Sunshine Recorder

When the highest and strongest drives, breaking passionately out, carry the individual far above and beyond the average and lowlands of the herd conscience, the self-confidence of the community goes to pieces, its faith in itself, its spine as it were, is broken: consequently it is precisely these drives which are most branded and calumniated. Lofty spiritual independence, the will to stand alone, great intelligence even, are felt to be dangerous; everything that raises the individual above the herd and makes his neighbor quail is henceforth called evil; the fair, modest, obedient, self-effacing disposition, the mean and average in desires, acquires moral names and honours.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
To learn to see—to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Link: Falling Out With Superman

I stumbled upon Friedrich Nietzsche when I was 17, following the usual trail of existential candies — Camus, Sartre, Beckett — that unsuspecting teenagers find in the woods. The effect was more like a drug than a philosophy. I was whirled upward — or was it downward? — into a one-man universe, a secret cult demanding that you put a gun to the head of your dearest habits and beliefs. That intoxicating whiff of half-conscious madness; that casually hair-raising evisceration of everything moral, responsible and parentally approved — these waves overwhelmed my adolescent dinghy. And even more than by his ideas — many of which I didn’t understand at all, but some of which I perhaps grasped better then than I do now — I was seduced by his prose. At the end of his sentences you could hear an electric crack, like the whip of a steel blade being tested in the air. He might have been the Devil, but he had better lines than God.

I was sold. Like those German soldiers in World War I who were found dead with copies of ”Thus Spake Zarathustra” in their pockets, I hauled my tattered purple-covered copy of the Viking Portable Nietzsche with me everywhere. It was with me when I dropped out of college after a semester to go work in a shipyard, with me years later when, sitting on a knoll on a tiny island off Vancouver, I decided to wake up from my dream of total escape and go back to school. I read him to elevate myself, to punish myself, to remind myself of the promises I had broken. He was the closest thing I had to a church.

Eventually, I stopped going to church. There were various reasons for this, some of them good and some of them not; I couldn’t sort out which was which then, and can’t now. Maybe it was just satiation. The philosopher John Searle once told me that reading Nietzsche was like drinking cognac — a sip was good, but you didn’t want to drink the whole bottle. I’d been pounding Nietzsche by the case.

So I left Nietzsche alone on his mountaintop. But as every lapsed believer knows, you never wholly escape the church. Nietzsche had come to stand for something absolute and pure, like gilded Byzantium or Ahab’s whale; he represented what I imagined I might have been. He had become a permanent horizon.

Oddly, during this long, strange love affair, I avoided learning much about Nietzsche’s life. Maybe this was because I had turned him into a shrine — after all, totems have no history. I knew only the superficials: that he was a desperately lonely man, poor and largely unread, plagued by bad health, who went mad at the age of 44.

Then, last summer, I planned a trip to Switzerland. As a highlight, I decided to visit Sils-Maria — the small village near St. Moritz where Nietzsche spent seven summers and wrote many of his masterpieces. The tourist soon won out over the iconoclast: now that I was going to stand where the Master stood, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t care about how he lived, what people he liked, what he wore. So I immersed myself in various biographical accounts: ”Nietzsche in Turin,” Lesley Chamberlain’s psychologically penetrating book about the philosopher’s final year; Ronald Hayman’s challenging ”Nietzsche: A Critical Life”; and a book that only a Nietzsche cultist would consume, ”The Good European: Nietzsche’s Work Sites in Word and Image.”

It wasn’t the grand narrative of his life but the details that stayed with me. The joke photograph in which he and his friend Paul Ree posed in a cart over which Lou Salome, the 21-year-old woman with whom he was timidly, desperately in love, held a whip. Nietzsche in the Caligari-shadowed last days of his sanity, once again turning himself into a character in an unhappy novel, lamenting that a journey was ”perhaps the most unfortunate I have made” simply because he had climbed aboard the wrong train. The fact that he liked ”Tom Sawyer.” The solicitude of an old female friend who tried to buck him up but was unable to teach him not to let everything wound him. The visitor who simply reported how much he liked Herr Nietzsche, the lonely, earnest professor with the bad eyes.

This wasn’t the Nietzsche I remembered. The philosopher I had worshiped was an uncanny hybrid, simultaneously a terrifying Old Testament prophet and a 19th-century free spirit. To be sure, much of Nietzsche — maybe the best of him — was as lucid, critical and quick-footed as Stendhal. Yet it was the monstrous doctrines at the heart of his thought — the Overman, the Eternal Recurrence — that had drawn me; they hypnotized me because I couldn’t figure out whether they were coming from man or some frightening gospel. Now that I understood how much of Nietzsche’s work was an attempt to turn his personal torment into something lasting, I realized that perhaps those enigmatic pronouncements were best seen not as antitruths handed down from on high, but as words he whispered to himself, beacons he lighted in the darkness to cheer himself up. What was great in Nietzsche was not, I began to see, his holiness, maybe not even his wisdom. It was his courage.

