Friedrich Nietzsche: The Pathos of Distance – Perfectionism, Transhumanism, and Post-Nihilism

By the abolition of distance, of the ‘pathos’ of distance, everything becomes undecidable.
– Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil

Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.
– Bruce Lee

In opposition to this dwarfing and adaptation of man to a specialized utility, a reverse movement is needed— the production of a synthetic, summarizing, justifying man for whose existence this transformation of mankind into a machine is a precondition, as a base on which he can invent his higher form of being.
-Fredrich Nietzsche, Will to Power

Those who have actually read Friedrich Nietzsche’s works will know that he was against all forms of racism, that he disparaged the Wagnerites, the anti-Semitic thinkers and every aspect of what he would see as a false semblance of German Culture with its bombastic and overblown rhetoric, late romantic, and decadent sickliness. At the heart of Nietzsche’s critique was a full blown critical destruction of Enlightenment values, the Romantic recursion to a secular supernaturalism, and the leveling spirit of democracy in which the ‘pathos of distance’ had been reduced to a mere plebian fart. Ultimately his enemy would be the whole of the Christian world-view and the civilization and culture it gave birth too. The Secular liberal and atheistic culture being nothing but an off-shoot, one that lead to our current nihilistic fragmentation and decline within democratic regimes of instrumental sciences and a politics of reduced, flattened, and degrading existence.

While Fascist or Nazi readings of Nietzsche have been thoroughly repudiated in Nietzsche scholarship, Nietzsche is usually conceived to espouse some kind of political aristocratism (Appel 1999; Conway 1996; Ansell-Pearson 1994).1 Many academics have tried to white wash his political elitism, his radical reappropriation of ancient Greek thought and aristocratic politics. Fossen will argue against those who see Nietzsche’s thought as a return to earlier and outmoded forms of political radicalism and aristocracy, and place his thought instead within his goal of transvaluation of all values: “Nietzsche’s thought is radically aristocratic, not because it proposes an alternative political theory but because it seeks to promote an ethic that is hostile to democratic civility.” (1) It’s this sense that it’s against modernity as the incarnation of a politics of democracy based on Christian values and moralist norms of utilitarianism and voluntarist traditions that Nietzsche sets his critique.

Perfectionism in Ethics and Philosophy

Fossen will take up the theme of perfectionism in Nietzsche, telling us that the “central impulse of Nietzsche’s political and ethical thought is a kind of perfectionism which aims at the elevation or enhancement of mankind, the extension of human capabilities, through the cultivation of exemplary individuals, without however prescribing an ideal to which these individuals are to conform” (1). What does this imply? What does this notion of perfectionism have to do with Nietzsche’s notions of political aristocracy? First we need to understand this concept of perfectionism and its uses within the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Historically, perfectionism is associated with ethical theories that characterize the human good in terms of the development of human nature.3 Such notions can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle’s ethical investment in the development of rationality is often considered to be a perfectionist good because it is a capacity essential to human nature. Whether it takes an egoistic or non-egoistic form, perfectionism is best understood as a moral theory that directs human beings to care about the perfection of others as well as themselves. This claim is consistent with recognizing, what is evidently true, that there are serious limits to our ability to bring about the perfection of others. These limits explain why some philosophers, most notably Kant, have held that we cannot have a duty to promote the perfection of others (Kant 1785). Certain other forms, counter this consequentionalist account with deontology. Deontological perfectionism would hold that the goal of promoting human perfection is constrained by the requirement to respect the perfection, or the capacity to achieve it, in each human being. (Wall, ibid. Perfectionist Ethics) No less a proponent than Rawls would see moral perfectionism as merely one element of a general moral theory. (Wall, Consequentialism and Deontology)

