October 13, 2009

Amor Fati

I would like to take up Mark Hackard’s conception of Nietzsche’s project and his ultimate views of fate, divinity and truth.

To begin with, one must consider who Nietzsche wrote for: exceptional types. Not the majority. The Prologue of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra makes this clear. At first, Zarathustra spoke to the marketplace and his message fell on the wrong ears. From then on, he searched for higher men. It is in this context that Zarathustra “looked lovingly at his disciples” and spoke thus:

Remain true to the earth, my brethren, with the power of your virtue! Let your bestowing love and your knowledge be devoted to be the meaning of the earth! Thus do I pray and conjure you.

The search for truth is not for everyone, but only a select few who can handle the “futility and absurdity” to which Mr. Hackard refers. Only they can create their own meaning.

When Nietzsche speaks of the eternal return, he never speaks of it as if it were actually true, but rather he speaks of the thought of the eternal return, which serves as a reason for affirming life. This is a point of debate, of course, but in my reading it is not Nietzsche trying to make himself divine, as Mr. Hackard suggests, but rather, to put it basely, he is providing a reason for living life to its fullest in a world devoid of the supernatural. This thought, however, is for the few.

For the many, on the other hand, Nietzsche has a different prescription. On the subject of divinity, he goes the way of Feuerbach: humans project their virtues onto a god and venerate him or her in order to celebrate those virtues. This is a symptom of a healthy and prosperous people. Nietzsche does not take fault with the divine per se, but only the form of the divine and the god(s) it venerates:

“A people which still believes in itself still also has its own God. In him it venerates the conditions through which it has prospered, its virtues ? it projects its joy in itself, its feeling of power on to a being whom one can thank for them? Within the bounds of such presuppositions religion is a form of gratitude. One is grateful for oneself: for that one needs a God.”

Later, Nietzsche laments:

“?they [Europeans] have failed to create a God! Almost two millennia and not a single new God!”

Thus, Nietzsche did not “negate the divine” (or at least the notion of the divine) as Mr. Hackard suggests, but perceived it for its all-too-human characteristics as well as its beneficial potentialities for a given society. The question here isn’t the truth of the god or concept, but its life-affirming qualities.

Take the concept of amor fati, which Nietzsche first formulates in The Gay Science:

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall become one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth!”

Here Nietzsche expresses the skill of the artist ? the ability to make beautiful that which is otherwise mundane or ugly. He applies this skill toward life itself, resulting in a fundamentally affirmative and Yes-saying world view. This tendency to affirm life in spite of its uncertainties and calamities is the essence of the Attic tragedy.

Contrast this with the Biblical view of life and fate. All that is good comes from God, and all that is bad comes from sin or the Devil. Here, as Nietzsche says, “chance [is] robbed of its innocence; misfortune dirtied by the concept ‘sin’.” The world that God created is somehow “fallen” and it gets what it deserves. As Zarathustra noted, one gets the impression that God is like a potter who had not yet learned his craft thoroughly, and so takes revenge on his pots because they turned out badly.

Both views incorporate the notion of the divine, but in Nietzsche’s view the former is in the service of life, while the latter denies life and the world as it is.

In my reading, Nietzsche is not so much looking to secularize humanity, as Mr. Hackard seems to suggest, but to provide certain truths for those exceptional types who might create a new meaning for humanity ? new, healthier, life-affirming gods and values. These creators would devise new myths to remove the absurdity and uncertainty from life and ultimately provide a new orientation for a given people.

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