Paul Bryant's Reviews > Introducing Nietzsche: A Graphic Guide

Introducing Nietzsche by Laurence Gane
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From what this short sharp graphic guide tells you, if somebody was to have leaned over a balcony and dropped a television on Nietzsche’s head as he was walking by, that would have not been such a bad thing. Or crept up behind him and gave him a little push and sent him tumbling down the stairs, like you might do with your grandma if you were in a playful frame of mind. And if he mortally wounded his vast moustache on the way down to the ground floor, so much the better. Rarely has the world seen a grumpier old bastard than Nietzsche. And there have been a lot of grumpy old bastards, there’s never a shortage of those. Nietzsche could have won the World’s Grumpiest Man contest for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would have strolled it.

As well as World’s Grumpiest and World’s Biggest Moustache, he was World’s Most Pompous. His books were filled with Eiffel-Tower-sized grandiose pomposities which he called aphorisms and expected everyone to notice how wise, profound and knee-trembling they were, and when no one read any of this crap he became even grumpier, and serve him right too. Let us contemplate a few of these aphorisms:

The majesty of truth is not scaled by the rope-ladder of logic.

The sense of the tragic increases and diminishes with sensuality.

That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.

Madness is something rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, peoples, ages, it is the rule.

No one can extract from things, books included, more than he already knows.

Let the tribe sacrifice itself, if necessary, to preserve the existence of one great individual. It is not the quantity but the quality of humanity that we must seek to increase.

It’s like Nietzsche had a Profundity Generator chugging away in his study churning out pages of this ridiculous stuff, hopping from one huge topic to another (History, Appolline Philosophy, Religion, Psychology, Toadstools, Interior Decoration in 15th century Armenia). Every one of these statements makes no literal sense and this guide never takes to time to figure out what he might have actually meant with most of it, it just skips madly on to the next one. Nietzsche loved to spray around words like Truth, Knowledge and Power without saying what he meant. Truth about what? Power for who? Here’s another one:

Either one does not dream at all or one dreams in an interesting manner.

Au contraire, Mr Nietzsche, I got you there. I have had many immensely dull dreams.

Until finally we get to an idea which we can focus on, finally. This is where Nietzsche puts forward his ideas on how the morality of Western society has been deliberately sabotaged by Christianity. And this is where hipsters like to sling Thus Spake Zarathustra or Beyond Good ‘n’ Evil back & forth because they are boldly anti-Christian, and I have to give fair play to Nietzsche here because that was indeed quite a bold thing to be in the 19th Century, and still is in Texas.

So back to the story : in bracing ancient Greek ‘n’ Roman times there was a set of NOBLE ethics. Aristocrats could do what the hell they wanted to achieve greatness. (Er, since you ask, the idea of greatness is not explained.) This noble morality was overthrown by the SLAVE morality of Christianity, which substitutes COMPASSION, PITY, and LOVE for all the weak members of society. But as far as Nietzsche was concerned, altruism was where the rot set in.

I single out PITY as the fundamental “anti-life” instinct for in pitying another we weaken ourselves, nor do we benefit the object of our pity.

(Such a strange statement – tell that to the beneficiaries of the Medicines sans Frontiers teams everywhere.)

The idea seems like pure social Darwinism – we shouldn’t help or preserve the weak because they deserve to die, they’re just dragging the rest of us down. So does Nietzsche pave the way to Tiergartenstrasse 4.

This guide strenuously points out that Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite or a nationalist and so you shouldn’t think of him as a proto-Nazi. It seems to be quite true, but he did think that the weak should die and great men should be unconstrained by the morality of slavery, so you say tomato and I say Heil Hitler.

