The Nietzsche Podcast
About The Nietzsche Podcast
Today we continue with our inquiry into rhetoric and dialectic, with Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig, like Nietzsche, saw himself as a modern-day Sophist, and part of his work was the rescue of the Sophistic school from the ill repute visited upon them by the Socratics. Perhaps more expansively, Pirsig devotes his philosophical work to the question, “What is quality?”, drawing on the Greek concept of arete, or excellence. His philosophical ideas do not come to us through a dispassionate treatise, however, but through an autobiographical novel. Pirsig was treated with electroshock therapy, leaving him with a new personality, and the feeling that the person he once was is dead: he merely happens to carry the blurry memories of another man. While on a motorcycle trip with his son, Pirsig struggles to unify the dichotomy between classical and romantic, between substance and form, between the two personalities within himself, and between himself and his son. This work remains one of the most important philosophical contributions to American literature in the 20th century, and hopefully today I can show all of you why this work of “pop philosophy” is one of my favorite books, and one to which I regularly return.
In my second conversation with William, we discuss the possibilities for language-learning models, the coming of artificial general intelligence, why the writers may be striking against creative destruction in the economy, and the legitimacy of A.I. art and writing.
This episode concerns the autobiographical essays in Ecce Homo, which Kaufmann has called, Nietzsche’s Apology. Similarly to Socrates, Nietzsche gives a defense of himself and his career: a defense against being “mistaken”, or “misunderstood”. Like Socrates, who came with a special mission for Athens, Nietzsche comes with the greatest demand ever made of mankind. Central to our analysis is the physiologism of Nietzsche, and the rejection of idealism in favor of brute reality. The physiological is reinterpreted as the root cause of the psychological, and Nietzsche uses his life as the basis and the chief example of how the body determines who one is fated to become. Nietzsche expresses a profound gratitude even for his illness: that which allowed him to gain a subtler eye, to overcome pity, to recognize pathologies.
Socrates was a famous opponent of the Sophists, the teachers of rhetoric instead of truth - and yet, in his legal defense, he employs the techniques of rhetoric and displays a mastery of oratory. In a society that distrusted irony and regarded it as a form of dishonesty, Socrates uses the art of persuasion in a manner that is anti-persuasive: a brilliant irony that few of his judges would have understood, and resented if they had. While Nietzsche’s later period is characterized by savage criticism of Socrates, Nietzsche describes Socrates as a heroic conqueror of death, in his lectures at Basel. Today we’re going to dissect the rhetoric, the irony, and the deeper significance of Socrates’ famous defense at his trial: the act of commitment to virtue in spite of the consequences, in defiance of the conventions of society and the sentiments of the majority. Episode art: Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David
In this episode, I attempt to give a fresh biographical account of Nietzsche's life, by examining his life in light of his Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit, found in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the course of this biography, using Nietzsche as our concrete example, we discuss the abstract meaning of the Camel, the Lion & the Child, and where I see these transformations appearing in the course of Nietzsche's life and thought. We've covered Nietzsche's biography in many previous episodes, often focusing in on a particular time or event in Nietzsche's life: Nietzsche's wandering throughout Europe (episode 2), the headstone he bought for his father (episode 4), the departure of academia and break with his friends (episode 24), the complex relationship with Wagner (episodes 36-37). Rather than examining any one part of his biography in granular detail, we're going to try and take in the entire picture, and see to what degree we can say that the Camel, the Lion & the Child are stages in Nietzsche's own story. Central to this analysis is Nietzsche's great struggle with the "problem of life", as put forward by Christianity, Schopenhauer, and the Socratics. Their solutions always incline towards a rejection of our nature and the submission of life to reason, virtue, or asceticism. Nietzsche's long quest is to discover an affirmation of life and desire, in contrast to the need to 'redeem' life from suffering. This mirrors his long struggle with an illness that tormented him throughout his life. Nietzsche's project culminates not in a condemnation of life on these grounds, but in his embrace of a life of agony.