Then I went to Sils.

Sils-Maria is a bland one-horse resort village under spectacular mountains between two crystalline lakes. Terminally respectable Swiss burghers polish their vacation homes; tourists (”They climb mountains like animals, stupid and sweating,” Nietzsche wrote) fill the hotels. The Nietzsche-Haus stands near the center. In his day it was a tea and spice shop whose owner rented an upstairs room to Nietzsche; now it is a museum. In front of the tidy white-and-green building stands a sculpture of a large black eagle — one of the companions that consoled Zarathustra in his last loneliness. On a gray afternoon I pulled open the door and climbed the stairs to his room.

No one was there. I looked in. A small, low-ceilinged room, walls of knotty pine. A lumpy-looking bed. A small table with a green silk cover. A washbasin. A single window, looking out onto a patch of the forest.

We go to literary shrines to touch things. We run our fingers along the writing table, we furtively step over the red velvet rope and finger the water jug by the edge of the bed. Yet to feel the pedestal is to call the very idea of the pedestal into question. Which is why there is something comic in all pilgrimages: while Don Quixote holds loftily forth, Sancho Panza steals the ashtray.

But as I ran my fingertips along the knotty pine, it all rose up: the indelible words that had been created here; the misery of the man who had shivered out his life in this room; and all the years I had spent charting my course by a dream. Standing outside in the hallway, I was surprised to find myself beginning to weep, like the most breast-heaving pilgrim.

A familiar voice, very old and once sacred to me, protested. I could not pity Nietzsche. It was a betrayal of everything he had believed. He had railed against pity. Compassion was for the hearth-huddlers, the followers, those who lacked the strength to turn themselves into ”dancing stars.” The last temptation of the higher man, Nietzsche had taught, was pity; on its far side was a roaring, Dionysian, inhuman laughter.

I could recite this chapter and verse, but I had never been able to live it. It was the most alien and terrifying of Nietzsche’s teachings. Still, long reverence pulled me up short. Here, of all places, I must feel no pity.

But my heart won the war. Maybe it was resignation — the final acceptance that I was not going to forge myself into a new shape. Maybe it was weariness with a doctrine, with all doctrines, that sounded delirious but that couldn’t be used. Whatever it was, I stopped fighting. Yes, part of Nietzsche would always stand far above the tree line, and I would treasure that iciness. But I had to walk on the paths where I could go.

Still confused, I stood in the doorway. And then, as a gift, the following words came into my head, words spoken by Zarathustra to his disciples, disciples that Nietzsche himself never had. ”You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware lest a statue slay you. 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.”

I took a last look at the room. Then I walked out the door. 

You will never pray again, never adore again, never again rest in endless trust; you do not permit yourself to stop before any ultimate wisdom, ultimate goodness, ultimate power, while unharnessing your thoughts; you have no perpetual guardian and friend for your seven solitudes; you live without a view of mountains with snow on their peaks and fire in their hearts; there is no avenger for you any more nor any final improver; there is no longer any reason in what happens, no love in what will happen to you; no resting place is open any longer to your heart, where it only needs to find and no longer to seek; you resist any ultimate peace; you will the eternal recurrence of war and peace: man of renunciation, all this you wish to renounce? Who will give you the strength for that? Nobody yet has had this strength! There is a lake that one day ceased to permit itself to flow off; it formed a dam where it had hitherto flown off; and ever since this lake is rising higher and higher. Perhaps this very renunciation will also lend us the strength needed to bear this renunciation; perhaps man will rise ever higher as soon as he ceases to flow out into a god.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
It’s when I finished studying it, at the point where I stopped believing in philosophy, that I began to read Nietzsche. Well, I realised that he wasn’t a philosopher, but was more: a temperament. So, I read him, but never systematically, now and then. But I really don’t read him anymore. I consider his letters his most authentic work, because in them he’s truthful, while in his other work he’s prisoner to his vision. In his letters one sees that he’s just a poor fellow, that he’s ill, exactly the opposite of everything he claimed. […] His work is an unspeakable megalomania. When one reads the letters he wrote at the same time, one sees that he’s lamentable, it’s very touching, like a character out of Chekhov.
— Emil Cioran on Friedrich Nietzsche

(Source: litafficionado, via a-weltanschauung)

To the realists. — You sober people who feel well armed against passion and fantasies and would like to turn your emptiness into a matter of pride and an ornament: you call yourselves realists and hint that the world really is the way it appears to you. As if reality stood unveiled before you only, and you yourselves were perhaps the best part of it—O you beloved images of Sais! But in your unveiled state are not even you still very passionate and dark creatures compared to fish, and still far too similar to an artist in love? And what is “reality” for an artist in love? You are still burdened with those estimates of things that have their origin in the passions and loves of former centuries. Your sobriety still contains a secret and inextinguishable drunkenness. Your love of “reality,” for example—oh, that is a primeval “love.” Every feeling and sensation contains a piece of this old love; and some fantasy, some prejudice, some unreason, some ignorance, some fear, and ever so much else has contributed to it and worked on it. That mountain there! That cloud there! What is “real” in that? Subtract the phantasm and every human contribution from it, my sober friends! If you can! If you can forget your descent, your past, your training—all of your humanity and animality. There is no “reality” for us—not for you either, my sober friends. We are not nearly as different as you think, and perhaps our good will to transcend intoxication is as respectable as your faith that you are altogether incapable of intoxication.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

