Posts Tagged ‘Friedrich Nietzsche’

Good enough for greatness

February 24, 2012

My old teacher John Lachs delivered this year’s inaugural Berry Lecture at Vanderbilt last night. “Why is Good Enough not Good Enough for Us?” It was just as I’ve come to expect of his talks through the years, thoughtful and elegant and crisply performed. It spurned Platonism, the impossible and stultifying “pursuit of perfection” which he said

 is not the search for something definite and well-known. The limits of human capacity and the vagueness of the ideal make attainment of perfection impossible, yet its lure ruins our satisfaction with what is clearly excellent and therefore good enough.

This isn’t the “good enough” of Lake Wobegon, where things could always be worse, but the genuine good of areth [aretê] that ought to be enough to fill our hearts and entice our eagerness for the morrow. But most of us fall prey to perfectionism at one time or another, and cheat ourselves of the life satisfactions we’ve earned.

After the talk I asked Lachs if he’d seen Moneyball. He hasn’t. But consider the case of poor Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics General Manager. Incapable of relishing his small-market team’s record-setting win streak or his own unorthodox contributions to that achievement, he’s a “perfect” illustration of  Lachs’s thesis. The A’s didn’t win the Big One at season’s end, so the perfectionist GM considered himself and his team a failure. He couldn’t give himself a moment’s pause to mark and remember their remarkable success.

In A&P yesterday afternoon we heard from Daniel about another sort of perfectionist, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Uber-prophet who came too soon. Forever too soon, for the humans he thought “all too human.” Fritz was not much of a team player, but  there are legions of Nietzscheans among us still. I considered myself one, back in my early days of grad school before discovering Willy James’s less antipathetic humanism.

I do like Nietzsche’s impulse, manifest in his “gift” of eternal recurrence, to find our permanent life in nature good enough and affirm its perpetual return. But the discipline of sublimated  self-overcoming he preached and roughly practiced is too stern and self-denying for my taste. The so called will to power, the “striving to transcend and perfect oneself,” is an example of what Lachs called

our Faustian tendency to want to have and do everything… our compulsion to pursue unreachable ideals [in] the eternal dissatisfaction that permeates Western industrial society.

Reach for the stars, by all means, but as Casey Kasem used to say as he counted down to #1, keep your feet on the ground.The “good enough” perspective “substitutes joy in the immediacies of life for all-encompassing guilt.” Of course we should all be doing what we can to ameliorate the suffering and sadness that afflict so many, and not only those in our own back yard.  The Peter Singers of the world may ask too much of us, but those to whom much is given have much to give back. We need to have an answer. And yet…

This world as we know it really is more than good enough. It might even be great, like those post-lecture beers at Blackstone’s. Just wish I’d remembered to phone home. But nobody’s perfect.

Where to, humanity?

February 15, 2012

Mill, Darwin, NietzscheEmersonThoreauPeirceDewey, James… they were all evolutionists, but were any of them baseball fans? (And what difference does that make? None, really. But I wrote the bulk of this post last Fall during the MLB postseason, and now it’s almost time for a new season to begin. This year it really won’t be the same.)

Well, Mill was a cricketer, Nietzsche a “footballer.” Dewey praised the “tense grace of the outfielder.” One of James’s students tried to interest him in the game once, without success:

Morris Rafael Cohen records, “When my revered friend and teacher William James wrote ‘The Moral Equivalent of War‘ I suggested to him that baseball already embodied all the moral value of war, so far as war had any moral value. He listened sympathetically and was amused, but did not take me seriously enough. All great men have their limitations.”

And that’s a good segue to MillDarwin, and Nietzsche. All were concerned, in one way or another, with the prospective greatness of humanity. A common misunderstanding of Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis had him defending the “survival of the fittest” ethos as social policy. But Darwin was no Social Darwinist, preferring instead the cooperative liberal vision of his countryman Mill.

And then there’s Nietzsche, heralding the Ubermensch (“I teach you the Overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”), aspiring to a personal future “beyond good and evil,” heaping scorn and abuse on comfortable “couch potato” English values (like democracy and “utility”), and insisting that hardship is the cost of greatness.

