Dehumanisation and the Double-Movement of Time
“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?” — Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
In this post, I want to take up in more detail what I posted in a comment below the last post in “The End of the Human Race” on the double-meaning of “dehumanisation” and the problematic definition of the word “human”. There will be some surprising turns.
First, let’s examine the full quote from Prologue 3 of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra of the problematic character of the “human” or “all-too-human” as Nietzsche saw it,
“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.
“Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”
Nietzsche is very sly — sly in a profound way. The great self-declared “Anti-Christ” is something of a trickster figure, in fact — like Coyote or Raven in North American native lore. Did he not even describe himself as such — as a seducer who leads men (from error) into side-ways and back-alleys? Such is his programme of “Umwertung aller Werte” — or revaluation (or transvaluation) of all values.
Either Nietzsche knew full well what he was up to, or the pious “Little Pastor” (as he was called in his youth) is unconscious of the fact that he is reconstituting the Christian Gospels on a new basis. Such is his “revaluation of values” as an act to countermand the impending total nihilism he foresaw as our fate following the death of God. It is for that reason that Nietzsche in Zarathustra is all imperatival Prophetic, and lyrical Poetic Voice, befitting William Blake’s admonition,
“If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character — the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.” — There is NO Natural Religion.
When I read the Prologue quoted above, I am always reminded of Jesus admonishing the crowd of Pharisees and scribes,
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” — Matthew 23:13
Jesus, in these lines, is not talking about “other-worldly hopes” in referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law barring themselves and others from entering into Kingdom of Heaven, which is always “at hand”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you”; “the body is the temple of the living God”. There is nothing really other-worldly about Jesus teachings. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is immanent or latent in this world and within the human form, exactly as it is for William Blake and Nietzsche as well. The “despisers of life” and the body that Nietzsche condemns are the exact same priests and teachers of the religious law that Jesus condemned.
This (and much else in Nietzsche besides) might come as a surprise to those who tend to think of Nietzsche as the great adversary of Jesus teachings and the destroyer of Christianity. But to put Nietzsche’s teaching and his “revaluation of values” in proper context in relation to the Gospel teachings, one has to understand something he wrote which appears in The Will to Power, in aphorisms 158 and 159 (1888),
158: “One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown up have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as ‘Christian Church,’ ‘Christian faith’ and ‘Christian life’ label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian.”
159: “The entire Christian teaching as to what shall be believed, the entire Christian ‘truth,’ is idle falsehood and deception: and precisely the opposite of what inspired the Christian movement in the beginning. Precisely that which is Christian in the ecclesiastical sense is anti-Christian in essence: things and people instead of symbols; history instead of eternal facts; forms, rites, dogmas instead of a way of life. Utter indifference to dogmas, cults, priests, church, theology is Christian.
The Christian way of life is no more a fantasy than the Buddhist way of life: it is a means to being happy.”
Nietzsche’s attack on institutional Christianity must be seen in relation to these views, and the meaning of the Prologue quoted above in relation to that purpose which Nietzsche sees Christianity has abandoned — time and history as the process of godman-making as given in the imperative Jesus issued to his followers – “Be thou therefore perfect even as thy Father in heaven…” This project is what Nietzsche resumes with his teaching of the overman or transhuman. “Man is something that shall be overcome”.
Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming — for overcoming “Man” — is “Become what you are!” The formula implies that what Man is presently is inauthentic and false — the false self, a mere self-image and construct. What you are, then, is buried or repressed under layer and layer of delusion and self-deception, and is clearly the core “Self” that is the actor behind the scenes, as it were, introduced in the section of Zarathustra entitled “The Despisers of the Body“,
“Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.
There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?
Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. “What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?” it saith to itself. “A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions.”
The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pain!” And thereupon it suffereth, and thinketh how it may put an end thereto—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.
The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pleasure!” Thereupon it rejoiceth, and thinketh how it may ofttimes rejoice—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.”
Compare this passage with Blake’s First Principle from his “ALL RELIGIONS are ONE”
“That the Poetic Genius is the true Man, and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius. Likewise that the forms of all things are derived from their Genius, which by the Ancients was call’d an Angel & Spirit & Demon…. As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various) So all religions & as all similars have one source… The true Man is the source he being the Poetic Genius”.
Blake’s “Poetic Genius” or “true Man” is, quite patently, the Nietzschean “Self” and which is often confused with “God”. Reflect on Nietzsche’s “Despisers of the Body” in relation to another passage from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell called “The voice of the Devil”,
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.
