Nietzsche and Transcendent States (3/11)

As I re-read the first section of Stanley Fish’s Self-Consuming Artifacts (on ‘Plato: Words as Seeds’), I am once again struck by a suspicion that I have entertained many times before about Nietzsche, who is always lurking in the background of my thoughts. He is, by his own avowal, the supreme nemesis and most eloquent enemy to Plato’s doctrine of truth. For Plato, as epitomized in the words of Robert Cushman, ‘the Truth is not brought to man, but man to the Truth.’ The Truth is transcendent and can only be envisioned if and when we are able to mentally extricate ourselves from the imprisoning lies and inherited misunderstandings which constitute our ordinary, conventional mindset. The truth can only be glimpsed by breaking the hold that these false and shallow notions ordinarily exercise over our minds—and which are strongly reinforced by the fact that practically everyone else ‘innocently’ buys into the same pack of dogmas, generalities, and half-truths.

Nietzsche often appears to be peeling back the veil of foreground illusions (that prevail over our unenlightened minds) in order to reveal some kernel of hidden truth—or at least of honesty—that is closer to the essential reality of things, but the ‘reality’ he unveils is practically the antithesis of the liberating, happiness-inducing ideality that Plato’s dialectical philosopher encounters as he ascends the ladder of dialectical thinking. Nietzsche playfully-seriously jeers at Plato’s famous amalgamation of Truth-Beauty-Goodness. For him, the truth (in its most fundamental or profound forms) is ‘deadly’ to human hopefulness and happiness, and has scarcely anything whatsoever to do with beauty or with goodness. Nietzsche’s closest theoretical or doctrinal approximation to the underlying truth of things, of course, is his conception of will-to-power, the relentless, ongoing struggle of all things—organic and inorganic alike—to arrogate power, to subdue or to form alliances with all possible opponents, to prevail over circumstantial and imagined threats. He borrows a good deal of this from Schopenhauer’s ‘metaphysical’ conception of the ceaselessly striving, irrepressibly self-devouring and all-appropriating Will—but he does not also take from Schopenhauer his ‘Platonic’ notion of a ‘disinterested,’ contemplative standpoint from which position reality and one’s ephemeral egoity may be viewed with blissful detachment.[1] Nietzsche’s own mind and spirit are too restlessly preoccupied with subduing everything within ‘sight’ to his conscious domination. Nietzsche is, in a sense, a sophist insofar as he implicitly dismisses the possibility of transcendence (in the Socratic-Platonic sense). ‘God’ is, in effect, replaced by the will-to-power. But unlike the sophists—Thrasymachus, Protagoras, and Gorgias—who seek money or personal/political power through their skills of persuasion—Nietzsche seems to have committed himself to the task of blocking his readers’ access to the sort of ‘conversion’ experience (through Socratic dialectics) that Plato first attempted to enable (via writing) by means of his dialogues. There is no disputing Nietzsche’s rhetorical prowess and preeminence. If anyone has made a powerful case against the possibility of Platonic (and, derivatively, of Christian) transcendence, our hats must come off for Nietzsche. Sometimes, however, it seems as if Nietzsche is struggling merely—or firstly—to persuade himself that every door, window, pore, and ‘crack’ is closed to a transcendent experience or perspective.[2]

One may wonder, though, just how much of a real or measurable difference Nietzsche’s brilliant writings have made, after all—in decreasing or increasing the actual ratio or percentage of persons who have sought (and undergone) such transcendent experiences. Since the time of Plato, it has always been a very slender minority—the very few—who have been energetically drawn to such experiences and who possessed the right combination of elements necessary to undergo them, let alone sustain them, by turning such a pursuit into a ‘way of life.’ I have long had the sense that, despite his breathtaking intellectual and intuitive powers, Nietzsche curiously lacked a natural capacity for such transcendent experiences. Or, if he did have such a capacity, he seems to have suppressed or neglected it—for fear that it only left him vulnerable to an illusory sort of bliss or state of grace. At times, when reading him, I have the sense that he is going out of his way to subvert and to dismiss any line of thought that might, like one of Fish’s ‘self-consuming artifacts,’ self-destruct in the mind of the reader as it releases him into actual mental flight beyond words and concepts. But Nietzsche turns out in the end to be an inveterate nominalist, and as is pretty much common knowledge, no nominalist can ever be allowed into heaven.

[1] At least, not after the publication of Human, all too Human.

[2] cf., ‘The Importance of Nietzsche’, where Erich Heller argues the same.

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2 thoughts on “Nietzsche and Transcendent States (3/11)

  1. I recall one of Nitezche’s writings from my undergrad days. Can’t remember which book it was, but I recall him talking about truth as the term is used in everyday affairs. Having just read most of the Platonic dialogues, I found that almost shocking. Who could imagine truth in such pedestrian terms? How could a philosopher approach it as anything less than a quest for something eternal and transcendent? …and thus begun my own seduction.

    I guess I too will be barred from Heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It seems to me Nietzsche held Socrates in such esteem that he was only second in Nietzsche’s world to himself. It looks to me that Nietzsche attained a transcendent state while writing from 1882-1889. Nietzsche was too much of a realist to ever admit to transcendant states. I don’t know what a nominalis is. I read Nietzsche for entertainment. I don’t see a philosopher there.

    Liked by 1 person

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