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A selection from: Lou Salomé, Nietzsche

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A Selection from:

Lou Salomé, Nietzsche,

Urbana, University of Illinois, 2001

[Numbers in square brackets are page numbers and are at the top of the page]


"Yet you wish to create a world before which you could kneel"

"MIND? What is 'mind' to me? What does knowledge matter? I treasure nothing except impulses, and I would dare say that we have them in common. Look straight through the phase in which I lived during the past years – and look behind them! Do not let yourself be deceived about me. Surely you don't believe that 'the free spirit' is my ideal?! I remain – Pardon me! Dearest Lou, [be what you must be]." – F. N.

* * *
IN THIS MYSTERIOUS FASHION Nietzsche's letter breaks off. It was a letter written between the publication of The Gay Science and his mystical work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the few lines cited, the essential features of Nietzsche's last philosophy are indicated: a decisive move away from his purely logical ideals of knowledge and from the strict theorizing of reasoned "free spiritedness" up until then; and, as far as the philosophical realm of ethics is concerned, he displaced negating criticism with a search for knowledge rooted within the world of the psyche's impulses as a source for revaluations. Further, it suggests a kind of return to Nietzsche's first phase of philosophical development (before his positivistic "free spiritedness"), namely, to the metaphysics of Wagner's and Schopenhauer's aesthetics and their teachings about the suprahuman genius. And here, finally, the central kernel of the new philosophy of the future is crystallized: the mystery of a tremendous self-apotheosis which he still is too timid to express in the hesitant phrase, "I am…"

The notion of a "system" in Nietzsche's works relies more upon an over-all mood than a clear-cut unity of defined deduction. The aphoristic characteristics preserved in his last works appear, therefore, as an undeniable luck of form in his representations and not, as before, like an idiosyncratic preference. [92] Through the mastery of the aphoristic form, Nietzsche was able to reproduce fully each idea, along with its delicate inner meaning. But this would not suffice for a systematic construction of personal theories; here and there, though, intelligence is at play with dazzling hypotheses. Because of his eye ailments and his habit of thinking in leaps and bounds, Nietzsche was forced generally to keep to his old manner of writing, but he always attempted – as we note in Beyond Good and Evil, as well as in The Genealogy of Morals – to go beyond the purely aphoristic and to order and present his thoughts systematically. Also, that which he visualized in his mind had become a complete unity.

For these reasons we find, for the first time, a kind of theory of knowledge which impelled him to come to grips with those theoretical knowledge-problems that he had avoided, like other problems approachable only by purely conceptual routes. Without further ado, he confronted some of the perennial problems in epistemology and broke through them on the way toward his own hypotheses. Fairly detailed comments about this are strewn throughout his works. Yet it appears highly characteristic that he discovers his hypotheses only when he becomes an enemy of the “abstract logical" realm and cuts through all difficult and knotty conceptual problems: he deals with the theory of knowledge only to subvert it completely.

During the time of his association with Wagner, Nietzsche was a disciple of Schopenhauer and the master's well-known interpretations and modifications of Kant's theories, namely, that questions about the highest and ultimate things find their answer not through reason but through inspiration and illuminations in the life of the will. Later, Nietzsche vehemently protested against Schopenhauer's metaphysics.... This fanatical protest itself became wearisome to him, and he sought new ideals. Within positivism he found something he had not noticed before, and that is the perception of the relativism of all thought and a return of all rational knowledge to the purely practical ground of human impulses from which it derives and upon which it constantly depends.

That path had already been designated by his own philosophical colleagues and he only needed to follow his usual [93] exuberance in order to return to the original value he placed upon the emotions.... In the meantime, though, only his stood and emotional perception of the state of affairs had changed, but this says everything about Nietzsche because that change was a point of departure toward a new view of the world.

This sequence typifies the origins of all basic thoughts in Nietzsche's "philosophy of the future": first, an association with modern research into knowledge, then a dramatic turn in his emotional moods and perceptions as he drove his findings to extremes, and finally a deriving of his own new theories from that about-face.

