Monday, September 06, 2010

Nietzsche's Eris

Philosophy leaps ahead on tiny toe-holds; hope and intuition lend wings to its feet. Calculating reason lumbers heavily behind, looking for better footholds, for reason too wants to reach that alluring goal which its divine comrade has long since reached.
That's the young Nietzsche, from notes written (but left unpublished) around 1873, the same time he produced The Birth of Tragedy. The notes were intended for a separate book to be entitled Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, which now exists in English translation under that title. In it he addresses several of the pre-Socratics, and apparently intended to carry on with several more, but never completed the book.

According to Marianne Cowan, translator of Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Nietzsche's preoccupation with Hellenism stemmed from a pedagogical concern:
Nietzsche's most deeply felt task at this time was undoubtedly one of education. He wanted to present the culture of the Greeks as a paradigm to his young German contemporaries who might thus be persuaded to work toward a state of culture of their own; a state which Nietzsche found sorely missing.
Cowan then cites Nietzsche directly, in a passage worth noting for its attitude toward and understanding of philosophical and philological learning:
There is a certain kind of thoroughness which is but the excuse for inactivity. Think of what Goethe understood about antiquity: certainly not as much as any philologist, and yet quite enough to enable him to engage in fruitful struggle with it. One should not, in fact, know more about a thing than one can oneself digest creatively. Moreover the only means of truly understanding something is one's attempt to do it. Let us try to live in the manner of the ancients -- and we shall instantly come a hundred miles closer to them than with all our learnedness. Our philologists nowhere demonstrate that they somehow strive to vie with antiquity; that is why their antiquity is without any effect on the schools. (Nietzsche's emphasis)
This agonistic vision imbued Nietzsche's writings on the Greeks with fervor and dialectical verve. In a sense, he was competing with them, and wanted his students and readers to strive with them, to outdo them. For in that duel lay the path to cultural growth. In the above passage he also wrote:
To get past Hellenism by means of deeds: that would be our task. But to do that, we first have to know what it was!
To which he added:
My aim is to generate open enmity between our contemporary "culture" and antiquity. Whoever wishes to serve the former must hate the latter.

No comments: