A REALISTIC TASTE OF REALITY
From Groundhog Days – Intercourse on Time
By Melina Costello & David Arthur Walters
July 30, 2004
My Dearest Groundhog,
The Groundhog issue is too important to be held hostage to semantics. For instance, Nietzsche put forth that our realities are linguistic creations; that is, we reify through language. Appearances that we appropriate through naming eventually become essences and things. T. Beckman (1995) wrote:
“Nietzsche supposes that there is not much difference between realists and idealists, objectivists and subjectivists, except for linguistic habit. At bottom, all of these stem from origins in our passions, fantasies, and interests.”
Now that’s a sharp slap in the face of our rational underpinnings, or at least what we’ve psychologized of our rational underpinnings. Additionally, if we are to consider anything of Nietzsche’s meditations on the nature of what we call reality, time notwithstanding, then we must also wrap our minds around his denial that we have any organ with which to fix reality and thus are indefinitely subject to untruth. Argh! Furthermore, Beckman writes:
“To the Apollonian [sic] scientist this is unbearable; hence, art is what makes our situation bearable because art, being playful with appearance, gets around its untruth. This is probably the most important aphorism of [Nietzsche’s] Book II and it concludes everything that he has been developing about art.”
Is it not possible that McTaggart, in The Unreality of Time, simply was not being artful, that is, playful enough when asserting his logical contradiction between past, present, and future, and therefore could not escape the tar pit of his own untruths? Is not that the definition of a dunderhead?
And then there is Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, which I fear we will not be able to circumvent in our Groundhog musings, so I expect to hear more from you on Nietzsche’s taste for Reality, if that is what it is.
Your Madame Melina
August 15, 2004
Ah, Madame Melina, Time is such a waste of time that I never thought you would ask for another helping, Thank you! Here we go with Nietzsche again.
Nietzsche, despite the disease, rejection and grinding poverty that he suffered over the years, at least verbally accepted nature as it is, and believed that any superior person would embrace life, no matter how good or evil the world appears to one who loves or hates their nature as the source of pleasure and pain.
Even if a miserable life had to be endlessly repeated, Nietzsche would embrace it. And that is at the bottom of his version of the ancient doctrine of eternal recurrence.
He must have known very well that, at least mathematically, the proposition that the cosmos endlessly repeats itself is virtually impossible if not absurd; for, the more complex the universe, the less chance there is of such a repetition, and the universe is almost infinitely complex. Nietzsche’s interest in the doctrine of eternal recurrence was moral. His doctrine was a heuristic or self-teaching device, and was not intended to be a theory of physics. He raised a hypothetical question: If a demon came down and demonstrated to you that, beyond a reasonable doubt, your life as well as everyone else’s would be repeated endlessly, would you rejoice? Or would you despair?
Those who love life would perhaps react joyously and be willing to repeat the cycle time and time again, good and bad; they would stick it out, through thick or thin, for better or worse.
On the other hand, those who deny life would despair. They would probably, in their denial, have resort to the ascetic morality which negates life, the morality that says, “Nothing is good enough, therefore we must have progress, not a cycle, we must be saved from this life, we must have either eternal death of the self, when the body perishes, or we must have an immortal soul that progresses to paradise and eternally perseveres there, providing, of course, that we have blind faith in the god of paradise who booted us from the original paradise because we sinned, and, accordingly deny ourselves in this world, which is ruled by the anti-god,” et cetera.
In the desire for eternal life, or permanent death in contrast to the temporal dynamic life, Nietzsche refers to the religion he despises most of all, Christianity, for which life does not endlessly repeat itself but flies off the earth in a tangent, so to speak, a life that progresses.
For Nietzsche, Christianity is a religion for losers, a pathetic religion, a religion of pity. Pity for him is a disease, and he would have none of it. He wanted to survive in this world, not the next.
The “truths” of Christianity, especially those derived from Plato’s Apollonian idolatry of eternal ideals, which Plato idolizes as real, and the craving for permanent supreme being, which Platonic philosophy identifies with Reality, in fact negate or destroy the actual truth, that of truly sacred life, the real, the dynamic, Dionysian life.
“Plato is boring,” pronounced Nietzsche in The Antichrist. “In reality my distrust of Plato is fundamental. I find him so very much astray from all the deepest instincts of the Hellenes, so steeped in moral prejudices, so pre-existently Christian—the concept ‘good’ is already the highest value with him—that rather than use any other expression I would prefer to designate the whole phenomenon Plato with the hard word, ‘superior bunkum,’ or, if you would like it better, ‘idealism.’
