Nietzsche’s Flame of Eternity: It’s Not a Wonderful Philosophy Nor Life

Nietzsche’s Flame of Eternity: It’s Not a Wonderful Philosophy Nor Life April 28, 2015

 

A._Picchi_-_Incendiodinotte (1)
The flame of eternity burns brightly, creatively, and destructively for Nietzsche (Anchise Picchi, Fire on the Hill, 1993; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD).

Leszek Kolakowski, author of philosophical barnburners such as Metaphysical Horror and Religion: If There Is No God– : On God, the Devil, Sin, and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion, said the following about the book I would like to start discussing today:

There are many books on Nietzsche. Some of them are distinguished by their learning and analytical power, some by their beauty. Very rarely can we find a book that combines both: learning and beauty. We see this unusual virtue in Michalski’s book.

It’s true. Krzysztof Michalski’s The Flame of Eternity: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thought grabs you by the throat, cuts off the oxygen, fills your lungs with censer smoke, and doesn’t let go.

The Flame of Eternity starts in an unassuming, classical manner. You get the typical wonder from the Aristotle’s Metaphysics as the springboard of thought:

Curiosity about the world, as we know, sometimes leads to philosophy. It can happen when that curiosity cannot be satisfied by knowledge of one or another event, by knowledge of one or another contingency, or by discovering the causes behind one or another phenomenon. It happens when we are not satisfied with the information we have about particular events or relations, or with a discovery of their causes. When, in short, we are curious to understand the world, and not just a fragment thereof.

It is only then—when we understand what the world is like, when we discover the universal and eternal order of things—that this kind of curiosity about the world will be satisfied. Philosophy born of this kind of curiosity, philosophy that endeavors to satisfy it, is an attempt to find the immutable and universal structures that allow us to understand the world as it is, an attempt at a universal theory.

In that first sentence finds the Polish philosopher relativizing wonder; all too often we think it the only entry into philosophical thinking. Note how Michalski says curiosity (wonder) “sometimes leads to philosophy.” If if only sometimes leads to philosophy, then what about all the other entrances into the love of wisdom? The other path is much more arduous:

That's one helluva one word recommendation for Michalski's book from Charles Taylor.
That’s one helluva one word recommendation for Michalski’s book from Charles Taylor.

Of course, this is hardly the only motivation toward philosophy that we can think of. Others include anger and pain, the rejection of the world as it is. The world—not this or that fragment of the world, this or that situation or institution, this or that fact as it is—hurts and outrages us, it chafes. Bringing some piece of reality to order—controlling the river that has, until now, regularly flooded the neighborhood, or freeing oneself from political oppression, or finding a treatment for a heretofore untreatable illness—does nothing to relieve this kind of pain. Only a new, universal order of things could free us from this pain, quiet our rage, and reconcile us to the world.

A philosophy motivated by a rejection of the world around us is an attempt to find a treatment or therapy, an attempt to find a way out of crisis, an attempt at liberation. Its goal is the creation of the new: change, not description. It is, above all else, a program of action, not a theory.

Changing the world world instead of describing it seems like a Marxist or postmodern preoccupation. Those associations would make sense for a book about Nietzsche, in a chapter, that, by the way, bears the title, “Nihilism.” But let’s not forget that the reconciliation, anticipation, and participation in the transformation of the face of the earth is also a Judeo-Christian concern!

Closer to our time action and change were also the concerns of important philosopher-theologians such as Maurice Blondel in his Action: Essay on a Critique of Life and a Science of Practice and Mikhail Bakhtin in Toward a Philosophy of the Act. For them philosophy was more than a system, it was a way of life.

But even closer to home, at least for me, action (praxis, and so on) were a big part of the Polish 19th century philosophers, politicians, and Romantic poets. I’m currently reading about the influence of these Polish sources on their French, German, and Russian contemporaries, and vice versa in Andrzej Walicki’s Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism: The Case of Poland and Roman Koropeckyj’s Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic.

So far we have the following: Nietzsche, eternity (much more than just the Eternal Return in Nietzsche), philosophy as a way of life, action, and Poland. How do these all fit together? I would be going against the spirit of Michalski book if I mended this crack of a philosophical puzzle today.

It will have to wait for another day .  .  . I’ll also add Jozef Tischner, the chaplain of Solidarity, to the chain of messy connections then.

Come to think of it, It’s a Wonderful Life is also about the brokenness of life. Ingmar Bergman could’ve directed that proto-existentialist flick:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ_OZpb0wIA

Look here for more on philosophy as a way of life, Polish philosophy, and Nietzsche. See also: my TOP10 favorite novels of all time, because Nietzsche is on it.

 

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