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June 02, 2007

Pejman on Nietzsche

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Nietzsche buffs -- and that would certainly include Friedrich von Blowhard -- should have a ball wrestling with Pejman Yousefzadeh's musings about their ornery hero at Right Reason: here, here, here.

Can I confess something? While I read a lot of Nietzsche and enjoyed it greatly, I've never taken his philosophy seriously. Shallow fellow that I am, I value Nietzsche for his brio, his irreverence, and his glee. I love him as a whacked-out, high-on-himself, over-the-top performer -- he's the Klaus Kinski of philosophers. But the substance of his thought? What he actually said? Hmm: it never occurred to me to pay much attention to that.



posted by Michael at June 2, 2007


"He's the Klaus Kinski of philosophers." Now that is funny. I didn't know Kinski was an existentialist.

Posted by: David Brown on June 2, 2007 1:48 AM

Thus Spake Zarathustra is one of the most astonishing books in the western canon. Preening, brutal, adolescent nihilism, for sure, but a rip-roaring f**king ride. R.J. Hollingdale's Penguin translation is the best, drops all the thou's and thee's of previous translations and makes it infinitely more understandable and urgent. One great testosterone fueled slaughterhouse, the work of singular genius and madness.

My favorite lines are stored on my laptop:

"But I live in my own light, I drink back and into myself the flames that break from me.'

"You should seek you enemy, you should wage a war – a war for your opinions. And if your opinion is defeated, your honesty should still triumph over that"

"There are a thousand paths that have never yet been trodden, a thousand forms of health and hidden islands of life. Man and mans earth are still unexhausted and undiscovered."

"Yes – there must be much bitter dying in your life, you creators! For the creator himself to be the child new-born he must also be willing to be the mother and endure the mothers pain. Truly, I have gone my way through a hundred souls and through a hundred cradles and birth-pangs. I have taken many departures, I know the heart-breaking last hours. But my creative will, my destiny, wants it so. All feeling suffers in me and is in prison: but my willing always comes to me as my liberator and bringer of joy. Willing liberates: that is the true doctrine of my will and freedom."

"In the final analysis one only experiences oneself. It is returning – my own self and those parts of it that have long been abroad and scattered among all things and accidents. Alas, I have started upon my lonliest wandering – only now do you thread your path of greatness! Summit and abyss – they are united in one!"

And more....

But his philosophy is pretty rubbish when you get down to it. Meritocracy is clearly better than aristocracy for ensuring the best rise to the top. Why does he ask people to A. Be really selfish, and B. Sacrifice ourselves so that the 'superman' may live? Is that not a contradiction? And what of the eternal recurrance bulls**t? A pathetic and completely non-sensical last grab for some veneer of religion and immortality as he fell into the pit.

The Birth of Tragedy, the Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy, was something that existed only in Nietzsche's brain, and has no basis in historical fact (most serious philogists at the time considered it unsourced rubbish), yet so many have been seduced by it.

The guy was insane, as in really, really off the wall. Michael doesn't like the mad-selfish arty types (I think!?), and I'm sure that if he ever met Nietzsche he'd punch the deluded f**ker in the face.

Great writer though, read before going on a date or doing something important.

Posted by: omar on June 2, 2007 12:32 PM

Michael: Well, reading Nietzsche for his style is a lot better than not reading him at all... For me, I guess the most important single virtue of N. is that he is a counterweight or antidote to all sorts of currently reigning ideas: the idea that every culture, nation, or person is as good as any other, the idea that conflict is always bad and getting along is an unqualified virtue, the idea that we should "respect" the feelings of others no matter what, the idea that the highest ideals are moral ideals, ... The list could go on and on.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on June 2, 2007 12:58 PM

Zarathustra is the pinnacle of German Romanticism, a line tracing from Goethe to Schiller, Holderin & Heine.

Posted by: adrian on June 2, 2007 1:17 PM

The idea of eternal recurrence was that of freeing the individual from the concern over Heaven and Hell, of living a spontaneaous life. It was part of Neitzsche's critique of Christianity.

I think he was a genius, but I don't buy into the philosophy. Once he threw out religion, he had to place some kind of morality in its place. His was of the creativity and mores of the "superman", sort of a re-erection of the Platonic philosopher king. He dreamed of a great, humane, and wise leader, but in this world, that is so very rare. Most who prowl the corridors of power are creatures of a singularly craven, venal, and uncreative type. His critiques of religion and the arts are fantastic. His aphoristic style was the perfect way to do those critiques as well, given the lack of a truly comprehensive philosophy to answer them.

