Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nietzsche and the nature of time

For Nietzsche, the problem Rousseau has posed concerning the fate of civilization and the condition of modern humanity is really a problem about history and the nature of time. The problem of humanity lies in its failure to establish a genuine relationship to the past. Time, whose essence lies in the moment, is intractable. The human will cannot break the inexorable moment – the becoming – of time, but only watch as an innocent bystander and see itself become a victim of the play of time. This leads the human will to seek revenge on life in a futile effort to break time’s spell and logic. We cannot will backwards and thus punish life, ourselves, and others, simply because we cannot undo what has been done. The problem we are faced with as modern human beings constituted by a historical consciousness is that of how to achieve a genuine relationship to the past by becoming authentically historical (even if that means, paradoxically, learning how to become unhistorical). For Nietzsche the human being can only overcome the spirit of revenge which informs its attitude towards life by learning how to affirm the very timeliness of time which consists in learning to affirm the moment (Augenblick). To affirm the moment is to affirm the innocence of becoming, which means that we neither justify the present in terms of some promised, but ill-defined, future, nor justify the past in terms of the present by which, from the vantage point of a post-historical position, we justify all that has been because we dream that it has necessarily led to our present ‘superior’ position.

Keith Ansell-Pearson. Nietzsche contra Rousseau: a study of Nietzsche’s moral and political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 3-4

No comments: