Amerika

Dynamic Optimism (Michael Young)

IT IS DIFFICULT TO REMAIN INDIFFERENT to Nietzsche. There is a fire, a passion in his writings that demands a response. There is irony and humour, golden laughter and withering scorn. St. Expuréy, in Vol de Nuit wanted Rivière, the protagonist, to display “a Nietzschean energy”. Nietzsche’s style, though rich in imagery, is sometimes taut and laconic and reminds us of Stendhal, whom Nietzsche admired. There is an insolence and inventiveness in his use of language that is provocative and exciting. here are contradictions in his works too, but on the whole, taking into account legitimate changes of opinion, with regard to Wagner for example, a remarkable consistency. It might seem strange that this notorious Ja Sagersaid No to so much he found in life. His affirmation was a courageous one. It was based on his estimate of modern man, whom he considered to be degenerate and decadent, but the possessor of immense unrealised potential.

We can savour, provided it does not become an addiction, the breadth, force and incredible ingenuity of Nietzsche’s invective. To destroy with a bludgeon is less excusable than to do so with a rapier, at least from an aesthetic point of view. Nietzsche uses all kinds of exotic weapons with which to belabour his enemies, but never anything as crude as a bludgeon. Perhaps the most frequent target for Nietzsche’s gall-dipped arrows was pettiness in all its manifestations. Pettiness was usually, but certainly not always, associated with the mode of behaviour of “the rabble”: the petty man seeks jealously to construct his own cosy happiness. He does not even know the meaning of love or creation, of longing or dreaming. The small man, like an insect, proliferates and is liable to blot out the rest of the creatures, is perhaps in the very process of doing so. The potential danger to the earth of the small, insect-man is described in chilling terms in Also sprach Zarathustra in the fifth Vorrede: The earth has become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground flea.

“We have discovered happiness”, say the last men, and blink…”

The danger represented by these small men, these hopping fleas, these bugs, these crawling, slithering creatures, is that they bite and sting and eventually destroy the great ones. The only remedy is flight.

“Flee my friend, into they solitude: I see thee stung all over by poisonous flies. Flee there where a strong wind blows! Flee into thy solitude! Thou hast lived too near to the small and pitiable. Flee from their invisible vengeance! Towards thee they have nothing but vengeance. Raise no longer an arm against them. Countless are they and it is not thy lot to be a fly-swat. Countless are they, the small and pitiable ones; and of many a proud structure have raindrops and weeds been the downfall. Thou art no stone; but already hast thou become hollow by the numerous drops. Thou wilt yet break and burst through the numerous drops. Exhausted I see them, by poisonous flies; bleeding I see thee, and torn at a hundred spots and thy pride will not even curse them. Blood they would have from thee in all innocence; blood is what their bloodless souls crave for.”

That is why Zarathustra so often goes away into the mountains. He needs the pure, strong mountain air to fortify him. Up there the small man cannot breathe.

Nietzsche’s hatred of the rabble (Das Gesindel) in the second part of Also Sprach Zarathustra rises almost to the point of paroxysm; yet it is prefaced by an affirmation:

Das Leben ist ein Born der Lust.
Aber wo das Gesindel mittrinkt, sind alle Brunen vergiftet.

For the same reason that he hated the petty people and rabble, Nietzsche also disliked the class of people whom he called the Levellers (die Nivellierer). He disliked them because he saw their avowed aim as the destruction of all that is outstanding and exceptional in the human race. They seemed bent on creating a world of drab mediocrity. It is what a French writer referring to France after de Gaulle’s demise, called La Grisaille. In a more restrained passage in Jenseits von Gut und Bösehe criticises the levellers from a common-sense point of view. Men are not and never will be, equal. Inequality is both inevitable and desirable. The levellers aim for “the universal, green meadow happiness of the herd, together with security, safety, comfort and the alleviation of life for everyone.” The result, were it ever achieved, would resemble in many respects the Brave New World described by Aldous Huxely: a life of cow-like pointlessness. Nietzsche’s condemnation of democracy is more properly a criticism of plebianism.