This guide tells us that lotsa big names have had a lot of time for Nietzsche since he went mad and died, such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida and Foucault. So what do I know. I think I would still have dropped a television on his head, or maybe a bowling ball.
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Reading Progress

November 26, 2017 – Started Reading
November 26, 2017 – Shelved
November 27, 2017 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy I would not quite agree with you on what you say on altruism and Nietzsche and on the bit of Tiergartenstraße, but on the whole, nowadays, I see Nietzsche the same way you do. His philosophy is, at best, slipshod, vague and skulduggerish. Little wonder, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault and all those other prestidigitators should be so nuts about him.

message 2: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel He was a horrible man, and you're quite right that he was pompous and grandiloquent. But he was also a profound and revolutionary thinker, frequently (including sometimes by himself) misunderstood.

An aphorism, btw, isn't meant to be understood. It's an arrow - it hits you and stops you in your tracks. It's up to you to think about what might be the case for it to be true (they're not meant to form a coherent philosophy, just to get you to think about your existing one).

Regarding his view of great men, there's a particularly important common misunderstanding. Nietzsche devotes so much time to attacking 'slave morality', and gets so carried away masturbating over the 'blond beast' and his 'orgies' of rape and murder, it's easy to think that he's saying that that blond beast is good. He's not. He sees the old aristocrats as pure and healthy and strong, and animalistic - but as animalistic, primitive, uninteresting. He thinks the slave morality is evil - a tool to control people, to make them unhealthy by turning their instincts against themselves - but he also thinks that it has made mankind a more complicated and more interesting creature. He'd have been contemptuous of the Nazis and the whole idea of the Holocaust - because he'd have seen it as an admission of weakness. The strength of a society, he said, is measured by its mercy - as society grows stronger, it no longer needs to kill. The strongest society would have no need even to imprison, because its enemies could not threaten it. Likewise with people - a strong man shouldn't bother taking the time to kill, hurt, punish or imprison weak men, any more than he should take the time to torture worms - it suggests that they have some disproportionate power over them, as fear and hate and anger are all forms of weakness and sickliness.

Mostly, though, I think it's important to bear in mind that Nietzsche never really knew what he wanted. His talent is in recontextualising the present and the past to criticise it - he has only the vaguest ideas of how to improve upon it. Despite his sometimes grandiose view of himself, he makes clear that his aim is to 'philosophise with a hammer', smashing up the 'idols' to 'clear the ground' for the 'philosophers of the future' to rebuild; he doesn't see himself as one of those philosophers-of-the-future, but only as their, as it were, prophet. He may have claimed to be the Antichrist (which he intends as a compliment to Christ, for whom he has a grudging respect), but most of the time he sees himself more as John the Baptist in the wilderness.

message 3: by Paul (last edited Nov 27, 2017 12:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant this begs a whole basketful of questions! don't feel you have to become Nietzsche's spokesperson on Earth, but since you have spoke up for this strange philosopher I must ask.

- he has contempt for the slave morality, and yet you say he thought the strength of society is measured by its mercy - this is a contradiction. I believe he saw compassion for the weak as the big problem with Christianity, so I don't get what you say here.

- what the heck did he think these great men were for, anyway? what was he thinking they would do in their greatness? what makes them great anyway? none of this is explained in this guide.

- all of his thinking sounds very fascistic to me. would you disagree with that?

message 4: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel Well, two caveats: it's very difficult to pin down what Nietzsche thought exactly sometimes (he liked rhetorical gestures, and didn't like precision); and lots of people have all sorts of disagreeing ideas about what he said (ime, because a lot of continental philosophers like borrowing his name but don't like reading him, but never mind...).

That said, I'll take a stab at those questions:

- Nietzsche would distinguish between pity and mercy.

He hates pity, and compassion, for a lot of reasons. Take the urge to comfort somebody in pain - to offer medications to calm someone whose child has died, for instance. Nietzsche sees this as evil. First, he doesn't believe it's altruistic: in quieting their suffering, we remove the irritation of our own compassionate feelings for them; and more, we feel superior to them because we have been able to 'help' them. As a result of our 'help', we then gain and demonstrate power: we are the great benefactor, they are the poor ones dependent on our pity, in our debt - and meant to thank us for it, even if they never asked for our help.

