Monday, June 17, 2013

He Who Writes in Blood and Aphorisms Does Not Want to be Read, He Wants to be Learned by Heart

In the midst of another paint-by-numbers essay lamenting the baleful influence of digital media upon our reading and thinking, this part stood out to me:

As Nicholas Carr (2013) thoughtfully points out, Friedrich Nietzsche is an example worth considering. When Nietzsche started to compose on the typewriter rather than by hand due to poor eyesight, it changed the way he wrote philosophy. His prose changed from arguments to aphorisms, thoughts to puns, and rhetoric to telegram style. If we significantly change how we write, it significantly changes what we write. If we significantly change how we read, it significantly changes what we read.

He bought a typewriter in 1882. That was the year The Gay Science was published, a book many scholars feel to be the first expression of his "mature" philosophy. The following year saw the publication of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which I might describe as a book-length epic poem/irreligious parable. Over the next few years, Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals, neither of which can be said to consist primarily of aphorisms, puns, or telegram-style terseness, completed this roughly-agreed-upon phase of his career where his most important ideas were developed to their fullest potential. Two of his most aphoristic works, Human, All Too Human and (my personal favorite) Daybreak, were published before his supposedly fateful encounter with the typewriter, the former's consciously-chosen style owing more to the French writers he admired than any crude technological determinism.

Funny enough, a different sort of determinism — physiological — has also been suggested as responsible for his change of style. While rebutting that notion, Steven Michels stresses that however the aphorism might have first appeared in his style, Nietzsche quickly recognized the value it held for his philosophical project, which was a conscious rejection of the style of ponderous thought and argument that had traditionally dominated philosophy, and used it as a tool to that end:

Certainly illness played a role in Nietzsche’s brief bouts of creativity. But his aphorisms started much earlier than his chronic illnesses; many of his later books are less aphoristic, and his literary masterpiece, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is anything but aphoristic. Nietzsche’s philosophising had more to do with the change in his philosophy than physiology. His aphoristic turn marked a turn in his intellectual development, to be sure, but it also allowed for a great advance in his philosophy, in presentation if not in development. His philosophy was limited by conventional forms, such as the treatise and the essay, and the aphorism allowed him to break from that. Although it was initially involuntary or subconscious, Nietzsche soon understood what this change of style allowed him to do philosophically, and he embraced it.

Oh, and about that typewriter:

Unfortunately Nietzsche wasn't totally satisfied with his purchase and never really mastered the use of the instrument. Until now, many people have tried to understand why Nietzsche did not make more use of it, and a number of theories have been suggested such as that it was an outdated and poor model, that it was possible to write only upper case letters, etc. Today we can say for certain that all this is only speculation without foundation.

The writing ball was a solidly constructed instrument, made by hand and equipped with all the features one would expect of a modern typewriter.

 You can now read the details about the Nietzsche writing ball in a book, "Nietzches Schreibkigel", by Dieter Eberwein, vice-president of the International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society, published by "Typoscript Verlag". In it, Eberwein tells the true story about Nietzche's writing ball based upon thorough investigation and restoration of the damaged machine.

Friedrich Nietszche was not aware that his trouble in using the machine was caused by damage to it during transportation to Genoa in Italy, where he lived at the time. And when he turned to a mechanic who had no typewriter repair skills, the mechanic managed to damage the writing ball even more. In his book, Dieter Eberwein presents all the typescripts Nietzsche ever wrote on his machine (about 60) and reveals the true story concerning the damages. Nietzsche also did not know how to change the direction of the colour ribbon, so that he had to ask the mechanic to help him each time the ribbon was out.