Monday, November 10, 2008

On my reading of "The Gay Science"

Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
My reading of Nietzsche is done.

He wrote, "God is dead,"
And meant what he said,
Into the pit he'll be thrown.

Well, after six grueling weeks, I have completed my reading of The Gay Science by Nietzsche. The following things linger in my mind after reading this book.

1. "In all religions, the religious man is the exception." Chew on that a while.

2. Nietzsche’s explication of love as a lust for possession, whether it be of property or person. How often do I "love" in this manner? When I first read his treatment of this topic, I was sullen as I reflected on my own selfishness. We could all use a bit of that, I think.

3. Nietzsche seems overly concerned with not being viewed as a jingoistic German, and instead wants to be seen as a European. I bet Freud would have fun with that. Perhaps he did?

4. Boy! Does Nietzsche ever despise Christianity?!

5. Nietzsche observed, wrongly, that Christianity is a religion of "Thou shalt not," whereas Buddhism is a religion that pushes people to do certain "good" things—he, therefore, views Buddhism as much greater than Christianity, but they’re both poppycock to him, so I’m not sure why he felt the need to make the distinction. Nietzsche views virtually all religions, especially pantheism, which he seems to have a fondness for, as superior to Christianity and its notion of sin. How often do I treat Christianity as a call to abstain from sin, rather than a religion whereby I am to positively go about my business of glorifying Christ?

6. Must German authors be so difficult to read? How can I be expected to revere the literature of a people who shun paragraphs? I've read four German authors that I can think of off the top of my head: Hitler's Mein Kampf, Kafka's The Trial and Metamorphisis, Nietzsche's The Gay Science, and Luther's The Bondage of the Will. They're all highly difficult (couldn't finish der Fuhrer, but mainly on account of editing (no good Aryan editors?) and because I didn't need to read the whole thing to get the point). Kafka's imagination makes up for the difficult syntax. Nietzsche was a beat-down at times. Luther---ever the exception. Though, perhaps I'm just a romantic in my view of Luther to be too critical of his writing.


The Militant Pacifist said...

Reading philosophers is always risky – especially in translation. If it’s bad, it’s hard to be sure whether the guy/gal can’t write – or whether it’s a bad translation.

Some philosophers write only for other philosophers. As far as I’m concerned, they can "buzz off."

I don’t expect every writer to write for a “popular” audience, but if a writer cannot communicate his/her ideas clearly to an educated reader – then the fault does not lie with the reader.

I wrote an “emotional rant” about this that you can see here.

Kudos to you for persevering through “The Gay Science.”

Lee Shelton IV said...

This is about all the Nietzsche I can handle.

Shane said...

I enjoyed your rant. I go back and forth with what I read. I always have some theology book I'm reading "on the side." I read all the Grisham novels. I used to read Gregory MaGuire, before "Wicked" became super famous. (I'm too contrarian to enjoy him anymore.)

A couple weeks ago, as a break from the dark German, I picked up Pat Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War." I'm two-thirds through the book---it's an easy read, and highly interesting. As the Militant Pacifist, you'd enjoy it. Buchanan writes in a style I'd call scholarly journalism. He has great citations, and chooses quotes well (even if he often uses the same quotes repeatedly). Yet he keeps the book very readable, in spite of the sometimes difficult subject matter. "Liberal Fascism" is good, too, and probably up your alley. However, I must admit that with that book I cherry-picked chapters I wanted to read, and left the others alone.

Now, I need to go pay attention to my wife---it's our anniversary tomorrow. What does it mean to marry on Armistice Day?

Hal Brunson said...

Yes, the Germans must be difficult to read. It is their intellectual weight that demands such dense language. The same holds true for their greatest music. Consider Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner.

The density of German literature derives from their intellectual genius. Consider the comparatively "light" literature and music of the Italians and Spanish, and the almost compelete absence of weighty philosophical works from their respective repertoires.

One of the great ironies of history is that a people so gifted, so brilliant, and so creative are now forever memorialized as the nation of Hitler and Himmler. It's a lesson in humanism.

I recommend another German author to you, Tomas Mann, and his great novel Dr. Faustus, a magnificent literary-philosophical exploration of the fantastic depravity and deterioration of German culture.

As for Luther, I don't find "him "heavy" but rather "violent." His Bondage of the Will brutalized the greatest intellectual of the day, Erasmus, and teaches us that superior passion triumphs over superior intellect, especially when passion is right and intellect is wrong.