Nietzsche (as) educator

Babette Babich

There has been no shortage of readers who take Nietzsche as educator (cf., for a by no means exhaustive  list: Allen, 2017;  Aviram, 1991;  Bell,  2007; Cooper, 1983;  Fairfield,  2017;  Fitzsimons, 2007;  Gordon, 1980;  Havenstein, 1921;  Johnston, 2005;  Lemco, 1992; Löw, 1984;  Murphy, 1984; Peters, Marshall, & Smeyers, 2001; Rattner, 1994; Rosenow, 2000; Solms-Laubach, 2012, 139f, etc.). Thus the phrase appears as part of the editorial essay that prefaces Why Nietzsche Now?  ‘The Prophet of Our Laughter: Or Nietzsche — as Educator’ (O’Hara,  1981), the disjoint force of the title depends upon the thought slash — to render the German Gedankenstriche in place of what we call a ‘dash.’

In Nietzsche circles thinking about the ‘as’ in  the  case  of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche is old hat, thus Arthur Danto talks about the little comparative term ‘as’ in his title (Danto, 1980, referring to the 1965 edition), in a preface that begins with one of analytic philosophy’s self-references, to wit: ‘arthurdantist’, citing an analytic trade cookbook or  ‘philosophical lexicon’ compiled by Daniel Dennett and Karel Lambert: ‘Little Friedrich used to say the strangest things before we took  him to the  arthurdantist’.  (cited in Danto, 1980,  p.  7,  cf.  Danto  2005 and Syrjämäki,  2009) The comment on analytic self-inspection is apropos here, especially in the context which was for Danto a claim to priority, looking back 15 years and ignoring Hans Vaihinger’s  (1902Nietzsche als Philosoph.

In German, Karl Jaspers names Nietzsche educator during the interregnum between two world  wars  (Jaspers,  1997  [1947];  cf.  Hoyer,  2002, also crucial or Jacob Taubes and Günther Anders), and still  more  globally, but going back to the same era, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker emphasizes educational  ubiquity  (von Weizsäcker, 1999).  In more complicated fashion, Heidegger’s university years were undertaken in the presence of Nietzsche’s books as so many mascots, and he used Nietzsche as educator, as he claimed, contra the Nazis themselves  (cf., also  for further literature, Babich, 2017a). Heidegger came to rue not his  claims of resistance but surely the challenge of wrestling with Nietzsche as he reflected in retrospect: ‘Nietzsche hat mich kaput gemacht’ (Gadamer, 1996, cf. Babich, 1996). Today, given recent and older scandals, Heidegger’s connection with Nietzsche has become something less than salutary (see overall Furness, 2000 and Wolin, 2006 and, from an analytic perspective more  tuned to Steven Pinker than Heidegger, Drochon, 2018 but see too Babich, 2017a), Nietzsche’s name is not untroubled  (see among others Holub, 2015) and with respect to education, more  recently  and  contrarily, John Gray’s review of an editorial collection published as if or under Nietzsche’s name, Anti- Education (Gray, 2016; Nietzsche, 2015).

In addition, among the existentialists there is Camus (Gordon 2016), certainly  Foucault and even, so I argue, Arendt and de Beauvoir in  addition to Luce Irigaray  (1991;  cf. Babich, 2010a). The French surrealist author of the erotic, the librarian by day, Georges Bataille, writes his war diaries On Nietzsche (Bataille 1992), the esoteric secret to Nietzsche’s  reception in France, as Bataille reflects on this same theme: ‘Desire: Nietzsche as Educator’ (Babich, 2015a, pp. 282–294). Adding still more convenience, were we to discover ourselves in need of  such,  today  just about anyone can and does count themselves expert on Nietzsche. Hence a reviewer of a collection on the theme  of  Nietzsche,  Culture,  Education  (Hart,  2008)  pronounces what  he assumes to be gospel: ‘it is not hard to reflect on what Nietzsche would have made of’ one of the contributions, ‘ponderous’, ‘demonstrating’ ‘erudition’ ‘through references to such luminaries  as Pindar, Heraclitus, Hegel, and Heidegger’. (Duke, 2010, p. 918)

Thus we know—we ‘free spirits’ of the middle period Nietzsche currently popular—that Nietzsche loves  the light  step, loves  dancing in the air, hiking  and climbing  mountains. Thus he is opposed to whatever we imagine the ponderous to be (that’s anything hard for us to wade through, that will—I will come back to this at  the  end—include  both  Nietzsches Greeks, as he read them, and Nietzsches Schopenhauer, as he read him). In practice, this can mean that when Nietzsche turns out to have had his ponderous depths in addition to those we attribute to him, we can be inclined to discount those in advance. So we know, so we say, that he was a classicist, but immediately undo that attribution reflecting that he left it behind, that his fellow classicists judged him badly, so what could he have really had to say to his own discipline?  Thus he switched to being everybody’s favorite bad boy philosopher, winning the insistence, beginning with Bertrand Russell that he was no philosopher, only, to use Nietzsche’s  own  contrast,  as  Nietzsche himself anticipated this denigration, a poet. Here, speaking of the acrimony that  attends the writing of reviews, we can think of Nietzsche’s key reviewer: note that most  commonly reviews tend to be written by enemies or else those with their own axes to grind. This is, to be sure, because should ‘reviews’ be written by  friends or ‘constructively’ or  ‘supportively’, they are not technically reviews as much as praise, book blurbs, encomia. But so far from praise, Ulrich  Wilamowitz-Möllendorff   insisted   to   us,   and   scholars,   especially   Nietzsche   experts,   have believed him ever since, unswerving, that Nietzsche’s work was proof of a lack of erudition (Wilamowitz-Möllendorff,  2000). Of  course Wilamowitz-Möllendorff had reasons to  discount Nietzsche’s erudition, he was himself ambitious and one can argue, per contra, that Nietzsche’s work reflects no shortage of erudition including unprecedented scholarly discoveries and so on (Babich, 2016; Barnes, 1986; Benne, 2005; Brobjer, 2008; Whitman 2017, etc.).

Who knew?

