Monday, November 21, 2016

Rose Pfeffer on Nietzsche on Eternal Recurrence and amor fati

In my last post I introduced the work of Rose Pfeffer on Nietzsche. I am currently teaching a seminar on Nietzsche's philosophy and, as it is nearing the end of the semester, I am looking for overviews, larger themes, and take-aways.  I am also a political left-liberal in California reeling right now from the presidential election and its results.  My students ask me to relate what I am teaching to current events.  One thing must be stressed:  Nietzsche would not approve of Trump or his followers any more than he approved of nationalist political leaders and antisemitism in Germany of his time.  If anything he would probably have identified the Trump followers with "the last man" as described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  To be sure, he would have also disapproved of Bernie Sanders, as he did of all forms of socialism, and of Hilary Clinton, as he did of all forms of liberal utilitarianism.  But the larger question, at least for now, is how to deal with this political and social disaster.  Or to put it another way, how can the left-liberal citizen learn from Nietzsche on how to deal with our current crisis.  I think there is a lot to learn as I will suggest below.  It has to do with Pfeffer's interpretation of his central ideas of eternal recurrence and amor fati.  I will make no claims, however, that this is the best way to respond. There is something to be said for responding in the way that Martin Luther King or Gandhi would have responded.  But it is Nietzsche I am thinking about today.  

But how can this relate to aesthetics?  As always I am interested in seeing aesthetics in a broader perspective than is usually considered:  not just isolated in the elitist realm of high art, for example. The first line from Pfeffer's book makes clear how she interprets Nietzsche's overall philosophy in terms of aesthetics:  "Nietzsche's philosophy is based on the conviction that the greatness of man and the development of culture can be realized only within a spirit that he calls tragic. I contend that it is the central aim and purpose of his philosophical writings to clarify the meaning of the 'tragic disposition' and to help initiates the coming of a tragic age, which he sees as the only hope for the future of mankind." Of course Nietzsche does not mean by "tragic" what we generally do today, and Pfeffer therefore has to then explain his concept of the tragic.  I take "tragic" to a be an aesthetic category, at least in talking about Nietzsche.

Zarathustra's answer to life's eternal questions (i.e. how to make sense of life, and move on) is, in short, "amor fati."  Rather than sink into resentment, one needs to affirm life, and this means affirming the eternal return of the same, which means, shockingly, affirming the eternal return of the last man.  And what does that mean? That's the trick.  The last man, the priestly caste, the political demagogue are all manifestations of will to power.  Actually everything manifests will to power.  But there are higher and lower manifestations of the will to power.  The rest of this post is mainly quotation from Pfeffer at length:  she simply offers the best analysis I have seen of eternal recurrence and amor fati.


Eternal Recurrence in its ethical perspective.

Pfeffer believes [I think wrongly] that in The Birth of Tragedy “illusion was the only possible redemption for suffering man and God.”  She thinks [and here I do not disagree] that after 1881 “Nietzsche’s concept of tragedy deepened through the idea of eternal recurrence.  Schopenhauer’s doctrine is transformed.  Zarathustra becomes the teacher of the overman and the eternal recurrence.  Tragedy is overcome not by illusion, but by a will to power that grows out of obstacles and conflicts, by a ‘will to tragedy’ which turns weak pessimism into a pessimism of strength, a ‘pessimism beyond good and evil.’  Nietzsche now means something entirely different by the aesthetic justification of life.  It is no longer the formation of Apollonian images and dream illusions;  what it now signifies is a world view that defies any traditional moral interpretation and sees life as essentially creative, in close unity with the productive, ever-recurring activity of nature, which also includes destruction.” (181)  [Unlike Pfeffer, I think that was already present in BT] 
The spirit of the higher individual “is tragic and Dionysian:  to see the terrible, evil, and ugly in existence, to realize its eternal return, and yet not despair, but continue the everlasting battle for self-overcoming and self-enhancement and the never-ending search for authenticity in life.”  (181)


“The Dionysian man who affirms life in its totality ‘without deduction, exception, and selection,’ and sees obstacles and conflicts as stimulants and productive elements in the development of the creative personality, is the model for Nietzsche’s tragic age.  He could, I believe, in many respects also be a model for our own ‘age of anxiety.’  He could help us acquire a new focus for redefining and rediscovering a humanity that has become frustrated and twisted by the complexities of our modern technological society, a humanity that despairs at the inconsistencies of life and often abandons the struggle of creative living in the face of inevitable failures.  Perhaps, paradoxically, we could live less painfully with the nearly overwhelming conflicts of life, if – instead of protecting ourselves from them – we would, with Nietzsche, accept them as both inevitable and productive, and value man for ‘the amount of power and fullness of his will…by the amount of resistance, pain, torture he can endure and turn into advantage,’ rather than by the security and material success he can attain.”  (182)


“With Nietzsche’s Dionysian man we must not see life as a polarity between good on the one side and evil on the other, but must understand it in terms of multiple choices, possibilities, and challenges…”  (183)


“The idea of eternal recurrence….serves life not as a moral postulate and heuristic fiction, but as a stimulus for man’s will to power.  It was not created by man in order to provide him with a goal and necessary illusion -  it was created by life itself, whose essence is to grow, to expand, and to overcome.  ‘Life itself created this abysmal thought, it wants to overcome its greatest obstacle.’”  (184)  (Nachlass 12, 365)


