Archive for the ‘nietzsche’ Category
Friedrich Nietzsche would, it seems to me, make an excellent subject for a sitcom. The Ed Reardon of Polish existentialism was pompous, self-absorbed, sexist, racist, rude and utterly unaware of his own failings.
At no moment of my life can I be shown to have adopted any kind of arrogant or pathetic posture.(p. 45)
Arrogant? Certainly not when you called your book ‘Why I Am Wise’. Perhaps I am unfair. Maybe there was an irony in his writing that has been lost in translation. Here, for example, Nietzsche seems to temper his arrogance with a tongue in cheek:
…to take a book of mine into his hands is one of the rarest distinctions anyone can confer upon himself. I even assume he removes his shoes when he does so – not to speak of boots…(pp. 47-48)
But his willingness to dismiss others (contemptuously calling Shakespeare ‘a disorderly genius’ (p. 33), and belittling Schumann along with his entire nation: ‘The Germans are incapable of any conception of greatness: proof Schumann’(p. 33)) indicates something of Nietzsche’s supreme pride. He fully expects to be misunderstood and reviled and takes this as proof of his all-surpassing greatness.
As a writer, Nietzsche is insufferable, inscrutable, incoherent, pompous and self-indulgent. ‘Why I Am Wise’ is written in a way that is deliberately exclusive, elitist, unclear and rambling. He ‘mistrusts all systematizers’ (p. 75) which is simply another way of saying that he will not own the consequences of his statements – so anyone who tries to make coherent sense of Nietzsche is onto a losing battle. It makes it hard to write a review that doesn’t merely consist of a list of soundbites. Born a hundred years later, he might have made a good politician.
As a philosopher, Nietzsche seems (at least in this one short book, which is all I am prepared to read of his) to have dispensed with all such prerequisites as logical argument, theory or evidence. He merely states his conclusions as self-evident. And has the gall to announce that he demands no faith from his readers.
I have absolutely no knowledge of atheism as an outcome of reasoning, still less as an event: with me it is obvious by instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable (sic. – I think he means questioning), too high spirited to rest content with a crude answer. God is a crude answer, a piece of indelicacy against us thinkers – fundamentally even a crude prohibition to us: you shall not think! (pp. 25-26)
Hmm. Atheism is not obvious to me by instinct. Yet, I too am inquisitive, questioning and perhaps even high spirited. I would even presume to call myself, like Nietzsche, a thinker. But Nietzsche is labouring under a false apprehension: God is no prohibition, rather he is the prerequisite for thought. He is the basis for all rationality, reason, logic and justice. We should not be surprised to find that Nietzsche’s work is lacking in all of these.
At times he shows that he almost understands the gospel:
A god come to earth ought to do nothing whatever but wrong: to take upon oneself not only the punishment, but the guilt – only that would be godlike. (pp.17-18)
He claims not to be angry with Christianity, though he wages war against it. But he speaks of priests in vitriolic terms, and describes Christianity as a ‘pitiable thing’ (p. 19)
He does, however, have a particularly sharp insight into the perils of being a scholar, which struck a chord with me:
The scholar, who really does nothing but ‘trundle’ books – the philologist at a modest assessment about 200 a day – finally loses altogether the ability to think for himself. If he does not trundle he does not think. He replies to a stimulus (- a thought he has read) when he thinks – finally he does nothing but react. The scholar expends his entire strength in affirmation and denial, in criticizing what has already been thought – he himself no longer thinks. (p. 41)
This is Nietzsche’s own designation of himself: ‘I am, in Greek and not only in Greek, the Anti-Christ.’ (p. 51)
I don’t quite agree. But if this short book exemplifies the rest of Nietzsche’s work and thought, then he is indeed a pitiable thing. I’m hoping that next time I sign up for the Penguin Free Book scheme, I get something a little more fun.