Perhaps only the son of a pastor could have dealt such a series of blows to the Church as Nietzsche did. Today his much quoted “God is Dead” shocks few and would be supported by many avant-garde theologians. His fundamental objection was that Christianity was world and life negating. He compared it to Buddhism and Hinduism, two religions which regard this life as a vale of sorrow or wheel of suffering (samsara) to be escaped from. Asceticism he saw as nothing more than an elaborate kind of escapism; the religious equivalent of anaemia. He did not remember or did not want to remember, that it was Gautama himself who rejected the ascetic ideal on the grounds that it was not conducive to spiritual enlightenment but only to physical weakness. Asceticism and monasticism were the extreme manifestations of the general tendency in Christianity and many other religions to reduce men to the life of the vegetable. In point of fact, a state of physical inertia is sometimes accompanied by a state of extraordinary mental activity at a sub-conscious level. This has been recorded in many studies with the help of an electroencephalogram, which records the various kinds of mental activity in terms of patterns of awareness.

In contrast to otherworldliness was the cultivation of a fervour for life on this earth. It is as though mankind were divided into two distinct groups: those whose hearts were fixed on the life hereafter and those who saw man’s salvation as uniquely here on earth. Nietzsche was totally committed to this earth. There are other categories of people whom Nietzsche condemns but it is the same yardstick that he uses to judge them by. Are they overflowing with vitality or are they mean, cautious, tentative, risking nothing? Thus we find Nietzsche condemning the cautious scholars, much as Sartre appears to be doing in his depiction of the Pedagogue in Les Mouches. It is his complacency and smiling superiority that Sartre pillories. Nietzsche would have approved. He describes them in Also Sprach Zarathustrain a way that makes one feel that he is getting his won back on them for treatment that he himself had received at their hands.

“When they give themselves out as wise, then do their petty sayings and truths chill me: in their wisdom is often a smell as if it cam out of the swamp; and verily I even heard the frog croak in it!”

How effective this picture is and how unfair to the real scholar. This is caricature, not criticism. The three senses of smell, sight and hearing are all combined to provide us with a nauseating and a slightly comic picture of a scholar. The crucial adjective, if we are to assess their true stature is the simple adjective klein (small, little, petty). We are perhaps even meant to think of the frog in La Fontaine, who tried to blow himself up to the size of a bull and burst. Nietzsche goes on to describe their jealousy and vindictiveness. The croak of the frog gives way to the watchful maliciousness of the spider. It is the small mindedness of their world that Nietzsche pilloried. Had they been capable of great transgressions, instead of mean and petty acts of cunning, Nietzsche could have forgiven them. In roughly the same category as scholars and ascetics Nietzsche, predictably perhaps, place philosophers, though he certainly would not place himself or Zarathustra in this group.

There is one way for philosophers to redeem themselves and that is through laughter. In fact, Nietzsche says in Jenseits von Gut und Böse that he would rank philosophers according to the quality of their laughter. At the very top of the list he would put those philosophers capable of what he calls golden laughter, by which token I imagine that he would exclude the controlled chuckling of philosophers like Voltaire. It was the gravity and self-importance which so many philosophers assumed that infuriated Nietzsche. One philosopher he attacked (certainly not for his self-importance) was Socrates. Unlike Karl Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies,he did not distinguish between Socrates and Plato. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, Socrates was the prototype of the theoretical optimist, who considered that everything could be remedied through the application of knowledge. Nobody according to Socrates, does wrong knowingly. It was Socrates, according to Nietzsche, who failed to recognise the importance and indeed the primacy of instinct. He was condemned as the father of logic, that anti-life force, that barren and desiccated science.

Perhaps the most tragic result of Socratic philosophy is that it leads to Man becoming estranged from Nature and indeed from his own nature. This theme of alienation has been explored by many modern novelists and playwrights, as well as by Karl Marx and is also a major concern of the now popular branch of Buddhism called Zen-Buddhism, one of the main aims of which is to destroy the reasoning intellect and restore to Man his primal unity; hence the use of koans, kinds of mental blockbusters, whose aim is to disrupt the rational, logical faculty. The reasoning intellect, so runs the argument, seeks to differentiate and make Man conscious of his own individual nature. The Dionysian, and to some extent the Buddhist, seeks to eliminate Man’s consciousness of his separate individuality and to strive after union with something or someone beyond himself.