(via vngtrd)

Link: Culture War: How the Nazi Party Recast Nietzsche

"Fitting Nietzsche’s ideas into a single worldview was no simple matter, but this was precisely the mission of the ‘Völkischer Beobachter’’s editors and writers: to make even complex ideas such as Nietzsche’s appear to coordinate with the main tenets of Nazism."

High culture played an important political role in Hitler’s Germany. References to music, history, philosophy, and art formed a key part of the Nazi strategy to reverse the symptoms of decline perceived after World War I. Allusions to great creators and their works were used as propaganda to remind the Volk to love and worship their nation. In the words of the French scholar Eric Michaud, author of The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, the Nazis used culture “to make the genius of the race visible to that race.” And to cap off these images of a great national culture, the Nazis heralded Adolf Hitler, the Führer, as an artistic leader.

As Michaud put it: “Hitler presented himself not only as a ‘man of the people’ and a soldier with frontline experience (Fronterlebnis), but also and above all as a man whose artistic experience constituted the best guarantee of his ability to mediate the Volksgeist and turn it into the ‘perfect Third Reich.’”

The revival of a culturally rich Germany as the so-called Third Reich, however, would be achieved only once those whom the Nazis considered its enemies were all destroyed. So war and culture went together in the National Socialist agenda. Art, said Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, “is no mere peacetime amusement, but a sharp spiritual weapon for war.”

To understand how Nazis employed culture to define and promote their broadest ambitions, I looked to German mass media, in particular the main Nazi newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, whose cultural pages I examined for the years 1920 to 1945. While the Nazi co-optation of many great figures in the Western intellectual tradition during these eventful years proves revealing, one need look no further than the party’s claim on Friedrich Nietzsche to see how culture became entwined in the discourse of politics and war in the pages of Hitler’s foremost propaganda outlet.

Fitting Nietzsche’s ideas into a single worldview was no simple matter, but this was precisely the mission of theVölkischer Beobachter’s editors and writers: to make even complex ideas such as Nietzsche’s appear to coordinate with the main tenets of Nazism. Looking into the shifting terms with which the daily newspaper presented Nietzsche helps us toward understanding how the Nazi party attempted to place his biography and writings—along with the tradition of Kultur as a whole—at the service of the Nazi outlook.

In addressing the “Germanness” of Nietzsche, however, the cultural politicians of the party faced some difficulties. The newspaper did not try to verify Nietzsche’s racial origins—as it did for many other Western creators, including and especially Wagner and Beethoven—despite the fact that he occasionally claimed to be of Polish heritage. But it did have to confront indications that the philosopher rejected nineteenth-century trends of nationalistic identification.

As one contributor to the Völkischer Beobachter wrote, there is “one important point in Nietzsche’s mental attitude on which even his friends have remained silent, from which they tried to distance themselves as much as possible: this is the matter of Nietzsche’s attitude toward Germanness and the state.” The philosopher, according to the paper, had seen with “sharp eyes” that while the Second Reich had been formed, it still “remained a shell without content” under Otto von Bismarck’s Realpolitik. To him, nationalism was the “illness of the century” because it “attempted to hide its emptiness.” In his words, “Nationalism as it is understood today is a dogma that requires limitation.”

But the point to keep in mind, according to the Völkischer Beobachter, was the qualifying phrase: “as it is understood today.” Nietzsche’s opinions about the German state could be understood only with reference to this phrase—that is, as critiques of his own specific time, not as categorical rejections of German nationalism.

This opened the way for the newspaper to present Nietzsche as a fervent patriot and strong representative of “Germanness.” In fact, the paper reminded, Nietzsche actually said of himself that “I am perhaps more German than the Germans of today.” And he valued the “earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit.” He knew that “there was still bravery, particularly German bravery,” that is, “inwardly something different than the élan of our deplorable neighbors.” Compared with the French essence, in particular, he was “consistently, strongly, and happily conscious of the virtues” of the German character. Above all, Nietzsche held that “it is German unity in the highest sense which we are striving for more passionately than for political reunification—the unity of the German spirit and life.”

Very few others “saw things so clearly” in those days, said the Völkischer Beobachter. As if on a mission to confirm the philosopher’s Germanness, another contributor traveled to Sils-Maria, wandered the region, and ruminated on passages Nietzsche had written there. The landscape, Ernst Nickell reflected, is “consecrated by German fate and German tragedy.” Nietzsche “needed this landscape; he had to stand near the highest things and the firmament”—because he was “German despite everything.”

