Time and Nietzsche

I’ve just recently received from the UK a copy of Rüdiger Safranski’s book Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, and it is an impressive achievement in clarifying the early roots of Nietzsche’s thinking.

I’ve been struck by one particular passage, which Safranski quotes from Nietzsche’s diaries entered during his student days, and it explains a great deal about Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophy,

“In that account, Nietzsche is sitting in the corner of the sofa in his room, his head resting on his hand, his mind’s eye reviewing scenes from the past year. Absorbed in the past, he suddenly became aware of his surroundings and saw someone lying on his bed, softly moaning and gasping. A dying man! Shadows whispered and murmured to the dying man from every direction. And then he knew: the old year was dying. A few moments later, the bed is empty. It gets light again, the walls of the room recede, and a voice says: “You fools and idiots of time, which is nowhere but in your heads! I ask you, what have you done? If you want to be and have what you hope for, what you await, do it.” In his diary, Nietzsche described this vision and interpreted it on the spot. The gasping figure on the bed, he concluded, is time personified, whose death remands the individual to himself. One’s own creative will, rather than time, is what transforms and develops a person. Objective time cannot be relied upon, and the project of fashioning one’s own destiny must be carried out by oneself.”

The question that the voice puts to we “fools and idiots of time” — the question of “what have you done?” — reappears in the opening pages of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, so that one must take this vision of his student days as constituting the core of Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophy. What the voice is saying to we “fools and idiots of time” is essentially what Seth reiterates continuously throughout all his works  — “you create the reality you know”.

But, additionally, it should be pointed out that for Jean Gebser likewise, “time freedom” is the essence of the integral consciousness structure that he sees as the central emergent event of the post-modern era. In that sense, Nietzsche’s vision may not be as eccentric or merely personal as it may seem. Particularly after Einstein and Picasso, “time is of the essence”.



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