Sunday, October 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Friedrich!

Today is October 15th, the 162nd aniversary of Friedrich Nietzsche's birth, a day that will recur infinitely many times (already has!), each one as perfect in eternal joy as all the others.

The amazing thing about this is, not the Eternal Recurrence thing, but the fact that after 162 years, we are still reading him. Indeed, interest in him shows no signs of fading. If anything, it's on the rise! Why?

Surely there are many reasons. But one is that he is one of the very few major philosophers who is just plain out-and-out fun to read. The only ones who even come close in this respect, in the whole history of philosophy, are Robert Nozick and Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Then there are the substantive reasons. Ortega says somewhere that, for most of us, the pleasure of reading is simply the pleasure of agreeing with someone. This is clearly not true of Friedrich. Whatever your views are, you will eventually see Nietzsche not merely disagreeing with you but actually ridiculing things you hold sacred. And making you laugh in spite of yourself.

Partly for that reason, I think that reading Nietzsche is actually good for your character. It's hard to imagine someone who has studied Nietzsche getting all shocked and huffy because someone disagrees with them. (You know, the way Madison lefties get when you tell them you are for gun-owners' rights.) Students of Nietzsche are used to it. And more than that, they understand that it is actually good that there are radically different views out there. It means we can grow.

Come to think of it, it's hard to imagine somebody who has read Nietzsche coming up with something as nauseatingly pious as the UW Office of the Dean of Students Think Respect Program. I don't know who came up with that monstrosity, but they really ought to sit down and read Nietzsche. Now! (And joyously partake of a hotdog on Friday.)

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