Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second MA Presentation on Nietzsche's Zarathustra

On Immaculate Perception

This section begins with a pregnancy, but this pregnancy is a fallacious one. It offers nothing to Zarathustra but deceit, and the one to be pointed out and censured for this trickery is “the monk in the moon,” who, we are told, is “lecherous after the earth and all the joys of lovers.” That is, he is resentful towards what he cannot have, and so he condemns it. His lecherousness resides in the fact that because he cannot have the joys of the earth, he craves them even more – out of lust, pride and vanity, all things he surely condemns. And the only way he can assail these things that he feels alienated from and deprived of, is through condemnation and an unearned feeling of virtue and superiority through false claims of morality, purity and holiness because he does not indulge in them (albeit because he can’t), nor does he desire them (at least not with the innocence of those he condemns because they can indulge in them). “O you sentimental hypocrites, you lechers,” Zarathustra tells such people. “You lack innocence in your desire and therefore you slander desire,” for they desire only in contempt and with eyes of envy. They call themselves “pure perceivers” because they look, but do not indulge, and put on this facade under the pretext that it is due to their will-power and self-mastery that they do not take part in carnal and worldly joys. And so they take pride in this ostentation, though Zarathustra sees them for the dishonest, pretentious inverse-hedonists that they are, and he condemns them with the same ferocity that they condemn others; and he condemns them for the same carnality and foulness that they perceive and scold in others, for they are just as lascivious as he is, if not more so, however quench this thirst of theirs differently; for that desire is still at bottom the same as it is in those they call wicked, for it still resides in their bodies, making it just as carnal, even if it does become satiated through a different means: “You too love the earth and the earthly,” Zarathustra tells them: “I have seen through you; but there is shame in your love and bad conscience – you are like the moon. Your spirit has been persuaded to despise the earthly; but your entrails have not been persuaded, and they are what is strongest in you. And now your spirit is ashamed at having given in to your entrails, and, to hide from its shame, it sneaks on furtive and lying paths.” That is, no matter how much they condemn these things they cannot have, they still desire them, although they never admit this to themselves, and the drive and need towards these things that have left a void within them still rages on within their veins, and it must be fulfilled somehow, and it is through ascetic morality that their wrathful natures and inverted bodily lusts are sublimated.

This is how their shame is done away with: through the mask and masquerade of claims of virtue, godliness, holiness, righteousness, purity, etc., but Nietzsche knows that these are just words used to cover up shame, guilt and feelings of failure and inadequacy and to replace them with feelings of justification and consolation. It is a life of disingenuousness, wretchedness, crafty vengefulness and untruth. As he says in The Anti-Christ: Nihilistic values hold sway under the holiest names.” And of course his stern warning: “Compulsion to lie  in that I detect every predestined theologian.” His Zarathustra peers into their minds and reads their thoughts: “‘To be happy in looking, with a will that has died and without the grasping and greed of selfishness, the whole body cold and ashen, but with drunken moon eyes. This I should like best’ – thus the seduced seduces himself.” And, of course, this self-seduction, this self-deceit, grants this type of person a feeling of good conscience, which is the only joyous sensation left for him or her. As he also states elsewhere in The Anti-Christ: “Whoever has theologian blood in his veins has a wrong and dishonest attitude towards all things from the very first. The pathos that develops out of this is called faith: closing one’s eyes with respect to oneself for good and all so as not to suffer from the sight of incurable falsity.”

