Why I am So Wise – Nietzsche

Why I Am So Wise is one of several chapter essays with ironic titles including ‘Why I am So Clever” and “Why I Write Such Good Books,” in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is  [1908]. 

The book is the last original book written by philosopher before his death in 1900 and was published posthumously.

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The phrase ‘ecce homo’ is Latin for ‘behold the man‘ and is the phrase used by Pontius Pilate in John 19:5 [Vulgate] when he presents Christ, bound and crowned with thorns, to a crowd shortly before his Crucifixion.

According to Walter Kaufmann, the text contains parallels to Plato’s Apology which documented the trial of Socrates. Just as Socrates was presented as the wisest of men precisely because he freely admitted to his own ignorance, Nietzsche argues that he himself is a great philosopher because of his withering assessment of the entirety of Philosophy which he considered a cowardly failure to pursue its stated aim to its reasonable end.

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In this regard, the wording of his title was not meant to draw parallels with Jesus, but to suggest a certain kind of contrast.

Nietzsche posits that mythological figure of Jesus actually represents the mistake of failing to see that being a man is enough, that the important task of transcending the all-too-human requires nothing genuinely inhuman or supernatural,  nothing beyond the reach of flesh-and-blood humans.

Nietzsche holds that to believe in the existence of objective values is to believe in an illusion that is devoid of any constructive meaning, and therefore nihilistic;

In religion the constraint is lacking to consider ourselves as value positing.

Nietzsche maintains that when the will of the self is subordinated to the will of God,  the content of experience is negated.

Nietzsche’s scathing critique of religion and morality has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern thought, particularly on existentialism. However, his critique of the person of Christ, the ‘ecce homo’ of history and art, is in my view, somewhat amiss claiming Christ represented an embodiment of ultimate morality.

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In my view, Christ arrived not to represent a divine morality but to address the failure of human constructed morality, the very self-constructed morality Nietzsche championed.

A contemporary of Nietzsche, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, examined this dilemma in his 1880 novel, The Brother’s Karamazov. Nietzsche’s senior by only 23 years, Dostoevsky wrote of man’s attempt to create moral norms without God and concludes that it is not within man’s power to overcome nihilism — without God, man will inevitably destroy himself.

Why so? Dostoevsky’s Ivan asks to what end is mankind served by God’s plan for bringing about a harmony between good and evil in some distant future while meanwhile mankind suffers inexplicably. Ivan’s question is quite compelling because it addresses the problem of evil and suffering in terms of how mankind experiences it.

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Nietzsche’s thought on the reality of suffering fails to account for why anyone or anything suffers at all, or why the problem of evil was ever a valid moral question in the first place, because the exploitation and “overpowering of what is alien and weaker” is a natural consequence of strength passes unquestioned as a self-evident rule.

Dostoevsky’s novel, through the dialogue of the two brothers, examines and critiques the empty vanities of religion and moralism, pointing out many of Nietzsche’s later conclusions, yet ends on a very different note. Rather than championing the creation of new values within the moral vacuum of nihilism, the Jewish and later Christian scriptures address the self-created morals of humanity and their failure.

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It is in the Book of Job, written in the 3rd century BC, in which the protagonist who in the face of pointless suffering has the choice to turning back to moralism or towards nihilism, turns instead angrily and audaciously to address God with an ultimatum.

Answer humanity personally!

This challenge was answered in the person of Christ, not an ‘ubermensch’ or ‘superman’ because he represented God’s moral superior standards, but because he represented the face of God’s suffering with and for humanity. The cost of human freedom and moral agency finds reconciliation, and ultimate meaning in the scars of God himself.

 

 

The Force Awakens

In 1977, Star Wars – A New Hopelaunched a whole generation on a journey with a farm boy from a desert planet, to the discovery  of a mysterious destiny and a mysterious power, to meet a whole litany of curious friends and foes and to reveal a unique courage and mission to save the galaxy. 

Lucas was a self-confessed Joseph Campbell fan and his use of the Hero Journey to frame the Skywalker journey is marked. As such, it resonated with epics and classic tales told for generations.

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The next episode, The Empire Strikes Back took the same cast of characters into a deeper journey of love, loyalty and self discovery. Continuing with the Skywalker journey, the film dove into one of the most timeless horror motifs of fairy tale and myth – that of the murderous parent.