“Tragedy [in the Greek sense] begins with the ‘going under’ of the hero; but this going under is heroic, and bears within it the means of overcoming.  Zarathustra goes under.  He is the madman, the tightrope walker, the choking shepherd; but he is also the ‘convalescent’ who accepts the ‘heavy burden’ of the doctrine and becomes the teacher of a ‘new love.’  After doubt and despair and sickness, he rises.  The circle is no longer…the senseless, eternal repetition of exactly the same.  It is the eternal return of the …pattern and rhythm of life in its rise and fall, in its will to suffer and its will to create.  Tragedy ends in a Yes to life….’amor fati.’”  (185)


Amor fati becomes a fundamental concept in Nietzsche’s new ethics, and finds its fullest expression in the teaching of the eternal recurrence.  It is a concept that can be understood only on the basis of Nietzsche’s metaphysical view of the unity of man and nature.  Man’s fate is inextricably interwoven with the totality of the cosmic fate.  The significance and meaningfulness of the human will and its history is found within the nonhuman world, within the necessity of the cosmic whole….Nietzsche’s concept of the unity of man and nature is close to Spinoza’s pantheistic views”  (185)


“Nietzsche’s return to a pre-Socratic unity is frustrated by the problematic situation of modern man and the sentimental artist who has lost his unity with nature.  But…Nietzsche never ceased to strive for this unity, for he considered it the basis for his interpretation of man’s destiny and freedom…The neglect of Nietzsche’s stress on the unity of man and nature has been largely responsible for those interpretations that separate the idea of eternal recurrence into incompatible metaphysical and ethical teachings.  Heidegger, however is one of the few interpreters who acknowledge the unity in Nietzsche’s ideas…[for both philosophers] metaphysics and ethics merge.  However, neither the basis of this unity nor the points they emphasize are the same.  Above all, Heidegger completely neglects the concept of amor fati…”  Pfeffer follows this with an excellent comparison of the two philosophers.  (186)


“Nietzsche’s ultimate aim is to bring man closer to nature…in order to reestablish the ancient Greek unity, and ‘to consider man again as part of nature’ [Nachlass]”   (187) 

“Nietzsche’s deep concern and longing for unity with nature has become a central problem for our time….our contemporary, technological societies do lead more rapidly than any other to an estrangement from nature and the dilemmas that result from it.  Man is in danger of becoming mechanized, routinized, stupefied by technology and mass media – in short, dehumanized.  He is alienated, passive, uncommitted, unproductive.  No longer able to realize his true nature, he exhibits what Erich Fromm calls the ‘marketing orientation’ whose goal is to become a ‘salable…commodity on a common market.’  He is a stranger in the world, no longer at home in a nature he wants to control and master rather than feel at one and in harmony with, no longer supported by the integrative function of myth and religion.”  (188)


Heidegger’s misunderstanding of Nietzsche.  He says that for N. “metaphysics is anthropomorphic . . the forming and conception of the world in the image of man…This metaphysics makes man, as no longer metaphysics before, the unconditional measure of all things.”  [but N. writes in  
The Gay Science:  “The whole concept of ‘man against the world’ …man as the measure of all things, is recognized as an immense absurdity and rejected by us….We laugh when we find ‘man and the world’ placed next to each other, separated by the sublime presumption of the word ‘and.’” 


Interpreting "the vision and the riddle" passage in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:  for both Heidegger and Nietzsche “time is urgent and real, conceived not in terms of the normal, calculable progression of minutes and hours, but as something deeper and primordial, as an inescapable presence, the ‘substance of Being.’ For both, the past, present, and future form a dynamic unity.  But Heidegger, in contrast to Nietzsche, stresses the future and not the past as the fundamental exstasis of existence and interprets Nietzsche’s teaching on that basis.  ….  However, if the concept of amor fati is considered to be of central and primary importance…then the emphasis must be on the past, not the future….[and of primary importance is the quote] ‘From this gateway, Moment, a long eternal lane leads backward:  behind us lies eternity.’”  (192)


[I think that both are right on this point:  both past and future]


“To Heidegger, despair and anguish are existential and can be overcome by man’s attitude and decision.  Nietzsche’s concept of tragedy is, however, deeper and more truly tragic.  Its origin is metaphysical and thus can never be abolished by the human will to transcend.  …The Heideggerian man experiences the fullness of the moment as one in which the past influences, but does not enchain him.  His thoughts and will are directed toward the future, undetermined by fate and necessity.  He is the creator of that which returns;  his creativity involves originality and novelty.  The Nietzschean man experiences the moment in a more profoundly tragic sense.  It leads him into the abyss, but also into an experience of life and being where the moment becomes the highest exultation of the artist.”  (194)




Monday, November 14, 2016

How the overman and the blond beast were explained in Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus by Rose Pfeffer

I recently ran across an old book by Rose Pfeffer called Nietzsche:  Disciple of Dionysus (Lewisburg:  Bucknell U. Press, 1972) which is highly useful:  I recommend it to anybody interested in Nietzsche.  It is well-written, easy to read (so great for beginners) and brilliantly original.  It treats Nietzsche's thought as a unified whole.   The book consists in three parts:  Dionysus, The Eternal Recurrence and The Innocence of Becoming.   The first has three chapters:  the tragic world view, nihilism, and the problem of truth  The second, on eternal recurrence, has four: the doctrine's importance, the scientific basis of Nietzsche's theory, the metaphysical perspective, and ethical perspective.  Part three has three: one on the aesthetic interpretation of being, one on the silence of art, and one on Nietzsche's Dionysian Faith.  Every page is full of insight and one wonders why this book has not been used more widely.