Nietzsche liked Emerson, and his “self-reliance.” The “Divinity School Address” must have pleased him too, with its repudiation of Judeo-Christian(-Islamic) supernaturalism and “monstrous distortion” of Jesus’ message that our life is a natural miracle, “one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”

Nietzsche read German translations of Emerson’s essays, copied passages from “History” and “Self-Reliance” in his journals, and wrote of the Essays: that he had never “felt so much at home in a book.” Emerson’s ideas about “strong, overflowing” heroes, friendship as a battle, education, and relinquishing control in order to gain it, can be traced in Nietzsche’s writings. Other Emersonian ideas-about transition, the ideal in the commonplace, and the power of human will permeate the writings of such classical American pragmatists as William James and John Dewey. SEP [affinity]

I confess I used to think more highly of Nietzsche’s philosophy in my younger days. Many have gone through such a phase before “falling out with Superman,” often in adolescence (think of Dwayne in “Little Miss Sunshine”) and coordinate with feelings of personal alienation  and megalomania.  I finally decided he was just too pitifully misanthropic and maladjusted to be a good role model. He made a show of life-affirmation but, I concluded, was really a misanthrope in superhero’s clothing.

But, by the way, his “passionate atheism” is a separate issue. Giles Fraser is wrong to say Nietzsche “would have loathed the high priests of new atheism,” but right to suggest that by “God is dead” he meant something non-literal. And like Gary Kamiya, Fraser is right (that is, in the spirit of his former hero) to transmute his youthful Nietzschean inspiration into something else, to make it his own.

“You say you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? . . . Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”

And what did James think of Nietzsche? Lumped him with Schopenhauer as a pair of rats, and pitied “poor Nietzsche’s antipathies.”

Thoreau reputedly lived a lot like Nietzsche, in (relative) hermetic isolation. But did you know that during his sojourn at Walden pond, on property owned by Emerson, he made regular town-rounds and dropped his laundry off at Mom’s? [pics]

Peirce imagined the ideal end of intellectual history, defining truth as the view destined to be agreed upon. “Agreement” is not a term often associated with Nietzsche.

Darwin Day ’12… V’day & the philosophy of love… Bruces animated… Are We Still Evolving?… Darwin & friendsEvolution & cooperation… best idea ever… meanings evolvebest way to begin each day (Nietzsche?!)…nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya… into thin air (Nietzsche on hardship)…recurrence (“When N. Wept”)… “I am dynamite“… December advice

“The best way to begin each day well…” Nietzsche said that?!

May 4, 2011

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” I doubted that Nietzsche really said that, it sounds so cute and chirpy. But there it is in Human, all too human,  aphorism #580.

And then there’s #589, a real shocker.

First thought of the day.— The best way to begin each day well is: upon awakening, to think about whether we cannot bring pleasure to at least one person on this day. If this could count as a substitute for the religious habit of prayer, our fellow human beings would gain an advantage from the change.

I can say unequivocally, though, that #539 is just wrong (or at least wrong for our students to believe, here in the midst of final exam week):

 Youth is an unpleasant period; for then it is not possible or not prudent to be productive in any sense whatsoever.

My big challenge this week is to remember how to be a productive grader while also sick. Where is that other Nietzschean gem, again, about being made stronger by whatever doesn’t kill you?

“Life’s an odd transit”

April 2, 2011

My favorite presentation at yesterday’s day-long “Baseball in Literature and Culture” confab in my building– did you decode the boldface clue in yesterday’s post, btw? (Neither did George Plimpton’s original hoaxees)– was a paper by East Tennessee State English prof Don Johnson on my favorite contemporary novelist, Richard Ford.

It was called “Richard Ford’s Knuckler: Conflicting Attitudes Toward Baseball in the Frank Bascomb Trilogy.” (The session was in the Faculty Senate chambers. No disrespect to my fellow Senators, but this was the best use of that space I’ve yet been party to.)

Dr. Johnson spoke of the “autotelic” moment, which some psychologists (like Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi) call “flow,” when time seems to stop, thinking takes a seat in the grandstand, and (if you’re in the batter’s box… or perhaps if you’re Ted Williams or Stan Musial in the batter’s box) the ball’s “as big as the moon.”

This is a prominent theme is Ford’s Frank Bascomb novels, the elusive instinctive quality of immediacy and satisfaction experienced by athletes when they’re on their game, and coveted by us all when our ruminating thoughts block our path to home.

In Lay of the Land there’s a scene in which Frank’s ex-wife is recalling, in a voice message left on his machine, a charmed moment when he and his little boy Paul were sitting in the stands in Philadelphia and a foul line drive came hard at them.

And Paul said you just reached up with one hand and caught it. He said everybody around you stood up and applauded you, and your hand swelled up huge. But he said you were so happy. You smiled and smiled, he said.

