Today, we started class with some book talk.
Today’s book talk was notable because, for the second time this year, a student read a book by Friedrich Nietzsche. Last Fall, a ninth-grader read Thus Spake Zarathustra, and immediately stopped obeying me, much to my delight. This week, a 10th-grade student read The Antichrist, which is not as bad as it may sound to some of you out there in Cyberlandia. See, Nietzsche didn’t mind Christ–in fact, he thought Christ was pretty great. One of the greatest, even. What Nietzsche didn’t like were Christians. Followers. Obedient people with what he called the “slave mentality.” The student who read this book commented that she liked Nietzsche a lot, but not because she agreed with him. She liked Nietzsche because his views are so strong that he forces you to take a position, to have an opinion about what he’s saying. You can’t be a passive reader with Nietzsche–you have to engage in an active conversation with the author. In my experience reading Nietzsche, I continually ask–sometimes even out loud, much to the concern of my wife–if he could possibly mean what he seems to be saying, if there are alternate ways to view it, and, if not, if what he is saying is in any way sensible, or simply evil? I mean, the Nazi’s were into this stuff (which is the first thing any anti-Nietzsche-ite will always say to you), but what does that actually tell us about Nietzsche? The Nazi’s, philosphically-speaking, were profoundly stupid, so I don’t really place much stock in their interpretations. But the point remains that Nietzsche’s writings leave the door open for some pretty wacko viewpoints.
The preface to The Antichrist has a famous statement that illustrates this point perfectly. Nietzsche asks, “What is good? Whatever augments the feeling of power…. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness.” You can see how social Darwinists, and Nazis, and bullies and jerks all over the world could take this statement as a rallying cry. But it’s important to remember that Nietzsche comes out of the Existentialist tradition, which is essentially a Christian tradition. The Christian idea of power, if you think back to the New Testament, has nothing to do with commanding, oppressing, imposing, and flaunting. In fact, quite the opposite. I think there’s little question that Hitler, like all bullies, was a totally insecure person who acted out to make himself and others believe that he was in control. Is that really the kind of power Nietzsche is talking about? What kind of “power” relies on the generating forces of other people who are compelled to serve you? A master who commands servants is in many ways much weaker than the servants.
All I’m saying is, there are a lot of ways to see these things. Books are good. We should read them.
The rest of the day after Book Talk we spent finishing up the Quotes and Notes sheet for act 4. If you didn’t get that , download it from yesterday’s post and bring it with you tomorrow, when we shall discuss it.
Until that glorious day,