Thinking about American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His IdeasAmerican Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some time ago I mentioned to my wife that I’d been experiencing strange existential crises, and I had just noticed and it was odd to me. She replied that perhaps I was having a ‘mid-life crisis’, and yep, because she’s smart and that sounds about right. She thought for a moment and asked if I had read any Nietzsche lately. I considered this wonderful advice as she is trained and degreed in philosophy and has a wonderful mind for such things and I respect her opinions greatly. It’s not like she would or could say ‘have you read your Bible lately?’, so I thought ‘read Nietzsche’ was a splendid suggestion worth exploration. So I hunted around for a work that appealed to me, and I settled on American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas. It appealed to me because of the American perspective and academic qualities. At first the reading was ponderous; dense and difficult. I had only vague recollection of ‘Nietzscheism’, a Will-Durant knowledge of his life and philosophy. I recalled that I thought we were in some agreement. He was an Existentialist, maybe a Nihilist, antireligious and smart. But reading American Nietzsche with that knowledge and recollection of the man and his philosophy was what was making the reading difficult and ponderous. I took a break for other books.

2015-05-03_11-55-19When I returned, first I elected to read the surprisingly great Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner. It was an excellent read, great overview, nice balance, and not at all surprising given the good reviews. I thought this would be enough preparation but I became so interested to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s words (or at least a good approximation) I chose to read The Antichrist, as translated around 1920 by H.L. Mencken, whom I have always admired as a great American. This book The Antichrist blew me away and I will never forget it, I will revisit it again and again, and I with any luck I will search for other valuable translations of it to read later. I also was inspired to immediately acquire a version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra that I greatly anticipate consuming later.

So here the digression ends and I return to American Nietzsche, better-prepared for what it contained. I re-read the first 20% #Kindle or so that I had managed to get through and picked it up from there. I found myself consumed by its dense material, and I could barely put it down. I found it then to be a quick read (relatively) and marveled at the scholarship, the minutiae, the great attention paid to every detail and myriad angles. It’s fascinating really and as I understand it a new perspective on an essential philosopher. I loved the book, highlighted it galore and I will refer back to it from time-to-time. I feel like when I read Zarathustra it will be like I’m reading the Bible and it may spiritually fill a cold scientific atheist like myself. And all this to relate that at first, I did not understand my wife’s suggestion that I read Nietzsche of all things to address a midlife crisis. But in the end, I found a meaning and substance that surpassed any expectation I had. I learned about myself and the world we live in and it connected dots in my head that make me feel like a better and more evolved human. It’s like my wife told me to listen to Jesus, but said Nietzsche, because of course.df486242cd5256fb0b2dc07b156e9af1

I’d recommend Nietzsche to anyone. This American Nietzsche book is interesting, certainly dense, academic, dwells on small things, repetitive, but it doesn’t create an outsized view as much as illuminates areas of study, ties in interesting and important figures and relates the explosion of Nietzscheism, not because of propaganda or enforcement but because of obviousness and inevitability. It’s an interesting read if you are into that sort of thing but I’d definitely suggest at least a minimal background or it may feel more a slough.

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Blame Robert Ingersoll

I had the opportunity have breakfast with my father today because it’s his birthday, and I hope to have many more breakfasts with him. Like many Ohioans, I planned to move away from here one day, but recently gave up and stayed largely because my parents remain here. The chance to have a regular breakfast with my father is worth more to me than getting out of this [insert adjective here] state. But hopefully every breakfast doesn’t inspire a blog post or I’ll never get anything else done.

There are many downsides to publicly revealing one’s lack of adoption of the local deity(s) err atheism. Most religious adherents seem to think atheism is a way out of responsibility (so you can do whatever you want!), even though it’s quite the opposite. Or the faithful believe it’s helpful in life or business to be a non-Christian, when it almost always is not. Atheists remain the most feared and least trusted group in America. I imagine there are similarities to coming out of the closet, but at least nowadays there seems to be growing societal pressure to accept homosexuality, and sexuality is also a taboo topic in most professional situations. Religion though is often tolerated in the workplace and sometimes is even front-and-center. *cough* Hobby Lobby *cough*

One of the more regrettable downsides to coming out atheist is when people you love dearly feel the need to try to determine what they did “wrong”. There’s (apparently) discussion that ensues too among like-minded family members about factors or triggers or incidents. What caused it? What singular event pushed this otherwise decent human being away from believing in my particular god?

For instance my grandmother PBUH has this theory that mostly involves my divorce some years ago (since remarried, happily). Grandma is pretty sure this scarring event made me turn away from God/Allah, because obviously since this young woman scorned me, I must scorn the regional deity as alas he has forsaken me. This is of course silly (and pretty certain Grandma would wrongly argue God and Allah are two different entities too, but that’s another topic). I’ve never met the atheist who quit believing in their god because of some event. It’s a process to undo the indoctrination unwittingly received as a child and begin to welcome honest inquiry, delve into science and scientific methods, and develop critical thinking skills. Some people never do these all things, and some people do them and still happily cling to their faith beliefs. But coming to atheism is a process, not a revelation. Atheism isn’t something emotional you feel in communion, you don’t “come to it” like you do Jesus or experience something mystical…it’s quite the opposite. It’s a conclusion and a conscious decision following an arduous intellectual journey. It’s why atheists know more about religion than religious people. Most have done their homework. That’s not to say atheism is the only logical conclusion for smart people – many otherwise intelligent people are also people of faith. It just means there’s much more to becoming an atheist than this one time that one thing happened so I hate God. Ultimately I just don’t believe in God/Allah, Krishna, Thor, or any other god that has ever been or will ever be because I see no evidence for gods. The God Theory is wholly unsupported by the evidence. That’s all.

My father was and remains a great role model, a fine and intelligent man who I have and will always respect. He encouraged me to read, learn, study, and think for myself, and I thank him for that. He raised a son that doesn’t require an ever-watchful, angry and jealous (yet surprisingly silent) deity to be a decent human being. It is therefore saddening when the people you care most about have to feel a need to search for reasons for their “failing” – or worse even find reasons to blame themselves – for something that ultimately seems inconsequential to the nonbeliever.

Let’s hope our next breakfast doesn’t generate a blog post! But no matter, I will still look forward to it, because my dad is the best and I cherish any time I get to spend with him.