That’s what William James meant by “the sufficiency of the present moment,” that’s the bluebird of happiness, and it comes and nestles precisely when you’re not thinking of it. Frank’s ex was attracted to the man who caught the line drive because he seemed like someone who could be happy and wanted to be. But as she concludes the phone message: “Life’s an odd transit.” It’s very hard for most of us to appreciate fully the primal happiness of “thinking of nothing and doing nothing,” just bein’. Those are terrific moments to think about, and more terrific to live.

But Frank now thinks such moments are overrated. Of course he does. Thinking doesn’t think much of moments.

The kind of happy I was that day at the Vet when “Hawk” Dawson actually doffed his red “C” cap to me, and everyone cheered and I practically convulsed into tears– you can’t patent that. It was one shining moment that was instantly gone. Whereas life, real life, is different and can’t even be appraised as simply “happy,” but only in terms of “Yes, I’ll take it all, thanks,” or “No, I believe I won’t.” Happy, as my poor father used to say, is a lot of hooey. Happy is a circus clown, a sitcom, a greeting card. Life, though, life’s about something sterner. But also something better. A lot better. Believe me.

This sounds a bit like the upshot of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence thought experiment, and a bit like Buddhist renunciation. Just a bit. Maybe it’s wisdom. The happiness class is coming ’round again in the Fall, we’ll explore it some more then. (But not just “think” about it.)

Meanwhile, I intend to be as ready as I can for those serendipitous line drives.

practical humanism

April 15, 2010

We’re back to Andre Comte-Sponville’s Little Book of Atheist Spirituality today. We noted, when we first made his acquaintance, that there’s something unexpectedly Deweyan in his version of natural piety and the idea that our task is more to transmit than to invent values. Fidelity, not faith, thus becomes the distinctive mark of atheist spirituality.

But the circumstances of a pseudo-fideist French atheist are different than those for even the friendliest American atheist. Not entirely– we too must find something to oppose to fanaticism from without and nihilism from within. The Christian west as we know it, though, has not ceased to be Christian at all. Not around these parts, anyway.

There does feel to be something of a safely post-facto nostalgia at work in AC-S’s feeling of connectedness and fidelity to the specific history, tradition and community that was once a vibrant European Christian culture. You’d have to go back nearly to Henry Adams‘ Virgin of Chartres and his “study of thirteenth-century unity,” though, to find an intensity and spontaneity of un-self-circumspect emotional devotion to that tradition to match the fervor that still pervades our Bible Belt. We’ve not really yet embraced, as a tradition and community, the “dynamo” of postmodernity here.

So, friendly as I mean to be, I can’t earnestly mimic his Christian atheism. That would confuse and infuriate my real Christian neighbors. But I can cheerfully echo his quest to be a friendly atheist in a Judeo-Christian land, out to convert nobody but simply to co-exist on however slim a sliver of common ground we can manage to share. We do have a history together, after all. And I’m already on board with the “What does God have to do with it?” attitude, even if most Christians (unlike many Jews) continue to obsess about that.  God is not the day-to-day focal point of most religious life, life is.  (“More life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is the end of religion.” -WJ)

Fidelity matters more than faith… There is no need to believe in God– one need believe only in one’s parents and mentors, one’s friends (provided they are well chosen) and one’s conscience… Believing or not believing in God changes nothing of great significance, except in the eyes of fundamentalists. Whether you have a religion or not, nothing can exempt you from having to respect the lives, freedom and dignity of other people.

This fidelity to humanity and to our own duty to be human is “practical humanism,” and it’s what AC-S finds lacking in Nietzsche’s nihilistic post-nihilism. What a rotten, miserable life he had, though he wrote some good books and dashed off some spirited lines. And poetry.

And this is “cheerful despair” (or Stoicism, or Spinozism):

Happiness is not something to be hoped for but something to be experienced here and now!

The hope for tomorrow’s happiness prevents you from experiencing today’s… cut off from the present (which is all) by the future (which is nothing)… The wise live in the present, wishing only for what is (acceptance, love) or what they can bring about (will).

All trips end eventually. Is that any reason to renounce undertaking one and enjoying it? -Of course not! On the contrary, it is a powerful reason to go on paying the utmost attention to life, peace, justice… and our children. Life is all the more precious for being rare and fragile.


