Transcript: This lecture is on a very troubling thesis of Nietzsche’s: The Eternal Recurrence. Before I discuss Nietzsche’s idea of The Eternal Recurrence I want to do a little bit of what I promised that I would do last time when I recounted the parable of The Death of God, and that’s to interpret it a little bit more. One of the nice things about parables – and I am going to compare that parable to some other parables. One of the nice things about parables is that in a certain sense if one is to read them at all – engage in reading them at all – parables demand, require interpretation. They quite literally can’t mean what they say, quite literally. And if you notice in many traditions, the attempt to communicate through a parable is the attempt to communicate a truth that, as it were, could not possibly be communicated in another, sort of, more linear form without, as it were, the aid of a story.
You may for example notice that Christ in the New Testament uses parables far more often than he uses demonstrative arguments, far more often than he presents position papers, far more often than he testifies before congress, far more often than he gives news conferences. And perhaps it’s because the tradition of the parable is one in which the listener is forced to tap into their own autonomy and their own self creation in order to engage the parable at all. So something similar is true, and I think of the parables that – and parable as you recall… I have droned on and on about Nietzsche’s many styles – but the parable again is a style that Nietzsche uses to convey a kind of truth; a kind of new way of looking at things without, as it were, the direct communication which I think that he rightly believes views like his cannot receive.
And it’s not as though – and this is why I have been so reluctant throughout to present Nietzsche as a philosopher. I have been equally reluctant – I hope you have noticed – to present him as a literary figure, which seems to me – if I said being presented as a “mere philosopher” was degrading – to be presented as a “mere literary figure”, especially in a culture like ours today, you know, considering the people who go on book tours, it would be even more degrading. So I don’t want to view Nietzsche’s text as merely philosophical, or merely literary, but to try to view Nietzsche’s text as in some way exemplary and special.
And the way that I indicated that early on and I will mention it again now, as I said, in a certain way – and I did use this example from philosophy – Nietzsche wanted to impossibly play Plato to his own Socrates. To invent himself as such a character that would stand out above the other texts within which his were produced, and this act of self creation also occurs in literary figures, or the attempt is made, and I can think of two examples; Proust and James Joyce, where the attempt is made, certainly, to take the stuff of one’s own life and to recreate it in a mythical space that is much larger, as it were, than what someone might call the pathetic embodied ruins of any singular life. Because at one level, all our lives end in a dirty little tragedy in some corner anyway. In some sense. So this – in a way – is an attempt to write in such a way as to live beyond oneself in an act of self creation, and I think Joyce and Proust are fair comparisons in some regards to Nietzsche in this way.
Okay I ended… as I said, I was going to say a little more about the Death of God parable, so let me say something first; very flat-footed and ordinary about it. There is a sociological dimension to the Death of God parable. And by that I mean that the Death of God – for Nietzsche – is a trope, or a metaphor that signals some perhaps still on its way – you noticed? If you listened to the parable carefully – perhaps still on its way event. One that has still… it’s already happened, but it’s still on its way in the sense that it is yet to become understood in all its dimensions; in its fullness. In the same way one might say that a very bright child is a project on the way to something but it’s still not fully developed and all the ramifications of what that child will eventually be have not become apparent.
So in something like that way, you could begin with the sociological observation that something profound has shifted. Somewhere in the 18th… in transformations from say the 14th to the 18th and 19th centuries and Nietzsche being – as I say – paradigmatically the philosopher of the 20th century, even though he died in 1900, so this event will be… the sociological remark is this; Nietzsche certainly isn’t the only one to register a profound shift. I have already mentioned Max Weber’s account of the disenchantment of the world, and of how the world is becoming secularised, and I think that we don’t want to overplay this because we all know that the embodied and impassioned pull of religion is still very important throughout the world. Obviously it becomes important in many places in the world.
