One endless frustration of mine has been looking at some of the content that other people put out onto the web, then comparing it to my own finished stuff to find that mine isn’t as sophisticated or substantive as I’d envisioned it in the process. A little under four years ago I showed something I’d drawn haphazardly to a professor, who in the nicest way possible said the problem with is was that “the drawing isn’t very good.” I’d become obsessed with just churning out material to the point of disregarding quality.
As I dealt with recently regarding workouts, the real goal with these external projects of writing, sketching, taking photos or physical training is to change the mind. In exercise or in life, the work doesn’t get easier, you just get better (to paraphrase one of my coaches). With this in mind I think it will be useful to write about some of the books and essays that form a big part of my mental input. My education is after all far from over, and much of the text I’ve consumed over the past few years has failed to take hold of my thoughts and actions.
Being told I’m “too serious” is a sign I’m on the right path. “Does anyone ever tell you that you think too much?” someone asked me recently. Maybe such a comment was just resistance I needed to push against. Maybe it was subtle advice to be aware of the bombardment of images and sounds that follow me into my sleep and even into the forest. Being serious about the content of one’s thoughts isn’t a negative trait. Changing them takes will.
Last May my roommate and I read Nietzsche’s infamous posthumously-published book The Will to Power. The book is comprised of notes written by Nietzsche between 1883-1888, some of which are a single sentence, while others go on for several pages. I recently took this book out of the shelf again to reexamine his writing on the musicians of his day, as well as to revisit his observations on the nature of the artist. The translation I have is by Anthony Ludovici, who thankfully does not soften Nietzsche’s prose for us delicate Anglophone readers.
This propelled me to finally read The Antichrist, which is much shorter and probably would have been a good introduction to Nietzsche had I read it at age seventeen. The language in both books has a vitriolic tone. His observations come in the form of attacks. There are more than a few harsh words for the priests, pious men, women, patriots, and more. But he is not chastising these people for the sake of ‘correcting’ their behavior. He is drawing conclusions from observing the nature of reality. He demonstrates how power manifests itself in the “bungled and botched” people of his time.
[My notes from Will to Power]
The book is split into four parts. The first is generally about modern European nihilism, while the second focuses on Christianity and slave morality. The third gets into more esoteric epistemology. The fourth goes through various topics, notably the future need for the world to “cleave a gulf” between Great Men and the gregarious herd.
From the second part I wrote down beauties such as:
“Life on Earth is an exception with no consequence.” (note 303)
“Morality itself is a form of immorality.” (308)
“In every ‘thus it should be’ is the condemnation of the whole course of events.” (331)
The ego/I might be a life preserving instinct and still be false. (483)
“The object is not to know, but to schematize -to impose as much regularity and form upon chaos as our practical needs require.” (515)
The more I digest of Nietzsche’s writing, the more I see how my teenage mind was sculpted by people who almost certainly read his writing. The fact that I can think back to formative years during which I was working through the very ideas I find on the page means those ideas trickled into my mind somehow. Like expands into every area of an enclosed space, ideas either find suitable hosts or get forgotten. I also see just how little most people who claim to “love Nietzsche” really agree with much of his worldview. Listening to a high-pitched academic-sounding voice explain how Nietzsche paved the way for us “choosing our own morality” somehow doesn’t do the ideas justice.
Reading Nietzsche’s critique of all the philosophers also provoked me to reexamine philosophers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who’s writing I’ve either skipped over or skimmed. It won’t be long before I will find myself forced to reduce my reading list to realistic levels, otherwise I’ll trap myself in a prison of books reading about history while people around me achieve fame, fortune, power, through action.
“Virtue is still the most expensive vice: let it remain so!” (325)
Thanks to the logical ordering of the notes, the tone of the end of the book culminates in a forceful ending (perhaps the subject of a future post). Below is what I found to be the most memorable note, dealing with death.
“A certain emperor always bore in mind the transitoriness of all things so as not to take them too seriously and to live at peace among them. To me, on the contrary, everything seems far too valuable to be so fleeting: I seek an eternity for everything: ought one to pour the most precious salves and wines into the sea?– My consolation is that everything that has been is eternal: the sea will cast it up again.” (1065)