Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Nietzsche and the madness of sages

"I've always been mad, I know I've been mad, like the most of us are... very hard to explain why you're mad, even if you're not mad..." - The Great Gig In The Sky, Pink Floyd

A recent acquaintance of mine told me that the state of mind of a sage is also a state of madness, not different from that of Nietzsche’s. So even the sage is a "fool", he concluded. To some extent, I agree: the sage is also in a state of madness, but certainly not in a lunatic sense. He's mad, granted, but no fool.

I have always seen madness as an existential imperative. Our psyche is very strange – it’s paradoxical to the core. That’s why I feel that most logical psychologies are fundamentally erroneous, because they’re totally disconnected from most of our innate drives that makes us human. Our daily sensory experiences are usually relatively humdrum, and yet intuitively we all know that there must be more. No wonder, then, that we do all sorts of things to become mad. Kulħadd irid isir mandra, as we say in Maltese. But it's not a question of misbehaving as society often sees it. It's a deep urge that needs to be dealt with, but not through denial or suppression but through a significant its creative expression and a conscious transformation.

The obsession of the young Nietzsche with the Greek mythological god Dionysius illustrates very well our innate desire to brake free from the chains of Reason, and hence his high esteem of Richard Wagner. In his music, Nietzsche saw an outburst of Passion, much akin to the Dionysian cults of the Ancient Greeks. And yet most of our priests and psychologists keep telling us that we have to be sane: “You shouldn’t do this, as this is not normal. This is crazy,” and so it goes. In this sense I think that most religions and psychologies inevitably become anti-life. When natural madness is systematically suppressed, our Will doesn’t give up the ghost– it can only get hysteric. What we refuse, resists, remarked Carl Jung.

Salvadore Dali was said to be mad. But once he observed that the difference between him and a madman is that he is not mad. And rightly so, as unlike Nietzsche, his madness wasn’t pathological. Dali might have been an eccentric of sorts, but he never became dysfunctional. His madness was a non-rational state of being in which inner vision is expanded and normal perception is transcended. And that is not a pathology, but artistic genius.

Arthur Rimbaud’s approach was even more radical. When he was just seventeen, he declared: “I wish to be a poet, and I am working to make myself into a seer: you will not understand at all, and I would not nearly know how to explain it to you. It's a question of coming to the unknown through the disordering of all the senses. The suffering is enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have come to terms with my destiny as a poet. It's not at all my fault. It's wrong to say ‘I think’; one ought to say ‘I am being thought’ - Forgive the play on words - I is another.”

Even this can pass as madness, but it is a radically different madness from that of psychotics. The latter, yes, are “fools”, but Rimbaud and Dali were great geniuses. In his classic treatise The World as Will and Representation, the great philosopher of aesthetics Arthur Schopenhauer described these profoubd shifts in consciousness as follows: “Only through the pure contemplation… which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the preeminent ability for such contemplation… This demands a complete forgetting of our own person.” Then, in his Parerga and Prolegomena, he concluded: "On the occurrence of an aesthetic appreciation, the will thereby vanishes entirely from consciousness.”

Schopenhauer has also suggested that art has a greater transcendental value than philosophy, relegating the latter to a subsequent rationalization of personal experience. Logic, reason and philosophy alone were never meant to reach these domains of consciousness. Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, makes a similar compelling argument, and views Reason and Sensory Perception as mere practical faculties of Being that are only appropriate for everyday experience. Their nature is pragmatic, not transcendental: “Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer, he wrote.

It is my firm conviction that after the advent of Kant the role of most philosophy became relatively superfluous. I'm not surprised in fact that not know too many intellectual artists self-identify exclusively as philosophers. An artist cannot afford to waste all his waking hours in his head. “No hope here, No orietur. Science and fortitude, torture is certain,” as Rimbaud famously observed in his splendid poetical take on Eternity.