“Christianity has sided with everything weak, low and botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism towards all the self-preservation instincts of strong of strong life: it has corrupted even the reason of the strongest intellects, by teaching that the highest values of intellectuality are sinful, misleading and full of temptation. The most lamentable example of this was the corruption of Pascal, who believed in the perversion of his reason through original sin, whereas it had only been perverted by Christianity.”
Nietzsche naturally contemned Kant’s moral philosophy, which did not depend on proof of god’s existence but on automatic duty to his Kant’s version of Christianity’s Golden Rule:
“What is there that destroys a man more speedily than to work, to think, feel as an automaton of ‘duty,’ without internal promptings, without a profound personal predilection, without joy? This is the recipe par excellence of decadence and even of idiocy…. Kant became an idiot.”
Nietzsche’s fictional Zarathustra is the epitome of opposition to Christianity, the counter-ideal to the ascetic ideal which amounts to denial of life and a demand for another, imaginary life, which is, for Nietzsche, really nothing, eternal nothingness or death, not temporal life, which is everything. His Superman transcends the ascetic ideal of denial. If life is hellish repetition, he will accept it. Yet he believes there can be a higher life, in this world, not in the next. The superior person reaches higher, but he does not at the same time dehumanize or condemn as sin his origin, the very ground he stands on. He does not destroy the old but presses himself into new forms, new values. His life, then, is an art.
In his 1848 lecture on Wagner, Nietzsche scribbled, “I believed that the world was created from the aesthetic standpoint, as a play, and that as a moral phenomenon it was a deception: on that account I came to the conclusion that the world was only to be justified as an aesthetic phenomenon.”
Havelock Ellis (Dance of Life), during the course of his sympathetic discourse on Gaultier’s philosophy of illusionism, Bovarysm, a philosophy Gaultier derived from a study of Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, opined, “Our picture of the world, for good or evil, is an idealized picture, a fiction, a waking dream…. But when we idealize the world we begin by first idealizing ourselves.”
Gustave Flaubert, frustrated Romantic yet acclaimed pioneer of modern French realism in literature, personally felt that reality was “shit,” a disgusting thing he put in his mouth to fashion fiction. His family was well endowed, which allowed him to avoid the detested office work which his legal training might have lead, and to withdraw to his family cottage at Rouen and write novels. He was the literary idol of the art for art’s sake school of thought. Whatever art was, it was a way to avoid reality if one could get away with it. It could be easily justified by reversion to the ancient ascetic view that the real world is really an illusion. But this sort of artist would not be an either/or monk in a cell, but would live an aesthetic life in his studio. The aesthetic life has several advantages, one being that artists and those who appreciate art can enjoy things without actually possessing them, just by looking at and not owning them. Of course a starving artist would relish a study of a ham sandwich and bowl of fruit more than a bulging-belly investor or bourgeois patron of the arts.
Would the world not be more beautiful if more people withdrew from the mad competition for the actual possession of things and enjoyed artistic representations of those things at a distance? Better yet for the greedy world if the art was abstract. Such a better world would be a great market for artists to sell their wares. Others, not so inclined to be painters as such, could instead live artfully, could they not? As for the artists, they need not mix with the crowd and try to prove some version of the ‘truth.’ No, the artist should lay aside the ideological arguments, the attempt to make the truth, and simply take up a fragment of existence and reveal its truth. If artists would only focus on their art in solitude, they would pose no danger whatsoever to society, and their creations would greatly benefit a society that could then enjoy beholding things presented or represented rather than possessing the things in themselves.
Alas, as Ice-T screamed of Ozzie and Harriet, “The world is not like that!” Creativity is revolutionary. Arts of all sorts including literary art have a reputation for fomenting rebellion, “corrupting morals” and the like. Furthermore, we admit that reality sometimes tastes like shit, but so does artifice. There is something distasteful in the view that the world is just a stage upon which hypocrites (Gk. ‘actors’) play, that life is just a Machiavellian “game” of power plays.
“What is good?” asked Nietzsche. “All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing, that resistance has been overcome.” Wherefore Nietzsche was much admired by the militant Prussian ‘realists’ to whom Germany’s economic prosperity tasted like shit.
Finally, Madame, and I believe you will agree with me, although there is some truth in it, there is something insincere in the perspective that the world, including our perception of time, is phony.
I am, as always,