Maybe Nietzsche is more complicated than he  seems,  but  taking  Nietzsche  hiking  seems  far  more fun and by definition, backpacks set weight limits, Nietzsche on a hike is a less demanding Nietzsche, no need for reading precision (Johansson & Schumann, 2017), or asking, as if for a  change: what would Nietzsche do? (Weeks, 2017) catchier than the born-again evangelist’s empty question (both queries presume one already knows the answer): what would Jesus do?

The most ponderous thought

One of the consequences of ponderous erudition is that it tends to weigh on both the writer and  the reader. This is a point Nietzsche emphasized in his inaugural lecture, delivered upon taking his appointment at the University of Basel (Nietzsche, 2017; cf.  Benne,  2005;  Borsche,  Gerratana, & Venturelli, 1994; Heit & Jensen, 2014; Whitman, 2017)  The  weight  of  such  knowledge would lead Nietzsche himself to ask how much truth can one  bear?—and, not  utterly  unlike Socrates’ daimon, which last impetus Nietzsche characterized as  a  negative, non-affirmative force, emphasizing that such a weight can hold one back, leading one at the very least to think that perhaps one might think twice and again. One wonders what  Nietzsche ‘meant’  (Morgan, 1965) or what he ‘really said’ (Solomon & Higgins, 2012). Even books dedicated to ‘misReading’ Nietzsche helpfully offer claims for the right way to interpret his texts (Clemente & Cocchiara, 2018, cf. Renaut & Ferry, 1997; Hummel, 2009ab; Schotten, 2009, and very useful: Del Caro,  1989;  Müller-Lauter,  1971, etc.).

But scratch our dime store Nietzsche and we find, and the more we learn of him, the plainer this becomes, one of the most erudite scholars of the last two centuries. Thus Nietzsche as educator seems more than merely an apt epithet, stolen as many titles for studies of Nietzsche are stolen from his own work. For, let us recall, Nietzsche steps down from teaching after 10 years at university, the same period of time he has his Zarathustra spend on the top of his mountain  before he descends, but afterwards he, Nietzsche, in his writings does little other than teach (Löw,  1984,  and,  again,  Gordon,  1980;  Thiele,  1990).  Nietzsche’s  writerly  ventures are seemingly didactic and even qua physician of culture he seems to be speaking of education (Hart,  2009, p. 113). Thus he writes, for example, The  Gay  Science—published in two parts, beginning with The Gay Science, Books 1-4, ending with the thought Nietzsche names his most ponderous: das grösste Schwergewicht—the  greatest  heavyweight.

One typical way to deal with all this very ponderous erudition is to declare it no such thing.  Thus, the reader who has trouble thinking dismisses it, designates it contradictory or as leading to this or that unreasonable, illogical, fascist/terrible consequence (to will the eternal return of the Nazis, for a common  example). Yet it is Nietzsche himself who insists in the last book of the first edition of The Gay Science that this thought—thought in just  this  way—is  his  heaviest  thought: so he titles it, and, as if to match the challenge, promptly ends the book.

Nietzsche goes on to publish the first book of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and then, followed by the publications of book II, and book III, issued seriatim, wherein the thought of recurrence is hinted at but presumably too difficult, too heavy to  bear. This  essay does not permit us to review Nietzsche’s habit of publishing and republishing his books as often as possible,  first  in  parts and then together, and then reissued yet again. But at the very least we can note that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is less a prophet, ‘parodying’ the gospels or else proclaiming nihilism to a nihilistic age that would only presage the most nihilistic era of all that would be the coming century, and as we now increasingly see, our own century, than a teacher  (cf.  Lambert, 1986), giving lecture after lecture while musing on his lack of  perceived  success, thus  his  complaint  that the ears of those listening to him are not the ears for his message.

Das grösste  Schwergewicht—the  greatest  heavyweight is self-announced  as  Nietzsche’s  most ponderous thought. The aphorism is one may submit, among the best laid out of Nietzsche’s descriptive aphorisms, outclassing the madman who declares ‘God is dead,’ crying in the market-place with the laughter of onlookers, his shattered lantern, defeated peroration, finally breaking into churches to play a requiem for the deceased. Here, we have a pensive vignette: moonlight framed by trees, spiders, loneliness, a demon, etc. The mood set, the aphorism finds us at evening, in ‘loneliest loneliness’. Nietzsche’s demon makes this a thought experiment starring the philosopher’s familiar (again, recall Socrates’ cautionary daimon,  or  else  Descartes’  genie malin  or else Maxwell’s demon, as Lord Kelvin calls him, a ‘sorting demon’ who re-arranges—no creative claims are  made—bits here and there to argue in 1867 for a potential exception to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and thus a perpetual motion  machine).  Nietzsche’s Gay Science  demon is not that kind of demon, but the more ordinary kind, who  pursues you in your loneliest loneliness to predict a future to you that strips you of all future, and, most notably, includes no new news. This is the eternal return of the same.

The reference to cosmology, noted via Maxwell and Lord Kelvin, matters not least as I argue (Babich, 2010c) because one may find it in Nietzsche’s own text, and scholars ought to take account of that (this is done vastly less than one would assume) but also because the mathematician Émile Poincaré offered  a  wonderfully stochastic proof  of  nothing  less   than   the   Eternal Return (cf. for further literature Babich 2010b), quite independently of  Nietzsche and together with the assumption that the universe was, for example, closed or finite. This was the going assumption for Nietzsche and his contemporaries (key to note for historians  of  science), and some scientists assume it to this very day.

The philosophic question of the selective sameness of the eternal return of the same is echoed in eternity not in time (and thus,  as  we  explore  this  below,  Gilles  Deleuze  tells  us  we  are not talking about things coming back as they were,  the  same,  again,  to  be  experienced,  the  same, again).

Again, we note that The greatest heavyweight constitutes the penultimate section of the first edition of The Gay Science, the ultimate section being a  replication  of  the  beginning  of  Thus  Spoke Zarathustra: Incipit tragoedia [GS 4, §342]). The standard English translation cuts ‘heaviness’ in  Das  grösste  Schwergewicht,  perhaps as it is too ponderous to read: thus  ‘the  greatest  weight’ is one’s own past repeated, no chance of rebirths, no heaven, no hell, the same everything  already lived through, great and small, da capo, no alteration.

