Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comments on Nietzsche's "On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense"

Commentary from Prof. Tom Leddy of San Jose State University on “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense.”  Thanks to The Nietzsche Channel for the translation, which now appears here

Fragment, 1873: from the Nachlass.
Compiled from translations by Walter Kaufmann and Daniel Breazeale.
Text amended in part by The Nietzsche Channel.

N. begins by speaking of humans as a  "remote" species because we certainly are not as important as we think we are.  The “star” is the planet earth.  We are “clever” but we are only animals.  It was the "highest minute" perhaps in that we are pretty important anyway, but as we shall see, that knowledge itself is a lie.  Also, our star, this time the sun, will grow cold and our species will die, as so many others have.

The human intellect is even more shadowy, flighty, aimless, and arbitrary than that.  We think that its emergence is of great importance, but relatively speaking, nothing has happened, since the rise of intellect does not lead beyond human life. It is just that we give it importance.  We feel important, but the mosquito too sees itself as the center of the world!  The power of knowledge can make the least significant things seem overly important.  The proudest human of all is the philosopher, who thinks the eyes of the universe are focused on him.

Humans are the most unfortunate, most delicate, most evanescent of beings, and they were given intellect just to hold them in existence.  Men are deceived about the value of existence because of the haughtiness that comes with knowledge.  Knowledge itself is flattered (by itself).  The most universal effect of knowledge is deception (again, as to the value of man and of knowledge itself), but even particular effects (particular bits of knowledge) have something of this character.

We are most aware of the powers of intellect in simulation.  Weaker individuals (including humans, as opposed to other animals) preserve themselves with it.  The art of simulation reaches its peak in man.  There are various aspects of simulation:  deception, flattery, and so forth.  Humans are incredibly vain.  So it is nearly incomprehensible how you can have a pure urge for truth.  Men are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images. When N. speaks of men looking at the surface of things and merely seeing “forms” he is suggesting that even Plato, with his Forms, was only so interested.  But also he is suggesting that humans in their nature are interested in surface and not in truth (which is actually a point that Socrates made) focusing on stimuli rather than on things themselves.  Continuing on the theme of dreams:  man permits himself to be lied to in his dreams, and this does not even bother him morally.  (N. is perhaps the first to suggest that it ever should.)  [An interesting aspect of this paragraph is that N. is not here attacking truth.  He thinks that intellect is more designed for untruth than for truth, that’s all.]

N. is skeptical that man can know himself or even perceive himself completely.  Nature keeps him in the realm of consciousness, far from such things as the intestines or blood flow.  Consciousness itself is both proud and deceptive.  If you are curious to peer beyond consciousness you will see that man rests on such ugly stuff as lack of mercy and greed.  He is ignorant of all of this, but he is indifferent to that ignorance.  He lives in a dreamworld, but underneath him is a tiger [which reminds one of the Dionysian truth of BT].  So how do we get the urge to truth (i.e. given the importance of simulation)?

Intellect is mostly used for the simulation that is needed for self-preservation.  But for social purposes man banishes the Hobbesian war of all against all, or at least the crudest form of it is banished.  It is this peace pact that brings the urge for truth. The first laws of truth will be based on the names for things.  All people are obliged to call things by certain names (i.e. to preserve the peace.)  The contrast between truth and lie emerges here, for the liar violates the rules by misnaming, i.e. using the word “rich” when “poor" would be correct.  These rules are a matter of fixed conventions, and the liar violates them.  The liar thus can damage others and will therefore be excluded.   Men at this stage want not to be damaged by deception, and are concerned more with the consequences of deception then of deception itself.  The conventions of language themselves are questionably the produce of knowledge or a sense of truth.  It is questionable that language expresses all realities.  
N. goes on to discuss the illusion of possessing a “truth.”  It is notable that “truth” is in quote marks.  If you are deluded into thinking you possess truth then you do not really have it.  You might also have realized that it was not really truth, but then forgot.  There is one kind of truth which is simply an empty shell, a tautology.  This may satisfy some.  But those who are not satisfied with this will be satisfied with illusions taken as truths.  This leads to a discussion of words themselves.  A words is a nerve stimulus in sounds.  We infer a cause outside us, but this is an illegitimate use of reason.  (Here, N. is following Kant.)  Truth and certainty did not determine the origin of language, i.e. the meanings of terms.  Following Locke, “hard” is a totally subjective stimulation.  Thus to say the stone is hard is to be caught in an illusion.  We also see that language creates illusions in its arbitrary designation of some objects as masculine and others as feminine.  When we choose to designate some thing by a word we tend to do so based on preferring some one property of that thing, and not necessarily one that is exclusive to that thing.

