Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 22 November 2012

POSTCARD FROM AMSTERDAM - Zuidersee, Nietzsche on Christian-Bourgeois Society and its Neuroses

The disregarding [Ubersehen, overseeing or “forgetting” that human memory
enables us to do] of the individual and real furnishes us
with the concept [Begriff, the idea as more than mere perception
or Bild, but as “conscious thought”, as the deception of
self-consciousness”, “logical reflection” and “truth-as-certainty”], as it likewise also
gives us the form; whereas nature knows of no forms and concepts,
and therefore knows no categories [Gattungen, term used by Kant]
but only an x, to us inaccessible and indefinable.

For our antithesis of individual and categories is anthropomorphic too
[i.e. is of purely human origin] and does not come from the essence of things,
although on the other hand we do not dare to say that it does not correspond
to it; for that would be a dogmatic assertion and as such just as
undemonstrable as its contrary. (p.180)

Das Übersehen des Individuellen und Wirklichen gibt uns den Begriff, wie es uns auch die Form gibt, wohingegen die Natur keine Formen und Begriffe, also auch keine Gattungen kennt, sondern nur ein für uns unzugängliches und undefinierbares X. Denn auch unser Gegensatz von Individuum und Gattung ist anthropomorphisch und entstammt nicht dem Wesen der Dinge, wenn wir auch nicht zu sagen wagen, dass er ihm nicht entspricht: das wäre nämlich eine dogmatische Behauptung und als solche ebenso unerweislich wie ihr Gegenteil.

We wish to establish in this section that at the time of dictating the notes on Uber Wahrheit und Luge Nietzsche had yet to overcome the following limitations on his radical critique of Christian-bourgeois society that will later be explicated much more powerfully in the 'Genealogie' and in the 'Gaya Scienza'. First, Nietzsche relies still on the Platonic chorismos or 'separation' of "subjective perception" and "objective reality", not so much in terms of the existence of "ideas" or, as he calls them, "primal forms", but certainly in relation to the existence of a "real world" of ob-jects separate from human perception. Secondly, he relies on the "anthropomorphism" of scientific concepts to illustrate and prove their one-sidedness, rather than elaborate an implicit critique of scientific practice in the context of antagonistic societies. Third, he relies on "habituation" and "convention" as the causes and origins of scientific practice and its ante litteram Weberian "disenchantment and rationalisation of the world". Finally, despite his emphasis on "the ontogeny of thought" and the physiological role of human instincts in its evolution from instincts of freedom to the self-dissolution of Christian-bourgeois society and its transcendental metaphysical tradition, Nietzsche failed to historicise these instincts because of his emphasis on onto-genetic factors rather than rely (as Hegel and Marx did) on phylo-genetic ones.

Notice one important thing: - and that is that Nietzsche is still referring to “nature” as “an X to us inaccessible and indefinable”. Similarly, earlier he equivocated on the fact that concepts seek to make “equal” what are “altogether unequal experiences”. And he also referred to “man” as an “artistically creative Subject”. But all this suggests that in his mind “nature” is still some kind of “ob-ject” that ec-sists in op-position to (Gegen-stand) human beings even though this ob-ject, is “in-accessible and in-definable to us”! This suspicion about Nietzsche’s mistaken formulation and understanding of the problem of perception is confirmed in the following quotation:

If he were able to get out of the prison
walls of this faith, even for an instant only, his "self-consciousness"
would be destroyed at once. Already
it costs him some trouble to admit to himself that the
insect and the bird perceive a world different from his
own, and that the question, which of the two world perceptions is more accurate, is quite a senseless one, since to decide this question it would be necessary
to apply the standard of right perception, i.e., to apply
a standard which does not exist. On the whole it
seems to me that the "right perception"—which
would mean the adequate expression of an object in
the subject—is a nonentity full of contradictions:
for between two utterly different spheres, as between
subject and object, there is no causality, no accuracy,
no expression, but at the utmost an aesthetical relation,
I mean a suggestive metamorphosis [Ubertragung], a stammering
translation [Ubersetzung] into quite a distinct foreign language, for
which purpose however there is needed at any rate
an intermediate sphere, an intermediate force, freely
composing and freely inventing. The word "phenomenon" [Erscheinung]
contains many seductions, and on that
account I avoid it as much as possible, for it is not
true that it is the essence of things that [only, merely – blosse] appears in the empiric