A Merry All Hallow’s Eve to Ye All! There will be a regular episode this Friday, but I can’t resist the opportunity to release an episode on the day of Halloween. Mynaa and I discuss a Persian novel concerning Nietzschean existential horror! Sadegh Hedayat grew up in the Iran of the Shah, and was influenced by western writers such as Kafka & Hesse. The urban legends surrounding this text in Iran were oft-repeated from parents to children: "Don't read this book; those who read it commit suicide." The Blind Owl is the story of an unnamed narrator who is haunted by an elusive, metaphysical scene that he witnesses by happenstance. The narrative is unreliable, and the recursive loops of his madness are woven into the repetitive phrases and descriptions; the characters are all copies of one another; the events of the novel are, in effect, the same narrative repeated ad nauseum. Central to the plot is the long illness and drug abuse of the narrator, and an endless downward spiral of insanity. Hedayat's writing often reflects existential horror, and could be compared to H.P. Lovecraft. Mynaa even suggested that certain passages resemble those in Ecce Homo. We do a review with minimal spoilers for the first fifteen minutes or so, then what follows is a very spoilery review where we analyze, speculate, and ramble about the imagery of this mysterious novel.
Welcome to all free spirits, wanderers, madmen and godless anti-metaphysicians! It is high time to drink from the waters of Lethe, and forget all that came before in this podcast. Today, we embark on a new phase of our voyage of inquiry, concerning Nietzsche's views on the origins of self-consciousness. We'll consider his remarks on memory and forgetfulness, found in his early essay Use and Abuse of History for Life, in the second essay of Genealogy of Morality, as well as some passages in Human, All Too Human & Wanderer and His Shadow. The expansion of self-consciousness is linked with punishment, revenge, debt, and the demands of civilization upon mankind. Episode art: Gustave Dore - The River of Lethe
Nietzsche concludes the book with the suggestion that cognition itself is “common”, insofar as communicability is more effective the more common the experience that is communicated. Language facilitates the “abbreviation” of the most common sentiments and experiences, which is part of the process of joining a people together as one. The person whose experiences, thoughts or feelings are individual & peculiar will necessarily find himself unable to communicate them to others, and will be thrust into solitude. Much of the final aphorisms concern this eternal struggle between the rule and the exception, one of the themes of the work. Nietzsche ultimately muses that even the precious, wicked thoughts he has offered us throughout the work are but a pale imitation of the thoughts during their spring: for all thoughts are events, fleeting experiences, a physiological process within a living being. All the philosopher can do is catalogue their aftermath, or display the frozen remnants that linger in their memory. This section also contains multiple remarks on pity, and the prose poem, “The Genius of the Heart”. An exegesis of this poem can be found in episode 39. Episode art: Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian (detail)
The first half of the final chapter, “What is Noble”. We cover the concepts of the order of rank, pathos of distance, the origins of civilization and morality. The master/slave morality is formally introduced, and Nietzsche gives several remarks supporting his aristocratic radicalism. But, shortly thereafter, he pivots and begins describing nobility and plebeianism as states of the soul rather than a matter of inheritance. Nietzsche challenges us to overcome the simplicity of Rousseau’s view of nature, or the Lockean/Kantian optimism about civilization. In Nietzsche's words, truth is hard - and whatever our idealism, we should be honest with ourselves, at least up to the point of admitting what the essence of life truly is: in his estimation, will to power. Episode art - Karl Bryullov - Sacking of Rome (Wikimedia Commons)
This episode covers the entirety of Peoples and Fatherlands, chapter eight of Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche considers the character of the Germans, that of the French and the English, and the Jews. He attacks nationalism and anti-semitism, and reiterates his vision for a new European future in which all nationalities give way to a single Europe. Patriotism, or “fatherlandishness”, even though it is something Nietzsche finds understandable, is analyzed as a symptom of weakness and a thing to be overcome. Episode art is Portrait of Chancellor Otto von Bismark by Franz von Lenbach