Grimm’s Tales abound with step-parents who would murder their child, lock them in towers, poison them or abandon them to witches and wolves. The most primal love story of parent-child is turned on its head as child struggles to find not only life but the meaning of love.

Return of the Jedi simply closed the chapter with Skywalker as he emerged from a crysalis of youth into maturity of a Jedi, facing not only his foes but his most dread fear. He overcame hate with compassion, dissolved darkness with light and again restored peace to the galaxy. It’s another Hero Journey extraordinaire.

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The most recent iteration, Episode VII, The Force Awakens, [2015], was a much feted reboot of the originals by wunderkind J.J. Abrams. The film, starring many of the original cast members, was however, a rather disappointingly repetitious revisit of the same mythical narrative tropes.

Nothing truly took the story forward.

It feels as if we are reliving “A New Hope“. We are introduced all over again to a disenfranchised orphan [this time a girl], and we follow her journey as she discovers a mysterious destiny and a mysterious power, encounters a whole litany of curious friends and foes and and discovers a unique courage and opportunity to face and thwart evil.

Not only did it repeat many elements of Episode IV, but the characters are only briefly developed and even the protagonist Rey is one-dimensionally perfect. She can fight, she can fly, she can wield the force without training, she is beautiful and good. One feels we are truly in a Disney movie with a modern day princess as our heroine. There is no petulant selfishness of Luke Skywalker nor his journey of growth.

Rey has no journey – she’s already amazing.

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The most interesting character is the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo – now the prince of the First Order. Professing allegiance to his grandfather, Darth Vader, Ben Solo seeks to grow his power and suppress his confused feelings of love or compassion. The ultimate test for this young Jedi is to sacrifice what is most dear to him, to prove power and vengeance are most justified.

This point of tension, reverses the narrative motif of The Empire Strikes Back. No longer murderous parent – we see the inverse – murderous son.

His journey is an ultimately human one, feeling betrayal he seeks to free himself to greatness by removing the father who disappointed him. The nuance of the Dark side of the force here is sharpened.

No longer do we see the dark side to be pure hate, fear, vengeance or lust for power, as established by the Anakin / Darth Vader story. No,  now it portrayed as a necessary and justified path to self fulfilment. 

Very Nietzschean.

Interestingly the German philosopher Frierich Neitzsche’s ‘will to power’ was the bedrock and foundation of much of Hitler’s Nazi philosophy.

It will be interesting to see where the Ben Solo journey takes us in coming instalments and how the epic and mythic narrative types are deepened and extended.

 

 

 

 

Prison Drama

William Shakespeare wrote:  [As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii].

All the world is a stage

Well from the plethora of literary and narrative representations of characters in prison, one could equally state:

All the world is a prison.

From Viktor Frankl’s work “Man’s Search for Meaning” to Sohlzenitsyn’s “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich“, to Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption“,

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman sitting outside on the benches playing checkers and talking in a scene from the film 'The Shawshank Redemption', 1994. (Photo by Castle Rock Entertainment/Getty Images)

and added to by prisoner of war movies such as “The Great Escape“, J G Ballard’s “The Empire of the Sun” and more recently the biopic of Louis Zamperini,  “Unbroken” the list of prison dramas goes on and on and on.

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Men and women trapped within a confined space with others of diverse backgrounds and with complex stories, facing chafing constraints, hardship and oftentimes abusive treatment from powerholders – seem to carry the strongest metaphors for the experience of living.

Narratives of mental asylums as prisons go even deeper.

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Consider “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” and Scorcese’s bad but good “Shutter Island.” Throw in a bit of madness and give the crazy ones the dialogue that makes the most sense.

Oppose this by giving the sane, dialogue full of subterfuge and chicanery and the metaphors escalate.

Shakespeare saw his world as a play; madness, hubris, revenge, love and lust were all played out upon the dusty boards of a theatre and observed by a crowd for their entertainment, edification and esteem.

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More modern narratives see this world as a madhouse, a prison of sorts, ruled by despotic guards, nurses and gatekeepers. No great narrator rules this universe, the protagonists struggle for hope, alone with other inmates for cheer.

Prison it seems a perfect platform to explore existential meaning for each generation. Within the constraints, tension, trials and suffering of this petri-dish, the characters explore what it is to “be” and find their “why” for living.

Prison dramas at their best bring out the why of living.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote:

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