In Nietzsche we see both forms at various junctures in his writings. Nietzsche, gives absolute weight to the excellence achievable by certain great men, such as Socrates or Goethe and zero weight to the rest of humanity. With the introduction of the concept of Übermensch by Zarathustra in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. This notion of the overman as the one who is willing to risk all for the sake of enhancement of humanity is suggestive of the self-overcoming of nihilism, decadence, and the democratic “last man”. In contrary to the “last man” whose sole desire is his own comfort and is incapable of creating anything beyond oneself in any form. This should suggest that an overman is someone who can establish his own values as the world in which others live their lives, often unaware that they are not pregiven. This means an overman can affect and influence the lives of others. In other words, an overman has his own values, independent of others, which affects and dominates others lives that may not have predetermined values but only herd instinct. An overman is then someone who has a life which is not merely to live each day with no meanings when nothing in the past and future is more important than the present, or more precisely, the pleasure and happiness in the present, but with the purpose for humanity. For Nietzsche in a metaphoric display he’d liken this overman to a “the Roman Caesar with Christ’s soul” (Will to Power; 983), a value-creating and value-destroying free spirit who disciplines himself to wholeness.

One might be tempted to see in this notion a precursor to transhumanism, which since its first formulation in 1990 with the emergence of the Extropian movement, which formulated the principles extropy defined as “the extent of a living or organizational system’s intelligence, functional order, vitality, and capacity and drive for improvement.”2 As of 2003 (and still current) version included the principles of perpetual progress, self-transformation, practical optimism, intelligent technology, open society, self-direction, and rational thinking. (TR: 5)

Perpetual progress is a strong statement of the transhumanist commitment to seek “more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an open-ended lifespan, and the removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to continuing development. Perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities as individuals, as organizations, and as a species. Growing in healthy directions without bound.” The individual element of this is expressed in the principle of self-transformation, which means “affirming continual ethical, intellectual, and physical self-improvement, through critical and creative thinking, perpetual learning, personal responsibility, proactivity, and experimentation. Using technology – in the widest sense to seek physiological and neurological augmentation along with emotional and psychological refinement.” Both of these principles clearly express the implementation of transhumanism as being a continual process and not about seeking a state of perfection.

The Pathos of Distance: Self-Overcoming and Enhancement

Let’s add a couple of quotes from Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals:

Every enhancement of the type “man” has so far been the work of an aristocratic society-and it will be so again and again-a society that believes in the long ladder of an order of rank and differences in value between man and man, and that needs slavery in some sense or other. Without that pathos of distance which grows out of the ingrained difference between strata–when the ruling caste constantly looks afar and looks down upon subjects and instruments and just as constantly practices obedience and command, keeping down and keeping at a distance-that other, more mysterious pathos could not have grown up either-the craving for an ever widening of distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, further-stretching, more comprehensive states-in brief, simply the enhancement of the type “man,” the continual “self-overcoming of man,” to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense. (Beyond Good and Evil 257)

Fossen will remark that Nietzsche’s perfectionist ideal is presented here as an increase of ‘distance within the soul itself’, attainment of ‘ever higher, rarer, more remote, tenser, more comprehensive states’. Its condition is and will always be a society which believes in differences of value between individuals and depends upon some sense of slavery. (2)

The source of the concept “good” has been sought and established in the wrong place: the judgment “good” did not originate with those to whom “goodness” was shown! Rather it was “the good” themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good, that is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common and plebian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values: what had they to do with utility! The viewpoint of utility is as remote and inappropriate as it possibly could be in face of such a burning eruption of the highest rank-ordering, rank-defining value judgments: for here feeling has attained the antithesis of that low degree of warmth which any calculating prudence, any calculus of utility, presupposes-and not for once only, not for an exceptional hour, but for good. The pathos of nobility and distance, as a foresaid, the protracted and domineering fundamental total feeling on the part of a higher ruling order in relation to a lower order, to a “below”-that is the origin of the antithesis “good” and “bad.” (The Genealogy of Morals I, 2)