Weber’s point was that religion, when it became one compartment of life. And the best way to understand that in modern society is there are five days when you work, and there is a day where you play, there’s a day where you have to do jury duty, a day when you have to vote, and then a day to go to church; and our lives become, as it were, fragmented and compartmentalised into these spheres. As that happened – which Weber saw as a process of secularisation – as religion became, as it were, shrunken to this one day a week observance, okay. This is sort of regardless of individuals. You could feel like you are doing it every day but it’s awfully hard, as I think a rather minor rock’n'roll star said “It’s awfully hard to be a saint in the city”; it’s very difficult to be a Christian under those cultural and social conditions.
Better than Bruce Springsteen’s “Saint in the City” is Martin Scorsese’s brilliant film “Mean Streets“, where one of the characters has for a hero Saint Francis of Assisi, but what does he do? Well, he runs a little numbers, hangs out with a few minor hoods and tries to get by in the city. And Scorsese wants to highlight for us this process by which this otherwise exemplary character cannot realise himself under those conditions.
So sociologically something has changed that has… you know, there is something in society, and about society has changed in such fundamental ways that the conditions required for God to live and thrive… you know, whatever… as I say, if you are just a flat out atheist, this is not going to be helpful because it won’t make any sense, but then I find people who are just flat out atheists to be boring. I mean, it’s a boring view about anything, I am sorry. It just bores me.
So the sociological remark is something really profound has changed in the world; Weber called it the “disenchantment of the world”, and even though its old fashioned to mention his name now – in the New World Order – Marx also noticed a profound change from the feudal to the capitalist mode of production. And he talked about the way that all fast frozen relations in feudalism, all these fixed systems of thought and enquiry – and there were systems of thought and enquiry – and world views in the medieval period were being rapidly torn asunder by the new forces of production, and the new developments and technologies under capitalism, which Marx praises in the Manifesto as being – in that regard – progressive. He says all those ancient feudal ties of blood and all these ancient feudal relations, they had to be mercilessly ripped apart, and then Marx points out correctly; they were mercilessly ripped apart. So in fact the whole tradition of sociology is born from the attempt to understand the transition that was widely felt, not just by intellectuals, but people in their ordinary lives that had occurred between one massive way of producing and organising life and another.
One final example of the transition… and I am going to take this one from science; is the production of – I saw this in a history of astronomy class once – the production of a new star map in which for the first time… it had retained those round circles, and things we associate with medieval maps; you know, Earth; the Earth was still in the middle and then there were these things that surround it in perfect circles. It had retained all that, and the stars were dotted out in the heavens, but it had no border. In other words now, you know, you look up in the sky and it wasn’t just pinholes of light, it had – as it were – gone beyond that. More stars than that. In fact undecidable in the sense that [too many] to count now, so I am leaving the border off my damn map. This is… I am not going to be burned by the church because here is the map, it’s just like they want it, but I am not going to put a frame around it; it can’t be enframed.
And so this change, and I have just tried to invoke it there, but in sociology it’s clear that whatever political position you might take regarding this change… to what I will call “modernity”, or “modern life” is marked in Nietzsche’s text – at least in part – by the parable of The Death of God. By the death of a world in which people could draw meaning from that myth and sets of myths surrounding the holy; surrounding God.
Well I tried to leave us last time, you know, in a sense upset, you know, about that and in a position where the search to try to find meaning could have some meaning. And it’s now incumbent upon me to try to present something that Nietzsche is very reluctant to present, and that’s some positive answer to “What should you do for the search for meaning?” Well, one of the reasons that he is reluctant to give a didactic positive answer to that question… “Well, okay, I agree with you Nietzsche, things have changed, God is dead, and we don’t know where we are headed, the sky looks like its getting darker…” but I want to know the answer to this classic question, raised by Saint Paul, Tolstoy and Lenin, namely; “What is to be done?”. And believe me, I don’t consider that a trivial question, and those three people I just named were not trivial human beings; it’s a very important question. What is to be done?
