Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life and Pain

By Hanno

Just as a work of art or literature has many different meanings, just as we can learn from how others see a work of art, or read a work of literature, so we can do the same with life itself. But we do not need a notion of absolute truth in meaning for that to make sense. In fact, perhaps the opposite: when we demand that others read Shakespeare like we read Shakespeare, because we have the truth, we automatically shut down the other. But is our 'truth' really truth?

Why would we need truth to appreciate art? Indeed, do we not have to embrace the false? Realism in art is always a lie. It really is a statue, not a man. It really is a 2 dimensional picture, not a person. When an artist draws it 'as it is' it is essentially a lie. And then the other forms of art leave even the hint of realism behind. No, I think he is right: to appreciate art, to get something interesting out of art, you must not pretend it is the truth, but embrace the lie, give the lie meaning. Is there truth? Even if so, it will not be interesting without the lie, without the interpretation which gives it meaning.

Does this mean we must accept any lie? No, just because it is an error does not make it an interesting one. just because it is a painting does not mean it is a good one. But the painting is good not because it captures the truth, and indeed, must capture part of the lie.

If i am making any sense (and maybe I am not!)...

I do not think Nietzsche wants the pain gone. Pain is part of life. To want the pain gone is to want life over. That is part of the anti-life vision he decries.

And if you think about your life, there were (are) pains and pleasures, sorrow and joy, bad choices, good choices, evil done to you and good things done to you. But you would not be who you are if you did not fully accept both, and all. All of your experiences shape who you became. You would not be who you are today without the bad times. So to want only the good is to want to be something other than you are. To love yourself is to love yourself as you are, and that requires loving the bad things, too. Loving life requires loving things difficult to love.

And if you think of art, the same is true. Art requires good and evil, pain and pleasure. You love the tragedy in spite of (or even because of!) the bad. Hamlet would not be Hamlet if he did not die in the end.


Josh said...

Since your post was titled Life and Pain I expected a post on Schopenhauer! Since he was one of Nietzsche's favorite philosophers I think this detour is warranted.

Art according to Schopenhauer is not a lie - it is a respite from the constant desiring of the will. A desire that leads to the eternal suffering of life. Schopenhauer's aesthetic worships the temporary suspension of will for the "god" of representation.

However, I am not sure what Schopenhauer would think of art criticism or interpretation. He would probably identify art interpretation as the will's desire rearing its ugly head. Your need to have the authoritative interpretation of Shakespeare is an example of the damaging will causing suffering.

Interestingly enough, Schopenhauer doesn't seem to advocate for the elimination of pain either - just becoming permanently detached in order to weaken the will.

With this interpretation, permanent detachment seems to suggest that you shouldn't accept the good or the bad. On the contrary, you should try to be aloof and visit art museums once a month.

Not only is the detached kid in the back of the class that doesn't contribute to conversations disengaged - he is a disciple of Schopenhauer!

Nietzsche was a bad disciple of Schoppy...letting the will run wild!

ce said...

I reject your usage of the word lie. Art is art. We know it's art. We love it and hate it as art. No one thinks Hamlet is a history book, and if they do then they're a moron, and should not be taken into consideration.

As such, art is not lying to us. It's an interpretation, surely, but no interpretation is somehow false. Some are bad. Some are factually inaccurate. But an interpretation lacks the ability to be a lie, and as such, art cannot lie to us. It can be an inaccurate depiction, but so what? It's art. Even a documentary is an interpretation. It is neither true nor false. Some may be more accurate than others, but it cannot be a lie, because it's an interpretation. It's art. And art can be neither true nor false. It can be good. It can be bad. It can be fun, and it can be painful. And we can love it when it's painful.

So to want only the good is to want to be something other than you are.

How so? Does wanting Heaven make you want to be someone else, or merely to be some place else? I think you're right, but you haven't shown why. Simply wanting to move to California in no way entails that I want to change my identity. Does a change of location change one's identity? If I sit in a different seat at dinner am I suddenly no longer myself? That would be quite odd.

Anonymous said...

Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"

PROMETHEUS- Think not that I for pride and stubbornness
Am silent: rather is my heart the prey
Of gnawing thoughts, both for the past, and now
Seeing myself by vengeance buffeted.
For to these younger Gods their precedence
Who severally determined if not I?
No more of that: I should but weary you
With things ye know; but listen to the tale
Of human sufferings, and how at first
Senseless as beasts I gave men sense, possessed them
Of mind. I speak not in contempt of man;
I do but tell of good gifts I conferred.
In the beginning, seeing they saw amiss,
And hearing heard not, but, like phantoms huddled
In dreams, the perplexed story of their days
Confounded; knowing neither timber-work
Nor brick-built dwellings basking in the light,
But dug for themselves holes, wherein like ants,
That hardly may contend against a breath,
They dwelt in burrows of their unsunned caves.
Neither of winter's cold had they fixed sign,
Nor of the spring when she comes decked with flowers,
Nor yet of summer's heat with melting fruits
Sure token: but utterly without knowledge
Moiled, until I the rising of the stars
Showed them, and when they set, though much obscure.
Moreover, number, the most excellent
Of all inventions, I for them devised,
And gave them writing that retaineth all,
The serviceable mother of the Muse.
I was the first that yoked unmanaged beasts,
To serve as slaves with collar and with pack,
And take upon themselves, to man's relief,
The heaviest labour of his hands: and
Tamed to the rein and drove in wheeled cars
The horse, of sumptuous pride the ornament.
And those sea-wanderers with the wings of cloth,
The shipman's waggons, none but I contrived.
These manifold inventions for mankind
I perfected, who, out upon't, have none-
No, not one shift-to rid me of this shame.