A fascinating discussion with someone with an unusual perspective for modern times. Vivienne joins me while we go over the remainder of aphorisms from Beyond Good & Evil, section 7, Our Virtues: the ones concerning women. This is a topic that is incredibly complex and has often been handled without nuance by modern readers: either by those who criticize Nietzsche as a misogynist, or those who celebrate him as a representative of chauvinistic masculinity. I have always treated this issue as something on the peripheries of my concern with Nietzsche, first and foremost because his ideas never resonated with me, he says they are only "his" truths, and finally because I think it will divide and alienate people. Nevertheless, we have never shied away from the reactionary ideas of Nietzsche's, and have never tried to hide the truth when it comes to Nietzsche's uncomfortable beliefs. Perhaps that very discomfort is something beneficial, as the willingness to explore these strange, wicked, questionable questions can help us to learn a great deal about ourselves, and why we believe in the unchallenged values of modern life. Even for those who are stalwartly in the camp of the equality of the sexes, perhaps there is something to be gained from exploring Nietzsche's arguments. In this episode, Vivienne helps me with something I've always striven for: to be to articulate the perspective of those from ages and moralities that are not my own. I think she goes a good job of providing a steelman for Nietzsche's views on women here, in terms I hadn't heard before. Vivienne's podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/vivienne-magdalen Episode art: Nicholas Roerich - The Mother Of The World, 1924
This part of the text is a re-evaluation of what morality is, or can be, for the philosopher of the future. Nietzsche is a bit sneaky here, by implying the free spirit, or philosopher of the future, to be admirable from the perspective of our own moral intuition. Nevertheless, he throws us some curveballs here and there as the chapter continues, and Nietzsche attempts to lyrically portray the paradoxical task of both accepting fate, and actively shaping one’s character. Episode art is Narcissus (1594–1596) by Caravaggio.
Today, we cover the entirety of part six - We Scholars. This chapter is of particular importance for understanding Nietzsche’s reconceptualization of the philosopher, and how such a figure stands in relation to the academic. The philosopher’s essential character is not that he employs reason, but that he exercises the value-creating power of mankind, whereas the scholar is merely a “philosophical laborer” who exists in service of the dominant values structure. Nietzsche critiques the modern worldview of positivism (“scientism“) for its misunderstanding of the primacy of values, leading to its failure to examine its underlying value judgments. Episode art: Domenico Fetti - Portrait of a Scholar
Much of the second half of the Natural History of Morals is a meditation on the common morality as one of prudence, stupidity, and fear. In one word: timidity. Nietzsche draws upon ideas he’s explored in Human all too Human, Daybreak & The Gay Science: man as animal/natural being, morality as a means of dealing with vehement drives, and the wicked person as being just as indispensable as the moral person. Episode art: John Maler Collier - Fire
A whirlwind tour through the epigrams and interludes of Beyond Good & Evil. A relatively free spirited and brief segment of our analysis before we dive into some of the denser divisions of the work - albeit with a bit easier time in terms of the intellectual labor, given that the major premises of Nietzsche's project have already been outlined in the first half of the work. This part is placed as a 'bridge' between BGE's first and second half, and serves as an example of how one applies Nietzsche's approach to psychology, and his anti-metaphysics. Episode art: Miranda by John William Waterhouse
Apologies on the late upload! There were technical difficulties that have since been resolved. We’re back on track and next week’s release will be on Tuesday again. The ascetic values of the saint are premised on self-denial. It was this self-denial that caused the saint to become a great mystery, who stood in judgment of the powerful people of the world. They suspected that the saint knew something they didn’t, as this miraculous being who transformed from evil to good. Good became synonymous with the otherworldly and the unsensual, and this image became most powerful in the hands of the extraordinary person who has turned out a failure in life. The person with great creative potential who is taken over by the power of self-denial becomes the most dangerous among the ascetics, and over centuries of this religious neurosis dominating the European mind, the result has been the modern man.