What returns is nothing but the everydayness, the  routine  time  of  the  everyday:  just what was, the stone fact that, like Mozart’s stone guest, attests to the persistence of the past, that is what has been. Es war—which we also encounter in Freud’s theory of the unconscious where sameness resides, the same. ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it …’ (GS 4, §341)


I am still concerned to explore the question of Nietzsche as educator. This led me to consider questions of ponderous kinds, weighty notions, the greatest heavy weight as Nietzsche speaks of it: eternal recurrence. This indeed recurs in the more uncanny than beautiful word scene or painting that Nietzsche gives us in Zarathustra’s conversation with the dwarf in Of the Vision and the Riddle, claiming that the dwarf could not bear the weight of the thought itself. It is at this moment that Zarathustra himself is no longer weighted down with the burden of carrying the dwarf but lightened. The dwarf literally takes a load off, springing to the ground from Zarathustra’s shoulder where he had been pouring thoughts of lead into his ear. The allusion for Nietzsche is to leaden type, this too recurs, in addition to Wagner, the most obvious, as an allusion to the many dwarves among  philologists  and philosophers as  Nietzsche saw  them, just as  one should not forget the obstacles made by the dead weight of everything they write. Yet one way to  do this, and many scholars find  it useful  is to  skip references to other scholars or even    the fact of their existence, all so many leaden drops. (eg, for a reading with minimal engagement with the literature, although there are many who write on Deleuze and Zarathustra, see Tubbs,  2005, and for a more general engagement with Deleuze and education, still surprisingly narrow in breadth but at least with a subtitle reminiscent of Nietzsche, the  contributions to Carlin & Wallin, 2015). The gateway  of  the blink  of  an eye,  moment, Augenblick,  has, as Zarathustra goes  on to say, two aspects: two colliding, opposing, aspects: two paths along which no one has ever travelled to their end. ‘The lane behind us’, Zarathustra says to  the dwarf,  ‘an  eternity, the long lane ahead of us, another eternity’. (Z 3, Vision, §2) It is important to underline as scholars concerned with Nietzsche and science do (overall see Babich, 2010 as well  as Mongré  [Felix Hausdorf] 1897; cf. on Hausdorf, Stegmaier, 2002 and more specifically: Epple, 2006, etc.) counting  with  Cantorian  dimensions.  Thus,  and  hence  the  reference  to  Mongré/Hausdorff,  Zarathustra asks a geometer’s question, because the point is a matter of mapping the points along the path—tracing the path, namely supposing that one were to ‘follow them  further  and  ever  further’, he asks, ‘do you think, dwarf, that these paths would be in eternal opposition?’ (Z 3, Vision,

  • 2) The geodesic thought of the circle is evident here, but the key to the problem is the problem of the parallel postulate that shatters Euclidean geometry. And the circular answer is  the answer given, disdainfully, if we remember, by the dwarf: ‘All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle’ (Z 3, Vision, §2)

The question, the riddle Zarathustra poses the dwarf, is a cosmological one, the domain of Ernst Mach’s concern  and  it   was  Schrödinger’s  (see   Babich,   2013).   This is the riddle of  the Timaeus, the riddle of Kant’s antinomy concerning the eternity of the world. (See Brisson & Meyerstein, 1995. Here, permit to underline my gratitude to the late Patrick Aidan Heelan for first bringing this book to my attention as an illustration of axioms, which physical axiomaticity he connects with quantum mechanics in The Observable, Heelan, 2015, and see too Heelan, 1983.)

The solution to the riddle of the crossroad of  past and future, fore and aft,  is  the  howling  dog, Hecate’s dog (see Babich, 2010b, 97, cf. Kingsley, 1995 who does not to be sure refer to Nietzsche, though he ought perhaps to have done so), Cerberus, and so on, for guides, like Nietzsche’s companions to the underworld, and ‘stillest midnight, when even dogs believe in ghosts’. Thus Zarathustra  finds himself, in an almost repetition  of our encounter with the demon  at the end of the 1882 edition of The  Gay  Science ‘alone, desolate, in the most wild moonlight’. (Z 3, Vision, §2)

Zarathustra sees what agitates the dog: ‘a young shepherd,  writhing, choking, convulsed, his  face distorted; and a heavy, black snake was hanging out of his mouth’. (Z, Vision, §2) The man, so Zarathustra muses, had perhaps been asleep, think of the Orphic tradition which Nietzsche also follows as this features the Orphic egg, and Phanes wrapped round with a snake (cf. Wohlfart, 1999; Biebuyck, Praet, & Poel, 2005), the same snake that encircles the head of Dionysus’ maenads, but here, down to earth the matter is more practically a matter of memory and the past and the hold it can have on us, thus the title of Vision and Riddle. Thus Zarathustra muses the snake, perhaps, ‘crept into his throat—and there it had bitten itself fast’. (Z 3, Vision, §2)

Like Pythagoras who, so Nietzsche reminds us in his Basel lecture courses, kills  snakes by  biting them (although not Schopenhauer’s citation, remember the epigraph to his Fourfold Root), Nietzsche’s Zarathustra proposes a ‘cure’ — and we read: ‘a voice cried from me — “Bite! Bite!”’ (Z 3, Vision, §2). The remedy counters ‘disgust and pallid horror’, paralyzed or frozen, with action against the biting snake: biting back. This is  the  riddle,  ‘Who  is  the  shepherd?  …  who  is  the  man …’ (Z 3, Vision, §2)

Zarathustra indulges in a few nautical rhapsodies—directed to ‘those of you who  have  embarked with cunning sails upon undiscovered seas!’ (inspiring the  contributions to or  at least  the title of Strong & Gillespie, 1998)—but  he  also  reports  the  shepherd’s  response  who  ‘bit  as my cry had advised him; he bit with a good bite! He spat far away the snake’s head—and sprang   up’. (Z 3, Vision, §2)

