Why Nietzsche is a Destiny: Epicurean Themes in Ecce Homo

In defense of this Epicurean maxim and the teaching from which it is distilled, several scholars have recommended the distinction between two sets of circumstances in which pleasure may be experienced: the kinetic (or active) and the katastematic (or static).[28] The point of this distinction is to claim, on behalf of Epicurus, that the experience of katastematic pleasure attends the aforementioned “absence of pain.” As Susan Suavé Meyer explains this point, “Although our sources sometimes abbreviate the definition of katastematic pleasure to ‘the absence of pain,’ the full and proper account is that it is the feeling or awareness of that absence of pain.”[29]

For an illustration of what Epicurus wishes to describe as the conditions under which one is likely to experience katastematic pleasure, one need look no further than Nietzsche’s description of himself in Ecce Homo:

At this very moment I still look upon my future—an ample future!—as upon calm seas: there is no ripple of desire. I do not want in the least that anything should become different than it is; I myself do not want to become different. But that is how I have always lived. I had no wishes. A man over [the age of] forty-four who can say that he never strove for honors, for women, for money!—Not that I lacked them… (EH “Clever” §9)[30]

Here Nietzsche lays claim to an achievement that calls to mind the serene tranquility, or ataraxia, which Epicurus proposed as the highest good attainable by mortals. Untroubled by irrational fears and excitations, Nietzsche is free to contemplate his “ample” future.

It is against this Epicurean backdrop, I offer, that we should situate one of Nietzsche’s most familiar statements of affirmation. Revealing the extent of his debt to Epicurus (via Diogenes Laërtius) on the topic of fate, Nietzsche declares,

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: Not wanting anything to be different, not forwards, not backwards, for all eternity. Not just enduring what is necessary, still less concealing it—all idealism is hypocrisy in the face of what is necessary—but loving it…(EH “Clever” §10)

The distinction he draws in this passage, between enduring necessity and loving it, attests to his appreciation of the experience of katastematic pleasure. Having glimpsed the necessity of fate, he has freed himself from the disruptive perturbations that a preoccupation with fate can produce. Having learned in turn to love (and not merely endure) the necessity of fate, Nietzsche bears witness to a positive experience of (katastematic) pleasure, attendant to (and in excess of) the absence of suffering.

Nietzsche proceeds to account for his spiritual rebirth as relatively effortless on his part, and as following a natural logic of maturation (or “fruition”) that previously had been unknown to him (EH “Clever” §9). Only now, in fact, and owing to the clarity of retrospection, is he in a credible position to appreciate and recount the story of his life. The moral of this story, moreover, is that one must allow the moral of one’s story to emerge on its own schedule. One’s path and destiny will reveal themselves in due time, perhaps even in spite of oneself, provided one receives (or grants oneself) the proper conditions of nurture and development. (EH “Clever” §9). As he explains, one is far more likely to do so if one has come to appreciate the “little things” in life as the non-trivial building blocks of an authentic existence (EH “Clever” §10).

Because Nietzsche has waited to tell the story of his life, thereby refusing the premature, inauthentic stories crafted for him by others, he now has a story worthy of sharing with the envisioned readers of Ecce Homo. Here Nietzsche places himself in a testimonial lineage of moral philosophy that may be traced back (at least) as far as Socrates himself. The centerpiece of this tradition is the dissemination of an authentic personal narrative, which allows one to present the idiosyncratic course of one’s life as potentially relevant for, and inspirational to, others. The goal of this narrative is to establish the intimate connection between one’s general moral lessons or teachings and the unimpeachable quality of the life one leads. We might say that the authenticity of the narrative is question is established by the wisdom one displays, as evidenced by one’s success in “having turned out well” (EH “Wise” §2).

Not surprisingly, the particular therapeutic remedy Nietzsche has devised for himself is rooted in his experience of his own decay, which, as we have seen, he “opposes.” Pursuing this remedy has not cured him of his decay (and never would have done so), but it has perfected in him the dual perspective to which he proudly lays claim in Ecce Homo (EH “Wise” §1). Able to access the world from the perspectives of “health” and “sickness,” respectively, he beholds a level and degree of complexity that is unknown to those (e.g., Epicurus) who command only one or the other of these perspectives. His most notable achievement in this regard is the immanent critique he develops of those faux physicians who, like Epicurus, mistakenly see themselves as genuine healers. Owing to his ability “to reverse perspectives” (EH “Wise” §1), moreover, Nietzsche is uniquely able to grant these faux physicians their due, while refusing to normalize the founding error of their ministry.

Pages ( 4 of 7 ): « Previous123 4 567Next »