Category: 1991 Nietzsche and the Postmodern Condition


From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny

Transcript: You know, how many novels begin with sentences describing the sky and the landscape. There are so many. It’s a standard novelistic beginning. Gibson begins his novel Neuromancer with the following sentence, and I consider it the best first sentence in 20th century American literature. I hate to use the word literature about this stuff. Neuromancer being a work of what I call “near future fiction”. A work that projects, as does the movie Blade Runner, the near future of possible social development based on very close analysis of current trends. In any case, the first sentence of the novel goes like this: “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”. Marvellous. Sets the tone for an incredible book. Short. Tough. Interesting. Brilliant.

That sentence frames for me a description of the postmodern trajectory… and to distance that sentence… and there is a massive distance… you could distance it from the sentences of Zarathustra, from The Gay Science. You could distance it from the first sentences of novels such as… “Call me Ishmael”… Moby Dick. That’s a pretty well known first sentence in a novel. “Call me Ishmael”. Referring all the way backward to a biblical text, and all the way forward to a new adventure. A new American adventure. In living a life that would allow for difference and community, it would allow for freedom, and the recognition of necessity. That project ends, in my view… or at least the dawning of the end, in Gibson. In that wonderful first sentence. “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”.

The fights that remain… the living antagonisms and our possibilities to construct ourselves in anything like free and autonomous ways will have to be fought across that barren, strange landscape… that unthinkable cultural future of deferred and indifferent pseudo experience. And across that terrain, the struggles for even moments of authentic lived experience… “authentic” in quotes – who knows… of lived experience… to feel something for god’s sakes… anything… will be the locus of struggle one would hope.

Here I will call to your mind a scene from Blade Runner, where before the replicant dies (Roy Batty), he slams his hand on a nail (and many of you may not know this), but when Batty does that in the film, it’s a reference to an action that Sartre has a character perform in “Roads to Freedom”. In “Roads to Freedom”, the Sartre character slams his hand onto a nail to prove that he is free. Because he chose to do it. It hurt like hell, but he chose it. I put my hand on that nail, and that shows I am free, because just as a calculus of deterministic pleasure I would never have done it. It’s a philosophical demonstration… a painful and stupid one in my opinion… but by the time we get to Blade Runner, the replicant slams his hand onto a nail just to feel anything. Just to feel anything. So don’t worry about the communists or the capitalists. Fight to live and feel anything. Thankyou I have enjoyed it very much. Thankyou.

From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

Transcript: …again, this word “Nihilism” I’ll… I’ll say a bit more about. In a context where the threat was Nihilism. A culture where there was no fabric from which to construct meaning. Now, Nihilism, in a certain way won’t be used by me to describe a philosophical position. Because to the extent it does, it’s supposed to be some silly position like this: “Nihilists are people who believe in nothing”. Well, if that’s what Nihilists were, there wouldn’t be any, and that’s not what we are diagnosing.

We are diagnosing a Nihilistic culture, where no enduring beliefs can provide meaning for the overwhelming majority of members of that culture. That’s the problem that Nietzsche identifies coming along with modern life. And also, not coming along as a mystification, but coming along as part of the insight of modern life. Comes along with Darwin… in other words, being demystified about our origins. It comes along with a new view of the cosmos. Being demystified about the importance of the Earth. You know, where it is, how big it is, and in the centre of what. Being demystified concerning a whole series of things, about which earlier there were powerful, important, meaning giving myths.

Part of the work of the enlightenment was this destructive work of destroying myth. That was the work carried out by the bourgeois class and its ideologues. You know, it’s not bad… you remember, they said you won’t have a decent world to live in until the last priest is hung on the guts of the last king and stuff. Those are the mottos of the great revolutions. This is Washington DC, right? These are the great bourgeois revolutions. We love them, and they may be in fact a world of historic destiny.

Nietzsche’s worry was that this kind of demystification… without creating new festivals, new games, new myths… would lead to a situation in which human beings willed only not to will any longer. Who wanted, sort of, only not to want any longer. And Nietzsche saw this emerging culture as one that would be inimical to human life… about which… as I said, he doesn’t have a lot of consoling things to say.

From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

Transcript:
This is kind of a modern myth I am about to spell out for you. In fact I may not read it, I may just gloss it. It’s a modern myth that I’d like to spell out for you that many of us believe. And lets see, after we have examined this myth if this is more or less comforting than the beautiful myth of redemption in say, for example, the Bible. Ah, the myth is something like this: “There are billions and billions of stars. The Earth’s is a tiny one. We crawl across it for a few seconds, and then we individually are gone, and billions and billions of eons of time before, and billions afterwards pass, and the earth eventually goes out like a cinder, and perhaps the whole universe collapses into itself. And after all that has happened, absolutely nothing will have been done.”

