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David Strauss: the Confessor and Writer

David Strauss: the Confessor and Writer

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Published by evan karp
A 2.5 page guide to the first essay of Nietzsche's second book, Untimely Meditations.
A 2.5 page guide to the first essay of Nietzsche's second book, Untimely Meditations.

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Published by: evan karp on Jun 26, 2011
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David Strauss: the Confessor and Writer
Untimely Meditation #1Friedrich NietzscheWhoever is reading this falls into one of two categories: either youcurrently participate in the creation of culture (and therefore serve theunifying of the disparate elements of our current culture), or I believeyou wish to do so.Let’s assume America (I no longer call them united states) currentlyhas a predominant culture and not a staggering number of sub-cultures (even though we know this is not true). What kind of culturecould we consider it? Let us start by defining its characteristics. The main thread of our society today is deception, specifically self-deception. We believe we are strong when in reality we are weak. Ouractions, feelings, thoughts all conform to the belief that we are strong(and therefore correct); what we do, feel, and think are healthybecause we are strong. We can say then, since we really are weak,that these things which we do, feel, and think are actually unhealthy,and thus by way of our self-deception we have come to turn realityupside down, to confuse one thing for its opposite, and, thinking thatall things gravitate upwards, we have started with our ceilings on theground. Little surprise if we bang our heads on the floor! We’re talkingabout the soul.Now. I start with America but Nietzsche clearly starts with Germanyand, more specifically, Germany in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war. Many Germans mistakenly considered their militaryvictory a triumph of culture, and this first Meditation is essentiallyNietzsche’s attempt to clarify the difference between popular andgenuine culture. It was popular, in the newspapers and in the streets,for Germans to celebrate success and carry themselves with a dignitythey had earned through strategy and diligence—something that didnot exist in the characters of those celebrating—not as a cause of authentic ideology or national character. The Germans merelyoutmanned and outsmarted the enemy. In no way did they defeatFrench culture, because in order for one culture to defeat another,Nietzsche argues, there have to be two cultures to begin with... andGermany then owed much of its language, mannerisms, and, in short,culture to the French.Cultural victory through military conquest.Popular identity founded on national strength.
 
We are no strangers to these themes. What is the danger facingAmerica now; what was the danger facing the Germans of 1873? Thatthis culture, this idea of ourselves—formed on the basis of militarystrength alone—will dissolve, evaporate, as soon as our military falls. The spirit of the German people grew to a monstrous size all the waythrough WWII. As military success continued, the people’s spirits grewproportionately. But what happened when they were finally defeated?And what did they have to come to terms with besides military loss!‘We did what?!’ You can almost still hear this disbelief today, and evennow there are multitudes who deny facts well-documented.What we have is a spirit dependent on dominating others, or, to put itperhaps less offensively, a spirit that presumes its own superiority overother cultures. The man of American culture acts as if he is the flowerof every civilization before him, as if all times and peoples have cometo a culmination through him, in him, and that therefore he is thecrowning achievement of all life. This belief, when in actuality there isno culture, no unified expression of life! Nietzsche uses the termcultural philistine to denote such people – those who are the antithesisof culture but believe they are its very essence. We seem to believethe foundation has been established and we are the building that sitsupon it. No more building is needed, only maintenance, and that onlywhen we have something to gain from it personally. The German foundation of culture is to be found in the likes of Goethe,Schiller, et al, men who devoted their lives to the creation of something truly unique and valuable. David Strauss, for example,reverts back to these founders in order to illuminate his current period,claiming that he and the modern German people are the direct resultof the great founders’ efforts, that modern Germany is in fact thecreation of those great men. But, as Nietzsche points out, the only wayto pay tribute to such men is to seek value as relentlessly as theysought without ever succumbing to weariness or personal comfort. Tobuild for the future, not to assume one is the future of someone else’sbuilding! The modern man asks: “Why seek? Why build? Were thosemen not great? How beautiful their visions were! And we ARE theirvisions!” Thus it should come as no surprise that the cultural philistinespends his time praising the works and visions and lives of the greatmen before him, for in his eyes the greater his predecessors, thegreater he is himself (and the less there is to do).But let us ask: what is our foundation? The founding fathers, theconstitution, the various myths of our country’s greatness. We point tothe documents written by great men long dead as proof or at leastfoundation of our greatness. We say “We the people of life, liberty, andthe pursuit of happiness, of justice.” At this point little can be said

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