September 16, 2023


Nietzsche the Afflicted: On Ritchie Robertson's "Friedrich Nietzsche" (Kim Solin. 9/14/23, LA Review of Books)

The mystical experience was central to Nietzsche's life, and with it the fundamental idea of the "eternal recurrence." But how should we understand this notion? Robertson suggests that it is a moral test: "If one can accept with joy the prospect of reliving one's life repeatedly, one has shown one's ability to affirm life." And a large part of Nietzsche's philosophy was indeed about learning to affirm life, about dancing and laughter. As a cosmological theory, Robertson notes, the eternal recurrence is hopelessly outdated. It seems to me that what happened to Nietzsche is best described by Kierkegaard's concept "Øieblikket" (i.e., the moment or, literally, "the glance of the eye"), a rare instant in which the temporal and the eternal meet, disclosing our place in both spheres and dissolving the boundary between them. Often a transformative experience, Øieblikket has left many baffled and in want of apt descriptions.

Simone Weil understood that Nietzsche was an afflicted person, not least physically, which for her was a precondition for genuine affliction. In Awaiting God (1951), she writes that affliction means that love and the transcendent are absent:
What is terrible is that in this darkness when there is nothing to love, if the soul ceases to love, the absence of God becomes definitive. The soul must continue to love in the void--or at least want to love--be it even with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then one day God comes to manifest himself to them and reveals the beauty of the world, like God did in the case of Job. But if the soul ceases to love, it falls into something here below that is nearly equivalent to hell.

Nietzsche compensates the affliction with arrogance. He deserves "pity but not esteem and still less admiration," Weil writes to her brother. [...]

But for Nietzsche, this barefoot reality is barren and empty. "There is no transcendent meaning, no providence, no moral absolutes, no absolutes of any kind," Robertson writes. In contrast, for Weil, the beauty of the world makes us love it. 

Posted by at September 16, 2023 6:59 AM