Now, that’s a very important myth, many of us believe that one too. But against that background, it becomes difficult as we chip away at our daily little lives… selling shoes, selling tyres, teaching class… to try to find any damn thing that means anything. So our search through Nietzsche will not be a search for dogmatic answers to that question, but to follow his quest and ours for a form of self creation under circumstances and with a background of myth that do not make it seem likely that we will have a happy result. So the end of my first lecture is that our interpretive efforts here too, are bound to fail.

Nietzsche and the Postmodern Condition (1991)
Rick Roderick, Ph. D.
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Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny.mov

Transcript: The last lecture on Nietzsche is quite a challenge since one of Nietzsche’s arguments are there are no “lasts”. There are no last interpretations, there are no last desperate moments, in fact it’s a little remark about history that I might begin this so-called last lecture with. It’s that the spirit of danger and catastrophe we may feel ourselves in today is in a sense profoundly ahistorical. I have a feeling that in a certain way perhaps every moment of history has seemed at least to some of its participants to be a profound moment of danger, and certainly if one looks back over the trail of history it’s much easier to see its barbaric ruin than its rational progress. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 7: Nietzsche as Artist.mov

Transcript: In this lecture I’d like to discuss Nietzsche as artist, and also – I don’t know if it’s on what we might call the course syllabus, but – Nietzsche and his political uses, and the two are deeply interconnected. I have said that I don’t want to treat Nietzsche as a mere literary figure, and when I say “Nietzsche as Artist”, I have in mind this strong project of self creation, which is to make one’s own life a work of art. A very difficult thing is to sculpt oneself; it’s much easier to sculpt in stone than to sculpt in that invisible mysterious material of the self. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 6: The Will to Power.mov

Transcript: I’d like to wrap up my remarks about self creation, self invention, and the challenge of The Eternal Recurrence by saying that we need to remember that this has to do… that this has to do with what I mentioned later in the lecture: the love of fate. Loving the place you have found yourself in history. And sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do, and for me that’s a quite personal remark that has to do with my own self invention. To try to love the place I have found myself in history, like many other people now is… I find that difficult. Nietzsche on the other hand thought it might be difficult, but it was a challenge that we should attempt to meet. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 5: The Eternal Recurrence.mov

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. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 4: The Death of God.mov

Transcript: In this lecture I want to pick up on my discussion of “On the Genealogy of Morals” by Nietzsche and return our argument concerning the value of our values, the origins of our ethical judgements and so on, and look at the question of – as I stated in the opening lecture – the paradoxical situation that our morality may, oddly enough, have an immoral origin. And so this is the argument to which we will return. One of the points I didn’t make about the genealogical method in the last lecture, I want to make now and it’s very important. When we look genealogically at “The Greeks” as a type, or Christianity; Nietzsche uses a kind of typology where we don’t look for who speaks in a document, but for as it were, what motivates the speaker behind the document. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 3: Nietzsche as Master of Suspicion and Immoralist.mov

Transcript: Lecture three will be on a topic I richly enjoy, because I have in a way made suggestive remarks about Nietzsche, but I hope they have also been substantive at least in this regard. I understand that there is much debate on these contentious positions concerning the rather untruthful origins of truth; by that I mean its origin within the human community. Ah, and the contentious contention that relativism and so-called “perspectivism” are not threats, but rather challenges to our creative and interpretative imaginations and powers. Also I have tried to make the brief but substantive case that facts do not occur independent of their interpretations; that facts are implicated in interpretations. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 2: Nietzsche on Truth and Lie.mov

Transcript: Lecture two will attempt to answer one of the paradoxes I raised in the first lecture – and this will be a specific form of it – and that’s a rather famous charge in philosophy. In fact this is the charge of relativism and one of the things that professional philosophers do in order to display their professional credentials is to respond to the relativist and to the sceptic. Nietzsche has been accused of being a relativist. One form of this accusation is a kind of mislabelling – in my opinion it’s a mislabelling – of Nietzsche’s view about the function of truth and lie; he opposes that to true and false. Truth and lie; the function of that within philosophical discourse, he has an account of that we are going to discuss. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker.mov

Transcript: The first lecture will be an introduction to Nietzsche that I have called “Myth and Mythmaker”. I’d like to say a little bit about his life because there is really not too much to say about it. It will only take a few minutes, I think, to summarise. He had a really unexciting life, and so we need to distinguish right away two things. One is what I like to call “The Nietzsche Effect”, and I am a child of the sixties, so I am very familiar with the so-called “Nietzsche Effect”, and that’s the effect that Nietzsche has on adolescent young males who read him for the first time [crowd laughter] and begin to name their cars “Ubermensch” wagons, ah, and begin to quote Nietzsche in order to date women who dress in black, as I am dressed today, and the Nietzsche fascination. That characterises one’s first encounter and certainly it characterised my first encounter with Nietzsche as well. View Full Article »