Then when we consider that we have different languages, we see that each one works about equally well even though each is so different.  So maybe the purpose of language is not one-to-one accuracy or correspondence to reality.  Pure truth would reflect the Kantian thing-in-itself independent of our experiences.  But this is not captured by language and this goal was certainly not in the minds of the creators of language.  After all, language is more practical than that.  Language is there to deal with relations of things to man.  To do this, bold metaphors are needed.  A metaphor says that “A is B” where B really belongs to a different category of being. The first metaphor in our sequence is “Nerve stimulus x is image y.”  The second is “Image y is sound z”  The sound imitates the image.  I had said we are talking about different categories:  N. speaks of this as leaping from one sphere to another.  A deaf person might think he understands what is meant by “sound” by looking at Chadli’s sound figures, but he would be mistaken.  Similarly we think we know something about the things-in-themselves referred to by the word “tree.”  But the word is just a metaphor and corresponds in no way to its referent: “the mysterious X of the thing in itself first appears as a nerve stimulus, then as an image, and finally as a sound.”  So language does not arise from logic but from a series of metaphors.  So the material used by the scientist and the philosopher does not arise from logic or from the essence of things.
A word becomes a concept when it is not intended to remind us of the unique thing which gives rise to it.  When a word is supposed to fit many similar things, none of which are strictly equal, then we have a concept.  So concepts begin with us equating what is unequal.  So the concept “leaf” is an arbitrary abstraction from differences.  This is achieved through forgetting about these differences.  This gives rise to belief in things like Platonic Forms, i.e that there is something that “leaf” refers to, individual leaves all being inadequate copies of this.

A similar strategy is followed with respect to general human principles.  (Socrates and Plato, remember, were mainly interested in these.)  So we say that a person acted honestly because of his honesty, as though honesty were a thing inside him.  This is similar to saying that the essential leaf is the cause of individual leaves.  But we know nothing of some essence called “honesty” [here, N.s anti-essentialism is made clear].  We only know individual acts called “honest” all of which are different or unequal.  The name “honesty” refers to some hidden quality.  Nature however has no forms, concepts, or species.  It only has the inaccessible undefinable X.  Even the contrast between individual and species is human-centered, although it is still possible that this relation does still exist in the essence of things.
Truth then (or at least what we call truth) is nothing but a series, or really large collection of, metaphors.  (The “mobile army” metaphor needs sorting out.  One thinks first of a vast collection of metaphors, but also of one that moves about in the sense that there is flexibility to the system of metaphors that is truth.)  We should not forget some other things quite similar to metaphors, for example metonymy.  After all “metaphor” is just another concept and we should not ignore the differences between the things it covers.  Anthropomorphisms are important too since in a sense all the metaphors we have been talking about are anthropomorphisms:  they treat everything as an extension of man.   One difficulty here is that, previously, N. was speaking of truth as what metaphors fail to get at, i.e. the essence of things.  Now he is saying that what we call truth is really an army of metaphors.  Another way to put it is that the only truth that matters to us humans is what can be analyzed as an army of metaphors:  truth to essences or to things-in-themselves is impossible.  

N. goes on to speak of this army as “a sum of human relations,” which of course emphasizes that each metaphor is an anthropomorphism that focuses on how the object is related to man.  These relations are “enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically.”  N. doesn't mention it, but of course metaphor is essential to both poetry and rhetoric.  So, he is suggesting that we cannot separate the poetic/rhetorical dimension of language and meaning from the scientific dimension.  Why is this not obvious to us?  Because long use has made these metaphors canonical.   People are obligated to use words in this way, as was mentioned previously. 

“Truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are.” This means that what we call truths are these accepted metaphors insofar as they are seen no longer as metaphors:  we have forgotten their origins.  An example would be "That is a duck" and another would be "A duck is a bird." One feature of this process is that the metaphors, as they become rigid, lose their sensual power.  N. in a way is interested in retrieving this aspect of language…returning to the body and its sensual powers.  Another metaphor he uses to describe this process is that of coins that have lost their images (i.e. their metaphoricity) but still have a practical function in commerce.

We still have the question of where the urge to truth comes from.  The issue is now complicated because we are using “truth” in two senses.  One sense refers to the conventional illusions that all accept for practical purposes, and the other refers to the urge to break beneath these illusions.  The first sense refers to the obligation imposed by society, i.e. the customary metaphors and the unconscious lies made according to convention insofar as we are part of a human herd.  [Whether or not something can be a lie if unconscious is open to question:  maybe you need to be partially conscious of it for it to be a lie.] This is man’s “sense of truth.”  Also a kind of morality is connected with this:  one contrasts oneself against the liar, who is then excluded from society if caught.  (N. is setting us up however to have some sympathy for the liar who violates social convention, just as he did in the Birth of Tragedy.  There, he favors the sacrilegious violator of convention.)

