Why have knowledge at all?

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January 18, 2016 by Dr. Geyser

To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over that eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with intrepid Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task—who would deny that? Why did we choose this insane task? Or, putting it differently: “why have knowledge at all?”

Everybody will ask us that. And we, pressed this way, we who have put the same question to ourselves a hundred times, we have found and find no better answer—1

Man must be surpassed, or at least become the subject of learning. But for what? To reach the unteachable parts of man, to discover for oneself a problematic and spiritual sort of knowledge that is beyond good and evil, that is more powerful than morality. The thinker must reach this “granite of spiritual fatum” in order to discover the origin of self-knowledge, of that which remains essentially unteachable, predetermined, inviolate, and complete. Here, too, one gains access to the origin of man’s well-protected ignorance, to that spiritual fatum which every Oedipal tragedy teaches us to inflict upon ourselves. What is so disappointing about our self-discovery is the great ignorance which it reveals. Yet what is actually discovered is not ignorance, but rather a profound, expansive, living sort of knowledge, one that is not only bound up with life but also predetermined by it, as another form of physiologic, material nourishment.

To find that which is immovable, unlearnable, and hence unteachable in man is to find peace, as a laborer finds peace at the end of the day, whenever he can bring something home. Yet he remains unknown to himself, for his labor is always for others, such that what he produces he is not able to possess. What he retains is only evidence of the process, while the process itself remains essentially and absolutely unknown. Knowledge is a poor substitute for the process from which it arises; like a meme abstracted from the latest Star Wars, knowledge itself is only a mnemonic for WHAT-IS-KNOWN, for an ever-lengthening ribbon wrapping up both the WHATS and the WHAT-NOTS in a closely guarded experience of the unknown.

We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers: and with good reason. We have never looked for ourselves, – so how are we ever supposed to find ourselves? How right is the saying: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’; our treasure is where the hives of our knowledge are. As born winged-insects and intellectual honey-gatherers we are constantly making for them, concerned at heart with only one thing – to ‘bring something home’. As far as the rest of life is concerned, the so-called ‘experiences’, – who of us ever has enough seriousness for them? or enough time? I fear we have never really been ‘with it’ in such matters: our heart is simply not in it – and not even our ear! On the contrary, like somebody divinely absent-minded and sunk in his own thoughts who, the twelve strokes of midday having just boomed into his ears, wakes with a start and wonders ‘What hour struck?’, sometimes we, too, afterwards rub our ears and ask, astonished, taken aback, ‘What did we actually experience then?’ or even, ‘Who are we, in fact?’ and afterwards, as I said, we count all twelve reverberating strokes of our experience, of our life, of our being – oh! and lose count … We remain strange to ourselves out of necessity, we do not understand ourselves, we must confusedly mistake who we are, the motto ‘everyone is furthest from himself’ applies to us for ever, – we are not ‘knowers’ when it comes to ourselves …2

To know thyself is to become the experience of knowledge, rather than pretending to be its universal subject.

  1. Quote is from Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. “Beyond Good and Evil.” In Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated by Walter Arnold Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 1968. 
  2. Quote is from Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. On the Genealogy of Morality. Translated by Carol Diethe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 

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