It’s here that the notion of “pathos of distance” is martialed by Nietzsche as part of his transvaluation-of-all-values. Some would see in this system of rank and hierarchy notions of social domination, and that Nietzsche must support a return to male hierarchic and dominator social relations. Yet, as Fossen will argue the fact that Nietzsche believes that only a few can achieve greatness “does not imply that most are excluded from striving for self-overcoming from the start” (2). And, yet, many of his critics, though admitting that the ethical ideal he promotes is not in principle elitist in the sense that it incorporates a principle of exclusion, there are passages that suggest that striving for perfection cannot proceed without the sacrifice or exploitation of other people.(Fossen, 2) Fossen will argue against this too easy reduction to older forms of aristocratic politics, suggesting instead that Nietzsche’s very instigation of a philosophy of self-overcoming sets the individual against the State rather than within it as the dominative law maker. As Fossen tells us Nietzsche posits between his openended perfectionist ethical ideal of self-overcoming (the enhancement of man) and a social hierarchy or caste-system, or in Conway’s words, a ‘rigid stratification and hierarchical organization of society and its resources’ (Fossen, 2).

Jean-Michel Rabaté in his new book, The Pathos of Distance: The Affects of the Moderns will align Walter Benjamin’s historical reflections and Nietzsche’s principle of the ‘pathos of distance’ as both supporting a return to ethical values and valuations.4 Nietzsche will see the pathos of distance at the root of all value systems, while Benjamin according to James McFarland – whose book Constellation: Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in the Now-Time of History would align many of the various concepts within both thinkers through their vision of Time:

In one sense, what enters into Benjamin’s relation with Nietzsche at the threshold of maturity is nothing less than history. For Benjamin as a mature thinker, the difference between the living and the dead can no longer so easily be effaced beneath an appeal to a vital ideal that identifies them, hence Nietzsche’s posthumous status cannot be ignored out of enthusiasm for his putative role in the present. He now speaks to Benjamin inevitably out of the nineteenth century, and this irrevocable distance will inform all Benjamin’s interpretive reactions to his writings.5

McFarland will go on to suggest that the irreducible dislocation implicit in testimony is one aspect of the “Fernenbestimmtheit,” the pathos of distances that Benjamin attributes to Nietzsche in the “Psychophysical Problem.” “Nietzsche’s life is typical for someone who is determined by distances as such [bloßen Fernenbestimmtheit]; it is the fate [Verhängnis] of the highest among complete human beings [den fertigen Menschen]” (SW, 1:400; GS, 6:87). “Verhängnis der fertigen Menschen”: Curse of the finished as much as destiny of the perfect; the irreducibility of this testimonial distance precludes the simple notions of acceptance or rejection of Nietzsche’s doctrines, which present themselves to Benjamin always simultaneously as testimonies to and as testaments of an alien condition. (McFarland, 68)

This inner turn seems to coalesce with Fossen’s notion that Nietzsche is not promoting a return to social hierarchy of elites, but rather the internalization of such a pathos of distance in self-overcoming of the current values of democratic society. As he suggests Nietzsche makes clear in subsequent passages that the widening of distance within the soul, and consequently the enhancement of man, arises not from the activity of the elite within a stratified social order, but from the dissolution of this order. (3) In fact Fossen will connect Nietzsche’s assessment as a critique of social hierarchy and the need for an internalization and self-overcoming, an account of morality as rooted in power. (3) Whereas the ancient Greek’s we discover in their externalization of social hierarchy a characterization based on relations of power which take the form of a relation of command and obedience between castes of rulers and slaves, we see in Nietzsche’s more internalized notion of self-overcoming as a morality bound by a ‘sign-language of the affects’ (BGE 187).

Nietzsche would trace this history as a power-struggle between two forms of life – the self-affirming and self-overcoming noble form: noble morality reinforces the hierarchical relation of master and slave by casting the master as the end and the slave as mere means. This enables the institution of law, justice and rights (that is, privileges), which can be seen as mechanisms for enforcing the social hierarchy by forging an affirmation of the relation of equality and justice among the ruling caste (BGE 265), while at the same time keeping the lower classes at bay (GM II 11) And, then the slave morality: the slave’s affective experience of power is different from that of the noble in that he experiences not a plenitude but a lack of power, a feeling of suffering and oppression which gives rise to a pathos of resentment (the slave counterpart to the noble pathos of distance) (GM I 10). So we have two principles: the pathos of distance of the elite, the nobles; and the pathos of resentment of the plebeians, slaves, and lower orders of society. The whole notion of self-overcoming is never associated with the external world of ancient Greek aristocracy and its politics. For Fossen it becomes a central aspect of Nietzsche’s revaluation-of-all-values to both appropriate and internalize aspects of these ancient notions, while working against its master/slave dialectic and formulating a new ethicism based on a new internalized pathos of distance.

