Nietzsche out of context

Clock with Greek Letters

by cheri block sabraw

If I have learned anything this week, it is that Nietzsche cannot be taken out of context. His ideas are fascinating and expressed with a lively writing style that is anything but boring.

Yesterday, we spent most of our seminar reacting to and trying to understand his views on the ascetic ideal. He doesn’t like asceticism for a number of reasons and he illustrates his distaste for this self-centered act of self-denial by discussing the ascetic ideal as it pertains to artists, philosophers and scholars, women, priests, and saints.

He says that our will to power (that drive for control) is greater than our will to nothingness, but our will to nothingness is stronger than  not will.

Let me try to put the above thoughts into laywoman terms.

As humans, we want some power in our lives and will do anything to get it.
This drive is greater than our desire to reject every moral prerequisite that the human life experience throws our way (like guilt), but the desire to reject all that is is greater than nothing at all.

Now you see why I left my seminar and took pictures of sculptures and doorways.


Don't you even think about my will to nothingness!

Don't you even think about my will to nothingness!

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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18 Responses to Nietzsche out of context

  1. Phillip S Phogg says:

    It’s good that we shouldn’t take Nietzsche out of context, else we might misunderstand things he wrote, like:

    Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!

    Man should be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly

    Let woman be a plaything

    Everything about woman has one solution: pregnancy

    (Woman) she needs a religion of weakness that glorifies being weak, loving, and being humble as divine: or better, she makes the strong weak–she rules when she succeeds in overcoming the strong

    What Nietzsche said about women (Woman), was noted by Bertrand Russell, who said (or wrote): “The whole of his (Nietzsche’s) abuse of women is offered as self-evident truth; it is not backed up by evidence from history or from his own experience, which, so far as women were concerned, was almost confined to his sister……..”

    So, even no less a luminary than the great Bertrand Russell failed to see what Nietzsche said in the proper context.

    It all goes to show, doesn’t it?

    • Cheri says:

      His statements about pregnancy cracked me up.
      I haven’t read Bertrand Russell and appreciated your referencing him in your comments. Thanks.

  2. andreaskluth says:

    Nietzsche said that he wrote “polemic”, as opposed to “treatise”. And he often chose aphorisms (as opposed to paragraphs and chapters) to make his points.

    He did that deliberately: He knew that it would provoke people, enrage some but challenge others to enter a dialogue with themselves that might lead to insight.

    Somewhere he said that he wants readers to be “cows”: ruminating on his texts by swallowing them, vomiting them out again, re-swallowing, etc.

    Personally, I have always found that ruminating on Nietzsche is nourishing … and produces some flatulence

  3. Cheri says:

    Nourishing indeed! All week! Mole’ enchiladas,mojitos, and Nietzsche.

    Off to Los Alamos.

  4. I hate Bertrand Russell. He’s the reason undergrad philosophy students have to take symbolic logic.

    He is write to some extent though. Nietzsche didn’t care much for women, or at least the women he knew (his Nazi sister being among them).

    If you put his musing of women in context to his life, rather than his work, you can sort of excuse him for the slip-ups.

    Russell is right though. He doesn’t take Nietzche out of the context of his work. He only writes a few good thingd about women in the “Gay Science”. His failure to point that out may be telling, but the problem with Russell is that he was a, or I should say THE logical positivist.

    There is no one way to read Nietzsche and if you are going to read a person, first read about the person.

  5. Cheri says:

    Thanks Bahram.

    If I learned one thing here at St. John’s, there is not one way to read Nietzsche. In the ten hours we spent this week discussing the Genealogy, I came away with a deep respect for his intellect.

  6. andreaskluth says:

    On the matter of Nietzsche’s relationship to women: After studying this at some length years ago, I had to come to the shockingly modern and simple conclusion that the problem derived from Nietzsche’s inability …. to get laid.

    That is, women rejected him. There you have it. You would be sulky too.

    It gets worse: In what may or may not have been his only sexual encounter, he visited a prostitute. Some time later, he came down with syphilis. That’s when he started writing books with titles such as “Why I write such good books.”

    Cut the man a little slack. And just think what he would have philosophized if a woman had accepted him and forced him to do the dishes. (I am planning my own philosophical treatise just to get even for my part…)

  7. hold on a minute here. Nietzsche never claimed to be a feminist. Who gives a fuck what he had to say about women. He is still the most important philosopher of the western tradition since Plato.

    There would be no Heidegger, Foucault, Jung, Freud, Jaspers, Rorty, Sartre, and the list goes on, without Nietzsche.

    The Geneology of Morals is the worst place to start with him. Also, the title of the chapter from Ecce Homo is meant ironically: “Why I write sucj good books” is a satire of writing autobiographies in general. Why do people write them? Why else? To explain to others why their work and life is important, smart, wise, etc…

  8. Richard Manchester says:

    The wolf will lay down with the lambs.

    Time for a story.

    I have this friend called David. He was a poet and somehow whenever he wrote a poem in his own language it translated perfectly into English, as poetry.

    One day, I looked out of my bedroom window, thinking of the number 121. I often think of numbers. It helps. I suppose I am a square! Did David play the lyre? I don’t know what to believe. Since he was a politician and soldier, anything is possible.

