Friday, September 2, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due?

Reading Nietzsche is... Well. Is there a proper English translation of umwerfend? I have some differences with him: as I've said several times on theis blog and repeatedly elsewhere, I think that everything he says in his philosophical works about women is wrong. Plain wrong. (And most of what he says about war. Keep in mind when reading a passage about war by Nietzsche that he was never in one. Closest he ever came was working in a military hospital during the Franco-Prussian War.) He almost always refers to them as one group. He addresses individual male human beings from various places and times, individual ancient Greeks, individual Frenchman and Jews and Englishmen of his own times and a century or two earlier, individual Germans, and his comments about various countries and cultures are clearly based upon his assessment of these individuals.

With the wimmins, it's the other way around: he speaks of the entire gender at once, and on the rare, very rare occasions when he takes an individual woman to task, usually one of the famous Georges contemporary with him, Eliot or Sand, his condemnation is clearly based on his strange notions about the entire gender, such as, they've got no real business being creative artists and are treacherous and primitive and sooooo mean and will just mess everything up.

I'm referring only to Nietzsche's philosophical works. In his letters he's often completely, startlingly different, because there he's often talking about and even to individual human beings who happen to be wimmins, and talks about and to them in a reasonable way for which the philosophical works have left the reader entirely unprepared.

And so the Foreword to Nietzsche's Jenseits Von Gut Und Boesestarts off with remarks about women -- about truth actually, but saying "Imagine that truth were a woman" -- which just make me groan and wince. Put it this way, between Nietzsche and me, at least one of us is disastrously wrong about women. At least. But the Foreword winds up talking about what the book, in my opinion, is actually more about: the Western philosophical tradition, in its entirety, from the ancient Greeks down to 1885 when Nietzsche was finishing this book:

"Aber der Kampf gegen Plato, oder, um es verständlicher und für's 'Volk' zu sagen, der Kampf gegen den christlich-kirchlichen Druck von Jahrtausenden —- denn Christenthum ist Platonismus für's 'Volk' -— hat in Europa eine prachtvolle Spannung des Geistes geschaffen, wie sie auf Erden noch nicht da war: mit einem so gespannten Bogen kann man nunmehr nach den fernsten Zielen schiessen."

("But the fight against Plato, or, to say it more plainly and for the 'people,' the fight against thousands of years of pressure from Christianity and the Church -- because Christianity is Platonic philosophy for the 'people' -- has produced in Europe a magnificent tautness of the mind, the likes of which never before existed on Earth. With a bow drawn so tightly, one can now shoot at the farthest targets.")

There are things Nietzsche wrote which I just completely reject, which I don't bother even considering any more, such as the accusation that the womenfolk only screw up art when they participate in it, and then there are passages like the one I just cited, which astound me and make me stop and clutch my munkee head and ask myself, Now what if that's true? First, what if it's really true that, from a philosophical perspective, Christianity is basically a dumbed-down, Readers' Digest version of Plato? And further, what if it's true that certain achievements made in traditionally-Christian parts of the Earth -- such as space exploration, talk about "shooting at the farthest targets" -- were not accomplished in spite of the stifling effects of Christianity, but actually because of them? Because people had to fight so hard for so long against Christianity just to maintain any sort of tolerable life, and the fight made some people's minds so strong, as if their spirits had had to fight a giant from the WWF all day every day from AD 380 until now, that this and that industrial and scientific revolution was just an incidental by-product of all that intensive, non-stop training, as if Christianity had inadvertently, unintentionally created among its opponents Navy Seals or Army Rangers of the mind?

They say that centuries' worth of strict censorship in Russia helped to create the concentrated prose of Turgenevand Dostoyevsky.An Internet forum which allows no more than 250 words per post does train one in pithiness of style. Could Nietzsche be right here? Is gratitude due here, in one of the strangest, least-expected places?

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