The biggest problem with the artistic form of madness, however, is the inexorableness of its impermanence. When we come to the yogis and sages, however, we see that the nature of transcendence becomes even more drastic. Rimbaud said “I is another”, but some Ramana Maharishi, through meditation, would simply realize that in an absolute sense the personal ‘I’ is not, period - it was simply all fiction. The sage knows from experience that there is only one Self, common to all. It is also qualitatively identical with the transcendental cause of the Kosmos. Indeed, from an absolute perspective, subject and object, cause and effect, and transcendence and immanence are perceived as essentially one, as everything is included, reconciled and transcended in non-dual consciousnesses. By normal standards, this might seem as sheer madness, but its results, as so many enlightened beings have testified, is Self-Realization, direct perception with Ultimate Reality and everlasting bliss. It is only here that madness leads to existential sanity; it is a stateless state in which madness becomes as lucid as it can be.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and indeed, the outcomes of such self-transformations are indeed very tangible. It is clearly observable that most of these sages rank are among the most blissful and peaceful beings on earth, and which is more, they are existential to the full. And of course, they are undeniably mad, but it is that sort of madness that happens when one’s true nature has been finally revealed. Once the mystic G. I. Gurdjieff stated: “Life is real only then, when I am,” with the “I am” reaching out to all the Kosmos, in the knowledge that the Universe is an extension of one communal being. This was the same realization that led Gautama Buddha to declare to his disciples that he is “awakened”. Similarly, in the Gnostic and Christian traditions, we find Christ’s often-misunderstood assertions that “Indeed, before Abraham I am.” and “I am that I am”, respectively. In the Vedic tradition, then, this state of Self-Awareness is commonly expressed in the Sanskrit formula “tat tvam asi” - That thou art - the immanent eternal Self is one with The Absolute. Such statements form the core of what Aldous Huxley described as The Perennial Philosophy.

I do not believe that there can be any higher goal in terrestrial Existence. Only then, I believe, we could be able to talk seriously about the advent of the Übermensch. This New Man, nevertheless, will not be incited by some egotistical will-to-power or by vain delusions of grander, but by a constant determination to enlighten and liberate all others from all bondages, false associations and illusive dualities. Seeing the same Self in all things, this New Man will be chiefly concerned with teaching the science of Self-Knowledge. Indeed, the Übermensch will be a Universal Bodhisattva whose call is an introspective initiation into communal madness in oneness.

Thus the New Man's version of Rimbaud’s manifesto would probably read as follows: “I wish to know the Truth, and I am working to make myself into a visionary; you will not understand at all, and I would not nearly know how to explain it to you. It's a question of coming to the unknown through the withdrawal from all circular reasoning and sensoury perceptions. The suffering is enormous, but one must be strong, be born a visionary, and I have come to terms with my destiny as a visionary. It's not at all my fault. It's wrong to say ‘I think’; one ought to say ‘I am beyond thought’ - Forgive the play on words - I Is The All.”

This does not necessarily mean that he will deny the world categorically. Virtually all doctrines that did so gave rise to innumerable pathologies and their goals was seldom attained. Truth seeking can never be anti-life, but life affirming. Rather than a pleasure seeker, however, the New Man will be a pleasure witness – a man who partakes in Existence fully without loosing his focus on his ultimate target. The New Man will be both body and soul, earth and sky, male and female, a philosopher and a contemplative, an artist and a scientist, sexual and spiritual, deeply religious yet in a sense secular, both worldly and outwardly. He will reject nothing because he knows he is everything. As Nietzsche himself once observed, a tree that longs to reach the skies must sink its roots to the bottom of the earth. In this sense, the gist of Osho’s vision of Zorba the Buddha is decidedly pertinent.

It can be argued that at the end of his functional life, Nietzsche showed some latent signs of coming closer to these profound realizations, but his obstinate ego did not permit him to penetrate the center. He was too much of an egotist to give up his deep-seated persona of a scholarly phenomenologist. He seldom moved any closer from the periphery of Existence, instead opting to observe all ephemeral phenomena from the exterior, and thus his inner space remained virtually unexplored. Thus, he could never come in touch with the Ultimate Reality lying at the foundation of our world, and so his existential communion with the Ground of Being never really ensued. The last original book he penned, known as Ecce Homo, is in fact an upsetting testimony of his egocentric state of consciousness. It is certainly a genial work of huge literary and philosophical value, but it never sheds any revelatory light on the perennial problems that he initially had set himself to solve.

All things considered, I see Friedrich Nietzsche as zealous seeker who was constantly near but yet always far away from his ultimate goal. But the fate of a genius is dreadfully uncompromising. It does not tolerate any nonsense. A genius has two choices: either he transcends or he’s finished.

So of course, by all means, do become mad, but totally so. As the last line of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” says: “immerse yourself in love.”

Mużika: Street Spirit - Radiohead

Ħatab: 1

Blogger Antoine Cassar qal/qalet...

Tal-imġienen u tal-ġenn ;)

"constantly near but yet always far away from his ultimate goal". Tgħid din mhix il-kundizzjoni tal-ħassieba u l-artisti mġienen kollha?

2:37 pm  

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