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)

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