“An Imaginary Dialogue with Friedrich Nietzsche – Dialogues with Philosophers In COVID-19 Times” by Saurabh Todariya
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

Picture Courtesy: PD Sathish ChandraFaith actually moves no mountains but instead raises them up where there were none before-
Nietzsche

The opening ceremony of holy Badrinath Temple has been  postponed. Every temple is closed. COVID 19 has made life isolated and lonely. There are various myths regarding these holy places and the observation of ceremonies and rituals keep these myths and stories alive in the collective memory. However, the spread of COVID 19 and the social distancing seems to  substantiate the sociological interpretation of religion. Rituals and festivities are nothing but a way of strengthening social solidarity. As the ‘social’ itself has become the ‘threat’ in the times of COVID 19 therefore, people are becoming less social.

Although some interpret religion as the source of morality as it provides the certain codes of conduct to follow. That’s why, the transcendent notion of God is posed which becomes the source of all values and goodness. However, what value does this pandemic have? People are unnecessarily suffering, dying and rendered helpless across the globe. What divine plan God might have behind the suffering of the migrant workers who walked on foot towards their far-off homes? The events in this world seem to be unfolding in a strict causal manner. Nowhere, we can see the ‘miracle’ breaking this relentless causal chain unleashed by the spread of coronavirus. If everything is causally determined then what is the point in believing the benevolence of God or thinking that the suffering would lead to some good in future? Why don’t we accept Albert Camus’ words that the world is absurd and human suffering does not have meaning. There is no difference between dying of humans and dying of insects.

This is Nihilism! There is no ultimate value and there is no God or divine agency which can justify the problem of Evil. Possibly, suffering, darkness & death are the essential part of the Godhead itself.  When Swami Vivekananda wrote the poem, ‘Kali: The Mother,’ he hailed Goddess Kali as the source of destruction and death. But still, it is difficult to come into terms with this fierce face of the divine.

This time I am thinking of discussing the theme of Nihilism with Nietzsche but can I face him? He is the self-avowed dynamite, calling himself as the destiny. I really shudder at the thought of discussing philosophy with him. The one who chose to live in the heights and found himself lonely. Always. A veritable Zarathustra, Ubermensch  whom nobody could understand during his lifetime.

I am a wanderer and a mountain climber- Zarathustra said to his heart. What returns, What finally comes, is my own self. Alas, I have begun my loneliest walk.

Will I be able to explain the philosopher who expressed himself with so much force and agony?  Will I end up talking with myself? Will this Nietzsche be an extension of my own self only, nothing to do with the real Nietzsche?

Sun had set and darkness was slowly enveloping the surroundings. From the far-off distance, I could hear Nietzsche’s voice approaching me. Deep, silent and lonely voice. I thought that I would discuss with him in these surroundings as I don’t have the courage to see his piercing gaze and overpowering personality.

Me- Sir, as you know that the lockdown 3.0 has started in India and we don’t know how many more lockdowns we have to face in future. People are getting infected like anything, dying in the absence of any medicine and the never ending lockdown has been causing mental stress. All this shows that there is no  meaning in life. Is this the time of Nihilism?

Nietzsche- Hmm. I call Nihilism in which the highest values devalue themselves. When humans could find no value to fall back on. Whatever dear to him is made superfluous. But for the modern man, there is still value in scientific progress and rationality. On the other hand,  I propose Ubermensch, Superman who will overcome all these values.

Me- Superman?

N- Yes, all these values are born out of the biological urge to survive, herd mentality! The genealogy of morals show that all these lofty moral values which humans boast of  are basically arising out of the need to survive in a group. The so-called truths are basically the result of our historical experience and the pragmatic need to survive. There is no truth which we can grab by jumping outside of our skins. Every truth is situated and relative. There are no facts but interpretations.

Me- This means we have nothing to fall back on?

N- Yes, if we are thinking of something which is transcendental then there is no hope. But we have art in order to survive the truth.

Me- What does it mean?

N- Truth is ugly. There is no meaning in life or events happening in the universe. But this truth falls on humans like a heavy boulder. But I admire art; art elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary. Art transforms our sufferings, tragedies into something beautiful and worthy of reflection.

Me- Dionysius?

N- Yes. This is the spirit of Dionysius. I hate the Christian values of piety, mercy and meekness which is sickening for me. I long for the overwhelming sway of energy which meets life with full vigour and strength. Hence I propose the Ubermensch, who will have the features of both apollonian and Dionysian! Full of vigour yet deeply artistic in nature.

Me-  Interesting.

N-  In fact, ancient Greek culture celebrated both the strength as well as dance. It is because they had the ‘will to power’. This power arises from affirming life and not escaping to the ‘other-world,’ the way Christianity has done. If you read the Greek tragedies, you will notice how they have elevated the sufferings of life into the art. Hence, I call myself also as Greek sometimes.

Me- But then why are humans afraid of adopting it?