Here are some quotes that indicate how much she overcomes misconceptions about Nietzsche:

On the overman:

"But Nietzsche's overman is not something extra-human or trans-human, as has been claimed; neither is he the blond beast, the man of savage cruelty and unsublimated raw nature in whose uncontrolled will everything is permitted.  When Nietzsche says in Zarathustra "I teach you the overman; man is something that should be overcome," he does not mean that the overman should transcend humanity, but rather that he should become truly human.  ....What must be overcome is the 'last man,' the 'herd man' who is complacent and resigned, uncommitted and uninspired....Above all, the last man is part of all of us - and even of Zarathustra - returning again and again to face us in our eternal struggle of self-overcoming and our eternal search for our true self.  ..What is overlooked is Nietzsche's deep faith in man, in his creative energies and potentialities....Our true self, according to Nietzsche, is greatly above what we ordinarily take it to be...." (245) and "Overcoming is therefore for Nietzsche primarily self-overcoming and self-realization;  the overcoming of fears and cowardice, of despair and anguish by transforming these negative passions, which threaten to take possession of us, into active powers.  The will to power is not power over others, but power over ourselves - the sublimation of our instincts and our passions....The essential characteristic of Nietzsche's overman, and indeed the center of his whole philosophy, is creativity.  And it is this creative aspect in man as well as in nature around him which constitutes the divine element."  (246)  

What of Nietzsche's apparent defense of the "blond beast"?

Pfeffer writes that when Nietzsche writes "rather a Cesare Borgia ...than a Parsifal?"  the sentence "does not express a justification of cruelty, savagery, and uncontrolled passions, or admiration for Cesare Borgia.  What it does say is that there is more hope for the overman and the development of man's creative powers in a Cesare Borgia, whose instincts, while not yet ordered and sublimated, are not extirpated, as Nietzsche believes they are in Parisfal. Evil, for Nietzsche, as for Goethe, is a positive power.  The passions and primitive instincts of a Cesare Borgia can be made to act as dynamic forces, as obstacles to be overcome, as necessary 'movers' in the development of the will to power.  But in Parsifal Nietzsche sees a man of weakness, whose instincts and urges were extirpated, not sublimated, destroying the fertile soil of inner chaos and conflict."  (249-50.) 

How does this all relate to aesthetics?

"The essence of the Faustian [she has an interesting analysis of Nietzsche's debt to Goethe], Dionysian creative individual and of Nietzsche's and Goethe's humanistic pantheism has its foundation not in morality but in aesthetics.  Both men stress the essential connection between religion and art." (252) and "The eternal recurrence is an expression of Nietzsche's belief in the eternity and unity of God, nature, and man;  it is a pantheistic benediction of all existence."  On pantheism, she argues that Nietzsche, Spinoza and Goethe all share a "conception of the universe as a unified whole, in which God, nature, and man are inextricably interwoven" (256) which for Nietzsche leads to "amor fati."   

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Heiddeger on museum art as institutional and then on architecture as holy

In "The Origins of the Work of Art," (I am using the Albert Hofstadter translation..a side note, as an undergraduate Hofstadter was one of my teachers at U.C. Santa Cruz.) Heidegger writes about works of art as they are commonly treated today:  "well...the works themselves stand and hang in collections and exhibitions. But are they here in themselves as the works they themselves are, or are they not rather here as objects of the art industry?  Works are made available for public and private art appreciation.  Official agencies assume the care and maintenance of works.  Connoisseurs and critics busy themselves with them.  Art dealers supply the market.  Art-historical study makes the works the objects of a science.  Yet in all this busy activity do we encounter the work itself?"  It is interesting how many different kinds of typical activities surrounding art he categorizes under the negative term "busy activity."  Like John Dewey, he has a problem with the museum conception of art.  Unlike George Dickie, he would have no truck with a definition of art that exclusively understands it in the context of the institution of the artworld and its art-designating activities, the artworld consisting of all of the above-mentioned characters and activities.  Further, he clearly does not think that making a work available for public and private appreciation is in itself all that valuable, does not seem to value actual art maintenance (although elsewhere he talks positively of preservation), does not value the dominance of art dealers and the phenomenon of "art for the art market," and seems to be critical both the activity of connoisseurs and that of art historians.  All of this is, for him, merely busy activity.  (A Humean approach to aesthetics would be excluded, but also our contemporary highly contextualist art-historical approach.) 

The preceding paragraph had stated that the work was accessible in what he calls its "pure self-subsistence" only by removing it from all relations to other things:  it has to stand on its own.  This would seem to indicate an interest in formalism, but we quickly learn that standing on its own means something very different.  Moreover, it turns out, as we shall see, that some relations are really quite important:  a thing cannot escape its relations entirely.  The self-subsistence of art is mainly understood in terms of its independence from the artist:  the artist, who, Heidegger thinks, usually intends that the work be self-subsistent.  This artist "remains inconsequential" as compared to work (by which he means the great work), destroying himself in the creative process.  So much for art as self-expression!

The whole thing is clarified in the discussion of the Aegina sculptures in the Munich collection (these are classical Greek sculptures from the pediment of the Aegina temple).  The point is that (here, once again, in accord with Dewey) "placing them in a collection has withdrawn them from their own world."  And, further, this world has perished and this "can never be undone." (Doesn't he go too far here?  Clearly he found no problem earlier in the essay entering into the world of the peasant woman by way of Van Gogh's painting of shoes, even though that world had perished or had been radically transformed by the time Heidegger had written his essay.  Surely we can re-project the world of the work without, of course, ever completely matching the world that it originally projected.)

