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Friday, March 28, 2008

Nietzsche's Mask?

I don't think I have a good handle on this section. I understand that everything profound wears a mask (i.e. the shallow reading) but it also seems Nietzsche wants to embrace a mask. Is the mask he wants to embrace simply the one that he wears or understanding these appearances is he attempting to design his mask? Kaufmann thinks this section helps provide insights for interpretation. For me this section is one of the hardest to interpret. Any insight would be appreciated.
Everything profound loves masks. The most profound things of all even have a hatred for images and allegories. Shouldn’t the right disguise in which the shame of a god walks around be something exactly opposite? A questionable question: it would be strange if some mystic or other had not already ventured something like that on his own.

There are processes of such a delicate sort that people do well to bury them in something crude and make them unrecognizable. There are actions of love and of extravagant generosity, after which there is nothing more advisable than to grab a stick and give an eyewitness a good thrashing: — in so doing we cloud his memory. Some people know how to befuddle or batter their own memories in order at least to take revenge on this single witness: — shame is resourceful.

It is not the worst things that make people feel the worst shame. Behind a mask there is not only malice — there is so much goodness in cunning. I could imagine that a person who had something valuable and vulnerable to hide might roll through his life as coarse and round as an old green wine barrel with strong hoops. The delicacy of his shame wants it that way. For a person whose shame is profound runs into his fate and delicate decisions on pathways which few people ever reach and of whose existence those closest to him and his most intimate associates are not permitted to know. His mortal danger hides itself from their eyes, just as much as his confidence in life does, once he regains it

A person who is concealed in this way, who from instinct uses speaking for silence and keeping quiet and who is tireless in avoiding communication, wants and demands that, instead of him, a mask of him wanders around in the hearts and heads of his friends. And suppose he does not want that mask: one day his eyes will open to the fact that nonetheless there is a mask of him there — and that that’s a good thing. Every profound spirit needs a mask; even more, around every profound spirit a mask is continuously growing, thanks to the constantly false, that is, shallow interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he gives. — BGE Section 40 (Ian Johnston)
Kaufmann's note (minus specific Jaspers references) --
This section is obviously of great importance for the student of Nietzsche: it suggests plainly that the surface meaning noted by superficial browsers often masks Nietzsche's real meaning, which in extreme cases may approximate the opposite of what the words might suggest to hasty readers. In this sense "beyond good and evil" and "will to power," "master morality" and "hardness" and "cruelty" may be masks that elicit reactions quite inappropriate to what lies behind them. Specific examples will be found on later pages.

Karl Jaspers has called attention to the similarity between Nietzsche and Kierkegaard at this point, in his lecture on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.


Charlie H said...

I might be too naive or shallow -- I probably am -- but I don't think the passage is as important as Kaufmann does for interpretation. I don't see Nz as a writer who thinks one thing and writes another, which is what I think is at issue here. He seems searingly straightforward in his remarks, or when he's playful, he makes it obvious. I really think he is writing about how one conducts oneself in public, meaning in personal interactions, especially as a teacher or philosophical friend. He thinks we will have to wear masks on some occasions, if that's the best way of being noble or kind or provocative. Sometimes, for example, we will have to pretend to be Christian, when our atheistic friend is atheistic for shallow reasons.

If I am wrong, can someone point out passages in Nz which should be understood as disingenuine?

Mike said...

Also, what specifically is "Shouldn’t the right disguise in which the shame of a god walks around be something exactly opposite?" supposed to mean?

Charlie H said...

By the way, I have come across a quote that makes me a bit uncomfortable in my naive view -- "One does not only wish to be understood when one writes; one wishes just as surely not to be understood. It is not by any means necessarily an objection to a book when anyone finds it impossible to understand: perhaps that was part of the author's intention -- he did not want to be understood by just 'anybody.' (GS 381). I don't have GS next to me right now, but I need to look up the context.

About the 'shame of god' business -- as near as I can tell the idea is this: oftentimes the outward persona that someone is projecting is in fact the opposite of what's going on inside. So a very unconfident person projects great confidence, etc. So maybe someone who displays shamelessness is in fact the most ashamed of all?

Unknown said...

From my own lack of understanding I'd have to agree with Charlie that the mask has something to do with public life and also with truth and nobility. Often it seems that for Nietzsche truth is something related to nobility for it is not for everyone. Zarathustra in his understanding stood apart from other men and only equals share respect?

The passage reminds me of a recent quote I read, "When a person is fastidious, to the point of being very nearly squeamish or prim, odds are forty to one in Vegas that the persons secret inner sanctum is a mess." (Robbins, T. "Half asleep in frog pajamas")

Perhaps the truly noble seem on the outside to be a mess while those that put on airs and play at importance hide the opposite inside? As Charlie has said, "maybe someone who displays shamelessness is in fact the most ashamed of all?"