Moreover, the imagery Nietzsche uses of a “cold and ashen” body ties in quite well with an interpretation of the statement “God is dead,” which is rarely discussed or even touched upon. As far as Nietzsche could see, the Christian god wants more than anything that we deny ourselves the sensualities and worldliness of this life (Stoic philosophy, the dominating philosophy of Tarsus, where St. Paul was from, being the backbone of the New Testament). But for Nietzsche, self-denial is the embrace of nothingness (a dominating theme throughout his later works). It is the embrace of death while still alive. Basically, it is the crucifixion of all that makes us human. For Nietzsche, the ascetic monk who has been able to kill off all his desires, and blunt himself against life, is officially dead. He walks, talks, eats, breathes, etc., but he is dead  the shell of a hallow man, one might say. And because the Christian god wants self-abnegation of us as an ideal, he – is dead. It is for this that in Twilight of the Idols he calls Christianity a “hangman’s metaphysics,” (The Four Great Errors, 7), and says that “Christianity, which despised the body, has up till now been mankind’s greatest misfortune” (Expeditions, 47). Or as he so succinctly summed it up in The Anti-Christ: “In God nothingness deified, the will to nothingness sanctified!” (18). For all that is left for a person in such a morbid state of a constantly longing, unfilled will, is to express their will to power by willing nothing at all and easing their suffering of un-fulfillment by killing off that which demands fulfillment – that, of course, being desire. And, hence, his thesis statement and conclusion to his third and final essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?  that “man would rather will nothingness than not will.”
And the reason Nietzsche uses the imagery of the moon at all, in this section of Zarathustra, is because of the paleness he associates with the sick bodies of such a ghastly lot as this. And when he speaks of “drunken moon eyes,” he is speaking of the contemptuous, self-loathing, angst-ridden glance of the most lowly, subterranean character he has ever encountered in this life, best depicted in Book III, Section 14 of On the Genealogy of Morals:
The sick are man’s greatest danger; not the evil, not the “beasts of prey.” Those who are failures from the start, downtrodden, crushed – it is they, the weakest, who must undermine life among men, who call into question and poison most dangerously our trust in life, in man, and in ourselves. Where does one not encounter that veiled glance which burdens one with a profound sadness, that inward-turned glance of the born failure which betrays how such a man speaks to himself – that glance which is a sigh! “If only I were someone else,” sighs this glance: “but there is no hope of that. I am who I am: how could I ever get free of myself? And yet – I am sick of myself!
Now, back to the beginning: how is the pregnancy Nietzsche speaks of in the beginning of this section a false, empty one? Zarathustra chastises these people, who claim to have achieved an immaculate perception, with the accusation that “it is not as creators, procreators, and those who have joy in becoming that you love the earth. Where is innocence? Where there is a will to procreate. And he who wants to create beyond himself has the purest will.” The problem is that the type of person who is Nietzsche’s target here, cannot create beyond him or herself so condemns anyone who can, which, according to Nietzsche, makes their will quite impure and lacking any and all innocence, for they do not have a will to procreate. They lack joy in becoming, are not creators and are deficient any and all love of the earth and what proceeds from it, such as nature. They wage war on nature and wish to strip it bare with their idealistic, anti-natural, vengeance-fuelled morality. Although they put on the facade of sanctimony, it is for no one’s good but their own, making the supposed pregnancy which fools Zarathustra in the beginning, a mere veneer meant to conceal the fact that these loathsome, self-hating, life-hating human beings are walking, talking abortions. Who alone has reason to lie himself out of actuality?” asks Nietzsche in The Anti-Christ. “He who suffers from it. But to suffer from actuality means to be an abortive actuality.
          They mask their “emasculated leers,” Zarathustra says, with the label of so-called contemplation, and they baptize their sloth and cowardice in the face of even trying to reach their fullest potential with the label of beauty. This is how they “soil noble names,” as Nietzsche puts it: by calling what is ugly and atrocious wise, beautiful, profound, graceful, etc. These are hollow misrepresentations and inversions of the reality they really are: despisers of life, life-affirmation and the ascending type. They are decadents, and because they are filled with decay and can do nothing but live a life of decline, they sanctify decay and attempt to nullify all that pertains to what is antithetical to them and their petty expressions of will-to-power – that is, they condemn the ascending life and he or she who dares to live by it. It is this decay that has Zarathustra tell them that “bad air always surrounds you and your meals: for your lecherous thoughts, your lies and secrets, are in the air.” They are the Crucified type and, for Nietzsche, a breed of man that has always existed: world-weary calumniators of the earth, and slanderers of the body, completely degenerate in instinct, retarded in spirituality. They are a blight in the eye of the type free-spirit and the Dionysian free spirit a blight in theirs.