So now, housed in the museum, works such as these marbles "stand over against us in the realm of tradition and conservation" and "remain merely such objects":  they are a consequence "of their former self-subsistence."  This leads him to attack the art industry once again:  "the whole art industry, even if carried to the extreme and exercised in every way for the sake of works themselves, extends only to the object-being of the works" as opposed to their work-being, i.e. as opposed to treating them in their essential meaning.  This, again, seems inconsistent with the possibility addressed earlier that we could encounter a painting by Van Gogh in its work-being.  For Heidegger, the upshot of this line of inquiry is that the work belongs "within the realm that is opened up by itself" and it is there that we have a "happening of truth at work" as in, he even mentions it here, the Van Gogh case.  

It is this that introduces the architectural example.  Heidegger seems to think that he still needs to explore the question of truth. This is not surprising since his notion of truth as unconcealment is so radically different from any of the other main approaches to truth:  correspondence, coherence and pragmatist.  

On one level one might think, in talking about the temple after talking about Van Gogh's painting of shoes, that he is just moving from representational art to abstract art.  But more important is the move from easel art to public art.  The article on the origin of the work of art would be very different if it just stopped with the Van Gogh case.    

The example is a Greek temple.  But in the course of this discussion I also want to think of a secular temple, in particular the Lincoln Memorial with its statue of Abraham Lincoln. Although there is much to be said for the Greek temple as an example, the Lincoln Memorial, insofar as it is not strictly religious, can direct our attention to other applications of the example.  

So the specific Greek temple referenced, he imagines, simply stands in "the middle of the rock-cleft valley."  (I cannot think of an example that actually fits this description.)  I think Heidegger is trying to stress three things here, first that, in setting up the Greek temple, a world is set up, and so naturally it is "in the middle"; second that it's commanding presence is due to its being relatively isolated (at most it is part of a temple precinct) and is not seen as in the middle of a city; and third that it will have a profound effect, as we will see, on the rocks that surround it.  

Further, "the building encloses the figure of the god and in this concealment lets it stand out into the holy precinct through the open portico."  Phidias, the most famous Greek sculptor, was known for his Athena in the center of the Parthenon and for his Zeus at the temple of Zeus at Olympia.  But the sculpture of Lincoln by Daniel Fester French placed within the Greek-styled temple-like building designed by Henry Bacon in 1920 also works here.  The words "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln in enshrined forever" appear above the statue. 

But, a reader might reply, "Lincoln is not a god."  My answer would be that the statue of Lincoln in that spot and when animated with the holy is a god in Heidegger's sense of the word.  Heidegger, after all, was an atheist.  We will see that the statue of Lincoln fits his criteria of a god every bit as much as the statue of Zeus.  

So it is said that "by means of the temple, the god is present in the temple." Perhaps it would be better to say, by means of the temple and the sculpture of the god.  The god is present as much as a god can be in a world that is without gods.  The god extends the holy precinct, which is to say that the work of the temple with its god is to transform its physical surroundings by animating them:  "it is the temple-work that first fits together and at the same time gathers around itself of the unity of those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline acquired the shape of destiny for human being."  This may seem strange here, but, after all, Heidegger is an existentialist philosopher.  So he begins phenomenologically with the things we care about most deeply, birth, death, disaster, blessing, victory, disgrace.  

The temple constitutes a holy space which is much like the stage of Greek tragedy:  it is a place where our hopes and fears can undergo cathartic ennoblement.  He had already brought up such things in discussing the peasant woman he imagined as the owner of the shoes in Van Gogh's painting (he would not admit he was imagining here:  but that is not important).  When Heidegger speaks of art bringing truth into unconcealment and of the truth of beings happening in the work, he means existential truth.  He means what is most fundamentally real in human experience: death, birth, disaster, blessing and so forth. 

I write this essay on the day after the presidential victory of Donald Trump, when America faces divides perhaps as great as any since the Civil War.  So, when Heidegger says that "the all-governing expanse of this open relational context is the world of this historical people" I find myself thinking more of the USA as a "historical people" than of his own Germany, which, to speak of the unfortunate "elephant in the room" in this discussion, was closely associated in his mind at the time he wrote the first draft of this essay with his support for the Nazi movement.  

We must not let Heidegger's moral and political failures in this regard, deep as they were, blind us, however to the insights or potential insights of this essay.  Reading great philosophy is always a matter of setting aside the material or implications we find repellent, or perhaps just not useful, and appropriating the material that has meaning for us.  And so, looking at the Lincoln Memorial, we may think of a monument built sixty years after the Civil War one that attempts to reconsecrate the destiny of a historical people much like the Parthenon of Athens build after the destruction of Athens by the Persians.  Do not we need, similarly, art that recreates the American dream out of the ruins of a traumatic presidential election?

So, what is the relationship between the great work of architecture and its surroundings?  The work changes the way we see things. This would have been particularly true for the ancient Greeks, who really believed in these religious cults, but can also be true for us even with the Greek temples, ruined as they are, to the extent that we can read ourselves back into the frame of mind of the creators, and perhaps find what Gadamer referred to as a fusion of horizons, that is between our own perspectival horizon and theirs. 

But there is also the claim that the great work of architecture transforms not only its surrounding but also its materials.  To put it briefly, art animates them, i.e. within experience.  The world comes alive when seen by way of and through the great work of art:  "this resting of the work [on its rocky ground] draws up out of the rock the mystery of that rock's clumsy yet spontaneous support."  

Let me tell a personal story to illustrate.  My wife and I were once visiting the Greek island of Naxos.  We had arrived by ferry too late to secure a hotel room and because of some confusions and mistakes ended up spending the rest of the night sitting on a park bench nodding off sometimes and pretty cold.  I had to go out onto the nearly beach to urinate, and as I stood there I suddenly became aware that I was facing the ruins of a Greek temple alone and luminescent in the moonlight.  The experience was transformative and life-changing.  My admiration and love of the ancient Greeks all seemed to be concentrated into this one experience.  

