Maybe we can answer the age old question of whether or not Nietzsche was a hipster.
How did the Hipster burn his mouth?
–He ate pizza before it was cool.
Plan for the Class
- Let’s see how this works…Webex meeting
- Discuss Coronavirus–we’re going to, so it makes the list
- Discuss class changes–assignments, Canvas prompts, essays
- Beth’s Notes for Nietzsche
- Class: “Nietzsche, what’s wrong?”
Because of our classmate Beth’s background in philosophy, she compiled a list of interesting facts. Nietzsche has had tons of inaccurate myths attached to him. He isn’t some monster who laid the blueprint for Naziism. I’d argue that he was terrified with the possibility of totalitarianism. He wasn’t anti power or hierarchy, but he would definitely have been against abuses of power and unproductive hierarchies.
For instance, he (and Plato) would agree that a captain should have control over a ship–no flattened democratic process. However, church hierarchy is arbitrary and unproductive, allowing the clergy to impose standards that better them and increase church power. I wouldn’t say definitively that he was an atheist, but I’m comfortable claiming he’s agnostic. See “Critique of Religion and Morality” on Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy for more discussion.
Nietzsche’s Use and Abuse of History
I have a few things to say about Nietzsche in general, and I also want to mention how he has been “explained” to me over the years. When I first got to UNCC, I was in a Nietzsche reading group. They talked mostly from a philosophical point of view. I like to consider Nietzsche from a cultural studies stand point and, of course, what he has to offer in terms of rhetoric.
Nietzsche on God
Nietzsche said “God is dead…,” but was he an atheist? Does it matter? Probably not, but the famous quote is often taken out of context. Let’s look closer.
But wait! There’s more! Nietzsche on Buddha.
What about what Trent Reznor says in “Heresy”?
European Context circa 1870
It’s important to understand the context Nietzsche experienced when he wrote this essay (circa 1873). Prior to 1870, France was the dominant continental European power. The British ruled the seas, but France was, at least, a tenuous hegemon. Germany didn’t exist as we know it in 1870. In fact, Italy wasn’t what we know of today until 1871, which is the year of German unification under King Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismark. Consider the monumental European political shifts leading up to this: 1) All German-speaking areas unite (except Austria); 2) The loosely related Italian-ish kingdoms unify and take control from the Vatican. And in less than 50 years, those circumstances contribute to WWI. I want to impress upon you that we might gloss over these events in history, but they were monumental. Nietzsche took notice, especially of Germany because he was born Prussian, and died German.
My copy of The Use and Abuse of History is the 1949 edition, translated by Adrian Collins, has an editorial introduction by Julius Kraft. He alludes to the mid- to late-19th century nationalism (even for entities that aren’t yet nations!) when commenting the essay “attacks a specific ingredient and pride of German–and not only of German–cultural life during the 19th century” (p. viii). This makes more sense when understood in the context of contemporary European politics and “cultural life.” Nietzsche wrote this on the heals of the Franco-Prussian War, a 6-month conflict where France, fearing German unification and Prussian power, attacks northern German states, thus, unifying southern Prussian states with those German armies. No surprise, France thought it was more powerful, learned quickly they weren’t, and, in three months, Paris was captured. Three months later, they signed an armistice and lived happily ever after.
Nietzsche was well aware of French hubris and German pride. His genius is foreseeing the chauvinism of European culture in the 20th century.
On the Use and Abuse of History
Below are some important quotes to remember from the text. Nietzsche doesn’t follow the same rules of writing that ask for layered arguments to prove one’s assertions. His tone is swift and decisive. He was ahead of his time (see avant-garde discussion below).
ceterum censeo: furthermore, I propose
- p. 3: “we are still in want of the necessaries of life, and the superfluous is the enemy to the necessary.”
- p. 5: “man….hangs on the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.”
- System of culture and historical balancing
- p. 7: “there is a degree of sleeplessness, of rumination, of ‘historical sense,’ that injures and finally destroys the living thing, be it a man or a people or a system of culture.”
- p. 8: “we must know the right time to forget as well as the right time to remember, and instinctively see when it is necessary to feel historically and unhistorically….the unhistorical and the historical are equally necessary to the health of and individual, a community, and a system of culture.”
- The historical men
- p. 10: “Their vision of the past turns them toward the future, encourages them to persevere with life, and kindles the hope that justice will yet come and happiness is behind the mountain they are climbing.”
- Similar to socialist realism.
