Nietzsche: Confused Thirst for Eternity that Runs Through his Works

can be Retained of his Views

(from "Ride the Tiger") 




Later we shall examine the specific themes of existentialism. For now, we shall see what can be retained of Nietzsche's views, not as a nihilist but as one who thought that he had left nihilism behind him, and thus created the premises for a higher existence and a new state of health.

Once the idols have fallen, good and evil have been surpassed, along with all the surrogates of the old God, and the mist has lifted from one's eyes, nothing is left to Nietzsche but "this world," life, the body; he remains "faithful to the earth." Thereupon, as we know, the theme of the superman appears. "God is dead, now we want the superman to come." The superman will be the meaning of the earth, the justification of existence. Man is "a bridge, not a goal," "a rope stretched between the brute and the superman, a rope stretched above an abyss." This is not the place for a deep analysis of the manifold and divergent themes that crystallize in Nietzsche's work around this central motif. The essential can be spelled out as follows.

The negative, destructive phase of Nietzsche's thought ends with the affirmation of immanence: all transcendent values, systems of ends and of higher truths, are interpreted as functions of life. In its turn, the essence of life - and more generally of nature - is the will to power. The superman is also defined as a function of the will to power and domination. One can see from this that Nietzsche's nihilism stops halfway. It sets up a new table of values, including a good and an evil. It presents a new ideal with dogmatic affirmation, whereas in reality this ideal is only one of many that could take shape in "life," and which is not in fact justified in and of itself, without a particular choice and without faith in it. The fact that the fixed point of reference set up beyond nihilism lacks a true foundation so long as one insists on pure immanence is already apparent in the part of Nietzsche's thought that deals with historical criticism and sociology. The entire world of "higher" values is interpreted there as reflecting a "decadence." But at the same time these values are seen as the weapons of a hidden will to power on the part of a certain human group, which has used them to hamper another group whose life and ideals resemble those of the superman. The instinct of decadence itself is then presented as a special variety of the will to power. Now, it is obvious that in function of a mere will to power, all distinctions vanish: there are no more super-men or sheep-men, neither affirmers nor negators of life. There is only a variety of techniques, of means (far from being reducible to sheer physical force), tending to make one human class or another prevail; means that are indiscriminately called good in proportion to their success. If in life and the history of civilization there exist phases of rise and decline, phases of creation and destruction and decadence, what authorizes us to ascribe value to one rather than to the others? Why should decadence be an evil? It is all life, and all justifiable in terms of life, if this is truly taken in its irrational, naked reality, outside any theology or teleology, as Nietzsche would have wished. Even "anti-nature" and "violence against life" enter into it. Once again, all firm , ground gives way.

Nietzsche moreover wanted to restore its "innocence" to becoming by freeing it from all finality and intentionality, so as to free man and let him walk on his own feet - the same Nietzsche who had justly criticized and rejected evolutionism and Darwinism because he could see that the higher figures and types of life are only sporadic and fortuitous cases. They are positions that man gains only in order to lose them, and they create no continuity because they consist of beings who are more than usually exposed to danger and destruction. The philosopher himself ends with a finalistic concession when, in order to give meaning to present-day humanity, he proposes the hypothetical future man in the guise of the superman: a goal worth dedicating oneself to, and even sacrificing oneself and dying for. Mutatis mutandis, things here are not very different from the Marxist-communist eschatology, in which the mirage of a future human condition after the worldwide revolution serves to give meaning to everything inflicted on the man of today in the areas controlled by this ideology. This is a flagrant contradiction of the demands of a life that is its own meaning. The second point is that the pure affirmation of life does not necessarily coincide with the will to power in the strict, qualitative sense, nor with the affirmation of the superman.

Thus Nietzsche's solution is only a pseudo-solution. A true nihilism does not spare even the doctrine of the superman. What is left, if one wants to be radical and follow a line of strict coherence, and what we can accept in our investigations, is the idea that Nietzsche expressed through the symbol of the eternal return. It is the affirmation, now truly unconditional, of all that is and of all that one is, of one's own nature and one's own situation. It is the attitude of one whose self-affirmation and self-identity come from the very roots of his being; who is not scared but exalted by the prospect that for an indefinite repetition of identical cosmic cycles he has been what he is, and will be again, innumerable times. Naturally we are dealing with nothing more than a myth, which has the simple, pragmatic value of a test of strength. But there is another view that in fact leads beyond the world of becoming and toward an eternalization of the being. Nietzsche differs little from Neoplatonism when he says: "For everything to return is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being." And also: "To impose the character of being upon becoming is the supreme test of power." At its base, this leads to an opening beyond immanence unilaterally conceived, and toward the feeling that "all things have been baptized in the font of eternity and beyond good and evil." The same thing was taught in the world of Tradition; and it is incontestable that a confused thirst for eternity runs through Nietzsche's works, even opening to certain momentary ecstasies. One recalls Zarathustra invoking "the joy that wills the eternity of everything, a deep eternity" like the heavens above, "pure, profound abyss of light."



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