Interview with Keith Ansell-Pearson

pagal | 2016 01 17

Interview with British philosopher Keith Ansell-Pearson.


Andrius Bielskis: Let me start from a slightly ‘personal’ question: what prompted you to study philosophy? What were the reasons why you chose philosophy as your major? Who were your philosophy teachers that influenced your philosophical thinking and taste the most? What was it like to study at Sussex?

Keith Ansell-Pearson: Firstly, I should make it clear that I studied History at the University of Hull as an undergraduate and then Social and Political Thought as a postgraduate at the University of Sussex. My passion as a schoolboy was for History (my strongest subject) and my approach to philosophy has always been informed by a historical mode of questioning. This is true even today. I sympathize with what Nietzsche says about ‘historical philosophizing’ at the start of Human, all too Human, namely that there are no absolute truths and no eternal values. As a teenager I was too young for philosophy (for the search for wisdom) and also I think then that I had an aversion to abstract, metaphysical questions, and in fact I still do, so the formal undergraduate study of philosophy would have done me no good and there would have been too many courses that would have failed to interest me. Again, the sympathy is with Nietzsche: forget the ‘first and last things’ and so as to focus on ‘the closest things’. In my History degree I focused a lot on intellectual history, especially Marx and Marxism – I wrote my dissertation on Marx and Bakunin’s rivalry in the First International – and also on gobbets, especially with respect to Anglo-Saxon historiography such as Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. I simply adored it and I love nothing better today than taking an aphorism from Nietzsche and doing a ‘gobbet’ on it! But to add to this as concerns philosophy, and to slightly contradict myself: I’ve always been intrigued by some ‘big’ questions regarding the origins of the universe and the evolution of life, and also by a desire of wanting to unlock and come to know the great secrets of life. In this respect several philosophers have served as my guide and provided me with genuine illumination. In particular I would mention Epicurus, Spinoza, Bergson, and Deleuze in addition to figures I have had a longstanding interest in, such as Rousseau and Nietzsche. As I enter the last third of my life I plan to keep company almost exclusively with these figures as well as less known and completely forgotten figures such as (Jean-Marie) Guyau (1854–88). Of course, I also derive inspiration from my contemporaries and peers, and in fact have also done so. In addition to my graduate supervisor, Gillian Rose, I was very much inspired as a graduate by philosophers such as Robert Bernasconi (then at Essex) and David Wood (then at Warwick). It wasn’t that what these guys wrote on especially interested me – Bernasconi on Heidegger and Levinas, David Wood on Heidegger and Derrida – but what impressed itself on me was the nature of their philosophical being and their intellectual commitment. I have little time these days, alas, for reading outside of my specialized fields and topics of interest, but when I do I like to read philosophers that I have little in common with but whose writing and being inspire me. I consider myself to be have been fortunate as a young man to have figures like the aforementioned individuals to inspire me. As Nietzsche said, we all need ‘educators’ even if ultimately one can only be one’s own educator and even if what inspires us is not the actual content of someone’s philosophy, and as Nietzsche himself found in the example of Schopenhauer.

A.B.: I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I consider you to be one of the most brilliant Nietzschean philosophers today in the English-speaking world. You have written extensively on Nietzsche over past two decades. Some of your most celebrated books on Nietzsche – Nietzsche contra Rousseau (CUP 1991), An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker (CUP, 1994), Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition (Routledge, 1997), How To Read Nietzsche (Granta Books, 2005), A Companion to Nietzsche (Blackwell, 2006), to name but a few. Your works have become handbooks for students studying Nietzsche’s philosophy. Perhaps then you might tell your story – I mean philosophical story – of your love affair with Friedrich Nietzsche? When was it that you came across Nietzsche and became interested in his thought?

