Against Politics on “Mad”

Aschwin de Wolf  reads  Jonathan Bowden's Mad and wonders about the practicability of "a unique and coherent Nietzschean/Lovecraftian worldview that is
strictly positivist in its epistemology, and  distinctly reactionary in
its rejection of egalitarianism and democracy as an alternative to
socialism, (classical) liberalism and contemporary conservatism." Nerd!

Memento mori.

5 thoughts on “Against Politics on “Mad”

  1. I’m surprised to know that Bowden was an admirer of Evola. I’ve read a bit of the latter, and my impression is that he’s a believer in an organic cosmic order, albeit one with distinctly pagan overtones. Still, while profoundly anti-Christian, Evola’s worldview seems a long way from the Nietzschian-Lovecraftian impulse, which, while in some way informed by a reactionary impluse against modernist notions of “progress” and “democracy,” is ultimately nihilistic– rejecting both the new and the old.

  2. It’s been ages since I read either of them, but I don’t quite get the Lovecraft-Nietzsche thing. In Houellebecq’s study, you get the sense that Lovecraft was a seething misanthrope who would have cursed it all away. But with Nietzche, there was this electric vitality – giving birth to a “dancing star” and all that. When I think of Nietzche, I imagine a guy who liked to cut a rug. When I think of Lovecraft, I imagine a lurker in the back of the dance hall who waits for the right moment to poison the punch.
    Andy: Are you saying that Nietzchean transvaluation is inherently nihilistic? My sense is that it’s quite the opposite. But, like I said, it’s been a long time.
    Calling Rob Sica…

  3. Chip, Max Nordau– whom you first drew to my attention– seems to have thought that Nietzsche was a raving lunatic long before he flipped out at the end of his life, and that this tendency shows through in his weirdly mannered writing style. But maybe he could cut a rug, I dunno. I guess he wouldn’t have thought of himself as a nihilist; he probably would have scorned the very notion. As for me, I enjoy his energy and passion but loathe his conclusions, which do indeed strike me as nihilistic. “God is dead, we have killed him; pity is bad, cruelty is good,” etc.

  4. Andy,
    I’m far from a Nietzsche scholar, but I did study on Walter Kaufmann’s seminal book years ago, so I’m willing to play the dilettante until and unless Rob Sica comes along.
    First off, concerning Nordau’s pronouncement, it’s probably safe to say that none of Nietzsche’s contemporaries understood his meaning. The first slivers of apprehension came much later, probably with Husserl and Sartre. I happen to think there is some value in Mencken’s study as well, and I’ve already mentioned Kaufmann, whose “Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist” remains absolutely crucial. Prior to such re-readings, Nietzsche was the subject of straw-man critiques and smears and fascistic misreadings, for which he may have set himself up, what with that slippery aphoristic style and so many decontextualizably suspect phrases. In any event, I have little doubt that Nordau was, in this sense, a man of his time playing off received academic opinion.
    When Nietzsche famously declared that “God is Dead,” he wasn’t pounding his chest; he was signaling — and lamenting — a profound philosophical crisis, a crisis that was apparent in the scheme and implications of Kantian epistemology. In this sense, Nietzsche’s conception of Christianity is pregnant with paradox; he saw Christianity as something that grandly aspired to higher value (as in “Truth”), but he saw this aspiration as something that ultimately sealed its doom in the terrifying abyss of nihilism, where “Why finds no answer.” To Nietzsche, the death of God was largely an inescapable consequence of Christian morality, and it begged an answer. Transvaluation was simply what remained to be tried and tested.
    Nietzsche’s remarks on pity and bad conscience are most often interpreted as probing psychology, meant to diagnose the subconscious core of human suffering and malaise. He wanted people to grasp their potential, to shirk fetters, to become what they are. It was self help, really, dismissed and caricatured as callow elitism. And Freud ripped him off.
    As to cruelty, you’ll have to tune me to a phrase or two. I’m rusty, like I said. (Rob??)

  5. I didn’t mean to say, or imply, that Nordau was correct in his assessment of Nietzsche, only to mention it because I found it interesing. But are you saying that pretty much all of his contemporaries dismissed him as an uncouth madman? Of that I was not aware.
    I’m sure that I’m much more of a Nietzsche novice than you are, Chip. I have read a bit of his stuff, including the notorious “Anti Christ.” I understand your characterization of his message as that of “self-help,” but why does helping people have to mean imploring them to eschew pity, and compassion, and sacrifice, and encouraging them to embrace strength, ruthlessness, and “the will to power”? I can’t recall the cruelty quote right now, but it seems of a piece with the rest of his thought.

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