Well Nietzsche, as I say, being the sort of indirect fellow he was, what he calls a “decadent”, someone born, as it were, between two worlds… between two worlds in the same way perhaps as Socrates, Christ, and others were decadents, in that sense, born between two different worlds. As a decadent he’s not going to develop any kind of didactic answer to the question “What is to be done?”, so it’s in that context that I would like to address his “myth”, if you will, or his “thesis” of The Eternal Recurrence, which is how he presents himself frequently. For example in a text we will discuss later; Nietzsche’s Zarathustra; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he is presented once in that text as the teacher of “The Eternal Recurrence”, or “The Eternal Return”.
There has always been a kind of scholarly question that philosophers ask and other people who are interested in the reconstruction of his texts and so on, about whether this is a thesis he holds to the way we hold to a cosmological thesis. You know, about “will this really happen?” kind of question. Well the Eternal Recurrence is – for me – nothing like that for Nietzsche; it’s not a theory about the cosmos. I mean, it’s not an astronomical theory; it’s not a theory about karma, or about the great wheel of becoming returning back again. I view this myth – I am about to, sort of, gloss and explain the challenge of – I view it as a challenge to self creation. It is, as it were, a question that Nietzsche poses to you in order to spur on your varying, and I hope various projects of self creation.
The basic idea of The Eternal Recurrence is this. Nietzsche… wants you to ask yourself this about your own life. What if it were the case that everything that occurred would necessarily occur after a certain span of time again. Let’s say in about – just to give the myth a little, sort of, pop feel, a little USA Today feeling, let’s say at about the year 3000, they round it off, you know, 6000 BC, 3000 AD… people who think this talk of Christianity isn’t important today; you might look at a calendar sometime. Anyway, that 9000 year period, let’s say that then the show starts again, and it replays itself not as some of us would wish, with all these new and interesting variants, but everything happens again just as it happened before.
In other words, its almost the opposite of that Steven Spielberg nostalgia in Back to the Future when we can go to, you know, the future or the past and change and alter our lives and so on, and do the things we should have done; Peggy Sue got married, there are tonnes of objects in our culture that promise us that we can go back and do things differently, that we can go forward and fix things that are going to happen and so on.
Nietzsche asks a horrifying question. Are you leading the kind of life that once its complete, once you are dead, that you would be willing to lead over again and over again and over again and over again, infinitely? Are you leading the life that you could stand to lead again and again and again and again and again? And Nietzsche considers this a horrifying question and an absolutely striking challenge. This is not an ethical theory, you know, it’s not a thought experiment in a certain way like some ethical theories present where you go “Well let me see, would I do that again, that certain act?” No.
Are you leading the kind of life, are you the type of person, are you creating, as it were, the persona, the character that you want to play in a drama that will occur over and over and over and over again without any change. And that is – for Nietzsche – a challenging question to our – you know – ideas of our own self creation. Because the spectre I wanted to leave you with last time is a spectre familiar in bourgeois society, and it accounts for a lot of job switching, and it accounts for a lot of these misdirections, you know, where you go “Well I drive a cab, but I am a writer”, like I said last time, you know. The person who dies at 80 “Well, I sold tyres well”, and so on. The question Nietzsche asks is “Do you want to sell them well infinitely“, and it doesn’t matter whether you were a worker like that or Donald Trump. Do you want to live that glitzy dumb life again and again and again and again and again?
So the myth, as it were, The Eternal Recurrence is a challenge to your self creation; to live a life so interestingly, so beautifully, so perfectly lived that you would be willing to say “Yes” – as Nietzsche says – to fate. To say “I love fate”, “I love the place where it’s put me, I love even my vices”, you know, this isn’t about going back and fixing that up, no “I love even my vices enough to want to repeat the performance that I did this time again and again and again. And of course you can’t avoid the, sort of, theatrical nature of this challenge, because it’s like the challenge to write about yourself, or to make of yourself a character; like Hamlet.