         To them, Zarathustra gives their well-earned imprecation – that though they may feel themselves powerful by attempting to limit the horizon of creators, hence what is meant by lying “broad and pregnant on the horizon,” they themselves will never give birth. They may experience the pangs of birth, but to no avail. To try and placate these birth-pangs they may use all the aforesaid tactics, but Zarathustra tells them, “Verily, you fill your mouth with noble words; and are we to believe that your heart is overflowing, you liars?” That is, it is nothing pure and genuine, in Nietzsche’s sense, that overflows in them, only ressentiment and hatred of anything that ascends above them. That is why they are actually snakes behind godlike masks of purity, holiness and philosophical contemplation. They are not immaculate perceivers; they are cowardly, vicious, contemptuous, corrupt perceivers, and all their hopes, tenets and goals are tainted with their decay and despondence in the eyes of life. So it is inevitable that when the day dawns, the paleness that they share with the moon should set with them. Because, though they may try to overcome life and those who are able to consummate themselves with it, they are destined to lose, because what are they in the face of everything, but dust, and a passing away, and something to be overcome? The love and passion for life born in those of spiritual kin to Zarathustra, is of the liking to Nietzsche’s depiction here of the sun sucking up the sea and drinking its depth into its heights and the whole of life demanding that it be this way, for “it wants to be kissed and sucked by the thirst of the sun; it wants to become air and height and footpath of light, and itself light. Verily, like the sun,” Zarathustra says, “I love life and the deep seas,” and because Zarathustra and life are meant to be consummated together – because everything in him aches to suck the marrow out of life  he feels that life itself, as with the infinite horizon of the sea, wishes to rise up to his heights. He effects life, life does not merely effect him.
         According to Lampert, this section of Zarathustra has specifically to do with scholars and philosophers who deny themselves the body, as is Socrates’ demand in The Phaedo, in order to better achieve enlightenment and objective knowledge “by ridding the self of the distortions of personal and local perspectives.” They think that one must kill off the bodily in order to sufficiently subdue the subjective aspect of perception in order to reach immaculate, that is, objective, perception. Nietzsche himself in his earlier work of Human, All-Too Human, did critique the ascetic ideal, however, he did believe that objective knowledge was possible, for at that time he held the view of a positive scientist. As Lampert says, “He had admired as divine the aspiration of the modern philosopher or scientific researcher to become the perspective-free viewer of the thing to be known, to achieve what they themselves want to call ‘contemplation.’” He also explains that it is Zarathustra’s goal here to fill with shame these so-called objective spirits, by using sexual imagery to show them that they are merely ashamed of the lusts inside themselves that they feel are impure, so demand that they be extirpated, along with the whole of their passions, in order to be virtuous men of knowledge. However, their entire endeavour is merely a way of sublimating their bodily lusts in a different fashion – by draping them in scholasticism. It is a weapon and tool for their inferiority and feebleness, a mask and masquerade. “Desiring separation from their own bodily grounds,” Lampert explains, “their spirits reinterpret the earth as a place congenial only to spirit.” This can well be paralleled with aphorism 352 of The Gay Science, where Nietzsche propounds that the person who needs this moral attire the most, is not the barbaric type, but the weak “herd animal with its profound mediocrity, timidity, and boredom with itself,” who then uses morality to appear justified and “divine.”
