On Nietzsche’s Captivating Rhetoric (1/31/18)

When a writer regularly employs such flagrantly attention-getting language – the sorts of stylistic and button-pushing literary tactics that virtually anyone who can read will often find irresistible – we have to wonder what kind of audience he is trying to reach with such pyrotechnical prose, and what he wants to do with them once he’s got their attention. Nietzsche, despite his “aristocratic,” anti-democratic views and values, is incongruously popular, from all I can tell. He appears to be more widely read and enjoyed (regardless of whether he is being properly understood) than most other philosophers. Plato often wrote beautifully and lucidly, but despite his enormous influence, it would be stretching things to say that he is popularly read, even when selections from the Apology, the Symposium, and the Republic are required reading in most prep schools and honors programs. The same may be said of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Bacon, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and that other truly great stylist, Schopenhauer.

Socrates seems (from Plato’s “artfully” recorded dialogues with him as the central figure) to have tailored his speeches to the particular qualities of the person he was addressing. Nietzsche says he selects his proper reader through his technique of scaring away all but his rightful audience, but he seems to have underestimated his charm – or overestimated his power to “scare” away the wrong or unready readers.

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6 thoughts on “On Nietzsche’s Captivating Rhetoric (1/31/18)

  1. Perhaps the last sentence is the most revealing in which Nietzsche’s description of his audience as “only those not scared away,” invites a certain intellectually elitist group or, at the very least, a club membership mentality similar to the US Marines, where only the few, the proud, the brave dare to join.

    But, I would add that the identification with a rare subset of humanity is ironically a universal pitfall for all of us. 🙂 Welcome to starship Earth!

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    1. What if it has always been the case that humanity, as a FAMILY, has always consisted—figuratively speaking—of a minority of intellectual/moral ADULTS and a vast majority of intellectual/moral CHILDREN? I find this to be a somewhat less divisive and ‘elitist’ depiction of a situation we find ourselves in. If we find ourselves more in the category of ADULT—having EARNED that status through surviving those tests and trials that PROVE us, or UNDO us—then, what steps must we take to contribute what we can to the FAMILY’s survival and health while we can, without antagonizing the (more or LESS) docile children into a situation all too frequently encountered in American classrooms today? Mayhem. Little or no respect for the teacher or for the job that’s to be done during the time spent there? An inversion of the hierarchical arrangement where the adult is obliged to adapt to the terms and conditions of the children? These are tough questions in an egalitarian age, are they not?

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  2. Let me start over. The family metaphor humanizes the situation which is a good place to start. Perhaps our notions of education need some examination and revisioning. It’s bizarre to me that we group ourselves together by age in a classroom with others whose experience is so identical to our own. This placement in a bubble forms our primary notions about life, self and other that does much to confirm bias and little to lead us out.
    As well, we teach to the economic and military systems of our time with little to no concern for true learning, or learning to learn. I don’t know how we undo the system we are so entrenched in.
    Again, I sense that technology drives us more than we are aware of, and are willing to admit. Technology, of course, is the best friend of consumerism and militarism, both of which are running the show.
    Tough questions indeed, but especially as we seem less and less able to see our culture from the outside. This ability, which must be worked on, as it in turn works on us, might be in part what distinguishes the adult from the child, yes?
    (Feel free to delete my misfired comments above)

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