Heidegger and the ‘last metaphysician of the West'
by A. D'Alonzo
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During the last years before the fall in Turin and the so-called ‘letters of madness', Nietzsche was aware of being a famous man. His thought, despite being ignored by academies, was starting to have followers among the literary and artistic vanguards. Indeed, in 1989 the historian of literature Georg Brandes held a monographic course about him at the University of Copenhagen. The academic world, though, kept ignoring any link between his work and the great questions of the western philosophy; therefore Nietzsche was considered as a writer rather than a proper thinker.
After his ‘mythologization' by Ernst Bertram, a first, although baleful, recognition of the Nietzschean works as a philosophical corpus was done by the ideologist of the Third Reich, Alfred Bäumler. The other philosopher of National Socialism, Alfred Rosenberg, placed him in his capital work ‘the myth of the twentieth century', destined to become the book of the regime; here, though, the roots of the Nietzschean thought took a mythical value (likewise for Bertram, who dissolved the real image inside the ‘Nietzsche legend'). Bäumler, holder of a chair of ‘political pedagogy' in Berlin founded on purpose for him, and the main person responsible for the stake of ‘non German, non Arian books' in Alexander Platz in 1930, sees in Nietzsche a champion of Germanism, a kind of ‘horned Siegfried' fighting against the Christian west, under the benevolent approval and the complacent placitum of the ‘queen' of the Archive Nietzsche in Weimar, Elisabeth Forster, sister of the philosopher, and of the favorite disciple of her brother, excellent decoder of his calligraphy, as well as failed musician, Peter Gast (pseudonym of Heinrich Koselitz).
For Bäumler the ‘Germanic warrior' Nietzsche considers the will to power the principle that must necessarily be connected with a collectivized voluntarism, whilst staying, at the same time, the supreme vital affirmation and maximum expression of the transient and irrational force of the becoming. On the contrary, the eternal return is only a casual diversion from the true essence of Nietzsche's thought (which is the will to power), an ‘immortalization of the existing' which in no way can be agreed with the essential fulcrum of the Nietzschean system; for Bäumler the latter is enclosed in the unfinished posthumous Hauptwerk: the scandalous ‘Wille Zur Macht' edited by Elisabeth and Gast.
The ‘gravest thought' would, however, be absolutely non-influent for the purpose and the economy of the ‘Nietzsche-system' hidden in the last writings before the psychic fall in Turin, re-mixed by the duo Elisabeth-Gast. The idea of the eternal return is only an erroneous re-affirmation soon abandoned of the eternity of the One-All in the cyclic time of the Greek metaphysics. But Nietzsche is the philosopher of fight and becoming, viz. of the prospective will to power that can't have its essence but in itself; it can only be in the infinite craving for power that Nazism must necessarily interpret as an unconditional domineering of the Arian übermensch. For Bäumler the theory of the eternal return of the simile, on the contrary, presents an intrinsic justification of the existing, in its devaluation of any instance of radical transformation and modification due to the illusory caducity of praxis; everything returns, even the Jews and their contamination of the purity of the Arian race.
In this historical context Heidegger thunders against everyone: against the academic philosophers who labeled the Nietzschean works as lebenphilosophie, inviting to read Nietzsche in parallel with Aristotle's Metaphysics; against Bäumler, not only stating that the superman can't undergo a coarse racial adaptation, but also explaining the intrinsic link that refers the will to power and the eternal return to their complementariness, if not even their partial identity.
Heidegger engages into an extenuating hand-to-hand struggle with the Nietzschean thought enclosed in the posthumous fragments arranged in the ‘Wille zur macht', without sparing criticisms to Elisabeth and Gast for the superficial philological criteria used and nurturing the project, soon abandoned, to present his own critical edition. The unceasing exegetic nagging thought during the continuous re-reading of Nietzschean works, equal only to the same attitude that Heidegger had towards Aristotle and Hölderlin's works, together with a unique analytical obstinacy lead the German philosopher on the brink of the psycho-physical collapse (“Nietzsche destroyed me” he confided to his wife during this period).
He starts a four-year cycle of conferences and university lessons dedicated to Nietzsche, which will then come together in the biggest work ever published about Nietzsche. Heidegger considers totally irrelevant the works belonging to the first period, the so-called ‘Artist's metaphysics', when Nietzsche was a fervent Wagnerian and Shopenauerian. Like for Bäumler, only the last writings reveal the essential nucleus of his thought; for Heidegger though, it belongs to the history of western metaphysics as history of oblivion of the being in its progressive hiding in favor of the becoming that the being lets be.
For Heidegger Nietzsche is not a lebenphilosoph, a writer of aphorisms, a ‘mad' intellectual', but a proper philosopher like Aristotle; more precisely, he is identified with the last metaphysician of the West. His thought is the accomplishment of metaphysics as the apex of the oblivion where ‘there's nothing left of the being as such, there are only entities'. Heidegger sees the essence of nihilism in the history of western metaphysics as a progressive escape of the dis-veiling truth of the being up to complete oblivion, in the contemporary hypostasis of the becoming, viz. of the present-entity, within reach, touchable. This attitude starts with Greeks, precisely with the attitude of verification-description of the theoria , which, in its attempt to determine the being, reduces it to only one of its temporal dimensions, the present, forgetting to consider it also in relation to past and future. The theoretical attitude observes and contemplates only what is present.
