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Monday, January 16, 2023

Natural Law reading group, Week 8, RAW on Nietzsche

Nietzsche in 1869 (public domain photo). 

This week's focus for the Natural Law reading group is the piece "F.W. Nietzsche: A New Writer," only six pages long, published in 1984 in the New Libertarian. Wilson is always enjoyable when he is explaining his enthusiasm for a particular writer or artist. 

Here is the bit that I imagine being made into a meme by Rasa:

To live in the Nietzschean multi-varied universe, to pick one's values out of infinite possibilities, sames like painful choice to the existentialist, blasphemy to the Christian, monstrosity to the Objectivist; but is is actually only to become consciously an artist. All art begins with Chaos, with infinite vistas suddenly opening, and proceeds through play and permutation into new Creativity (the sublimated Will to Power, Nietzsche calls it) -- going from the ridiculous to the sublime, as it were.

Or as Nietzsche sums it up in one lightning-like sentence, "One must have Chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star."  

In "Left and Right: A Non-Euclidian Perspective," RAW wrote about Nietzsche, ""I still re-read one or two of his books every year, and get new semantic insights from them."

I have never read Nietzsche -- he's one of those writers that I know I ought to read but haven't gotten around to -- so I'm at a disadvantage this week. Still, I'm not completely helpless.

1. RAW's interest in Nietzsche raises the question of where to begin with the philosopher's writings. As I noted in a 2017 blog post, Eric Wagner's often-useful An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson lists two books that RAW said everyone should read:  Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. In one list, RAW specifies the H.L. Mencken translation of The Anti-Christ

2. The comments in that 2017 blog post are very helpful. There are recommendations on what Nietzsche works to read and comments on the philosopher's influence on other writers. And there's this from RAW biographer Prop Anon: "RAW read started reading a lot of Nietzsche when struck by depression during his Berkeley days. He said N's words really helped.

"Then when he was in Ireland he read even more Nietzsche, whose polemic style, along with Swift, greatly influenced his approach to The New Inquisition and Natural Law."

3. There is also an interview by Mark Dery, cited in this blog post. Here is a perhaps useful bit:

Dery: You’ve mentioned Nietzsche. In your introduction to Semiotext(e) SF, you wrote, “I, like Bob Black, have a Nietzsche trigger finger.” What did you mean by that?

Wilson: Bob Black used that expression before me; I was giving him credit for it. I don’t know what he meant, but what I meant was that, like Nietzsche, I philosophize with a hammer. Nietzsche gave me the problem I’ve wrestled with all my life, which is: Why do I choose one course as better than another? He undermined all my traditional morality and yet I haven’t become a mass murderer, so I must have a morality, but what’s it based on?

I’ve struggled with that problem all my adult life and although I don’t claim to have solved it, I think I’m beginning to shed some light on it after decades of mulling it over. My morality derives from the world I will to exist. The concept that all men are created equal is obviously not true – some are taller, some write better poetry, etcetera – but that concept represents an affirmation of a certain type of will, the democratic will, which Nietzsche didn’t like, whereas I do. This allows me to be a First Amendment absolutist even though I’m a relativist philosophically; I will a world in which there are no interferences with freedom of expression. I don’t claim I can prove that such a world should exist, just that I wish it existed. That’s how you can be an absolutist and a relativist at the same time.


Eric Wagner said...

I tried to read Nietzsche a number of times in my twenties unsuccessfully, then the week I turned thirty I read a bunch of his books very quickly. I contemplated reading Nietzsche when I turned sixty, but I decided not to. I liked "The Portable Nietzsche."

Spookah said...

The Will to Power also is a book by Nietzsche, or rather a collection of thoughts and aphorisms that got put together. So perhaps this also could be a good starting point in his bibliography, as one can easily just read a few pages at a time.

The Borges story RAW talks about in the beginning is called Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. The wikipedia page I found interesting:,_Author_of_the_Quixote
Although this appears a different translation than the one in my Penguin edition copy, a scan is available here:
I do not recall Wilson referencing Borges elsewhere, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it here, as I like the Argentinian author and can see why his oeuvre would appeal to sombunall RAW aficionados.

Rarebit Fiend said...

Like Spookah, I was also happy to see Borges mentioned. I would have loved to talked to Wilson about "The Aleph" or "Funes." Or read what he had to say about the other stories.

I think this is the first time I've ever been sympathetic to a formalist-style of reading. (What Wilson presents isn't strictly formalist but it does do away with the context of Nietzsche's biography and times.) In fact, I think this is an interesting way to further one's understanding of author-intent (what I usually choose as my reading style).

Having read Nietzsche in those heady years while occultism got its tendril deep inside me, I never understood those who read him as "dark" or insane. I always thought that Nietzsche was someone who was capable of imagining a better world and was justly disappointed with the one we inhabit. That isn't dark at all to me- but I have big problems with acceptance.