         However, according to Lampert, this section becomes an assault on modern technology, and the barrenness of the moon refers to the emptiness and nihilism it has left in its path across the earth. The sham of the labour spoken of in the beginning, is the failure of this new technological era to really produce anything of real value by Zarathustra’s very high standards of ascension and life-affirmation, and it is to be eclipsed by the posterity represented by Zarathustra’s rising sun. It is the rising sun of a new age, and is the rival of these morbid men of the moon, who lack true spirit, but are rather fuelled by the spirit of self-annihilation and the will-to-nothingness. Their will-to-the-end and hostile will-to-impotence is to be overcome by the fertility of this new sun, that is, this new age of generations to come, and the barrenness of their moon to be finally defeated by this fertility, which is so profound and overwhelming that it sucks up the earth and the sea into its spiritual height. That is, the world is to be shaped by a new standard – a standard of overcoming and an impassioned, Dionysian love of life. Hence Nietzsche’s concluding words to Daybreak:
And whither then would we go? Would we cross the sea? Whither does this mighty longing draw us, this longing that is worth more to us than any pleasure? Why just in this direction, thither where all the suns of humanity have hitherto gone down? Will it perhaps be said of us one day that we too, steering westward, hoped to reach India  but that it was our fate to be wrecked against infinity? Or, my brothers. Or? –

Friday, March 18, 2011

First MA Presentation on Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The first section of Upon the Blessed Isles could be referring to Nietzsche’s task of cleansing the world of monotheistic dogmatism, for he is a wind from the North, which could be referring to him being Nordic, and the figs could be referring to the desert religions, because of the popularity of figs and dried figs in Middle-Eastern culture. Then Nietzsche makes much of the beautiful surroundings of the earth, the sky, the sea and the seasons in order to introduce through all of this the overman, who is a person that is grounded and centred within the earth and worldliness. And because the overman brings so much promise with him, Lampert explains that, despite how beautiful and fruitful the present may be, and no matter how ripe life and Zarathustra’s new philosophy are for the taking, his disciples “are to gaze into a distant future, to the still more abundant time of the superman.” In fact, Zarathustra says that “into fathers and forefathers of the overman” can his disciples re-create themselves, and he demands that it be the best of all their creations.
God is something merely presupposed, according to Zarathustra, which, even if false, isn’t necessarily, at least not here, what he condemns in it. The problem is that a god would be something beyond one’s creative will, and since no one can actually create a god, Zarathustra says, “do not speak to me of any gods.” However, the overman can be created and striven for, and he is something (perhaps merely a construct) which is the dominating theme of this section of the book. In fact, according to Lampert, the goal of the overman “is incompatible with any teaching of God or gods,” and theism is a “temptation to which his disciples” have fallen prey to. The problem is that God stifles creativity, whereas the overman livens and inspires it. He is an invigorating source of one’s creative will to power. Lampert seems to be reaching, however, when he states that the overman is the inevitable outcome of the will to truth, whereas gods cannot be. For Nietzsche, the will to truth is the human need for metaphysics, and it often shows itself in human-all-too-human beliefs and ventures that are quite untrue and frivolous. He spawned much critique of the will to truth, which in The Gay Science he associates with a curious will to death. Zarathustra gives a normative claim as to what the will to truth ought to be: “that everything be changed into what is thinkable for man, visible for man, feelable by man. You should think through your own senses to their consequences.” This is the demand that the desire for the truth not be for the extra-worldly and unattainable, which can only be achieved through pure contemplation, as with the permanence of Parmenides and the forms of Plato, but rather be directed towards the possible, the real and the achievable. He tells his followers, “And what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your reason, your image, your will, your love shall thus be realized. And verily, for your own bliss, you lovers of knowledge.” This means that not only are they to be courageous in the face of reality, unlike Plato, who, as Nietzsche says in Twilight of the Idols, was a coward in the face of reality and so hid in the ideal, but also that they are to affirm and shape reality and life through their creativity and, hence, self-cultivation. They are to use knowledge as a tool and key to unlock joy and the exuberance of an ever-expanding horizon. All this, will, then, in turn, give them mastery over themselves and the earth, and the happiness of a fulfilled, consummated life and perspective. Meaning, what Zarathustra is offering them here is self-empowerment and honest, prolific fulfillment through the embrace of realism, nature and earthliness. For Nietzsche, a true lover of knowledge would not want things to be any other way, for life would otherwise be unbearable for him. A true lover of knowledge cannot tolerate the incomprehensible or irrational.