This too could easily refer to Nietzsche himself who was said to be a talented recluse? How to does it often seem that those who proclaim what is proper or right (those that moralize) hide from their own immoral acts justifying them on the outside within the mask they wear (by proclaiming what is proper or right). One only need look as far as politicians or the religious to see examples of those who justify their own mistakes. As for those that accept them and try to learn from them, how often does it seem that they are the opposite dwelling in their shame?

Charlie H said...

A further thought: as Nz got older, his works got weirder, in the sense that he started to play the role of Zarathustra himself. We all love his writing because of the muscle and courage in his razor-like prose -- though personally, he must have been quite a wreck with all his illnesses. And he was reclusive and lonely. So that's quite a mask.

Here's a further quote Mike will like: "One should speak only when one may not stay silent; and then only of that which one has overcome -- everything else is chatter, 'literature,' lack of breeding." 1886 preface to HH2.

Mike said...

The problem is, of course that by not speaking --if you're the right person-- you don't decrease the chatter. You only increase the volume. Even if you don't speak you may still need to wield the staff.

Hence my return from philosophical hiatus.

So the question still remains, does Nietzsche deliberately design his masks or does he just embrace the ones he recognizes in himself?

Mike said...

At this point I might be able to answer my own question...

Nietzsche doesn't believe in false appearances only full expressions. So it's always the embrace mode so it shouldn't be seen as a deliberate disguise. That would be in contrast to Kierkegaard and against what Kaufmann is saying (I think). Still we have to take care to see the strong embrace as a hermeneutic clue?

I'll drag up other examples Kaufmann uses as I find them and put them in a separate post.

I'm off Nietzsche for a bit so it may be a while before I get back to it.

Anuj D said...

@Charlie: But what if there is no divide between yur daily conduct and yur work as a philosophical writer?
Then both issues of how to read Nz and how to conduct oneself in the private space, just becomes two sides of the same question, more so modalities of the same proposition!

Anuj D said...

Allan Innes said...

This is really late, but here is my impression - sad that all of these are merely our impressions, although I think this may be part of what Nietzsche was saying:

To wear the mask is deliberate for someone who has discovered something profound, who is on a dark path to greatness - a place where no one else dares to go - that very few will ever understand. Isolation, resulting from one's own rigorous thought experiments (genealogy - discovering truth and uprooting "truths"), from one's actual living of these experiments, is central to Nietzsche.

The mask is that which allows the profound individual to walk in public. It allows him / her to remain sane while standing within the herd. One must journey there masked if one is profound.

The mask also serves as a filter for the proper audience to greatness. When one masks their greatness (i.e., great thoughts, concepts, discoveries), one weeds out the stupid (to put it bluntly) - those literally undeserving of profundity.

Good that many should confuse your greatness with something horrible. Good that they should mistake it for something else entirely. For they are not your audience, they are not your equals. Insofar as your thought is akin to something utterly beautiful, there are some (in fact, there are many) who deserve only what is proper for their rank: mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

I think that the mask he is refering to isn't something you deliberately choose. It's basically how people interpret what you do - and you have no control over that.

'Every profound spirit needs a mask; even more, around every profound spirit a mask is continuously growing, thanks to the constantly false, that is, shallow interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he give'

sarkastikmadman said...

Nietszche wore the mask of a hardened thinker speaking harsh truths, but by all accounts was a compassionate man. He masked his truth behind a desire to elevate all of humanity not just the free spirits and the exceptional. His evaluation of values is masked by a re-evaluation of values. His answers are masked as evolution. His science masked as art. His desire to not be understood masked as an understanding that his dialectical, twistical "truth" would almost certainly be misunderstood and perverted. His warnings are not dangers to be avoided and his safety is masked behind great danger. His seriousness is a cruel joke and his arrogance is masked behind insecurity. He spoke well and emphatically to mask his doubt. he was a master of obfuscation, by refusing to wear the mask of jargon, he gave the illusion of plain truth. His mask was dialectical thinking and synthesis, rather than declarative statements masked as truth exposed for all to see as "truth." Nietszche mocked the pursuit of truth in favor of the pursuit of an artistic life and an artistic "truth." A truth nonetheless, hidden behind the mask he adopted and implored the seeker to find as illusion. His creative mask, masked a desire to be destroyed exposing what is beyond good and evil, exposing his humanity and service to it.

Danny Cardwell said...

I enjoyed this very much. I'm sorry I was so late.