K.A-P.: I first came across Nietzsche’s name through interviews the British rock singer David Bowie gave in the music press in the early to mid 1970s, and then checking out references in his songs too, especially on albums such as The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory, e.g. the song I love called ‘Quicksand’ (“I’m not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with potential of a superman, I’m living on…”). I think the first text I bought was Beyond Good and Evil since the title appealed to me and although I read it, I am sure I didn’t understand a word of it. I would have been about 16 at this time. I did not formally study Nietzsche until my graduate years at Sussex University. Gillian Rose exposed me to the Genealogy of Morality and for whom I wrote an essay on it, comparing aspects of Dawn or Daybreak with the Genealogy. It was upon her encouragement that I then embarked on a Masters dissertation and then a PhD thesis on Nietzsche: she really saw something of value in my writing on Nietzsche and maybe detected a ‘love’ for him too in my writing. This was not my actual plan: I had applied to Sussex to write a PhD thesis on Walter Benjamin but as things worked out I ended up working intensively on Nietzsche and at Sussex, which at the time was a hotbed of radical Marxist philosophy. My Marxist teachers showed no great interest in Nietzsche – other than Gillian Rose – but I had only support and encouragement from them. I remember Chris Arthur saying to me, ‘so you are going to show that Nietzsche is something more than a merely interesting aphorist’! In fact, had a specific agenda for the work I wanted to do with Nietzsche: I considered myself to be a thinker of the Left and committed to a revolutionary transformation of society, and I saw Nietzsche as a philosophical radical. I thus needed to explain to myself what I saw as the disjunction between his philosophical radicalism – e.g. his deconstruction of the categories of metaphysics – and his political conservatism (his infamous ‘radical aristocratism’). Other people at the time were struggling with a similar project and went on to write excellent books, such as Mark Warren and his book of 1988, Nietzsche and Political Thought. I was frustrated at the time since none of the thinkers I admired, and who wrote on Nietzsche, addressed this problem at all, such as Deleuze and Foucault. It was something I needed to work out and the problem is what inspired in large part my first books on Nietzsche, such as Nietzsche contra Rousseau and An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker. It is interesting to note that my recent work has focused most on Dawn (Morgenröte), not the Genealogy, and Dawn in fact remains my favorite text of Nietzsche’s. I now read the text though a lot more carefully, closely, and slowly: it’s clear that Nietzsche is a deeply Enlightenment thinker but also deeply anti-revolution. He has a radical free-spirited agenda but one based on ‘slow cures’ and ‘small doses’ as he puts it, and this project greatly interests and appeals to me today I have to confess. In his middle period Nietzsche is not so much a political thinker as an ethicist, one who offers what I call an ‘ethics of resistance’. As with all relationships and affairs of love, I have sometimes had a love-hate relationship with Nietzsche, again I have to confess this to you: there have been times when the enigmatic character of the aphorisms drives one to exasperation and one yearns for a system, and there have been times when Nietzsche has struck me as a reactionary figure, especially given my Marxist sentiments. But then I have learned to accept and embrace Nietzsche for what he is, and I appreciate that for some questions and issues he needs to be supplemented by other thinkers, say Marx for example. I simply don’t share Nietzsche’s political prejudices and choices; I never have and never will. Having said this though, just think of all the novel questions Nietzsche interjects into philosophy: this is what truly inspires me, as well as, of course, the quality and character of his writing; there is no one else like Nietzsche in the history of philosophy, he’s a singularity, and it is his philosophical and literary heterodoxy that appeals to me – more so as I get older and wiser.

A.B.: How ought one to read Nietzsche in order not to be seduced by the apparent lightness of his literary style of writing?