Metaphysics of presence reduces the being to only one temporal dimension and, misleadingly, considers it as an entity; but it hasn't always been so. At the beginning of western history and before the metaphysical turning point, the truth of the being dominates, in the fullness and unity of its temporal articulations, originally thought as ‘truth' [ aletheia ], viz. as an extensive character of the being itself.
The change that Heidegger finds emblematically represented in the myth of Plato's cave leads to the predominance of the idea that the truth is not so much a character of the being itself, but rather the exactness [ orthòtes ] of the view that fixes the being in its being-present. The gradual and progressive training of the eye of the prisoner allows to go from the vision of shadows to the vision of essences, up to the supreme idea of good in itself. From this precise moment the being withdraws and the primacy of the becoming is determined in the horizon open by such withdrawal. It is born the western metaphysics where occurs the primacy of the fundamental attitude that Heidegger calls ‘subjectivity', the primacy of man in the middle of the entity in the contemporary oblivion of the being; that is the project of theoretical and pragmatic mastering of the whole earth that historically starts with Greeks and leads to the essence of ‘gestell', the modern technique. The history of metaphysics is therefore history of oblivion of the being in favor of the becoming and as such it is nihilism:
‘ The essence of Nihilism is the history where there's nothing left of the being', [M Heidegger, Nietzsche ].
This forgetfulness doesn't depend on a huge, more or less conscious human oversight that can be corrected; it is rather an ‘enowning' [ ereignis ] that belongs to the structure-destiny of the being itself meant as ‘un-veiling' that in the illumination of its be-coming withdraws and escapes, leaving the becoming be (a similar concept can be found in the Christian and Islamic mysticism, in particular compare the Heideggerian ‘un-veiling' to the primordial Cloud which Ibm ‘Arab î talks about). Heidegger tries to think the mysterious following of the historical epochs of the West, inside the illumination-opening of the being meant as its withdrawal and release at the same time. It is a joining of non-truth that escapes and truth that appears as ‘enowning' [ ereignis ] of the first. The ‘Greekness', the ‘Romanness', the ‘medieval world', ‘modernity' are all historical periods belonging to the epochal horizon of the being. This being, in its ‘unveiling' lets its obscuring happen hiding in as many fundamental determinations of the entity: ‘idea' (Plato), ‘energeia' (Aristotle), ‘ens creatum' (Christianity), ‘subject' (Descartes), ‘monad' (Leibniz), ‘spirit' (Hegel), ‘will to power' (Nietzsche), ‘gestell' (technique).
It is in representing (in German vor-stellen , ‘to present in front') that Heidegger identifies the way the being gives itself in the age of accomplishment of metaphysics, which starts with Plato, as we have seen. Through the succession of the various epochs of Western history metaphysical subjectivism starts slowly but progressively to unfold, moving the ‘focus point' of the speculative eye from contemplation to the simple presence of the becoming to the represented-being, viz. from the observed object to the knowing subject. In this sense the development reached by contemporary science testifies with the application of the empirical method the affirmation of methodic procedures of ascertainment, where the experimental manipulation has great importance, which allows the gnoseologic subject to introduce new techniques of control and domain on the being. On the other hand, the same western technique is with modernity a destiny that ‘accomplishes' metaphysics.
By identifying the being with the represented-being, it represents a hidden objectivism where the object gives itself away only in relation to a subject, through the use of technical-scientific procedures that de-consecrate Nature and make man the new conscious master of the Earth. It is in metaphysics of presence and in its domineering of the being that modernity starts, according to Heidegger.
Therefore the last three figures of metaphysics as history of the oblivion of the being become exemplary. Hegel, the last Greek; in his metaphysics of absolute subjectivity the Aristotelian substance is accomplished. Nietzsche, the wildest Platonic that reverses the platonic doctrine of the two worlds and conceives the entity as a will to power, intrinsically connected to the eternal return of the simile (respectively ‘essentia' and ‘existentia' of the being considered as value) and as ‘subjectivity. Finally in the ‘gestell', the structure of modern technique, where the mastering of the knowledge and effectiveness of the becoming (or entity) is now total. This is the time of accomplishment of nihilism: the being of the entity is totally and exclusively its being-placed by the project of man producer and organizer, by his strategy of domination of the whole earth. There is nothing but entity (or becomings). The gestell is not a product of human geniality, but the accomplishment of the destiny of metaphysics and the enowning [ ereignis ] of the being in its giving itself away, which is withdrawal at the same time. The being as well as the thought of the difference between the being and the entity, viz. the ontological difference, is forgotten. Through a global project of planetary domination the whole being is calculated, planned and programmed:
‘Man is going to dash on the whole earth and in its atmosphere, he is going to take possession as an usurper of the secret kingdom of nature – reduced forceless – and to subject the course of history to the plans and projects of a planetary domination' (M. Heidegger, Anaximander's saying, from ‘Off the beaten Track' ).