There is contradiction in Nietzsche’s view of the East and its main religions. In the first place it is true to say that the dualistic, mind-body description of Man is far more prevalent in the West than in the East. The impulse toward union (the Hindi word yoga means union) is far more pronounced in the East. On the one hand Nietzsche disapproves of the Hindu attempts to union because he sees it as a flight from life and diminishment of Man, on the other hand he praises the Dionysian, which is also a striving towards union. The only clear difference between the two kinds of mysticism is the means employed: the one consisting of denial and asceticism, the other indulgence and full enjoyment. They both claim to arrive at a similar state of inner ecstasy based on higher union. However, there are many strands in both Hinduism and Buddhism, many of which are not at all ascetic. If one reads the life of Gautama, one discovers that he rejected extreme asceticism as unproductive and that he preached the Middle Way. For Nietzsche, the espousal of the Dionysian was the necessary result of his rejection of the cold light of reason as an anti-life force.

The scientist was another figure who did not stand very high in Nietzsche’s esteem, although he did recognise his usefulness in certain circumstances. Though welcoming him as an antidote to the man of feeling, Nietzsche had no real love for what he called the objective man. Scientists are mere shells, echoing with the sounds of other peoples’ music; wax, waiting to be shaped by the truly creative and imaginative beings.

Nietzsche’s dislike of objective man was mild compared to his denunciation of the Jews. The nazis propounded a theory of racialism which was closely related to Nietzsche’s theory of the Übermensch, with blond Aryan beast at one end of the scale and the remorseful, pitiful Jew at the other. If one reads all that Nietzsche wrote about the Jews, one can see that the picture is not nearly as one-sided as the nazis claimed. In the first place, he distinguished clearly between the people of the Old and New Testaments. For the most part he admired the people of the Old Testament for their strength and courage. It was the Jewish Christians of the New Testament whom he hated. This distinction is to be seen clearly in Zur Genealogie der Moral, in which he wrote,

“The Old Testament. Yes that is something quite different, all honour to the Old Testament! I find therein great men, an heroic landscape, and one of the rarest phenomena in the world, the incomparable naiveté of the strong heart; further still, I find a people. In the New, on the contrary, just a hostel of petty sects, pure rococo of the soul, twisting angles and fancy touches, nothing but conventicle air, not to mention an occasional whiff of bucolic sweetness which pertains to the epoch (and the Roman province) and is less Jewish than Hellenistic.”

The simple distinguishing adjective is once more klein. The people of the Old Testament are “grosse Menschen”. The fussy angularity of a certain kind of moral and theological small-mindedness is magnificently captured in the phrase “rococo of the soul”. Compared to this we have the simple, unimpeded élan of the people of the Old Testament, who could perhaps be compared to the Gothic of the first period, with its pillars rising straight up like trees in a primaeval forest.

Nietzsche’s particular grievance against the Jews was really that it was they who had initiated what he called “Der Sklaven-Aufstand in der Moral” the precise meaning of which phrase he explained in some detail in Zur Genealogie der Moral when he wrote,

“The Jews, that priestly nation, which eventually realised that the one method of getting satisfaction from its enemies and tyrants was by means of a radical transvaluation of values, which was at the same time an act of the cleverest revenge. Yet the method was only appropriate to a nation of priests, to a nation of the most jealously nursed priestly revengefulness. It was the Jews who in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good=aristocratic=beautiful=happy=loved of the gods) dared, with a terrifying logic, to suggest that the contrary equation, indeed to maintain it with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of impotence) namely this: “the wretched are alone the good, the poor, the weak, the lowly are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation-but you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power, you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless, eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned!”

The idea of the weak and suffering being associated with good, predates Christianity. In Taoism for example, the female principle, representing weakness and submission, is continually praised and valued above the more Nietzschean male attributes. Some of Nietzsche’s most amusing aphorisms and exaggerations are directed against women. We might compare some of Nietzsche’s more outrageous comments on women to those of Confucious who said that the common people and women were difficult to live with: if you treat them kindly they take advantage of it and if you treat them harshly they resent it. In spite of his suspicion of women, Nietzsche could write about women more soberly, as when he wrote of Friendship in Also Sprach Zarathustra“Far too long hath there been a slave and a tyrant concealed in woman. On that account woman is not yet capable of friendship: she knoweth only love. In woman’s love there is injustice and blindness to all that she does not love. And even in woman’s conscious love, there are still always surprises and night, along with the light. As yet woman is not capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds; or at best, cows. As yet woman is not capable of friendship. But tell me, ye men, who of you is capable of friendship?” From this and other passage it is evident that Nietzsche rated friendship higher than love. It demands supreme tact and generosity of spirit. Even pity, which elsewhere Zarathustra condemns as sentimental and self-indulgent, is permitted when it is directed towards a friend, though it should be hidden if possible, behind a stern exterior. This is reminiscent of Rivière in St. Exupéry’s Vol de Nuit, who feels immense pity for his men but feels that to show it might undermine their strength. He sums it up in the formula, Il faut aimer les homes mais sans le leur dire.