Similarly, experiencing a temple in a storm will have us experience the storm differently:  "Standing there, the building holds its ground against the storm raging above it and so first makes the storm itself manifest in its violence."  The building not only animates the world and phenomena around it, but brings out its essential nature.  This is also true for the materials out of which the building is made. Heidegger rejects the view that art is simply materials formed by craftsmanship and indicating or symbolizing some mental thing, the real work of art.  Rather the materials are animated by being in the work.  They come alive.  

"The luster and gleam of the stone, though itself apparently glowing only by the grace of the sun, yet first brings to light the light of the day, the breadth of the sky, the darkness of the night."  The stone of the building not only gains its own luster and gleam through its animation, but this is in dynamic relation to the sun, the sky and the night.  They inter-animate each other.  Without this inter-animation the work of architecture lacks soul.  "The temple's firm towering makes visible the invisible space of air."  It is not just that the temple makes negative spaces, but rather that it makes us aware of how air too is animated when perceived through the eyes of the temple, i.e. in the context of its interaction with the temple in our experience.  

Heidegger describes this process in terms of his own interpretation of the Greek word "phusis," a word that we often associated with "physics" because it is its etymological root.  But here it means something very different.  It is almost the opposite of the physicalist way of looking at things.  Phusis, for Heidegger, and perhaps for at least some Greeks, means this:  "The Greeks early called this emergent and rising [for example, of the essence of the raging sea when contrasted experientially to the repose of the temple] in itself and in all thing phusis."  

So what does phusis do? It "clears and illuminates...that on which and in which man bases his dwelling," which Heidegger calls "earth," a term for which he has, here, a highly technical meaning.   To speak with the earliest Greek philosophers, for example Thales, phusis would have both a material and a spiritual side.  When the physical element, including surrounding and the materials out of which the work is made, is illuminated by the temple set up in its midst (and made up out of it) we have a world which is not merely mechanical but is also animated. 

"Earth is that whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises without violation." The temple allows the air, for example, to arise into its animation as phusis, and then, if this arising is not a violation, then there is also a way in which the earth (in short, all of this animated context and materials) shelters, makes peaceful, protects:  so the earth, in its dynamic relation with the work of art and the world it exhibits is a "sheltering agent."  This kind of harmonious relation between earth, world, and work is utopian:  something we hardly ever achieve, a kind of ideal.

So, "the temple...opens up a world and at the same time sets this world back again on earth, which itself only thus emerges as native ground."  The earth only emerges as animated when the temple opens up a world, i.e. the world of ancient Greece, or perhaps of a re-unified or at least re-animated and re-consecrated America. 

Heidegger asks us to leave our framework, then, of thinking of the temple as just another thing set into a world of pre-existing "men, animals, plants and things" but rather as something that in creating a world and in creating a world/earth dynamic through creating a world also animates these things and gives them meaning.  That is expecting a lot of art, I know.  

So the temple not only gives "things their look" but also, insofar as it creates a world and a destiny for a historical people gives men "their outlook on themselves."  This is true, Heidegger insists, "as long as the god has not fled from it."  For an atheist, what this means is that the animation of the world that one accepts if one is not a strict physicalist is one which can be understood in terms of the presence of the, admittedly fictional, god.  If the god has left the Lincoln memorial (one thinks of the time Nixon came out there to speak with demonstrators...an odd but strangely moving as well as pathetic effort to recreate the spirit of America in another time of national crisis).  

Heidegger then applies the same logic to the sculpture as to the temple:  "it is not a portrait whose purpose is to make it easier to realize how the god looks; rather, it is a work that lets the god himself be present and thus is the god himself."  This of course is idolatry and quite shocking to traditional believers, particularly to Christians.  But the point is fundamental to aesthetic atheism:  that there is meaning in religion to the extent that there is a presence of the holy as a numinous aura and a center of concentrated meaning to be found in the sculpture, temple or work of art.  But the god can leave, the numinous can be drained.   

Heidegger then launches into his discussion of the difference between setting up a work in an exhibition (going back to his anti museum theme) and "setting up in the sense of erecting a building, raising a statue, presenting a tragedy at a holy festival."  The latter form of setting up involves praise and dedication, and in setting up the work in this sense "the holy is opened up as holy and the god is invoked into the openness of his presence."  Dignity and splendor are "given to the god." 



Saturday, November 5, 2016

What is the point of Thus Spoke Zarathustra? The Convalescent.

Whenever I finish reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra I find myself asking "but what is the point?"  And I find myself often saying, "well, it is about saying yes to life."  And yet that usually seems not quite sufficient.  I always try to read the book along with Laurence Lampert's Nietzsche's Teaching which is just a wonderful commentary.  But I still come away dissatisfied.  The feeling one gets on reading the concluding chapters of the original work (setting aside the later addition of Part IV) is that of one metaphor piled on top of another.  

What is beneath all of these metaphors? We readers do not live in a world where Zarathustra, the fictional character, is real, and if Nietzsche really thought he was Zarathustra then he was already insane when he wrote the book.  I do not want to think that, and I really do think there is something to be gained from pondering these pages.  We could read this book as nothing more than a entertaining and powerful story (something like a Greek tragedy), or even as wonderful.  It is like that, and maybe any reading of it by a philosopher would be like the kind of reading Martha Nussbaum gives ancient Greek tragedies.   But the book is not exactly the same in type as a Greek tragedy:  it is also philosophy.  It raises many philosophical issues and tries to resolve them, even though in an odd way.

