08 April 2011

What does not kill me makes me stronger I

"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows, #8, tr. R. Hollingdale.

I have a love and hate relationship with Nietzsche, and the hatred portion is neatly summarized by the above aphorism. Today is a milestone day on the calendar year. It happened to be the day when the heat in my apartment got high enough (88 degrees Fahrenheit at 4:00 P.M.) that I had to surrender and finally turn on my air conditioning for the first time this year. This isn't killing me but it is surely not making me stronger. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell had more of a hate and hater relationship toward Nietzsche. It is amusing to read his Nietzsche chapter in his History of Western Philosophy; over-educated British guys can display a knack for truly creative name-calling.

Before I get to the negative, first I will accentuate the positive. The best thing about the Nietzsche books is their style. The prose is light and easy to read fast and make sense out of. This is not to say that second and closer readings do not reveal deeper layers. They often do. The quip in my title is not an example of this.

His readings and interpretations of the ancients are great. Informative. Innovative. Almost every time he writes about the Greeks it stimulates me and I often wonder how he could come up with this stuff. Nietzsche represents an archetype--the archetype of the tortured genius struggling alone producing beautiful work that nobody appreciates. Those of us who have spent much time struggling alone to produce work which we considered worthy and few others appreciated might feel a personal connection to this character. I certainly did when I was younger. I was so under the spell of this archetype, that when I studied creative work systematically in the form of 's Creativity, I was surprised at his finding that for almost all top creators and innovators, their most important time is spent in discussion and consultation with fellow workers. This is certainly not how the process seemed to work for Friedrich Nietzsche, and this is not how the process has mostly worked for me.

Nietzsche is extraordinarily popular, and he gets people reading Philosophy who would otherwise be intimidated by the density of the typical work in the field. He is often the very first Philosopher that people read because of his accessibility. He is certainly the very first Philospher that I spent a long time reading. He is a gateway. My experience is that most of his readers have a diametrically opposite experience to that of Bertrand Russell--love and more love without dilution. This has made it very difficult for me develop my own reading with any discussion or consultation. Things go fine as long as I am positive and then I say something negative and my fellow readers usually draw the conclusion I am an idiot.

I remember one discussion I had on USENET long ago which I can no longer locate. I was writing about this idea I got out of Deleuze--that Nietzsche was approximately equal to all of the best parts of Sigmund Freud with none of the worst parts. This fellow I was discussing this with first went ballistic about how I didn't know what I was talking about. Then, right after that, he posted chapter and verses from Deleuze's book which were the exact thing I was drawing my memory from, and they said almost exactly what I was saying. That was really bizarre, but it was kind of typical of how my discussions of Nietzsche go with people who have also read a bunch of the books.

My main complaint about the Nietzsche books is this:I believe the man went mad before he stopped writing. It isn't like one day he was perfectly lucid and literate and writing, and then the next day he went mad and the writing stopped. I think the later books, like Twilight of the Idols, contain madman ravings. As a philosophical statement, "what does not kill me makes me stronger" seems vulgar to me.

There are precursors to this in the earlier work on the subject of modern (to him) Europe. He was living in a culture filled with human failing, as do we all. He does not seem to get that the wonderful classical civilizations of Greece and Rome were also quite full of human failing. I have more faith in progress than is evident in the Nietzsche work.
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And now I have a segue so abrupt I must defer it to a part II which I will post in twenty days.

1 comment:

bedlamist said...

Nietzsche is accessible? Nope. He's just had lots of press for over 100 years; I heard about him through reading about WW2. You know, "Hitler, influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche..." Which is actually bullshit because Nietzsche would have scorned the Nazis as just another mental herd. How many teenaged boys who read Nietsche have deciphered this fact by age 21?

Foucault is actually easier reading and it's easier to grasp his point. E.g., in "Madness and Civilization" it's that there were fewer lepers to worry about so the category of Crazy People was used to take their place; having people to exclude for being exceptionally weird makes it easier to keep the Normals in line.

Me, I say what doesn't kill me makes me even more fucked up. If somebody wants to be stronger he'll buy me a YMCA membership and introduce me to easy women: beating on me hasn't helped so far.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.