2. You Specks of Dust
As this blog tracks the development of a book, there will be no real plan or syllabus for the blog itself. I will be led where my researches take me, but over the coming weeks and months I expect we will cover such topics as Nietzschian Self-Overcoming, his idea of ‘Great Health’, free will and fatalism, and the Dionysian, as well as those more infamous ideas: the Superman, Master Morality versus Slave Morality, and what it means to go ‘Beyond Good and Evil’.
I also want to tackle thorny questions like:
'Can one be a Christian and still learn something from Nietzsche?'
(I’m not a Christian)
Questions of contemporary relevance such as:
'Is Nietzschian living compatible with protection of the environment?'
Or how about this one:
'Donald Trump - what would Nietzsche make of him?'
But I’m going to begin with Nietszche’s Amor Fati (love of fate) and, in particular, the Eternal Return, which provides an opportunity to start some practical ‘self-help’ type exercises.
As you may know, Nietzsche implores his readers to affirm the world around them, rejecting what he claimed were the transcendental fantasies of a Christian 'kingdom of heaven'. Right here and now; the earth beneath our feet; the stars above our heads - this is all we have and all we will ever have.
The Christian church taught us that the material world is corrupt and our presence in it is the consequence of a fall from grace. Our only salvation and deliverance from this miserable veil of tears lies in posthumous transportation to Heaven, where we will abide in bliss with God for eternity.
Nietzsche's project seeks to reject all such otherworldly realms and transcendentalism itself – any kind of afterlife! Why deny the fulfilment of your life’s potential right now, gambling on some hypothetical hereafter?
The acceptance and affirmation of the apparent world around us is the root of his idea of the Eternal Return. In The Gay Science he sketches it out as follows:
'The greatest weight - What, if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself.
The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? ...
Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life, to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?'
There are various interpretations of the Eternal Return. Two of the main views are that either:
1. It is a thought experiment to help each of us affirm our existence, warts and all, and to live more consciously and with greater vigilance
2. This is a metaphysical description of how Nietzsche thinks the universe really is, repeating through identical cosmic cycles over and over again in an unchanging repetition
This last interpretation throws up philosophical conundrums – one of which is an issue of identity. If every cycle is exactly the same i.e. has exactly the same qualities, how can it be meaningfully called a different cycle? Because it is later in time perhaps? But surely this would imply linear time, not eternally cyclical time. Well, let’s not open this can of worms right now.
Regardless of whether you favour the first or second interpretation, the Eternal Return does provide an opportunity for existential reflection.
Do you shudder at the thought of re-living your life, as it is and has been, over and over again?
Or are you exhilarated by the prospect?
Your feelings about this question will provide a gauge as to your need for life-changes right now, and also an insight as to where those changes should be made.
To crystallise this into practical terms: might there be benefits to consciously reflecting at the end of each day on whether the day can be affirmed or not, and in what respects? One can review one's choices and actions. Would you repeat them again, given the chance, in the precise same circumstances? If not what would you do differently?
This meditative exercise could help in ensuring future days are more 'affirmable'. It is an experiment I will begin soon.
One last thing. There are convincing arguments that Nietzsche's intention was that we should affirm even the worst things without wanting to change them. This love of things as they are, it is argued, is his Amor Fati. This raises interesting implications that we shall examine at a later time.
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