Biting is how selection selects and this may also be read  as  what  Deleuze  calls  an  ‘active  power of affirmation’. (Deleuze, 2005, p. 88; cf. Deleuze, 1986) Thereby yielding what  Deleuze  names the doubled selection, that is, ‘selective Being’. In this way we see, the shepherd trans- formed, transfigured: ‘surrounded with light, laughing’ a human being like no  other Zarathustra  had ever seen and the result is an  other-human  laughter:  ‘Never  yet  on  earth  had  a  human being laughed as he laughed’. (Z 3, Vision, §2) And Deleuze explains this selectivity, which guarantees that we will prefer his reading to any other, as it also gives us back anything the teaching of the death of god might have seemed to take away from us: ‘only what can be affirmed comes back, only joy returns. All that can be negated, all that is negation, is expelled by the very movement of the eternal return’. (Deleuze, 2005, p. 89; cf. Strong, 2000, pp. 276–277)

Affirmation as Zarathustra’s Pythagorean ‘cure’ offers us this remedy is and must be active, as Deleuze will speak of it. The mischief is the same: you have to bite clean through the snake, you  have to incorporate it, in order to free yourself. The poison of reaction cannot be avoided by recoil/refusal or shuddering/disapproval but only what is active, that is, given just this circumstance, having been bitten on the tongue by a snake, by biting. Only such a positive  action can free one from what otherwise chokes, comes back continually, ressentiment, heart of the triumphant, transcendent efficacy of the reactive, slavely moraline, for most of us today.

How can the thought of ‘what is heaviest and blackest’ work  as  Nietzsche  says  it  does  and what does it mean to emphasize the Pythagorean cure of biting  into it? How would this ‘thought of thoughts’ as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra names it, change one’s life?

The frozen temporal tableau of the ‘Moment’ in Vision and  the  Riddle  is  itself  an  echo,  not only of the moonlight vision at the close of The Gay Science, but mirroring the dynamism of a lifetime, as Nietzsche sets the same insight into the tightrope walker—better said, tightrope dancer  [Seiltänzer]—the  performing  acrobat  who  falls  to  his  death  in  the  middle  of  Zarathustra’s  first speech. (Z, Prologue, §6)

The figure of the tightrope dancer is essential. Following the death of God—as  Hegel puts it explicitly in the wake of Kant, as Nietzsche muses  in dialogue  with  the poet  Heinrich  von Kleist,  all  of us  find ourselves dancing, Kierkegaard will use the metaphor, suspended  in  our  human,  all-too-human lives as Nietzsche puts it: an interval, a breath, ‘a hiatus between two nothingnesses’. (KSA 12, 473)

Zarathustra pays no mind to the rope dancer. And why should he? He  could  hardly  have  noticed him. The scene, the setting is key: as positioned,  speaking to the crowd, Zarathustra can-  not see the rope dancer above and  behind him.  The crowd, on  the other hand,  were  we in need of a reminder of Plato’s cave given the  first allusion to downgoing, is preoccupied with  the  dancer as they came to see him dance  above  the  market  place.  For  his  self-absorbed  part, Zarathustra prefers to assume the  crowd is  there to hear  him, he  descended  from his  mountain to speak to them. Hence, as if in Plato’s cave, the drama is played out above and behind the speaking Zarathustra (Z, Prologue, §3). The dwarf we will meet again  later  is  already  there,  this time as evil hunchback, causing all manner of  trouble,  jumping  over  the  dancer  which  causes  him to lose his balance and thus his footing, crashing to the marketplace below.

Zarathustra, who goes to the side of the broken performer, comforts the dying man by telling  him what follows from the  Enlightenment,  rationalistic  and  naturalistic  and  scientific  account:  ‘… there is no Devil and no Hell. Your soul will be dead even before your body; therefore fear nothing anymore!’ (Z, Prologue, §6). No part of what Zarathustra says comforts the crushed man: ‘If you are speaking the truth,’ he said,  ‘I leave nothing when I leave life. I am  not much more than an animal which has been taught to dance by blows and starvation’. (Z, Prologue, §6)

The affirmation redoubled, as Deleuze speaks of it, is a selection that transforms. Let us consider that just a little more closely. What returns is exactly what was: and there will be  nothing different in  it. You  have to bite and thus affirm the past  as it was, or it will always encumber you.  The point of it all is ressentiment, that is the dominion of the reactive.

If this essay were to continue, we might take this reading as a discussion of Beyond  Good  and    Evil inasmuch as the problem of Beyond Good  and  Evil  is  nothing  other  than  the  problem  of truth, considered as a problem and just as Nietzsche also raised the problem of science viewed  in the same light and questioned as a problem. After all, Nietzsche himself tells us to raise the question he pronounced himself the very first to raise, namely the very radically and in the spirit of the first critique, the very critically Kantian question of science, as such as a question (see  Babich, 2010c as well Babich, 2010b, 2014).

But I don’t have more time. Key to this reflection in Nietzsche is that none of us do. Thus the thought Zarathustra calls his ‘most abysmal thought’ echoes the ponderousness of the conversation with the demon in The Gay Science.

As noted this is the thought of death. And The Gay Science has an aphorism of the same title, suggesting that ‘the brotherhood of death’ that we share as mortal beings is the only brother- hood there is for living subjects of consciousness, for subjects of desire, for subjects such as our-selves, born to mortality and bound to die, whether we think  about  it  or  not:  we  will  in  any  case. ‘— du wirst es jedenfalls’. (KSA 9, 505, emphasis added.)

For his part, we may recall that Schopenhauer reflected that life was a business that did not cover its costs, a business that from an economic point of view made absolutely no sense ‘as an enterprise’, and therefore was the only thing that really compelled reflection.  Nietzsche  added  more biology and more thermodynamic statistics to the same reflection, recognizing that abundance and waste was the way of life—and of death. Hence he could argue with the best of 19th century cosmology that a dancing star was born of chaos, excess, confusion. Not that it mattered given that that dancing star too would have to die.