Nietzsche had a great deal to say about the Europe in which he lived. A lot of what he wrote was not at all complimentary. Civilization and modernity were two words which he hardly ever uttered without inwardly seething. More often than not, a fact which the Nazis chose to ignore, he was highly critical of Germany and the German spirit and chose to emphasise his Polish origin, His attitude to France was curiously ambivalent, possibly because of his admiration for Stendhal. His admiration was expressed in his praise of the subtlety, culture and good taste he found in many French authors. Like Stendhal, he almost worshiped Napoleon. However like this great nineteenth century “psychologist of the heart” (Stendhal not Napoleon) he found civilized France decadent and totally lacking in energy, attractive, superficially impressive but shallow and hollow. This is how he described what he called the European disease in Jenseits von Gut und Böse:“I am ready to answer for this diagnosis of the European disease-the disease of the will is diffused unequally over Europe; it is worst and most varied where civilization has longest prevailed; it decreases to the extent that the “barbarian” still, or again, asserts his claim over the loose drapery of Western culture.” This description of the faded flower of polite society, whose handshake is limp and whose conversation is boring and trivial, is similar to that described by Stendhal in Le Rouge et Noir.The young men who come to win the hand of Mathilde de la Mole are vapid, their conversation without point or interest. They talk about the weather. They have read nothing, seen nothing, understood nothing. They stand around yawning inwardly, afraid that some remark of theirs might be interpreted as politically unorthodox. In complete contrast to these powdered weaklings stands the Nietzschean hero Julien Sorel, whose passion and energy will win for him the admiration and allegiance of the equally passionate Mathilde. In fact it is Julien’s excessive passion that brings his downfall in the end.

However much Nietzsche expressed his contempt for the artificiality of the Paris salons of his day, he could not fail to appreciate some of the qualities of the French mind. In matters of taste he thought the French far superior to the heavy handed, laborious Germans. He appreciated and admired the moral seriousness and style of writers such as Montaigne, Pascal and La Rochefocauld. He considered that at their best the French achieved a synthesis of Northern and Southern elements, expressing serious thought in elegant language. But in spite of his appreciation of some French writers, Nietzsche continually castigated Europe as a whole for what he called its lack of moral interest and concern for real values. The Europe he saw was a Europe where there was an enormous amount of artificiality and counterfeiting of ideals. Camus in La Peste seems to be expressing a similar criticism of society when he describes the preoccupations of the people of Oran as that of making money during the day and then spending it on women, the cinema and eating and drinking in restaurants. In this way Oran is a “ville tout à fait moderne”. The suggestion that there is anything more to life does not enter their heads; Oran, “une ville sans soupçons“. It is the suspicion that there is more to life than a succession of petty pleasures that concerns both Camus and Nietzsche. People seem to be only interested in stimulation and excitement. Even religion and bogus ideals are mere stimulants to these moral eunuchs. For want of fire in their bellies they drink fire water. Pleasure is their good, alcoholic the very air which they breathe. In a passage of considerable richness and colour, Nietzsche described the Europe of his day in Zur Genealogie der Moral as follows,

“Europe nowadays is above all wealthy and ingenious in means of excitement, it apparently has no more crying necessity than stimulation and alcohol: hence the enormous counterfeiting of ideals, those most firey spirits of the mind, hence also the repulsive, evil-smelling, perjured, pseudo-alcoholic air everywhere. I should like to know how many cargoes of imitation idealism, of hero costumes and high-falutin’ claptrap, how many casks of sweetened pity liqueur, how many crutches of righteous indignation for the help of these flat-footed intellects, how many comedians of the Christian moral ideal would need today to be expected from Europe, to enable its air to smell pure again.”

