Monday, April 06, 2009

An axe to the head

In this fascinating interview (via This Space), Jill Marsden talks about coming across Nietzsche as an undergraduate, having a strong reaction from the opening pages of Beyond Good and Evil. For interviewer Christoper Bransen, also in his undergraduate years, "It was On the Genealogy of Morals, and within about two pages it felt like somebody had hit my head with an axe and opened up a new world of possibilities." At his Object-Oriented Philosophy blog, Graham Harman says of Nietzsche (by way of explaining Nietzsche's high ranking in his informal top-25 philosophers list):
Many consider him a sort of juvenile pastime that one has to move beyond, and this attitude is understandable, but just think of how your brain is on fire after reading Nietzsche. There aren’t many philosophers who can do that.
I don't mean to counter Marsden and Bransen with Harman. On the previous, now deleted, version of his blog, Harman wrote about spending his 20s reading through all of Heidegger. All of Heidegger! And now he is a published philosopher, able to engage with its history, agree, disagree, argue with it, make his own contribution, for whatever it might be worth. But again, neither is the point Graham Harman at all; I read his blog, one of many that I look at that are over my head, but I don't have a position on his positions, nor can I.

No, the point is youth and lost time. The luxuriousness of youth! It seems you're supposed to encounter philosophy when you're young. Meanwhile, I can tell you nothing of interest about my 20s--what could I possibly have been doing? not much, I assure you--and recently aged 39, I have yet to read more than a page or two of Nietzsche and have just in the last year or so been intermittently struggling with Heidegger. It strikes me that some of the difficulty I've had in reading this stuff, apart from the actual difficulty of the work itself, has to do with my habits of reading for information, for knowledge. Now that approach seems insufficient, but the reading itself seems to me more urgent than ever--for example, what I've been able to get out of Heidegger so far seems very important to me, without having to be consumed by whether what I'm getting is properly "Heideggerian" or not--it seems more urgent than ever, because of the loss of time, because of the political situation, the economic situation, the ecological situation, because of my recent fatherhood, it seems necessary to think, to think this through, to say what needs saying. So grandiose, and yet personally vital.

And I'd like to say something, perhaps in a later post, about why I feel this need right now to be reading the Greeks--didn't what Nietzsche and Heidegger had to say have a great deal to do with their readings of the Greeks? But it's not just because of them that the Greeks beckon. And yet I am not reading the Greeks, I am currently reading Thoreau. Thoreau, who some quote in support of the standard apolitical message; i.e., the writer who engages in politics is inevitably made a fool of. As if there weren't deep political implications in Thoreau, in Walden. But then this sort of stance--the extreme apolitical stance--is born, it seems to me, of a reduction of politics to pronouncements on elections, on this or that dreary politician, which is of course the reduction desired and achieved by liberal capitalism. Remove the political, reduce people to individual units, divided, but voting! And ignoring how things work, ignoring the political space. And here lately I find I am allied with Blanchot here too, and his conception of communism, and I am off running, with still more to read, more to do, more to come. . . always more to come.

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