…wenn er einen Augenblick nur aus den Gefängniswänden dieses Glaubens heraus könnte, so wäre es sofort mit seinem »Selbstbewusstsein« vorbei. Schon dies kostet ihn Mühe, sich einzugestehen, wie das Insekt oder der Vogel eine ganz andere Welt perzipieren als der Mensch, und dass die Frage, welche von beiden Weltperzeptionen richtiger ist, eine ganz sinnlose ist, da hierzu bereits mit dem Maßstabe der richtigen Perzeption, das heißt mit einem nicht vorhandenen Maßstabe, gemessen werden müsste. Überhaupt aber scheint mir »die richtige Perzeption« - das würde heißen: der adäquate Ausdruck eines Objekts im Subjekt - ein widerspruchsvolles Unding: denn zwischen zwei absolut verschiedenen Sphären, wie zwischen Subjekt und Objekt, gibt es keine Kausalität, keine Richtigkeit, keinen Ausdruck, sondern höchstens ein ästhetisches Verhalten, ich meine eine andeutende Übertragung, eine nachstammelnde Übersetzung in eine ganz fremde Sprache: wozu es aber jedenfalls einer frei dichtenden und frei erfindenden Mittelsphäre und Mittelkraft bedarf. Das Wort »Erscheinung« enthält viele Verführungen, weshalb ich es möglichst vermeide: denn es ist nicht wahr, dass das Wesen der Dinge in der empirischen Welt erscheint.

Again here Nietzsche is still torn between the “arti-ficiality” of scientific metaphors that pretend to discover “the real perception”, on one side, and on the other side the “genuineness” of intuitive perceptions whose im-mediacy reminds us of their contingency or lack of “necessity”, of “truth”. Thus, it is not “the essence of things” that “appears” in the empirical world”, but simply a set of “appearances” that can never penetrate and embody (through mimesis or imitation) that “X inaccessible and undefinable to us”. Yet the fact that this “X” is taken by Nietzsche to ec-sist as “nature” and that for him there is a need for “an intermediate sphere, an intermediate force” for its “translation” or “metamorphosis” into meta-phors – this fact alone is conclusive evidence that the philosopher of Rocken has not at this early stage abandoned completely the chorismos or schism of reality into “re-ality” or “thing-in-itself” independent and opposed to “phenomena” or “mere appearances” – a schism that has characterized Western philosophy from Plato to mediaeval Scholasticism and Neoplatonism through to Kant and German Classical Idealism as well as Neo-Kantism and beyond. [Note from Cassirer on Cusano – methexis.]

Despite this equivocation, Nietzsche rightly observes here that immediate perception (Art and myth-making) and conceptual reflection (logico-mathematics and science) differ only as activities, with the latter clearly associated with the “intellect” (Verstand) and the former with “intuition” (Anschauung), but not in their “origin and development” (Ursprung, Entstehung, Entwicklung) which cannot be distinguished in an ontological or anthropological sense. And it is clearly the mnemonic faculty, the human ability to remember experiences and therefore to conceptualise them meta-phorically by “holding on” to them, by re-flecting on them and subjecting them to ana-lysis (retrospective dissection, separation) – it is this “memory” that allows humans to set up an artificial “anti-thesis” between the “individual and real” experiences or “phenomena” or “appearances” (Ent-scheidungen), on one side, and the “conceptual categories and forms” that abstract from those experiences and “form-alise” them in such a way that “the unequal becomes equal” and the human practical search for the “certainty” of the outcomes of actions becomes confused with the ec-sistence of “truth” and “the essence of things” and “re-ality”. Nietzsche will tackle the provenance of this “search for certainty” soon, but we will leave the discussion of this until later.

