While accessible compared to Deleuze’s other work, I suspected it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, so before attempting it I checked out a few of Nietzsche’s own books. I had read or at least carried around a couple of these as a teenager but forgotten most of them, and was astonished on revisiting him to discover just how radical a thinker he is. With a linguistic elan that as a former student I can confirm is exceedingly rare in philosophy books, he attacks every form of received opinion of his day. Religion, morality, science, the pursuit of truth, the concept of the self, German nationalism, British cooking – it’s striking just how ahead of his time he was. What’s even more astonishing is how potent many of the regressive, repressive forces he identifies remain today.
No argument there. Argument here, though:
Nietzsche wanted people to think for themselves, to take control of their own destinies, and most importantly of all, to love life…Instead, Nietzsche wants us to think, to feel, to laugh, to go to the limit of our potential.
Ack! Settle down there, buddy; you’re starting to make him sound like an inspirational magnet on Oprah’s refrigerator! Look, it’s just a simple fact that he was most definitely not writing books for everyone. He says so explicitly at times. He was not a democrat or a socialist; he had no faith in the perfectibility of humankind, and he was ferociously against any sort of leveling effect, anything that would make us the same. He was not urging any sort of program of self-improvement on a mass scale; he felt that true individuals should always seek to maintain contrast between themselves and others, not attempt to make everyone move in the same direction at the same time.
Whatever kind of bizarre ideal one may follow, one should not demand that it be the ideal, for one therewith takes from it its privileged character. One should have it in order to distinguish oneself, not in order to level oneself.
He thought that maybe around the year 2000, people would start to understand what he was all about. And while some of that could be chalked up to the predictable consolations of any artist who goes unacknowledged and unappreciated in his own day, looking to posterity to bring him his due recognition, he wasn’t wrong to think that his thoughts were moving in patterns incomprehensible to most of his contemporaries. And he’s pretty clear in saying that his philosophy is something you shouldn’t try at home:
• Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer. Nor can he go back to the pity of men.
• The spiritual haughtiness and nausea of every man who has suffered profoundly – it almost determines the order of rank how profoundly human beings can suffer – his shuddering certainty, which permeates and colors him through and through, that by virtue of his suffering, he knows more than the cleverest and wisest could possibly know, and that he knows his way and has at once been “at home” in many distant, terrifying worlds of which “you know nothing” – this spiritual and silent haughtiness of the sufferer, this pride of the elect knowledge, of the “initiated”, of the almost sacrificed, finds all kinds of disguises necessary to protect itself against contact with obtrusive and pitying hands and altogether against everything that is not equal in suffering. Profound suffering makes noble; it separates.
• If, however, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors which, fundamentally and essentially, must be present in the general economy of life (and must, therefore, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced), he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness….and there are in fact a hundred good reasons why everyone should keep away from it who – can.