N. here stresses the way in which abstractions control the behavior of those humans who consider themselves rational beings.  Such humans will not allow themselves to be carried away by impressions or intuitions.  They work with cooler (more Apollonian, to use his older language) concepts.  [We begin to see that metaphor, when still living, represents the Dionysian side of language and truth.]  N. is often seen as attacking correspondence theory of truth but he is also putting the pragmatist theory of truth in a certain place, and not the primary place.   That is, he is not a pragmatist with regards to truth. “What is true is what works” might well be the theme of the sense of truth that works only with “cool” concepts.  It is there to guide life, but not in all ways or respects.

N. goes so far as to see this truth as what distinguishes man from animals.  We are the ones who turn metaphors into schemata and dissolve images into concepts.  Animals just work with “vivid first impressions” but we can construct a systematic understanding and ordering of the world symbolized here by pyramids, castes, degrees, laws, boundaries, and so forth. This world is seen as being more solid, but also more universal and better known, and also more human.  It is opposed to the “immediately perceived world.”  [N. seems to confuse the immediately perceived world with the world in which metaphors are seen as metaphors.  It is not clear that he has shown that these are really the same.  For example, are animals going to see the world in metaphors.  N. seems to have argued previously that they do not]

This section of the paragraph takes us to a new idea.  In this case, we look at the pre-conceptual metaphors, what he calls “perceptual metaphors,” each one of which is individual.  This may be an attempt to resolve the issue I just raised.  Turning again to the “edifice of concepts” we find that it is rigid not only like a pyramid but like a Roman columbarium [public storage of cemetery urns]:  a formal collection of dead metaphors.  And of course it has relations both to logic and to mathematics in coolness as well as strength.  The concept is further characterized as being like a die, not only in being dead and rigid (“bony”) but also in being mathematics like and moral (“foursquare”).  Of course “die” makes reference to chance by way of craps.  So, again, truth of this sort is a matter of accurate counting and categorization, always keeping in mind the way this works in terms of social relations, i.e. in relation to “caste and class rank.”  N. is interesting (like Foucault, who followed him in this) in tying the question of knowledge close to that of class.  In fact every people mathematically divides up the concept heaven by where each conceptual god (the gods become the Forms or the abstract concepts that order our world, at least in a secular society.)  [This metaphor is interesting when you look at how people can refuse to move out of traditional categorical ways of thinking because they are safe.  Responses to my own work in aesthetics often arise from the fear that the merely pleasant will be confused with the aesthetic experiences of art.  Fear of confusion is the dominating mode, for example, in analytic philosophy in general, and in analytic aesthetics in particular.] 

This is a funny sort of admiration when one admires someone who constructing something infinitely complicated on an unstable foundation…a kind of back-handed admiration.  N. continues the metaphor through a spider (the construction must be both delicate and strong) and a bee (man is far above him since he builds from delicate, again, conceptual material from himself).  Although this is admirable, but N. thinks man is not to be admired for his drive to truth.  [Note that in both analogies the stress is placed on how we are similar to but different from other animals.]  He is not to be admired as he is just finding something where he previously hid it.  Here, “truth” has scare quotes.  The false truth is truth found in the realm of reason.  He follows this with the modified idea that it is truth but truth with a “limited value.”

At last N. makes it clear that he is distinguishing between what he calls “anthropomorphic truth,” i.e. this “limited value” truth, and “true in itself” which would be “universally valid apart from man.”   The first sort of truth is just “metamorphosis of the world into man.”  That is, the world-as-we-experience-it under this regime is only valid for man.   In being analogous to man, such a world is really, ultimately a metaphor for man.  The result of struggles to achieve such a truth is felt assimilation of man and world.  Another way he puts it is that the universe man’s echo, although of course, fractured infinitely.  An example of this way of seeing things is astrology in which everything that happens in the stars relates directly to our lives.  So, following the famous saying of Protagoras, the great relativist of ancient Greece, on this view man is the measure of all things, except in this case the things are thought, falsely, to be mere objects that are distinct from man.  This is the mistake of taking a perceptual metaphor falsely to be the thing itself.

One gains repose and security and consistency from this forgetting, i.e. from petrifying images that streamed from the human imagination “like fiery liquid.”  [N. is here speaking almost in a mystical way of the primal imagination.]  We have faith that the objects before us are examples of “truth in itself.”  So what we are doing here is forgetting that aspect of ourselves as “artistically crating” and in return we get repose, security and consistency.  Escaping from such faith would destroy human self-consciousness.  N. returns here to the idea that insects and birds perceive different worlds from us, worlds that, it is difficult for us to admit, are no less correct (or rather to ask the question of correctness is meaningless) since correctness would require a non-available criterion.

