When Going to Fight Monsters
Man is neither angel nor beast, and the unfortunate thing is that he who would play the angel plays the beast
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées
He who goes to fight monsters best see to it that he does not become the monster himself. And if you stare into the abyss the abyss also stares into you
. — Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
It is possible that Nietzsche borrowed from Pascal the theme of his aphorism about going to fight monsters and the stare into the abyss. The interesting thing about both these statements, nonetheless, is that they recognise enantiodromia, or ironic reversal at the extremity, as the essential paradox of life and perhaps of all action.
This brings us to another perversion and corruption of translation that has afflicted Nietzsche’s thought and writing of the kind discussed in the last post. “He who goes to fight monsters had best see to it that he does not become the monster himself” uses the definite article “the”. In German it is zum Ungeheuer. Most English translations of this use the indefinite article “a”. Thus it is translated as “He who goes to fight monsters had best see to it that he does not become a monster himself.” The indefinite article here is clearly not what Nietzsche intended, and this “error” is really a corruption of his meaning.
Beyond Good and Evil is a summary description of Nietzsche’s own thought process, and that thought process is what is captured in this aphorism, as well as in Pascal’s. To live beyond good and evil is live beyond dualism, duality, and thus duplicity. Non-duality is the key to interpreting Nietzsche. His transhuman is also transdualism. It is the vision of the human being no longer divided against himself or herself, but who lives as an integral whole. And that means not immorally but amorally. This non-dualistic thought process is what the corruption of Nietzsche’s remarks obscures, because a mere dualistic mentality attempted to compel Nietzsche to conform to its own mental mode and mold.
Does it matter whether we understand Nietzsche properly or not? Perhaps at one time it was possible to muddle through without knowing the name of Friedrich Nietzsche or the elements of his philosophy. But everyone today seems to quote Nietzsche, in often uncomprehending ways, and so it becomes necessary to understand Nietzsche, for many have employed his philosophy for very nefarious and infernal purposes.
Also, if we wish to understand the psychology of nihilism, which is epidemic in our time, there has been perhaps no better teacher about this than Nietzsche, even if William Blake earlier had already recognised this nihilism as the latent subtext or undercurrent implicit in his own time.
Nietzsche is, indeed, the philosopher of nihilism nonpariel. He knew this nihilism in himself, and he knew it as death and as that which touched him deeply during his “stare into the abyss”. That is what the remark about “the stare into the abyss” signifies. He also knew that its gathering momentum could not be resisted or overcome, that it had become a fate. To outrun it, paradoxically, one had now to pass through it, ironically, with the faith that the spirit would survive it. “What does not kill me makes me stronger” is his expression of that faith and confidence in the resurrection of mankind, transfigured as the transhuman. Nietzsche, ultimately, was on the side of life and Genesis and the renewal of life and Genesis, not of death and the Void. In that sense, the great anti-Christ who announced “the death of God” was, in fact, God’s most loyal and faithful servant in his time.
Who and what was Nietzsche? Nietzsche was the last Christian.