N- Fear of  Becoming! In becoming you lose the being, which timid people are afraid of. That’s why my Zarathustra dances! Because in dancing, there cannot be any being; only becoming. Being, substance, subject, object are just the names invented by the consciousness in order to come into terms with the chaos surrounding us. Later, these terms became God, soul and world and the whole system of morality is created on it. Even Philosophers uphold the rotten morality as they are devoid of strength. On the contrary, I talk of the power which is beyond the good and evil; an affirmation of life itself!

Me- All right. But what are your views on this global pandemic?

N- I don’t have any view on it nor I can have. Your desire to interpret it  is fundamentally born out of your belief that life has got certain purpose or meaning. In fact, all your attempts to philosophize are in no way different from a baby’s urge to hear lullaby. Both of you want to lull your senses. The truth is that it is utterly meaningless; the death of humans is no more significant than the worms who daily perish when you set out for your daily chores. If they could think, they would have also philosophized their death.

Me- You mean to say that we should just sit quietly and watch over it!

N- No; on the contrary, you should  pursue strength. Progress is made on the basis of danger as much as on that of the clear-headed rational planning. This is the call to become; transform yourself and become the Zarathustra who affirms life and transform the suffering into the music. That is why,  I like music which does not have any lyrics. This music cannot be controlled by the rational consciousness; rather we come under its control!

Me- But people are becoming ill?

N- Being sick can even become an energetic stimulus for life, for living more. This, in fact, is how that long period of sickness appears to me now; as it were, I discovered anew, including myself; I tasted all good and even little things, as others cannot easily taste them- I turned my will to health, to life, into a philosophy.

Me- I know that you suffered from severe headaches and ill-health while writing your books.

N- We are not thinking frogs. Rather we have to give birth to our thoughts out of our pain and , like mother, endow them with all we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate and catastrophe. In fact, these painful experiences helped me to think from the various parts of my body and not just from the head! 

Me- But all this seems to disturb the harmony, the beautiful flow of life!

N- Life consists of rare, isolated moments of the greatest significance and of the innumerably many intervals, during which at best the silhouettes of those moments hover around us. Love, springtime, every beautiful melody, mountains, the moon, the sea- all these speak completely to the heart at once, if in fact they ever do get a chance to speak completely. For many men do not have those moments at all, and are themselves intervals and intermissions in the symphony of real life.

With these words Nietzsche’s voice fell silent. I thought that I should rather go and leave him alone as he always found himself lonely. Who can forget his words: My principle article of faith is that one can only flourish among the people who share the identical ideas and identical will. I have no one. That is my sickness. He always remain aloof from the people, from the community and traversed his path all by himself. As his writings are full of poetic styles and hammerings hence a lot of misinterpretations regarding his life and works. His becoming mad at the final years of his life also adds to the confusion. But hardly people knew that he witnessed the flogging of a horse, ran to the horse and threw his arms around its neck to protect it then collapsed to the ground. He suffered mental breakdown after it.

His life and his works therefore remains enigmatic.

However, Nietzsche clearly stands out as a break from the earlier way of philosophizing. The fervor with which he emphasizes on his ideas clearly differentiates him both in style and attitude from his predecessors. Philosophers like Aristotle, Kant and Hegel considered Reason as the highest faculty and build the architectonic of their system on its basis. Nietzsche repudiated the Reason and brought the concept of Will. Like Schopenhauer, he professed that the life is basically the manifestation of will. It is the Will only which is the force of life. However, unlike Schopenhauer, he did not propagate the pessimism. He did not believe that the life is full of suffering and hence we need to negate it. Rather he turned to the ancient Greeks and their god, Dionysius. According to Nietzsche, the modern man has completely forgotten the Dionysius aspect and has identified itself with the Apollonian characteristic which is rationality. Dionysius basically stands for the emotions and in his Birth of Tragedy he tries to find out the synthesis between the Apollonian and Dionysius in the Greek life.

Nietzsche idea of Ubermensch negates the idea of other-worldliness of Christianity and takes us beyond good and evil. The idea of good and evil is basically the idea of, ‘slave morality’ which Christianity offers. Ubermensch is distinguished from the herd mentality which society follows.

Nietzsche accepts like existentialists that life is full of suffering and pain. There is no inherent purpose and telos which can justify the existence. It is absurd, without any reason or rationale. However, he does not endorses the nihilism; rather he affirms the life through the, ‘art’. In art, music has got the highest place in Nietzsche because music enables the humans to come out of the language, individualities and unite us with the humankind. Life without music is no life at all; however, this music is free from the words.

For Nietzsche, life needs to be affirmed and that is too with full vigor. However, Christianity has weakened the ardor of life by inventing the, ‘other-worldliness’ and by upholding the virtues like humility. The meekness saps out the ardor of life and degenerate us into a weakling. The affirmation of life comes not by negating the suffering by inventing the notion of, ‘after-life’, the way Christianity has done. Rather we need to affirm the beauty inherent inn suffering. For this, Nietzsche goes back to the Greek period where suffering is affirmed through the tragedy. In Greek theatre, tragedy is depicted with music which shows that the suffering is affirmed through the art. This is the will to power which is beyond good and evil.

(The italicized paras are original quotes from Nietzsche)

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.