By the way, let me clear up something in an earlier lecture. I loved Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, and as a film – okay, to clear this point up – as a filmed version of Hamlet, it is head and shoulders above the other filmed versions. Because instead of filming a stage play where everyone acts like this… you know, how you do in theatre, where you have to emote. In cinema you have action and people have to talk normally and sometimes quietly. Well as a filmed version, Mel Gibson’s Hamlet actually is better, in my opinion. But the point about Hamlet is this: Hamlet is an exemplary character because people feel compelled to do what? To act the character again and again and again and again and again. And they are going to be acting it again and again when we have Laserdiscs, and God knows who will play it next.
I mean, you know, the next… Kyle MacLachlan may play a Hamlet for a version directed by David Lynch [crowd laughter] Where Ophelia is just a tiny little person who comes from a land where the birds sing a pretty song [crowd laughter]. See, we don’t know who will play it next, but we know this; that that exemplary character has been played again and again and again, and Nietzsche asks us to ask about our own lives; are we living them in such a way that… and by the way, you know, Hamlet does have a few faults. I mean if you have noticed in the play, he has more than one, I think. But he is very interesting.
In any case, Nietzsche’s question is “Is your life of that kind that you would be willing to repeat it over and over again”. This question Nietzsche finds horrifying in part because the world has changed in such a way, and among its changes are the every day – and I should… I have got to mention this tension between Nietzsche and – what I call last time – the everyday… boring, crappy world of the bourgeoisie; we are bought and sold on the marketplace every day. I mean that’s where the madman goes, is to the marketplace, to give his news. You had better go to the marketplace to give your news or you won’t get heard, right?
In any case, in that sort of boring workaday world; at its best boring – Dickens tells us what it is at its worst – but at its best boring. Under those conditions can you find a way conceivably to live that you would be willing to do again and again and again? And as I said, I think Nietzsche has more in mind here than changing jobs.
You don’t go “Well Nietzsche’s right, my God, I have just been in insurance too long” [crowd laughter]. It’s like that Monty Python sketch, the guy wants to become a lion tamer; he’s an accountant. Of course Monty Python; they consider accounting to be an illness, right? [crowd laughter] I mean you go to therapists and doctors to be cured of being an accountant. And so in one skit, this guy says “Well I think I’ll be a lion tamer”; problem is he doesn’t know what a lion is, and so John Cleese shows him a picture of a lion and he says “Oh God no!”, and he says “Well maybe you should take it a step at a time and go into banking next” [crowd laughter]
Nietzsche’s challenge is more than just changing jobs from accounting to banking, to even being the captain of a little skiff for a year… say, on your savings or whatever. It’s to live a life that is in some sense – and… I hate to use the word “art”, because that trivialises it. But in a way to live a life that’s like a work of art; like Hamlet in a sense, that you’d be willing to play that part again. “Yeah I did well enough I want to play it again”. And that includes all the things that Nietzsche knows about the pain of life, which I hope I have tried to make clear through some of the examples I have used. Including those moments. Would you be willing to play the part again and again.
So the way I have always seen The Eternal Recurrence is not as an ethical theory so much as a challenge to fashion; a life for you that’s worth living. Now to understand this you need to see that Nietzsche is using a myth here – of The Eternal Recurrence – precisely because he’s done what I have earlier argued that he does. He has rejected the dogmatic tradition of philosophy where you attempt to answer the question I attempted to answer in my first series of lectures – and failed – namely, “What is the best kind of life for human beings?” Nietzsche thinks there is no general answer to that question, but he thinks it’s a supremely important question. By “general answer”, that means there is not one answer that I can find and then I give you the argument and all of you go “That’s right, that’s the best one, we’ll all do it”. No.
This challenge takes place… in a different narrative and with a different kind of challenge, and in a way it puts the burden upon the reader – the interpreter, as it were – to ask the question “Well, could I love fate that much?” Wherever it’s put me and whatever it’s put before me, I’d be willing to play this drama of self creation that I have already either attempted or escaped from over and over and over again. Now I think that it is a powerful challenge. The more we think about it, the – sort of – more horrifying it becomes.