Two aspects then need to be differentiated: on the one hand, their factual philosophical content and, on the other, the purely psychological mirroring in them of Nietzsche's deepest being. Such self-mirroring leads us back to the portrait drawn of Nietzsche in the first section of this book. The thought content, however, of his new teachings shows itself to be an artistic combination of both phases in Nietzsche's intellectual development, a model of separate skeins woven together with an ingenious hand: the Schopenhauerian teaching of the will and the rational teachings of the positivists.

Nietzsche's theory of knowledge, with its fight against the meaning of logic and a return willy-nilly to the unlogical, comes most into view in his book Beyond Good and Evil; several of its sections could just as well have been titled Beyond Truth and Falsehood. For it is here that he explicates in great detail the unjustified opposition of such values as "true and untrue," which in respect to their origin are no less expendable than the contrasting values of "good and evil." "The problem about the value of truth confronts us… just what is it in us that wishes to ‘approach truth'? Granted, we want truth, but why not un-truth instead?" (BGE, 1). "Indeed, what compels us, anyway, to assume that there is a basic difference between 'true' and 'false'? Is it not enough to assume that there are degrees of semblance . . . like different shades of 'values' in painters' perceptions?" (34). "In what a strange state of simplification and falsification do humans live! . . . Until now science was allowed to rise only from a foundation of ignorance, a foundation no longer of granite nor [94] firm; it is the will to knowledge arising from a much greater will, the will not-to-know, the will to uncertainty, to untruth! Not as its opposite but as its refinement!" (24). "Consciousness is not in any decisive sense the opposite of the instinctive; the most conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided by his instincts and forced into certain channels" (3). All logic ultimately is nothing I other than a mere "sign of convention” (TI, III, 3). All thinking is a kind of "sign language of the emotions" since “we cannot step up or step down to another 'reality' except to the reality of our drives, for thinking is only an interaction of these drives” (BGE, 36). And consequently, "the more emotions we allow free play and the more angles of vision we aim at the same thing, the more complete will be our 'conception' of that thing; herein lies our 'objectivity.' Should it be possible to eliminate will and emotions altogether, would this not result in the castration of the intellect?" (GM, III, 12).

At this point, Nietzsche's ideas turn away from earlier ones and lead in an opposite direction. Earlier, he had warned against trusting any kind of emotion because it was a “grandchild” of old, forgotten, and probably erroneous judgments; now, he summons the primeval source from which all judgments stem and demotes them now to unstable and dependent “grandchildren” of emotion. For both conceptions, he then finds validation not only in the world view of positivism but also in the peacefully coexistent realm of relativistic thinking and its emotional aspects. Two irreconcilable contrasts came into view: on the one side, Nietzsche stands at the sharpened extreme of intellectualism, to which he had wanted all thought and reason to be subservient; on the other side, was a heightened feeling of exaltation that took its revenge upon its long repression by turning into resplendent life and culminating in a fanatical expression of fiat vita, pereat veritas!

In that connection, he says further, "The falsity of a specific judgment does not in itself constitute an objection against it; the real question is to what degree does this judgment preserve and sustain life ... rejection of false judgments would mean a rejection of life, a negation of life" (BCE, 4). "Despite all the value placed upon the true, the truthful ... it is nevertheless possible [95] to attribute a higher and more fundamental value to appearances, the will to deception, and to avarice. It is even possible that the value of those good and venerable things consists precisely in their being insidiously related, intertwined and knotted up with those wicked and seemingly opposite things; perhaps these opposites are identical in essence" (2). "From time immemorial, basically, we have become habituated to lying. Or, to express things more hypocritically and therefore more pleasantly: we are far greater artists than we realize" (192). And it is the life preserving element of the lie which raises the artist far above the scientific person and his quest for knowledge; “within art, the lie sanctifies itself and the will to self-deception boasts a good conscience” (GM, III, 25)…