Now that we live in an age in which drugs of all kinds have become easily available and when the search for excitement and stimulation is prevalent, we can understand only too well Nietzsche’s reaction to similar threats. Christianity and modernity were both responsible for emasculating Man. In Ecce Homo he admits that Jenseits von Gut und Böse was a criticism of “modernity”. In addition it contains indications concerning a type “as little like modern man as possible”. In other words, Nietzsche’s Yea-sayer is conceived as being the very opposite of modern man. Before we return to this we should consider briefly two other real threats to mankind: nihilism and nausea. Both attitudes breed despair, the despair of a Kirilov, the nihilist in Dostoyevsky’s Bjessy (The Devils) who shoots himself, the nausea of Roquentin in Sartre’s La Nausée, which leads to disenchantment and anguish, although there is a suggestion at the end of the novel that life might be redeemed by art. Nietzsche too thought that art might provide an answer to Man’s quest for meaning. In his Geburt der Tragödie he wrote “art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life.” Of Sartre’s “Nausée“, it is interesting to note that Nietzsche, some fifty years before Sartre, used the same word (Ekelin German) and the word absurd in connection with it. Art is personified by Nietzsche as a redeeming and healing enchantress who can cure Man of nausea and disillusionment:

“she may transform these horrible reflections on the terror and absurdity of existence into representations with which men may live. these are the representations of the sublime as the artistic conquest of the awful, and of the comic as the artistic release from the nausea of the absurd.” (My stress)

Nietzsche’s confidence in the ability of Art to provide this release is much less evident in his later works, in which, notably in Zur Genealogie der Moral, we see a growing awareness of the danger of nausea, of nihilism and what he calls the morality of pity. Something stronger and more dynamic is needed than Art. Europe was in danger of succumbing to the most sublime of temptations, the temptation of Nothingness. Nihilism. Buddhism for Nietzsche was the religion which aspired to Nothingness, to the void. Its aim was to reduce the level of life in this world. It was anti-life and world negating. It was a creeping, withering sickness. the most sinister symptom of this disease was its undermining of the will to live and to live fully. Pity was the handmaid of this diseases will, for it sought to elevate suffering into a desirable condition, a rare spiritual state, far removed from the raw consciousness of the healthy animal.

Another specific dislike of Nietzsche’s was China, not the China of Confucius so much as the China of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. For Nietzsche this was an exhausted, dying culture. I wonder how he would have judged the China of today, or the China of Mao-Tse-Tung and the Cultural revolution. The Chinese way was no more than dressed up nihilism, a basic distaste for life that sought to reverse the trend toward more life, so that creation would slither back into the primæval pool and finally die. The Chinese and indeed the Christian ideal was directed towards the creation of some more attenuated, more inoffensive, more indifferent form of life, some ethereal nonentity. Because of these negative forces Man has lost faith and hope in the future. He has lost the will to be himself. The “sickness unto death” is upon him.

Having reached the low point of Nietzsche’s analysis of Man and his predicament, it is time to put the other side of the equation and to answer the question as to how Man can find a way out of this seeming impasse. How can we give Man back his former zest for life? What sort of Man do we need to create and encourage to achieve this transformation and reverse the trend towards degradation and ultimate extinction?

Most of the characteristics of Nietzsche’s “Man of Tomorrow” can be derived from the negative aspects that we have already examined. He is eminently a “strong” man, the antithesis of the sick weaklings that Nietzsche saw around him. To some extent however, Nietzsche uses the word “strong” simply to express what he approves of. His own “transvaluation of values” is quite as arbitrary as the one he accused the Jews of having brought about. At times he emphasised the savage, almost bestial aspects of the Man of Tomorrow, while at other times he referred to him, perhaps ironically as a gentilhomme, This is how Nietzsche described this strange hybrid in Ecce Homo

“the expression here being used with a much more spiritual and radical significance than it has ever had before. Even to endure the idea one must be physically courageous, one must never have learned fear. All these things on which the age prides itself are felt as conflicting with the type mentioned; they’re looked upon almost in the light of bad manners. Among these things are our far-famed “objectivity”, “sympathy with the sufferers”. the Man of Sensibility stands in direct contrast to the Man of Courage. The latter must have physical courage as well as the courage to say yes to life, even though so many of one’s contemporaries are saying no. The nobleman must know no fear. He must above all, be true to the earth, not subscribing to any abstract, world-denying religion or philosophy. In addition to physical strength he must cultivate a strength of will to enable him to surpass himself. He must be a creator of values that have as their object a state of super-consciousness. The yardstick by which he will be judged is whether he has contributed towards the realisation of the maximum potentiality of the human species.”

