Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nietzsche V: Frog Perspectives

Scott Bradley

Curiously, Nietzsche, like the "School of Zhuangzi" philosopher and author of the seventeenth chapter of the Zhuangzi, uses the analogy of the limits of the frog's perspective as representative of the human condition in general. (Nietzsche tells us he has borrowed it from an expression used by painters.)

The Zhuangzian well-frog begins by believing that his little world is the whole world. A sea turtle who happens by disabuses him of his folly, and the frog is amazed. The author stops there, but I have suggested that this now enlightened frog still remains in his claustrophobic well; to send down a basket and bring him into the wider world would make no difference; though different in scale, every world has its limits, every perspective is frog-like. The Zhuangzian vision of liberation is to transcend one's limits by releasing oneself from the fixed ideas which have established them in the first place. In this instance, it is the frog's belief that he can know reality that has created this boundary, and his liberation is to be had first in discovering the boundary, the false belief, and secondly in abandoning the idea that he can know reality at all.

Nietzsche tells us that the origin of metaphysics, the presumption to explain reality, is a "misunderstanding of the dream". It is, in effect, to take on the perspective of the pre-enlightened well-frog. But what's more telling in this description is the suggestion that the dream persists. All our 'answers' are interpretations of the dream within the dream. Liberation is had, not in waking up from the dreaming, but waking up to the dreaming. Our 'wandering' is playfully living in the dream, facilitated by a release from our fixed, and therefore necessarily false, interpretations of the dream.

“We are fundamentally inclined to claim,” writes Nietzsche, “that the falsest judgments . . . are the most indispensable to us; that without the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the purely invented world . . . man could not live — that renouncing false judgments would mean renouncing life and a denial of life.” (Beyond Good and Evil; quoted by Shang, Liberation as Affirmation)

In other words, we fear that the deconstruction of our false values will lead to nihilism. But this is only the case if we cannot release ourselves into the dream; and what makes this so difficult is that it also entails releasing ourselves from our grasp on ourselves as fixed and abiding beings. The great failing of existentialism as expressed in the likes of Camus was that it continued to cling to the presuppositions which were the cause of their own demise. “Cling to hope,” says Chen Jen, “and despair will cling to you.” Believe in the need for a raison d’etre, a reason to be, and nihilism is unavoidable once the sea turtle has opened our eyes.

Again, who killed God? We did; when we made him in our own image and placed him like humpty-dumpty on a finite wall.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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