Superman out of time
Sunday, 10 November 2019 at 17:18
Superman status is not for everyone. Nietzsche was not arguing that you or I might achieve such an exalted status right now.
It is not about now, according to Nietzsche, it is about the future, and it is the future seen from the standpoint of an extreme social Darwinist.
Nietzsche dismissed social mores that still hold sway today, i.e. the individualistic morality along with the collectivistic, since the former, like the latter, fails to recognise an order of rank among men and wants to give equal freedom to all. Such views, Nietzsche implied, will lead mankind into an evolutionary cul-de-sac.
His thoughts turned rather on the degree of power that one or other person may exert over others or over all, and on how far a sacrifice of freedom and virtual enslavement may be forced towards the end of bringing forth of a higher type in the future.
Put in the crudest way, to what extent could the strong force us to sacrifice our lives towards the development of a higher type than man into existence? Nietzsche’s concept of such a type was the superman.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a major influence upon Nietzsche’s social Darwinian theories, even though he died years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species.
Fichte, a major influence upon Nietzsche, contended that cultural cohesion must be total, demanding a moral commitment from everyone.
It is the duty of every one, not only to endeavour to make himself useful to society generally; but also to direct all his efforts, according to the best knowledge which he possesses, towards the ultimate object of society - towards the ever-increasing ennoblement of the human race; that is, to set it more and more at freedom from the bondage of Nature. (Vocation of the Scholar)
This call for sacrifices now toward the ennoblement of mankind in the future was the precursor of Nietzsche’s demand for action now to prepare the way for the superman. Fichte offered the keys to Paradise in return for a societal commitment that passed down the generations into Eternity.
That which men call Death cannot interrupt my activity; for my work must go on to its completion, and it cannot be completed in Time; - hence my existence is limited by no Time, and I am Eternal: - with the assumption of this great task, I have also laid hold of Eternity. (Vocation of the Scholar)
Fichte postulated the conditions under which the human race would best pursue its moral destiny. He spelt out a specific, all‐transforming, intervention into history, advocating a socialist utopia that emphasised a shared language, culture and moral destiny.
© John Dunn.
Friday, 8 November 2019 at 10:42
Intoxication is another metaphor used by Nietzsche for the arousal characteristics of sex and art:
Without intoxication to intensify the excitability of the whole machine, there can be no art....Above all, the intoxication of sexual excitement, the most ancient and original form of intoxication. There is also an intoxication that comes in the wake of all great desires, all strong affects; an intoxication of the festival, the contest, of the bravura of performance, of victory, of all extreme movement the intoxication of cruelty; intoxication in destruction...or under the influence of narcotics....The essential thing about intoxication is the feeling of fullness and increasing strength. (Twilight of the Idols)
The intoxication of sexual excitement induces feelings of ‘fullness and increasing strength’ counteracting the suicidal horror that the terrible truths hold.
The drunk sobers up to realise perhaps even more clearly the terrible truths about existence. If aesthetic pleasure is transient how can it restore a lasting attachment to life? The answer is that Nietzsche envisaged lasting and all-pervasive aesthetic qualities that become paradigmatic.
However, it takes genius to establish a new paradigmatic aesthetic.
Nietzsche’s critique of society was that in a culture in which moral norms prevail, nascent creative geniuses like Goethe and Beethoven will not realise their potential: altruism, pity, egalitarianism are incompatible with the emergence of artistic genius.
This was exactly Otto Weininger’s point when he decried the lack of originality in the modern world, labelling it unheroic, feminine and Judaic in its inducement of passivity.
And if Goethes and Beethovens fail to realise their potential, then we shall be deprived of the original outpourings of human achievement that induce aesthetic temperament in the widest socio-cultural context.
The paradigmatic aesthetic produced by a Beethoven or Napoleon is not transient, but all-pervasive, defining the character of an age; one lives in the ‘age’ of Beethoven, or the ‘age’ of Napoleon.
To live in the aesthetic milieu of Beethoven is to live through the genius of another - and the suffering of another. We see through the eyes of the genius and not our own. We live passively.
But does not the genius also offer a role model to which we should aspire… i.e that we should each struggle to create our own ‘age’ through which to live.
And, as Dante understood, we must pass through our own stages of suffering for this to happen individually.
For both role models of genius, Beethoven and Napoleon, suffering was essential: in Beethoven’s case, artistic struggle was central to his creative achievements, and for Napoleon it was essential to his achievements themselves that they inflicted suffering.
Altruism, pity, egalitarianism set out to alleviate suffering. In stifling genius they destroy our attachment to life. They destroy at the seed stage any prospect of our own ‘age’ blossoming and coming to fruition.
Nevertheless, a terrible truth remains - that the paradigmatic aesthetic, be it our own or another’s, can only ever mask the terrible existential truths.
© John Dunn.
Art of arousal
Saturday, 2 November 2019 at 18:07
According to Nietzsche, the priests gave meaning to suffering, expunging at a stroke the nihilism of existence. They also gave hope that suffering and penance now will produce rewards in the future. Meaning and hope overcome the suicidal response to the terrible existential truths.
The meaning that the priests offer is that the terrible existential truths arise out of human failure. It is a failure to pay due homage to the predetermined idol of truth or God. It is a failure to live up the ascetic ideal associated with this idol worship. They give meaning to human suffering by explaining it as a consequence of our own moral inadequacies.
Critiquing the priestly promises, Nietzsche argued that art achieves what homage to the ascetic ideal achieves, namely 'seducing one to a continuation oflife' (Birth of Tragedy). But how?
Nietzsche made the connection between aesthetic and sexual arousal:
The peculiar sweetness and fullness characteristic of the aesthetic condition might have its origins precisely in…sensuality [Sinnlichkeit] (though it is now) transfigure[d] and no longer enters consciousness assexual stimulus (Genealogy of Morals).
Is all art arousal? And how is it an alternative to the idol worship that he despised? How is it better? Is it simply more pleasurable?
If art maintains our attachment to life through essentially pleasurable, quasi-sexual arousal, then this is to reconfigure art as a form of distracting and anaesthetising pornography. I’m intrigued and will explore more.
© John Dunn.