The main difficulty with this Nietzschean Ãœbermensch of the future is that he combines so many qualities that it is hard to imagine them all existing simultaneously within the same personality. He is joyful yet serious. He is full of Dionysian fury and also very self-possessed. Perhaps this is no more than saying that he is truly an Ãœbermensch and that such contradictions are the source both of his strength and his comprehensiveness. there is no compromise or cancelling out of extremes within the Nietzschean Ãœbermensch personality. The extremes exist in dynamic tension. As he is as immeasurably superior to ordinary Man as Man is to the ape, we cannot use the same scale of values to judge him by. It is like judging a mosquito cruel because it bites us. The Ãœbermensch is beyond good and evil in the same way as the mosquito is, as the other end of the scale. The Ãœbermensch is a god, but as a god of the earth, the natural successor to man. As God is dead we have to create god in Man. Such is the task and aim of all noble human endeavour: to create the god man, the anti-Christ, the anti-nihilist.

In many respects Nietzsche could be termed an evolutionist. He believed that not only had we evolved from the ape but that the process was still going on. Such is the loud and clear teaching of Also Sprach Zarathustra. The statement of this conviction comes immediately after Zarathustra’s well-known pronouncement that God is dead. It is a call to Man to take the place of God, to renounce the supernatural and turn his attention solely towards the earth. It seems to me that this belief lies at the very centre of Nietzsche’s philosophy and this first formulation might well serve as a blueprint for his overall view of mankind.

“Man is something that has to be surpassed. What have you done to surpass man? All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves and you want to be the ebb of that great tide and would rather go back than surpass man? What is the ape to man? A laughing stock, a thing of shame. You have made your way from worm to Man and much within you is still worm. Once you were apes and even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes. Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. but do I bid you become phantoms or plants? Lo, I teach you the Ãœbermensch! The Ãœbermensch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the Ãœbermensch shall be the meaning of the earth! I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth and believe not those who speak to you of other worldly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.”

Zarathustra has a mission, a vocation. He wishes both to teach and convert his readers. Like many a teacher he almost immediately asks a rhetorical question, so involving the reader more intimately and giving the passage the feeling of a dialogue. He compares contemporary man with the countless toilers of the past and shows his attitude towards evolution by his use of the evocative but slightly hackneyed phrase “the ebb of that great tide”. Zarathustra’s attitude ot modern man is highly critical, even contemptuous. The introduction of the worm into the evolution chain is a comic device, relying on the common use of the word “worm” as a term of mild abuse. the ape too, and man’s likeness to him, is used to underline man’s lack of evolutionary progress. Perhaps this lofty contempt is no more than a pedagogic method of eliciting a positive response from his reader. Certainly an attempt is made later in the passage to adopt a more gentle and sympathetic tone when he says “I conjure you my brothers”. However, it cannot be denied that the predominant note here and elsewhere in Nietzsche’s work is one of superiority. It is this attitude of disdain that has antagonised so many readers. It seems as though he experienced a sort of sadistic pleasure in watching and describing the pathetic contortions of soi-disant Homo sapiens. One might equally interpret such outbursts as the frustrated and exasperated reactions of a visionary, who believed that Man could achieve so much but in fact it seemed as though he were stumbling mindlessly along the path to ultimate extinction like the dinosaurs. A third possible interpretation is that Nietzsche wished to sting men into action. He saw them as sunk so low into non-life that only by virulent attacks could he arouse them from torpor.