Memory or the “duration” (Bergson) or “intentionality” (Husserl) of a thought is what Nietzsche identifies as the ontogeny of thought that leads from the instincts (Triebe), through “self-consciousness” - that is to say, the ability of humans to delude themselves that their thoughts can “adequately re-present or mimic” their contents in the unity of an individual ego or self  -, to what he calls “the sense of Truth” (Wahrheit-sinn or Gefuhl der Wahrheit), and ultimately to “the pathos of distance” (Pathos der Distanz, in GM Ess.1, Aphs.2, 14) whereby humans separate their lived experiences including their mutual relations into (unreal, false) “phenomena” or “appearances” or “lies” and “Reality” or “Truth”. It is the “lingering” of thoughts in our memory that allows them to turn into “concepts” or “primal forms” (Plato), to turn from intuitive perceptions into conceptual categories. And it is this “lingering” of memory that allows humans to forget the uniqueness of each perception and to establish regularities and predictions between these perceptions through overarching formal abstractions or concepts. This faculty of human memory then leads us into believing that we have a faculty of “reason” that allows us to reflect on experiences rationally, by means of numerical metaphors, and to be “in-dividually conscious” of this ability, which is then confused with the ability to penetrate “the essence of things” and therefore “the Truth”.

Now man of course forgets that matters are going
thus with him; he therefore lies in that fashion pointed
out unconsciously and according to habits of centuries'
standing—and by this very unconsciousness, by this very
forgetting, he arrives at a sense for truth. (p181)

Nun vergisst freilich der Mensch, dass es so mit ihm steht; er lügt also in der bezeichneten Weise unbewusst und nach hundertjährigen Gewöhnungen - und kommt durch diese Unbewusstheit, eben durch dies Vergessen zum Gefühl der Wahrheit (p.181)

Nur durch die Vergesslichkeit kann der Mensch je dazu kommen zu wähnen, er besitze eine »Wahrheit« in dem eben bezeichneten Grade. Wenn er sich nicht mit der Wahrheit in der Form der Tautologie, das heißt mit leeren Hülsen begnügen will, so wird er ewig Illusionen für Wahrheiten einhandeln. Was ist ein Wort? Die Abbildung eines Nervenreizes in Lauten. Von dem Nervenreiz aber Weiterzuschließen auf eine Ursache außer uns, ist bereits das Resultat einer falschen und unberechtigten Anwendung des Satzes vom Grunde.

Not only, then, do human beings “forget” that their memories cannot re-produce immediate experiences indefinitely, as if memories expressed in concepts could ever be “equal” to the original unique experiences that are already represented metaphorically. But also, Nietzsche is reminding us here that this is done “unconsciously”! In other words, not only can memories and concepts never replace original experiences as if these could be repeated infinitely, but also this “forgetting” is something that human beings do – not “consciously” but “unconsciously”, instinctively, that is to say, without the assistance of a mythical “self-consciousness” or “ego” or “reason” that can adequately mimic life and the world and unite thought and its contents into an “individual subject-object”! It is this “life of the instincts” or “drives” (Triebe, the term later borrowed by Freud from Nietzsche to describe “the Unconscious”) that Nietzsche identifies and explores long before Freud will turn his attention to what he will call psychoanalysis.

The aim of the early notes Uber Wahrheit und Luge (1873) written soon after the Geburt der Tragoedie is still simply to isolate this “sense of Truth” (Gefuhl der Wahrheit, Wahrheit-sinn), this “instinct of truth” (Trieb der Wahrheit). The Instinct of Truth is the earliest intimation of the future direction of Nietzsche’s thought: it is the earliest intimation of those Instincts of Freedom that will culminate in the concept of Will to Power. The plural Instinkte here was certainly meant by Nietzsche to emphasize the plurality and indeterminateness of the instinctive forces that act on the human psyche as well as their physiological origin - and therefore to dispel the “human all-too human” delusion of identity, conscience, mind, self-hood or indeed “transcendental ego” (Husserl). This is the turbulent and tempestuous Zuidersee of the human mind that is in need of exploration and bonification.

Nietzsche is already searching for the genealogy of morals and understands early that the Apollonian/Dionysian opposition between intellect and intuition, reason and ec-stasis, is a way for the former to impose an artificial, “Christian-bourgeois” style of behaviour and life on the latter by proving the “superiority” of the intellect over the passions. Nietzsche comes to see “consciousness” or intellect as a “mask”, as a ruse, as the beginning of that “ontogeny of thought” that will shape the “transition” from the neutral state of the state of nature to the conventional “values” of liberal Christian-bourgeois society and its “apparent”, “idealistic” or utilitarian reconciliation of the system of needs, the Economic, with the sphere of exchange and the homologation of values in the Political – which is what makes possible the “science” of Political Economy.

