Thursday, 24 August 2006

Unsound Old Egg

F.W. Nietzsche — the greatest modern source of inspiration for pseudo-philosophical loquacity and loony doctrines, most notably those inspired by his two greatest canards: “[F]acts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations” [1]; and: “The world is will to power—and nothing besides!” [2]. The first encourages the belief that any belief is as true as any other, being that there are no facts to which a belief may correspond; the second, that every human action — whether it ostensibly be in pursuit of truth, virtue, kindness, and so forth — is ultimately and solely for the sake of power.
.....If one accepts both, then one denies the truth of both on the acceptance of the first, the silliness whereof has not hindered the acceptance of both as partner-principles of post-modernist moronism; for the first is welcomed by those loquacious blighters who wish to “keep the conversation going” [3] without the hindrance of facts; and the second works as a sop to conscience for those who do indeed act always for the sole sake of power, being that “wrongs committed will not weigh quite so heavily on one’s conscience if one can say to oneself that everyone else, at heart, is just as bad.” [4]
.....Though much can be said in favour of old Friedrich, principally concerning his insights into modern life, I am inclined to agree with Jeeves when he told Wooster: “He is fundamentally unsound.” [5]
.....
[1] FW Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. W. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale, (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p.267, §481.
[2] Ibid., p.550, §1067.
[3] Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 377.
[4] Leszek Kolakowski, “On Power”, Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal: Essays on Everyday Life, tr. A. Kolakowska (Colorado: Westview Press, 1999), p.5.
[5] P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves Takes Charge (London: Vintage, 1992), p.26.

8 comments:

Paul Davies said...

I am, for now, in agreement with H. L. Mencken that whatever his other virtues, Freddy is the most entertaining of his bunch.

But on a more important note - how much do you really think WTP can be used to offer an insight into the whole of Nietzsche? Nothing in WTP was ever published with Nietzsche's consent (although obviously a great deal is hardly a million miles from the stuff he did churn out.)

Most people that have cared to decide about such things tend not to trust Elizabeth Nietzsche (who was ultimately responsible for WTP, IIRC) in the slightest.

As for the actual point, I'm sure I addressed it in days gone, so will attempt to dig it out before bothering to think about it again...

Paul Davies said...

Don't have the resources to hand to chase down the appropriate references, but if ever anyone has elucidated on a 'some interpretations are better than others', it was Friedrich.

Ecce Homo, Zarathustra, HAH, BGE or The Antichrist would almost certainly turn up something apt. GOM, BOT, GS and the Untimelys may do as well, although I'm not so confident.

As for the power thingy - it's a great topic, as it lumps Nietzsche together with Bertie Russell, who wasn't our German friend's biggest fan (despite the two, as far as I can tell) having very similar outlooks on a lot of things.

Deogolwulf said...

"[H]ow much do you really think WTP can be used to offer an insight into the whole of Nietzsche?"

Difficult to say - his notes published therein do cover the span of his most productive period. I have chosen two quotes from it that represent themes that go through much of his work - his perspectivism and his doctrine of the will to power, both of which have deeply influenced postmodernism. But, as you say, in some of his work he appears to speak against such things.

I think Nietzsche was a profoundly gifted man, capable of great insights, despite being a little off his onion. I do not think he deserves the poor quality of his followers. Indeed, they appear to be exactly the kind of people he hated.

Paul Davies said...

"I do not think he deserves the poor quality of his followers. Indeed, they appear to be exactly the kind of people he hated."

Agree with this on two counts - the first being the whole Nazi thing (why those fools couldn't understand the difference between overcoming oneself and overcoming Jews I don't quite know) and the second being that I have an image of Nietzsche in my head as something of a Bob Dylan type, constantly struggling to get his 'fans' to leave him alone...

As for the being a bit nuts thing, I'm sure there's a book in someone about how Fred was one of the most profoundly sane people ever to have lived. But such a thing would probably have to be written by a nutcase (if that makes any sense).

Another thing to consider with WTP is that, as you say, the notes cover what was an extremely productive period - and if he didn't deem it right to include those notes in the books of this productive period, what did he have against them?

Anonymous said...

I think much of the problem with Nietzsche concerns how he is taught in schools/universities. My philosophy professor taught him as if he were some anti-capitalist left-winger, and certainly the reading of him as "founder of post-modernism" is rather tendentious.

I think if there is one thing we could say for sure about Nietzsche, it's that he would have nothing but contempt for the modern left (and many of those describing themselves as followers of his), and most of his attacks on Christianity could be applied unchanged to political correctness.

Deogolwulf said...

Paul: "[I]f he didn't deem it right to include those notes in the books of this productive period, what did he have against them?"

He did include many of them in his books in more polished forms. As for the rest, who knows? Perhaps he planned to put them in his "Revaluation of All Values", or perhaps he thought they were unfit for publication. Whatever the case, the regrettable fact is that the two examples I have chosen have been embraced by postmodernists as central inspirations.

Anon: "I think if there is one thing we could say for sure about Nietzsche, it's that he would have nothing but contempt for the modern left"

Indeed. And his being envisaged as some post-modernist in their mould, instead of the embittered conservative and radical aristocratist that he was, is quite ludicrous.

Paul Davies said...

I must admit to having an auto-blank in place for self-avowed postmodernists, so didn't pick up on that part of your point until the third repetition. Apologies.

Selectively quoting Nietzsche can make him sound like anything from a feminist to a Lib Dem to a Nazi. Got to admire him for that - I reckon he knew full well people would misinterpret him, so he just gave them something to play with...

The point about WTP is that (esp with the non-appearance of Revaluation...) we just don't know. A lot of WTP stuff reads like things he jotted down (in middle-of-night, notepad-by-bed manner) and then thought better of them in the morning. But then he could well have intended it for publication. I think it's a useful resource, but I tend to refrain from ever quoting from it, just in case.

Although of course, in making the specific post-moderny point that you did, it seems fair enough.

Whether paying attention to the post-modernists is worth it at all is another matter...

Deogolwulf said...

"Whether paying attention to the post-modernists is worth it at all is another matter..."

Quite!