There is a widespread tendency among scholars to categorise thinkers among existing ideologies and fit them within the dominant schools of thought. This often leads to reducing the multiple dimensions of thinking into straitjackets of epistemic taxonomy and intellectual categories. It is evident in the case of Friedrich Nietzsche, as he is hailed as a prophet of modern atheism. At other occasions he is labelled as existentialist, romantic, nihilist and idealist. Sometimes he is called a psychologist who saw what Sigmund Freud reached later. During Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, the propaganda even tried to paint him as a staunch German nationalist in collusion with his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, though he was highly critical of the German nationhood. In reality, Nietzsche manifests everything – except nationalism – without becoming one. While interacting with his works, his readers tend to extract what they want to find and hear. Thus, the process of appropriation leads to multiplicity of interpretations and multiple Nietzsches. The same kind of reading and appropriation process has happened to Dr. Muhammed Iqbal.
The question that arises here is: what in Nietzsche’s thought enable his readers to interpret him in multiple ways? The answer is his perspectivism. Nietzsche is a perspectivist in the sense that he views a phenomenon from multiple perspectives to explore its multiple dimensions. This approach is in harmony with his genealogical method where he rejects the traditional way of searching origins by tracing linear genealogy to a single origin. Contrary to this, Nietzsche sees multiple strands or points of origin in a phenomenon, thing, being or culture. Confining oneself to a single perspective bars us to see a thing in its multifarious forms, contexts and manifestations. Reduction of our plane of vision into single perspective deprives us of the diversity of perspectives. The product of such perspective is dubbed as ‘truth,’ whereas reality is that these are just semblances of truths. Hence, he declares “If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.” Gradually, the truth turns into belief. Therefore, to keep truth afresh, questioning truth from new angle and different time and space is indispensable. Otherwise, truths become prison houses for a meek mind for they seek comfort of belief in truth and avoid pain of inquiry for the veracity of truth. The staunch votary of truth is like a baby that refuses to come out of the comfort of the womb to see the light of the world.
It is by combining disparate perspectives we can attain more understanding of the phenomenon. Perspectivism allows us to unearth the riches of an event, phenomenon or text. Owing to the dominance of the uni-dimensional mind in modern age, we cannot make sense of diversity of perspectives in the writings of Nietzsche. Hence, we label his thoughts as inconsistent. Nietzsche does not fear inconsistency. Instead, he seems to enjoy inconsistency for it helps him to come out of the epistemological cages and intellectual aporia. By remaining inconsistent, he remains philosophically consistent – as Nietzsche never settles in the domain of consistency. With the name of ‘consistency,’ we develop asylum for our meek mind. Nietzsche’s inconsistency allows him to attack different spheres of life from unsuspected spaces that we consider as being occupied by the same perspective.
Here the farmer is a metaphor of settled mind that find comfort in the home of a limited perspective. On the contrary, the wanderer is one who tries to overcome his view by embracing challenges and hurdles
This analysis is not to suggest that Nietzsche was intellectually devoid of forming his own view. Far from it, he was above all watching all the facets that form a phenomenon. A phenomenon is an event wherein different facets coalesce. Without this coalescence, the single facet remains a part devoid of the whole. What we call our view, perspective or ideology are just meaningless words floating in the vacuum of space. Those who think of single perspective or eye as a bedrock of existence or perspective of being, they are just laying the foundation of their own undoing as disappearance of that single eye turns them into blind. Imagine the situation when humans have a single eye. He would be monstrosity or freak like Goliath. With the piercing of single eyes of giant Goliath by David, the gigantic Goliath becomes blind and thus vanquished by the tiny David.