We have already seen that Nietzsche conceives the enhancement of man as the
achievement of ‘ever higher, rarer, more remote, tenser, more comprehensive states’ (BGE 257), as entertaining an ever-wider range of perspectives. Where does ‘that other, more mysterious pathos’, ‘that longing for an ever-increasing widening of distance within the soul itself’ originate? (Fossen, 4) We’ve seen Nietzsche transition from the outward forms of domination, the master/slave dialectic of Plato/Aristotelean substantial formalism based on ends and means, two-world theory, and caste or social hierarchism unto an individualistic system of power-relations based on internalized forms of self-overcoming of nihilism, modernity, and democratic sociality. Where does it put us? For Fossen and others this statement by Nietzsche typifies the answer: ‘[T]oday there is perhaps no more decisive mark of a “higher nature”, a more spiritual nature, than that of being divided in this sense and a genuine battleground of these opposed values’(GM I 16).(Fossen, 5) For Nietzsche the notion of a new nobility must come not from class divisions such as in Marx, but rather from within the figure of the Philosopher himself as one who becomes the battleground of the new valuation, the destruction and creation of worlds.

What we discover in Nietzsche is that against the older forms of caste based notions of aristocracy based on external power-relations between equals, and un-equals there arises the new form of the singular individual as show by a passage from Beyond Good and Evil:

With one stroke the bond and constraint of the ancient discipline [of the aristocratic caste – TF] is broken: it is no longer felt to be a necessity, a condition of existence – if it were to persist it could be only as a form of luxury, as an archaizing taste. Variation, whether as deviation (into the higher, rarer, more refined) or as degeneration and monstrosity, is suddenly on the scene in the greatest splendour and abundance, the individual dares to be individual and stand out […] The dangerous and uncanny point is reached where the grander, more manifold, more comprehensive life lives beyond the old morality; the “individual” stands there, reduced to his own law-giving, to his own arts and stratagems for self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-redemption. (BGE 262)

As Fossen will comment what is striking about this passage is that precisely the displacement of the struggle is what constitutes enhancement of mankind: the emergence of the individual after the demise of the aristocratic caste constitutes a ‘grander’, ‘more comprehensive’ form of life. This enhancement is made possible when the discipline (and presumably the political dominance) of the aristocratic class breaks down. (Fossen, 5) Yet, it was just here at this point, when the societies of Greece and Rome were in-between the older politics of the caste based systems and the newer philosophical and Hellenic cultural revolution of the individual were beginning to arise that something would cut it off, dampen its effect, and close the doors of such worlds for two thousand years. The religious world of Christianity and the slave revolt of morality would reverse the course, tear down both individual and caste based social relations of aristocracy and impose a new order of dominion that placed both masters and slaves within a higher order of religious regulation and external morality. Against this whole world Nietzsche would develop his invective and philosophy of the pathos of distance and resentment.

Fossen will argue that even thought Nietzsche no longer envisions the need for an external caste system of aristoi or aristocratic elite to support such an internalized notion of self-overcoming, he does still continue with an altered form of future enhancement of man that requires “slavery in some sense or other” (Fossen, 6). But in what sense? Fossen will argue that for Nietzsche the difference comes in how we view slavery, whether as a socio-political institution (as in Greece and Rome), or as exemplifying a more fundamental category of ethics – an ethical dimension in which both the pathos of distance and resentment come into effect. The self-overcoming individual opens up a distance within herself – a pathos of distance against all those values of nihilism, democracy, and instrumental chains that bind the man of resentment together in a self-imposed slavedom of utilitarian values and economics.