Nietzsche was, however, rather ambivalent about politics, having called himself the “last anti-political German of them all.” But Nazi propaganda rigorously promoted the view that the primary creative impulse was as much political as it was artistic. The picture of Nietzsche thus had to be corrected to bring out his political side.

The Völkischer Beobachter admitted that “we find here at first view a sharp contrast with today’s [National Socialist] thinking”—but only at first glance. According to the paper, what Nietzsche understood by the term “state” was completely different from “our idea of the state today.” For him, politicization meant democratization, i.e., the greatest good for the greatest number. This Nietzsche hated, the paper said, because “general prosperity would make mankind too lazy to invest powerful energy in a great individual— in a genius.” That is why Nietzsche wanted “as little state as possible.” A volkish state, directed according to Nazi ideology, however, would revive the genius of the nation, and therefore earn Nietzsche’s support.

The paper acknowledged that Nietzsche had other views that seemed “the complete opposite of our views today.” For instance, he viewed culture and the state as antagonists. This, perhaps, should have made him the oddest of conscripts to the Nazi campaign to subordinate culture to politics and war, but that was not the party line. Such ideas of Nietzsche’s, the Völkischer Beobachter insisted, were likewise conditioned by his own times:

The German Reich had had the misfortune to achieve its external form when there was no longer any inner content. The classical heights of German education had sunk, the song of German Romanticism sounded only from afar. On the other hand, Realism was on the rise, leading more and more toward materialism. Money and business had become the gods of the age.

A state as the “guardian and defender of culture; a state as the means of achieving the true goal of existence, not as a goal in itself; a state that is built on the Volk—that, Nietzsche would have accepted,” the newspaper claimed. Therefore, the philosopher “would have agreed with today’s [National Socialist] German idea of the state with all of his heart.”

Under the Weimar Republic, the Völkischer Beobachter complained, Nietzsche had been invoked far too frequently by “international-democratic literati” as a “star-witness” for their worldview. But, the paper countered, Nietzsche “hated and fought every form of democracy, both political and spiritual,” and he said so in the sharpest possible terms. The notions that “all are the same” and that at base we are all just selfish brutes and riffraff—were symbolic of the democratic age that believed in the equality of men and that established “the weak, fat, and cowardly as standards for this equality.”

In Nietzsche’s opinion, said the Völkischer Beobachter, this rule of the humble amounted to a blow against life itself. Against the democratic and supposedly feeble outlook of the Weimar era, the newspaper argued, Nietzsche set forth a way of thinking that sets laws for the future—an outlook which “handled contemporary things harshly and tyrannically” in the interest of the future.

Thus did the cultural-historical material that appeared in the Völkischer Beobachter resound with the Führer/Artist–Artist/Führer theme that typified Nazi cultural politics. Hitler was the primary manifestation of this creative leadership, but he came, according to this view, after a long line of notable predecessors, including Luther, Beethoven, Wagner, and, yes, Nietzsche.

Cultural renewal in accordance with such perceptions of intellectual history was a central premise of the larger project of the Third Reich, fundamental to Hitler’s aims. But this agenda also contributed to the most destructive impulses of the movement. Indeed, German cultural identity as shaped by the Nazi regime did not merely justify anti-Semitism or policies of extermination, it led to them. Hitler’s racist standards of judgment were grounded in cultural terms, as he stated in Mein Kampf: “If we were to divide mankind into three groups, the founders of culture, the bearers of culture, the destroyers of culture, only the Aryan could be considered as the representative of the first group.” According to the Völkischer Beobachter, Jewish creators such as Heine, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Schoenberg—among many others—supposedly belonged in the latter, so they and their kind had to be eradicated.

Demonstrating that great cultural figures of the past would have agreed with these premises was a priority in the Nazi newspaper. One contributor put it in these stark terms: “to win over to our movement spiritual leaders who think they see something distasteful in anti-Semitism, it is extremely important to present more and more evidence that great, recognized spirits shared our hatred of Jewry.”

In the case of Nietzsche, however, this process required a little more “spin” than the “selective scavenging” for biographical and textual evidence that scholar Steven Aschheim identified as the usual mode of such politicization. Some Völkischer Beobachter contributors recognized that Nietzsche had not been a committed anti-Semite, and had even criticized the anti-Semitic views of Richard Wagner, his own sister, Elisabeth, and her husband, Bernhard Förster. One editor, for instance, said about Nietzsche: “His work contains other crass contradictions and obscurities, especially in his treatment of the Jewish Question, where he sometimes confesses himself as an Anti-Semite, and then as a philo-Semite. Equally obscure is what he understood as race and nation. This may be a result of the eruptive nature of his creativity and the shortness of his life, which didn’t allow him enough time to go into these issues deeply.”

