On Nietzsche’s Late Notebooks

Notebook 38, June - July 1885 38[1]
In the form in which it comes, a thought is a sign with many meanings, requiring interpretation or, more precisely, an arbitrary narrowing and restriction before it finally becomes clear. It arises in me - where from? How? I don’t know. It comes, independently of my will, usually circled about and clouded by a crowd of feelings, desires, aversions, and by other thoughts, often enough scarcely distinguishable from a ‘willing’ or ‘feeling’. It is drawn out of this crowd, cleaned, set on its feet, watched as it stands there, moves about, all this at an amazing speed yet without any sense of haste. Who does all this I don’t know, and I am certainly more observer than author of the process. Then its case is tried, the question posed: ‘What does it mean? What is it allowed to mean? Is it right or wrong?’ - the help of other thoughts is called on, it is compared. In this way thinking proves to be almost a kind of exercise and act of justice, where there is a judge, an opposing party, even an examination of the witnesses which I am permitted to observe for a while- only a while, to be sure: most of the process, it seems, escapes me. - That every thought first arrives many-meaninged and floating, really only as the occasion for attempts to interpret or for arbitrarily fixing it, that a multitude of persons seem to participate in all thinking - this is not particularly easy to observe: fundamentally, we are trained the opposite way, not to think about thinking as we think. The origin of the thought remains hidden; in all probability it is only the symptom of a much more comprehensive state; the fact that it, and not another, is the one to come, that it comes with precisely this greater or lesser luminosity, sometimes sure and imperious, sometimes weak and in need of support, as a whole always exciting, questioning because every thought acts as a stimulus to consciousness - in all of this, something of our total state expresses itself in sign form. - The same is true of every feeling. It does not mean something in itself: when it comes it first has to be interpreted by us, and how strange this interpretation often is! Think of the distress of the entrails, almost ‘unconscious’ to us,

of the tensions of blood pressure in the abdomen, of the pathological states of the nervus sympathicus - and how many things there are of which the sensorium commune gives us hardly a gleam of consciousness! - Faced with such uncertain feelings of displeasure, only the expert anatomist can guess the right type and location of their causes, whereas everyone else, in other words almost all men for as long as they have existed, searches not for a physical explanation of this kind of pain but for a psychological and moral one. They misconstrue the body’s actual ill humours by fetching from their store of unpleasant experiences and fears a reason to feel so bad. Under torture, almost anyone confesses himself guilty; under a pain whose physical cause is unknown, the tortured man subjects himself to an interrogation as long and inquisitorial as it takes to find himself or others guilty: like, for example, the Puritan who, as a matter of habit, made a moral interpretation of the ill humour resulting from an unwise lifestyle: as the pangs of his own conscience. -

Nietzsche can certainly be seen here in terms of the historical development he represents. Seeing self-consciousness and identity as an ongoing construction, Nietzsche marks the stage where self-consciousness is not only not ‘master of its own house’, but is decentered in specific ways both previously presumed belonging to it and in ways experientially disclosed to intuition that were not disclosed before. Who before experienced thoughts themselves in the way Nietzsche describes? And what does the very possibility of such an experience represent — which is to say, how is such an experience possible? We are able to delineate with other terms developed since Nietzsche’s time which, on the one hand, are just jargon, but on the other function as symbolic terms that offer slightly more explanatory power. What is happening in Nietzsche’s experience, the theater of experience opened for view in this note, is that identification is divorced from process. Identification is always a tricky process to represent. Two dots on a page are separate, but drawing a line between them makes them ‘one’. Two become one when they enter into a relation, and in a certain sense, the relation precedes the relata. This is all basic and well-known. Identification, it need only be said, bears the characteristics of pure relating. Identification is in a sense global inasmuch as it seems to be the subject himself who identifies, and