But more than that, acting out of pity means assuming that their suffering is a bad thing. We think them being upset is bad, so we try to make them less upset. But he thinks that our suffering is often one of the most important things about us - our suffering is what is unique about us, and what forms our personalities. We all suffer, and we have to decide for ourselves what value and significance that suffering has for ourselves. But the philanthropist decides on our behalf that our suffering is something bad, to be eliminated from his world. In taking away our suffering, he takes away a part of ourselves, and a part of our potential for growth. Specifically, he (as much as he can) restores his peace of mind by restoring us a serene, placid, cattle-like existence without pain or risk. Nietzsche hates the idea that the painless life is what constitutes human flourishing - the idea that, as it were, the only problem with heroin is that the high isn't permanent. Take away that belief that the best thing is to always go around removing suffering from people, and compassion/pity doesn't look so great anymore.
[he also thinks that teaching people that their compassion is what is good about themselves teaches them to self-harm, by teaching them to sacrifice what is good for them - not just in the sense of comfort, but in the sense of what would be unique about themselves. If someone who could be a great composer, say, abandons an idle life of music to go work as a doctor in the Sahara, to save the eyesight of a man whose pain and blindness would otherwise lead him to bring peace and prosperity to his country, who has really gained, he'd ask?]

But that doesn't mean there can't be other reasons to help people out, or not to do them harm. Mercy is also an exercise of power, but a more honest one - it's very clear about who is in charge. It comes not from self-denial ("I mustn't hurt them because ending their suffering is more important than my pleasure!") but from self-expression ("let the fuckers live - I'm so happy and well-adjusted that I don't care about that. Here, I'll even give them some money, why not, I don't need it!").

About mercy he says:
The "creditor" always becomes more humane to the extent that he has grown richer; finally, how much injury he can endure without suffering from it becomes the actual measure of his wealth. It is not unthinkable that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it—letting those who harm it go unpunished....

The justice which began with, "everything is dischargeable, everything must be discharged," ends by winking and letting those incapable of discharging their debt go free: it ends, as does everything good thing on earth, by overcoming itself. This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself—mercy.

- to be honest, he seems to have some sort of homoerotic/self-loathing adultation of Big Strong Men. But to be charitable, his view of greatness seems to be focused on health and vigour - both physical and mental. He thinks people want to be healthy rather than sick. Health lets you achieve your goals - whatever they are; whereas sicknesses inhibit your ability to do what you want. The great man is the healthy man, who is able to achieve his* goals, or at least isn't prevented from doing so by his own inadequacies, and who can therefore live without regrets - who is also the only man who is truly happy. Nietzsche's test for this is the concept of eternal recurrence - the great man, the happy man, is the one who can learn that he is to relive every moment of his life exactly, and respond with joy. [whether he actually believed that that's what will happen to us, or whether it's only a way of thinking about how you see your life, is debated].

- fascistic? Yes and no. Certainly there are things in common - primarily the aesthetic of growth, strength, vitality, force, power, organicism, and also the rejection of egalitarianism. But Nietzsche would not have approved of fascism (or Nazism) in practice. Fascism is, after all, a popular democratic movement - it justifies itself as the Will of the People, for whom Nietzsche had little time (he hated the "beer-glutted German masses" whom Hitler appealed to). He opposed both nationalism and socialism - both the strong state, and private capitalism - the state-directed market of fascism would be the worst of both worlds for him. He did believe in eugenics and conquering the world - but where Hitler wanted Germans to conquer the world, and for eugenics to be a return to pure Germanness, Nietzsche wanted a meritocratic, cosmopolitan, elite to control the world - a society of Napoleons, not Hitlers - and his idea of eugenics involved the breeding of new, improved people by interbreeding among the best representatives of every race.
In modern terms, Nietzsche would probably prefer Ayn Rand to Hitler.

