Nietzsche’s Difference

To use an American football metaphor, tackling Friedrich Nietzsche is not like tackling a two hundred sixty pound fullback; it’s more like trying to bring down a fleet flankerback who’s running loose in the open field on an end-around. Most philosophers build systems. The reader must first learn what the words mean, then he follows the thinker straight ahead to a series of “logical conclusions”. This is how one approaches a Kant or a Descartes or a Spinoza. With Nietzsche, one starts and ends on slippery ground. He fakes, he jumps, he backs up, he takes off his uniform, showers, then starts again somewhere in the middle of the game. There are no beginnings to learn and ends to swallow; there is a man in the face of the world…an ever-changing man in the midst of an ever-changing world. He does not give answers because there are no answers to be given. This accounts for his popularity in some circles and his unpopularity in others. Historically people have wanted to know “how things are”. With Nietzsche there are no things.

With most philosophers you know how much time is left in the game, what the score is, the players’ names and numbers, and who the winners and losers are. With Nietzsche there is no scoreboard, the names and numbers are in constant flux, and choosing a winner is like crowning a pig in a Miss Universe Contest. We’re all in the same glorious sty. Let’s listen to Nietzsche tell us why:

 Source of knowledge. –Throughout tremendous periods of time the intellect begot nothing but errors; some of them proved useful and preservative of the species: he who came upon them or inherited them fought his fight for himself and his posterity with greater good fortune. These articles of belief, which have been repeatedly handed down and have finally become almost a basic component of the human species, are for example the following: that there are enduring things, that there are identical things, that there are things, material, bodies, that a thing is what it appears to be, that our willing is free, that what is good for me is good in itself. Deniers and doubters of these propositions appeared only of late – truth, as the feeblest form of knowledge, appeared only very late. It seemed one was incapable of living with truth, our organism was adapted to the opposite; all its higher functions, the perceptions of the senses and every kind of sensation in general worked in concert with those primevally incorporated fundamental errors. More: those propositions became even within the domain of knowledge the norms according to which one meted out ‘true’ and ‘untrue’- right into the remotest regions of pure logic. Thus the strength of items of knowledge lies, not in their degree of truth, but in their age, their incorporatedness, their character as a condition of life. Where life and knowledge seem to come into contradiction there is never any serious contest; doubt and denial here counts as madness… Continue reading Nietzsche’s Difference

Farley’s Jewel

Farley’s Jewel: A Novel In Search Of Being–has found one. I am delighted to disclose that I was the author’s roommate during a fondly remembered college year, early in the 1970s. Jon Ferguson is not Professor Larry Farley, “PH.D.D.E.F.G.H.I.” but rather the “omniscience” behind Farley’s thoughts and the thoughts of his students as he poses the many questions that Farley asks each to consider. Farley’s lectures and his student’s interior monologues provide one of the delightful structures of the novel. When Farley wonders if “things” exist outside of their “appearances,” he elicits the great Kant’s “Thing-in-itself.” One student is contemplating his lust for another in a confused litany of CAN’T, and KANT, and CUNT; a second is admiring the Professor’s curly hair, while yet a third is pondering why Farley appears to make the world more complicated than it “appears.”

 Late in our college career, I remember Jon musing about the absurdity of discussing Being and Time with a pregnant classmate. This same absurdity dogs his Professor during a sabbatical taken to produce a computer program of Heidegger’s Dasien and in most of the conversations he has with his wife, Carol. Times change but absurdity abides. Continue reading Farley’s Jewel

The Anthropologist

Jon Ferguson’s The Anthropologist is splendid anthropology and a masterful follow up to Farley’s Jewel. In Jewel Ferguson’s Professor Larry Farley was in search of Being. More prosaically, Ferguson’s Anthropologist, Professor Leonard Fuller is in search of Leonard Fuller:

He wants to go back to the beginning, to the first moment Leonard Fuller remembers being Leonard Fuller… He doesn’t know what it was. Was it a what or was it a when? Do all whens become whats as soon as the moment passes? Are there no whens? Is temporality one of man’s lamer inventions? Is When I was a kid always What I remember about being a kid?

 Farley, Fuller, and Ferguson are aging ‘boomers.’ They are each aware of their palpable decline and have the good sense not to morn their losses:

Fuller noticed that eye contact and age were inversely proportional: the older you became the less people looked at you… He knew his body was no longer appetizing…. he was certain, couldn’t stand up to other bodies she could find on the market. He was old meat; the expiation date on his label had expired… Continue reading The Anthropologist

Foster’s Depression

Foster’s Depression is the latest novel that author Jon Ferguson has recently shared with me. I say latest and recently because it was written half a dozen years ago and he has probably written as many more in the interim.

The novel is a delight. It is relatively short and its plot and characters easily apprehended in a single sitting. Its themes, however, are more disquieting and will resonate with the thoughtful reader for a much more extended traversal of time.

Aside from the depression of the title numerous social maladies are observed and commented upon. Our culture’s obsession with celebrity begins the novel. Foster who has not spoken to anyone for a year and a half awakens from his catatonia and becomes a hit on the national talk show circuit. As each show limits the discussion to sound bites and the sensational, he decides to tell his story in a more illuminating media–he decides to write a novel–Foster’s Depression. Continue reading Foster’s Depression

Like the Wind…

A philosopher who does not believe that “he” “thinks” is a “thinker” apart. Most philosophers pride themselves in the depths and clarity of “their” thinking. They think they have taken thinking farther than their predecessors or at least in some way made clearer the ideas of those before them. For Nietzsche, thinking is nothing to be proud of; it happens like the wind happens. There is no doer that does with Nietzsche. Nietzsche different from other thinkers? Listen to the air move as he swings this baseball bat at traditional “thinking”:

There are still harmless self-observers who believe ‘immediate certainties’ exist, for example, ‘I think’… But I shall reiterate a hundred times that ‘immediate certainty’, like ‘absolute knowledge’ and ‘thing in itself’, contains a contradiction in adjecto (contradiction in terms)…when I analyze the event expressed in the sentence ‘I think’ I acquire a series of rash assertions which are difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove- for example, that it is I which thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of an entity thought of as a cause, that an I exists, finally that what is designated by ‘thinking’ has already been determined- that I know what thinking is… In this way the philosopher acquires in place of that ‘immediate certainty’… a series of metaphysical questions… ’Whence do I take the concept thinking? Why do I believe in cause and effect? What gives me the right to speak of an I… an I as cause… an I as cause of thoughts?…

(BGE 16) 

Jon Ferguson