Archive | January 2020

World In Transition, II: Nietzsche’s “Two Centuries of Nihilism”

Towards the conclusion of the 19th century, Nietzsche famously forecast the onset of “two centuries of nihilism” with the ominous words “incipit tragoedia” — the tragedy begins. He compared the coming period to a tight-rope walker over an abyss — a suspense, a dangerous wayfaring and a perilous going-over with an uncertain outcome.

We are in the thick of it now, and as you have probably noticed, it has been and is indeed abysmal.

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World in Transition

The closest approximation for assessing the meaning of “the New Normal” is the situation of Late Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire, an age of spiritual rot. The religion that preached love, mercy, forgiveness and caritas also sponsored torture, crusade, witchhunt, autos de fe, and the Inquisition. It basically self-destructed on its contradictions (or what we now call “cognitive dissonance”). Yet from the chaos and the ruins of Christendom stepped forth a new species of human being who we now call “Renaissance Man” — a type of human being that seemed as strange and alien to Medieval Man as the supramental consciousness will seem to the denizens of Late Modernity.

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Faustian Man and the Mephistophelean Spirit

Mephistopheles is of fairly recent vintage and a late-comer to the field of demonology. He figures prominently in legend and in plays like Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and, most famously, in Goethe’s Faust. Faust was, allegedly, a real historical figure, a necromancer who lived sometime in the 15th century and who had claimed that a demon named “Mephistopheles” was his Schwager, a German word meaning “brother-in-law”.

There is a suggestion that the name Mephistopheles, evidently Greek, means “not-light-loving”, and Goethe has his Mephistopheles describe himself as “part of that power that would ever evil do, but always does the good” despite himself. But it’s from Goethe’s rendering of the Faust legend that many have come to recognise man of the modern type as “Faustian Man”, who has sold out his soul in exchange for knowledge and power.

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