I mean, in a way this is why modernists – and by “modernists”, now I am referring to both texts written by so-called “modern writers” and “modernist cinema”, people such as Woody Allen are so freaked out by death, I mean, it’s both a perplexing and frightening thing to die. But it’s also a kind of nice thing because now the hypochondria is finally over and it’s been proven you were right. I mean, Woody both is… afraid of death, but then in a way it will justify him because he has been a hypochondriac, you know, all his life and he takes Aspirin and he talks about death – in his books – about death, and he sees all these Ingmar Bergman movies about death and death death death… But part of that is the very fascination with it because when it finally comes then – you won’t be around to see it – “Well you thought I was a hypochondriac, I died, and I said I would” Well, hardly surprising, but at least you stand justified before that belief.
So there’s a fascination with that, and then bourgeois culture in general. Sartre once said that if you were going to tell a dying person one thing that would make them happy… and I think this is why we build… not why… there are many reasons why and a lot of them have got to do with valorising capital… but one reason why nuclear weapons and the spectre of an apocalypse was so attractive, utopian and fascinating… and I mean all that seriously… this is a joke because, look, Hollywood made thousands of movies about apocalypses and people… “Oh, The Missiles of October… I want to see that documentary again… they almost blew the world up…”
And the giddiness of apocalypse and all these movies is sort of based on a point by Sartre. If you could tell a dying person one thing that would make them happy, it’s that everybody else is dying too right now as you die. When you die, you are all going to die together; you are going to have at least that one communal experience under capitalism of all going out at once. And you’d go “Well, geez, I gotta die, but old Bob down at the office, haha… he’s not ready…” [crowd laughter] “He’s going too, you know” [crowd laughter].
So ah, Nietzsche though – Nietzsche’s challenge is in a way scarier because death won’t even stop this; this process of self creation, for Nietzsche. See because you’ll just… if you do something really badly and die and people forget about it, that won’t help because you’ll have to do it again and again and again and again and again. Now again, Nietzsche doesn’t hold this as a view about the cosmology of the world or that things actually will occur again and again, but if one views… you might ask yourself this question: “If I viewed my life as a part – as a persona – and I was trying to create myself in a more conscious way than I am…”
Because in a certain sense we are all trying to create and recreate ourselves all the time. I think that’s why… lots of people now stay in graduate school until well past their mid life [crowd laughter] So that you can continue and be creating yourself and. you know: “Oh well, I am taking anthropology this month… and this month I am going to do astronomy”. Well this is to give you a patina; a pathetic patina of self creation. It’s beneath contempt, but anyway… that’s another story. Ergh, I am really in a good mood, I don’t know why this is all sounding so nasty here; it’s supposed to be challenging and life affirming and fun.
In any case I don’t think that there is… I think that the question Nietzsche wants you to ask is this. Engaged in my own self creation, could I do this? And then my point was going to be that we are in fact engaged in acts of self creation with varying degrees of consciousness that that’s what we are doing. Nietzsche had the misfortune of being supremely, acutely, perhaps pathologically aware… and I mean certainly pathologically aware, in my opinion.
I think all the great theorists, philosophers and literary people – or practically all of them – were delusional in one or another important sense of that word. It’s okay. God, what a boring species we would be without people who are delusional; nuts, if you will. It would be really boring.
But ah, Nietzsche was acutely aware of his own self creation, and of course that’s what comes out in these very hyperbolic styles, in the aphorisms, and when Nietzsche calls himself, you know… In one book he gives the title “The Whole of the Man” and the book has titles like – I mean has chapter titles like – “Why am I so clever?” “Why do I never make mistakes?” You know… he responds to himself by saying “I have never bothered with questions… there are none… it’s beyond question that I never make mistakes and am very clever”. So Nietzsche is acutely, almost insanely aware of his own self creation. A process as I say that we all undergo but under conditions where we are not nearly so aware as Nietzsche was.