It is impossible to adequately express an object in a subject, i.e. in a correct perception, since the subject sphere is completely different from the object sphere, and there is no causality, correctness or expression-connection between these.  Instead there is only an “aesthetic relation” by which he means something more metaphorical or more related to judgments of taste or art, I presume.  He also talks of the relation as one of “suggestive transference” and “stammering translation.”  The next passage is quite puzzling, especially since he did not previously refer to an “I,” and so there is no reference for the phrase “which I.”  He may be suggesting that there must be some intermediate or mediating sphere (maybe constituted as an artistic or creative “I”) to carry out the translation between the realm of the subject and the realm of the object.  He also thinks it misleading to speak of the essence of things as appearing in the empirical world.

N. then continues with the idea of an artist doing the work of translation.  The point that a painter who, rather strangely, has no hands, and wishes to express the pictures in his mind in song, would substitute the song sphere for the sphere of pictures or images, and would reveal more of the essence of things than the empirical world does…this point is Schopenhauer’s.  Next, the relationship of nerve stimulus to generated image is not necessary but, through habit, it acquires a certain necessity, even as if it were strictly causal necessity.  This would be no different from believing in the reality of a dream merely because it was repeated eternally.  That a metaphor is hardened does not guarantee its necessity.
Belief that the hardened metaphor reflects reality is a form of idealism.  The laws of nature may be consistent, everywhere, and also quite fallible.  I find this paragraph quite puzzling.  Although N. is talking at first about someone who has a “deep mistrust of all idealism” he then talks seemingly of the same person as very convinced that what we can know is “secure, complete, infinite, regular, and without any gaps.”  This would be the kind of naïve idealist N. would normally criticize.  The next sentence also stresses science’s continued success and the non-contradictory nature of what it discovers.  One could say that here we are talking about the world-of-experience and not the thing-in-itself.  This is not easily seen as a product of imagination since we cannot easily tell which is illusion and which reality.  But it is not clear what “against this” refers to. What is the “this” the following sentence is against?  I think it is against the over-confidence in the scientific attitude.  The counter to this is the imagined situation that we could perceive things from widely different perspectives.  Under those conditions we could not speak of regularity of nature, and nature would be seen as subjective.

We are not acquainted with laws of nature in themselves, only with their effects, i.e. their relations to other laws of nature.  So, all of these laws are nothing but the sums of these relations.  We cannot understand them in their essence.  Kant believed that we bring space and time to experience.  N. adds that we can only know about laws of nature relations of succession and number.  What is marvelous about laws of nature and which leads us to distrust idealism [is idealism, then, something positive on N.s view in this essay?] is contained in the math of time and space, which we produce from ourselves, and so it is not really amazing that we only comprehend these forms.

So, again, the conformity to law we find in the astronomy and chemistry is based only on what we bring to things.  Also the very “artistic process of metaphor formation with which every sensation begins in us already presupposes these forms.”  So we cannot escape this just by turning to something artistic or artlike.    We can only construct “a new conceptual edifice from metaphors themselves” by way of the persistence of these original forms.  Is N. here talking about limitations for the tragic man? 

This paragraph makes explicit that language starts the process of constructing concepts and that science continues it.  He continues the metaphor of the columbarium and the construction of the entire anthropomorphic world.  He speaks of two types in their relation to the columbarium:  the man of action and the scientific investigator.  The later needs shelter there from “powers which continuously break in upon him” and pose different kinds of “truth.”  This passage is interesting but confusing:  how seriously should we take the scare quotes here?  There truths are probably the truths of mythology found in the Birth of Tragedy.  Are we speaking of poetic truths here?  Maybe the scientific truths require scare quotes as much as these?

The idea that we cannot dispense with metaphor in thought was taken up later for example by Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By.  N. here insists that the drive to form metaphors is not even subdued by the columbarium of science.  It just seeks “another channel for its activity” and it finds this in myth and art.  Whereas the scientific impulse keeps categories separate, myth and art confuse categories through transferences, metaphors and metonymies.  It tries to make the world of making man “colorful, irregular…charming, and eternally new.”  This is the other “truths” referred to earlier.  We have finally got to the whole point of the essay.  We need the web of concepts to see that we are awake and when it is torn by art we think we are dreaming.  I think here of the passages on dreaming in the Birth of Tragedy.
Of course we would be as occupied with the dream if it was the same every night.   N. goes further and speaks of the ancient Greeks as an example of a people who are mythically inspired and who see the world as one in which “miracles are always happening.”  Their world is like that of the dream.  [In a way N. is suggesting that the artistic “truth” is as valid as the scientific “truth.” but in a different way.]   Nature then seems like a “masquerade of the gods.”   

There is another kind of self-deception, in which we are deceived by the story-teller, and the intellect, which always is deceiving anyway, is free, richer, etc., moving abstractions etc.

