Monday, October 8, 2007

Worn Out Metaphors

What practical application can we derive from Nietzsche's essay On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense? How do we move back to the body and away from removed abstractions? Karl Marx, echoes a similar sentiment when speaking to the young Hegelians. He mocked them, saying:

“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way” (Marx).

Marx's materialism similarly attempts to move away from the abstractions and towards empirical evidence of what people "actually do"---their actual material product. Of course, this is not a perfectly parallel example, but I bring it up simply to illustrate the implicit battle that has been waged, and continues to be waged, between abstractions and a more earthy, tangible reality, localized in the body.

Nietzsche illustrates the process, in which, we inevitably move away from the body. Scott illustrated this beautifully in class today, and he would also do more justice to Nietzsche essay (and maybe he can in the comments), but nonetheless, I thought I would take a stab at it, mostly to spark up a conversation to explore ways that we can apply his ideas. Nietzsche states:

"What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms---in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins" (Nietzsche 46-47).

The above quote could be summarized by a diagram, presented in class today:

Language pushes us further and further away from the body, and the reality of the object. A few additional quotes, from Nietzsche, may help accentuate this point:

"The awakened say: Body I am entirely[...]"

"There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom"

"I love only what a man has written with his blood [...]"

"I would believe only in a God who can dance"

This may also help us understand, as Travis pointed out to me earlier today, why Alex labels himself a "recovering Platonist," and why Nietzsche is the antidote for attempted recovery :) Where as Plato works from forms and down to particulars, Nietzsche sides with Aristotle and works from particulars to universals. In this sense, the particulars are deeply entwined into the body, the universals considered evidence of the disconnect caused by metaphors and symbols. But once again, how do we get back to the body? Can we ever escape abstractions and a society that rests largely on a foundation of metaphors and symbolic speech?

Honestly, I don't have any clear answers. That is, in part, why I wrote this little piece. However, here are a couple practical methods that I can foresee combating the removed shift away from the body:

1. Process, Process, Process. The more we get involved in the physical process of creating, the more language and creativity become localized to the body.

2. Try to escape the use of purposeless metaphors and move closer to the actual thing. Remember, for Nietzsche, the only truth in language is a tautology. For example, "the cow is a cow." The closer we can get to the "real state of things" (I know this phrase is problematic, please permit it for this little pseudo-essay) and further away from abstractions, the more we approach the body.

I'd love to get some comments on this post. Tell me what you think!


Scott Abbott said...

Torben's thinking on the provocative Nietzsche essay has got me thinking. And there's a nice juxtaposition with the Carlin sketch just below. Carlin is pointing out how we abstract from the simple direct language of death for instance: he died becomes he passed on. Or in the still haunting example from my childhood: for years I thought there was a word "bee-em," tricked by a mother who not only could not bring herself to say shit, but needed the cover of the initials for bowel movement.

The language that is nearest the body is powerful.

Language that flees and denies the body is powerful as well, because it constructs our identities as haters of the body.

When my friend Steven Epperson was working as curator of the LDS Church's Museum of Art and History they were developing an exhibit to celebrate the Salt Lake Temple's 150th anniversary. They asked the Correlation Committee (that had the last say on every detail of all exhibits) for permission to display a copy of Trueman O. Angell's original blueprints. The Committee agreed, with the one caveat that they white out all the bathroom plumbing.

Nietzsche too was worried about religions that deny the body, and thus the great quotes Torben cited. Abstract the body, denigrate it, and you lose it.

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