Ernest Jones, the biographer of Freud – and I am not sure this is a compliment about Nietzsche, but – Ernest Jones, Freud’s biographer once said of Nietzsche… says, well… Jones did… Jones said that Freud said – so we don’t know if its true or not – Jones said that Freud said about Nietzsche that he knew more about himself than any man who ever lived or was ever likely to live… as someone addicted to self reflection… about their own self creation. So it was Freud’s judgement that he knew more about himself than anyone who ever lived or was ever likely to live.
So what sets the eternal challenge… I mean – The Eternal Return as a challenge – is not just to do the same things you have done, but to be consciously aware the way a creator is of their creation: about yourself, see? With no God to be the creator of you as fallible, finite, and you know, you can always… and what an excuse… you know, I mean, you actually hear it in the death house sometimes as the last, you know, remark trying to sway the judge: “Don’t execute me… God made me this way, what the heck…” It’s a nice excuse because if you are familiar enough with the Odysseys there is some truth to it of course.
If God knew everything; he knew about Charlie Manson long before Charlie Manson did, yet he went ahead and let Charlie do some awful things. If you don’t know about that serial killer – I know about a lot of them – I can’t get into certain serial killers in giving lectures in Washington D.C. because to name some of them is libellous… no, anyway, that’s…
Let’s leave that where it is. In any case, ah, sorry, you can hold for a moment while I get myself together… no, I am kidding [laughs]
In any case, this challenge to create oneself is a magnificent one and it bears – as I say – a striking resemblance to artistic creation, however the level of self consciousness involved is perhaps even greater, because when you create a fictional character like Hamlet the artist can, as it were, distance themself from that creation to a certain extent and always has the alibi of saying – like actresses and actors do – “Well, I just created that part”. Jodie Foster talking about playing a prostitute when she was twelve “Well I just created that part”. Well, I bet she did – she probably knew how – but in any case, an artist can always distance themselves from their work, but if you are Nietzsche’s very special kind of artist and your work is yourself – your own subjectivity – then the split and the distance is much more intimate and narrow, and the creation is your own self creation, then the challenge is extremely risky because if you write a character in a novel or in a play and you don’t like the character you can edit it. But if you write a character for yourself in an ongoing way you can’t just simply edit it out because it is you – your subjectivity – that is at issue. So for these and a host of other reasons I think that Nietzsche’s challenge concerning The Eternal Recurrence is a fascinating one.
Another motto that grows out of this notion of The Eternal Recurrence is Nietzsche’s motto that he was in love with fate… loved fate… the love of fate. Because for Nietzsche there is something all so fateful about where you find yourself – you know, I mean, Nietzsche believed that you find yourself, as a matter of fact, growing up in certain communities with certain linguistic possibilities, historical possibilities, social possibilities and so on; about which you have no choice. You know, Heidegger‘s sort of sort of ergh, yucky way of saying this is that you are “thrown into the world”.
Another way to put the same point is, if you have ever seen this game “Class Struggle“; a Marxist dice game, you begin by rolling the genetic dice, okay. The high roll – If you roll high – you get… first of all the order in which you get to rolls helps to tell you something. You begin rolling with the whitest male rolling first, then on down to the darker males, then you go down and the last person to roll will be the darkest female in the room and as you roll the genetic dice; they tell you which class you are born into. And so the throw of the dice… and you may go “Oh that’s just silly” No!
I mean it’s… the throwing of the genetic dice does put you in certain positions and conditions of life to begin with that you did not choose. And for Nietzsche that’s a threat and an opportunity – both – the flipside of that crisis is an opportunity and that’s that whatever you condition, this kind of act of self creation can be undertaken and in fact sometimes spectacularly so when you are thrown into the worst conditions, and I can’t help but bring up now my favourite politician in the United States today, and so I can do it this time in a flattering example, and I am sure many of you don’t like this politician, a local politician, and that’s Jesse Jackson.
I think that in many ways Jesse Jackson is an exemplary human being, and in this strong sense, that coming from where he came, to engage in that act of self creation – which the media now goes “Oh well, you know, he puts on a mask, he plays a part”. Well, how long have they been around here? You know? Ho long have they been around the United States? Is that supposed to surprise anybody? No. It’s that it’s the quality of the performance – its how intimately it’s knitted in with self and against which obstacles that’s given it its drama.