The framework that satisfies the “needy man” is just scaffolding for the “liberated intellect.”  He smashes it, and then puts it together again, pairing things previously thought alien, and separating things thought close.  So he will be “guided by intuitions rather than by concepts.”  There is not regular path from intuitions to abstractions.  
N. seems to be treating the rational man and the intuitive man as equals here.  [When I look at the literature it appears that no one stresses that in the end of the essay there are two “truths” in competition.]  The idea that both “desire to rule over life” makes one think of the will to power.  The second type is portrayed as a hero devoted to overjoy, beauty and illusion.  He is somewhat like the Apollonian naïve artist.  N. thinks that in ancient Greece the intuitive man took over and established a culture where art is master over life.  It seems that N. is forgetting that art has a Dionysian side as well.  This life is dominated by “immediacy of deception.”  All artifacts are intended to express not only happiness but “a playing with seriousness.”  The rational man, by contrast, does not gain happiness for himself by his abstractions.  The intuitive man [who seems favored here] harvests in his culture “illumination, cheer, and redemption” as well as “defense against misfortune.”

But he suffers more intensely when he does.  The reference is to Thales who fell into a ditch when looking at the stars.  This was always a symbol of the philosopher, but now N. uses it to symbolize the artist.  The stoical man is of course more admirable on one level, but he is also a great deceiver.  In misfortune he deceives himself and us.  He wears a mask of dignity.   The essay ends. 

The essay is obviously incomplete:  why would one end here?  N. of course, as someone who constantly suffers physically, has much to admire in the Stoic.

What then is N.s view of truth in this essay?  I think it is basically this.  Truth itself is mainly unachievable, although sometimes philosophers, like N. himself, have a glimmering insight into it.  It is unachievable because there is no match between language and the thing-in-itself, and we can never escape anthropomorphism.  However, there are two things called "truth" for humans, both of them illusions.  The first is that of the rational man, which is valuable for practical purposes, and is based on building a web of concepts based on dead metaphors.  The second is that of the artistic man, which depends on the existence of the web of concepts, but violates conventional categorization and, through imagination, creates a form of mythical truth that is actually closer (in keeping with the philosophy of The Birth of Tragedy) with the true truth.  Just as tragedy is the most valuable art form and comes from a combination of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, so too truth in its highest human form (and N. does not explicitly say this) will incorporate both the "truth" of the artist and the "truth" of the scientist.  I think this is true and that N. got it basically right. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Section 23 of the Birth of Tragedy on myth

The last three chapters of The Birth of Tragedy are not much discussed, but they are something of a kick to the gut, especially for an atheist philosophy teacher like myself.  N. begins Section 23 by saying that you can tell whether you belong to the much despised class of Socratic critics.  That is, you do not belong to such a class if you are willing to accept miracles on stage, not as something alien but as myth, as indeed a "concentrated image of the world" and as "a condensation of phenomena."  Then it turns out that, for N., it is probable that almost no one is capable of this, that almost all people (or at least thinkers) in our time must approach myth by way of scholarship and abstractions.  This is a problem for the culture, since  "without myth every culture loses the healthy natural power of creativity." and it is only this that allows for unification of a cultural movement.  Otherwise we will engage in aimless wandering.  What is needed?  "The images of the myth have to be the unnoticed omnipresent demonic guardians, under whose care the young soul grows to maturity and whose signs help the man [i.e. the neophyte.. N using sexist language here] to interpret his life and struggles."  I could not help but think of Joseph Campbell when I read this...but that's the problem, since I cannot take Campbell seriously when he and Bill Moyers talk (in a recent PBS rerun) about the "guiding hand" of some spiritual force that gives their lives meaning, so much so that they pity people like me who do not feel this guiding hand.  One can take Nietzsche more seriously.  At this early stage in his career already we find him almost saying, "God is dead, but I am miserable about it...I need the myth of the guiding hand, and yet there is no real way to believe in it.  All I can do is suspend disbelief when I go to Wagner's operas."

N. then pictures "the abstract man" who has no training in myth and looks at education, morality, law, and state from the perspective of abstraction.  (I have known many philosophers who very much fit this mold.)  He also imagines "a culture that has no fixed and sacred primordial site but is doomed to exhaust all possibilities to nourish itself wretchedly on all other cultures." This, he says, is our culture, i.e. "the present age."  It is ours too, although only a small part of our culture is obsessed with other cultures or the past in this way. Rather we are simply obsessed with a shallow world of consumption and entertainment along with the parallel worlds of work, science and technology, which of course do have their satisfactions.  But no myth here.  "And now the mythless man stands eternally hungry, surrounded by all past ages, and digs and grubs for roots..."  The difference between N.s culture and our own is relatively minor.  For example, the following quote fits our cultural world pretty well: "Let us ask ourselves whether the feverish and uncanny excitement of this culture is anything but the greedy seizing and snatching at food of a hungry man."  Here, as N. puts it, even the most wholesome food is turned into history and criticism.