Elsewhere I note the parallels to be made beyond Nietzsche, to the philosophical problem of consciousness and personal identity but also with eastern philosophy. (See Babich, 2014; further on  Schrödinger and Indian philosophy,  see  Bitbol,  1998)  Thus there is (and  for  the  Stoics  it  was essential to reflect that there could be) no difference  between the  you that  says I and  the universe. You are already everything and you do not know it, with the one crucial exception that we can come to know that we are those who have figured out that we are figures in the dream  of a god who dreams. (Cf. Nietzsche, KSA 7, 165)

In any case, no matter whether one is able to contain or fails to contain in one soul ‘the oldest, the newer, losses, hopes, conquests, and the victories of humanity …  and crowd it  into  a single feeling’ (GS 4, 337), what remains significant is the long run and the highest feeling.

When Nietzsche writes contra the usual promises of the afterlife in an  early unpublished  note, he explains the inexorable force of his imperative, again we may remember the force Deleuze names a selective force: ‘My teaching says, Thus to live that you would wish to live again is the task—you will do so in any case’. (Nietzsche, KSA 9, 505) The appended reflection can take us to Schrödinger  and  the  cosmic  necessity  Nietzsche  asks  us  to  counter  with  love,  the  becoming  we are to bless, that is affirmation, amor fati.

Da capo

To say this again: no matter what, you will be reborn, again and again and again. But Deleuze comforts the modern reader by telling us,  and  we  can  read  between  Nietzsche’s  reflection  on  the constellations and of Stoics joining forces with Epicureans such that Caesar  can  be  killed  again, per contra, for Deleuze, nothing comes back.  Nor  is  Deleuze  in  contradiction  with Nietzsche. As reborn, your consciousness is no more connected to the consciousness of any past lives’ consciousness than your consciousness is identical with the consciousness of drinking this morning’s cup of coffee, assuming you were conscious enough to remember to  have  a  cup  of  coffee to begin with. Thus we scarcely  remember  our  own  present  lives  as  we  live  them  now, we are barely conscious of them (the window, Nietzsche says, of consciousness  is  small)  how  would we remember lives past and past and past? Indeed, even less than  coffee  here  or  there, one’s past lives, themselves the same, by definition, could  not  be  ‘remembered’ as  such,  this  is the greatness of the Heraclitean great year, as that would introduce a difference: what recurs is not an ancient cosmogenesis, cycling Empedocles or like the Herclitean eternal fire, kindling and rekindling, the sun new again each day, but a thermodynamic system: eternally the same.

Nietzsche illustrates the mechanics of selection as we experience it by reflecting in an aphorism on pride and memory: ‘“I have done that” says my memory. That I cannot have done—says my pride and remains inexorable. Finally—memory yields’. (BGE §68) You are not only no longer present to the past self that you were, but you have  good  reason  to  forget  that  self,  those  actions, those promises: there is no past present to you for you to  be  able  to  be  conscious of unless you undertake, as opposed to the active forgetting Nietzsche recommends, an active remembering of the past.

Thus we retell ourselves to ourselves such that, on the story we tell, the wretched things we  have done can be laid to someone’s else’s account, attributed, ascribed to some other cause, be  it fate, destiny, God, genes, whatever. This is the ‘dangerous perhaps’ (BGE §2), this is why we baptize our ‘convictions’, as Nietzsche calls them, our prejudices as fact or ‘truths’ (Cf. BGE §5).  This is the reason Nietzsche suggests  that ‘every great  philosophy has hitherto been: a  confession on the part of its author and kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’. (BGE §6)

In place of the antinomies this is also why Nietzsche proposes so many ‘questions  of  con-  science for the intellect, namely, “Whence do I take the concept thinking?  Why  do  I  believe  in cause and effect? What gives me the right to speak of an “I,” and even of an “I” as cause  of  thought”’? (BGE §16)


Nietzsche’s demon as it sidles up to one to shift nothing but tell only  the details of what is  and  must be does not say as per Revelations, ‘Behold, I make all things new’. Nietzsche’s emphasis on life, and the revenge that we mean to take on life, is an emphasis on created things, (Hebrews  12:27): ‘what can be shaken’. This foregrounds all the things  we  condemn  as  Parmenidean  thinkers as he writes of our opposition to becoming in Twilight of the Idols, ‘They  see  death,  change, and age, as well as  procreation  and  growth,  as  objections—refutations  even’.  (TI,  Reason, §1)

But Deleuze writes:

»eternal return.selective Being.« How can reaction and nihilism, how can negation come back, since the eternal return is the Being that is only said of affirmation, and becoming in action? A centrifugal wheel, »supreme constellation of Being, that no wish can attain, that no negation can soil.« The eternal return is repetition; but it is the repetition that selects, the repetition that saves. The prodigious secret of a repetition   that is liberating and selecting.” (Deleuze, 2005, 91)

Nietzsche’s  imperative, amor  fati, calls upon  us to love what becomes, to consecrate becoming by highlighting, by restoring (this has to be done, this is the reason for action, for what was above named a bite, a selection) contra the Parmenidean vision of being, contra Plato: this is the innocence of becoming. This blesses what changes, including old age and death. This works because selection (i.e., saying yes to one thing, it can be anything at all) also means, given necessity, that everything else is also necessary: nothing can be dispensed with: everything must be affirmed, blessed. Nietzsche shares this insight with Heraclitus and Empedocles and even, despite the ethical, Anaximander (cf. Caygill, 1993 as well as with reference to Kant and Fichte—and Zoroaster—Lachterman, 1989, pp. 16–24).

Like a speck of dust, as the demon says, the hourglass of existence is turned upside down, again  and  again.  So  Nietzsche  argues at  the end of  his  nineteenth century and so  Schrödinger argues the point in his own mid-twentieth century argument for eternal recurrence and  the cycling in question is already a  very  old  story,  arguably  dating  back even  before  the tragic  age  of the Greeks: if it is Empedoclean, it is Heraclitean, it is also Anaximandrean and Pythagorean but it is also,  as  Schrödinger  emphasized, a Vedic  notion,  also  resonant  in  Buddhism.

