Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

10 Page Paper: Nietzsche, Hero of Disgruntled Teenagers

Kyle Jameson
Dr. Phil Oliver

Nietzsche, Hero of Disgruntled Teenagers

When someone says the name Nietzsche, what does one think? If you haven’t graduated high school, you most likely think that he is the greatest mind of any science, hard or soft. If you have, you most likely think he is a crazy misanthrope. However, he is considered one of the first existentialist philosophers who inspired leaders in all forms of culture with his revitalizing philosophy. Even the average person has at least heard of Nietzsche, mostly from his influence on popular culture. Yes, 113 years after his death, he is still one of the better-known philosophers along with the classic Greeks. However, to know what made this inspiring, polarizing figure what he is, one must take a look at his life.
          Nietzsche was born in a rural farmland southwest of Leipzig, specifically in the small German village of a town that one cannot type on an average computer due to the inclusion of two umlauts The closest one could get is Rocken bei Lutzen. Oddly enough, we know that Nietzsche was born at approximately 10:00 AM on October 15, 1884, most likely since it coincided with the birthday of the Prussian King, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. When Nietzsche was 5, his father and brother died within six months of each other. Since Nietzsche’s father was the church pastor and the family lived in the pastor’s home, the family had to move to Namburg an der Salle, where Nietzsche lived with his mother, grandmother, two aunts, and his younger sister. The fact that Nietzsche’s father was a pastor may explain why he thought that god was dead, since it would be hard to believe that any god would let their representative die without a proper successor ready to take his place.
          From 1858 to 1864, Nietzsche was in a boarding school named Schulpforta that was about 4km from his home. There he met his lifelong acquaintance, Paul Deussen, who became an Orientalist, philosophy historian, and founder of the Schopenhauer Society. Nietzsche led a small music and literature club named Germania, where his philosophical stance started to form. From 1864 to 1879, Nietzsche was mostly in universities where his appreciation for music and literature was formed. He also had a stage of his required military service where he served in an equestrian field artillery regiment close to Namburg, during which he lived with his mother. This military service was cut short when he attempted to leap-mount into the saddle and suffered a serious chest injury and was put on sick leave after his chest wound refused to heal. After this happened, his university studies continued at the University of Liepzig. After his time in the universities came to an end in 1880, he led a wandering, gypsy-like existence as a stateless person. He circled between his mother’s home and various cities in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. During this time most of Nietzsche’s most significant works were written, including The Gay Science, This Spoke Zarathustra, The Antichrist and Ecce Homo. His life effectively ended on the morning of January 3, 1889, when Nietzsche experienced a mental breakdown that left him invalid for the rest of his life. There are ideas that Nietzsche was anti-Semitic, which seems to be from the fact that his final years were under the care of his sister who was anti-Semitic. This has likely caused people to falsely read such ideas from his literary works.
          Speaking of his literary works, he had quite a few. His first was published in 1872, entitled The Birth of Tragedy, Out of the Spirit of Music. The book proposes an alternative to late 18th/early 19th century understanding of Greek culture, which, based in the designs of ancient sculpture, called ancient Greece as what we would call the Platonic Ideal of simplicity, calm greatness, and calmness. Nietzsche, while proud of his work, described the work in unkind terms as a questionable, strange and almost inaccessible book filled with formulae inherently at odds with the ideas he was then trying to say.
          Nietzsche, by this time having accepted the German romanticist, views that irrational forces make up the foundation of all creativity, as well as of reality. They also identify a wild, free and beastly energy that existed in Greece before Socrates’ reign of annoyance. They claimed that this energy is essentially creative and healthy that has been drowned and overshadowed by forces of logic and sobriety. Such bottling of creative energy, they claimed, is unhealthy and likely to lead to the bottle exploding. Nietzsche advocated the revival and release of these artistic energies that he associates with primordial creativity, existential joy, and truth. Nietzsche perceived the seeds of the rebirth in the standard German music of his time, the compositions of such great figures as Wagner, Bach and Beethoven. The Birth of Tragedy’s conclusion, in effect, adores the emerging of the spirit as the potential savior of European culture.
          Nietzsche’s second publication, Unfashionable Observations, is a set of four studies focused on the quality of European and German culture of the time. As the title suggests, the studies are both unfashionable and nonconformist, mainly due to Nietzsche’s stance as a cultural critic conflicting with the self-congratulatory spirit of the time.
          In 1878, Nietzsche completed Human, All-Too-Human, supplanting this with Mixed Opinions and Maxims as well as The Wanderer and his Shadow in the following two years. Nietzsche, reluctant to construct a philosophical system and sensitive to the importance of style in such writings, composed these works as hundreds of adages of greatly varying lengths. These adages often reflected on things happening in culture and psychology, usually relating to how people are made up. The idea of power, one that he would later be known for, tends to appear as an explanation. He also invokes hedonistic ideas of pleasure and pain that he would later criticize in works like Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The ideas he became infamous for were introduced in The Gay Science, written in 1882. This brings up ideas like the famous “God is Dead” and the idea of eternal recurrence-that we live out our exact lives many times over for all time.
          Besides The Gay Science, one of Nietzsche’s most famous works is Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A book for All and None, regarded by him as one of his most significant. It is a tale of self-overcoming, and a guidebook for others heading towards the same end. The work was used to inspire soldiers during World War I, with over 150,000 copies printed and issued. The book is antagonistic to Christianity, and it often inverts parts of the Old and New Testaments. In the spirit of pre-Socratic naturalism, the works is also filled with nature metaphors, invoking such figures as fire, water, earth, air, animals, plants and celestial bodies. All of this serves to describe the development of Zarathustra’s spirit, in all of its solitary, reflective, strong-willed, sage-like, dancing and laughing glory. Zarathustra serves as a voice of heroic self-mastery, along with a proud and sharp-eyed eagle and a wise snake. The mode of higher psychological health, surpassing the human condition, is described by Nietzsche as ubermenschlich, or superhumanness.
          Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a controversial work, mostly since it is thoroughly literary. Nietzsche speaks in parables and short stories populated by the many archetypes as its characters - the hunchback, the ugliest man, the soothsayer, the saint, and the jester, to name a few - leaving the messages that are weaved into the book open to various interpretations. One of the most well known and morally disturbing figures, the superhuman, only really shows up in this, making it questionable if Nietzsche believes this as the real destiny for mankind. There is also the question of whether or not the tale is properly ended at the Third Part’s end, or if the psychologically complicated and question-raising Fourth Part is more than just a supplement and all four parts make a smooth progression.
          Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is arguably a re-write of Human, All-too-Human due to loose correlations between the tables of contents and the thematic sequence. Nietzsche identifies imagination, self-assertion, danger, originality and creativity as factors that make a genuine philosopher as opposed to incidental characters of scholarship. He takes aim at some of the great philosophers that speak of philosophies that follow these, such as free will and bipolar thinking. Alternatively, Nietzsche takes the perspective of a society that has gone beyond good and evil, challenging the traditional concepts of what is evil, like exploitation, domination, destruction, and harming the weak, as being universal concepts. Above all of this, he believes that living things want to discharge their strength and express their will to power - the pouring out of energy that naturally entails danger, pain, lies, deception and masks. Here, will is a fountain of constantly swelling power as opposed to hollowness inside, deficient feeling or drive for satisfaction.
          While at this perspective, Nietzsche denies the existence of universal morality applicable indiscriminately to humanity, instead designating moralities in an order of rank that rises from the vulgar to the noble; some for the leaders and some for the followers. What counts as preferable and legitimate depends on whether one is weaker and sicklier or healthier and running over with life.
          While talking about Nietzsche’s writings is all and good, I feel that I should give my own stance. One of the most well known ideas from Nietzsche is the idea of a dead god; that god existed at one point, but since then he has died. This is a very believable philosophy; since when have we told people we need to worship god as our lord and not just believed in Jesus, who himself said that god is the one deserving of worship and not him. Furthermore, there is a school of thought that thinks the belief of mankind, genuine belief, feeds divine powers and gives them both power and sustenance. However, in the 1800s people were mainly secular, with those worshipping Christianity doing so due to family pressures instead of being from a real want to worship a higher power. Either god is actually dead or humans have gotten to the point that no good, omniscient and omnipotent figure could stand the presence of them.  One could argue that Nietzsche meant that the idea of a need for religion is dead, but I would say that is unlikely. While not impossible due to the increasing secularity in the 1800s, it seems to me more likely that the actual god is dead given the actual quote by Nietzsche from The Gay Science saying that God is dead. Also, religion had not died, even if god has. Incidentally, it also says we have bled him to death, giving fuel to the flame of belief starvation.
          Besides the idea of a dead god, Nietzsche also promoted the idea of questioning anything that is draining on the expansive energies of life, even if the thing in question is something that societies hold dear. Honestly, this is an interesting idea, mainly due to conflicting ideas on what is or is not draining as well as conflict on the need for society. There needs to be something you can replace the ideas with so that societies do not collapse. As Hobbes said, life without society is brutish, short, and generally unpleasant. One could say that society is a table, held off the ground of natural states by the ideals they believe in, making up the legs. If one leg is simply removed, the table becomes unstable and may collapse, especially if it is a large table. The table could be made more stable by rearranging the ideals, but even then the table is still less stable then before. Instead, a new leg, one that is less draining to life, must replace it.
          The ideas of the focus on the self and a dead god bring up another point, one that Nietzsche actually proposed: the lack of an afterlife. Nietzsche says we instead relive life continuously, experiencing everything we have done infinitely many times over. Some find comfort in this, but I do not. This may be due to how much more bad there has been in my life than good, but I instead attribute this to the fact that I do not want to relive the same experiences infinitely times over, but instead I want to go through new experiences, even if I’m going though similar experiences in a new way. From what I understand of religions that believe in reincarnation, they share this desire, wanting to change from their previous lives and eventually achieve moral perfection.
          Nietzsche was - and still is - an important figure in philosophy. Whether or not you believe that his ideas are right, one must admit that he has had significant cultural impact with them. In all forms of media, the tendrils of influence from him can be seen; the idea of a dead god has been explored in everything from literature to video games. One particular example that comes to mind is the novel Small Gods. Written by Terry Pratchett, Small Gods shows plentiful influence from Nietzschian philosophy that one can bleed a god to death, this following the vein that gods are fed by belief. While the god near death, Om, has many followers, only one actually believes in him. Every other follower is either following out of fear or out of a desire for power. Because there is no true belief, Om is reduced to a turtle. Unlike Nietzsche, Terry Pratchett proposes that the one remaining follower can use his pure strength of belief to convince everyone else to truly believe, which Nietzsche most likely did not conceive of.
          Even before Nietzsche, literature and mythology have shown monsters with a stance beyond or before good and evil that Nietzsche expressed. The traditional monster instead seems to follow Nietzsche’s idea of leadership based on power. For example, Grendel most likely ranks below the Sphynx, who in turn ranks below Medusa, who in turn ranks below Cthulhu.
          Even the original Role-Playing Game, Dungeons and Dragons, uses Nietzschian philosophy on self-improvement and bettering oneself to beyond human levels as a core mechanic. In D&D, as it is colloquially called, characters gain experience that causes them to increase in power and skill, representative of spiritual betterment, to the point of becoming the superhuman.
          One cannot doubt the influence of Nietzsche. His life was a turbulent one, especially early on to start him down the path he took. His works, covering everything from power to the idea of a dead god, act as his face and serve as the reason he is so polarizing. Even when I disagree with him, I respect him as deserving of being one of the faces of philosophy. He has inspired factors in everything from literature to entertainment of all forms. Reading about his philosophy, it is hard to see what makes him so misanthropic besides his desire to challenge society and his denying of universal good and evil. He simply wanted people to embrace more wild and creative thought instead of being purely logical and subdued.