- p. 11: “The value we put on the historical may be merely a Western prejudice: let us at least go forward within this prejudice and not stand still. If we could only learn better to study history as a means of life!
- p. 12: “For by excess of history life becomes maimed and degenerate, and is followed by the degeneration of history as well.”
Three Relations of History (Necessary for Life)
- p. 12: “History is necessary to the living man in three ways:”
- monumental history–action and struggle
- antiquarian history–conservatism and reverence
- critical history–suffering and desire for deliverance
- p. 12: “History is necessary above all to the man of action and power who fights a great fight and needs examples, teachers, and comforters; he cannot find them among his contemporaries.”
- Monumental history is important as an example of past greatness; for instance, the Renaissance was a great time of art and culture and could inspire a new rebirth (very loosely paraphrased from p. 14). However, Nietzsche warns of thinking history repeats itself identically. Duplication would require a rather procrustean attempt to fit contemporary cultural into a historical event (pp. 14-15).
- p. 16: “Monumental history lives by false analogy; it entices the brave to rashness, and the enthusiastic to fanaticism by its tempting comparisons.
- Antiquarian history is important in guiding our preservation of the past. Nostalgia is perfectly fine and good for “reproduc[ing] the conditions of [our] own upbringing for those who come after” us (p. 18).
- p. 18: “the greatest value of this antiquarian spirit of reverence lies in the simple emotions of pleasure and content that it lends to the drab, rough, and even painful circumstances of a nation’s or individual’s life.”
- p. 19: Nietzsche claims there is a benefit and “happiness of knowing one’s growth to be not merely arbitrary and fortuitous but the inheritance, the fruit and blossom, of a past.”
- He warns of a teleological view of history–“the past itself suffers when history serve life and is directed by its end”–and to avoid making “everything ancient [being] regarded as equally venerable” (p. 19).
- Antiquarian history is fine to “give a soul and inspiration to the fresh life of the present,” but it should not “undermine a further and higher life” (p. 20)
- Some consider and name this view of history “conservative,” which, of course, is a loaded term in contemporary American culture. I think we should view it as not a return to a mythic past because “the things of the past are never viewed in their true perspective” (p. 19); instead, we should consider history a pragmatic guide to contemporary life–not an exact replica.
- Critical history is the best solution to having an excess of history or falling into the not-so-useful aspects of monumental and antiquarian histories.
- p. 21: “Every past is worth condemning; this is the rule in mortal affairs, which always contain a large measure of human power and human weakness.”
- Destroy the past: “for should the injustice of something ever become obvious–a monopoly, a caste, a dynasty, for example–the thing deserves to fall…For as we are merely the resultant of previous generations, we are also the resultant of their errors, passions, and crimes; it is impossible to shake off this chain.
- p. 22: “The knowledge of the past is desired only for the service of the future and the present, not to weaken the present or undermine a living future.”
Nietzsche’s Reading of Contemporary Culture
The above relations to history, when balanced appropriately, yield benefits to life. However, I don’t think Nietzsche believes anyone follows that advice. The “excess” he discusses throughout the rest of the essay is, in part, our having knowledge of appropriate and inappropriate practices but not acting for the benefit of life.
- p. 23: “Our modern culture is for that reason not a living one…it is not a real culture but a kind of knowledge about culture.”
- p. 23: “Its real motive force that issues in visible action is often no more than a mere convention, a wretched imitation, or even a shameless caricature.”
- Nietzsche would hate search engines: “For we moderns have nothing of our own. We only become worth notice by filling ourselves to overflowing with foreign customs, arts, philosophies, religions, and science; we are wandering encyclopedias” (p. 24, emphasis mine).
- This might be the difference between knowledge (facts and figures) and wisdom (using information to a good end).
- pp. 25-26: “Go through any German town; you will see conventions that are nothing but the negative aspect of the national character of foreign states…on laws dictated by the universal rush and the general desire for comfort.”
Five Problems of an Excess of History (p. 29)
- Weakened personality
- Contemporaries believe they have “the rarest virtues, justice, to a higher degree than any other time”
- “instincts of a nation thwarted, the maturity of the individual arrested”
- “we get the belief…that we are the late survivals, mere epigoni.”
- “a cunning egoistic theory of action is matured that maims and at last destroys the vital strength” of the nation, epoch, etc.
- p. 30: “personalities can be seen no more (to say nothing of free ones), but merely men in uniform, with their coats anxiously pulled over their ears.”
