Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The eternal wound of existence" : Perceptions of Nietzsche's Pain

“It is an eternal phenomenon: the insatiate will can always, by means of an illusion spread over things, detain its creatures in life and compel them to live on. One is chained by the Socratic love of knowledge and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his eyes; still another by the metaphysical comfort that beneath the flux of phenomena eternal life flows on indestructibly: to say nothing of the more ordinary and almost more powerful illusions that the will has always at hand”…
- Friedrich Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy Translated by Clifton P. Fadiman, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, p. 64.

[Here it seems to me I heard something of Nietzsche’s pain. The is truth in his criticism of Socrates and the Enlightenment for the notion that if people knew the good they would do it. As for his denial of eternal life there is only the assertion of his will, which was not that great after all. When I hear “the eternal wound of existence” I confess I thought of Nietzsche’s father, an evangelical Christian who after an accident, lived a agonized space before dying. It seems this must have been a decisive turning point for him, why the little boy called “the little pastor” ultimately became one of the world’s most famous atheists. I say I confess because I have a sense of discomfort in psychoanalyzing the man but to an extent it is a necessity of human fellowship. I do not find a lot in common with Nietzsche but I do relate to a fellow human being’s suffering. Nietzsche pejoratively, or insultingly, revaluated Christianity and Judaism, much like the ancient Gnostics. In his interpretation, Christianity and Judaism were slave religions and founded on resentment by inferiors of superiors. Rene Girard and no doubt others have remarked on the irony of Nietzsche’s characterization, ironic because it seems that so much of what characterized Nietzsche’s life as whole was resentment, resentment above all against God. ]

“Our art reveals this universal trouble: in vain does one depend imitatively on all the great product periods and natures; in vain does one accumulate the entire “World-literature” around modern man for his comfort; in vain does one place one’s self in the midst of the art-styles and artists of all ages, so that one may give names to them as Adam did to the beasts: one still continues eternally hungry, the ‘critic’ without joy and energy, the Alexandrian man, who is at bottom a librarian and corrector of proofs, and who, pitiable wretch, goes blind from the dusty books and printers’ errors.”
-Ibid., p. 67.

[One of the things I think that is good about Nietzsche is the pitch to which he brings the error of modernity. But he also looks beyond modernity’s faith in Reason, though he looks down. He is pivotal, at the doorway of postmodernity. That is why there is some value in judiciously reading him, as I see it (though he is indeed sadly blameworthy for ennobling crime, lies and blasphemy, like the Gnostics.) In the quote above there is something of an echo of Solomon in Ecclesiastes crying “Vanity of vanities!” He is intent on root realities. At least he is looking at these. Most people are eroding their lives in triviality upon triviality, “distracted from distraction by distraction” (as Eliot put it). Well, he is intent but at root he is turning away from root realities. Like the Gnostics he reality is a cheap phenomenon, a grossness, and the spirit must turn away from the real, from the true to a self-creation beyond the world.

It seemed to me here too that I sensed Nietzsche’s pain, the acerbic acquaintance with the hard, hard aspects of life, in some ways, out of which he spun a spider web of bad choices. ]

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