Thursday, 1 December 2011

Confronting Nietzsche.

 "Nietzsche has destroyed me." - Martin Heidegger

It is important to remember that Martin Heidegger had read Nietzsche before the 1930s; it was only after he broke with Being and Time that Heidegger turned to Nietzsche once more. The Heidegger of Being and Time had no interest at all in Nietzschean philosophy when it came to metaphysics and art, but more specifically the critique of nihilism. The ‘confrontation’ with Nietzsche was brought on by the dynamics of Heideggerian thought as well as the demands of the time. According to Hans Sluga, we can safely say that Heidegger learned three major lessons from this ‘confrontation’ with Nietzsche: metaphysics, politics and the situation in the modern world. Heidegger focused mostly on Nietzsche as a metaphysician above all else, though this focus did shift over time it remained largely the same.

For Heidegger the thoughts Nietzsche had on art illuminated the precarious nature of metaphysical thinking. Sluga stresses that Heidegger turned to Nietzsche after he became interested in art, which could not be an extension of Being and Time. Heidegger concludes that the views of art Nietzsche held are an inverted Platonism, as art remains semblance and retains its opposition truth. Art is the supreme configuration of the Will to Power.[1] Art can be understood in relation to the artist, the creative forces undertaken.[2] Metaphysics from Plato onwards leads to a conclusion, which Heidegger thought was imminent and he held up Nietzsche as the last metaphysician of the West. Sluga points out that this is quite problematic.

The work of Friedrich Nietzsche is symptomatic of how difficult it is to escape from metaphysics and that there is a valid focus behind the errors of metaphysics. In the work of Nietzsche the search for the nature of beings as a whole, a metaphysics of becoming behind which remains the question of Being – as this question is almost approached through the eternal recurrence of the same.[3] The problem is that the focus on the question of Being is never confronted head-on, as the question is forgotten it haunts the tradition of metaphysics. The task of overcoming of metaphysics ensnares oneself in metaphysics.[4]

Heidegger went as far as to see Nietzsche’s doctrines of eternal recurrence and the Übermensch as part of a metaphysical system.[5] The doctrine of eternal recurrence points to the question of Being, as Nietzsche approximates Being through the eternal recurrence of the same and the Übermensch is important in relation to the recurrence.[6][7] Nietzsche wrote “To impose upon becoming the character of being – that is the supreme will to power… That everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being: high point of the meditation”. Heidegger maintained that the eternal recurrence of the same is illusive insofar as it is “wrapped in thick clouds – not for us, but for Nietzsche’s own thinking”. But he insisted that it is to be seen as Nietzsche’s attempt to deal with the being of Being. For Heidegger the fact that the eternal recurrence of the same is difficult to grasp is matched by the difficulty to grasp the being of Being.

Hans Sluga notes that the Heideggerian view of Nietzsche’s politics stands in distinct to Karl Jaspers and Alfred Baeumler. Karl Jaspers portrayed Nietzsche as an opposed German nationalism and anti-Semitism as he was in his lifetime. On the other hand, Alfred Baeumler was out to use Nietzsche as the intellectual harbinger of the Third Reich.[8] By contrast Heidegger saw Nietzsche as “anti-political” as well as a potential source to construct a refined national and social identity for Germans. The ‘confrontation’ with Nietzsche provided a means to attack the existing system safely, on the grounds that it was linked to an empty will to will and, by extension, haste to further technological advancements.[9] This preoccupation with identity came out of the way Heidegger viewed his country.[10]Heidegger saw the question of Being in connection with German identity, with Nietzsche and Hölderlin serving as a guide to what exactly it is to be German.  For Heidegger the future of Germany and the West is “determined” by Nietzsche and Hölderlin, so the philosopher of the godlessness and worldlessness of modern man belongs with the poet of the homecoming. To come home means to face the question of Being.