K.A-P.: I think this question relates to my points above: one needs to be vigilant and critical in one’s reception of Nietzsche. On many occasion Nietzsche is putting across substantive political prescriptions and his great styles of writing can sometimes conceal the repugnant character of what he is prescribing, especially in his late writings (1886–88). At the same time and in many of his texts Nietzsche promotes authenticity and autonomy in his readers and does not, I believe, want mere followers. He has the ideal of creating his own Epicurean garden, so as to practice what he calls ‘heroic-idyllic philosophizing’, and saw himself as a pedagogue in search of pupils, even disciples like Epicurus. But I think Nietzsche places plenty of rhetorical ploys in his aphorisms to keep the reader guessing and on their toes, encouraging them to critically assimilate the ‘teachings’ and to incorporate them in a unique fashion. I think Nietzsche is best read very slowly, and this is very much in accord with what he himself says in his writings, for example, in the preface of Dawn when he declares himself to be the teacher of slow reading. But Nietzsche is an interesting philosopher around this set of questions since he rarely, if ever, presents himself in objective or neutral terms, by which I mean that it is clear when you are reading him that he is representing and promoting certain values, viewpoints, and positions. He writes as a radical atheist, to give but one clear and blunt example, and he sets out to entice his readers to the atheistic outlook (see Dawn 96 for example). I have always felt a great affinity with much of Nietzsche’s agenda and I have enjoyed his intellectual partisanship; at the same time I have always found his political positions objectionable and in places – largely the Nachlass – repugnant. I also think it is important in cultivating a critical attitude towards Nietzsche that one learns his writings extremely well and is able to make decisions over them. I subscribe to Lou Salomé’s interpretation, which claims that there are three quite distinct ‘Nietzsches’: early, middle, and late. For me the early Nietzsche (1872–6) is brilliant and powerful but ultimately, perhaps not surprisingly, too adolescent; the late Nietzsche has all kinds of wonders and ecstasies of learning but is also politically dubious; and the middle period Nietzsche (1878–82) is what I now enjoy reading and engaging with the most. It is also the least known and least studied Nietzsche; and it has plenty of astute insights into European political developments, a commitment to a democracy to come, and a cosmopolitan commitment that I like. As Nietzsche rightly said to the American journalist, Karl Knortz, who had contacted him in search of advice on which texts to read, the texts of the middle period – texts such as Dawn and The Gay Science – are his most congenial. They are also his most personal but one can also see aspects of one’s own life written in them: they work beautifully as pieces of literature as much as they do as enigmatic exercises in philosophy. Finally, I would say that the training in skepticism that philosophical training gives one also helps you to adopt a critical attitude towards him, and one should always encourage this in students of philosophy: Nietzsche rarely produces convincing arguments to back up his political postures and claims, so it’s not difficult to cultivate this skepticism in relation to them. Nietzsche is not big or great on arguments! His gifts, and his intellectual strengths, lie elsewhere.

A.B.: In your current work you engage with Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science and argue that his project, to paraphrase Robert Pippin, is about us learning how to love and how to live, and ultimately, how to live well. Given the way Nietzsche lived as well as ended his life, would you argue that he himself learned the art of love and of life? It is beyond any doubt that Nietzsche lived an enormously creative life: a life of emotional, intellectual and aesthetic intensity, a life radically opposed to the bourgeois-way of life, a life of petty, ‘human all too human’ desires and dreams. Yet, he paid the price of his own sanity. Is Nietzsche the best guide in our search for and pursuit of flourishing lives?

K.A-P.: There’s a whole set of interesting and complex questions packed into what you are asking me here! Let me attempt an answer, though I doubt I will be able to do justice to your questioning. I think it important to acknowledge the following: that by today’s standards Nietzsche led, as a professor, an incredibly authentic life and a very simple and modest life. He knew he had to quit his academic position for reasons of health but also there’s more to it than that: he didn’t want to compromise his intellectual independence and really it’s obvious that Nietzsche could not have done what he wanted to do as a writer and a philosopher by staying within the Academy, so he had to leave his position at Basel and seemed desperate to do so. He seemed to have lived a life of necessity: so much was dictated to him by his frail constitution and the requirements of his extremely poor health. Indeed, he openly acknowledges in an aphorism in Dawn that philosophy translates into reason a concentrated drive or set of drives: there are intellectual detours through the head for one’s personal drives and this includes philosophy! Nietzsche sought to ‘live well’, I would say, that is, wisely, generously, sometimes naively, and one of his great heroes, often unrecognized as such, was Epicurus. Consider this simple aphorism from The Wanderer and His Shadow: ‘A small garden, figs, a bit of cheese, and three or four good friends: this was luxuriance for Epicurus’. Now Nietzsche lived extremely simply and frugally, he lived a truly minimal existence. This came home to me in a very powerful way when I visited the Nietzsche-Haus in Sils-Maria and saw the room he used to rent during his summertime visits in the 1880s: a bed, a washbasin, and maybe a writing desk and that was it! The ancient philosophers considered philosophy to be an affair of living the good life, the flourishing life, and I think Nietzsche has a similar conception of philosophy, but it is based on the recognition of the complexity of modern existence and also an appreciation of the need to live experimentally, including with one’s moral precepts, one’s health, the cultivation of one’s drives, and so on. Nietzsche is a good guide for me because of my own needs (psychical more than bodily I would say) and because of what I find as the exemplary way in which he teaches the affirmation of life. I very much am in agreement with Nietzsche though when he says that philosophy does not make you a ‘better’ human being, only a more ‘profound’ one. The real danger in Nietzsche’s life – and it certainly did not help the affliction he suffered from and that resulted in the bad end of his life – is solitude, and in this regard one thinks of the perils of the solitary life, be it the life of Rousseau or the life of Nietzsche. It is simply not healthy and a road to ruinous isolation. Nietzsche writes brilliantly about solitude in his texts, praising it rightfully for giving us the distance we need from things, people, and situations, so as to know them better, including the distance we sometimes need from ourselves. But it’s clear that as the 1880s unfold, the last decade of Nietzsche’s sane life, he is more and more cutting himself off from friends and he well knows himself, since he writes about it in letters (especially to his good friend Franz Overbeck), that his isolation is an absurd way to live. So, in short, and to directly answer your question: Nietzsche wrote better about the love of life and the art of living well better than he actually lived these things. I don’t see a great problem here myself; as he says in an aphorism, again from Dawn, the virtue of the great thinker is the magnanimity with which he offers his life as a sacrifice. I also concur with Deleuze when he has the insight that ‘Life’ is made up of impersonal powers or forces, and sometimes these overwhelm us and we find it difficult to be equal to them: but in art and in philosophy we can be equal, and perhaps sometimes, some moments, in real life too.

