“Self Defense” — Nietzsche

104 Self Defence.—If self defence is in general held a valid justification, then nearly every manifestation of so called immoral egoism must be justified, too. Pain is inflicted, robbery or killing done in order to maintain life or to protect oneself and ward off harm. A man lies when cunning and delusion are valid means of self preservation. To injure intentionally when our safety and our existence are involved, or the continuance of our well being, is conceded to be moral. The state itself injures from this motive when it hangs criminals. In unintentional injury the immoral, of course, can not be present, as accident alone is involved. But is there any sort of intentional injury in which our existence and the maintenance of our well being be not involved? Is there such a thing as injuring from absolute badness, for example, in the case of cruelty? If a man does not know what pain an act occasions, that act is not one of wickedness. Thus the child is not bad to the animal, not evil. It disturbs and rends it as if it were one of its playthings. Does a man ever fully know how much pain an act may cause another? As far as our nervous system extends, we shield ourselves from pain. If it extended further, that is, to our fellow men, we would never cause anyone else any pain (except in such cases as we cause it to ourselves, when we cut ourselves, surgically, to heal our ills, or strive and trouble ourselves to gain health). We conclude from analogy that something pains somebody and can in consequence, through recollection and the power of imagination, feel pain also. But what a difference there always is between the tooth ache and the pain (sympathy) that the spectacle of tooth ache occasions! Therefore when injury is inflicted from so called badness the degree of pain thereby experienced is always unknown to us: in so far, however, as pleasure is felt in the act (a sense of one’s own power, of one’s own excitation) the act is committed to maintain the well being of the individual and hence comes under the purview of self defence and lying for self preservation. Without pleasure, there is no life; the struggle for pleasure is the struggle for life. Whether the individual shall carry on this struggle in such a way that he be called good or in such a way that he be called bad is something that the standard and the capacity of his own intellect must determine for him.

From Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

“The Freest Writer” — Nietzsche on Laurence Sterne

Nietzsche upholds Laurence Sterne as “the freest writer of all times” in Human, All Too Human, Part II:

113. The Freest Writer. —In a book for free spirits one cannot avoid mention of Laurence Sterne, the man whom Goethe honoured as the freest spirit of his century. May he be satisfied with the honour of being called the freest writer of all times, in comparison with whom all others appear stiff, square-toed, intolerant, and downright boorish! In his case we should not speak of the clear and rounded but of “the endless melody”—if by this phrase we arrive at a name for an artistic style in which the definite form is continually broken, thrust aside and transferred to the realm of the indefinite, so that it signifies one and the other at the same time. Sterne is the great master of double entendre , this phrase being naturally used in a far wider sense than is commonly done when one applies it to sexual relations. We may give up for lost the reader who always wants to know exactly what Sterne thinks about a matter, and whether he be making a serious or a smiling face (for he can do both with one wrinkling of his features; he can be and even wishes to be right and wrong at the same moment, to interweave profundity and farce). His digressions are at once continuations and further developments of the story, his maxims contain a satire on all that is sententious, his dislike of seriousness is bound up with a disposition to take no matter merely externally and on the surface. So in the proper reader he arouses a feeling of uncertainty whether he be walking, lying, or standing, a feeling most closely akin to that of floating in the air. He, the most versatile of writers, communicates something of this versatility to his reader. Yes, Sterne unexpectedly changes the parts, and is often as much reader as author, his book being like a play within a play, a theatre audience before another theatre audience. We must surrender at discretion to the mood of Sterne, although we can always expect it to be gracious. It is strangely instructive to see how so great a writer as Diderot has affected this double entendre of Sterne’s—to be equally ambiguous throughout is just the Sternian super-humour. Did Diderot imitate, admire, ridicule, or parody Sterne in his Jacques le Fataliste ? One cannot be exactly certain, and this uncertainty was perhaps intended by the author. This very doubt makes the French unjust to the work of one of their first masters, one [pg 062] who need not be ashamed of comparison with any of the ancients or moderns. For humour (and especially for this humorous attitude towards humour itself) the French are too serious. Is it necessary to add that of all great authors Sterne is the worst model, in fact the inimitable author, and that even Diderot had to pay for his daring? What the worthy Frenchmen and before them some Greeks and Romans aimed at and attained in prose is the very opposite of what Sterne aims at and attains. He raises himself as a masterly exception above all that artists in writing demand of themselves—propriety, reserve, character, steadfastness of purpose, comprehensiveness, perspicuity, good deportment in gait and feature. Unfortunately Sterne the man seems to have been only too closely related to Sterne the writer. His squirrel-soul sprang with insatiable unrest from branch to branch; he knew what lies between sublimity and rascality; he had sat on every seat, always with unabashed watery eyes and mobile play of feature. He was—if language does not revolt from such a combination—of a hard-hearted kindness, and in the midst of the joys of a grotesque and even corrupt imagination he showed the bashful grace of innocence. Such a carnal and spiritual hermaphroditism, such untrammelled wit penetrating into every vein and muscle, was perhaps never possessed by any other man.

“A Thoroughfare of Learning” — Nietzsche and Teacher Appreciation Week

National Teacher Appreciation Week winds down today. Have you thanked that special teacher in your life? Or at least thought about him or her? No? Maybe your teachers scarred you. Or ruined you. It’s possible. But probably not all of them. I’m sure at least one of them was really important to you, right?

Although Biblioklept World Wide Industries brings in the kind of moolah that allows me to literally swim in cash à la Scrooge McDuck, I retain my day job as a teacher of literature in the English language; I do this because, you know, I care. So me waxing heavy on why teachers matter and blah blah blah is sort of like waitresses overtipping other waitresses because, you know, they know. So I’ll just say that teachers are generally overworked, underpaid, and perhaps undervalued in our society, and I appreciate all of you–all of you who taught me and shaped me and mentored me and shared your wisdom with me, and all of you who I’ve worked with over the years who’ve inspired me to do better and be better. Thanks.

So well anyway, I’ve been skimming again through Nietzsche’s highly-aphoristic volume Human, All Too Human for the past week, and came across this passage, section 200, Caution in writing and teaching. Quoting in full:

Whoever has once begun to write and felt the passion of writing in himself, learns from almost everything he does or experiences only what is communicable for a writer. He no longer thinks of himself but rather of the writer and his public. He wants insight, but not for his own use. Whoever is a teacher is usually incapable of doing anything of his own for his own good. He always thinks of the good of his pupils, and all new knowledge gladdens him only to the extent that he can teach it. Ultimately he regards himself as a thoroughfare of learning, and in general as a tool, so that he has lost seriousness about himself.

Ouch! Did Nietzsche just call me a tool? I think his words are actually quite insightful–teachers do think of themselves as instruments through which they may better their pupils. But I don’t think that that is the only end for knowledge as far as teachers are concerned, and I don’t think that that makes teachers unserious about knowledge. Knowledge-as-enlightenment and self-improvement is great of course, but knowledge-as-transcendence–that is, knowledge as wisdom and experience that can be passed from person to person, shared, communicated–that’s what’s really meaningful in life.

Nietzsche’s Draconian Law Against Writers

From Human, All Too Human (aphorism 193):

Draconian law against writers. One should regard a writer as a criminal who deserves acquittal or clemency only in the rarest cases: that would be a way to keep books from getting out of hand.