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Nietzsche: Life as Literature by Alexander Nehamas

He makes the points that Nietzsche’s ideas, if taken to literally, create irresolvable paradoxes — and starts to open the way (which I don’t know if he is going to follow through yet) to the observation that those paradoxes are not really a problem because Nietzsche never privileges language to the degree that a logician does. It’s such a trivial point that it is almost frustrating to have to make it over and over, but I have heard so many people commit the error that I guess it needs to be said again. Deep breath: if you hold the position that language cannot contain absolute truth — you do NOT in fact defeat yourself with a paradox that your assertion can neither be absolutely true or absolutely false. The concept of absolute falseness is not rigorous like the concept of absolute truth — so it is just fine to say that language is approximate and incomplete, and yet to continue to look for ideas that are approximately true. If you assert that absolute truth can be contained in language, then you are under a pressure to provide it (and this leads to obvious problems.) However, saying that language does not contain absolute truth does not mean that it contains no truth whatsoever — so there is no paradox. You would think that only undergraduates would get tripped up by this, but alas…

Nehamas does a wonderful job of explicating the eternal return. So much written on this topic is just embarasing, and Nehamas explains why and shows the important passages to help understand it. I think he doesn’t present a finished product though. I do appriciate this book immensely, but I would like a better one to be written.

3 chapters in and I have found what I always find in criticism of Nietzsche — which is that when we look at him through the traditional categories of philosophy, the conversation is dull, but when I try to understand what he is saying, and approach him with an eye to my own experience and ideas that the conversation is interesting. I think that (for instance) one has to have read Kant to appreciate the full extent of Nietzsche’s wit — but to look at Nietzsche through a Kantian filter (for example) is more like putting katsup on steak.

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October 6, 2008 - Posted by | 40th Birthday Project

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