Monday, August 31, 2015

Understanding Nietzsche -- It's Not For Everybody Who Claims To

Mel Brooks, in a 2013 Q&A with Judd Apatow, talking about making Blazing Saddles back in the early 70's and worrying about whether he was going too far:

Brooks recalled asking John Calley, then head of production at Warner Bros., "'Can we beat the s--- out of a little old lady? Can we punch a horse?' He said to me, 'If you're going to go up to the bell, ring it. He told me that early in my career, and I never forgot it. I had cavemen masturbating [in History of the World, Part 1]. I rang it." (Emphasis mine.)

A few years ago I was listening to Brooks' voice-over commentary on a DVD of Blazing Saddles, and he mentioned Calley giving him that advice, and I've never forgotten it, although I can't claim that I've lived up to it as well as Brooks has. (And by the way, doesn't it sound from this anecdote as if Calley was a wonderful guy for directors to work for?)

Mel Brooks knows his Nietzsche, unlike many people who speak and write about Nietzsche, including some philosophy professors who do so for a living.

Why do so many people insist upon saying such nonsense about Nietzsche? Does it have a lot to do with his own sister having grossly distorted his work, first before he lost his mind, and then much more so afterwards, when she was appointed the worst-possible executrix of his estate and writings? Did Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche found a tradition of nonsense about Nietzsche which has been running parallel for 140 years to the tradition actually based upon his philosophy? Do we need to separate the students of Nietzsche into those of Friedrich and those of Elisabeth?

That actually would explain quite a lot.

And just a heads-up to you discliples of Elisabeth, those of you who simply will not stop making stuff up and then claiming that Nietzsche said it -- I'm coming after you. And when I come up to that bell, I'm going to ring it. Those of you who make a metaphysical mountain out of the molehill of aphorism 295 in Jenseits, for example, squeezing out of that mention of Dionysus the assertion that Nietzsche was a practitioner of ancient Greek polytheism. Do you also claim that Nietzsche said that dragons are real and that they and lions can talk? Objectively, if you can get away with using Jenseits to argue that Nietzsche was not an atheist -- nevermind that he said that he was atheist, about as emphatically as anyone ever could (Ecce Homo, "Warum ich zu klug bin," 1st paragraph) -- then you ought to be able to convince people, based on Zarathustra's speech "Von den drei Verwandlungen" (p. 22 in the Goldmann edition of Also sprach Zarathustra, ISBN 3442075262), that dragons and lions talk to each other.

Obviously, objectivity and making sense have little to do with the aims of the Elisabeth Förster-Nietzschians. Indeed, they seem positively allergic to good common sense. Something they have in common with theologians. And like theologians, they love to claim that Nietzsche really was religious after all. If you actually read Nietzsche, you'll come across countless passages in which he says that he loathes theologians -- and who can blame him? him above all?

I think I know how Schopenhauer felt about Hegel.

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