Taking cue from the biblical story of David and Goliath, we can say that human mind ossifies when it has single perspective. To avoid mental ossification, it is indispensable to have as many eyes as possible. It is the perspectivism that, like honeybee, endows Nietzsche with more than two eyes. What else we expect from a prisoner except his view about the world seen from the small widows of his prison cell. That is why Nietzsche declares convictions as prisons. He was literally prison breaker for he did away with the boundaries and restrictions imposed by the academia and perpetuated by the process of rationalisation of society under the sweeping spirit of the time (zeitgeist) of modernity. Although Nietzsche was appointed as a professor of classical philology at the age of 24 in the University of Basel, he left it because of his disillusionment with institutionalised scholarship. Afterwards, he chose the challenge of uncertainty entailed in the path of inquiry.
An inquisitive and challenging mind rejoices when faced with mountain-like hurdles for s/he deems that the bigger the challenge the broader the horizons of mind become. It is only by following the path of Sisyphus, we can attain the holistic perspective or eyes to gaze into the stars and get a panoramic view of the valleys below. To hammer in his idea of opening horizon of mind, Nietzsche employs the geological metaphor of the mountain. One cannot overcome the hurdle of mountain without climbing it. For Nietzsche climbing is a mind’s growth. Climbing is exhausting and grueling experience that test the limits of our strength. While climbing every step, it seems that we are adding weight to our feet. As we ascent on the mountain, it feels that we are burdened with the weight of boulder on our shoulders. We feel crushed under the heavy weight weighing upon our body. Those who lack the strength collapse and sleep. Hence, mountaineering is not the game of meek and weak. Only the souls endowed with strength and endurance can reach pinnacle of the mountain. Nietzsche says, “The summit of every mountain is only won by those who have overcome all the preceding difficulties.”
Nietzsche’s thinking process was akin to mountain-climbing that entails pain, struggle, burden and thin air. This Sisyphean struggle aims to gain perspective that looks into the multi-faceted scenery of the valley and stars whose view was blocked by the mountain. Sepp Walcher declares Nietzsche as a “mountaineer of the spirit and the soul” in that his thought was akin to the activity of mountaineering – “both have the same yearning for the last great height”. From this metaphoric climbing, it becomes clears that the dream of summiting the mountain is the passion of inquisitive mind who wants to expand their perspective. This is in contrast with the people who are content with their view of the valley taken from the bottom of a mountain. This reminds me of a dialogue between two characters in a narrative poem “The Mountain” by Robert Frost. In this poem Frost presents views of two characters. One is inquisitive farmer and the second is a wanderer with adventurous spirit. For the former, climbing on the mountain is silly act, whereas former deems it necessary for the nourishing of the soul. The farmer lives at the bottom of mountain and considers it as a big hurdle and a thing that “takes all the room”. He says,
“We can’t in nature grow to many more:
That thing takes all the room!’ He moved his goad?
The mountain stood there to be pointed at.”
The inquisitive soul of a wanderer does not consider a mountain as a hurdle but a stair that leads to the point where one can gaze into the start and fix his eyes on the heavens. His adventurous spirit enables him to “see new things” “at dawn. Unlike the inquisitive and restless spirit of the wanderer, the farmer is settled in a town. Despite living in the shadow of mountains, he cannot give any information to the wanderer because he never dared to venture into climbing mountains. The only thing the farmer knows is that the “mountain held the town as in a shadow.” Thus, he is bereft of any vision beyond the shadow of mountains and vast galaxies in the heaven.
Here the farmer is a metaphor of settled mind that find comfort in the home of a limited perspective. On the contrary, the wanderer is one who tries to overcome his view by embracing challenges and hurdles. It is only by overcoming these hurdles and challenges, we can be able to attain beatific vision of heavens and perspective of the vast panorama of dales below. Nietzsche’s perspectivism actually longs for such vision. He considers every vision, view, perspective, epistemological category and ideology that instead of expanding reduces our horizon as blinders. We have become closed society by closing our mind in the cage of single perspective. Open society can become possible if we open our minds for multiple perspectives.
The next article will try to explore how Dr. Muhammed Iqbal has appropriated Friedrich Nietzsche’s way of looking at modernity, and how he tried to infuse his ideas in the metaphors and symbols that were germane to the culture and religion of the Islamicate world, especially in the Indian Subcontinent.