inasmuch as the relation obtained through identification does not take the time to leave a trace in order to create an in-itself, a for-itself, etc. Identification seems to be a semi-global capacity rooted in the organism’s natural propensity for mimicry, and in human beings (maybe others, maybe all) that mimicry carries with it a certain knowledge of being, that is, a certain transposed somatic knowledge. Thus, identification is in some sense extra-discursive, though rigorously separating the two is perhaps impossible at the level of discourse (as one might expect). What does this have to do with Nietzsche’s note? The question might be asked whether these new breakthrough moments in the history of self-consciousness, which appear to follow the logic of punctuated equilibria, are limited to intelligence. In other words, whether it is only at the level of discursive self-organization that self-consciousness can make breakthroughs of this sort. The Foucauldian, of course, would say ‘yes’. Especially the earlier Foucault, whose whole discovery was that whole epochs of apparently subjectively different states of knowledge were in fact functions of structures of knowledge and their transformations. In this regard, the early Foucault certainly operates as a materialist, for it isn’t subjective leaps or non-causal breaks that define and establish this or that episteme, but rather discrete transformations in an existing structure of discourse that get us from one point to the next. The transformations are global and paradigmatic, to be sure, and there is an epistemic fait accompli in place preventing one from thinking ‘outside’ his episteme. But inasmuch as structure is all, it furnishes the constant causal means for a broad materialism of temporal and spatial relating. Nevertheless, are there moments when consciousness exceeds intelligence? Are there points in the history of philosophy where consciousness seems to extend past the domain cleared for it by intelligence and the possible combinations and transformations within discourse? The answer is unclear. For one, philosophy has always — insofar as it has self-consciously sought to distinguish itself from mysticism — attempted the re-application of discourse to itself in order to find the one unassailable strategic point, that is, the ‘truth’. It has always sought the re-organization of old terms along with the introduction of new terms that are logically implied, however deeply, and necessary to that re-organization. To exceed or break the rules of discourse, on the one hand,


usually means a subjective insistence of expression, which means bad philosophy. An amateur will subjectively insist on a certain organization of terms though: a) that organization is not unassailable; b) the insights are neither new nor particularly truth-telling. In the case of the subjective self-assertion, however, this might still be said to belong to the logic of discourse, though we are abandoned to its vagaries, witnessing in the ‘subjective’ simply the area that has not sufficiently made itself objective. On the other hand, there are in philosophy, here and there, moments of authentic subjective encounter that exceed the logic of available discourse. They are then pressed into service, of course, to historically provide for a new basis of discourse and intelligence. But as they occur, they act as ruptures. Descartes’ encounter with the genius/demon/genie is one obvious example. Nietzsche’s brush with nihilism might be another. Encounters with the terrible abyss are not the only encounters, however. When some new unknown empirical reality confronts us, and before it is integrated by our intelligence into a new permissible permutation, our consciousness is left to field it directly, while our intelligence is busy trying to use the old tools. And so, perhaps, the close encounter phenomenon affects our consciousness directly. It baffles our intelligence and frustrates it, and remains stubbornly outside our framework of knowledge. In the dead of night when someone is forced into an encounter by it, and with it, the intelligence is defunct and stymied, and only the sort of animal consciousness and fear is left behind to deal with it. The consciousness is left to be imprinted, which is to say, to ‘gather observations’, without the aid of intelligence. It is left to be affected as pure feeling. Intelligence in this regard, inasmuch as it is linked to language, is shown as unavoidably social. This is why we are taken alone, and why our memories remain inaccessible. The social sphere is where justification and explanation are required. The social sphere is also necessarily where self-representation takes place in terms of concepts, words, and so on. Hypnosis, inasmuch as it is used to ‘retrieve’ memories, is seen thereby as an essentially social exercise. Hypnosis always takes place in a social context, and memory retrieval is simply a translation of past events into the social, or the social present. It is an attempt to replay past events in the present, and at the same time, encode them or re-inscribe them with language and ‘self’-consciousness, which are both simply two different aspects of the social.


And can’t the same be said of dreams? We are conscious of our dreams, as they occur. But when we awake, we remember next to nothing. Why? Our social ‘self-consciousness — always a construct for the outside which we experience as ‘inside’ — is already a different order of experience than that of the dream. Self-consciousness nearly always involves a massive filtering, the social itself being the sum of outside pressures, learned avoidance behaviors, expected rewards, and so on. Dreams are a-social. They are for consciousness alone. Self-consciousness, whereby we declare something ‘exists’ inasmuch as it exists socially, is not in play while they occur. It would have to relax its constraints considerably in order to be there, and even then perhaps, the event would be different.


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