Nietzsche's renewed glorification of the artist, and metaphysics even, tells us how far he has turned towards a new and opposite type of seeker and how far he has already distanced himself from the positivistic "reality-philosophy babblers". They regarded thinking as an act independent of human drives. This reductiveness was their contribution to enlightened thinking, but Nietzsche came to believe in the need for heightened human drives. His insight into the relativity of thinking prompted him to break out of narrow and absolutistic confines and to proclaim a new, limitless horizon for the pursuit of knowledge. Because Nietzsche needed to worship new ideals upon which to exhaust himself, he let the old ideals of logical truth diminish and he sought remedy through a limitless and heightened life of the emotions. just as he had wanted to strip his search for truth of all illusion, so now in his new relativistic orientation he opened the way to new illusions, entering the realm of emotional stimuli, to which the will subordinated itself. With that, all inhibitive and limiting dams are broken, allowing the life of the emotions to flood the scene ruthlessly. Nowhere is certainty and yet certainty is everywhere, as the belief in independent rational knowledge is swept away. As tool and toy of inner dictates and hidden drives, Nietzsche is tossed from the farthest distances and into the profoundest depths ... into a labyrinthine wilderness, dark and impenetrable, which surrounds the intelligible world. In this labyrinth are no discernible paths and no masters and [96] laws, but the will has room to assert itself with every type of creativity. Such a dangerous adventure seemed to assure Nietzsche of a direct path into the power of an inner life. Zarathustra therefore calls his disciples "the riddle-intoxicated, twilight revellers . . . whose souls are lured by flutes to every brink of madness; no cowardice keeps you from taking a guideline in hand, and when you can guess its destination, you hate to decipher it" ("On the Vision and the Riddle," Z, III, 1).

For a long time, Nietzsche's cold and sober thinking calmed and kept in check his aroused emotions. Now he experienced what he had warned against, premonitorily, in Human, All-Too Human: "If one uses one's intellect to become master over the unlimited emotions, it may produce a sorry and diversionary effect upon the intellect" (HATH, II, 275). To avoid such temptation, he swerves wildly and newly adapts the motto "Nothing is true, everything is permitted" (quoted by Nietzsche, GM, III, 24) and praises the value of illusion – the deliberate fiction of the alogical and the "untrue" – as the essentials of life-creating and will-supporting powers. He conceived a representation of the world as a world built and created by us and which contains our psychic idiosyncrasies; and he began to feel that our knowledge ultimately is nothing more than a "humanization of things." He luxuriated in these thoughts until the universe seemed to him an evanescent dream picture conjured up by the solitary thinker. "Why could not the world which matters to us be a fiction?" he asks himself in Beyond Good and Evil (34). And behind this lies the thought and question about forcefully reconstituting the world that matters to us.

What becomes pertinent here is a short and interesting chapter in Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols. Chapter four is entitled "How the True World Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error," and it contains a sketch of philosophical developments from the ancients to the moderns. Naively though, the old philosophy apprehended the knower and his picture of the world, as well as the person and the truth, as identical. This culminated in the rewriting of the sentence "I, Plato, am the truth." The "true world," in contrast to an untrue and illusory one in which the unaware live, "is achievable for the wise one because [97] he lives in it and it is he." In Christendom the idea of the "true world" separates itself progressively from that of "personality" in that it becomes dehumanized and a sublimated promise for the future, a promise that is imposed upon humans. Finally after a series of metaphysical systems, the true world finally is reduced by Kant to a pale shadow-unreachable, unprovable, unpromisable; and with the final departure from all things metaphysical, it completely evaporates into nothing: “Gray morning. The first yawn of reason. The cock-crow of positivism.” And so, the price of the world, hitherto denigrated as illusory and untrue, rises because it is the only world left: "Bright day; breakfast; the return of good sense and gaiety; Plato's embarrassed blush; the devil's din of all free spirits." But along with insight into the origin of the fable of the "true world," we have been able to observe how the world picture of our knowledge came to be. Now that we are no longer consoled by a belief in a mystically "true" world behind one created by illusion and error, what is left for us? Since we have done away with the "true" world as well as its opposite and illusory world, what remains? Again, the human being is thrown back upon himself as the creator of all things.