For Heidegger Nietzsche is the last metaphysician of the West, not a destroyer of the reason, but the prophet of the planetary diffusion of the technique that unmasks the ‘fairy tales' of Platonism-Christianity, the precursor of a totalizing and technocratic rationality destined to triumph in the gestell. What Nietzsche brings to light is the ‘fact' that ‘God is dead' and with him a whole system of values and beliefs that had their center of irradiation in a beyond world, in a ‘true world' opposed to the sensitive world, imperfect copy of the former. The ‘true world' is the super-sensitive world of Platonism and Christianity, which will dissolve the magnificence of human history adapting it to its eschatological idea of linear time as transitory time. ‘The death of God' and the decline of the values affirmed by the Platonic-Christian morale, values of the ‘flock' because they generate a weakening of the affirming and strong-willed attitude of the ‘morale of the masters', that ‘says yes' to life and its infinite becoming, create the need for the Feuerbechian re-appropriation of the projection of human essence sublimed in the divinity, in order to make it possible to go through the ‘growing desert' of nihilism. But this self-awareness can be possible only in a man radically different from the previous man: the übermensch , the superman. The übermensch is the man who wants the world as a will to power and eternal return of the simile; with this figure, whose milieu is the modern world of gestell, there is the closure of the history of western metaphysics as history of the oblivion of the being. It started as the identification of the being with the being-present, continued with the reduction of the being-present to the being-represented and ends up in the vaunting apotheosis of the undisputed power of the subject that re-presents the entity by manipulating it.
Nevertheless for Heidegger the man of technique is not completely alone in this era, in his power, in front of the entity; there is no relation between subject and object but inside the horizon enlightened by the being. Any future promethean hypothesis of a gnoseologic absolute domain of the western technocracy is to be considered ineluctably closed inside the opening of the truth of the being. In other words, the domain of modern technology is an open destiny wanted by the same alètheia , by the being.
The relationship between manipulator and ascertainer as well, the acclaimed relation subject-object, is given as an obscure start of the truth of the being. The freed and freeing age of modern technology is, paradoxically, the era of maximum subjection of the subject who, hypostasizing in his re-presenting the enslavement of the entity to his domain, obliterates its essential relation with the illuminating-guarding concentration of the essence of truth. Like in the Hegelian image of the servant-master, man finds himself slave to what he wants to dominate. The ‘growing desert' is the triumph of ratio that progressively transposes the fundament of the entity from its ‘totally other' (the Platonic idea, Aristotle's energheia, the God of Scholastics) to the solipsistic pursue of its purposes. In the age of technology, the subject recognizes in the other only himself. We are in the dusk of transcendence:
‘The night has fallen. Since the ‘three who are one', Hercules, Dionysus and Christ have left this world, the evening of the mundane time goes towards the night. The night of the world spreads its darkness. By now the era is characterized by the absence of God, by the ‘lack of God'' (Cf. M. Heidegger, Why poets , from Off the beaten track ).
And also: ‘The time of the night of the world is the time of poverty because it becomes poorer and poorer. It is already so poor that it can't recognize the lack of God as a lack.'
Nietzsche's thought, according to Heidegger, is not only the thought of the accomplishment of metaphysics, but also of anthropological self-consciousness. It is the epochal thought of the achieved maturity of man who finally and definitely emancipates from the Platonic residues of a transcendence that revealed itself as a fairy tale; the beginning of a new era. In his escape from the ‘sands' of nihilism, Nietzsche seeks an anthropocentric overcoming of western metaphysics, which he identifies with Platonism. According to Heidegger, though, this overcoming totally fails; transvaluation reveals itself as an entrapment in the same metaphysics that Nietzsche tries to escape. In this sense it is exemplary the interpretation that Heidegger gives, in the first part of What is called thinking? , of the liberation from the Nietzschean ‘spirit of revenge', which in the original intentions of the author should mean liberation from all that is contrary to the will, time and its ‘it was'. Nietzsche characterizes the ‘last man' as the traditional man who preserves the human essence passed to him by history, which for him means Christianity, Platonism, ‘morale of slavery', spirit of resentment against life and its high and noble values supported by strong spirits. Having to overcome the last man and his essence in order to go forward towards a higher kind of man, Nietzsche wonders what will be the bridge that will allow this passage; he thinks he can find it in the liberation from the spirit of revenge, the ressentiment of the traditional man:
‘Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge – that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms' , (F. Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra ).
But what is the spirit of revenge and why? Having Nietzsche announced the strike of the hour of ‘God's death', he finds himself in the anthropocentric need to place the human will as a research of power, a will-to-become-stronger. But the will at this point is only human, it can't wish backwards against its ‘it was'. The will is always projected in the future, it can't do anything about a past that can't be changed and that affects him, strongly reducing the range of possible choices for the future. It appears clear, than, what revenge is: ‘The will's antipathy to time and its ‘it was'' (Id.) The liberation of the spirit of revenge is the redemption from the torment of the becoming of time, as a symptom of ‘health of the strong spirits who can ‘say yes' to the flow, feeling it perfectly matching with the sense of their life and remaining loyal to the Earth. The world without end or purpose, eternally returning to what it is: this is the eternal return of the simile. The liberation from the spirit of revenge is interpreted by Heidegger as the final apotheosis of metaphysics, since through the doctrine of the eternal return of the simile, Nietzsche gives the becoming the hypostatic character of the being. According to Heidegger Nietzsche is a proper philosopher who, under the veil of Maya of apparently existential topics, thinks of the question-guide of the great western metaphysical tradition, the question about what the being is:
‘To impose upon becoming the character of being - that is the supreme will to power' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power )
Metaphysics considers the being outside any immanent link with temporality. In this prospective the spirit of revenge is the intolerance for the flow of the becoming, for temporality:
‘The will of the eternal return of the same things frees the will from the possibility to clash against what is hostile to it. Since the will of the eternal return of the same things wants, from the start and in the whole, the backward, viz. the backward walk and return' (Cf. M. Heidegger, What is called thinking? ).