And of course, the current sort of derision about the self creation of Jackson… that ongoing process – the derision about it now doesn’t surprise me historically because I was around when Martin Luther King was derided, made fun of. Of course the moment that he was dead then the myth could be closed off, he was safely blanched out into the general culture where now he becomes a figure for McDonalds advertising, and the picture of Martin Luther King, you know, at one time a sort of communist, dangerous, bizarre, scary civil rights leader… it’s hard to even go back there in history after all this work of social amnesia that’s been performed upon us.
But now that he’s blanched out, safe, secure, in short dead, then the general culture can tell new myths about him, but I can guarantee you this. If – and this would be, for me, tragic – If anything ever happened to Jesse Jackson, it would be a few years, but then… the next thing you know we would have pictures of him… he would be whiter than when he was alive… this is for me a humorous note. I noted as the years went on how Martin Luther King got whiter and whiter. After his death, I mean. The pictures of him – and this is actually noticeable – became whiter and whiter. I saw him speak once when I was young and he was an African American – you know, very dark; black, you know. And as the photographs of him over the years – you know, the ones used by McDonalds – there is just a hit of skin tone… well, anyway, this long digression is only to give you one of my heroes of self creation today, someone I really admire who is engaged in a phenomenal, not only self creation, but recreation. And through a whole bunch of mistakes, as you know, and accidents and misfortunes and stupidities in order to recreate himself again at another level.
And for better or worse, you know, my own feeling, looking at it from the outside, because I don’t have his subjectivity, but looking at it from the outside… hell, who knows, it might and up being a life worth living twice. The Eternal Return threatens – challenges – us with the notion to live a life worth living over and over again, not twice. I mean that’s the best example I could find today, and that’s a life that might be worth living twice. Thinking about the great majority that toil anonymously day in and day out, it’s hard to imagine a life worth living even the first time, not to mention twice.
So the Eternal Return in Nietzsche; The Eternal Recurrence of everything is supposed to be frightening. Also it is supposed to be a positive moment in Nietzsche. It is a positive challenge to engage consciously and self reflectively in something you do anyway, which is in the constant act of rebuilding your persona; your self. This is not… and Nietzsche is far too complex to believe that this is the advice to stop wearing masks and be who you really are. Well, you know, if you check the philology, the philological history of the word “persona”, you’ll see that that’s not interesting. And I’ll make a comparison here with David Hume the British philosopher, the empiricist.
When Hume Goes in search of “the self” empirically, and he knows as an empiricist that he has to find the “I”, “the self”, “the subject” empirically, he has us do an experiment. We are to look for it, and find ourself in this inner space of our mind; where is the “I”, the self. And Hume performs this experiment in “A Treatise of Human Nature, and there isn’t one. You don’t know what colour your self is, what weight it is, and so on – not your bodily self, but your self – that thing that continues through all the changes in your body and hair colour and weight, height, and so on. And Hume, with the rigour that belongs to his thinking goes “It’s a fiction” There is no self, no “I”, no substantial individual beneath all the surfaces. We’ve looked for it, it’s not there, it’s a custom, a fiction, a habit. It’s just habitually, you know, the way we behaved with one another. We have driver’s licenses and lawyers to take care of continuity [crowd laughter].
There isn’t such a thing; it’s a convention, a habit, and so on. Well so that people wear masks is not only interesting, its interesting because beneath the masks there isn’t something called “the self”, so that makes one become concerned in Nietzsche’s way that the various masks, shapes and forms that one does wear and choose in order to become what one is – to use Nietzsche’s phrase – “In order to become what one is” – is not to become an authentic self, but to become the best and most interesting self that you can create. And in that sense it does not belong to the dogmatic tradition of philosophy, because God knows what variety of selves would be created if people had the opportunity and the vision and the will and imagination to create themselves in this radically self conscious way that Nietzsche challenges us to do in his myth of “The Eternal Return” [applause].