Reading Nietzsche and getting smashed
I’ve started reading Nietzsche. Untimely Meditations this time around, mainly for the essay dissing on history and the formal study thereof. Reading Nietzsche is an experience in and of itself. You get the feeling with most philosophy that the people writing it just didn’t fit in–that they felt alienated and out there and that they were looked at funny when they went out. The types of guys that little children see coming down the street and peer at from the bushes. This is true for most philosophers.
Nietzsche, though, is the alienated philosopher par excellence. He didn’t just live the life of alienation–he embraced it, adopted it as his own and brought it home with him, raised it into a healthy platform that he could stand on and gaze out upon the world with. Reading this stuff is intoxicating and frightening not because of his profound social criticisms, but simply because it speaks to something deep inside of you, however small and unnoticeable. There’s something in it that appeals to you while it bothers you that it’s appealing to you.
That sense of alienation becomes a guiding force in your life. Reading Nietzsche unearths it, bit by bit, and pretty soon you’re caught up in with it, walking down the street with it and holding it close. Analyzing the cultural manifestations of society, criticizing them and hating them not just for these shallow trends but because you know it’s in you, too. You were raised here. This is your’s just as much as it is anyone else’s. And, with that realization, you try to separate. Separating isn’t as easy as walking out the door, selling all of your belongings on eBay, and disconnecting your phone. It’s more…colloidal: you’re the oil in the water and you’re frantically pushing to the top. Bits of you hang there, though, dispersed in the cultural continuum, seemingly trapped forever. You can’t get out, but this shit is drowning you.
Being wrenched out of your comfort zone and into a “higher” plain of thinking is a lot like sky-diving. The first time you do it, it’s frightening, unsettling, scary, but ultimately rewarding. The second and third and fourth times, it gets progressively easier. You’ve been through the motions before. You know what it feels like. The intricacies have been worked out and you’re just enjoying the sensations now. The anxiety is still there, but not like before. Eventually, it becomes second nature. You’re here and the sensations are the same, but not as new. The ground just doesn’t feel right under your feet. You convince yourself that it’s better up there.
It’s the same with being pulled out of the cultural continuum: initially exhilarating, progressively less irregular, eventually old hat and natural. But for many people–like Nietzsche–this alienation becomes a point of identity. You grow used to walking into a room and automatically looking for phonies. Your first impressions of a person are comprised of a quick analysis of their clothing and what they’re talking about: not abnormal, but the sticking point is that, upon meeting anyone–even an old acquaintance–you begin looking for things that sets you apart from them, that gives you the distance you’ve grown so accustomed to. If, heavens forbid, you actually find a way to relate to another person–one/all of them–then your entire foundation is upset. It pulls you out of alienation and requires you to acknowledge that you share commonalities, possibly lots and lots of them, with them. Them, the vapid, unaware, over-cultured debutantes.
Last night I celebrated my good friend Elyse’s 19th birthday. I drank a lot of booze and sat around in a circle of 10 or 12 people and, for the first time in a long time, just reveled in the being. We were young and intoxicated and enjoying the hell out of it. We were not special. We were doing things that everyone our age does. We were immature and stupid and obnoxious and everything that old people hate. I was sitting on the floor, smoking a hookah and playing a drinking game when I shed it all. Screw Nietzsche. Sartre was wrong–hell isn’t other people. What matters, I realized in my drunk state, was this. This is the stuff that makes life enjoyable. I can turn my nose up at the trendy, the cultured, the hip…or I can drink with them: the latter is much, much more enjoyable and, ultimately, more rewarding.
August 7, 2006