For the New Year. I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everyone takes the liberty of expressing his wish and his favourite thought: well, I also mean to tell what I have wished for myself today, and what thought first crossed my mind this year, a thought which ought to be the basis, the pledge and the sweetening of all my future life! I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful: I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Herd instinct.—Wherever we encounter a morality, we also encounter valuations and an order of rank of human impulses and actions. These valuations and orders of rank are always expressions of the needs of a community and herd: whatever benefits it most—and second most, and third most—that is also considered the first standard for the value of all individuals. Morality trains the individual to be a function of the herd and to ascribe value to himself only as a function. The conditions for the preservation of different communities were very different; hence there were very different moralities. Considering essential changes in the forms of future herds and communities, states and societies, we can prophesy that there will yet be very divergent moralities. Morality is herd instinct in the individual.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

(Source: hierarchical-aestheticism, via 1109-83)

Are we asking too much if we seek the company of men who have grown gentle, well-tasting and nutritious like chestnuts from the fire? Such men who expect little from life, are too proud ever to be able to feel themselves rewarded, and are too serious in their passion for knowledge and honesty to have time or inclination for fame? Such men we should call philosophers.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

(via onthegenealogyofmyblogging-deac)

Link: The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Ecological Restoration

One of the newer biological conservation strategies, ecological restoration, attempts to reverse the degradation of lands set aside for conservation purposes by reinstating, as closely as possible, the species and environmental conditions that existed before recent and large scale disturbances by human activities. A newly emerging framework within restoration ecology - the novel ecosystem paradigm - points out that with global change we are moving into an era for which there is no historical analogue. As a consequence land must be managed without excessive regard for the past which can no longer serve as our guide. This has generated a lot of controversy within the field. I was asked by Irish journalist Paddy Woodworth to speak on a panel on “The historical reference system: critical appraisal of a cornerstone concept in restoration ecology” at a conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration held in Madison Oct 6 -11th 2013. In recent articles and in his new book “Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century” Woodworth had been critical of the novel ecosystem paradigm wondering if it does not undermine the case for restoration. I had not realized how controversial the topic had become. Tensions at the conference were running high, and the room in which this panel convened was over capacity with dozens turned away. What follows is the outline of my remark at this session.

On first glance the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), the German philosopher, might not seem especially helpful for restoration ecologists or indeed for anyone contemplating our relationship with the natural world. After all, his work supposedly challenges the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. Nietzsche’s famous locutions concerning the “death of God” and his extensive discussions of nihilism should, however, be seen as his diagnosis rather than his cure. For Nietzsche our real cultural task is to overcome the annihilation of traditional morality, replacing it with something more life-affirming. The failure of our traditional precepts of value stem from the fact these express what Nietzsche calls the ascetic ideal. This ideal measures the appropriateness of human actions against edicts coming from beyond our natural and earth-bound life. The highest human values, as we traditionally assess them, came from a denial of our natural selves. Nature, in turn, is regarded as having no intrinsic value.

Thus Nietzsche even when he wrote in areas seemingly distant from traditional environmental concerns has useful things to say to us environmentalists. At times, in fact, his aphorisms are those of a poetic naturalist. In The Wanderer and His Shadow (1880, collected in Human, All too Human) he wrote “One has still to be as close to flowers, the grass and the butterflies as is a child, who is not so very much bigger that they are. We adults, on the other hand, have grown up high above them and have to condescend to them; I believe the grass hates us when we confess our love for it.” This is not, of course, to claim that Nietzsche is a traditional naturalist. His concerns are primarily about the thriving of human life, though in this he seems less like a traditional wilderness defender and closer to a contemporary sustainability advocate who seeks to locate a promising future for humans while simultaneously solving environmental problems.

A central device in Nietzsche’s work is a type of thought experiment about eternal recurrence of the same: the thought of a pure and perpetual restoration. An early use of the thought is in The Gay Science (1882). There he wrote: “This life, as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once more and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything small or great in your life must 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.” There are those — do you count yourself among them? — who might welcome this. For many of us, however, the prospect of the same sequence playing over and over again would crush us.

In some ways eternal return asks us how much history we can tolerate. In what circumstances does embracing the past testify to our strength: the ways we are disposed to ourselves and to life? And if we cannot take on the entire weight of history, how much of it are we prepared to take on: a little, a lot? The question of what to do with history is considered by Nietzsche in an 1874 essay entitled On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life: the essay from which I take my title. In it Nietzsche decries a style of knowledge acquisition for the sake of knowledge alone. This desiccated strategy ends up sapping our vital impulses. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Nietzsche, memorably, wrote that history can be related to the life of a person in three ways: “it pertains to him as a being who acts and strives, as a being who preserves and reveres, as a being who suffers and seeks deliverance.” These are Nietzsche’s “three species” of history: the monumental, the antiquarian and the critical species.

