Nietzsche, Corruption, Exhaustion

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corruption / culture / enlightenment / exhaustion / free spirit / Gay Science / individuality / Nietzsche / progress / religion / superstition / war

In book I, section 23 of Gay Science, Nietzsche deploys a theory concerning the rise of the individual in relation to the signs of corruption in a society. This corruption signifies for Nietzsche the development and culmination of superstition in a culture. Superstition in this text is equated with the “second-order free spirit.” Unlike the religious advocate, the superstitious is always more of a person, meaning that the appearance of this attribute is the development of the progress of the intellect in its movement of becoming more independent; thus superstition is the delight and celebration of the cultivation of individuality and individuals. Similar to his attacks on “the good” in Zarathustra, Nietzsche reminds us that the term “corruption”—which here, as elsewhere, appears as a positive condition (for the growth of ‘riper’ individuals no less)—actually stems from a value judgment made by the religious status quo against the rise of superstition. In this sense, Nietzsche strikes against the reactionary (can we say, re-reacts?) and affirms that, on the contrary, this development of superstition is “actually a symptom of enlightenment.” Superstition and corruption become here the means by which morality, its means of capture and containment, its stratification of the individual, and its disciplinary ‘No’ of auto- and trans-policing all lose their primacy in governing and guiding the actions of the individual, which, to follow Nietzsche, we will interpret as the inevitable symptom of the decline of the legislative and repressive power of the collective.

It follows from this that the development of superstition points towards the exhaustion of a culture. And again, Nietzsche is quick to assert and make clear that this seemingly negative term actually creates something positive in its proliferation throughout a culture. After expending its energy on war and losing its pleasure in such endeavors, an exhausted society will experience a shift in the deployment of its energy moving away from the engagement in warfare toward “more private passions [that] merely become less visible.” Now the individual has more resources and energy to squander—something Nietzsche claims could not have happened previously because the individual “simply was not yet rich enough.” Yet this cultivation of the individual’s energy into private affairs leads to truly great events: great love, great hatred, and the “flame of knowledge” flourish, which leads to a paradox. The exhaustion of the society is the potential impetus for the augmentation and actualization of new arrangements of aesthetic, scientific, and ethical projects. Put another way, when a society experiences exhaustion the individual explodes and overflows with so much potential energy that the genesis of the individual comes onto the scene blessed with the gift of squandering more resources than would have been wise or advisable during times of danger and war.

Yes, Nietzsche admires war and danger because it forces the instincts to develop in strength: it forces weaknesses and failures to be culled and excised from life, which is itself the movement of life in its immanent trajectory. But, here at least, Nietzsche offers some resistance to his usual claim of promoting war, for it is after long periods of war that we see a sort of hypertrophy of strength deployed in the individual. These movements are thus inversely proportionate: as the society becomes more and more exhausted in its endeavor, the individual ripens and becomes filled with the capacity to concentrate on the augmentation of its own power. We can now contextualize one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms that is almost always misquoted and—even if it is quoted in full—usually misunderstood because of its terseness: “From life’s school of war—What does not kill me makes me stronger” (Twilight of the Idols, “Maxims and Arrows,” 8).

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  1. I like that you’re forcing us to see the sociopolitical meaning in life’s school of war. This is the ‘other’ biopolitics, an intoxicated (re)surging of warrior’s strength rather than the cool and sober patience of politics, commerce and diplomacy. What I think is interesting is that in Nietzsche, we’re actually getting both kinds of biopolitics at once, we’re getting bizarre combinations and shameful, incestuous half-breeds, spurring us towards mutant experimentation, pushing every assemblage into all possible combinations and its absolute limit, complete machinic zoophilia. Maybe pretty scary stuff, but it’s not eugenics. It is definitely German, though, with that unique mixture of love and madness, of intoxication and sobriety. Germans were the broken modern Greeks, as I suppose we are the exhausted Romans.

    At any rate, the question of the war machine as the active movement of life in its immanent trajectory (or at least inspiring it) I think there may be a complementary reading where we have in the machine an actualizing movement of what is beyond or before life, a patience or breathlessness of the spirit, which then recommences being in violence and the absolute synchronicity of battle, the war of all against all. War is beyond good and evil; in many ways its necessary because it forces weak elements to become exhausted, to give in, to open up, to disappear. I wonder about it’s persistent use as a metaphor in philosophy particularly, a domain apparently obsessed with metaphysical exhaustion and existential transfiguration.

    In other words, the philosophical question isn’t really ever synchrony but lives within a diachrony; I think Nietzsche points to this in his analyses of culture. We become corrupt because we are exhausted. Events are tied together, they communicate but the medium through which they communicate is ambiguous, even unique and subjective. Where are the law-givers of tomorrow? The question of exhaustion raises a pretty strong question or even objection to the post-human project (i.e., wouldn’t we then just need a post-post-human order to correct for these mistakes, aren’t we just doing the same transcendental thing again.) We are approaching an asymptote of informational complexity in terms of culture and knowledge about reality. We will create A.I. out of a desperate need to catalogue too much information. Consciousness itself, I want to say, is an exhaustion from over-stimulation, of being a multiplicity there are too many counties heard from to intelligibly consider them all serially; i.e., thinking is about selective forgetting. And this mechanism of forgetting is the most complex mechanism of them all, because it is the one which leads to corruption, even of our faith itself.

  2. RaiulBaztepo says

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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