A.B.: Looking at philosophy from a Nietzschean point of view, what are the standards of excellence of philosophy as a meaningful activity? How can we distinguish between a good philosophical enquiry and its counterpart? Furthermore, what are the pitfalls in our attempts to advance philosophical studies and philosophical enquiries?

K.A-P.: I have to disclose to you that because I have devoted so many years to teaching Nietzsche I have a deep distrust of this question of ‘standards of excellence’. Nietzsche is philosophically heterodox, not a conventional thinker or philosopher at all, and in some respects he resembles more the sages of old, the great pre-Platonic philosophers that so inspired him in his early years, figures such as Heraclitus and Empedocles. More than this though, we can safely say that Nietzsche is a philosophical innovator: he introduces so many new styles into philosophy and we know that for him it was important to change the philosophical language and landscape of German culture, to not be a Kant or a Hegel, and this meant for him not to be philosophically boring. I am not saying that Nietzsche is right about this – Nietzsche is fun to read, other German philosophers are not we can all agree on that, but ‘fun to read’ is not a criterion of important philosophy (and Kant and Hegel are clearly supremely important, the former being especially important to Nietzsche). I think the pitfalls we need to avoid are unnecessary obfuscation and impenetrable academic jargon. I personally have a phobia about doing merely ‘academic philosophy’; for me philosophy is a way of life and changes your life, it requires a way of being in the world, a style of living, and so on. It is not for me, then, something merely ‘academic’, not something I can stop being or suddenly switch off. My worry is over merely ‘academic philosophy’, an activity of philosophy that runs the risk of reducing philosophy to a mere diversion of the mathematician (solving great existential questions as it they were mathematical puzzles or reducing what Nietzsche calls the ‘music of life’ to a mathematical riddle). Other dangers to avoid include engaging in intellectual tourism and intellectual dilettantism. In contemporary culture there really is taking place a banalization of philosophy, including a reduction of philosophical wisdom to everyday cliché. I think these are what we need to focus our critical attention on and combat rather than meeting the demands of the politically motivated control and monitoring of ‘standards of excellence’. Trust is vital – and yet trust has gone out of the window in academic life: why not trust that intellectuals know what they are doing and aim to genuinely educate others in accordance with the highest standards of philosophical excellence? The standards of excellence come from within the history of philosophy itself: you only have to read the great philosophers and the great texts to appreciate and know this: Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, Deleuze, and so on – the task is to aim to be equal to these authors and their texts, to digest and incorporate the teachings, and to be inspired by their examples. Deleuze says that every great philosopher creates concepts, and this is an idea one can explicitly locate in the likes of Nietzsche and Bergson, to give but two examples. I also think a great philosopher thematizes a fundamental and far-reaching problem for philosophy. Kant does this with his discovery of the ‘transcendental’, and Hegel does it I believe when he asks his truly great question, ‘with what must science begin?’ Philosophy is not a normal activity and it should not aim to normalize life or individuals in my view.

A.B.: How would you, not Nietzsche or Deleuze, account for the meaning of philosophy? In other words, what is the good of philosophy? Although this question might sound naïve, in fact it is not meant to be so. It is similar question to “what is philosophy?” posed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in the form of perplexed, abstract wondering a la “what is it I have been doing all my life?” (What is Philosophy?, p. 1).

