Friday, October 25, 2013

Nietzsche's Pedagogy by Peter Sloterdijk

[ Nietzsche studied the writings of Emerson with great enthusiasm as a young man.]

From a socio-psychological perspective one could define modernity as the impossibility of educating individuals to completion: there are only diplomas; there is no longer maturity. That is why parents and teachers are now systematically “incapable of coping with” their  offspring and pupils – the reason being that the finished world itself, from which the pedagogical labor of conformity was to take its cues, has in turn crumbled as the result of dynamization.  Education as a way of aligning the world and young people is running on empty – and whoever wanted to accept its factual results genuinely as final results would surely be one of those people on whom Nietzsche’s contempt was ignited.

What appears in Nietzsche as an aesthetic Weltanschauung is in truth a potent psychagogic program for a world  time of post-classical strategies for human elevation. It responds to the necessity that modern individuals find themselves under, namely, to transcend the horizon of their prior education. In this context, Nietzsche’s infamous words about the Ubermensch mean nothing other than a challenge to create the auto-plastically self-educating Self as a work of art out of the semi-finished products that mothers and teachers send out into the world.

Strip the elements of genius and religiosity out of the notion of the Ubermensch; replace its incitement to godly individualization and  elitism with Hanswurst (buffoon) - a title to which Nietzsche – the helpless master of the dangerous idea of cultivating humans into something higher -  had himself laid claim, and one can easily discern an idea of world-moving usefulness and urgency: the necessity of lifelong learning, a system of self-education and cultivation, a learning society capable of producing individuals fit for a globalized world in sufficient numbers to solve its impending problems.

The classical kynical* motif of “reminting the coin” was picked up by Nietzsche to set an anti-christian turnaround in motion. It was his reformist dream to trigger a counterrevolution of health against the morbus metaphysicus that had cast its spell on the Western world since the days of Socrates, Paul and Augustine, with all their inhibitions. But anyone who wants to “remint the coin” must rewrite the texts, the Platonic ones no less than those of the New Testament.

Nietzsche’s most important effect likely emanates from his talent of imbuing sacred texts, in serious parodies, with unexpected contrary meanings. He turned old texts into new tunes, and wrote new texts old tunes. His parodistic genius exploded all traditional genres of discoursing in elevated and lowly tones. As a buffo founder of religion, he preached the Sermon on the Mound anew and rewrote the Tablets of Sinai; as anti-Plato he laid out earthly ladders of power and vigor for the soul seeking to rise to something higher.

One may question whether Nietzsche’s rewriting of  texts and redirecting of forces should enjoy universal success. But what remains unfinished and more relevant than ever is the habit of his attempts at reformulating the spirit of moral laws in keeping with the contemporary age.

Perhaps one can learn from Nietzsche’s parodistic art something of the task of writing anew the tablets on which will be inscribed the rules for the survival of the industrious animal homo sapiens. It could turn out that revaluing values and remaining loyal to the earth that amount to the same thing.

* Kynismus: derived from the ancient Greek philosophical tradition founded by Diogenes and representing a countervailing mode of life in both philosophy and action as it sought unity in nature and disrupted the social and ethical mores. By contrast there is the contemporary cynicism expressed in sarcastic beliefs in the power of reason, which thus never fully takes life seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Nietzsche discovered another horizon of dire situations of which the traditional culture of war as the ultimate emergency - with all its classical stereotypes - knows nothing. For the male youth of ancient cities and modern nation-states, it is surely serious enough when they are supposed to be ready to defend the existence and claims of their fatherlands with their lives.