Fools and Free Spirits.

In his Nietzsche’s Journey to Sorrento.  Genesis of the Philosophy of the Free Spirit  (U of Chicago P, 2016) Paolo D’Iorio notes a particular jotting in one of Nietzsche’s 1877 notebooks: “Walking along the windless, twilight pathways, while above us the trees rustle, agitated by violent gales in a brighter light” (Nietzsche quoted by D’Iorio 75).  Nietzsche repeats the same thought in a March letter to Reinhart von Seydlitz (75), but of course the reappearance of the thought in Human, All Too Human is more significant.  It happens in #275, entitled Cynic and Epicurean.  D’Iorio points out that the position of the Epicurean is the one occupied by Nietzsche (76).  He also says that the aphorism is a characterization of “one of the great antitheses of the philosophical tradition” (75), that is, that of Cynics and Epicureans.  But I think perhaps Nietzsche was after something more significant for his own project than the rehearsal of a style difference in post-Platonic philosophy.  Here is aphorism 275, which I transcribe in full:

The Cynic perceives the connection between the multiplied and magnified pains of more highly cultivated people and the abundance of their needs; he therefore conceives that the host of opinions about what is beautiful, proper, seemly, delightful must give rise to copious sources not only of enjoyment, but also of displeasure.  In accordance with this insight, he moves backward in his development by relinquishing many of these opinions and withdrawing from certain demands made by culture; he thereby obtains a feeling of freedom and empowerment; and gradually, once habit has made his way of life tolerable for him, he will in fact have fewer and fewer sensations of displeasure than cultivated people and will become very much like a domestic animal; in addition, everything that he does feel has the charm of contrast and—he can also curse to his heart’s content, so that he thereby gets well beyond the animal’s world of sensations. –The Epicurean adopts the same point of view as the Cynic; generally, only a difference of temperament sets them apart.  And so the Epicurean uses his higher culture to make himself independent of prevailing opinions; he raises himself above them, whereas the Cynic merely continues to negate them.  It is as if the former were strolling along in windless, well-protected, twilight avenues, while above him the treetops were being tossed in the wind and betrayed to him how violently the world outside was moving.  The Cynic, on the other hand, acts as if he were going naked outside into the blowing wind and hardens himself to the point of insensibility.

(Human, All Too Human 1. A Book for Free Spirits.  Translated with an Afterword by Gary Handwerk.  Stanford UP, 1995, 186-87)

            Let us imagine that both Epicureans and Cynics are potential examples of “free spirits” in the Nietzschean sense.  The difference between them is a difference of “temperament,” it is said.  The Cynic “negates” prevailing opinion while the Epicurean “raises himself above” it.  The Cynic’s negation has two effects from which the Epicurean is shielded: on the one hand, he must “curse to his heart’s content,” as negation is necessarily militant and calls for a ceaseless fight.  On the other hand, and consequently, and because he goes “naked outside into the blowing wind,” he must harden himself “to the point of insensibility.”  The Epicurean seems to have an advantage:  he has simplified his life, has given up on a host of things that, while they may bring occasional enjoyment, are also sources of displeasure.  He obtains thereby “a feeling of freedom and empowerment” that he may share with the Cynic, but his freedom does not make him curse endlessly, does not make him expose himself to the bitter winds.  The difference may be a difference of style, but the impression is that the Epicurean is also smarter, less of a fool than the Cynic.  Does that mean the Epicurean is no fool? 

            Are Epicureans or Cynics potential examples of free spirits in the Nietzschean sense?  Both kinds of thinkers find their motivation in a desire for freedom.  This seems to be the definition of a free spirit in Human, All Too Human.  Again, I transcribe the full aphorism:

Cautiousness of free spirits.—Free-minded people who live only for knowledge will quickly find they have reached their external goal in life, their final position in relation to society and the state, and will, for example, be content with a small official position or with only as much property as barely suffices for living; for they will arrange their lives in such a way that that neither a great transformation in economic circumstances nor even the overthrow of the political order will overturn their life along with it.  They expend as little energy as possible on all these things so that they can dive with all their collected forces and with a deep breath, as it were, into the element of knowledge.  Thus, they can hope to dive deeply and even to see to the very bottom.—Such a spirit prefers to take in only the fringes of an event; he does not love things in all the breadth and vastness of their folds: for he does not want to entangle himself in them. –He, too, knows the weekdays of unfreedom, of dependence, of servitude.  But from time to time a Sunday of freedom must come to him, or else he will not be able to endure life. –It is likely that even his love for humanity will be cautious and somewhat shortwinded, for he wants to have only as much to do with the world of inclinations and blindness as is necessary for the purpose of knowledge. He must trust that the guiding spirit of justice will say something on behalf of its adherent and protegé if accusing voices describe him as poor in love.—There is in his way of living life and of thinking a refined heroism that disdains offering itself to the reverence of the masses, as his coarser brothers do, and that tends to pass quietly through and out of the world.  Through whatever labyrinths he may wander, through whatever rocks his stream may make its torturous way—when he reaches the light, he goes his way clearly, lightly, and almost soundlessly and lets the sunlight play down into his depths. 

(Human 193-94)

            A Sunday of freedom, if I may have it: that would be my compensation as a cautious man of knowledge.  Because, in the face of protracted unfreedom, dependence, servitude, I too have chosen to minimize my sources of potential displeasure, and I have consequently gone about that task in the only way I know how: by minimizing everything else as well, so as not to risk too much, never to risk too much.   I do not have a lot of property, I do not have a lot of power, I do not get involved in much, or only marginally when I do so.  I am a refined hero for the sake of diving into the element of knowledge.  I may choose to walk my walks protectedly, never to venture beyond the treetops, stay in the lanes, or I may choose to bark my throat off like an enraged dog at the bitter gales of unfreedom. That is just a difference of temperament.  But I am still a fool.  Something else is needed if I am to stop being a fool.  Did Nietzsche–this Nietzsche of the so-called middle period–know it?

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