    I took to walking to the office in the morning. The route is pleasantly suburban, but there is a very steep stretch called Church Way, leading to All Saints’ Church. You can see the spire as you climb. It is generally called Sanderstead Church. You are rewarded with an extensive view estending from Docklands in the East to Windsor in the West. A sunset here is a magnificent sight to behold, casting Newtonian tints across The City, ten miles away.

    The Church is an ancient one. There are hundreds, probably thousands, like it up and down the country. Sanderstead is beyond the outskirts of Croydon, which is now a humdrum place.The Archbisop of Canterbury had two palaces there. Modest little highways in Croydon called Laud Street and Cranmer Road carry bustling traffic. The Church, of course, once bore allegiance to the Pope. King John was excommunicated, though, and so were his subjects, I think.

    In its pursuit of logic instead of its traditional tolerance of the anomalous, the Church of England transferred Croydon out of the diocese of Canterbury into the Diocese of Southwark about twenty years ago. There is a Bishop of Croydon, but he is only a suffragen bishop, without a diocese.

    This logic leaves such destruction in its wake. The Church of England likes to collect tithes to repair church chancels, ruining ordinary folk. The right to do so is a melancholy and intricate journey from mediaeval Canon Law. English Courts had the chance to remove this injustice by invoking European Human Rights law. At first they did, but, as a political sop, our highest court, then the House of Lords, allowed it to remain. Some feel human rights laws commit atrocities. Sometimes it is better not to spell certain things out.

    In the days of Empire, another manifestation of our judicial system, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, heard appeals from the colonies, and still does, and also from parts of the Commonwealth. As a student, I was staggered by the nonchalant informality of these powerful courts. No wigs or robes, a casual debating atmosphere. Shoddy premises compared to other courts. Five top judges filing in a breath away to take their seats at a very ordinary committee table.

    As the result of an act of logical vandalism, The Supreme Court has recently replaced the House of Lords, conducting its business from magnificent, awe-inspiring premises, in a modern sort of way. The House of Lords has eaten its last supper.

    But I digress. The Rectors must have relished the same view of London as they walked beside the still waters of the village pond to deliver their sermons. I think of 23, a prime number and cross the busy Addington Road, which leads to one of the palaces, through the Lychgate and beside the same pond. Rampant mallard drakes disturb the waters. I am taken aback a little.

    My constitutional takes me down Limpsfield Road to my office on the left. Opposite is the village primary school. My children went there. My two sons are solicitors, one a partner in my firm, the other deep in securitisation at Moody’s.
    I have dear daughter, with whom I can commune without words, saying it all. I bring to mind my beloved children-in-law and grandchildren, and everything seems worthwhile.

    I take a deep breath, push open the door and enter the Valley of Death. Soon my angel appears, lifting me up and filling my whole life with stability and joy.

    I do not deserve her. Nor do I deserve the number 100.

  9. Cheri says:

    This story is the loveliest piece of writing on this entire blog, comments included. I have printed it for further study.

    Who is David?
    What “helps”?
    Why the prime number 23?

    I would like you to start a blog. I would read this type of writing religiously… 😉

    Will you translate the hidden meanings?

    Ironic placement on this Nietzsche piece.

  10. Richard Manchester says:

    I’ll try, but language lives on the blurred border between imagination and reality. Much depends on the hearer.

    King David is of biblical fame, but do not assume from this that I am a believer in the traditional sense. I aspire to being a Christian because of its mythical strength. The numbers refer to David’s Psalm numbers in the Authorised Version.

    Thinking about numbers in a mathematical, not a numerological, way, is soothing. Prime numbers have their own music, all mathematics derives from them. Riemann’s hypothesis lives in the imaginary world of complex numbers. Euler, too, made a massive contribution to this mystery. It shows that true logic, a human invention from observation, applied truthfully, has a transcendental beauty. I wish I was a mathematician.

  11. Cheri says:

    I wish Mr. Crotchety would read your comment here. He, too, loves numbers and would find this comment soothing.

    Now, what shall we call your blog?

    I am off to my day of working/teaching, so when I return late tonight, I hope for your blog’s title.

  12. Richard Manchester says:

    You are too kind to me, as always, Cheri. I think I’ve run out of ideas, so don’t worry about me cluttering up your blog!

  13. Richard Manchester says:

    I think I’ll take a bit of a holiday… Bye for now.

    • Cheri says:

      I enjoy your wit and depth. Please don’t be gone too long!

      • Richard Manchester says:


        Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and the first computer programmer. While married, she had an adulterous affair with John Crosse, the mathematician.

        When she was dying of cervical cancer, her mother denied her morphine and opium after she confessed the affair.

        Who were the sinners and who the sinned against?

  14. Elizarathustra says:

    I am a woman, and woman are inferior physically to men because we had been bread for child bearing qualities alone for quite some time.

    Romantic love hasn’t been around for as long as you think, and certainly was the exception, not the rule.

    If women had been the dominant sex for those crucial years in human evolution, men would look quite different indeed!

    However, the gene pool doesn’t follow those trends anymore so Nietzsche has been made obsolete in the field of womens studies. But hey, is that what anyone read him? No.

    As you can see, Nietzsche can very easily be taken out of context.

  15. Cheri says:

    Welcome to the blog, Elizarathustra.
    Should Nietzsche be added to a women’s study program?

    I have deep respect for the revolutionary thought Nietzsche brought to philosophy, religion, and history.

    And I do know some women who might argue with your first sentence. 🙂

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