Zarathustra’s exhortation to remain true to the earth is a natural consequence of his rejection of the transcendental and is not unlike the stance of some modern theologians who have replaced the transcendent God by the immanent God within. In one respect Nietzsche parted company with the majority of evolutionists and that is in his interpretation of the function of the will. He did not subscribe to the view that Man was swept along inevitably by the tide of evolution. He thought that through the exercise of the will Man can both resist and assist the current. Man was not merely a thinking reed, he was a self-willed agent, the master of his fate and the forerunner of the Übermensch. The only really crucial question that remained to be answered was how Man was to achieve this state of supreme self-consciousness, for this is what Nietzsche’s self-appointed mission was, as he stated it unequivocally in Ecce Homo:

“My life-task is to prepare for humanity a moment of self-consciousness, a great Noontide when he will again gaze both backward and forwards, when it will emerge from the tyranny of accident and priesthood, and for the first time poses the question of the Why and Wherefore of Humanity as a whole. this life-task is a necessary result of the view that mankind does not follow the right road of its own accord, that it is by no means divinely ruled, but rather, that it is precisely under the cover of its most sacred values that the tendency to negation, corruption and decadence has exerted such seductive power.”

The teacher is once more in evidence right from the start, with Nietzsche’s use of the word Aufgabe, the normal word for an exercise done in school. his task is both schoolmaster and prophet. In order that the human race continue to develop it will require great leadership. Most of the religions would be likely to lead man in the opposite direction , into decadence and death. As Homo sapiens is distinguished from the rest of creation by the ability ot reflect, so the Übermensch will be distinguished by his supremeself-consciousness. He will be like a god, surveying the whole of time both past and present from his mountain peak. But before examining what the nature of this state of supreme self-consciousness was to be, it is perhaps valuable to see how Nietzsche expected this state to be achieved.

In that most revealing section of Ecce Homo called Warum ich so klug bin (Why I am so wise), Nietzsche, drawing on his own painful experience, attempted to sketch out a diet sheet for the attainment of maximum strength. In addition to physical well-being he envisages a state of mind which he associated with the French and vertu. He defined this in the Renaissance idiom as “virtue free from moralism”, Mankind’s future he saw as more bound up with diet than with theology, though diet did not refer solely to food in its literal sense. Before discussing nourishment in a purely material sense, he reflected bitterly on how little real spiritual nourishment he had received in the altruistic diet he had been brought up on. Wryly he mentioned Schopenhauer, whose works had destroyed his appetite for life and his will to live. His workers, like vinegar, had poisoned and embittered Nietzsche when he was at an impressionable age. What a lot these pessimists and predictors of doom have to answer for! What mountains of human hope and aspirations have been destroyed! In searing contrast Nietzsche longed to nourish Man’s dearest hopes and aspirations.

Although never leaving aside totally the less literal meanings of food, Nietzsche did also examine in some detail (and this strikes a curiously modern note) the significance of diet for the superior man. He disliked the tasteless German soups, their vegetables cooked with fat and flour and their insubstantial patisseries (I personally have always found them all too substantial with a liberal dollop of Schlagsahne). What is more, he concluded that there was a close connection between the indigestible German food and the cumbersome German intellect. Reduced to its bare bones (!): German intellect is indigestion. Der deutsche Geist ist Indigestion. (Vol11 p.416 EcceHomo). Nietzsche is scarcely les critical of English food, which he compared to that of cannibals. He asserted that the English considered that an adequate preparation of vegetables and other food was cooking them in boiling water. His advice on what beverages were to be taken and at what hour, together with their effects on the constitution, are almost old-maidish in their precision. Was it because Nietzsche’s own health was often precarious? alcohol was not recommended and large meals, as opposed to a series of snacks, were good for the stomach. The sedentary life was to be studiously avoided, Even mental activity was to be born of the free movement s of the body. Thoughts spawned on the invalid’s couch were suspect. (Nietzsche would not have approved of Proust). As Man is a physical organism, all disturbances and all prejudices have their physiological origins. An active life keeps the body healthy, whereas the sedentary life is the cause of all sorts of spiritual as well as bodily disorders. The spirit is the flowering of the whole organism.

Closely allied to the question of diet was that of the choice of locality and climate. Nietzsche, whose delicate health required a dry climate, had always, except during the last years of his life, spent his life in the wrong places. Almost all the unhappiness of his youth he puts down, not the lack of friends, but to his ignorance of physiology. One’s bodily health depended on diet, climate and locality and if all these three elements were right, they would produce an abundance of animal vigour. At it height it would result in a state of exuberant freedom and self-confidence, which are the distinguishing marks of the Übermensch.

[The remainder of this essay is available in the print version.]

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