Yet, with the internalization of this self-overcoming it is not some external society of slaves that one is overcoming, rather it is the slave morality within oneself that must be overcome and banished. As Nietzsche once claimed great men conduct war against themselves (BGE 200), and he would assert that the hardships and sufferings of this internalization are the  preconditions for self-overcoming. Fossen reading this claim of Nietzsche’s sees a long list of critics that would say he is only displacing this notion of slavery, and they would ask “Isn’t there an obvious sense in which the individual who strives for self-overcoming needs the actual exploitation of others, in the same way that an aristocratic class needed a slave class, namely to provide for the necessities of life and the leisure to strive for greatness?” (Fossen, 8)

For Nietzsche modern democratic societies were already shaped by a false system of relations and exploitation, a dark shadow of the elder aristocracies had been shaped not through merit and philosophical thought and endeavors but from economic and moneyed classes exploitation and enslavement of the workers and the poor. Against this strange monstrous social formation Nietzsche would wage war for a new aristocracy of the spirit, of a higher man and individualism that would overcome this twisted social world of exploitation and misery. Yet, detractors of Nietzschean supermen, etc. would point to Beyond Good and Evil 259, where Nietzsche claims that every healthy social body practices exploitation because ‘life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation’, and as such it wants ‘to grow, expand, draw to itself, gain ascendancy’. In other words life itself is already hierarchical and exploitative. And, they will admonish that Nietzsche’s deprecation of democracy and equal rights places him in a false light, too. But Nietzsche would counter

“Exploitation” does not pertain to a corrupt or imperfect or primitive society: it pertains to the essence of the living thing as a fundamental organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic will to power which is precisely the will of life. – Granted this is a novelty as a theory – as a reality it is the primordial fact of all history: let us be at least that honest with ourselves! – (BGE, V)

But as Fossen suggests if we take Nietzsche at his word (i.e., literally) then this passage entails treating others as a means must necessarily take the form of physical violence and exploitation of other human beings. And Nietzsche’s insistence that we ‘resist all sentimental weakness’ suggests that we are to take him quite literally. (Fossen, 9)

The End of Democracy: Slave Morality and Self-Overcoming

We’ve seen that for Nietzsche slave-morality is associated with the history of religious enslavement and Western Christendom which ultimately allowed in its own dissolution into Enlightenment a new economic, moral, and instrumental reason to emerge that formed a society based on a false notion of aristocracy of the have’s and have not’s: an economic dictatorship under the ruse of modern liberal democracy that in the end allowed the those enslaved to approve of their own enslavement which they termed freedom and parliamentary democracy. They built institutions of instrumental sciences that produced efficient and hierarchical rules and regulations, new normative and secular systems of oversight and control that were guided by science, moral philosophy, and instrumental reason. Neoliberalism becoming only the latest incarnation of this slave society ruled by an economic elite of .01% plutocrats in an Oligarchy of global collusion of State and Corporate command and control systems: mediatainment or modern industrial communications systems that enforce the habits, customs, and immersive spectacle of social relations. Technology, technics, and instrumental reason form the triune power that enforces and regulates this global civilization of slaves under the delusion and delirious notion of democratic freedom and social justice.

But Nietzsche would see this not in a negative light but rather as an opportunity of transformation, for the emergence of a new set of social relations, of a transvaluation-of-values that would return us to the higher forms of life and a new politics of the aristocratic spirit. He would see the cultivation of new philosophers able to lift humanity out of
its paralysis, solitary beings who would elude the dominant society of resentment and corruption, decadence and moral pessimism. In fact what is required he would suggest in  contemporary conditions is not so much the economic conditions for greatness by means of the sacrifice of others, but individuals who adopt an aristocratic perspective; a commitment to oneself that implies a willingness to treat others or parts of oneself as mere means to an end. For Nietzsche modern man has rendered himself a small and useful tool. Conceived in this way, contemporary society already represents an elaborate form of exploitation. The way out of this lie, this twisted society of resentment, exploitation, and false democratic social relations is to enter into a new world of relations. But to do this Fossen suggests we need not build institutions capable of pressing people
into service for an elite, but rather a new kind of aristocrat who conceives himself as its
purpose. Or as Nietzsche would say in the Notebooks:

And would it not be a kind of goal, redemption, and justification for the democratic movement itself if someone arrived who made use of it –, by finally producing beside its new and sublime development of slavery – that is what European democracy will become ultimately, – that higher kind of dominating and Caesarean spirits who would now – have need of this new slavery? For new, hitherto impossible prospects, for their prospects? For their tasks? (2[13] 12.73f.)

