Sunday, November 27, 2011

Self-analysis: Nietzsche and Browne

Man is very well defended against himself, against his own spying and sieges; usually he is able to make out no more of himself than his outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to him, even invisible, unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead him there by a secret path. - Friedrich Nietzsche
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The noblest Digladiation is in the Theatre of our selves: for therein our inward Antagonists, not only like common Gladiators, with ordinary Weapons and down right Blows make at us, but also like Retiary and Laqueary Combatants, with Nets, Frauds, and Entanglements fall upon us. Weapons for such combats are not to be forged at Lipara: Vulcan's Art doth nothing in this internal Militia: wherein not the Armour of Achilles, but the Armature of St. Paul, gives the Glorious day.        - Christian Morals Part 1:24

On first consideration, it would appear that the thoughts of the nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche have little in common with those of the seventeenth century English philosopher Sir Thomas Browne. Both however, were Classical philologists as well as profound, original thinkers. They also shared an awareness of the strong presence of self-deception within human nature. Both philosophers here likening the attainment of self-awareness to an internal battle of military-like combat.

Browne penned Christian Morals late in his life, primarily as an advisio for his children but applicable to humanity in general. The whole work is permeated by many short, perceptive aphorisms upon life. It's interesting to note that in his old age Browne advocates the supremacy of Christian faith over alchemy which was known as Vulcan's Art. His phrase, 'the Theatre of ourselves' in particular, is one of great insight and originality.

Curiously, Nietzsche shared with Browne an interest in the notion of eternal recurrence, that is the idea of Time and History being of a cyclical, repetitive nature. Probably the best novel in modern times which explores the concept of eternal recurrence is P.D. Ouspensky's The Strange tale of Ivan Osokin (1915)  a novel written during an age of heightened interest in mystical ideas in Russian history.

Browne's belief in eternal return is writ large at the apotheosis of his 1658 Discourse, The Garden of Cyrus.
All things began in order, so shall they end, and so shall they begin again.
The big difference between the two philosophers here being that the concept of eternal return horrified Nietzsche but appealed to Browne's Christian mysticism. 

Wiki-link -  Eternal Return


teegee said...

On this point, I agree with Nietsche, but temperamentally I sympathize with and am always attracted to Browne, instead. More fundamentally, I am not inclined to get my sense of a man's mind from the conclusions of his arguments but rather from the fabric of his life as a whole, so far as I can divine it. And, whatever precisely he had in mind, I like the man who wrote the "All things begin in order...and so shall they begin again". Sounds like a premonition of today's astrophysics.

-E- said...

nietzsche (rather amusingly imo) said that his mother and sister were the primary obstacles to his desiring an eternal recurrence.

Nick said...

P.D. Ouspensky sounds like he's worth reading. I'd never heard of him.

E -- knowing what I know about Nietzsche's family, I don't blame him.