1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight
In fact, one can say that Blake’s “marriage of heaven and hell” is, in meaning, the equivalent of Nietzsche’s “beyond good and evil”.
Hence we return to the theme of “dehumanisation” and the double-movement implied in Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves” includes the value “human”. But the debasement and effacement of the value (or definition) “human” or “Man” is, from one perspective, the devaluation of what is only the false front. This aspect of “dehumanisation” is what Nietzsche intends by that quote above from Prologue #3 in Zarathustra, and is connected, too, with the apocalyptic vision of William Blake cited earlier (A Vision of the Last Judgement) and the potential “shattering” revelation of “the true Man” presently latent or hidden within the “human form”,
“Error is created. Truth is eternal. Error, or Creation, will be Burned up, & then, & not till Then, Truth or Eternity will appear. It is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it. I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance & not Action; it is as the dirt upon my feet, No part of Me. “What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative eye any more than I would Question a window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.”– William Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment
These are generally taken as the words of a madman who is not to be taken seriously, as Blake was often judged to be in his time and since. Nonetheless, the sentiment is not very different from what we also find in Nietzsche, who is often taken very seriously indeed, merely because (with the exception perhaps of Zarathustra) Nietzsche employs a philosophical, discursive language while Blake employs a poetic and mythical one. But, in either case, real truth when it is revealed is always “shattering” because of what I have been calling Man’s “narcissistic condition” in which mere self-image (the false self) is accorded more reality and finality than the true Self. By a mere definition of “human” (and they abound, as homo faber, homo sapiens, homo loquens, homo grammaticus, homo oeconomicus, homo ludens, homo religiousus, Aristotle’s “featherless biped”, or; “the rational animal” or “the political animal”, “the social animal”, or even “I’m only human!”), the human has imposed upon itself certain very limiting constraints and, consequently, denied within himself or herself other expansive possibilities which, for Blake at least, are infinite. Since the true Man is infinite and is infinity itself (boundlessness, limitlessness) it’s revelation within the finite human form must necessarily be “shattering” of that form.
This shattering of the human form could easily be called “dehumanisation” or “the end of the human race”. It is this limited and limiting (inhibited) form of the “human” (and Nietzsche’s “all-too-human”) that is the issue when Blake writes that,
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.”
This is what I have been calling Man’s “narcissistic condition” — the despotism of self-image and self-definition, which have become the limiting factors inhibiting full human self-realisation. Against that Nietzsche posits his “free spirit”.
The character of the double-movement is this — Nihilism and Genesis coincident with one another. What is it that gives men like Blake, Nietzsche, Aurobindo, Gebser, and others (including Seth) the confidence that what has been latent or occluded in the human mold, frame, or form is about to “irrupt” into manifestation (epiphanisation)? Even Erich Kahler, in The Tower and the Abyss, speaks of “the breakdown of the human form” or “destruction of the human form”, which we also might call “dehumanisation” as the crux of the nihilism of our time. But could it be, as Gebser put it also in The Ever-Present Origin, that this kind of dehumanisation is also the passage of the true Man (the integral human or Blake’s “Albion”) finally “emerging from his cave”?
This “double-movement” (or what is being called “creative destruction” in contemporary parlance) is a double-movement of time — one tendency stretching backwards towards conserving the human form (we’ll call this, the reactionary movement), the other stretching forwards to realise the future (the revolutionary movement). This is why the double-movement is intimately connected with a conflict of times or experienced as “times out of joint”, as Shakespeare put it. This accounts for the duplicitous character of our age — for these contradicting trends — one pressing backwards, the other forwards — are coincident, because, in reality, both this “past” and “future” are actually in the present. When this is understood, then you have understood what Gebser means by “ever-present origin” and why he chooses to use the term “irruption” to describe the emergence of a new consciousness structure — all past and all future are both contained within the Now, in terms of latent or as manifest possibility. “Irruption” is the manifestation of what has hitherto been only latent or “unconscious” in relation to ego-consciousness.
Enough for now, although more could be said about this double-movement, and why the nihilistic trends of our times identified by others — “dehumanisation”, “loss of self”, “breakdown of the human form”, etc — may not be quite as completely pathological as they may appear, or as they have in fact been. It was this faith that allowed Nietzsche to remain “cheerful” despite the horrifying prospect he foresaw in his time as the onset of “two centuries of nihilism” — incipit tragoedia, he wrote before his own breakdown — “the tragedy begins.”
And he wasn’t wrong about that.