I read many of his books in high school and college on my own. But in the end I had to go back to the faith I was raised in, understanding better though that it is imperfect in an imperfect world, a true reflection of its adherents.

Posted by: BIOH on June 2, 2007 2:38 PM


Nietzsche despised Plato.

His most visionary Aphorism: Human All Too Human 473:

"Socialism with regards to its means.— Socialism is the visionary younger brother of an almost decrepit despotism, whose heir it wants to be; thus its efforts are reactionary in the deepest sense. For it desires an abundance of executive power, as only despotism has ever had; indeed, it outdoes everything in the past by striving for the downright destruction of the individual, who it sees as an unauthorized luxury of nature, and who it intends to improve into a useful organ of the community. It crops up in the vicinity of all excessive displays of power because of its relation to it, like the typical old socialist Plato, at the court of the Sicilian tyrant [In 388 B.C. Plato visited the court of the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius the Elder in Syracuse, where he returned in 367 and 361 B.C., hoping to realize his political ideals there.]; it desires (and in certain circumstances, furthers) the Caesarean power state of this century, because, as we said, it would like to be its heir. But even this inheritance would not suffice for its purposes, it needs the most submissive subjugation of all citizens to the absolute state, the like of which has never existed; and since it cannot even count any longer on the old religious piety towards the state, having rather always to work automatically to eliminate piety—because it works on the elimination of all existing states—, it can only hope to exist here and there for short periods of time by means of the most extreme terrorism. Therefore, it secretly prepares for reigns of terror, and drives the word "justice" like a nail into the heads of the half-educated masses, to rob them completely of their reason (after this reason has already suffered a great deal from its half-education), and to create in them a good conscience for the evil game that they are to play.— Socialism can serve as a rather brutal and forceful way to teach the danger of all accumulations of state power, and to that extent instill one with distrust of the state itself. When its harsh voice chimes in with the battle cry [Feldgeschrei] "as much state as possible," it will at first make the cry noisier than ever; but soon the opposite cry will be heard with strength the greater: "as little state as possible."

And he most certainly did not dream of a 'great, humane and wise leader.'

Posted by: omar on June 2, 2007 4:09 PM

He had small ears and a big moustache. Just sayin'.

Posted by: ricpic on June 2, 2007 4:40 PM

My short take is that he yearned to be that greatest of all historical barbarians, the born aristocrat.

Posted by: Luke Lea on June 2, 2007 11:31 PM


Nietzsche never had much of a system. In spite of his adoration for the great figures, you can see his desire for humane-ness in his dislike for the anti-semitism of Wagner and his sister's husband, for example. What is the superman but a leader? What about him makes him "super"? If his revaluation of all values begins and ends with himself, its not much of a revaluation is it? The superman is a king, and a leader, de facto. Nietzsche doesn't say it, but implies it. He doesn't say it because it would seem to conflict with his obsession for individualism. But look at his admiration of Caesar, the man who was killed because he made himself king. He betrays his true self with his other crushes on poets and artists. He wanted to smash Christianity and its humbling and leveling influences, but he was at heart a very humane and gentle man. He really wanted great men more like himself, only bolder and stronger. His roar was all bluff.

I agree that he despised Plato's Republic and its tyranny and wanted freedom and individualism. Thanks for correcting me on that. Its been a long time since I read or thought about his work (15 years). I lost my interest when I realized that he really had no answers, just criticisms. But his criticisms of religion are brilliant. And he was dead on about the decadent influences in the arts of his time.

Posted by: BIOH on June 3, 2007 1:15 AM

"he was dead on about the decadent influences in the arts of his time."

An area in which he exhibited a wary respect for religion.

HA 220:

"The Beyond in art.— It is not without profound sorrow that one admits to oneself that in their highest flights the artists of all ages have raised to heavenly transfiguration precisely those conceptions which we now recognize as false: they are the glorifiers of the religious and philosophical errors of mankind, and they could not have been so without believing in the absolute truth of these errors. If belief in such truth declines in general, if the rainbow-colors at the extreme limits of human knowledge and supposition grow pale, that species of art can never flourish again which, like the Divina Commedia, the pictures of Raphael, the frescoes of Michelangelo, the Gothic cathedrals, presupposes not only a cosmic but also a metaphysical significance in the objects of art. A moving tale will one day be told how there once existed such an art, such an artist's faith."