A Catholic priest who cheerfully admits that God and immortality are “secondary matters”? Not to his parishioners. There’s really something rotten in Rome these days. But AC-S draws the right moral from this encounter:

The value of human beings has nothing to do with whether or not they believe in God or life after death… It would be madness to attach more significance to what we don’t know and what separates us than to what we know from our own experience and what brings us together… people’s real worth is measured by the amount of love, compassion and justice of which they are capable!

Of course. But priests and pastors and Rabbis ought not to misrepresent themselves, either. [“Preachers Who Are Not Believers“]

This post is getting too long, there are gems on every page, I’m not going to come close to today’s target (chapter 2). Just one more sparkler, please:

Why dream about paradise? The kingdom is here and now. It is up to us to inhabit a material and spiritual space (the world, our bodies: the present)… people’s spiritual elevation could be accurately measured by their greater or lesser indifference to the question of their own immortality. If we are already in the kingdom, we are already saved. What could death take away from us? What more could immortality give?

There is no need to wait until we are saved to be human.

Humanity = communion, fidelity, love… Amen!

wisdom of Solomon

April 13, 2010

We finish Solomon’s Spirituality for the Skeptic today. I find much to admire in his approach, though I’m not so willing to spin “poor Nietzsche’s antipathy” as sympathetically as he. [reviewPigliucci]

“I am dynamite!” is more than simply the announcement of an audacious new brand of spirituality, it is the defensive ego-blast of a lonely, insecure hermetic misanthrope. But it’s still fun to read:

I am not a man, I am dynamite. And with it all there is nought of the founder of a religion in me. Religions are matters for the mob ; after coming in contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands; I require no “believers,” I am too full of malice to believe in even myself. I am horribly frightened that one day I shall be pronounced “holy.” I refuse to be a saint, I would rather be a clown. Maybe I am a clown… and the mouthpiece of truth. But my truth is terrible; for hitherto lies have been called the truth. The Transvaluation of all Values, this is my formula for mankind’s greatest step towards coming to its senses– a step which in me became flesh and genius. My destiny ordained that I should be the first decent human being… I was the first to discover truth… Ecce Homo

And the next thing we know, he’s hugging a horse and proclaiming himself Jesus and Alexander. You can call it spirituality if you like, I call it syphilitic madness. A fruitful madness, though, with plenty in it worth talking about. But this guy should be nobody’s role model, pasted on no disaffected teenager‘s bedroom wall.

Consider: as Nietzsche scratched out those lines in his Swiss garret, announcing his unique superiority to all other members of his species, James was wrapping up Principles of Psychology and delineating the common organic  threads that bind us all together. What a contrast. He writes:

The mood of a Schopenhauer or a Nietzsche, though often an ennobling sadness, is almost as often only peevishness running away with the bit between its teeth.  The sallies of the two German authors remind one, half the time, of the sick shriekings of two dying rats.  They lack the purgatorial note which religious sadness gives forth.

And then James cites an extended passage in Genealogy of Morals, and then is moved to deplore "poor Nietzsche's antipathy." But he also adds: "but we know what he means," and acknowledges the seriousness of the issue at hand.
For Nietzsche the saint represents little but sneakingness and slavishness.  He is the sophisticated invalid, the degenerate par excellence, the man of insufficient vitality.  His prevalence would put the human type in danger... "The sick are the greatest danger for the well.  The weaker, not the stronger, are the strong's undoing. if health, success, strength, pride, and the sense of power were in themselves things vicious, for which one ought eventually to make bitter expiation.  Oh, how these people would themselves like to inflict the expiation, how they thirst to be the hangmen! And all the while their duplicity never confesses their hatred to be hatred." [VRE]
Solomon is spontaneously humane and compassionate, precisely where his hero is hard-hearted and insensitive and disgusted by "weakness." Nietzsche was not a great-souled man in the Aristotelian mold, nor is it clear how the "greatness" of wanting nothing different than it is can be distinguished from stoicism or resignation.

However, let us not get stuck in more small antipathies. His persevering embrace of hardship and the polemical energy of his pile-driver prose can be stirring. What I like about this book:

Following up the ch.4 aside about professional philosophers who are rational, reflective, and devoid of passion and spirituality, note my snarky invidious comparison the other day. For the record, and as James would say: I was probably missing the whole inward significance, for my classmate, of the epistemology enterprise. We don’t all wear our passions on our sleeves. Fair enough. But still, there are relatively passionless scholars out there. Lots of them, in fact, and most would happily renounce any interest in spirituality. Their perfect right.

