Nietzsche’s Message: Beyond Nihilism

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Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Emancipation is dependent on a cure, not salvation. Nietzsche was no New Age Guru. Nietzsche was a Dr. of Civilization’s ills, nihilism his diagnosis… the cure: self-overcoming, an agon to the death – death of civilization as a ‘culture of nihilism’. His diagnosis had two treatments: 1) passive nihilism – allow the weak nihilists to literally die out (or, the destruction of a world; i.e., of the weak nihilist’s worldview); and, 2) positive nihilism – allow the strong nihilist to push or accelerate the disease till it was eliminated, and what remains is something stronger and with greater vitality – a new Civilization of Life beyond the borders of our death culture. A world born of artists, poets, singers, dancers – a world of creativity and light born out of great pain and suffering.

People have termed Nietzsche a reactionary, but that doesn’t quite fit the man’s actual worldview. No. He moved beyond tradition, beyond traditional humanism and religion, and the counter-enlightenment ideologies of the staid gray men of the dark enlightenment’s credos of a return to Sovereign masters, etc. Nietzsche was the extreme case of a Voluntarist who had pushed that mode of the Individual passed such boundaries and into something just the other side of thought, an eliminative thought that stripped the world bare of its false significations, opened it up with a scalpel and revealed not what was hidden but what was in plain site but covered over by a false film of human intent and need… That Old Zen master  Zarathustra, the desert hobgoblin of a prophetic future was pointing to what is advancing toward us out of the accelerating temporal void. Nietzsche was the first post-humanist, and yet the figure of his Übermensch was not his credo but his parody of this future. Many have literalized Zarathustra’s embarkations, rather than seeing them as fables and figurations of something that could not be put into words, an excess beyond our broken signs that no longer refer to anything beyond themselves – a completed nihilism that would break language altogether and encompass the unknowing of what is coming at us… recreating out of the alchemy of time a new worldview for the living, not the dead.

Let’s face it Nietzsche is antinomian, he contradicts himself at every term. Anyone can make out of aspects of his thought anything they might like; that is, unless they show the methodical and accumulating vision that went through cycles and revisions, sequences, coding’s, re-coding’s, and de-coding’s… Nietzsche was unable to finish his project so that we do not have the final vision of his genius. We have fragments of a mind scattered in an Abyss…

This is why his thought is so vital to our age of fracture, he lived what we are now going through, he foresaw the breaking points and the fractured edge of our mental horizons. Like the Trickster figures of old he lived backwards, he had the retroactive vision of those who see from afar, who turn time back and renew us with a truth that is seen from a slanted view of time. Like Deleuze & Guattari, he went against his age’s wise men of academia and paid the price. We would do well to read through his oeuvre rather than reduce him to some political epithet, understand what he was doing in his working through of the diagnosis of nihilism’s death throes. And, yes, he had two phases of his cure: one eliminative, one emancipative. The eliminative subtraction of the human exceptionalism and anthropomorphism of the liberal humanist traditions, and the emancipative introduction of an affirmative process of self-overcoming that would lead to a new posthuman difference. As he saw it nihilism was a tool in the hands of powers that sought to enslave humanity in herd like enclaves of stupidity and unknowing, bound by a mental horizon that these powers controlled. A prison world of thought and intent that encompassed the economic and spiritual capture of the surplus desire of its populace. We see this in our worldwide global system of consumerist capitalism which is neither democratic nor socialist, which is beyond politics altogether.

In our age what many term a complete nihilism is in the offing. What do we mean by this? The complete severance of economics from politics, the privatization of every aspect of the polis, the public sphere. There will be no privacy in a totally secured world. The Human Security Regimes will require a total Surveillance Society. We see the dromological world arising all around us. The defining characteristics of our society, and an increasing source of its hazards, are its relentless acceleration and compression of time (i.e., the so called accelerationism theoretic). The benefits claimed for networked learning environments – productive forms of accessibility, asynchronicity, flexible working, interactivity, instaneity, global reach, inclusivity and contemplative digital space, all appear challenged by dromological perspectives. These latter locate the rise of digital information technologies firmly within the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation, and see them caught inexorably within a logic of ‘fast time’. This has dysfunctional effects in relation to creative thinking, deliberation, discernment and other conceptual processes. It has dystopian political effects in terms of the erosion of democratic and cultural space and the discrediting of action. Our children have become a part of a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ – ‘the children of chaos’ and transition. They will begin the process of completing the nihilistic world and its destruction.

Paul Virilio speaking of these accelerating processes would say,

Today, almost all current technologies put the speed of light to work…we are not only talking about information at a distance but also operation at a distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar…This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time… the speed of light does not merely transform the world.  It becomes the world. (Virilio 1999)

Virilio argues that the dominance of speed has historically been the source of power in all societies, be this through horsemanship, naval power, railway transportation, flight or, now, the fastest technology of all, information technology, which operates, quite literally, at the speed of light.

‘Speed’ suggests Virilio (1999:15) ‘is power itself’.

Whether in ancient societies through the role of chivalry (the first Roman bankers were horsemen) or in maritime power through the conquest of seas, power is always the power to control a territory with messengers, modes of transportation and communication.  Independent of the economy of wealth, an approach to politics is impossible without an approach to the economy of speed…Global society is currently in a gestation period and cannot be understood without the speed of light or the automatic quotations of the stock markets in Wall Street, Tokyo, or London. (15)

Acceleration, in this view, is the hidden side of wealth and accumulation, or capitalisation: in the past the acceleration of maritime transportation, today, the acceleration of information.   As one commentator put it, digital natives ‘are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.’ (Prensky 2001:1) 1

This sense of playfulness, of no longer taking life and work seriously is what Nietzsche hinted at in his attacks of the middle-class of his day and the serious gray beards of academia, etc. Victorian and Industrial and Post-Fordist society were all too serious about life, and produced death and war and hate. Things are turning chaotic, apocalyptic, fiery: at the speed of light, a world of random access, of data, of light-speed. Everything is digital and bound in codes, decodings, and re-codings. And, away from the watchful keepers of the gray beards is the anarchic children of chaos creating the encrypted bit-stacked layers of a new privacy, and public sphere that cannot be controlled.

And, yet, this will not come easy, it will take much innovation and creativity against the security systems that seek to lock down free minds.

Degrade first the arts if you’d mankind degrade,
Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade.

– William Blake

It will take a great insurgence not of force and violence, but of creativity and artistic power to overcome the dark lords of our economic slavery on the planet today!

This is not the place to address the weak (passive) nihilists that run the world of Global Finance and its economic prison system today! Yet, it is their weakening hold on the accelerating power of those creative singularities which are arising out of our future across the planet that is unraveling the codes of these Oligarchic Sovereign Systems of Security and Surveillance Capitalism.

If I use poetic embellishments to describe this process, it is because the reduced philosophical credos of our day are under the dominion of the powers of repression and oppression. We must return to the figurative, rather than the literal reduced meanings to bridge the gap between singularities so that communication can once again become a bridge of light not darkness… thought is in excess of itself.


  1. Marc R. Prensky. From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin; 1 edition (January 10, 2012)

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