Again the old formulation has been made possible: "I, Plato, am the world." It stands firmly as the final wisdom at the beginning of all philosophy, but no longer with a naive identification of person and truth, subject and object. Instead, the statement stands as a conscious and willed act of creation by one who has perceived himself to be the bearer of the world: I, Nietzsche-Zarathustra, am the world; it exists because I am, it exists as I will it. This kind of formula one may extract from the suggestive, mysterious, and concluding phrases of chapter four: “Mid-day; moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.

Here we can already see clearly how his new ideas loop into mysticism and also become entwined with modern theories of knowledge. And so the point has been reached upon which his new teachings are constructed; he is no longer concerned with mere exaggerated notions of certain commonly accepted ideas. From the limitation and relativity of human knowledge and from the priority of human drives, Nietzsche imperceptibly and un- [98] consciously gains a sense of the new type of philosopher: he is the bigger-than-life picture of a solitary whose will power decides between the true and the untrue and in whose hand the viewpoint of mere human reason becomes a toy. One could say that the element which forces one's intellect toward self-limitation, together with external pressures and influences, becomes personified for Nietzsche in the image of an unchecked omnipotence projected onto a superior solitary person. Life's quintessence and energy become so unified in that person that he is capable of reshaping the norms of knowledge. However, this does not occur through contemplation but through creativity, and as action and command addressed to the world: “Indeed, the real philosophers are commanders and lawgivers and say, 'This is how things shall be!' They determine the direction and rationale of humans… With creative hands, they reach for the future… Their 'knowledge' is creation, their creation is legislation, their will to truth is will to power (BGE, 211). Their philosophy always creates "the world in their image; they can do no less. Philosophy is the tyrannical drive of the most spiritual will to power, to the 'creation of the world,' and to the 'causa prima"' (BGE, 9). "The Caesar type and dictator of civilization" (207) occupy Nietzsche's elucidation and description of his philosophy of the future. Through his theory of knowledge, a foundation is prepared for them in Nietzsche's ethics and aesthetics, and from which they grow ever higher into religious mysticism within which God, world, and humanity meld into a single, tremendous superior being.

It may readily be seen how close Nietzsche's image of this creator-philosopher comes to his earlier metaphysical views, but also how he will modify it through his later theories. The “ideal” truths of metaphysics, with their elevating and comforting interpretations of the world's riddle, are not taken up again; and so he makes room and substitutes lost ideal truths, and reasons for consolation, with scepticism by declaring that "everything is untrue," eliminating altogether the possibility of truth. Through a declaration of power and an act of will, Nietzsche injects into things a meaning which they have not possessed. Formerly a discoverer of truth, the philosopher now has become, so to speak, an inventor of the truth, whose sheer abundance of will is able to [99] turn expressed untruths and deceptions into convincing realities. "Whoever does not know how to project his will into things, may at least project meaning into them" ("Maxims and Arrows," TI, 18). With that he turned against the philosophers of metaphysics, but like them assumed the right to reinterpret and re-create things through the inspiration of mood, thereby going beyond mere intellectualism.

With this personally-conceived superiority of the emotional over the intellectual life-in which ultimately the truth is considered inessential as compared with the emotion and will of a perception-Nietzsche's intellectual manner and his inner longings are uninhibitedly mirrored. In reaction to his long subservience to the disciplined search for knowledge ... he was drawn into a frenzy of mysticism.... Even so, he attempted to grasp intellectually the power of moods. He does not rest until the triumph of his unchained life's will becomes a self-mockery of the mind. In an uncanny way, and through the discarding of all logical knowledge, the thinker is "secretly enticed by his own cruelty and is pushed forward by the dangerous thrill of that cruelty directed against himself"; he must reign as "artist and transfigurer of cruelty" (BGE, 229). The human spirit finally descends voluntarily into its own destruction because only then does it receive its greatest enlightenment; he dives into the limitless and the measureless, which close over him; only in this fashion does he fulfil his goal.

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