Return to Nietzche

As much as I hate to revisit what is proving to be such a misunderstood topic, I nonetheless feel the need to clarify certain elements of my “Overman” article, while simultaneously responding to some very needless, libelous charges made by Alex Lees in the last issue of the Record.

I first want to say this, in response to Mr. Lees’ suggestion that I take my own advice, and marshal my thoughts before writing editorials in the future: I was only too well aware of the overwhelming tide of negative response that my article would precipitate. Indeed, my primary objective in writing the article was to be confrontational, unapologetically critical, inasmuch as I believed (and this belief has been justified these past weeks) that such an approach would seize the attention of the Williams community, and incite vigorous discussion and debate on subjects about which I happen to feel strongly. However, there was an unanticipated side effect, which points to what I’ve come to recognize as a flaw in the article’s presentation, namely, what people conceive to be a shameless arrogance in the editorial’s tone. In all honesty, I did not intend to sound arrogant – merely honest – and I was not attempting to condemn anybody. This is where the subtlety of which I spoke comes into play: in fact, I intended to question, to criticize certain excesses and extraneous elements in campus life that are apparent to me. I did not explicitly suggest that people should stop going to drinking parties with the purpose of intoxicating themselves or stop having casual sex. I marveled at the fact that such practices are so readily accepted by so many at Williams College; I simply did not expect it. Maybe I should have, and maybe there’s nothing to question, but I feel that discussion on such matters has been lacking.

With regard to reading Aquinas on Saturday night, I merely asked why such an activity (as far as I can tell) is not at least as popular, among a bright student body for which I have the utmost respect, as drinking to excess. I used the interrogative form intentionally, because it was a question I wanted to raise for serious consideration.

Perhaps the specific example was a little over the top, but I don’t want such a minor point to erode the underlying question. Is it really that unreasonable to expect the majority in a gifted student body with a passion for learning to read or debate – expressly for selfish reasons – on a free evening? If so, then Williams was falsely advertised to me. I came here with the notion, however naïve, that such behavior would be the rule rather than the exception.

Mr. Lees, a philosophy major, slanderously accuses me of being “philosophically ignorant,” and of having given only cursory, insufficient readings to the works of Nietzsche specifically. As a freshman, I am not a philosophy major, and have yet to declare a major. Accordingly, I’ve not, as yet, read as extensively in the discipline as Mr. Lees, but I’m nonetheless quite well acquainted with the history of philosophy and the general philosophical treatises of the great philosophers. This, however, is irrelevant to the “Overman” article I authored. The only philosophical allusions made in my editorial involved the “Overman” concept, introduced by Nietzsche in the first part of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and I contend that said allusions were all valid, and used in proper context.

I first want to assure Mr. Lees that my reading of Nietzsche (both for class and for pleasure) has been exceptionally thorough, not cursory in the least. In addition to extensively analyzing and pondering the entirety of the work cited above, and the entirety of Twilight of the Idols, I’ve studied and digested significant portions of The Anti-Christ; The Gay Science; Human, All-Too-Human; Homer’s Contest; The Dawn; The Wanderer and His Shadow; and various letters and notes. In fact, I am acquainted with all of the Nietzschean ideas and passages referenced by Lees. Nietzsche did assert that it is unhealthy for man to, as Lees puts it, “. . .ignore or neglect a facet of human nature,” —yet never does he suggest that base predilections should supersede cerebral rigor or should be indulged to excess. In Twilight of the Idols, for example, he criticizes the German intelligentsia: “How much disgruntled heaviness, lameness, dampness. . .how much beer there is in the German intelligence!” After criticizing the insipid vows of “the clever David Strauss” to his “‘fair brunette’”[i.e. beer], Nietzsche goes on to censure the complacency of academia: “. . .what an atmosphere prevails among [German] scholars, what desolate spirituality — and how contented and lukewarm it has become!”

I am not blind to the fact that Nietzsche was a man of many contradictions. He was, by many accounts, himself a heroin addict. Nonetheless, I think Mr. Lees was very much out of line in accusing me of taking a one-sided, provincial view of Nietzschean philosophy, while nonsensically doing so himself. I did not say that drinking was bad, only immoderate drinking; I disparaged promiscuity, not sex. The same critical temperance cannot be attributed to Mr. Lees’ article.

As for my argument that students should be more attentive to learning as an end, rather than merely as a means, I think even Mr. Lees must admit that Nietzsche would agree: “That education, that Bildung, is itself an end. . .that has been forgotten.”

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