The will overcomes the antipathy against the becoming if it persistently wishes for the coming and going of all things, the eternal cycle. The will, by wanting the eternal return of any ‘it was', frees itself from the resentment for each ‘it was'. Heidegger highlights that the eternal return of the simile is the final apotheosis of metaphysics of presence that eternally wants the same thing; in this epochal horizon, in fact, the will appears as the essential determination where the ‘revealing-guarding' of the essence of truth gives itself inside the ‘subjectivity'. The being of the becoming matches with the will that, wanting the eternal return of the same things, eternally perpetuates its will in the return; the will wants the perennial return of its will. The redemption from revenge is the essential change that marks the passage of the will from the hatred for the ‘it was' to the wish for the eternal return of the simile things, and the wish for itself as self-fundament. Heidegger underlines that to impose on the becoming the character of the being, which for Nietzsche is will to power, means that the becoming is possible only if it is founded on the being as such:
‘That everything returns is the extreme approach of the world of becoming to the world of being: apex of contemplation'. (Cf. Id.)
The doctrine of the eternal return of the simile is therefore, in the Heideggerian interpretation, essentially connected to the will to power. From the start the eternal return and the will to power are intrinsically conceived as fundamental determination of the entity in its whole. The will to power says what the entity is, its essentia , whilst the eternal return how it is, its existentia. The will to power expresses the ‘ stabilization of the super-elevation, viz. of the becoming '. The eternal return of the simile ‘ brings in front its essence as the most constant stabilization of the becoming of what is constant' . The two thoughts think the same thing:
‘The constant stabilization of the becoming of what becomes, in this unique presence of repeating of the simile ' (M. Heidegger, Nietzsche ).
In actual fact, according to Heidegger, Nietzsche doesn't really think of the becoming, because what becomes is the simile, the same that perpetuates itself in the mistaken diversity of the other; in the same there is the becoming presence of the simile. To think the will to power in connection with the eternal return, then, doesn't only mean – against Bäumler and his theory of a ‘Nietzsche system' based on the exclusion of the idea of the return – to refute once for all the idea of a fall back of Nietzsche's thought in the admiration for the old times. It is not the attempt to find the first symptoms of the lack of intellectual clearness, almost an omen of the incumbent dementia. It means to think metaphysically the most essential thing: the steady stabilization of the unstable. To impose on the becoming the form of the being means ‘ to give the becoming the form of the entity, so that as a becoming it is kept and has consistence, viz. it is' (Id.)
It follows that: ‘the transformation of the becoming in entity – the will to power in its supreme form – is in its deepest essence instantaneousness, viz. eternal return of the simile. <…> The will to power is, in its essence and according to its deepest possibility, eternal return of the simile. (Id.)
The superman in this prospective is the man who goes beyond the traditional man, because he grasps the intimate link of the will to power with the eternal return, preparing to extend the technocentric power in its planetary domination. The übermensch, the Promethean champion of the technocratic reason, is the new undisputed master of the earth. His is the thought of the will to total organization of the world. We can say that the essence of modern technology is the constant return of all things in perennial rotation. The übermensch, the superman, is the metaphorical symbol that designates the humankind in the new era of earthly masterhood.
Zarathustra teaches the doctrine of the superman in his essential relation with the will to power and the eternal return, because historically metaphysics thinks the being of the becoming in relation with human essence. On the other hand, according to Heidegger, it is secretly anthropocentric ‘subjectivity'. Likewise the Nietzschean expression of the ‘growing desert' is thought by Heidegger in its essential link with the time of gestell, where the reason is not any more mirror of nature, but rigorous ability for technical-industrial planning. Contemporary critics, in the attempt to save Nietzsche's work from the Heideggerian reading, have often tried to oppose this functional interpretation of the idea of the return, from an ideological prospective to apologetics of the existing. In Italy, in particular, Gianni Vattimo has been able to match the Heideggerian remembering thought to the Nietzschean idea of the eternal return, both directed not to the nostalgia of origins or the non-critical cult of the past, but to the radical overcoming of metaphysics. Vattimo proposes a re-reading of the Heideggerian ontology in the light of Nietzschean nihilism. Nietzsche's Perspectivism – which Vattimo associates to the nihilistic ascertainment of the growth of the sands of the desert – leads to the plurality of points of view and hermeneutic interpretations. The result is that the prospective plurality introduced by Nietzsche questions the peremptoriness of assertive theories, putting a limit to the radicalness of the skeptical or negative thought. Furthermore, according to Vattimo, the ‘amor fati' that originates from the acceptance of the return of all things, leads to the overcoming of any pre-established rhythmical scansion, of any planning edification of the dancing subject in the metaphysical yoke of the existence. This interpretation often returns in the French post-structuralism of the Seventies. Nevertheless, the reading proposed by Vattimo doesn't totally convince, especially where Nietzsche talks about the ‘great style' as an attempt to give shape to chaos, expressing perhaps a metaphysical need to hypostatize the flow rather than a real desire of liberation from the Apollonian structures in favor of the lightness of existence.
