(Originally published in the October 1984 issue of New Libertarian, pgs. 22-3.)
Borges has a story about an early 20th Century French writer who, by a tremendous effort of concentration, managed to re-create a few chapters of Don Quixote. These hard-won pages of Renaissance Spanish irony, Borges points out, are in all respects identical with the same pages in Cervantes' original, but are much richer and more complex, simply because we know they are the work of a French intellectual contemporary with Freud and Lenin and Einstein.
Of course, we might - almost - be able to find the same meanings in Cervantes himself (since his text is identical with that of Borges' imaginary Frenchman). But we could only do this and see Cervantes in that perspective if we first managed to brainwash ourselves and forget everything we know about Cervantes himself and the times in which he lived.
I have recently been trying to recreate Nietzsche in that way. Less heroic, or less demented, than Borges' hero, I haven't actually tried to clone chapters or even pages from the original German text, but just to read Nietzsche again as if I had never read him before, and as if he had lived my life along with me and was, in some sense, my psychological twin brother.
I see, from this perspective, that Nietzsche was very heavily influenced by the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s and also has read a great deal of Logical Positivism, General Semantics, Ethnomethodology and Sociobiology. He is, in fact, one of the best educated and most scientifically hip writers of the 1980s. I am also happy to note that he is a Discordian and a neo-pagan, just like me.
Thus, Nietzsche's concept of Chaos makes perfect sense to me, as the natural conclusion of anybody who has experimented with LSD and also kept up with recent sociology and anthropology. Those who read Nietzsche before the 1980s, not understanding his warning that he would be born posthumously, could not comprehend this aspect of his philosophy. Chaos sounded nihilistic to them, and they did not understand how he could accept Chaos in one breath and denounce nihilism in the next; naturally, they accused him of being self-contradictory.
Actually, it is quite clear, now, that what Nietzsche meant by Chaos was not entropy - as if he believed the universe had already reached its theoretical Heat Death - but rather the infinite diversity of existence. There is not one principle that can explain this infinite diversity, he held, for the same reason that there is no Platonic Form or Kantian ding an sich behind it all. It is too rich and abundant to be nailed down under a formula. Becoming is real, but being is only a grammatical convention created by the subject-predicate structure of Indo-European languages. This is a much more elegant expression, I think, than Heidegger's "existence precedes essence."
Nietzsche's analysis of the Will to Power shows equal semantic sophistication and neurological knowhow. The Will to Power is not the first principle of the world, he says specifically; "first principles" are just attenuated forms of "God" or Platonic idealism. The Will is not even a thing in the vernacular sense or in the Kantian ding an sich sense; the Will is just a description. When analyzed, he points out, it always resolves into the resultant of various other forces, and we are back to Chaos again - the evolutionary becoming which replaces all static Aristotelian categories in Nietzsche's post-Darwinian universe.
When one transcends conditioned social-game consciousness and internalized grammatical conventions - whether with LSD or via meditation and yoga, or by whatever method - one experiences the dissolution of "real space," "real time," and "real bodies" "moving" in this "real space and real time," etc. The Buddhists seem to be pretty hip in saying that if you regard what remains as One (the Hindic Atman, etc.), you have not gone far enough. If you go far enough, they say, you will see that the One also implodes, and only Void remains. That is all good enough, for c.400 B.C., but the void never seemed quite the right metaphor to me. I think Nietzsche is more contemporary by saying that what remains is Chaos, infinite meaning in infinite flux, and Will to Power, the spirit of abundance and creativity, which is not One, not a final principle or a God-in-disguise, but just the resultant of the forces that make up the mesh of Chaos.
The existentialists know that we create ourselves, but Nietzsche knows, like the sages of the Consciousness Movement, that we create our world, too. ("We are all better artists than we realize," as he phrases it in one place.) The Will to Power, either functioning unconsciously [when we still believe in "real space," "real time," and "real objects"] or else functioning consciously [when we have experienced Chaos and learned that space, time and objects are just mind-constructs] always determines what reality-tunnel we are living in. The artist is Nietzsche's model of the conscious Will to Power because he or she knows that he or she creates an appearance, an illusion, an ordering of the infinite flux. It almost sounds as if Nietzsche has been reading Don Juan (or Carlos Castaneda; or Harold Garfinkle, who was Castaneda's sociology teacher and the possible original of Don Juan.)
Chaos, then, is Nietzsche's poetic shorthand for the recognition that the universe is infinite Becoming rather than static Being; and the Will to Power is the resultant of all forces tending to creativity, innovation and the sheer joy of imposing one's own meaning on this universal flux. Thus, Nietzsche's notorious "I could only believe in a god who dances" and his attacks on "the spirit of gravity" are both expressions of the fundamental insight that we can not only survive the Death of God (the Absolute) but enjoy it. The existentialist experiences the collapse of the absolute, shudders, decides the universe is meaningless, and determines to be brave and impose a meaning on life anyway. Nietzsche experiences the collapse, laughs joyously, decides the universe contains all possible meanings, and tells us to pick the meaning that will liberate our own Will to Power most totally.
In a sense, the existentialists' nihilism (no meaning) and Nietzsche's Chaos (all possible meanings) are logically similar; and both are heavily influenced by the world of scientific materialism out of which they grew. But Nietzsche and the existentialists are at opposite poles psycho-logically. You can see it in their styles. The existentialists whine, mutter and complain. Nietzsche laughs, jokes, flashes with wit and capers like a clown.
It is this Nietzschean humor (especially his sarcasm) that contains his ultimate "message." The famous, or infamous, Nietzschean "style," the vertigo of brilliant aphorisms and almost childish puns, is not at all a surface or an accident. The aim of his work, he tells us several times, is to destroy the rationalization of the Revenge motive, to lay bare every hidden resentment in every philosophy that provides justifications for intolerance and hatred. His bitter (but hilarious) onslaughts on dogmatic Christianity and Socialism are not just attacks on one specific religion and one specific political party, but are analytical paradigms showing how the Revenge motive can disguise itself as altruism, charity, humanitarianism and even as progress. To understand Nietzsche's wit, his habit of sarcasm, is to understand the essence of his system of psychology. We are released from Revenge, he obviously feels, only when we see deeply enough into its disguises to laugh at them. A style that dances and plays with ideas is the only style to convey that perspective, the view (as Nietzsche said) from the mountaintops, looking down at human passions.
To live in the Nietzschean multi-varied universe, to pick one's own values out of infinite possibilities, seems like painful choice to the existentialist, blasphemy to the Christian, monstrosity to the Objectivist; but it is actually only to become consciously an artist. All art begins with Chaos, with infinite vistas suddenly opening, and proceeds through play and permutation into new Creativity (the sublimated Will to Power, Nietzsche calls it) - going from the ridiculous to the sublime, as it were.
Or as Nietzsche sums it up in one lightning-like sentence, "One must have Chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star."
The Overman (who has nothing in common with the Nazi vulgarization of Nietzsche) is he or she who contains enough Chaos to give birth to stars. Less poetically, it is he or she who, having reached the mountaintop and looked down at primate psychology, neither weeps nor despairs but laughs. Again, there is no understanding Nietzsche without accepting his humor as fundamental. H.L. Mencken, often regarded as another vulgarizer of Nietzsche by Certain Authorities in Academia, may have understood the ultimate Nietzsche best of all. Mencken, at least, also wrote very funny books; whereas those who write more "profoundly" about Nietzsche while still possessed by that spirit of gravity he despised, seems not to have understood him at all. ---RAW