K.A-P.: I’m glad you ask me this question and I sympathize with it: my new book is called Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2015), and what became important to me and motivated me to write it was, with the aid of a giant intellectual figure like Nietzsche, to work through and to work out this seemingly simple-minded question, ‘what is philosophy?’ It suddenly became important to me in my 50s to pose and negotiate answers to this question whereas before I would not have entertained it, or may even had an impatience towards the question. For me personally philosophy offers some redemption for existence: it keeps you wakeful and active, it can be an immense source of joy (as Spinoza knew most of all), and it redeems the world – for me at least – from stupidity, banality, and inanity. I regard philosophy as a species of intelligence, of intelligent life, and it has the potential to pour on the world its beatific insights and perceptions, resulting in a calming down of a human mind prone to neurosis. In short, for me, philosophy is about establishing the conditions for peace – peace of self, peace of the self with the world – and putting an end to violence and aggression, it’s a ‘civilizing’ power and a form of non-religious grace. Now there are moments when this is not found in Nietzsche and at other times when it is, so one has to choose which ‘Nietzsche’ one wishes to go with! I have made my choice in my 50s, and it feels like a ‘free’ choice, and it’s to be found in an aphorism like number 449 of Dawn. In the final lines of this aphorism he writes beautifully as follows, let me cite it for you:

To have no advantage, neither better food, nor purer air, nor a more joyful spirit – but to share, to give back, to communicate, to grow poorer! To be able to be humble so as to be accessible to many and humiliating to none! To have experienced much injustice and have crawled through the worm-tunnels of every kind of error in order to be able to reach many hidden souls along their secret paths! Always in a type of love and a type of self-interest and self-enjoyment! To be in possession of a dominion and at the same time inconspicuous and renouncing! To lie constantly in the sun and the kindness of grace and yet to know that the paths rising to the sublime (zum Erhabenen) are right at hand! – That would be a life! That would be a reason to live, to live a long time.

I can think of no finer conception of genuine philosophical activity: it’s philosophical activity as a way of life, as Pierre Hadot would say. I think this idea that philosophy is a way of life, and that this is the ultimate good of philosophy, is very important to Nietzsche. By ‘ultimate good’ I am referring to philosophers – largely ancient ones – in whose teaching and practice wisdom assumes bodily form. The point is perhaps obvious: philosophy is not simply sophistry or mere paideia but an incarnated and incorporated wisdom that enables the individual to negotiate and affirm the most demanding and challenging questions of existence, including, and notably including, the tests of the self, such as the fact of our mortality and how to live. In the early untimely meditation on the uses and abuses of history Nietzsche laments the fact that today we have only ‘weak personalities’ and that, as he puts it: ‘No one dares to fulfil the law of philosophy in himself, no one lives philosophically, with that simple, manly loyalty that compelled an ancient, if he had once declared loyalty to the Stoa, to act as Stoic wherever he was and whatever he did’. As it is, Nietzsche further laments, we have a modern philosophy that is policed, being limited by governments, churches, academies, customs, and human cowardice to scholarly pretence. This concern with the weak personality in need of philosophical education – inspired by the examples of Stoicism and Epicureanism – continues in the middle period texts, with Nietzsche declaring that it is our weak and unmanly societal notions – for example, of good and evil – and their predominance over matters of body and soul that are making all bodies and souls weak, and so destroying what is the only possible basis of a strong culture or civilization: ‘self-reliant, independent, and unfettered individuals’ (Dawn 163). Part of me very much shares this concern Nietzsche has with philosophical education – that it needs to be centred on producing such self-reliant and independent individuals. Furthermore, as Hadot notes, wisdom does not cause us to know but rather makes us be in a different way. As a mode of being in the world and a way of life, such wisdom brings a serene mind (ataraxia), inner freedom (autarkeia), and what Hadot calls a ‘cosmic consciousness’. I share Hadot’s lament over the fate of philosophy today: if ancient philosophy proposed to mankind an art of living, modern philosophy appears above all as the construction of a technical jargon reserved for specialists. Whatever you think of Nietzsche, it’s clear that he is not a writer of jargon and that he seeks to revive the ancient ideal of philosophy as a way of life. It is something I deeply admire him for, indeed it’s part of my love of Nietzsche. Although he may be a political elitist, he writes ‘for all and none’ and you don’t need some specialist jargon to understand him. Nietzsche very much wants a philosophical education and practice that sets goals above the pursuit and acquisition of external goods such as money or fortune and fame or reputation. This is why I think he’s in search of authenticity and personality, and in today’s world, including today’s intellectual world, it seems a very old-fashioned practice of philosophy, even a naive one. I personally am drawn to this naivete and not at all embarassed by it.

