Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Nietzsche and Our Historicism

Attended Geuss' lecture today on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals and was struck once again by the way power has mangaed to operate throughout history. According to Nietzsche, nothing is set and everything is historically contingent. Thus, while everyone must consume: food, sex, etc., the way that one consumes is dependent on the culture in which one is. As he said: from using forks to chopsticks to gnawing a slab of raw bloody meat, what is not important is that we are eating, what is is the way in which we do so. And yet , as my friend Rachel pointed out, Nietzsche is himself attempting to create an ahistorical notion of history, which while contradictory, I think is well-placed within the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche is fun. Nietzshce is fun because so many different sets of people: Nazis, Type-A people, elite Ivy Leaguers, feminists, can take from him and run with it. And the thing is, Nietzsche is playing a game with all of us. He claimed that all was historical, but what was powerful was to create a theory that gave the semblance of permanence to the merely temporary. He has done so with his will-to-power theories, with the striving toward the Uebermensch, with the positing of utopias which so many have done as a result. By positing the historically contingent, Nietzsche has tricked us into thinking that we can shape the future. Nietzsche is now sitting back in a place without God having an extremely large chuckle about the whole thing: we have taken on his theory and thus he has found his place within a historical discourse that places a supposedly universal philosophy (i.e. accessible to any who are aware of it) on the course of events. If we are sure of a past history, is history still contingent?

That is, if we are sure that there was a certain structure to history (from pre-moral, to moral, to Christian moral, to current bad conscience) can we go into the future without thinking that there is a set motion of events...being in this bad conscience, can we believe that this bad conscience will suddenly dissolve itself? In some ways, I think we are in the most ahistorical, or least conscious moment in history. Because of the steadiness of life, the natural flow in the western world from birth to death, the almost immortality of our life in that unexpected death comes much more rarely than in the past (i.e. 19C when every birth brought one closer to death), do we think anything can change. Our last great revolutionary moment was 1968, the Vietnam era and even that is what is acknowledged as a failed revolution; some even see it as a large dose of teen angst electrified by the events of race wars and imperial wars and generational wars and turning into a few bombings, shootings, and a good spout of protesting and free love.

In one sense everything is relativized because of the global age in which we live. Gaining greater access to other cultures, having them appear closer to us and thus understanding their differences, we are more sure of relativity and the possibility of different outcomes than ever before. At the same time, we seem sure that while there are different cultures, none of these will ever change. Thus radical Islam will remain the same. Thus Iraq will remain a chaotic war zone. Thus universal healthcare will only occur through the slow churnings of American bureaucracy. Thus we will grow up to have jobs and families as our parents grew up to have jobs and families. We will go through the life style, but an expected life style, a life style that seems to have been there for ages. Though really, has it?

As a woman, my potential life style is radically different from what it would have been 50 years ago. So why do I see it as such an ahistorical possibility?

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