Monday, January 22, 2007

Large Paragraphs, Eyes Wandering

For Current Readers -- One German Answer to Robin's Question

On the off chance that Robin's post at the Current blog (Hey! I'm billed ahead of the Times!) redirects RSS-happy DIY TVlings to this humble but necessarily difficult blog about literature, academia, city life, and indie rock, you should know what you're getting yourselves into.

This is the first paragraph from the foreword to Nietzsche's On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, one of his Untimely Meditations. Substitute "history" for "blogs" or "news" and I think his sentiment is nearly as perfect for 2006 as it was for 1874.

"Incidentally, I despise everything which merely instructs me without increasing or immediately enlivening my activity." These are Goethe's words. With them, as with a heartfelt expression of Ceterum censeo [I judge otherwise], our consideration of the worth and the worthlessness of history may begin. For this work is to set down why, in the spirit of Goethe's saying, we must seriously despise instruction without vitality, knowledge which enervates activity, and history as an expensive surplus of knowledge and a luxury, because we lack what is still most essential to us and because what is superfluous is hostile to what is essential. To be sure, we need history. But we need it in a manner different from the way in which the spoilt idler in the garden of knowledge uses it, no matter how elegantly he may look down on our coarse and graceless needs and distresses. That is, we need it for life and action, not for a comfortable turning away from life and action or merely for glossing over the egotistical life and the cowardly bad act. We wish to use history only insofar as it serves living. But there is a degree of doing history and a valuing of it through which life atrophies and degenerates. To bring this phenomenon to light as a remarkable symptom of our time is every bit as necessary as it may be painful.

Consider this the equivalent of an essay assignment on the first day of class.

(This is the way my conversations with Robin go. He asks a question about the internet, cars, gadgets, or public life, and instead of an answer, I give him the gist of what three German philosophers might have thought about it. Read my first-ever comment on Snarkmarket if you don't believe it. Then read Robin's response.)

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