So what about philosophy?  Why did Nietzsche think that the doctrine of eternal recurrence was such a great idea?  My short answer is that "eternal recurrence" came to symbolize, for Nietzsche, the entirety of his philosophy.  It is "the will to power" in the sense that to accept eternal recurrence in the best way is to achieve the most authentic form of will to power.  He does this a lot, i.e. organically connects his main concepts.  For example, "the overman" is a metaphor that begins the book and I think it was a way of symbolizing a lot of strands of his philosophical theory tied together in one knot at this stage in his life.  These big metaphors that sum up his philosophy come up one after another in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  He thinks of them as progressively deeper understandings of the world, each building on the previous ones. Unfortunately, all of this is reminiscent of Rosicrucianism or Scientology:  you reach one level and there is a deeper level of knowledge, all of it mysterious, secret, full of symbolism piled on symbolism.  Is that what Nietzsche is up to?  Is he just adding a lot of imagery to an insight that could be stated in more straightforward terms?  Another way of looking at this is that each new metaphor is a new angle that sheds new light on the earlier metaphors.  (Derrida does something similar.)  One could say that "eternal recurrence" is a metaphor that sums up all of the strands of the book:  the anti-Christian message, saying "yes" to the earth, announcing the coming of the overman, the doctrine of will-to-power, overcoming revenge, and even the critique of German educational institutions.  More precisely, it is a synecdoche: a figure of speech, a type of metonym, in which a term or part of something refers to the whole, i.e. his whole philosophy. 

So how does one make sense of the passage that begins with Zarathustra saying to his animals "chatter on like this and let me listen.  It is so refreshing for me to hear you chattering..."?   Zarathustra likes to hear his animals chatter, and "where there is chattering, there the world lies before me like a garden."  It looks like the world is transformed into a garden by this thing called "chattering" which we might understand if we look back to what the animals were saying earlier.  We find that they are calling on him to step out of his cave because "the world awaits you like a garden."  So perhaps precisely this is "chattering" - talk about the world being a garden for the enlightened individual, or at least for the one who achieves Zarathustra's version of enlightenment.  

What is this world like?  The animals describe it: "The wind is playing with heavy fragrances that want to get to you, and all the brooks would run after you.  All things have been longing for you..."  (This all reminds me of Plato's Ion and his description of the inspiration of the poet who sees the world as a land of milk and honey.)  So, this world is playful, fragrant, and otherwise wondrous for the enlightened one: and it does this for the enlightened one because it loves and desires him:  this is true since the enlightened one is no longer separate from this (the) world.  

Note that this world is aesthetic in the highest degree.  The world as garden could be seen as aesthetic utopia.  All of nature is transformed into something which has aura.   When Zarathustra is awakened from his seven days "as one dead"  he takes a rose apple, smells it and finds its fragrance lovely.  The animals are responding to his finding the fragrance lovely.  Moreover, these things, indeed all things now, will be his physicians:  they will heal him and help him deal with a new knowledge he has gained, a knowledge that is "bitter and hard."  So, there is also an Apollonian healing dimension to the aesthetic quality experienced by Zarathustra. Beauty, however, would not exist if there was not also ugliness to be overcome.   The goal of aesthetic atheism is experience of this kind.  

Zarathustra then says, "how lovely it is that there are words and sounds!"  Of course not all words and sounds could be lovely, and the thought that the very existence of words and sounds is lovely is a bit odd.  One could say that about anything in the right mood...."how lovely that there are snow peas and carrots!"  The explanation is that words and sounds are "rainbows and illusive bridges between things which are eternally apart."  But what can this mean?  Well, the word "apple" is a bridge to actual existent apples.  But that does not help since what we need is an illusive bridge between two things eternally apart.  A hint could probably be found in Nietzsche "Truth and Lies in the Extramoral Sense." See my previous posts on that.  There it is argued that the relationship between words and things is a kind of illusion, but a necessary one. 

Perhaps the words of Zarathustra's animals are an illusion (as are the words of all redemptive poets).  This may not be a bad thing for Nietzsche.  He often argues that illusions can be valuable, and this illusion is one that may bridge, for example, people who are in radically different psychological places.  We humans, in a sense, are eternally apart from each other, and words can sometimes bridge that gap. 

But also, one could argue, we are eternally apart from nature, and we need some illusion to bridge the gap between ourselves and nature.  Poetry (and art generally) may be what is being referred to here:  poetry can bridge the gap between ourselves and nature by way of creating a virtual world, an illusion of oneness.  When Z. then says "to every soul there belongs another world," and elaborates mysteriously that "for every soul, every other soul is an afterworld," perhaps he means that every soul faces other souls, each of which has its own world, and that the bridging of this gap is like the achievement of a heaven, an afterworld.  

Then he says, "have not names and sounds been given to things that man might find things refreshing."  On the face of it, the answer is "no."  First, there is no god who gave names and sounds to things. And when men did, we have no idea whether this was to find things refreshing.  But we do know that when poets gives names and sounds to things in ways that are counter-intuitive and non-literal they do, when successful, make the world seem refreshing, or rather, they refresh the world.  So, when Zarathustra says "speaking is a beautiful folly:  with that man dances over all things" he must be speaking about our poetic capacity to recreate things through poetic interpretation, an interpretation which perhaps is folly but makes like worth living, to refer back to The Birth of Tragedy.  

I just saw the Bruce Conner show at the SFMOMA.  Conner was a man of immense genius and one thing I came away from with that show was a Nietzschean sense of life.

The difficulty of "The Convalescent" is in the fact that the animals do most of the talking about eternal recurrence, and yet Zarathustra says that they are singing a "hurdy-gurdy" song.  We can only presume that the animals are giving us an aspect of the truth, one that is not tragic enough, or at least not tragic/comic enough to capture what Zarathustra himself sees: and is a bit too upbeat, almost kitschy.  Zarathustra's own talk focuses, more darkly, on the experience of dealing with the eternal recurrence of the smallest man and even of the smallness that is always present even in the greatest.   