Going back to the Heideggerian interpretation, in the ‘ Holzwege' nihilism is not interpreted as a philosophical doctrine or a historical movement created by someone, but as the fundamental movement of western history, the internal logics inside the destiny of peoples. For Nietzsche nihilism means that supreme values are devalued. The announcement of ‘God's Death' doesn't mean to be a metaphysical demonstration of his non-existence or a Wagnerian fancy about a mythical Nibelung twilight. On the contrary, he wants to be understood literally as the announcement of an event: the ascertainment that in the hic et nunc of the ‘growing desert' the ideas linked to the super-sensitive world, the Platonic-Christian morale, the fetishistic belief in the immortality of the soul and in the eschatological triumph on the inferior sensitive and earthly world lose their value, they are canceled. Anachronistically it is still possible to believe in these values now dissolved in time, since they exist as shining semblances of stars extinguished for centuries. This nihilism disclosed by scientific honesty is the truth inherent to history according to which all the values that are true so far tend to fall. Therefore there is the affirmation of the need of a new position of the values to be placed as an alternative to decadent and anachronistic values-guides of Platonism-Christianity: Nietzsche calls this new position of values ‘active nihilism' or ‘classic nihilism'. According to Heidegger, Nietzsche calls his metaphysics with this name and conceives it as the counter-movement that opposes any other existed so far. Classic nihilism becomes liberation from the values existed so far, therefore it must be considered as transvaluation of the values themselves. A two-fold effect is inevitably produced: the disappearance of the ‘place' of values that were true up to this point and the need of a new position that disowns any ultra-earthly and super-sensitive projection in the venal devotion and loyalty to the earth. The new position of values can't have its goal but in the entity, since the will to power in the constant self-overcoming of becoming can't transcend any more in an eschatological millenarian projection. On the contrary, it must constantly return in the vortex of its strengthening, have its goal in itself and nothing else but itself. The new position of values therefore can't be anything but the will to power finally accepted and experienced as such in full consciousness:
‘Man so far, even if his existence has been determined by the will to power as fundamental feature of any entity, hasn't yet recognized and taken such will to power in what it is <…> the man who goes beyond the present man takes the will to power as the fundamental feature that it is and he wants himself as will to power' (M. Heidegger, Nietzsche's sentence: ‘God is dead', from Off the beaten track ).
The modern man is now mature for the Feuerbachian consciousness that recognizes values not as axiological and meta-historical data – in this instance ‘impotence of power' – but as an anthropological foundation of the will to power, finally unmasked and loved as such. For Heidegger metaphysics is concealed anthropomorphism; metaphysics of the will to power places man, never as before, in the undisputed role of unique measure of all things. The superman will leave behind the growing desert of passive nihilism, placing the statement of his essence in the re-iterated power of the technocentric project, taking back his essence removed through the dis-alienating final self-conscience of classical nihilism.
Nevertheless Heidegger rejects the attempt to overcome passive nihilism built on the ascertainment of the fundamental process of devaluation; for Nietzsche nihilism means that supreme values are devalued. According to Heidegger, the Nietzschean overcoming not only doesn't overcome nihilism, but it is authentic nihilism itself. Nietzsche thinks overcoming as a new position of values, therefore according to Heidegger, he thinks the entity as such, whilst he prevents himself from accessing the being as such. The transvaluation and the new position of values as will to power – in its essential correlation with the existentia of the being, the eternal return – doesn't legitimate the hypostasis of a volontas in its metaphysical regality, but rather its atomistic disintegration in a myriad of centers of power that prospectively determine the entity as judgment of value, viz. ‘point of view of'. The being is dissolved and apportioned in the monadic observation of subjectivity, mere point of view set by the position of the values of the centers of force: ‘Alles ist Kraft'. The being is considered as a value and therefore it is planned starting from the centers of power, viz. the entities, as a condition determined by the will to power. Nietzsche holds the recognition of the entity as such but at the same time with the ‘noose' of the interpretation of the being as value, he can't think the being as such. Once again, for Heidegger, there's nothing left of the being; therefore Nietzsche's metaphysics is not an overcoming of nihilism, but an entrapment in it. Nietzsche's active nihilism is therefore the accomplishment of authentic nihilism. Until the essence of nihilism is not considered starting from the oblivion of the being, the thought will always find the possibility to access its authentic dimension precluded, that is to history ‘in which the being itself is nothing' (M. Heidegger, Nietzsche ). This is the remembering thought mentioned by Heidegger, who alludes to the possibility – reserved to a small circle of thinkers – to overcome the roaming of history of metaphysics to unveil its essence (oblivion of the being) and start an attempt to overcome it. For Heidegger the consciousness of oblivion of the being is already the prelude to a new relationship of man with the being as ereignis (event), even though this is only given inside the structure (gestell). In the era of gestell Heidegger sees the possibility of a new start that leads outside oblivion. For Heidegger any metaphysics is theology since it is thought on the supreme entity. According to Heidegger, Nietzsche's metaphysics is a negative theology that tries to grasp absoluteness in the purest way possible, completely leaving aside any anthropocentric projection. The word ‘chaos' itself is a negative notion that expresses the impossibility to decide and state anything about the entity as such; it is a negative theology without the biblical God. According to Nietzsche Heidegger in his idea of the eternal return as ‘Circulus vitiosus Dei', thinks that the totality of things which are (the becoming) becomes worlds starting from God. But the Creator is held in a horizon of radical troublesomeness by the tragedy of the world that eternally returns. The vision of the universe might