Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nietzsche:Insights of a Troubled Soul 2

A truth denied or a truth avoided is one bound to eventually torment. It will surface as the demons that haunt our deepest dreams. This is essentially what Nietzsche sought to do in his life and in his writings. He sought to unmask the impostors who strode across the stage of his pretensions; to unmask each one, one after another; to look deeper and ever deeper into his own soul; to question his motivations; to question the very value system he was encouraged by contemporary society to follow; to question his own values; to question all accepted values and meanings; to question all the sacred cows of society in all its dimensions whether they were religious or secular, theological or philosophical. Like Freud after him, and even more so, he did not care too much as to how far he ruffled the feathers of others. His way was to be a provocative way, a questioning way, a way which sought to avoid easy answers and which embraced hard questions. Modernity, and indeed modernism and postmodernism, owe him much. However, to look into the Sun of Truth is always scary, very scary. Our very souls can get scorched, if not badly burnt!

Nietzsche’s Path To Healing:

Let me try here a brief summary in layman’s words what I recorded Nietzsche as saying in his own words in my last post. Being deeply existentialist (although, of course, this word did not exist at his time) he sought at all times to be AUTHENTIC. Authenticity is a key word for philosophers who deem themselves existentialist. Authenticity in philosophy nicely corresponds to what we call congruence in psychotherapy. Authenticity or congruence or integrity is essentially a deep inner acceptance of one’s personal truth, a calm ability to accept the shadow side of our nature, a calm ability to love ourselves in all our being – every aspect of it – the bad as well as the good. It means a deep and accepting knowledge of the self; an openness to the truth within the Self and the truth without or outside the Self, an openness to the truth in all others also. Now let’s put his words in psychotherapeutic terms:

Firstly, he is recommending to people, especially young students, to value the importance of being able to listen to the ideas of others, even if they are opposite to our own. More than this he is teaching other minds to be open to other ideas, and essentially other ways of believing and indeed living. Truth was never singular for Nietzsche – never single or set in stone. Truth was indeed many, was essentially plural, that is, truths with a small “t” where each person sought to discover his or her own truth…

Some of his sayings are aphoristic and like all aphorisms they seek to shock, and I feel while such aphorisms contain much truth they are not the whole of it. Their value lies in their provocation or in their shock values. We always need thinkers who shock the rest of us into questioning our presumptions and prejudices. It’s in this sense that we should reflect on the following aphorism: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Having reflected on this aphorism in the light of what I have said one can then balance it out by asking such questions: Surely science is totally objective? Or is it? How much of my prejudices do I bring to my own thoughts?

Then he tells us that we human beings are “deeply immersed in illusions and dream images.” Yes, yes, yes. How far is Nietzsche correct here? Are we victims of our own illusions and pipe dreams? Another way of putting this: How truthful are we to ourselves? What are the masks we wear? It is interesting that Nietzsche does actually use the word “mask” in the paragraph quoted in the last post.

He even questions how far it is possible for each of us to get to know ourselves. Could we ever be objective about ourselves at all? In other words, to what extent can we be truthful even to ourselves? These are all good hard questions worth asking.

It follows, then, obviously, that we can never really truly know another thing in itself or another person in himself or herself at all. And then we have this extremely sceptical passage: “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.” Once again, I suggest this should be used in an aphoristic sense, in its shock sense, in its sensational, provocative sense to get us questioning. That way, we won’t become stagnant or smug or superficial. Incidentally, one can only love Nietzsche’s beautiful use of words in this passage.

Again, I love his wisdom where he says that the human animal – I’m appropriating the contemporary philosopher, John Gray’s terminology here – must give attention to both Reason and Intuition in order to think in a fully human manner. This is surely very therapeutic and very real advice, and also a deep insight for a nineteenth century philosopher. It sounds very modern, does it not?

Then our philosopher therapist becomes aphoristic again by saying: “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” As one who values a philosophical approach to life; who looks on philosophy as therapeutic; as one who loves to meditate and be open to Eastern thought and practice, to be open to both the Intuitive and the Reason, oftentimes one feels that one is gazing into a nothingness or an abyss and that is frightening and yet all the great meditators and spiritual leaders encourage one to persist, with help from others and from reading in case one might break under the strain. In that sense one stares into the abyss. Then, it it equally true that the abyss stares back. We learn the lessons of Eastern thought, that all is illusion anyway, that we are indeed “undone by death” as T.S. Eliot said of the crowd flowing over London Bridge in his great poem Four Quartets.

Then, our master thinker and philosopher advises us to dance and to laugh, to laugh and to dance and in that way give credence to our very own truth. How wonderful this advice really is. Don’t think about it. Do it and live it!

Then, he warns us to be questioning of our very own convictions, because they can be grossly misleading. He is saying that our convictions can be masks for prejudices, presuppositions and even deep hatred of others. Finally, we read his insightful words of wisdom that those who have a why to live can bear almost any how. This is all in line with good and healing psychotherapy. Viktor Frankl called his therapy “Logotherapy” namely therapy based on meaning. He discovered that deep down every human being needs to have a meaning in his or her life and that the task of life is in finding and enhancing that meaning. That essentially for him was and is the road to healing. That’s also what Nietzsche meant by this last aphorism.

The whole drift of Nietzsche is to make us think, to make us question our own presuppositions and our own prejudices, to make us ask hard questions of ourselves, of others, of society itself and to go on questioning. His emphasis on being open to one’s own truth in all its colours is itself a major therapeutic tool. Let’s ponder the writings of this good old philosopher. He can lead far on the journey to self knowledge.

Above a picture of Nietsche in 1864 at the age of 20

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