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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Friedrich Nietzsche: A Titan Man among Children...

Let me begin by saying that I don't agree with Nietzsche at all, not once... not even with his theories of music and the mind. Having said that, my love for his writings, the immense amount of time that I have spent both reading and re-reading and teaching his works to my students is not the result of being an academic oxymoron. I love the fact that he spoke when the rest of the world turned to platitudes. What Nietzsche gave to the world was an alternative, albeit the fact that it was a terrible alternative, and a very destructive one. His thoughts, however, are as brilliant as he was misunderstood in his time.

Will Durant reaches Nietzsche after a coaster ride at top speed through the history of thought. Accordingly, Durant gives credit to Schopenhauer's theories for the young Friedrich disdain for the establishment. More specifically, Schopenhauer's "The World as Evil" had an impact on Nietzsche, a young lost soul at the time looking for some fuel to the sparks of the life of the mind he was trying to ignite. He certainly found his theoretical foundation in Schopenhauer, but it was Richard Wagner that gave young Nietzsche the forest fire from which the world will remember him. Of course, Wagner and Nietzsche later had a fall out, but the "damage" had been done, and Nietzsche was to write some of the most celebrated and important work of the late 1800s. First, the challenge against conventional morality that Nietzsche mounted was enough to send a chill down the Pope's back. Here was more than Schopenhauer's philosophy of pessimism; this was original... the disrobing of morality as a bluff, a useless obstacle to the fulfillment of men's potential. Nietzsche asked the following question: if men were held down by the use of morality as a harness, then who was exercising the power. He believed in aristocracy then, as the manifestation of the Will to Power, Napoleon I being a masterful example. The idea of extraordinary men (a race of supermen) exercising their power over the ordinary men (the servants or powerless) was later used by the Nazis as justification for their ridiculous and mythological madness. The reason behind this was Nietzsche's sister, really, an advocate of the German post-Treaty of Versailles hate for all things French, British and most certainly American. Nietzsche had been dead for thirty-something years when Hitler came to power, and by that time Nietzsche's sister had done some serious editorial damage. Oh well, how can any of this make any sense now it's beyond me. What is important today about Nietzsche is his contribution to counter-conventional wisdom ideas that challenged the status quo. Of course, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" eventually became Nietzsche's greatest contribution--that fact could never be misappropriated, denied or misinterpreted.

I am often reminded of Nietzsche's views on "Failure." How easy it is to be frightful of failure today, when we have become so accustomed to an obsession with success. Alain de Button presented a short film about it which is available for free on Google Videos HERE. If anything, this should give pause to the present economic situation. Nietzsche believed deeply that failure was humanity's greatest classroom, and that instead of running away from it, men should embrace it and learn from it fully. I show the de Button film to my students and encourage them to see their hardships with a different set of eye glasses on.

"The Story of Philosophy" was a great re-read. I say "was" because I will be finishing it tomorrow or Tuesday, but I won't be writing about what Durant refers to as "Contemporary Philosophers." It is hard to comprehend how Durant writes of Bergson and Bertrand Russell in the present tense :-) I find it fascinating that Durant was alive when William James was at his academic zenith. The last two sections of Durant's book deal with Contemporary European and American philosophers, especially of Pragmatism as the original American philosophical contribution. Since I will be reading Professor Louis Menand's "Pragmatism: A Reader" later this season, I will wait to write about this awesome theory then. Next on the list is William Hazlitt's "On the Pleasures of Hating and Other Readings."
Interestingly, Terry Eagleton just wrote a review of a volume on Hazlitt in this month's copy of Harper's. Serendipity strikes again.

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3 Comments:

At 10:59 AM, Blogger AlenaRosa said...

I am in love with your blog! It provokes serious thought for me. I am absolutely flattered you took the time to read my blog and give me such a wonderful comment. Thank you for making me think and your encouraging words.

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger XXX said...

I have never read any of Nietzsche's writings (I don't read much except from blogs :-), and I only have heard of other people spoke of his hate/dislike for Christianity.

But after watching that video, I become confused, because much of Nietzsche's concepts (as presented in that Google video) are similar with what's taught in The Bible. The suffering is good, no pain no gain, etc, etc.

I think that the comfort-seeking sect in Christianity that Nietzsche hates is quite contrary to the actual teaching of the Bible. It started to exist after 'Christians' gained political power.

The Bible likens hardship to a process of gold purification. Extreme heat purifies gold, leaving the dirt behind, just like hardship produces good characters (if one stays faithful).

In contrary to comfort-teaching, the apostles were suffering most of their lives to fight for their faith. Apostle Paul was beaten up, chained, and thrown in cold damp prison, hungry and thirsty quite frequently.

Health wise, apostle Paul wrote of his 'thorn in his flesh' which many believe to be a constant health issue.

And Jesus, the essence of The Bible, of course was rejected, tortured, and crucified.

The difference with Nietzsche that I can see is that The Bible teaches Christians to embrace sufferings, to endure, and fight for spiritual goal/gain. Not for wealth, nor health, nor intellectual/philosophical, nor appraisal, nor popularity from the world.

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Tor Hershman said...

Nietzsche liked chocolate, soooooo WTF – you don’t like chocolate or you don’t believe that Nietzsche did?

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor

 

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