As look around the world today we see a civilization of resentment, of a civil war of all against all, of a world of hatred, bigotry, corruption, decadence, and betrayal; a world where the leaders have become weak; a world where freedom is another term for enslavement to economic dictators who hide behind anonymous laws and regulations; a world where each citizen has been disinvested of her illusions of democratic rights. We are the last men, the victims of a false world enclosed in a perfectly regulated realm of authority and lies, ideology and propaganda. Yet, even as we enter the last stages of this world we see the fractures, the broken fragments of a new realm of possibility emerging, a realm situated immanently within the very ruins of this global ruin. Who will arise from these ruins to exemplify a new life, a new world, a new aristocracy of the spirit and mind that would overcome this dark nihilism of hate and exploitation.

Post-Nihilist World: Integral Reality and the New Image of Man

As Keith-Ansell Pearson will tell us our age is one in which there is more plurality than ever before. But we do everything possible to escape from the tension that should be included in this plurality. Our predominant morality and our predominant faith make us dream of the happiness of eternal rest; they make us believe in tolerance as a kind of indifferent attitude towards plurality and difference. We turn ourselves into museums, and hide our lack of taste behind our collection of different kinds of taste; or we become scientific and strive for objective knowledge about what we have gathered in order to forget about ourselves; or we use all kinds of narcotics as anesthetics in order not to feel the tension that we harbor (according to Nietzsche, Wagner’s music was such a narcotic); or we become desperate when, standing before our wardrobe, we find out that we have disposed of all the costumes of history but have none of our own (cf. BGE 223).6

For Jean Baudrillard we’ve entered an Integral Reality that precludes the pathos of distance:

Videos, interactive screens, multimedia, the Internet, Virtual Reality: interactivity threatens us on all sides. What was once separated is everywhere merged. Distance is everywhere abolished: between the sexes, between opposite poles, between the stage and the auditorium, between the protagonists of the action, between the subject and object, between the real and its double (75).7

Debord’s Society of the Spectacle is over and done. We’ve all become actors in a scripted Reality Studio without recourse to the outside for there is only this endless night of reductionism: we have reduced ourselves to image. As Baudrillard will remind us the impossibility of reprehending the world through images and moving from information and collective action and will, in this absence of sensibility and mobilization, it isn’t apathy or general indifference that’s at issue; it is quite simply that the umbilical cord of representation is severed. (77)

The ecstasy of communication is this enslavement to the machinic world. One is no longer an independent being, one is coded and decoded by a transactional program of homogenized datafeeds and looped interactions in which one is the terminal. One’s relations are based solely on this closed-circuit system of images, this immersive realm without distance. We are the prosthesis of machinic programs and algorithms that capture our desires and control our destinies. We’ve become copies of copies, mirroring nothing more than the nullity of the mirror, the emptiness of the virtual world that we can no longer distance ourselves from nor even imagine a time when there was another world, another reality.

Nietzsche once spoke of this as the completion of nihilism. Unlike the Gnostics evil is not objective, it isn’t in the world. It isn’t an agency out there, not some fable of the demiurge and his retinue, the archons enslaving us in the prison house of cosmic illusion and delusion. We are not delirious guests in some shadow world of Platonic ghosts, mere images of some forgotten other alterity beyond us. There is no transcendence, no distance. Evil is just this endless process, this program without any end: a algorithm that automates each scripted coding and decoding in endless loops and interactive actions, then reverses the process and begins again.

Again, Baudrillard: You cannot will it. That is an illusion and misconception. The evil you can will, the evil you can do and which, most of the time merges with violence, suffering, death, has nothing to do with this reversible form of evil. We might even say that those who deliberately practice evil certainly have no insight into it, since their act supposes the intentionality of a subject, whereas this reversibility of evil is the reversibility of form. (159) Because we have become mere images the ‘intelligence of evil’ is not even known for what it is, it is evil that is intelligent, that is it “thinks us – in the sense that it is implied automatically in every one of our acts (160).