- p. 35: “The will alone is not enough. The impulse to justice without the power of judgement has been the cause of the greatest suffering to men.”
- p. 39: generalizations and laws.
Language: A Social Practice
Seeing as how CCCC was supposed to be next week, let’s do a good rhet/comp thing and reflect on some questions. Consider the following questions and be ready to discuss as a larger class.
- What is living according to Nietzsche?
- What is it about a people’s history that he finds, well, in excess and causes them to be dead culturally?
- What might he say about this “education” platform from the Texas GOP?
Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
(Republican Party of Texas, Report of Platform Committee, 2012, p. 12)
Another definition on “values clarification“
- How would he get along with St. Augustine and Descartes?
Writings from the Late Notebooks
Now, what can we say about the selection from Writings from the Late Notebooks? Let’s start with that first entry from Notebook 34:
In my youth I was unlucky: a very ambiguous man crossed my path. When I recognized him for what he is, namely a great actor who has no authentic relationship to anything (not even music), I was so sickened and disgusted that I believed all famous people had been actors, otherwise they wouldn’t have become famous, and that the chief thing in what I called ‘artist’ was the theatrical force.
- Because this is from 1885, I think this is probably a dig at Wagner, whom Nietzsche idolized as a mentor 10+ years before. He was overwhelmed by Wagner’s performance.
- More on this topic can be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Some Highlights (we most likely won’t have time to get to):
- pp. 3-4: A purpose-driven life; again, he warns against mistaking cause and effect
- post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy
- pp. 6-7: “philosophical habitus of the human mind is our real potency…”
- “it is downright childish to believe that our space, our time, our instinct for causality are something that could have meaning even apart from man.”
- Don’t try to tell Nietzsche his horoscope…
- What one owes the church…This passage/entry seems satirical
- p. 7: “The intellectual pressure of the church is essentially the unbending severity with which concepts and valuations are treated as fixed, as aeternae.”
- In a bizarre argument, I believe Nietzsche is claiming that the church’s dogma was too absolute, and, through education (thanks to the church), Europeans were able to think more intellectually, which provided more pleasures.
- I think those additional pleasures come from the church banning sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll…or related activities.
- p. 8: “The concept of the ‘individual’ is false. In isolation, these beings do not exist.”
- p. 9: “in our conscious mind there must be above all a drive to exclude, to chase away, a selecting drive–which allows only certain facts to be presented to it.”
- This is brilliant, and it’s from 1885! We filter what we want to hear.
- p. 11: “Germans have swooned before princes or party leaders or the assurance of being ‘ever your most humble and obedient servant.’ Let that now be over.”
- p. 12: “being creative and destructive–seems to me the highest pleasure that men can have. Certainly, Plato was not really that kind of dullard when he taught that concepts were fixed and eternal.”
- p. 13: Value of skepticism
- p. 16: “We compare something with what we hold to be true, according to the method we are used to believing in.
- Consider this along with our discussions on how we privilege particular ideas. We believe what we believe because we believe it.
- p. 17: “Morality is the doctrine of the order of men’s rank, and consequently also the significance of their actions and works for this order of rank….The unconditional importance, the blind self-centredness, with which every morality treats itself wants there not to be many moralities, it wants no comparison and no criticism, but rather unconditional belief in itself.”
- p. 20: “The wise man has too long been confused with the scholar, and even longer with the religious enthusiast.”
- pp. 20-21: “I take the I itself to be a construction of thinking, of the same rank as ‘matter,” ‘thing,’ ‘substance,’ ‘individual,’ ‘purpose,’ ‘number’: in other words to be only a regulative fiction with the help of which a kind of constancy and thus ‘knowability’ is inserted into, invented into, a world of becoming.”
- To whom does he refer here?
- p. 24: “the old religious way of thinking and wishing, a kind of longing to believe that in some way or other the world does, after all, resemble the beloved old, infinite, boundlessly creative God.”
- Many people cannot NOT believe.
- p. 27: “In the case of an animal, all its drives can be traced back to the will to power: likewise all the functions of organic life to this one source.”
Modernism and the Avant-Garde
Nietzsche is considered a prophet of the historical avant-garde. His idea of (although not rejecting 100%) throwing off the chains of history is echoed in F. T. Marinetti’s work. Not to be confused with Mari and Netti.
Next Week’s Reading
Next week (3/23) we’re doing Ch. 4 & 5 of Knoblauch, and two short Roland Barthes essays. Let’s see if Webex works…by the way, you need to download it.