When N. turns to thinking about "our German character with sorrowful despair" one should probably replace our own American culture to make it relevant (or whatever unit you wish to insert, insert here) and just as N. finds "stupendous moments" in which there is "vigorous awakening" of the German spirit we can find such in American, for example in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but not today, unfortunately.  As an aside it does seem strange to see N. speaking of Luther as an example of the Dionysian.  In any case, German music (Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, for example) was quite something to be proud of, although whether Wagner was able to create "the rebirth of German myth" was open to question, and certainly questioned by N. himself in later writings.

One thinks of Thus Spoke Zarathustra when N. begins the next paragraph by saying "I know that I must now lead the sympathizing and attentive friend to an elevated position of lonely contemplation, where he will have but few companions..."  (What a strange combination:  friendliness and loneliness in one sentence.) What he now does is ask the young companion to be guided by the Greeks, especially of course by his knowledge that Greek tragedy rose through the combination of the Apollonian and the Dionysian and fell through their dissociation, leading to degeneration of the Greek people itself, leading N. in turn to believe that there are fundamental connections between "art and the people, myth and custom, tragedy and state."  So tragedy dies and along with it myth, and then perhaps if tragedy can live again, so too myth.

The next passage I have to quote extensively (this is from the Kaufmann translation, I should have mentioned earlier)  "But the state no less than art dipped into the current of the timeless to find rest in it from the burden and the greed of the moment.  And any people -- just as, incidentally, also any individual - is worth only as much as it is able to press upon its experiences the stamp of the eternal [where the immediate present appears under the aspect of eternity, in a certain sense "timeless"] for thus it is, as it were desecularized and shows its unconscious inward convictions of the relativity of time and of the true, that is metaphysical, significance of life.  The opposite of this happens when a people begins to comprehend itself historically and to smash the mythical works that surround it."  So, the great thing about Greek art and myth was that it delayed secularization and the destruction of myth, and the great thing about the Greek (or rather, Athenian) state is that it achieved something eternal in the now.  God is dead but life is meaningless unless we have a path to some sort of eternity, even if it is just in our experiences of great art.  Seeing great art and politics tied so closely....it is an imaginative leap for our own time.

One of N.s most puzzling passages follows:  "Even now this metaphysical drive still tries to create for itself a certainly attenuated form of transfiguration, in the Socratism of science, that strives for life."  Perhaps he is thinking about what he previously thought to achieve through philology...some way to both strive for life and also hold to the Socratism of a science that explores the world of myth but then loses itself "in a pandemonium of myths and superstitions" that it has collected.  His actual reference (in the next sentence, but this does not erase the ambiguity)  is to the Alexandrian Greek who masked this fever with a pseudo Greek cheerfulness very unlike the fifth century BC one, or he numbed himself with Oriental superstition (again...a reference to Schopenhauer's love of Buddhism?)

So what was the Renaissance all about?  For N. it was about the re-awakening of only one antiquity...the Alexandrian-Roman one.  What to we get here?  Too much lust for knowledge, secularization, homeless roving, going to foreign sources, "a frivolous deification of the present, or a dully dazed retreat."  My response would be:  sure, but it was the Renaissance!  N. just ends the paragraph by noting that you cannot transplant a foreign myth without ruining the tree.

 N. concludes the section by saying that the German spirit will be able to eliminate the foreign elements and "return to itself"...perhaps by eliminating the Romanic.  The Germans should look for a leader by listening to "the luring call of the Dionysian bird."  Can you replace the Romanic with the Nietzschean Greek and come out ahead?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Birth of Tragedy Section 6 Folksongs

"it might also be historically demonstrable that every period rich in folk songs has been most violently stirred by Dionysian currents."  This certainly seems like a fine prediction of what would happen to folk songs in the 60s and 70s, for example in Bob Dylan.  I found a nice blog called "The Nietzschean Jim Morrison" here which argues that Morrison himself was influenced by N.s attitude here. (But is the Dionysian element of the "folk music" of the U.S. also to be found in folk music traditions of older tribal cultures?) 

N.s point is that Archilochus introduced the folk song which is in contrast to the Apollinian and is vestigal of the marriage of the Apollinian and the Dionysian.  On his view, the folk song mirrors the world "as the original melody" which then seeks a parallel dream phenomenon in poetry.  (For some reason, he identifies the folk song with melody more than with rhythm:  I think this would work better for European that for African cultures)  The idea of course is that there is a universal melody which can be objectified in various poetic texts:  it "generates the poem out of itself, ever again."  We learn this, N. believes, from the dominance of the strophic poem in folk music.  Wikipedia says: Strophic form (also called "verse-repeating" or chorus form) is the term applied to songs in which all verses or stanzas of the text are sung to the same music.[1] ... The term is derived from the Greek word στροφή (strophi, meaning "turn"). It is the simplest and most durable of musical forms, extending a piece of music by repetition of a single formal section.   "This may be analyzed as "A A A..."."  So, for N. "the continuously generating melody scatters image sparks all around, which in their variegation, their abrupt change, their mad precipitation, manifests a power quite unknown to the epic and its steady flow."  Indeed, the epic rhapsodes condemned it. 