Ch.5. Solomon says the naturalistic version of the problem of evil is marked by the insufferable “why me” whining of those who consider themselves entitled to the universe’s particular solicitude. Good point. But is it really true that there is no problem of evil at all for those who hold low or no expectations for the world’s goodness? Evil and suffering are existential problems for us all, and an added challenge for those meliorists who seek meaning and purpose in their progressive diminution.

Solomon likes James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis and notes with approval its affinity for the Taoist quest to harmonize with (and as part of) nature.  Dawkins, we saw in Unweaving the Rainbow, considers the whole thing too New Agey, and now Lovelock apparently agrees with him. But isn’t there some sense in developing this metaphor, so long as we don’t imagine Mother Earth literally to have a mind of her own? Aren’t we it, in fact, the only developed consciousness on the planet? Earth has an ecological intelligence, we can say metaphorically. But we have the brains, and we’re the only ones with a vested stake in the continuance of human beings on this rock.

Nietzsche’s declaration that he was an “atheist by instinct” srikes an interesting contrast to those (like Michael Shermer in the Wall Street Journal last week) who contend that we’re hard-wired to seek God. There are instinctive atheists for whom the God hypothesis entirely fails to resonate, no? Whole cultures and traditions of them, in fact. Didn’t we learn that from Jennifer Hecht?

Time and space grow short. Some stubs:

Ch.6. Dennett, Vonnegut, determinism vs. fatalism, luck, chance, scientism, eternal recurrence… “People die before their time.”

Ch.7. Socrates hated life? Or was it Plato? In any event, Solomon is right (isn’t he?) to say that the meaning of death comes down to the meaning of life. That’s the better frame, as James and Spinoza would agree. And death indeed is not the end, if we can transcend our narrow little selves and identify with the species. Why can’t we?

Ch.8. Curiously, Hegel and Nietzsche are teamed to make a case for the wider self of “Geist, ” for a compassionate community of souls together breathing life into Spirit and the zeitgeist. Sure looks like Fritz is being bent over backward to fit the kinder, gentler dimensions of this program (caring, love, reverence, trust).

But if that’s what survives his dispatch of “soul atoms,” maybe it’s not so important whether he gets with the program in all its details. Or if his “hypersensitive nature” throws up a rhetorical smokescreen behind which lurks a hidden pussycat.  It’s too late, under the moving finger of fate, to worry much about Nietzsche’s status and legacy. The more pressing question: can you and I enjoy a naturalized spirituality as we live forward in our time, and cultivate a thoughtful love of life?

What have we got to lose by trying? The tremendous effort to discover or realize our better selves is what spirituality is all about. This naturalized notion of spirituality is, in this narcissistic and materialist age, something well worth striving for.

Superman, though, is not.

into thin air

April 12, 2010

We circle back ’round to Nietzsche, and Alain de Botton‘s last Consolations of Philosophy chapter, today in Intro. (Follow AdB on Twitter)

Nietzsche is not my favorite philosopher, though he was one of ’em back in the day– back in what I think of as my misanthropic pre-democratic early grad school phase. He’s still more fun to read than just about anyone, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be him. He was self-isolating, took himself much too seriously even before the syphilitic bug turned his brain to egocentric mush, and had much too little sympathy for his fellow mortals. And yet…

And yet there are times in every life when self-imposed hardship is better, healthier, than comfort and pleasure and ease. Self-overcoming is inseparable from self-actualization, and there are no more intoxicating moments for any of us than those at the peak of a long hard slog over difficult terrain. The air is thin up there, and bracing. And I happen to agree with him about  this: the best thoughts are indeed those that come while walking.

But for a German to renounce beer!

And maybe it is “stupid” to want to change the weather, as I do every February. It would have been this weekend, I’ll give him that much.

[slideshowDrunk on the groundbdayhammerMillDarwinNietzscheeternal recurrencemusicbeautyconsolationsunnyformula for happinessfree spiritlast manwanderer]

19th century spirit

February 25, 2010

It’s exam day in A&S and this chapter is not on it, so I’ll be brief.

I’m not quite ready for the 19th century anyway, I want first to pause and savor the Treaty of Tripoli signed into law by John Adams in 1797 that declared: the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion… any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation. John Adams!

