I like Nietzsche.
Whenever his name is brought up, a forlorn smile goes all Normandy up on my formerly expressionless face – as if revisiting an old friend – the kind of friend that you’ve always loved and respected, and made you realize that it’d been way too long since you’ve reached out to him. I wonder if he’s married and has kids now?
Truth be told, I’ve only ever known one version of Nietzsche – a rash, 28 year-old, brilliant but “immature,” a product of “overgreen personal experiences, all of them close to the limits of communication” (his words). The only Nietzsche I know is the Nietzsche that wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy – an immensely difficult read, but one that leaves traces all over your psyche once you’ve read it.
I’d never caught up to him after that; I don’t know much about the Nietzsche known for memorable word-bytes like “God is dead” and The Ubermensch, the one that eventually succumbed to mental illness and is said to have lived his last days in “madness” – the one that unfairly gets associated with anti-semitism or even Nazism (more due to subsequent propagandistic think pieces that sought to claim him as their own – rather than his actual words and opinions would indicate).
That is, until recently. I’ve reached out to good ol’ Nietzsche; I’ve looked him up on Facebook. The first thing I found was a new preface to The Birth of Tragedy that Nietzsche wrote much later in his life (at the age of 42). Extremely self-aware, and appropriately titled “An Attempt At A Self-Criticism” – Nietzsche engages in a bit of hindsight self-reprimand for the perceived mistakes of youth evident to him in the text of The Birth of Tragedy – both in concept and style. As alluded to above, he chides his “immaturity” as a 28 year-old, even stating at one point:
“How I regret now that in those days I still lacked the courage (or immodesty?) to permit myself in every way an individual language of my own for such individual views and hazards…” (from “An Attempt At A Self-Criticism”)
And this is why I like him. Unlike most philosophers (if you’ve ever struggled to read Kant you’d know what I mean), Nietzsche is a writer. He is an artist. Beyond the abyss of nihilism that he is often accused of being preoccupied with – he had a profound respect for the arts, which he regards as the true metaphysical act of humanity. God, in the sense of institutional religion, was perhaps dead to him. But that didn’t mean he was without something else he could regard as god: the sublime product of our aesthetic sensibilities – our Art.
And because it echoes my own philosophical journey to this point (admittedly, chock-full of overgreen personal experiences and the like), where my regard for paintings, for literature, for music, soon took over that hollow place within – that used to be occupied by a bearded, grandfatherly vision of the christian god.
And with that thought, I flip open my Kindle again for a little bit more of Sunday Morning Nietzsche.