Martin Heidegger abandoned the project to determine the “essence of being German” through Nietzsche and instead he opted to reiterate his own thinking without nationalism, as Heidegger claimed after the war, as society supplanted the nation. Heidegger saw Nietzsche as diagnostic and symptomatic of the modern pathologies, just as the belief in historical progress became predominant in the world it was Nietzsche who pointed to a prevalent destruction. The metaphysics of becoming was in touch with the spirit of the times, with specific regards to technology where Nietzsche had foresaw man’s domination of the world. For Heidegger there is a sense in which Nietzsche reveals the core of technology which had led to Being as in calculation and the rule of reduced being by mathematically structured technology.

Heidegger went on to designate Nietzsche as the philosopher of “the struggle for the unlimited exploitation of the earth as the sphere of raw materials and fort he realistic utilisation of the ‘human material’, in the service of the unconditional empowering of the will to power”. Sluga points out that this interpretation appears ignorant of the Will to Power as a fundamental aspect of the world and living things. The world as a ‘monster of energy’ which has no beginning nor end, subject to contradictions and concord, while it affirms itself, destructive and self-creating as Dionysus had.[11] This view is lost as Heidegger reflects critically on Nietzsche’s work. But as Nietzsche is the philosopher of technology, for Heidegger, this critique is of the ideas of the modern age. By extension, Sluga argues, we can include the Third Reich, as well as other political conceptions of the time, as subject to this critique. The nihilism of modern man is revealed in the work of Nietzsche.[12] For Heidegger, Nietzsche saw an awful lot more than we can see, but it was never a clear picture and fell far short of capturing all that there is to see.