Women, drawn by the new century’s burgeoning reform movements, are about to start showing up at doubt’s party in greater numbers. (One of our adult learners Tuesday night was concerned, on his granddaughters’ behalf, about the  disproportionate representation of males in this story. Me too.) Anne Newport Royall, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose, Fanny Wright, Harriet Martineau…

Equally significant: this will be the century when doubters really begin to understand themselves as affirmers, championing a conception of the godless universe as liberating, not defining themselves strictly in opposition to orthodoxy. Martineau declares God “so irrelevant as to make me blush.” When she finally lets go not only of God but also of residual fantasies of an afterlife, she delights to find herself “a free rover on the broad, bright breezy common of the universe, the happiest woman in England.”

Darwin’s naturalistic evolutionary account of the human epic gives non-theists new legs. And there are the romantic poets (and Emily Dickinson), and Kierkegaard and Marx and Schopenhauer– his line about immortalists “hot for atheism” is funny– and Nietzsche trumpeting his Ubermenschen of the future and denigrating the nihilism of old-time religion (and philosophy).

And J.S. Mill (of his own free will), proclaiming liberty and utility.  And countless others.

And Thomas Hardy, officiating at God’s funeral.

I could not prop their faith: and yet
Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
And though struck speechless, I did not forget
That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.

Still, how to bear such loss I deemed
The insistent question for each animate mind,
And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
A pale yet positive gleam low down behind


November 18, 2009

As noted in Monday’s post, in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche related “the spirit of music” to the frenzied Dionysian revel, immediate and intense and beyond the verbalizing/conceptualizing intellect… and said it it is  a necessary complement and counter-balance to the classical, restrained, objectifying “Apollonian” impulse.

On this view music, more than any other form of art, taps a deep and unconscious well of human instinct. While we’re enthralled by the music we’re reconciled to nature and our fellow humans, in a selfless dream state that sometimes may slip into pseudo-intoxication. Music is a drug, a trance, possibly a natural route to transcendence.

Study the faces in the crowd at a concert where the audience is really into it . (You can’t quite do that if you’re into it yourself, but there’s plenty of concert footage on YouTube you can study from the detached vantage of your computer.) Those faces reflect the wild abandon, the ecstasis,  that Nietzsche celebrates as “Dionysian.” For a time there is no self-conscious individuation, all are happily submerged in the music. Those of mystical inclination might even agree with Nietzsche’s claim that in this state, it feels as though the veil of illusion has lifted and reality is fully present, in the raw. It may not be “orgiastic” in the Dionysian sense, but I’ve heard interesting reports from Bonnaroo— and more interesting stories from Bonnaroo’s ancestors. (But only stories, I was just a kid in the “summer of love”).

Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, thinks music is a key that unlocks many mysteries, too, and an engine of human evolution.  It’s definitely not just “auditory cheesecake.” But he would agree: it’s ok not to load your personal experience of music down with too much heavy import and analysis. Just listen, and enjoy. Here he is in a brief but snappy Canadian interview:

And here he is in a long, less snappy talk at the Google-plex:

Nietzschean dawn

July 9, 2009

“We philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel ourselves irradiated by a new dawn by the report that the ‘old God is dead’; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment, and expectation. . . . You say you believe in the necessity of religion. Be sincere! You believe in the necessity of the police.”

Thus spake Nietzsche in The Joyful Wisdom (aka The Gay Science), where he also wrote:

“One could conceive of such a pleasure and power of self-determination, such a freedom of the will that the spirit would take leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, being practiced in maintaining himself on insubstantial ropes and possibilities and dancing even near abysses. Such a spirit would be the free spirit par excellence.”

Dancing near an abyss may not be so different from hiking with a bad heart, if at the end of the hike the hiker returns to camp and embraces the wholesome company of his peers. You don’t have to dance, or hike, alone. Aren’t you more likely to fall into the abyss, if you do?

The great challenge is learning to distinguish free-spirited playfulness and style from irresponsible recklessness and selfish egoism.

And in that different world of the newly irradiated dawn, guided by what Nietzsche called the philosophy of the future, when free spirits abound and the Thought and Morals Police are disregarded: how, then, will free spirits distinguish themselves? What will it mean to be a non-conformist?

But this may be one of those paper problems in philosophy. In the real world, those who are driven by temperament and circumstance to flirt with the abyss will probably always find something to protest and  rebel against.  They will be marginal, if not marginalized. They must take care to keep themselves safe, and not go over the edge.

That’s an age-old occupational hazard for intellectuals, especially in the mass culture of modern times. For my money William James, who has been credited with coining the very term “intellectual” in its modern usage, negotiated it much more deftly than old Fritz.

(More N.quotesComplete Works… Episteme links…)