He tells us that he bit off the head of a monster and spewed it out. But what exactly does this symbolize?  If the doctrine of eternal recurrence requires some sort of acceptance or affirmation then shouldn't the metaphor be one of biting off and consuming rather than spewing out?   I think that he is spewing out not a condition or reality but a doctrine or perhaps a temptation based on a condition. He can reject the doctrine while not rejecting the condition.  It is clear that in the seven days when he was "as dead" Zarathustra had gone through a transformative experience.  Now he is convalescing from the sickness brought on by that experience.  But what is the role of the sickness?  Is that sickness also something he has to affirm?  

It is odd that even though he calls his animals "buffoons and barrel organs" he also thinks that they "know well" what he has gone through in those seven days, even though they say nothing about anything so negative or disturbing as biting a monster's head off.  In fact, what they say is that "all things themselves are dancing." Things are dancing as teasers, much Life does in "The Other Dancing Song" ... offering their hands, laughing, fleeing, coming back.  

The eternity the animals see is a cycle of the "wheel of being," one in which things die and blossom again.  Of course this is the cycle of the seasons where things do die in the winter and blossom again in the spring, and when the animals say "eternally runs the year of being" they could just mean that, for them, the seasons run eternally.  

But the language here is more metaphysical than that.  The animals go on to say: "Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; eternally the same house of being is built."  In this phrase, there seems to be redemption for everything that breaks, and this is what is meant by building the same house of being.  The reiteration of the idea in saying that "everything parts" and also that everything "greets every other thing again" makes us think not only of literal breaking but also of the breaking up of relationships and of friendships.  Thus the idea that being "remains faithful to itself" in the sense that what is broken comes back again is asserted.  Of course this is like Christianity's idea that loved ones will meet again in heaven.  And perhaps that is why this is, for Zarathustra, a hurdy gurdy song.  

More mysterious, and perhaps more helpful for a theory of Eternal Recurrence, is the next passage:  "In every Now, being begins; round every Here rolls the sphere There."  We know from previously that the Now is central to the entire doctrine.   Is this explained when the animals then say "The center is everywhere. Bent is the path of eternity."?  It seems that wherever and whenever you experience something this is the center of being.  Eternity is bent in that it is bent back on itself.  Could there be a relationship between this focus on the Here and Now and the Bent nature of Eternity.  A simple solution is that the Here and Now is Eternity when understood properly.  I think that the animals' story captures one side of eternal recurrence;  it is true, but not complete.

Zarathustra says that all of this shows understanding of what he went through in the seven days, days in which he bit the monster and spewed it out and then was redeemed.  Oddly, his real problem with what the animals said is that they, in watching over him during his illness, were cruel, like humans who enjoy watching someone (someone heroic) in great pain, as in tragedies, bullfights and crucifixions.  This all seems unfair to the animals, since unlike these phenomena (the death of tragic heroes for example) the story turns out well for Zarathustra:  he has not been crucified or gored.

This may just be a way for Zarathustra (or Nietzsche) to complain about how the small man, when perceiving the great man screaming in pain, gets an almost sensual pleasure, which he then ironically calls "pity."  The point may be simply to introduce here the idea of the "small man," the person who feels this so-called pity.  
That the concept of "tragedy" has been introduced may illuminate the passage.  One thinks of Plato's critique of ancient Greek tragedy.  This would explain why the next paragraph begins with the poet who is a small man...or ambiguously, tragic poets in general (although it would be unfair to call Sophocles a small man!)  

Anyway, you could see how this might fit the idea of "how eagerly he accuses life with words!"  Certainly the tragic poet and the tragic figure within the tragic poem will do this.  (But Nietzsche is not really thinking of Sophocles:  he is thinking of Christians.) 

The rest of that paragraph however has a nice twist in that first, the accuser experiences delight in the accusation, and life herself responds with a wink and an impudent question "Do you love me?"  with the remark that she ha "no time" for such as you.  Of course, life is only going to respond positively to those who do not accuse her.  Then it turns out that the cruelty is not only only directed by the small against the great but also by man "against himself" insofar as he might, following Christianity, call himself a sinner, or somewhat more positively, a cross-bearer or a penitent (a sinner reformed).  That too is cause for "voluptuous delight."  Zarathustra then refuses to join this chorus and does not want to accuse man of sin (although perhaps he has accused man of being cruel!).  He has learned that "man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him" and that the most evil in him is "his best power" and most the most the important stone for him to break as a creator.  So to be better man must be "more evil."  So what is it to be more evil.  One possibility is that it is to not be the sort of person who calls oneself a sinner, cross-bearer or penitent.  Another is that one should actually sin.  He says that his great torture in the seven days, the monster in fact, is that man's greatest evil "is so very small" which is also to say that his best is "so very small." So his disgust with man, and it is his disgust with the smallness of man that choked him, is what crawled into his throat.

I am not finished yet with my commentary but would like here to place a marker, a thought that will guide me.  The affirmation of eternal recurrence is going to be something more like aggressive assimilation of one's own past, including the smallest aspects of oneself and of one's neighbors, than mere acceptance.  I think, although I am not sure, that this is going to require appropriation and exploitation of one's own past:  a re-interpretation that is itself radical.  Saying "yes" to life is taking that which is "evil" in one's past, whatever one feels guilty about or whatever one resents or feels bad about, and reworking it, bringing it alive so that the Now becomes vibrant again, and the future becomes possible.