But what then is the relation between language and music in the folk song?  Language plays the minor role.  It is strained to "imitate music" in order to feel the power of music in itself.  The history of language for the Greeks involves both the imitation of the world of image and the world of music.  So, we have Homer vs. Pindar, and in between "the orgiastic flute tones of Olympus" which transported people to ecstasy.  Moving up to his own time, N. notes that the listeners to Beethoven's symphonies feel compelled to use figurative speech to describe them.  What he wants us to avoid is to think that a tone-poet, or Beethoven himself, when he calls a symphony "pastoral," is trying to imitate a pastoral scene:  rather he is only producing "symbolical representations born of music."  Only these teach us about music's Dionysian content. 

So we have this imitative fulguration (flashes of lightning emitted) of music in images and concepts.  This indicates for me that N. sees music as something that underlies metaphor, and perhaps also concepts themselves ultimately.  One might refer to this as the pre-metaphorical moment in the creative process, if we refer back to Section 5 on Schiller.  Music, then, appears as will in Schopenhauer's sense of the word.  N. stresses that when it does appear as will it is "the opposite of the aesthetic, purely contemplative, and passive frame of mind."  Music cannot be will since "will is the unaesthetic-in-itself":  it can only appear as will.  To express will in images the lyrist (lyricist) "needs all the agitations of passion, from the whisper of mere inclination to the roar of madness."  So the lyrist conceives of all nature as willing and desiring.  But there is an Apollinian side of this since in interpreting music as images he rests calmly in the turbulent seas of desire etc.  He even sees his own self, his own unsatisfied feelings, etc. as "symbols by which he interprets music."  So, in short, "he interprets music through the image of the will." 

But although lyric poetry depends on the spirit of music, music does not need either image or concept.  It only "endures them as accompaniments."  In pure Schopenhauerean mode N. writes "Language can never adequately render the cosmic symbolism of music, because music stands in symbolic relation to the primordial contradiction and primordial pain in the heart of the primal unity."  Actually, phenomena themselves are only symbols on this view, and language is only an organ of phenomena.  So language cannot get at the inner heart of music.

This all seems arbitrarily unfair to poetry.  Aside from the seemingly accurate view of folk-songs and the subordinate role of lyrics to music, I see the value of it as indicating that something lies beneath interpretation and language (as can be seen argued by Richard Shusterman in his critique of Richard Rorty in "Pragmatism and Cultural Poliltics:  From Textualism to Somaesthetics" in his Thinking Through The Body: Essays in Somaesthetics (Cambridge U. Press, 2012). 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nietzsche Birth of Tragedy Section 5

Section 5 ends with the famous quote "it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."  But to understand this we need to back up again to the beginning of the section, treating the section as an organic whole.  It is an under-discussed section of a very famous book, so perhaps worth the effort.  N. begins by saying that the real goal of his investigation (i.e. in the book) is to get some feeling for, and understanding of, the mystery of the union of the Apollinian and the Dionysian in the genius art product.  The solution is to be found in the germ of tragedy, and this is to be found, in turn, in the poetry of Archilochus.  The Greeks treated Archilochus in their images as someone to pair with Homer (although I have never seen such an image).  Together, they are the two forefathers of Greek poetry.  Homer is seen by N. as an Apollinian naive artist.  By contrast, Archilochus was "hunted savagely through life" (I cannot, in a cursory look, find any evidence of this.  N. may have been drawing from the poetry of Archilochus to come up with this idea.)  Here is an example of his poetry (translated in the Wikipedia article on Archilochus) "One of the Saiôn in Thrace now delights in the shield I discarded, Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good, But at least I got myself safely out. Why should I care for that shield? Let it go. Some other time I'll find another no worse."  I have always liked this tough-talking rejection of Greek ideals of heroism which insisted that a soldier never leave his shield on the battlefield.

N. then launches into a discussion of aesthetics.  "Modern aesthetics" he says, treats Homer as an objective and Archilochus as a subjective artist.  This, N. says, "helps us little," which is true enough.  It is clear from the poem quoted that Archilochus is interested in the interior life of the mind, i.e personal feelings, in a way that Homer was not.  N. says the distinction does not help us because "we know the subjective artist only as the poor artist, and throughout the entire range of art we demand first of all the conquest of the subjective, redemption from the 'ego,' and the silencing of the individual will and desire."  This perspective, this "we," is essentially Schopenhauer and his followers, and the position is Schopenhauer's aesthetics in a nutshell.  N. continues that no true artistic production "is without objectivity, without pure contemplation devoid of interest."  So we have an aesthetic, here, based on Kant's notion of disinterestedness, adopted later by Schopenhauer.  But then N. says "Hence our aesthetics must first solve the problem of how the 'lyrist' is possible as an artist."  The lyrist, like Archilochus sounds interested, not disinterested.  He refers to "I" and talks about his passions.  So is he then a non-artist?  If so, N. wonders, how do we explain that the Delphic oracle showed reverence for him.  After all, the Delphic oracle was Apollinian, and hence at the center of what N. would consider to be objective art.