Wicks, R.. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2013.


  1. You're right, there was method to Nietzsche's misanthropic madness. His provocations have stimulated a lot of self-circumspection and "revaluation". But as I said in commenting on Savannah's paper, ultimately I agree with Wm James that "poor Nietzsche's antipathies" towards happiness-seeking humanity in general, and religious believers in particular, are corrosive and unhealthy. My suggestion: read more Mill, Hume, Voltaire, James... and realize that we're all seeking many of the same things: life, meaning, happiness, hope. Reserve antipathy for the narrow-minded bigots of whatever persuasion. Live and let live.

  2. P.S. He was born in 1844, not '84. (I know that's just a typo, since your other dates seem to be correct.)

    "The fact that Nietzsche’s father was a pastor may explain why he thought that god was dead, since it would be hard to believe that any god would let their representative die without a proper successor ready to take his place." Well... interesting hypothesis, but in my experience the devout are more than capable of rationalizing such "mysteries" as beyond our ken. FN was obviously not "devout" in that sense.

    "god existed at one point, but since then he has died. This is a very believable philosophy"- It is? I think his claim was that the idea of god once inspired most of the flock, but that it had become (by the mid-19th century) a dead idea for many, though many more had yet to realize that reality. And yet, as you point out, in many quarters (especially around these parts!) the idea seems to be as lively, or at least as prevalent, as it ever was.

    "in the 1800s people were mainly secular" - doubtful, depending on which people you have in mind...

    "Socrates’ reign of annoyance"-I like it!

    Interesting discussion! You might enjoy taking a look at Alain de Botton's chapter on FN in "Consolations of Philosophy," and his video episode. And, Gary Kamiya's nyt essay "Falling Out With Superman"-http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/01/23/bookend/bookend.html

    Can you provide a full bibliographic citation please, Kyle?