I recommend starting with his best known work- Zarathustra, which is one of the most immediately engaging books of philosophy I've ever read. My wife bought me a different translation for my birthday last year and I still need to read it. Maybe we can do that together sometime this year Tom, along with the other books you've sent me.

Spookah said...

At first glance, it might look as if the influence of the ‘Pierre Menard’ Borges story stops after the paragraph where RAW imposes unto Nietzsche modern notions such as “logical positivism”, “general semantics”, or “Discordian”. But I would argue that there might be another meta level at play here.

The imagined rewritten pages of the Quixote “are much richer and more complex, simply because we know they are the work of a French intellectual contemporary with Freud and Lenin and Einstein.” (p. 129)
So the difference does not appear to be in the text itself, but rather lies as it might in the eye of the beholder. Or, “we are all better artist than we realize”, which is an important point of this essay. So RAW applies the ideas from the Borges story to Nietzsche because one of Nietzsche’s arguments highlighted here is that there is “infinite meaning in infinite flux, and Will to Power, the spirit of abundance and creativity” (p. 131).

The use of Borges in particular seems fitting, as the Argentinian author was fond ideas relating to infinity, recursivity, or fractal-like worlds, concepts that all came to play important roles in chaos mathematics. And of course, the character of Don Quixote himself was ‘a great artist’, as he was perceiving giants where others would only see windmills.

Regarding Nietzsche as a Discordian, I think two aspects seem relevant. First, the quote “one must have Chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” Then, the idea that the “Nitezschean humor contains his ultimate ‘message’”. The power of humor as a mean to deal effectively with Chaos in order to construct a happier reality-tunnel for oneself.
Back in Neurological Relativism, RAW was already writing “that is why Discordianism is such a jolly flavor of nihilism. There is joy ineffable in freedom from fixed ideas.”

Laugh is the law, laugh under Will.

Oz Fritz said...

Nietzsche has a widely varying reception. You can find radically different interpretations of what people think about his philosophy and worldview. He profoundly influenced Crowley, Gurdjieff, Joyce and Pynchon along with RAW but also had his philosophy twisted into the Nazi mythology. I recently heard a podcast with the author discussing his new book warning about reading Nietzsche as it could lead to alt right radicalization, etc.

One of the discussion questions in the Tales of the Tribe course concerned his concept of the Eternal Return as found in Finnegans Wake.

Some people regard N. as a nihilist ("God is dead," etc.), in this essay RAW says he denounces nihilism. In Nietzsche and Philosophy Deleuze says he distinguished different kinds of nihilism and denounced some and accepted others. I can accept the latter, it seems the Buddhist kind of nihilism has compassion embedded in it as opposed to a scorched earth kind of nihilism that only wants to destroy.

Coincidentally, Nietzsche had a role in my last Deleuze Logic of Sense video. Borges gets quoted in the next chapter which I hope to record today. This quote from the essay parallels Deleuze:

"I think Nietzsche is more contemporary by saying that what remains is Chaos, infinite meaning in infinite flux, and Will to Power, the spirit of abundance and creativity, which is not One, not a final principal or a God-in-disguise, but just the resultant of the forces that make up the mesh of Chaos." p. 131

Deleuze calls "infinite meaning in infinite flux" singularities, sense, or events (the three terms appear synonymous). He calls the "spirit of abundance and creativity" univocity. Creativity implies an organizing principal of some sort. Deleuze borrows the portmanteau "chaosmos" from Joyce to indicate creativity or order out of chaos - chaos plus cosmos.

This next quote from p.132 gives Wilson's version of chaosmos:

"Chaos, then, is Nietzsche's poetic shorthand for the recognition that the universe is infinite Becoming rather than static Being; and the Will to Power is the resultant of all forces tending to creativity, innovation, and the sheer joy of imposing one's own meaning on this universal flux."

"Imposing one's own meaning ..." parallels Deleuze's notion that sense must get produced. The first chapter in Logic of Sense discusses "Pure Becoming."

I find some of Nietzsche's writing hard to engage with and get into more because of his writing style than difficult concepts. Ecce Homo ironically, the last book that he did himself, might be a good place to start. The subtitle is How to Becomes What One Is.. He billed it as his autobiography, by that he means he gives his (very high) opinions on his previous books - he doesn't write about his life. It appears short and direct, almost like he knew this would be the last before his descent into madness. In that book he mentions that he has gained the know-how to reverse perspectives.

Oz Fritz said...

Thanks for highlighting RAW showing the importance of humor in Nietzsche, Spookah. It also appears central in Deleuze's Logic of Sense project and in Marxist (the Brothers, not Karl) ideology.

The end of the essay sees Wilson suggesting that overly serious Nietzsche commentators didn't understand him. Earlier he mentioned Heidegger who authored a very thick, serious and ponderous four volume work on Nietzsche. He lectured on Nietzsche beginning in the mid 1930s. I got about 4 pages into it when I decided - not for me!

A group of reading of Thus Spake Zarathustra at some point gets my vote; great idea!