The “effectuality” of this homologation, the “possibility” of the reproduction of liberal Christian-bourgeois civil society is what seems to confirm and validate the scientific calculation, regularity and predictability of the symbolic exchange, of the “Truth” and the “values” of Christian-bourgeois society – what Nietzsche calls “the eternal rigidity, omnipresence, and infallibility of nature's laws [Naturgesetzen]”, where “everything is quite secure, complete, infinite, determined, and continuous” – that is, the inter-subjectivity of its symbolic interaction - all of which boils down to the “Value” of Political Economy, the quidditas or “whatness”, the quantifiable and calculable hard reality that makes possible the social synthesis. For Nietzsche, the Political is the continuation of civil war by other [symbolic, metaphoric, false, conventional] means. This “dissimulation” is simply a ruse to enforce a certain “polite” life-style that serves to protect the persona of the individual in a society that needs to keep at bay the state of nature. This “convention” is simply a means of self-preservation and self-protection – a “device” (cf. Heidegger’s Zustand and Gestell, or even Foucault’s dispositif) that seeks to elevate mere “conventions” and symbols, such as language and science, to the status of “truth”. Truth therefore is not just a perspective but it is also a convention that humans elevate to “the measure of all things” in an attempt to make the world “familiar”, “manageable” and “safe”.

The question of why human beings come to place their faith in “science and progress” is one that Nietzsche will explore meticulously later with the concept of Will to Power. For the moment, in 1873, he can merely describe the difficulty in frustrated “constructivist” terms, thinking that “iteration”, sheer “long use and now-unconscious custom”, mere “persistence”, can serve as an explanation of the mathesis. For the moment his analysis is confined to a mere “phenomenology and perspectivism”. Nietzsche makes his exasperation at his own inability to isolate the relevant causes evident in a string of oft-quoted passages:

Still we do not yet know whence the instinct of truth
[Trieb der Wahrheit] comes… (p180)

Wir wissen immer noch nicht, woher der Trieb zur Wahrheit stammt:

…only by all this does he [man] live with some repose, safety and
consequence [Ruhe, Sicherheit und Konsequenz:…]. (p.184)

If he were able to get out of the prison
walls of this faith, even for an instant only, his "self-consciousness"
would be destroyed at once. Already
it costs him some trouble to admit to himself that the
insect and the bird perceive a world different from his

Surely every human being who is at home with
such contemplations has felt a deep distrust against
any idealism of that kind, as often as he has distinctly
convinced himself of the eternal rigidity, omnipresence, and infallibility
of nature's laws [Naturgesetzen]: he has arrived at the conclusion that as far as we can penetrate the heights of the telescopic and the depths of the microscopic world, everything is quite secure, complete, infinite, determined, and continuous.
Science will have to dig in these shafts eternally
and successfully and all things found are sure to
have to harmonise and not to contradict one another. (p186)

And as the man of action binds his life to reason and its
concepts, in order to avoid being swept away and losing
himself, so the seeker after truth builds his hut close
to the towering edifice of science in order to collaborate with it and
to find protection. And he needs protection. (Beginning of Part 2)

Clearly at this early stage, Nietzsche is still confined within the “velleitary and arbitrary”, metaphorical and anthropomorphic assessment of physical mathematics, of mathesis. He fails to identify, except for his fallacious insistence on “persistence” and “crystallization and sclerosis”, the problem of why science and logic as specific “practices” have come about, of why they have “triumphed”. And above all he fails to explain how they could have done so, - again, outside of sheer habit, repetition and therefore con-vention (“persistency” [Verharren] and “crystallisation and sclerosis” [Hart- und Starr-werden])! Nietzsche is mixing up the arbitrariness of signifiers (semeiotics) with the problem of scientific causation – which is in practice only regularity and predictability. He still fails to see that it is not the “predictability” that is a “convention”, but rather the “direction of scientific and technological practice” that responds to “antagonistic values” being presented as “objectivity” or “necessity” or “causality” when in reality it occurs in “conventional experimental circumstances” which supply the problematic, all-important “nexus” between scientific concepts and "scientific reality".