Thus Deleuze defines the Overman, and this is the Deleuzian Ideal: ‘The Overman refers specifically to the gathering of all that can be affirmed, the superior form of what is, the figure that represents selective Being, its offspring and subjectivity’. (Deleuze, 2005, p. 91)

Future education and the principle of sufficient reason

Here we return from reflection on eternal recurrence and the necessity of amor  fati  as this may  allow us better  to understand: the future Nietzsche’s demon proclaims is accordingly a  future of  the  past: nothing beyond the individual as received, no cycling of recycled stars nor the afterlife of an unknown day laborer as Odysseus tells us Achilles longed for such a minimal chance at life once more, elegized in Plato’s dream of Homer’s underworld, Greek eternal recurrence contra Greek eternal recurrence: many lies, we remember this: tell the poets. The thought  itself is shrouded in hypotheticals, if  one  were  able  to think it, if  one  could  allow  it to take hold of one, we are informed that it would be more than ponderous: it would transform or maybe, the alter- native is never vanquished, crush us.

Oh, no! really?

Most Nietzsche scholars and not just the analytic ones we are inclined to cut where they can: nothing too ponderous, and thus they make short work of such things. Thus thinking the eternal return seems easier than the 2nd Pythian, freebie  as  written,  Castor  song,  or  (as  some  say)  a  twin of the  original  poem Pindar  wrote  for Hieron who  commissioned  a victory ode,  and went   on to win the prize for which the song would be needed  to  be  sung,  but  opted  for  another  poet’s encomium instead, leaving the un-selected poet to add the resentful and brooding supplement:  ‘Become  the  one  you  are’.  Thinking  through  this  phrase, Nietzsche  drops  the  key  educational  word:  ‘having  learned’.

The  poet  Hölderlin  renders  this  lahx’m a  matter  of  journeying,  become  as  you  are  experienced, and discussing this in connection with Nietzsche annoyed at least one reader (see Duke, 2010 in response to Babich, 2009). Here it is to the point to note that experts, unburdened by erudition, nota bene, not unlike Wilamowitz, have for their part accused Nietzsche of getting his Greek wrong (Babich, 2009, pp. 15–17). Don’t we know that he abandoned his profession, with all its ponderous, dust-laden scholarship?

When we read Nietzsche as educator, we seem to be  keen  to  read not the Nietzsche who knew Greek (rather a lot of it, Nietzsche 2016), we read Nietzsche as David Allison tells us to do, as a friend and not a teacher, nothing too heavy, just a buddy: ‘Nietzsche writes exclusively for you. Not at you, but for you’. (Allison, 2001, p. vii) Nietzsche, as Allison goes on to explain, is a critic who taught his followers to be free spirits contra everything heavy and thus went  on  to pen his Zarathustra. How much need one know to run riot as a free spirit, as Nietzsche himself suggests in Twilight of the Idols in his ‘Short History of an Illusion’?

Recall the range of those who have written on Nietzsche ‘as  Educator’ we began by noting these many accounts, listing them, just by name alone. And there are variants on the project, borrowing the language even for other thinkers, like ‘Wittgenstein as Educator’, (Stickney, 2017) patterned on Nietzsche’s usage with reference to Schopenhauer. Yet what is meant by this, and  what does it mean that Nietzsche’s particular educator or ‘exemplar’ as Tracy  Strong among  others argue for their own part—Strong brilliantly  speaks  of  ‘philosophical  cruising’  (Strong,  2000, xxx) in order to focus on the search for exemplar (see also the contributions to Hart, 2009, Fairfield, 2011, etc) — turns out to be Arthur Schopenhauer? What do we make of the thinker Nietzsche took for his Augustinian moment (cf. for the difficult turns of the reading and not less for the fluidity of the moment, or the history of philology, Pierre Hadot, 1995)?

In particular, and this is part of the reason I have sought to argue that the book and  film  character of Professor Severus Snape, as played by Alan  Rickman in the Harry Potter franchise  was an exemplar of a teacherly kind (Babich, 2017c, cf. too Babich, 2015b).  Thus  quite  as  one  might choose, as I have done, to write about Snape, others might prefer the teacherly ideal of McGonigal or others, this being rather more likely, Dumbledore, or Sirius Black, and so on as you personally might prefer. The point is not to talk about Harry Potter, though that  too  is  about  school, than it is to reflect on the care one may take to choose a certain educator, after selecting between a number of options. Thus I cited Strong’s provocative language of ‘philosophical cruising’, and I do not think this is far off as a description of the educators Nietzsche ‘tried on’ as he  tells us, as possibilities to be further explored: he mentions a range of those he settles on, in his journeys to the past, the underworld of  dead interlocutors,  companions,  teachers,  matched  in  this case one against the other, as  paired  thinkers:  ‘Epicurus  and  Montaigne,  Goethe  and  Spinoza, Plato and Rousseau, Pascal and  Schopenhauer’.  (HH II,  §408).  But, and here the  parallel  to Descartes’ Meditations (following, again, Hadot’s allusion to Pierre Courcelle and his reading of  the Greek context behind Augustine’s Confessions, Hadot, 1995, pp. 53–55), is not off base.  Nietzsche waits until he has found the philosopher in question and until he has the time (cue Descartes but also that first ‘meditator’, Marcus Aurelius who sets the pattern for such  waiting and such attention), in order to dedicate himself to that same educator.

Here what may be worth noting is that Nietzsche does not seem to choose the exemplary educator we might have chosen for him. Most notably Nietzsche chooses one of the most ponderous authors of the German language, if also a brilliant stylist, so we are told, favorite of both Wittgenstein and Freud, but by no means a ‘free spirit’. This alone should catch us up a bit. Why Schopenhauer, who for all the insistence of his commentators over the years (from the genial insights of Coppleston to the more limited arguments of Janaway, see especially the analytic contributions to Janaway, 1999, cf., more recently Jonas, 2016) has yet to  shake  the  legacy  of  being author of The Fourfold Root (Schopenhauer, 1974), the author who goes on to point out that of all the arts, only music would have the power to escape the limitations of both Kantian and Hegelian aesthetics, representing nothing other than itself: the phenomenon an sich.