even be the leitmotif of a song – like in the obscure passage ‘ of the vision and enigma' in Zarathustra's animals – but the vision remains deeply enigmatic. The ecstatic fusion of the instant of the two infinities of past and future time is an idea that exceeds the charade-like simplification of his minimalist reduction of the idea of return. In the above mentioned passage a punctual Heideggerian reading introduces us to the careful metaphysical symbolism that hovers with intrinsic obstinacy on every image of the Zarathustra . The eagle hovers in large circles in the sky: according to Heidegger it is an explicit reference to the ring of the eternal return; likewise the snake around its neck. They also represent respectively pride and prudence. Their wandering in reconnaissance testifies the selective research for the loner, the one who crossed the deserts in the ‘loneliest of solitudes' (Cf. id.) The dwarf who reaches the carriageable door of time on Zarathustra's shoulders is the man who doesn't take seriously the most terrible thought; although he sees the potential he can't draw his conclusions. Zarathustra's animals as well fall in the same attitude, crouch down in front of the circle passively contemplating it and describing it with the ‘most beautiful images'. But the eternal return can't be reduced to mere leitmotif and chatter: Nietzsche searches for the distance between authentic knowledge and superficial comprehension. Zarathustra's animals and dwarf express two particular attitudes of non-commitment that lead to a general sense of resignation and impotence: if everything returns, if everything is necessary, action and thought are useless, even impossible. In the world there's only space for meditatio mortis. But what was there and what will return? Nietzsche's answer is that what will be done in the next instant will return. If at this moment I am selfish, weak, anguished, all this will ineluctably return and it will be what it was. But if of the next instant ‘ and so of any other you will make a supreme instant and you will record and fix its consequences, they will return and they will be what it was <…> but this is decided in your instants and only there and according to what you think of the entity and how you behave towards it; according to what you want and you can want from yourself ' (Cf. Id.).
This is Zarathustra's metaphysics, translated into an existentialistic metaphor of the idea of eternal return that dissimulates the true interpretation of the existentia of the entity, the ‘how it is'. In the continuation of the ‘The vision and the enigma' , a ‘grievous black snake' – antithetical to Zarathustra's snake – attacks a sleeping young shepherd by crawling into his mouth, representing the bleak and desperate nothing of nihilism that overtakes whoever is not on the lookout (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra ). Zarathustra shouts at the young man to bite the snake's head off. Nihilism can't be overcome with an external attack, simply replacing old values with new ones. Not even Zarathustra can help the young shepherd by grabbing the snake's tail; only by beheading it in his mouth the attacked person can save his life. Nihilism can be overcome only through an attack that starts at the bases, on the head. In this context, according to Heidegger, the bite that overcomes nihilism starting from the bases is the eternal return. Zarathustra, the master of eternal return, doesn't really think until the snake attacks the young shepherd and the latter defends himself by beheading it with a bite. French post-structuralists see in the Dionysian the energy that causes the overcoming and the rebellion to consolidated power; on the contrary Heidegger sees the Nietzschean exaltation of Dionysian as substantializing of the becoming and research for the form as expression of power and ‘cesarean' cult of stability. Healthy art, ‘vital' contraposition to the romantic one, which has its paradigmatic manifestation in the Wagnerian drama, direct expression of nihilism as a consequence of a general feeling of dissatisfaction for the existence that generates ressentiment and spirit of revenge – is what Nietzsche calls the ‘great style' and what the Heideggerian exegesis identifies with the severe classical style. According to Heidegger, Dionysian elation is for Nietzsche the clearest victory of form. Elation is not the exaltation of rebellious chaos, bearer of social disorder useful to the destruction of the field knowledge-power, neither the emphatic dissolution in Dionysian, functional to a rebirth of tragic culture supported by Wagner. Elation is a force that creates forms:
‘To dominate the chaos that we are, to force our own chaos to become form, to become logic, simple, univocal, mathematics, law: this is the great ambition ' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Posthumous fragments )
The ‘great style' is the project where the will to power places a priori all the things subjected to its undisputed jurisdiction, in the horizon where it is determined the ‘breeding' of new human races that dominate the entity, emancipating from ultra-mundane teleologisms. The ‘great style' is the anthropocentric deployment of the earthly domain. Even the famous Nietzschean proclamation that triumphantly invites to ‘live dangerously' is, according to Heidegger, a further incitement for the superman to recognize his essence in the will to power and to cross confidently and courageously, without looking back, the snares of the night, leaving behind growing deserts. The aim is an equivalent distance from the totalizing homologation determined by the rigid uniformity of the law as well as from the contaminating dispersion of the chaos where the social and psychic corpus of the subject risks to be disintegrated; chaos and law are now subjected to a yoke whose will is symmetrically distant from a formal pedantic stiffening as well as from the ecstatic delirium of the Dionysian trance. The will to power realizes its most perfect form in the creating will of the non-romantic artist, perpetually hiding from the decadently opiate look of the Bayreuthian dreamer. The Dionysian creative ‘health', typical of those who left deserts behind, is functional to the veiled symbolic transposition of the energetistic conception of reality. The unceasing battle among the centers of power expresses the artistic hermeneutic game where every center interprets the whole, starting from its prospective position, rather than the bloody character of fight:
‘The world has once again become infinite, since we can't escape the possibility that it involves infinite interpretations.' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science ); ‘The world doesn't have a sense behind itself, but endless senses ' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Posthumous Fragments ).