Restoration is always a game that we play with time. Ecology has a history of being overly confident about that which is genuinely perplexing to other disciplines, namely time. There is a long standing suspicion among philosophers that time, as such, is meaningless. The British philosopher John McTaggart (1866 –1925) famously pronounced the unreality of time. The argument, briefly, is that since every event is both past and future and thus there can be no coherent ordering of events. The observation that an event is not simultaneously past and future relies itself on the ordering that it is trying to explain, creating a vicious circle. Restorationists, however, have a refreshing lack of interest in abstractions such of these. We are concerned, however, with the degree to which we should incorporate the past into our plans for the future — this is the essence of debates about the use of historic reference systems.

The connection between restoration and history is obviously the case for classical restoration defined by the SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” All those “re” and “de” words etymologically reveal their indebtedness to the past. The origins of the prefix “re”, for instance, refers to the original Latin, meaning ‘back’ or ‘backwards’. Ecological restorationist’s concern for the past is not, of course, necessarily about the past for for its own sake, but on behalf of a suite of reasons connected with our direct human needs as well as in discharging of our ethical obligations to the biosphere. As Dave Egan and Evelyn A Howell phrased it in The Historical Ecology Handbook: A Restorationist’s Guide To Reference Ecosystems (2001): “A fundamental aspect of ecosystem restoration is learning how to rediscover the past and bring it forward into the present – to determine what needs to be restored, why it was lost, and how to make it live again.” In William Jordan III’s strict definition of “ecocentric restoration” — “restoration focused on the literal re-creation of previously existing ecosystem, including not just some but all its parts and processes” — restoration, this seemingly impossible grappling with the past generates a broad range of values, some of which we will never get by ignoring the past. In Making Nature Whole: A History of Ecological Restoration (2011) Jordan wrote: “The motives behind this new and some ways odd enterprise [of ecocentric restoration] were complicated: a mixture of curiosity, scientific, historic, and aesthetic interest, nostalgia, and respect for the old ecosystems, together with the idea that the old ecosystems are ecologically privileged assemblages of organisms, endowed with distinctive qualities of stability, beauty, and self organizing capacity, and so might be useful as models for human habitat.” Jordan’s work invites us to deal with the full blast of history, to endure it for the sake of the “classic ecosystem” which otherwise won’t survive, and by enduring to understand better our current relationship with the rest of the natural world. In Jordan’s work, failure is an option — sometimes indeed, failure may be the very point.

Let us engage in a little Nietzschean thought experiment of our own. If an ecological manager from today was transported to the future and shown three sites: one minimally influenced by human activity (assuming that such a thing exists), one classically restored, and one that had been classified at the time of the manager’s departure as a novel ecosystem, the manager would not be able to distinguish based solely upon an inspection of their respective ecological properties one category of site from the other with certainty.

Contemporary ecologists have for generations abandoned any expectations that natural systems, even those uninfluenced by human activity, are static. In the absence of human intervention, ecosystems will change, according to some accounts at least in episodic ways, as one ephemerally stable condition gives way to the next. Each stage will be characterized by species combinations that are largely historically unprecedented, as paleoecologists have documented for systems since the Quaternary and even before. Attempts, therefore, to predict the future of “natural” communities are prone to error. The future is indeterminate. In this ecologists agree with an emerging philosophical consensus that the past is realer than the future, and that the present moment is realist of all.

Nor will the future condition of a restored system be readily identifiable to today’s manager. If our time-traveler has with her the SER Primer on Restoration Ecology, an inspection of the expected properties listed there for identifying a restored system would confirm that this difficulty must be the case. Identifying which species of a future assemblage are indigenous — in restored systems the majority of species should be natives according to our contemporary standards — becomes more difficult the further into the future we project. Over sufficiently long time scales, evolutionary forces come into more pronounced play. Additionally, it is conceivable that species not at present within a biogeographic range of a system may become so in due course without human intervention. Thus naturally altered vegetation patterns may not easily distinguished from those caused by deliberate or inadvertent human introductions. Ultimately, the difficulty that our time-traveler will have in identifying today’s restoration efforts projected into the future arises because current restoration thinking acknowledges, as it should, that communities are dynamic, and sound contemporary management practice should not seek to curtail this dynamism.

A novel system, is defined by Hobbs, Higgs and Hall in Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order (2013) as “a system of abiotic, biotic and social components that, by virtue of human influence, differ from those that prevailed historically, having a tendency to self-organize and manifest novel qualities without intensive human management.” A novel system that is currently under management no matter how minimal (this absence of intensive management being a defining aspect of novel systems), would likewise be difficult to distinguish from sites under restoration management or merely undergoing long-term successional change. All sites are subject to the vagaries of dynamic but unpredictable change. One manager’s failed restoration project, or natural successional system, is another’s future novel system.

At first glance one might be inclined to say that the novel ecosystem is an ahistorical concept: history in a deficient-mode: history being conspicuous by its conscious absence. But there is more history involved in the identification of a novel system than might at first be obvious. The identification of novelty depends upon historical analysis. A determination is made by a historically-informed person, that these systems are not classically restorable and have certain emergent properties of value and are therefore worth studying, conserving, and managing, albeit non-intensively. Although, as we noted, novel ecosystems are defined by their lack of need for intensive management, nonetheless when a novel system is providing conservation services and generally functions in a manner that is pleasing then a management regime may be instituted. As soon as this management is enacted the novel ecosystem is thereby governed by a historical reference system even if the historical moment being referred to is but a few moments in the past. 