Thus I am not proposing that we  consider  reading  Nietzsche  in  connection  with  other  authors’ authors, we have no shortage of that, but and much rather why we do not find that Nietzsche proposes to read Plato as Educator (the Straussians have tried this, cf. however Strauss himself 1973 cf. Lambert, 1997), or Socrates as Educator or even, despite all the proffered claims offered in the wake of Stanley Cavell, Emerson as Educator? If we do not get sidetracked as the reference to Cavell and perfectionism (see, eg, Conant 2001) easily shifts the discussion to one of elitism (Rowthorn, 2017, cf. Owen, 2002), cultural and personal and otherwise (and quite in spite of the fascist dangers of the same, all the way to those who clamour for Nietzschean transhumanism as perfectionism qua education by other means, in this case biohacks or other cyborg upgrades (Sorgner, 2017, esp. 17–19 and see, per contra,  Babich,  2017b).  Why does Nietzsche refer us, of all the names in history, as he elsewhere writes, to Schopenhauer? Why have we not a reference to Wagner? Or not much rather Goethe, whom Nietzsche himself sets together with Hafiz, for that matter? Why not, and I argue elsewhere that a case could well be made, for Kant or for Hume? Or even, to return to the Preplatonic philosophers, to the Heraclitus to whom  Nietzsche attributes the vision of the world artist, the innocence of  becoming, the universe  as aeon, as a child at play?

Why Schopenhauer? The same Nietzsche who recommends that we might cut all his references to Wagner, replacing them with his own name (yet another reason for noting Nietzsche’s influence on Freud), tells us to do the same with his references to Schopenhauer, so we read in Ecce Homo ‘it is not “Schopenhauer as Educator” that speaks here, but his “antipode” “Lisez: Nietzsche as Educator—and perhaps something more.”’

Nietzsche brings us full circle, why Schopenhauer? And it is certain enough that  many Nietzsche scholars play leapfrog in Nietzsche’s text when they come  to  quotes  from  Schopenhauer, lightly skipping over these, be these lengthy citations included in The Birth of Tragedy and many others, including, perhaps especially one might argue, our reading of ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’? What did Nietzsche find in his Schopenhauer and  what  might  be there for us? And would this, could this change the way we read Nietzsche? In ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’ we read an analysis not merely of Nietzsche’s Schopenhauer, who he was for Nietzsche, that is to say as many have looked at this issue, but also who educators are, who they serve, complete with series lists of the same, articulating answers and educational kinds.

Quoting Goethe, quoting Meister Eckhart, interiority is the key to the first half  of  the  essay, which Nietzsche articulates in terms of culture, cultivation and for what aim or purpose it should serve as a dedicated means: ‘to promote the production of the philosopher, the artist and the saint within us and without us and thereby to work at the perfecting of nature.’ (SE §5) If to this listing Nietzsche, in the following section adds “the production of the  genius”  it  is  only  to  underline  ‘how extraordinarily sparse and rare knowledge of this goal  is.’  (SE  §6)  Thus the trouble as Nietzsche proceeds to assess our cultural, that is to say our educational institutions by counting the motives behind these institutions, driven by in the first instance, ‘the greed of the money makers’,—and we do well to remember to be sure that Nietzsche is writing this as a civil servant of the Swiss educational institution itself. This driving force determines our own educational institutions, which Nietzsche presents in perfectly balanced  economic terms, as so many  given and chained conclusions, as if we were talking as indeed we are talking about a formula for increasing the gross national product of education per se: ‘as much knowledge and education as possible, therefore as much demand as possible, therefore as much production as possible,  therefore as much happiness and profit as possible’. (SE §6) Accordingly, the beneficiary ‘acquires all the ways and means of making money as easily as possible’. (Ibid.) The focus on ‘the greatest possible amount of happiness and profit’ Nietzsche could have observed during his own teaching in Basel but also reading Schopenhauer, for the whom the metaphor of economics was crucial. All the goals of education are served by this model, as opposed to educational goals that are bootless from the point of view of profit: ‘what counts as valid: namely,  a speedy  education so  that one may quickly become a money-earning being, yet at the same time  an  education  sufficiently thorough to enable one to earn a very great deal of money’. (Ibid.) Nietzsche goes on to list  ‘the greed of the state’ and to explore the cupidity of those who are aware of (these are the cultural philistines) their own ‘ugly or boring content and want to conceal the fact with so-called “beautiful form”,’ an assessment which permits Nietzsche to talk about some of what can seem the more harmless aspects of cultural  imperialism,  Germany  vis-‘a-vis  France  after  the  then-recent  Franco- Prussian war, leading to nationalistic cupidity, and  then,  fourthly,  ‘the  greed  of  the  sciences’.  Nietzsche goes on further  to list,  by count,  the various attributes  of the scholar.  And looming  large  in this roster of 13 kinds is the ninth,  echoing  the  four  greeds, as it  moves the  scholar,  the  motive of breadwinning, that is to say at bottom the celebrated “borborygm of an empty stomach”’. This corresponds to the deciding value of truth to this day: ‘Truth is served  when it is in a position directly  to procure salaries and advancement  or at least to win the favour  of those  who have bread  and honours to distribute’. (Cf. re the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’; Babich, 2017d)

The tenth motive we have still with us, these are recognition and publication cartels which Nietzsche well in advance of the Sokal hoax explores in terms of the position such motivations conferred on the ‘exploding’ of error such  that  ‘now and  again  the actual truth  is  exploded too,  so as to make room at least for a time, for obstinate and  impudent  errors:  since  here  as  elsewhere there is no lack of “moral idiocies”,  otherwise  called  roguish  pranks’.  (SE  §6)  One  may  think of Teilhard de Chardin and his hoaxes if one wishes, but one should certainly also think of  Alan Sokal and his efforts to take  down  Jacques Derrida and  Bruno  Latour. (See  Babich,  2017d for a recent overview, though I have been writing about this since the Sokal year of 1996)

