit where he’s talking about a type of person called who processes a kind of immoralism. It’s pretty hard not to see this anticipating Nietzsche’s kind of critical function in Western Philosophy.

  5. >> if it’s not rude to ask, what was the subject matter of your depression

    Everybody i know is mediocre, i do not believe in anything, most of my truisms are too complex to people to grasp, i’m full of my family, i’m full of my friends, that kind of stuff. I guess i am getting better: writing those didn’t feel as good as when i thought them, some days ago.

    Joe: i knew there had to be an explanation for the moustache. There had to be! Thanks, really.

    And about Kant, i have to beg your pardon and be very, very dumb, in a way, because, because i’ll say that no, Nietzsche does need no Kant and i have never read Kant to know. That might mean that i am being foolish, but…

    I do not think that N. fails at system-building. I actually he alarms against that. I think he points that a system is like a castle: you might be safe inside, but you also are trapped there. (The words are not Nietzschean, but that’s how i interpret them).

    And, if any of the descriptions i’ve found of Kant is even remotely right, he was something like a compulsive system builder. And thanks, but no thanks. I am not reading that.

    Also, Kant seems to be another platonistic, another one insisting in truth — he seems to call it “noumena”, and he probably wastes a lot of ink overexplaining it, and it probably is a very literate and elegant system and all, but it is not for me.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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