2. As we saw, it is language which has worked originally at the
construction of concepts; in later times it is science. Just as the bee
works at the same time at the cells and fills them with honey, thus
science works irresistibly at that great columbarium of ideas, the
cemetery of intuitions, builds ever newer and higher
storeys; supports, purifies, renews the old cells, and
endeavours above all to fill that gigantic framework and to arrange
within it the whole of the empiric world, i.e., the anthropomorphic

2. An dem Bau der Begriffe arbeitet ursprünglich, wie wir sahen, die Sprache, in späteren Zeiten die Wissenschaft. Wie die Biene zugleich an den Zellen baut und die Zellen mit Honig füllt, so arbeitet die Wissenschaft unaufhaltsam an jenem großen Kolumbarium der Begriffe, der Begräbnisstätte der Anschauungen, baut immer neue und höhere Stockwerke, stützt, reinigt, erneut die alten Zellen und ist vor allem bemüht, jenes ins Ungeheure aufgetürmte Fachwerk zu füllen und die ganze empirische Welt, das heißt die anthropomorphische Welt, hineinzuordnen.

Because “perceptions” of “events” differ, the human from that of the bee, for instance, there cannot be any knowledge of “the thing in itself” – “nur ein für uns unzugängliches und undefinierbares X”. At the same time, Nietzsche rejects the very notion of “thing-in-itself” because its “reality” is not separate from that of its perception (cf. Schopenhauer’s objection to Kantian antinomies and his ante litteram Lukacsian notion of “identical subject-object”). Even “relationships” that can be established between different perceptions can provide only yet another “perspective” from which to interpret the world, but not a “final, objective” perspective. All that can be established then - not “proven” or “explained” but merely “described” - are these “regularities” that can be given numerical expression in space and time and be exploited instrumentally by humans. Consequently, these “regularities” are mere “conventions”, anthropomorphic metaphors or metonymies.

The very relation of a nerve-stimulus to the produced
percept is in itself no necessary one; but if the same
percept has been reproduced millions of times and has
been the inheritance of many successive generations of
man, and in the end appears each time to all mankind
as the result of the same cause, then it attains finally
for man the same importance as if it were the unique,
necessary percept and as if that relation between
the original nerve-stimulus and the percept produced
were a close relation of causality: just as
a dream eternally repeated, would be perceived and
judged as though real. But the congelation and
coagulation of a metaphor does not at all guarantee
the necessity and exclusive justification of that metaphor. (p185)

Selbst das Verhältnis eines Nervenreizes zu dem hervorgebrachten Bilde ist an sich kein notwendiges: wenn aber dasselbe Bild millionenmal hervorgebracht und durch viele Menschengeschlechter hindurch vererbt ist, ja zuletzt bei der gesamten Menschheit jedesmal infolge desselben Anlasses erscheint, so bekommt es endlich für den Menschen dieselbe Bedeutung, als ob es das einzig notwendige Bild sei und als ob jenes Verhältnis des ursprünglichen Nervenreizes zu dem hergebrachten Bilde ein strenges Kausalitätsverhältnis sei: wie ein Traum, ewig wiederholt, durchaus als Wirklichkeit empfunden und beurteilt werden würde. Aber das Hart- und Starr-Werden einer Metapher verbürgt durchaus nichts für die Notwendigkeit und ausschließliche Berechtigung dieser Metapher.
The problem with Nietzsche's "true phenomenology and perspectivism" is precisely that the “regularities and predictions” of scientific mathesis are often so strong that they go beyond the mere notion of “convention” and "habituation"; that they may be “arbitrary” in their designation but “necessary”, not in a physical sense but in a socio-political one in that they lie outside the will of some humans, in their “regularity and predictability”. Nietzsche is simply not dealing with the fact that it is not our “designation” of each separate “leaf” with the symbol “leaf” that is the problem: the problem is that this designation is effectual in the prediction of what a “leaf” will do in different "experimental" situations created by human beings that belong to an antagonistic society . And this is what constitutes a “political practice”! So Nietzsche simply does not confront yet this “political practice” as inter-subjectively valid science! Although he clearly perceives the problem of what constitutes this validity, of this “effectuality”, whereby “truth” and “science” may be “un-masked” and de-mystified, he simply is unable yet to go beyond a rudimentary “conventional” explanation of scientific practice as more than “persistence” or "habituation" and “self-deception” that have sunk to the level of “necessity” and “instinct”. The question we need to answer next is whether despite these early failures we can find already in this early work the seeds for a more thorough-going critique of social and scientific reality in Nietzsche that can lead us to lay new foundations for the critique of the Christian-bourgeois society of capital.

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