Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Superficial Out of Profundity

One more section from Peter Watson's book that I liked:

Nietzsche called this condition, the absence of any moral purpose to the world, any direction, "nihilism," and it had three—at least three— important consequences: there is no meaning to events, we lose faith that anything is to be achieved, or can be achieved; there is no coherent pattern in history; and there is nothing universal that we can all agree upon or aspire to. Our world is motivated mainly by our own inner psychological needs, rather than any "truth" (a meaningless and malleable commodity, the only purpose of which is to enhance our feeling of power). He thought that our main psychological need was just that—the celebrated "will to power" and, for himself, felt that the only basis for any judgment, now that all other bases had disappeared, was the aesthetic one.

Even in making aesthetic judgments, since we have no grounds for agreement in any "deep" or universal sense, because there is no longer any basis for meaning, the only criterion by which originality or creativity or beauty may be judged is by their "newness." Even here, however, newness will be obsolete more or less immediately because it can have no meaning over and above the fact that it is new. This applies to changes in ourselves as much as in conventional works of art or developments in history or in fashion. There can be no direction in our personal development, only meaningless change, change for the sake of it.

This is, needless to say, arguably the bleakest analysis of the human condition there has ever been, and Nietzsche intended it as such. ("I am by far the most terrible human being that has existed so far," he said in a famous passage. "This does not preclude the possibility that I shall be the most beneficial.")

...But it should now be plain to what extent we are indeed living in a post-Nietzschean, post-Weberian nihilistic world—for example, in the realm of contemporary high art, where the only criteria by which it is no judged is by newness, where the big auctions have all the qualities of a game, and collecting has become for so many a form of salvation. The world of fashion, where again the defining criterion is sheer newness, is another nihilistic aspect of the modern world. In all these realms, money is a prominent feature.