"He betrays his true self with his other crushes on poets and artists."

Good point, he absolutely loved Goethe. And Goethe was in most respects the anti-Nietzsche. Level headed, ever gentle,a man of the world, equally at home writing, travelling, reforming agriculture, chatting with Napoleon, shaking up bureaucracies, cavorting with young maidens.

I think a serious part of Nietzsche wished, really wished he could become a Wagner, a Goethe, a Schiller, a Montaigne: confident, artistic, successful with women, at home in the real world. The mad, troubled, artist stereotype had not yet entered the wider memeplex. Nietzsche had the g, but was not an alpha, and this crushing fact stalked his soul. Like the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, he was very unmanly, and compensated for this by glorifying what he was not, unto madness and death. The 'wild Wisdom' of Zarathustra was philosophy as seen from the Tierra Del Fuego Nietzsche's mind had retreated too, the 'secret, dancing places' of his being, which couldn't find a fertile valley to flood on account of his sickly, anti-social nature.

Posted by: omar on June 3, 2007 10:25 AM

I saw the following above:
"the idea that conflict is always bad and getting along is an unqualified virtue, the idea that we should "respect" the feelings of others no matter what, the idea that the highest ideals are moral ideals, ... The list could go on and on"
and thought it was interesting in light of certain world affairs.

I was thinking more of the current Pope's willingness to confront than any neocon business... I find the irony of the similarity of position interesting and amusing.

Posted by: J on June 5, 2007 12:29 AM

To be quite candid, I actually wrote much of the following as a response on this page only to find that it no longer functions! I noticed a re-direct to and for some reason I couldn't figure out how to post there, other than comments. Then I noticed this site referenced. It feels somehow friendlier than the former.
As an undergraduate in the late 80s, I studied under a Straussian protege of Allan Bloom (M. Richard Zinman of Michigan State University's James Madison College) and I became a Nietzschean Right Winger, though I wasn't by any means pushed into it. What Nietzsche means mostly for me is the Latin term for leisure, "otium" - see for instance his usage of the term in, if I recall, "The Will to Power". The capacity and leisure to think deeply and create grandly are therein (and elsewhere) held in great esteem.

I think most of the reason why Nietzsche ends up on the Right is because he saw leisure and creativity as for the few, with the many merely serving as pawns or inconsequentials for those few. But the bourgeoisie doesn't value otium. So I don't see Nietzsche endorsing capitalism any more than he endorses Socialism. The bourgeois valuation of homogenous quantity over heterogenous quality Nietzsche would see as what I've come to call the elite stratification of vulgar values - a most bizarre perversion. I think we see shades of this commentary in Hesse's "Steppenwolf".

An argument might be made that the haute bourgeoisie does value a Nietzschean existence, but does so surreptitiously, and only appears to value what we sometimes call disparagingly "bourgeois", in order to impart stability and docility among the suggestable petit-bourgeois and working class. But I won't explore this further here other than to say that it smacks a bit of Leo Strauss, esoterica, and the noble lie.

Eventually I've turned to the Left but maintained my Nietzschean roots. I feel that creative leisure, if not full-blown historical otium, can be accessible to the many as technology increases. Furthermore, as I age, I find myself willing to part (both personally and in terms of social philosophy) with some Nietzschean grandiosity in exchange for empathy and compassion for humankind at large. With age comes increased awareness of suffering, of both the inevitable and gratuitous sorts, and thus greater empathy.

The otium for the many, if you will, can only occur when values of over-production, consumerism, homogeneity, economic surplus value, and the like, are overturned. People (including Nietzsche, based on omar's post above) often tend to forget that Marx ultimately desires that the State should wither and that individuals seek self-actualization. The State, or the dictatorship of the proletariat, is only a transitional phase for Marx. The eventuation is not all about some kind of mass culture of clones or Borgs all dressing in the same medium brown clothing and doing the same medium brown things.

It is in otium/leisure and idiosyncratic creative activity that I think Nietzsche meets Marx and together they shun capitalism's retardation of such fecundities.


Posted by: Michael Motta on June 5, 2007 1:37 AM

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