N. then tries to solve the problem, surprisingly, by thinking about Schiller's comments on the creative process.  As N. puts it:  "before the act of creation he did not have before him or within him any series of images in a causal arrangement, but rather a musical mood."  So, on this view, assuming that Schiller was an exemplar of a great poet, the poetic idea only comes after a musical mood.  N. adds to this  the fact that the ancients took the lyrist and the musician to be unified, unlike modern (19th century) lyric poetry.  This, N. thinks, will allow us to explain the lyrist based on our "aesthetical metaphysics."

The solution to the problem of course is that the Dionysian artist is not egoistic or "interested" but rather identifies with the primal unity, the underlying realm of pain and contradiction that conditions all existence from Schopenhauer's perspective, and that such an artist, through music, copies this primal unity, but that in the Apollonian mode the music "reveals itself to him again as a symbolic dream image."  So, Schiller's description of the creative process reveals this movement from the musical mood to the poetic image.  This is a different kind of disinterestedness than that found in either Kant or in Schopenhauer.  (Schopenhauer keeps the musical and the poetic strictly separate. Music involves, at its best, disintegration of the self, whereas poetry is disinterested in Kant's sense.)  In the Dionysian process, the artist surrenders his subjectivity, but he also surrenders the kind of objectivity Schopenhauer describes as essential to both visual and poetic art!   The "I" of the lyrist is, from the standpoint of "modern aesthetics" (the aesthetics of Kant and Schopenhauer) a fiction.  Archilochus is actually (and, historically, this is accurate) a Dionysian, and when he is touched by Apollo, while asleep after the Bacchanalian orgy, he emits "image sparks" which are his poems.   For him, images grow out of "his state of mystical self-abnegation and oneness."  Unlike the epic poet who lives in his images and finds joy only in them, as a dreamer takes pleasure in illusion, "the images of the lyrist are nothing but his very self", and when he says "I" he is not referring to his empirical self but to the eternal self that underlies all things.  He might then perceive himself in his non-genius mode including all of his passions, but it is an illusion to think that it is the empirical self that speaks the "I" in the poem, and therefore the lyrist is not a subjective poet.  The genius is not Archilochus, but the world-genius who expresses himself (itself) in the symbol of the man Archilochus.  This means, as in Plato's Ion, that Archilochus, as subjectively willing man, is not the poet.

N. then says that he cannot follow Schopenhauer's own solution to this problem, although N. thinks he has solved it in the spirit of Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer's solution, based on a quote N. gives here, is not based on a distinction between the empirical self and the underlying "I" (the primal one), but between the subjective self plagued by desire and the self as subject of pure will-less knowledge who, unlike the first self, attains "unbroken blissful peace." So, for Schopenhauer, it is the alternation between the two that generates a song, and this is what the song expresses.  Schopenhauer thinks this a wonderful mingling of the willing aspect of the self and pure perception.  But N. believes that lyric poetry would then be "incompletely attained art" and would only arrive at its goal intermittently, largely because we have, on Schopenhauer's view, a mere mingling of the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic.

So, it turns out the the very distinction between the objective and the subjective, which Schopenhauer assumes, is rejected as a way to value and classify the arts.  The subject can be conceived "only as the antagonist, and not the origin of art."  The subject, instead, has been "released from his individual will" and is a medium for the primal one (a la Plato's Ion)  who celebrates his "release into appearance."  It follows that art is not "for our betterment or education" and further that we have our highest significance "as works of art."  That is, we are the works of art of the primal one, and this is why our existence is said to be only justified as an aesthetic phenomenon.  This overthrows traditional aesthetics.  And so N. says, rather shockingly for a book that begins with talk about a science of aesthetics, "Thus all our knowledge of art is basically quite illusory, because as knowing beings we are not one and identical with that being which [in art] prepares a perpetual entertainment for itself."  Again, the objective side, which Schopenhauer identifies with apprehension of the object as a Platonic Form, disintegrates.  But, N. adds, insofar as the genius artist does coalesce with the primal one he does know something of the eternal essence of art, becoming at once subject and object, at once, also, not only the poet but the actor and the spectator.

Schopenhauer's idea continued to influence aesthetics despite N.s relatively friendly attack.  It was promoted through the notion of the aesthetic attitude found in the work of Jerome Stolnitz (writing in the 1960s), and similar ideas of Monroe Beardsley.  Since then, the idea has come under considerable fire.  My question is, have the current critics of aesthetic attitude theory taken into account N.s own critique?