As for the existence of the gods, the very fact that Zarathustra could not be one has him negate the possibility of their existence altogether, for he could not tolerate not being able to reach the highest of heights. This, says Lampert, exemplifies Zarathustra’s yearning, which “points to” his heart’s “ruling love of victory.” It is “a rivalry that would be unbearable if such rivals existed.” For Lampert, there is a direct link between Nietzsche’s attack on the gods and his exaltation of man; for “having once drawn the conclusion that no gods exist, a victory-loving man governed by the will to truth is drawn by the conclusion that man is the highest being and the creative thinker the highest man,” and for a person such as this, “the highest thinkable victory must be seen as possible, the whole world must be seen as potentially at his disposal.” This, of course, brings us back to Nietzsche’s realism, his earth-centred will-to-power, and his vision of ascending towards the greatest of all achievements, the overman.
Nietzsche then explicitly attacks Platonic and theistic notions of permanence. He says that “God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn whatever stands.” His Zarathustra asks, “Should time be gone, and all that is impermanent a mere lie?” That is, to think of this world as being a mere appearance of something far more profound and transcendent is the inversion of reality, and the centering of a person’s gravity towards the unreal, the idealistic and the anti-naturalistic. He calls such thinking evil and misanthropic, for it poisons people by convincing them that this world and this life are not to be affirmed but denied for another one, and implies at the end that this metaphysical, ethereal way of thinking is to be blamed on the poets who couldn’t handle reality as it is, and so had to make up a great beyond to negate it. Zarathustra protests this and demands that all parables praise and justify all impermanence. Lampert puts emphasis on the fear of death as being the sole reason that this otherworldliness had to be invented by the poets and sustained by their fabricated gods in the first place. “The creativity of the poets who attribute the world to the creativity of gods,” says Lampert, “is to be replaced by the creativity of men who know themselves to be creating a human world.” Zarathustra praises our fleeting, mortal lives, and calls for a poetry that would “celebrate and reflect the creative life that is itself a series of deaths and transformations,” hence why he states, “that the creator may be, suffering is needed and much change. Indeed, there must be much bitter dying in your life, you creators.” The creating and shaping of the beautiful “in the celebration of mortal things seems to be” Zarathustra’s preferred response to the oppressive, looming fear of death, according to Lampert. Zarathustra explains that creation is the great redeemer of suffering and nihilistic feelings of life’s meaninglessness. This is what justifies all impermanence. He likens the creator, or artist, to a woman in labour, and speaks of “the pangs of the birth-giver,” which is Nietzsche’s metaphorical and poetic likening of labour pains to the suffering of, and eventual pangs within, the artist in creating, or being led to create, something new and life-enhancing, hence why he likens the artistic creation to a “child who is newly born.”
What is unique about Zarathustra is that his fervent will of creating is impelled towards men as the sculpture’s hammer is impelled toward stone. In shaping men with a hammer he aims to bring the overman out of them - for the overman is a mere shadow now - and this, to him, is the greatest creation and gift he could ever give to mankind, as both an artist and philosopher. This kind of willing, Nietzsche feels, is his ultimate liberation, as willing itself, we are told, is something liberating, and this is, as far as I can see, a praise of art as a catalyst towards self-emancipation. “Whatever in me has feeling,” says Zarathustra, “suffers and is in prison; but my will always comes to me as my liberator and joy-bringer.” That is, he is set free through his philosophical, artistic endeavours. They are his passion, and he is compelled from within himself to fulfill this ardour of his. In this way, it is released into the world of people, and for him, this is truly a beautiful, life-affirming expression of his will to power. To will no more and esteem no longer, however, are things that Nietzsche sincerely wants to stay far away from him, for such a way of being is a nihilistic expression of bodily and world-weariness and the embrace of nothingness – it is the will to nothingness, and it is something that a free spirit wants no part of. For his disciples to become bridges to the overman, they must free the will imprisoned inside them. And now that he has discovered the very notion of the overman – a being so great, prolific and profound – he asks, “O my brothers, what are the gods to me now?”