*this is one of the times when the "his/her" business isn't necessary: Nietzsche hated women, at least after his Bad Experiences. Philosophers, he said, should avoid three loud and shiny things: fame, princes, and women.

Paul Bryant I can see the view of a pill for every ill which is the basis of Western medicine leads to the medicalisation of everyday life, everybody on tranqs, every other kid diagnosed as being on the autism scale, and parents upset if they don’t get a diagnosis of at least ADHD; so if Nietzsche was to denounce our current society in these terms I might agree. Our striving to ameliorate suffering has become fanatical. But Nietzsche is surely not going to oppose medical research is he? He wouldn’t go round closing down hospitals or banning the Red Cross surely? Assuming he wouldn’t, then all the help for the afflicted he approves of simply gets rebranded from pity to mercy. If I give a donation to my favourite charity how does Nietzsche know if it’s from pity or from mercy? Since motives are either mixed or unknowable in this area the distinction seems to me to be spurious.

Regarding the great man – following your description, let me propose a guy who’s happily married with a nice job that he likes, nothing special, he might run an agricultural machinery franchise in Tucson Arizona, he has a couple of average kids who he loves, bunch of friends, he enjoys a few rounds of golf and a couple of beers at the weekend. He’s just your standard unintellectual sincere geezer, he’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but he loves his life. If you said he would have to live it all over again he’d be so happy. But is he one of Nietzsche’s great men?

message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris There needs to be emojis on this site (or maybe not because then we would stop using words. HAHA, haha about what?) Haha about this review and book. I probably found your review much more entertaining than I would find this book.

"It’s like Nietzsche had a Profundity Generator chugging away in his study churning out pages of this ridiculous stuff, hopping from one huge topic to another (History, Appolline Philosophy, Religion, Psychology, Toadstools, Interior Decoration in 15th century Armenia)."

Or a room full of monkeys on typewriters. HA! Great review, Paul. Thank you for the laughs. Why 3 stars, though?

message 7: by Paul (last edited Nov 28, 2017 12:47AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant well, the guide itself is perfectly good at reflecting what a miserable crank he was, so I'm not shooting the messenger just cause I don't like the message. Thanks for the kind words Chris!

message 8: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy A very interesting discussion, and I wish I had more time to join it because there was a time when Nietzsche was one of my favourite thinkers even though back then I could not help smiling at the contrived exuberance of Zarathustra.

I don't think that Nietzsche churned out his aphorisms by the dozen as Oscar Wilde probably did because most of them do offer food for thought, and that is where is lack of precision comes in handy. On the other hand, it is this lack of precision - of terms - and the absence of any systematic approach in his writings that make me think of him rather as a poet than as a philosopher proper. Philosophy, for me, implies the wish to systematize, to explain and to exclude ambivalence, and for all I know Nietzsche does the very opposite. And this is why he is probably so often misunderstood, all the more so since his narrow-minded and proto-Nazi sister compiled the book "The Will to Power" from Nietzsche fragments and labelled it with her brother's name.

Like Wastrel, I'd never go so far as to regard Nietzsche as a fascist, simply because the idea of conformity that is at the bottom of fascism would have disgusted him. His criticism of Christianity as an ideology full of resentment towards all that is strong and independent, clothed in the sickly guise of pity - a pity that is vociferated loudly as the merit of the person who professes it - may have a point but instead of explaining his views in the spirit of Enlightenment, he counters Christianity with a crude mysticism of his own, inlcuding this thought of Die Wiederkehr des Gleichen.

His most serious and systematic attempt at explaining his views is one of his earliest writings, Die Geburt der Tragödie, which I can only recommend.

message 9: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy Probably, Nietzsche's ideas of strength and individualism would have made him want to live in the world of Westerns, but he would surely have been considered a nuisance by the other cowboys, for always embracing their horses.

message 10: by JK (new)

JK Great review and thanks for the laughs! :)

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