"I am not a man. I am dynamite." - Friedrich Nietzsche

[1] The Will to Power has less to do with aristocratic status, militarism and power over people than it does with notions of self-discipline and personal restraint. ‘Power’ is meant in the strict sense of self-mastery and the discipline of the powers of thought, imagination and creativity. It might also be understood in terms of self-esteem, not just feeling good in the superficial sense but being energised by your own ideas and talents. It is about confidence and capability.
Solomon, Robert; Lecture 13, Nietzsche: Übermensch and the Will to Power –
[2] Nietzsche thought art had to be “grasped in terms of the artist” – no doubt beings had to be understood in terms of “self-creating” as well – the work itself constitutes a countermovement to nihilism and ultimately it is worth more than “truth”. In Nietzsche’s words art is “the most perspicuous and familiar configuration of the will to power”.
Sluga, Hans: Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.110-112
[3] By the early 40s Heidegger found it possible to summarise the core of Nietzsche’s metaphysics of becoming: the Will to Power, nihilism, the eternal recurrence, the Übermensch and justice. He noted importantly that every term “names at the same time what the others say. The naming of each basic word is exhausted only when one also thinks with it what the others say”.
Sluga, Hans; Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.106-110
[4] This would mean that Heidegger is also a metaphysician insofar as he criticises Nietzsche – for his failure to confront the question of Being – within the terms of another metaphysics. The critique of Nietzsche along these lines relies on the distinction between Being and beings, which could be seen as metaphysical concepts. Ironically, Heidegger became trapped in metaphysical thinking in holding up Nietzsche as bringing metaphysics to an ‘end’.
Sluga, Hans; Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.110-112
[5] For Heidegger the Übermensch casts Nietzsche’s metaphysics in a new light as Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal recurrence of the same became of central importance. Thus Spoke Zarathustra “thinks this thinkers one and only thought: the thought of the eternal recurrence of the same” and “the eternal recurrence of the same is the supreme triumph of the metaphysics of the will that eternally wills its own willing,” e.g. the Will to Power.
Sluga, Hans; Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.106-110
[6] The Übermensch is master morality spiritualised by 2,000 of slave morality, he is the master of his powers and abilities, he aspires to excellence and ideals which are very much his own. The Übermensch is free of resentment and regret to the extent that he can say emphatically and without hesitation in the face of eternal recurrence, the notion that he would have to live his life over and over again endlessly, “Yes! Gladly I would accept this!”
Solomon, Robert; Lecture 13, Nietzsche: Übermensch and the Will to Power –
[7] For Nietzsche a great example of the Übermensch and the Will to Power was Goethe who exercised all of his talents, ‘created’ himself as a unified being through his art and he experimented in life – taking jobs as a civil servant and a lawyer, as well as a playwright and a poet. As a writer he flirted with many styles and his works are voluminous. In Nietzsche’s terms the passion for life is the greatest of passions and Goethe was passionate at a creative and spiritual level. Nietzsche describes Goethe as “not a German event but a European one: a grand attempt to overcome the eighteenth century through a return to nature, through a going-up to the naturalness of the Renaissance, a kind of self-overcoming on the part of that century.”
Nietzsche, Friedrich; Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (Hollingdale, RJ; Introduction and commentary | Penguin Books, 1968) pg.102-104
[8] Effectively Baeumler continued on the track which began with the proto-Nazi Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who took over her brother’s works and set out to appropriate these works for the Nazi movement. Baeumler set out to explore Nietzsche as a metaphysician, who laid the groundwork for National Socialism in his metaphysical doctrines. Baeumler dismissed the doctrine of eternal recurrence as “mystical” and saw it incongruous to the Will to Power, whereas Heidegger (who was heavily influenced by Baeumler) insisted that the Will to Power and the eternal recurrence of the same were part of a coherent metaphysical conception. It was because of Baeumler’s political project that the notion of eternal recurrence had to be dismissed, as it clashed with the political Nietzsche.
Sluga, Hans; Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.106-110
[9] Heidegger distinguished between National Socialism as it existed at the time as opposed to the idealised vision which had not been realised. Heidegger may have been indulging in a far-right parallel of ultra-leftist ‘comfortable resistance’ which retains a certain distance from power and real decisions in its criticism of the established order. The farthest Heidegger went, in later life, to repudiate Nazism was to point to its “failure” to emerge as a genuine Third Position from American capitalism and Soviet communism. In an interview for Der Spiegel, Heidegger makes it clear that he regards each of these systems as determined by ‘planetary technology’. The implication being that there has not yet been a thorough attempt to move beyond technology and establish a genuine alternative. This is where the idealised vision of National Socialism would come in as opposed to the regime established in 1933.
Der Spiegel interview with Martin Heidegger (September 23rd 1966) -
The Philosophy Book (Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011), Slavoj Zizek, pg.326
[10] In Heidegger’s own words Germany is “the land of the middle” where “Our people, as standing in the centre, suffers the most intense pressure”. He goes on to say “Precisely if the great decision regarding Europe is not to go down the path of annihilation – precisely then can this decision come about only through the development of new, spiritual forces from the centre”.
Sluga, Hans; Heidegger’s Nietzsche pg.112-116
[11] Nietzsche posits the Apollonian against the Dionysian in The Birth of Tragedy. Dionysian is a frenzied and orgiastic sense in which we feel ourselves as part of life flowing through us. He compared the Dionysian with intoxication as in a euphoria or ecstasy of sorts. It is the means by which one can escape from reality, but not into fantasy as with the Apollonian. Rather the Dionysian is about forgetting yourself, not the world, to experience a more mystical communal union. But the Dionysiac energies are dangerous, grotesque, cruel, sexual and wild. It is difficult to find meaning or beauty in a world of such destructive energies, though it is not on the road to nihilism for Nietzsche. Culture has emerged as attempts to refine this life force in a chaotic world driven by this force.
Dionysian – frenzied and orgiastic sense in which we feel ourselves as part of life flowing through us
Jackson, R; Nietzsche the Key Ideas (Hachette UK, 2008) pg.42-45
[12] This would probably refer to the Last Man, a concept introduced by Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra in contrast with the Übermensch. Unlike the Übermensch – the point of which was to rouse enthusiasm in the town’s people for the possibility of overcoming themselves – the Last Man is presented to get the town’s people to be disgusted with themselves; to awaken them to the stupidity and philistinism pervasive in their world. Robert Solomon describes the Last Man as “the ultimate bourgeois consumer and coach potato without any aspirations. The Last Man is content, comfortable and satisfied with the way of the world and life as it is.”
Solomon, Robert; Lecture 13, Nietzsche: Übermensch and the Will to Power –

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