Nietzsche goes back to the soothsayer at this point and what he said: "All is the same, nothing is worth while, knowledge chokes." This is, on one level, an approach to eternal recurrence that is quite negative.  If all is the same then all is equal to the smallest and hence nothing is worthwhile, and knowledge of this chokes.  But perhaps this "knowledge" or rather belief is what chokes, and biting off this, biting off nihilism, and spitting it out, is what allows one to go almost the opposite direction:  everything is worthwhile, or perhaps can be aggressively interpreted for it to have worth.

It is natural, if one follows the Soothsayer's approach to eternal recurrence one will see a "long twilight" limping before, and this can be associated with death:  one become "weary with death, drunken with death."  One becomes depressed and suicidal thinking that smallness cannot be escaped. This is a nihilist phase in which all that is living become "human mold and bones and musty past to me."  To be redeemed one needs to be able to not just accept the small man but appropriate that aspect of humanity.  And don't think that this smallness is unique just to the smallest man, since even the greatest are "all-too-small." Zarathustra's sickness consisted in wallowing in this thought:  but now he is recovering.  

His animals again say:  "the world awaits you like a garden" and encourage him to learn singing from the song birds since singing is more appropriate for the convalescent than the healthy.  The convalescent is still recovering, and needs his own sorts of songs. Again Zarathustra recognizes the animals for being not only buffoons but also having an intuition, in this case an intuition into this own discovery of song, although not a hurdy-gurdy song.  The animals repeat:  you should not be talking but singing, and now with a "new lyre" or your "new songs."  The new songs will allow him to bear his great and unique destiny, your destiny as "teacher of the eternal recurrence."  There is an identity between his convalescence and his teaching, although this destiny is also a danger and sickness.  This is the first time that the animals repeat the version of eternal recurrence found earlier in the book, that "we have already existed an eternal number of times, and all things with us" and that rather than talking about the seasons of the year we are really talking about the "great year" of the universe which repeats over and over again like an hourglass that has been turned, all with an emphasis on repetition of "what is greatest and what is smallest."  
Since sickness and danger are still an issue for Zarathustra so too is death.  The animals beg Zarathustra not to die yet, but rather to speak "breathing deeply with happiness" since a great weight has been taken from him.  They then say what he would say it he chose not to die, to say yes to life:  it is their doctrine that, as with Christianity, he achieves a kind of immortality, not of the soul, however, since it is "moral as the body" but rather through the "knot of causes in which [he] is entangled" which recurs and creates him again.  A remarkable sentence follows:  he would say, if he chose not to die:  "I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence."  Unlike the resurrected Christian he does not come again to "a new life or a better life" but rather to the same life, again both with the greatest and the smallest, and, of course, to teacher eternal recurrence again.  And then, mysteriously, he would say "Thus ends Zarathustra's going under."  This is the point of the fulfillment of his prophecy.

Zarathustra does not speak but converses with his soul, and his animals steal away.


 


    


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Two Student Comments on Collingwood

My Introduction to Aesthetics class has been discussing the Ross selection from Collingwood's Principles of Art.  I am often astonished by some of the thoughts they come up with.  Here are some thoughts on their thoughts, using their initials to refer to individual students.  I sometimes edit what they say to make more sense.  S.P.  "Collingwood emphasizes the difference [between] art and craft, whereas...Dewey would consider them to be on the same [level] as long as [they] create...an experience.."  Dewey seeks to overcome the very craft/art dichotomy that Collingwood seeks to maintain.  But it is also true that Collingwood's view of craft takes out all possible creative element in craft, not seeing, in the way Dewey did, how a craft like car mechanics can give the mechanic "an experience" much like art.  Collingwood's dualism pushes him to see craft as something very much like what Dewey called inchoate experience.  Craft, for Collingwood, becomes a matter of simply applying a certain plan to materials in a mechanical way.  

However, on the plus side, although many would see Collingwood and Dewey as opposites since Collingwood is an idealist and Dewey a pragmatist/materialist, I see them as quite close, the one picking up whether the other leaves off.  Dewey, with all of his emphasis on the experience of the perceiver, does not, in a significant way, enter into the artist's studio and follow the creative process itself.  That is, although Dewey talks generally about the interaction between artist and her materials, and of the development between inception and final product, and even sees this process as expressive, it is Collingwood, the supposed idealist, who says "every imaginative experience is a sensuous experience raised to the imaginative level by an act of consciousness" (Ross 200).  He further writes:  "The transmuted or sensuous element in the aesthetic experience is the so-called outward element:  in the case under examination, the artist's psycho-physical activity of painting; his visual sensation of the colors and shapes of his subject, his felt gestures as he manipulates his bush, the seen shapes of paint patches that these gestures leave on his canvas.."  He adds that "every element [in the sensuous experience] comes into existence under the eyes of the painter's consciousness...in so far as he is a good painter...and every element in it is therefore converted into imaginative experience at birth..." (200)  Further the experience of the painter is to be distinguished from that of the aesthetically sensitive but not art-making observer of the world whose experiences are also transmuted by the activity of imagination. This person's experiences are poorer and less organized than the sensuous elements of painting, since the painter puts into his experience "the consciously performed activity of painting [the subject]":  he records the experience "of looking at [the subject' and painting it together."  (201)  That is, what he is recording on canvas is both the product of looking and the product of painting what is seen.  I think Dewey would approve of this and see it as a rich addendum to his own theory.  

J.T. observes interestingly that "Bell's definition of a good critic is similar to Collingwood's idea of an artist.  A critic must make someone feel it for themselves without telling them....[Similarly] an artist should [for Collingwood] cause the audience to experience an expression of emotion."