The conclusion that these systems cannot be identified without context should not be interpreted nihilistically, nor should it demotivate us. The point I am making here is that history matters regardless of which paradigm of restoration prevails. The engagement with history can be done objectively but it generates important subjective values. That the novel ecosystem is enmeshed in history is acknowledged by its proponents. Richard Hobbs and colleagues wrote “there is a gravitational pull in our discussions towards historical conditions. In acknowledging novel ecosystems, it is plain that this gravitational pull is sometimes very weak; it remains however, if only as a reminder that the past matters and has mattered.”

I want to give the last words to Nietzsche. In his view, stretched between vast forgetfulness and the stultifying horrors of forgetting nothing, is a level of reckoning with history that may be helpful for life and restoration. Though as Nietzsche wrote “Forgetting is essential to action of any kind”, nevertheless restoration — classic or associated with novel system management, is always about history, and must therefore reckon the costs of both deliberate but empowering forgetfulness and value-creating but expensive commemoration. Cows, Nietzsche wrote “do not know the difference between yesterday and today …and thus [are] neither melancholy or bored.” The downside, one supposes, is that neither do they know joy nor beauty, and when all is said and down, they are, after all, cattle! An oversaturation with history, on the other hand, can be inimical to life. Nietzsche lists many reasons why too much history can be dangerous (I mention only the one that most pertains to us): it implants a belief, harmful at any time, in the old age of mankind, the belief that one if a latecomer and epigone. The past swells behind us and though it is tempting to think that everything was so much better last week, last year, in previous ages, nonetheless it would be deadening to think of ourselves as anything but a vernal species with a promising future ahead of us. In some case we draw strength and value from total recall, but there are times we must know when to forget.
It is well known that sensual imagination is moderated, indeed almost dispelled, by regular sexual intercourse, whereas, on the contrary, it is rendered unfettered and wild by abstinence or irregularity. The imagination of many Christian saints was filthy to an extraordinary degree; by virtue of those theories that these desires were actual demons raging within them they did not feel themselves to be too responsible; to this feeling we owe the very instructive frankness of their self-confessions. It was to their interest that this strife should always be maintained in one degree or another, because, as we have already said, their empty life was thereby entertained. But in order that the strife might seem sufficiently important and arouse the enduring sympathy and admiration of non-saints, it was necessary that sensuality should be ever more reviled and branded, the danger of eternal damnation was so tightly bound up with these things that it is highly probable that for whole centuries Christians generated children with a bad conscience, wherewith humanity has certainly suffered a great injury.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human

(Source: reflectivexistence)

Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

(Source: fuckyeahexistentialism, via a-weltanschauung)

Link: Friedrich Nietzsche’s Guide to Conquering Your Existence

In Nietzsche’s most popular book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described what would become one of his most memorable theories — that of the Übermensch.

In English versions of the work of Nietzsche, “Übermensch” is translated as “Superman” or “Overman”. The term “Superman” has adopted many connotations as a result of the comic book hero in popular culture, so for many scholars today, “Overman” is the more suitable term.

“Overman” refers to Nietzsche’s conception of a man who has literally overcome himself and human nature. In essence, an Overman is one who has superseded the bondage of the human condition and reached a liberated state — one of free play and creativity.

This state can be seen as the state of the pure individual, a person unencumbered by the influences and authorities of society and other people. This person wills their own destiny, creates their own values, and dances with the game of life to the tune of their own spirit.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes of three spiritual metamorphoses that must be undergone for the individual to reach the state of Overman. These transformations are rather prescriptive in nature, and thus can be seen as a sort of guide to becoming Overman, or liberating one’s spirit. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Metamorphosis #1: The Camel

The first metamorphosis described by Nietzsche is that of the camel. Of this, he writes:

“What is difficult? asks the spirit that would bear much, and kneels down like a camel wanting to be well loaded. What is most difficult, O heroes, asks the spirit that would bear much, that I may take it upon myself and exult in my strength?”

After this passage, Nietzsche goes on to list several items that may be considered among the most difficult or trying of life’s possible experiences. He indicates that the camel must invite these burdens. For example, he writes, “Or is it this: loving those who despise us and offering a hand to the ghost that would frighten us?”

What Nietzsche is saying is that before one can become Overman, one must first bear a great many burdens. One must battle with fear, love, truth, death, confusion, thirst for knowledge, and all of the other aspects of human existence. The camel embraces these challenges in the name of duty and nobility.