Evil rather than some objective thing one can confront is pure form, internal to the very seduction of the Real. Baudrillard: But if evil is a form, and most of the time a form that is deeply buried, one can only bring out that form and come to an understanding with it (161). Unlike the ancient Gnostic mythos there are no actors, no agencies to speak with, evil is this act of speech in us. Evil is itself the very immoral transcendence that all metaphysical systems seek out and defend. The very notion of immortality and the transcension of this realm is what drives death, and at root it is this death-drive that funnels transcendence, exit. If there is nihilism, then, it is not nihilism of value, but a nihilism of form. It is to speak the world in its radicality, in its dual, reversible form, and this has never meant banking on catastrophe, any more than violence. (162)

The  violence you mete out is always the mirror of the  violence you inflict on yourself. The  violence you inflict on your self  is always the mirror of the violence you mete out.

This is the intelligence of evil. (163)

The one thing humans will not give up is their deep-seated belief in the substance of the Body. They’ll acknowledge the disappearance of the Self, but not the organic physicality that they call home in the world. It is the body that one never speaks, yet always holds dearest. The body is the thing that will not vanish: ever-present in its sordid painfulness, it persists through all our dreams of flight. Without the body the thought of self is mere empty gesture, a ghost world of gray things flickering in the night of our fears and terrors. Why else the resurgence of paranormal ghost hunters and mediums and channelers of the dead? Channel after channel the techs wonder the haunted halls of the globe in search of deathly life, of deadly memories living on in some strange half-world just beyond the visible. Technologies are brought forth to hear, see, touch, feel the dark presence of the dead in their half-life, while the viewer looks on mesmerized seeking the darkness visible of a ghostly figure on the screen; some hint that life continues just the other side of this organic hell hole. As if the intelligence of evil were some duplicated agent of our dreams come alive, moving just this side of the screenlands of our thoughts. Yet, it is the body that suddenly becomes the target of these ghostly apparitions, red whelps and scratches in triplicate attesting to the lacerating hell brood that seeks the blood of the living. Like some endless half-world of zombies and demons these ghost hunters seek proof of this inexistent realm that seems to be troubling the living in their dreams and lives. We seek escape from Time through time, through the invention of an eternal purgatory populated by the recent dead so keep us chained to our own self-lacerating present.

Anyone who has studied Christianity will realize that what is being saved, what is being reborn, what is being restored is not the Self but the body which is the doctrine of resurrection, etc. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power…”8 Christianity is based on this hope of resurrection and immortality, of the semblance of a new body – a body of light, etc.. One sees the parody of this in the transhumanist notion of uploading one’s being into a digital matrix, or the endless cloning and transference to new clones – almost a parody of transmigration of the souls of Plato and Jewish Kabballah. Or the incarnation in a body of steel, an automated body of robotics and AGI. All of these dreams of transcending one’s current body in some immortalization and eternal form. The notion that one can escape death the hunter, the movement of the world which is change, continuous decay into other forms. All of these religious or secular ideologies seek to stay the hand of time, to overcome time, to stop time and construct a salvation of immortality of the body, any body, a new life for a what? What would remain? What live on? If the Self is nothing, empty, a lack then what would live on?

What is self-overcoming if not this escape from the mirror world of the Self-lacerating violence and sacrifice, expulsion and exclusion – this self-deluded and delirious illusion of perfection and immortaliy? Self-overcoming of nihilism as the self-forgetfulness of world and self? We must enter the fragmentation, scatter ourselves to the winds, open the wounds that bind us to this physical replication of tears and silences. There is no finality, no end, no telos: this, too, was the lie of salvation, redemption, restoration. Let the world go, let the self go, let go of the emptiness you are, the lack that seems to forever drive you forward in search of your destiny. Death is nothing but this slow decay of the body in time, the process of decomposition that continues till the earthworms feast on our flesh in the tomb. We construct a self out of air, language, signs but it is the body that goes through the process of decay and death; change and metamorphosis. There is no destiny, and you are not. This churning negativity or never-resting mobility: this war in-between two folds, this cataleptic gaze that seeks to stop the world is the last parable of being and nothingness, the blind-man’s gambit of telic purpose and utilitarian dreams. Between the image and the gaze the world moves… and swerves downward and away.