The artist's will, precisely. According to Heidegger, even in the biblical theme of ‘crossing the deserts' we can see a failed emancipation of the Nietzschean thought from the ‘sands' of Platonism-Christianity, which represents itself as emblematic, in the ambiguous re-affirmation of the ascetic ideal, of the ‘will for desert' of the man who escapes the ‘flock', the ‘free spirit'. It could be that Nietzsche, son of a protestant priest, never managed to emancipate from Christian spirituality. In his books there are constant references to asceticism which are involuntarily linked to Christianity as well as to Buddhism. After all some theologians, such as Overbeck, thought that Nietzsche's fall was due to the failure in overcoming Christianity and the will to meet God again. Perhaps the eternal return expresses this wish for transcendence and compensates ‘God's death'. However, Nietzsche's asceticism in ‘ On The Genealogy of Morale' is an expedient aimed at accumulation of energy and power in sight of transvaluation of all values. The dissolution of identity is pursued only in the perspective of a radical and superior re-foundation structured on grounds radically different from the worn-out ideas of Platonism-Christianity. Therefore Nietzsche compares dance to the soldier's march, a result of long and extenuating exercises; the ‘lesson of force' is not the action of affirming immediateness but rather research of persistence:
‘To dance in chains, to make things difficult and then cover them with the illusion of easiness' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human ).
Once again for Nietzsche it is a matter of giving form to chaos: this is the essence of great style. In this perspective, the word ‘justice' shows the essence of truth, the way it is given in the era of accomplishment of metaphysics. ‘Justice' is the essence of the truth of the entity considered as will to power. The übermensch is the perspective of a post-human thought ready to live justice as will to power and not as millenarian waiting. After all, for Nietzsche art – which is a form of the will to power – is the exemplary counter-movement of nihilism, that is of the depreciated values of Platonism-Christianity. We must remember the Platonic condemnation of art as manifestation of the sensitive world, faded copy of the ‘true' one, viz. the super-sensitive world of ideas or essences. According to Heidegger, Nietzsche's philosophy is a constant reversal: to reverse Platonism means to reverse the metaphysical hierarchy of values, to bring down the ‘true' super-sensitive world and bring up the sensitive world. Now the sensitive world becomes the proper entity, the truth, whilst the super-sensitive dissolves in the loss of the hierarchic apex. In conformity with the Platonic axiology of values – borrowed and perfected later in Christianity – the supreme forms of the super-sensitive world have always been religion, morale, philosophy, whilst the sensitive has its representation in art: ‘our religion, morale, philosophy, are forms of decadence of man; the countermovement: art.' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Posthumous fragments ).
In this perspective art becomes agreement to sensitiveness and appearance, to what is not the ‘true world' of Platonism, viz. it is not the ‘truth'. The ‘truth' here is the will for the ‘true world', in the sense of Plato and Christianity, the super-sensitive, the entity itself. Art is the will for appearance, viz. for sensitiveness. Since this world is the real and only world, Nietzsche concludes that ‘art sometimes is worth more than the truth' (Cf. Id.).
Nietzsche perceives the Platonic truth as a hold-as-truth, mere fixation of the chaos and what becomes, therefore a denial of what flows: this fixation, remaining enclosed in the apparent world (which for Nietzsche is Platonism, being fixation of chaos) excludes itself from the agreement with the authentic reality of what becomes. Art, on the contrary ‘being transfiguration opens possibilities, sets free the becoming object in the becoming and therefore moves in the ‘true' world ' (Cf. M. Heidegger, Nietzsche ).
