history and nietzsche, via the genealogy of morality

I dragged myself out of bed to a 9 AM lecture on Nietzsche, a fruitful endeavour resulting in certain epiphanies about the steely sides of Nietzschean morality, but particularly on his relationship to history.

for Nietzsche the source of human problems and resentment is time — the fact that time creeps by inexorably for every being, making us creatures of tense: some things were, and inferentially are no longer, and for Nietzsche this means that there are things that are not within our control any longer (since we can only ever exercise direct control over the fleeting interstices between past and future). It is memory, or rather our consciousness of time (and thus, our historicality) that makes us men rather than beasts. And it is this reassertion of control that defines Nietzschean morality.

so given this sense of one’s existence as constantly in flux, for Nietzsche the highest will to power is to stamp onto that which is changing a sense of permanence. In other words, the stilling of the flux, the universalizing of particulars: theory is the highest form of control.

I find this interesting: that Nietzsche regards time as absolutely central and definitive to a man’s existence, while simultaneously marshalling his thought and ethics towards its abolition. Well, that’s too strong a word — perhaps mastery would be more apt — but I find this almost dialectical tension in a lot of his philosophy. The relationship between master and slave, for example, is certainly not dichotomous (however much they teach it that way in Philosophy 101), but sort of transvaluative, e.g. the slave can adopt ‘master’ values and reorient them. Nietzsche also believes that freedom does not arise from acting freely, but from a sort of internalized external coercion (and here we find his relationship to Foucault). And for all his emphasis on the role of historical contingency, he seems to be predicting (indeed prescribing) a particular future moral configuration of “das ubersittliche Individuum” — a kind of final superman. This seems particularly intriguing, since the idea (theory?) of a final, ‘crystallized’ end-state of morality sort of erases temporality altogether. Am I reading him wrongly?

so, creatures of time must master it to be moral; that is, I think, Nietzsche’s relationship to history. But my thoughts are still marinating, as usual. And I think Nietzsche lends himself to interpretation a little too readily for me to have any final word on him anyway.


6 responses to “history and nietzsche, via the genealogy of morality

  • Jason

    I have to say, I’m a longtime reader of Idlethink.com and I’m finding it very interesting to see you expand on thoughts here which you refer to in the passing to over there. Kinda like the Annotated Alice In Wonderland. Keep up the good work.

  • Simon

    “I dragged myself out of bed to a 9 AM lecture”

    My alarm is set for 5:50 this week.
    I hate you.

    And no, I don’t have anything constructive to say 😉

  • rAchel

    @Jason: hah! I like that. maybe I’ll change my blog’s title to “A Historian’s Craft: idleThinK Annotated”.

  • Kyle

    This is not entirely relevant to your line of thought, but I don’t suppose I need to comment on the need for irrelevant comments when I am writing to their Maker. Your line about Nietzsche making man a creature of tense (“some things were, and inferentially are no longer”) makes me think of Faulkner, who was very inclined to write about characters as temporal rather than spatial values, particularly those who do not manage to accomplish what they set out to in life and are, for all intents and purposes, erased by their deaths as though they “never were”. I will try to find a particular passage in I’m thinking of in Absalom, Absalom! tomorrow.

  • Idetrorce

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  • ray nwamb

    Your site is great resource to the online audience. When you have time please check out my site http://genealogydatabases.blogspot.com

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