Nor does Nietzsche fail to summarize, cui bono?, he asks, when it comes to the futures of our educational institutions: the state who institutes these institutions seeks thereby, this will be Max Weber’s point more complicatedly construed in his analysis of the ‘Protestant Ethic,’ but it is very directly Ivan Illich’s point in his Deschooling  Society, ‘to further itself and it cannot conceive of a goal higher than its own welfare and continued existence’. So much for state culture.  But  Nietzsche emphasizes the same again when it comes to profit: ‘What  the  money-makers  really want when they ceaselessly demand instruction and education is in the last  resort  precisely  money’. (Ibid.) The  same holds for those ‘who  require form’, that is,  and the reference is to the first of The Untimely Essays, and its discussion of cultural philistinism  in  ‘David  Strauss  the  Confessor and  the  Writer’,  and Nietzsche  observes that  none  of these four powers taken  singly   or and most fatally together—civic, financial, cultural, and scholarly institutions—help  matters  when what is at stake is ‘the production of the genius’, remarking that ‘Socrates could  not have  lived among us and would in any event  not  have  attained  seventy’.  It  is  not,  Nietzsche takes care to underline  this, that  higher education  today does not ‘produce either the  scholar or the   civil servant or the money maker or the cultural philistine’,  lacking  in  all  Nietzsche  saw  around him, lacking in abundance and which we can still see today, that which led him to take ‘Schopenhauer as educator is actually to educate’. (SE §7) In  the  following  section  Nietzsche  points to nature’s tremendous profligacy and inefficiency, the very reason one needs care in  thinking through the questions he had in the previous section listed for us. ‘Nature is a bad economist: its expenditure is much larger than the income it procures; all its  wealth  notwithstanding it is bound sooner or later to ruin itself’. (SE §7)

But perhaps the most essential insight for Nietzsche himself, corresponding to his economy of elective affinity and balance, like to like, is that what is really needed is less a gifted artist than a  gifted audience. Thus his desideratum, contrary to fact, rather than so many artists, playwrights, authors, actors in search of an audience,  what  if  these  creators  were  limited  in  number  and  weak to boot, but and by contrast, and as opposed  to  what  we  have  in  fact,  what  if  ‘on  the other hand  numerous recipients  of art  of a stronger and  more mighty species  than the  species    of the artist: so that the effect of the work of art in relation to its cause would be a hundredfold magnification’. (SE §7) Here for Nietzsche, the true lament: Schopenhauer like many artists and philosophers seems to exist rarely and by chance, and above all to exist ‘as a hermit or a wanderer who has lost his way and been left behind’. (Ibid.) Nietzsche’s complaint here does not  concern Schopenhauer’s reputational fortunes (Nietzsche suggests that  at  the  time  Schopenhauer’s name was beginning to outstrip Hegel’s) but the force of culture,  a  force  that was already a juggernaut of distraction, as Nietzsche argues that an age that gives itself over to political themes necessarily excludes dedication to  philosophical  ones,  a  point  he  takes  over  from his essay ‘On the Uses and Dangers of History for Life’.

Nietzsche details the biographical details that made Schopenhauer Schopenhauer, his mother,  his father, his experience with travel and commerce as a result of his relation  to  the  latter,  his critical attitude towards the  scholars and  the  scholarship  of his  day, his  unwillingness  to  flatter  or indeed to submit to the academic cartels, to put his finger on the great reason  that  Schopenhauer remains uninfluential as educator to  this  day:  ‘Of  all  the  offence  Schopenhauer  has given to numerous scholars, nothing has offended  them more than the unfortunate  fact that  he does not resemble  them’. (SE §7) Indeed  and to be sure, look at any department  of philosophy you will find—unsurprisingly, as philosophers recruit those  who  teach  alongside  them  as  they also self-select their students—remarkable conformity, even amidst different specializations. Even between generations.

In the following section of Schopenhauer as Educator, Nietzsche returns to his Greeks to look at the original conditions that gave birth to philosophy and finds nothing  that resembles our  modern institutions of higher learning. Above all there are no jobs in antiquity: the philosopher is not paid. Nietzsche had already underlined this point earlier in his essay, as he also makes this point elsewhere, but here he repeats the emphasis as it is as he says not a liberty to be paid to profess philosophy: ‘it is no freedom at all but an office of profit’. (SE §8) The state is afraid of real philosophers ‘and will favour only philosophers it does not fear’. (Ibid.) Thus, for appearance’s sake, appointments are given ‘to those men who bear the name of philosopher and yet are patently nothing to inspire fear’. (SE §8) As Nietzsche goes on to say, the educational institution however constituted claims to be able distinguish good and bad philosophers,  the  ones  it  hires  being  good, all others being bad. But the remedy Nietzsche proposes for getting rid of bad philosophers  as these nonetheless wind up being in the majority is not likely to be a popular  one: cease  to  reward them, he proposes, and they will flee. Nietzsche borrows the test for the true philosopher from his favorite author, Lucian and his little dialogue ‘Philosophies for Sale’ (cf., for discussion, Babich, 2013, p. 63):

Let the philosophers grow untended, deny them all prospect of place and position within the bourgeois professions, cease to entice them with salaries, more, persecute them, show them  disfavour  —  you  will  behold miracles!  …  Suddenly it will be empty, everyone will have flown the nest: for it is easy to get rid of    bad philosophers, one has only to cease rewarding them. (SE §8)

Schopenhauer by contrast with most professional professors of philosophy did not pursue philosophy as part of a university appointment. And for Nietzsche if philosophy has fallen into disrepute or non-regard it is because it offers nothing but ‘lecture-hall wisdom and lecture-hall cautiousness’. What Schopenhauer offered, what Nietzsche intended  to  offer  for  his  own  part  was dangerous thought. If most philosophic thinkers ‘cause no alarm, they remove nothing from     its hinges’, effectively ‘disturbing no one’, Nietzsche’s Schopenhauer demonstrated as much  by what he wrote as ‘by his deeds that love  of truth  is something  fearsome and  mighty’. (Ibid.)  It is  for such a love that Nietzsche found—that he took—Schopenhauer  as  educator.  And  it  is  for  such a love that we might discover Nietzsche (as educator) for our part.



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Babette Babich,  Fordham University,  The Jesuit University  of  New York  City, New York, NY, USA

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Full Citation Information:
Babich, Babette (2019) Nietzsche (as) educator, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51:9, 871-885, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2018.1544455
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