CHORUS - Thy sufferings have been shameful, and thy mind
Strays at a loss: like to a bad physician
Fallen sick, thou'rt out of heart: nor cans't prescribe
For thine own case the draught to make thee sound.

PROMETHEUS - But hear the sequel and the more admire
What arts, what aids I cleverly evolved.
The chiefest that, if any man fell sick,
There was no help for him, comestible,
Lotion or potion; but for lack of drugs
They dwindled quite away; until I taught them
To compound draughts and mixtures sanative,
Wherewith they now are armed against disease.
I staked the winding path of divination
And was the first distinguisher of dreams,
The true from false; and voices ominous
Of meaning dark interpreted; and tokens
Seen when men take the road; and augury
By flight of all the greater crook-clawed birds
With nice discrimination I defined;
These by their nature fair and favourable,
Those, flattered with fair name. And of each sort
The habits I described; their mutual feuds
And friendships and the assemblages they hold.
And of the plumpness of the inward parts
What colour is acceptable to the Gods,
The well-streaked liver-lobe and gall-bladder.
Also by roasting limbs well wrapped in fat
And the long chine, I led men on the road
Of dark and riddling knowledge; and I purged
The glancing eye of fire, dim before,
And made its meaning plain. These are my works.
Then, things beneath the earth, aids hid from man,
Brass, iron, silver, gold, who dares to say
He was before me in discovering?
None, I wot well, unless he loves to babble.
And in a single word to sum the whole-
All manner of arts men from Prometheus learned.

Jerome said...

All art is representation -- "a lie" as you would say. But art doesn't purport to be truthful, merely evocative.

By the same token, all philosophy is representation -- "a lie" as Nietzsche would say. Philosophy -- that peculiar form of discourse built up through a successive transplanting of tropes from the evocative to the intellectual -- employs methods which deliberately sweeps away all traces of it evocative origins.

His (in)famous comment about Truth being "a mobile army of metaphors, metonomies, anthropomorphisms" is typically taken to mean that the fundamental lexemes of philosophy are meant to be place-holders and not realities, or "illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions." If these illusions are place-holders, then place-holders for what?

Nietzsche is underscoring what he sees as the inseparable link between our desires and our apprehension of truth. At his most nihilistic, Nietzsche takes this as an affirmation of philosopher's masked Will-to-Truth. But where Nietzsche isn't grinding his axe, there is a life-affirming point to be made that the relationship between nous and logos isn't a simple, parsimonious transaction an intellectual "insight" and an intellectual "expression." In the noetic insight what is meaningful (in the sense of passionate attachment towards) is transported (epi-pherein) to the realm of meaning (in the sense of intellectual content).

Nietzsche's reference to metaphor here is apt. It is untruth in the absolute sense to say "insight" is like sight and "expression" is like breath, but neither are then strictly place-holders in a Hegelian sublation. As metaphors, there was something appealing to the passions of the neologist who first recognized (in a noetic sense) the relation between the eyes and the mind. Metaphors (meta-pherein work not so much because their are logical but because they are euphoric (eu-pherein).

Absolute truth, 'objective' truth, dispassionate truth -- chimera's of enlightenment modes of thinking -- were reaching the end of their life in Nietzsche's day. Nietzsche read this as a sign that truth is essentially a fiction. But, just because we can read Nietzsche and works of fiction in a number of ways (as you acknowledge), doesn't mean we can't have good and poor "readings." Nietzsche scholars (which I admit I am not) might take issue with my reading of Nietzsche, but the way I read Nietzsche is the way that makes most sense to me (I'd like to think I'm employing Davidson's "principle of charity" towards Nietzsche, extending my slave morality onto his texts).

(I've been enjoying your posts, Hanno, but I feel like you've been circling Nietzsche, firing off arrows here and there without committing to a direct assault. Go for his throat like the bulldog that you are!)

Hanno said...

I am not sure what I think of all this. Parts speak to me, and other parts do not. So the usual me is silent.

I think he is by and large right about interpretations, meaning and values. But I wonder if morality can be construed separately from these.

His vision of morality being anti-life, and his wanting us to embrace the human, the animal in ourselves, speaks to me, but i wonder if we reject morality if we reject that conception of it. Certainly Hume was not nearly as anti-human, and did not share the same conception of morality as, say, Kant. Sex, for example, is not bad in an of itself, for Hume, but quite the contrary. Joy, laughter are all part of his view. Hume did not want the values of the monk, either.

But I also will not put art higher than morality, as N seems to want. When a great artist rapes a 13 year old girl, i do not think it is right to point to the art as somehow overriding the bad thing done, as N seems willing to do.

Guess I am still working my way through these issues, and surprised that I get more out of N's work than I used to.

I think a moral notion is essential. How can I square that view with the things n gets right?

Steve Gimbel said...

Life means embracing pain...let me guess, Hanno just handed back a set of exams...

Anonymous said...

To love yourself is to love yourself as you are, and that requires loving the bad things, too. Loving life requires loving things difficult to love.

ce said...

Certainly, I can love a person and also realize their faults, flaws, foibles, etc. Loving does not seem to entail dismissing the negative, however. Are not our greatest friendships and relationships the ones that aid us in being better persons? Are we not "better" in a distinctly moral sense with some associations and worse with others? Some people get into a lot of trouble when they hang out with the "wrong" crowd, and can be much better when they get away from them.

Does loving yourself or someone else entail complacency? I don't think it does. I love my brother, but he has bad qualities, many of which he has improved over time. I love my father, but I do not condone his intolerance of homosexuals and occasional racist outbursts. I love my dear friends, but that does not mean that they are perfect.

Surely, we love people, flaws and all. But does that make them flawless? No. Loving who I am, does not entail that who I am is without bad characteristics. I can love, and still realize that which I love can be improved in some ways.