Put another way, the camel does not run from life or distract itself from it. It greets life head-on and embraces the difficulties that it presents out of a sense of duty. In doing so, the camel is humbled and strengthened. Only through suffering these challenges does the camel gain the strength and resilience necessary to attain the next spiritual metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis #2: The Lion

Nietzsche goes on to describe how the camel ultimately enters “the loneliest desert” before becoming a lion. The lonely desert metaphor can be interpreted as follows: The camel has sought out and invited the struggles that life has to offer. In doing so, it has become alienated to a certain extent. It has become different from others and from the society that produced it; it finds itself questioning everything, both its worth and the value of its pursuits.

The desert can be seen as a place of existential crisis, where the camel ponders whether or not any universal laws or virtues exist to guide it and give it purpose. For Nietzsche, such universal virtues and absolute purpose do not exist. The camel is forced to confront this possibility, and thus, the camel must become a lion. Nietzsche writes:

“Here the spirit becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert. Here he seeks out his last master: he wants to fight him and his last god; for ultimate victory he wants to fight with the great dragon. Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? “Thou shalt” is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, “I will.” “Thou shalt” lies in his way, sparkling like gold, an animal covered with scaled; and on every scale shines a golden “thou shalt.” My brothers, why is there a need in the spirit for the lion? Why is not the beast of burden, which renounces and is reverent, enough? To create new values—that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself for new creation—that is within the power of the lion. The creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred “No” even to duty—for that, my brothers, the lion is needed. To assume the right to new values—that is the most terrifying assumption for a reverent spirit that would bear much.”

Okay, that was a long quote, but it’s a key section of the text. Let’s unpack it a bit. When the camel discovers that universal truth and virtue may be non-existent, it has two choices: it can reject life as meaningless and probably commit suicide, or it can claim its own freedom and create its own meaning and virtue. To become Overman, the camel must obviously do the latter; it must ascend.

To do this, the camel must destroy the largest barrier to true freedom: the duty and virtue imposed by tradition and society. This is what Nietzsche’s great dragon represents. The camel had been a slave to the dragon, inviting life’s challenges but always living in accordance with the values imposed upon it from without. The dragon of “Thou Shalt” can also be seen as simply representing everyone who would try to tell one how to live one’s life.

The camel must reject this dragon of tradition and commands, but it cannot in its current, duty-loving form. Thus, it must become a lion. Its trials have allowed it to attain enough strength to become a lion. The lion symbolizes courage, tenacity, disillusionment, and even rage. Only in this state is the spirit able to deliver the “sacred “No.”” The “sacred “No”” represents the utter rejection of external control and all traditional values. Everything imposed by other individuals, society, churches, governments, families, and all forms of propaganda must be denied in an empowered roar.

That is not to say that the lion believes all virtues and values imposed by such entities to be evil or corrupt. Indeed, they could be useful and good. However, it is the fact that they come from an external authority that requires their rejection. An Overman is an absolute individual, and thus must create his own values on his own terms.

Metamorphosis #3: The Child

After the lion has delivered the “sacred “No””, the spirit still must make one more transformation to become Overman. The spirit must become a child. Nietzsche writes:

“But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world.”

So, Nietzsche holds that the lion must again transform in order to forget. The spirit has undergone much duress and turmoil in its transformations, but it must cleanse its mind of the past. In delivering a “sacred “Yes””, the child affirms the moment, affirms uncertainty, and affirms the flux of life. The child becomes a self-propelled wheel, just as life can be viewed in the same terms. The child elects to roll with life, dance and play with it.

Ultimately, for Nietzsche, pure creation arises from this state of play. When one can achieve a child-mind — a mind immersed in the moment and filled with wonder and playfulness — then one can will his own will, create his own virtue, and thus create his own reality. In undergoing this final metamorphosis, the spirit overcomes itself, conquers its world, and reaches the state of Overman. The spirit achieves liberation.

Objections to Nietzsche’s Overman

One of the principal objections to Nietzsche’s theory of Overman is that it can lead to horrible consequences. If universally good values do not exist and one is free to create one’s own, what is there to keep one from determining that heinous crimes are justified? Indeed, Nietzsche himself predicted that his ideas would be used in the name of war and genocide. And, some speculate that his ideas were influential for Nazi ideology.

Another objection to Nietzsche relates to his insistence on the separation and alienation of the individual from the world around him. See, many gurus and sages throughout history have taught that spiritual enlightenment consists in the realization of oneness, or a lack of separation, so Nietzsche could be dismissed for over-valuing the individual. Personally, though, I see the final transformation into the child as Nietzsche’s way of acknowledging the wisdom of oneness.

The child is able to reach a state of play and creation because it affirms life and flows with the flux of life. In doing so, it becomes one with all of existence. Therefore, I think that a proper interpretation of Nietzsche leads to the conclusion that the state of Overman is truly a playful state in which man no longer perceives himself as separate from life, but rather, as one with it. In affirming life and flowing with it, he ceases to suffer needlessly and is able to effortlessly engage in pure creation. This would also clear up the first objection because the aforementioned negative consequences would only result from a misreading of Nietzsche.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense

(Source: ryanjblum, via vngtrd)