The ‘true' world is now what becomes, whilst the apparent world is what is fixed and still. The reversal of Platonism is re-affirmed in the antithesis between truth and art, which is not a simple contraposition. Nietzsche can state that ‘ the truth is a kind of error' , in the sense that it is held-as-truth, mere fixation of the flow of becoming. The error, though, is in this partial gap with the essence of the truth of becoming and since it is an irreducible hiatus it is agreement with the truth. Therefore for Nietzsche the truth has a double essence: the truth as error and fixation of the chaos in the entity and the truth as agreement with what becomes. A double meaning is therefore determined. On one side there is the truth-error that fixates the entity, on the other the true-agreement with the becoming. Nevertheless, the agreement with the becoming that is realized in art is appearance, at first as an illusion of not being able to hold-as-truth the becoming of the work, later with the ascertainment of the appearance of new possibilities that appearance makes possible being as such. Truth-error refers to truth-agreement; likewise appearance-possibility refers to appearance-illusion. The truth as error remains a necessary value; likewise it is ‘useful' the principle of non-contradiction of the collective forma mentis, ready to dissolve in case of changing biological conditions. The primacy is however given to art-appearance, which is the opening of new possibilities-illusions (recognized as such and therefore a symptom of health), with respect to the chaos of becoming. But Nietzsche's philosophy is not only a reversal of Platonism. The criticism to contemporariness involves Darwin as well; life is not only instinct for self-preservation, as Darwin stated, but self-affirmation, crave for power. Nietzsche keeps and reverses Darwinism at the same time. He keeps it because like Darwin he places the aim of the living being not extrinsically in a millenarian telos, but in the fight for survival. He overcomes it because everything doesn't only want to preserve itself, but to become stronger and more powerful. Heidegger finds another preconception to be disproved in the recurrent interpretation that puts close or even identifies Nietzsche's philosophy with Heraclitus'. But according to Heidegger Nietzsche's ‘Heraclitism' is only apparent; it is not the modern re-affirmation of the ineluctability of becoming, but the ‘redemption from the perennial flow'. This redemption is not even a hypostatic restoration of a ‘well round truth' relating to any Parmenidean One, but the liberation from ephemeral ‘and so on'. It is the non-totalitarian and stiffening control of the becoming through its spatialization operated by the being. According to Heidegger the Nietzschean eternal return leads to a ‘soft' form of control of the being on the becoming, because it is an imprisonment of the flow in the perennial circle. With this stratagem Nietzsche doesn't even need to totally annul the becoming in the being, because the circle of the eternal return lets the flow of time exist but it weakens it, eliminating its irreversibility, its ‘and so on'.
Nietzsche's philosophy is also an overturning of Schopenhauer's. For Nietzsche art is the great excitement of life; nothing is farther and more opposed to the quietist idea of art as liberation of the Schopenhauerian Wille, the tyrannical and Cyclopean will to live. But in particular, art affirms itself as expression of the body towards the integral transvaluation of the intelligible values of Platonism, in radical antithesis with the sober command of the charioteer of the rational soul. Transvaluation as affirmation of sensitivity has its privileged vehicle in the body; according to Heidegger not as Dionysian liberation (this is one of the main points of contrast with the ‘Nietzscheans') but as persistent and patient shaping molding. Inside the linear history of metaphysics of oblivion, Heidegger compares the positions of Descartes and Nietzsche. Descartes is a fundamental figure in the progressive revelation as being brought to light, of the essential determination of the anthropocentric projection of subjectivity, the impulse for the domain of the earth. For Descartes truth is seen as certainty, because it is a representation of the man who puts its fundament in the subjectum, viz. in the indubitableness of the Cogito. In the representation of the representing, viz. of the subjectum, there is Descartes' fundament. Nietzsche, in the research for the deconstruction of the ego of the last man that can act as a bridge for the superman thinks that, on the contrary, subject and conscience are postulates of the activity of the thought. The Cartesian metaphysical position is taken by Nietzsche on condition of its psychological re-interpretation that causes a radical translation of the ‘will to truth' in the disaggregating perspectivism of the centers of power eternally fighting each other. For Descartes the human dimension is marked by the certainty of egoity obtained through the Cogito and the insurance of a God that doesn't cheat. On the contrary for Nietzsche the ego is a center only starting from instincts, passion and atavic impulses; from the ‘uncanny' in Freudian terms. Identity is founded only through the ‘self-conscience' of radical ontological destruction; the ego is only a relation of forces. This is because from the start it is nothing but fiction, a ‘bunch of differences'. The new humankind must be able to tame the inner chaos – produced by nihilism generated by the lies of Platonism-Christianity – forming new forms of power from the disorder in correspondence with the advent of the era of total planning of the earth. Heidegger shows us how at any time in western metaphysics there is a new determination of human essence. The history of metaphysics doesn't agree with plurality. It gives itself only to a single thinker, un-veiling itself in its giving and withdrawing. Common mortals have many thoughts. The thinker is the elected, ‘the shepherd of the being', the man who thinks only one thought. In the last years of his life Heidegger often confided to his son that he had the impression the thought spoke through him. If western metaphysics has privileged, in its misunderstanding, the visual dimension, the ability to listen to the being is the essential sensitive vehicle for a thought that claims to be ultra-metaphysical. The later Heidegger has often been accused of mysticism, with good reason. For Heidegger thought, which states the ‘death of philosophy', must get close to poetry rather than science. In particular, in Hölderlin's poetry Heidegger looks for the path that needs to be chosen by the thinker who will take the responsibility of the heritage of thought. Nevertheless, he never sets to zero the difference between thought and poetry, as this passage demonstrates it: ‘the poet mentions the sacred, the thinker tells the being' (Cf. M. Heidegger, Anaximander's Saying ).
F. Nietzsche, Opere ( Works, Note of the Translator), Italian edition directed by G. Colli and M. Montinari, Adelphi, Milan, 1964; Lettere ( Letters, Note of the Translator) , Italian edition directed by G. Colli and M. Montinari, Adelphi, Milan, 1976.
M. Montinari, Nietzsche , Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1996.
M. Heidegger, Nietzsche, Adelphi, Milan, 1995.
M. Heidegger, Che cosa significa pensare? (English edition: What is called thinking?, Note of the Translator) , Sugarco Edizioni, Milan , 1988.
M. Heidegger, Sentieri interrotti (English edition: Off the beaten track, Note of the translator) La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1996.