Yet, the reversal of this is Nietzsche’s other form of self-overcoming. “The presupposition inherent in an aristocratic society for preserving a high degree of freedom among its members is the extreme tension that arises from the presence of an antagonistic drive in all its members: the will to dominate— If you would do away with firm opposition and differences in rank, you will also abolish all strong love, lofty attitudes, and the feeling of individuality.”9 (WP, 487) The new aristocrat no longer needs virtues: consequently they lose them (— as we do the morality of “one thing is needful,” of salvation of soul, and of immortality: they were means of making possible for man a tremendous self-constraint through the effect of a tremendous fear.). (WP, 494) For Nietzsche, against Fossen’s salvage operation, was after all a revisionist precursor of all those immortalist and posthuman or transhuman overreachers, for better or worse a radical reactionary enforcing a return of the ancient aristoi principle:

… a new, tremendous aristocracy, based on the severest self-legislation, in which the will of philosophical men of power and artist-tyrants will be made to endure for millenia— a higher kind of man who, thanks to their superiority in will, knowledge, riches, and influence, employ democratic Europe as their most pliant and supple instrument for getting hold of the destinies of the earth, so as to work as artists upon “man” himself. Enough: the time is coming when politics will have a different meaning.

And would it not be a kind of goal, redemption, and justification for the democratic movement itself if someone arrived who could make use of it— by finally producing beside its new and sublime development of slavery (— that is what European democracy must become ultimately) a higher kind of dominating and Caesarian spirits who would stand upon it, maintain themselves by it, and elevate themselves through it? To new, hitherto impossible prospects, to their own prospects? To their own tasks? (WP, 498) (954 (1885-1886))

Even in his madness I’m sure Nietzsche would not have foreseen (or did he?) the parody of this form of aristocratic pretension as it is formulated by our Oligarchic and Plutocratic Neoliberal autarchy of the wealthy .01% who like demigods of imbecility rise above the democracies of the U.S., Europe, Russia, China, Middle-East not as spiritual aristocrats, but rather as demented sojourners of a failed globalism that is no collapsing around them in our day. What comes after is anyone’s guess… maybe Nietzsche’s actual aristocracy of the spirit?

  1. Cite. Fossen, Thomas. Nietzsche’s Aristocratism Revisited Published in H.W. Siemens and V. Roodt (eds.), Nietzsche, Power and Politics: Rethinking Nietzsche’s Legacy for Political Thought. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 299–318.; Ansell-Pearson, Keith, 1994, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.; Conway, Daniel, 1996, Nietzsche and the Political, London: Routledge.; Appel, Fredrick, 1999, Nietzsche Contra Democracy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  2. The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future (p. 5). Wiley. Kindle Edition. TR
  3. Wall, Steven, “Perfectionism in Moral and Political Philosophy“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta.
  4. Jean-Michel Rabaté. The Pathos of Distance: The Affects of the Moderns.
  5. James McFarland. Constellation: Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in the Now-Time of History. Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 18, 2012)
  6. Keith Ansell Pearson. A Companion to Nietzsche. Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (August 24, 2011)
  7. Jean Baudrillard. The Intelligence of Evil: : or, The Lucidity Pact.  Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (May 8, 2013)
  8. Carroll, Robert; Stephen Prickett. The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 42928-42929). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Nietzsche, Fredrich. Will to Power (pp. 487-488).   Random House; First Thus edition (1967)

5 thoughts on “Friedrich Nietzsche: The Pathos of Distance – Perfectionism, Transhumanism, and Post-Nihilism

  1. “There is no health as such, and all attempts to define a thing that way have been wretched failures. Even the determination of what is healthy for your body depends on your goal, your horizon, your energies, your impulses, your errors, and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul.” — Nietzsche

    Liked by 1 person

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