The Preface to the Genealogy–Moooooooo!!

I am ruminating about the origins of evil.

I am ruminating about the origins of evil

by cheri block sabraw

For those readers who have not read Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality, I’ll begin by saying that the material is lively and told by an evocative storyteller.

And although I am the only one in the seminar who hasn’t read the entire week’s assignment, so I may be reacting prematurely, the Preface and First Essay reminded me of holding hands with a serious genius and walking into a fun house in which my reality might take on a new reality. Does this make sense?

The discussion opened this morning with a question about the Preface.

What are we to make of the importance of the task of investigating Nietzsche’s treatise on the genealogy of morality and what was the function of the Preface?

What was Nietzsche up to in the Preface?

So asked the tutors, the name appointed to the professors at St. John’s College.

The usual several minutes of meditative silence were broken in about 30 seconds with the following observations and questions from the seminar members:

•    The Preface is Nietzsche’s personal genealogy.
•    Morality is a personal construct.
•    Can morality be in the realm of knowledge or being?
•    We may be profoundly wounded and/or profoundly delighted in the reading of the    material.
•    Is Nietzsche’s intention pedagogic?
•    Why do we need to conduct a genealogy of morality as a way to understand our own morality?
•    What is the philological approach and how does it help our understanding of Nietzsche’s polemic (as he labels it)?

Listening to others’ observations about Nietzsche is stimulating, to be sure.

As for me, here are some of my thoughts about the Preface.

Nietzsche opened his Preface with a statement that we humans do not know ourselves, and we avoid this “knowing” because of necessity. I thought here about Socrates, who believed we could never know or have true knowledge.

Nietzsche begins with a metaphor: bees. And we are busy in the hives of knowledge. In a few pages, his metaphors range from the dangerous land of thoughts, to thoughts and values like fruits on trees, to his own investigations that were worlds of secret gardens, to the Darwinian beast and finally he ends the Preface with the opposite of busy bees: a cow!! And we are to ruminate.

And ruminating I am!!

I love this progression of thought from a bee to a cow.

Tomorrow we discuss the First Essay and part of the Second Essay.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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7 Responses to The Preface to the Genealogy–Moooooooo!!

  1. andreaskluth says:

    “From bee to cow”. Just wait till you get to his Zarathustra: from camel to lion to child, in one single thought!

    I am green with envy! Almost two decades ago, I spent a year on this particular text, and now I’m querying my memory, and it’s letting me down. But that book shaped me. I’d love to know from you whether that’s because I was a teen boy, or because it was a good text.

    Hypocrisy: The weak and impotent inventing a “morality” (including a heaven and hell) to get vengeance on the strong and passionate for having more fun. That’s his diagnosis, as I recall.

    And what a way of getting there! Philology, the genealogy of words. German schlecht (bad) > <schlicht (plain, common), et cetera. Seeing in word roots how the multitude of the downtrodden overthrew values and vocabulary to vent their ressentiment on the elites.

    He wrote “polemics”, he said. His are not texts for agreeing or disagreeing. They’re texts for nodding, laughing, feeling, scorning.

    • Cheri says:

      “But that book shaped me. I’d love to know from you whether that’s because I was a teen boy, or because it was a good text. ”

      The book is a great text but it would be hard make a call here about why it shaped you at that time in your life. You were one way, you know, and then read the book, and then you were another way.

      It’s the word “way” that only you know.

  2. Cheri says:

    I’d say you have an amazing memory if you studied GM over 20 years ago and can still recall some of the specifics you listed above! Wow. And what a terrific education you must have had to be offered such dense and seminal pieces of philosophy as Z, BGE, and GM.

    In our seminar, made up of people from ages 20-80 (yes!), all of the above have happened. Eleven men, five women, two students from St. John’s and two tutors. Those taking the stuff the most seriously are the two students. 🙂

    Today: Aristocratic and slave morality, and Nietzsche’s thoughts on the origins of conscience and guilt.

  3. andreaskluth says:

    What was really interesting (drawing on his other books too) is how his views on aristocratic and slave morality made him view various cultures: He loooooved the Greeks and Arabs and Japanese (aristocratic warrior cultures in his mind) and loathed Christians and Buddhists (turn-the-other-cheekers). I think he got the Buddhists wrong, personally.

    Also interesting: His views on “pity”. A power trip on the part of the pitying party.

  4. Jag says:

    Hello Cheri – I too am envious of your opportunity for ruminating.

    I’ve never read Nietzsche, but am aware of his significant influence on our culture… makes me feel bad that I aught to read him…

    One point on origins and functions of morality, science, centuries after philosophers came up with the notion of a moral faculty, is beginning to come up with non trivial results. The view I most favour is that of John Haidt – we have an evolutionarily adaptive inbuilt moral intuitions – that are not conciously reasoned – good and relatively short summary here

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Jag,
      Haven’t read the link yet (will do when I return home), but the subject matter you reference is EXACTLY what we were discussing during the final session today.

  5. andreaskluth says:

    I haven’t re-read the link yet either (but I remember reading it in NYT Magazine), but yes, to a large extent evolutionary theory does replace ALL ethics in philosophy up to this point.

    Pretty amazing statement, really.

    That doesn’t make the old farts not worth reading, though. (Argh, there is that double negative again.)

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