A.B.: Following Gilles Deleuze in Nietzsche and Philosophy (p. 18) where he ascribes the question to Nietzsche “Has existence meaning?” as the highest question of philosophy, I would like to turn this question to you: What is the meaning of existence, of human existence? Again, while this question may sound like a taxi driver’s question, I nonetheless pose it to you with the utmost seriousness. It is, of course, a massive question (some influential philosophers argued that it was nonsensical), so I will rephrase it: how would you go about this question if you had to write a proper philosophical answer to it.

K.A-P.: I have only a little sympathy with those philosophers who think it’s a nonsensical question; some philosophers, such as Bergson, may actually think it’s more a question of it being badly posed than anything else. The danger is that we think such a question to be the supreme philosophical question when it’s a question that philosophy can show to be inadequately formulated or as I say poorly posed. It is already assuming too much and looks like a religious question or conundrum. I think it’s important to know where the question comes from and how one might re-shape it. Nietzsche is very helpful here, I think, and he himself poses the very question when he notes that in the wake of Schopenhauer the question necessarily emerges: ‘Has existence any meaning at all?’ This is from aphorism 357 of The Gay Science, so from book five of 1887, and it is this that Deleuze is referring to. In fact, I have just checked the aphorism and Nietzsche says exactly this: ‘As we thus reject the Christian interpretation and condemn its “meaning” like counterfeit, Schopenhauer’s question comes to us in a terrifying way: Has existence any meaning at all?’ He then adds that it will require a few centuries before we can properly hear this question and in its full depth. What is Nietzsche getting at when he says this? Let me first note that he concedes the question belongs to Schopenhauer as his decisive question. Moreover, he – Schopenhauer – asks the question, Nietzsche says, not as a mere German thinker but as a ‘good European’. It’s odd to see the late Nietzsche praising Schopenhauer in this way, as he is usually and typically highly critical of him. But how would Nietzsche go about answering this question that has been posed by Schopenhauer as a good European? Well, we know how he thinks it should not be answered, and this is the answer of Schopenhauer that Nietzsche finds too quick, too hasty, and with too much ‘judgment’ (too much ‘good and evil’) in it, as well as, interestingly, ‘too youthful’ and ‘only a compromise’; in short, for Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, in answering the question, through teaching the saintly renunciation of life, remains stuck in Christian-ascetic moral perspectives. So, it is clear then that for Nietzsche we cannot begin to answer this question, which is part of our inheritance, and which he will in due course transform into a series of questions about European nihilism, so long as we remain caught in this specific set of perspectives, and as he thought Schopenhauer did, even as an atheist and radically non-Christian style of thinker. These perspectives are ‘Christian’, ‘ascetic’, and ‘moral’; in short they are life denying. So, my answer, however equivocal it sounds, is that the answer to the question is to be found in affirmation, in life-affirmation, and this is what Nietzsche’s mature philosophy is all about and centered on, requiring the love of fate and what he calls a Dionysian philosophy and a pessimism of strength. Life’s meaning, then, consists in life’s affirmation: the life that you have led, the life you are now leading, and the life you will live again and again: the eternal recurrence, the eternal circulation, of the same. It’s about seeking to shape one’s life in accordance with this test of eternal recurrence. I wholeheartedly subscribe to this conception of life and its ‘meaning’. But, like so many philosophical teachings, it has its limits: not under all and any conditions can life be affirmed, this would be pure idealism and pure fantasy, and we must not allow philosophical idealism to have the last say. I don’t myself believe Nietzsche wanted this idealism and tries to warn against it in an aphorism in The Gay Science, again from book five: it’s number 372 and it concerns Spinoza and especially Spinoza’s ‘intellectual love of God’. This is a love that, revealingly and interestingly, Nietzsche calls ‘bloodless’. Why is this relevant to my previous remark? Because it indicates that philosophy cannot be simply or solely about contemplation, wisdom, and beatitude, there is also the need to affirm life through action and activity, through transformation and through praxis. You see Andrius what I am: a Left Nietzschean.


Originally published in Lithuanian popular science book
„Apie filosofijos ir meno prasmę“
(On The Meaning of Philosophy and Art).


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