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Monday, 5 March 2012

Nietzsche Stronger Than Ever?

There are three songs in the March 4 2012 BBC Top 40, I have heard today, that each contain direct reference to the most famous German philosophical maxim of all: 'Whatever does not kill makes me stronger', which as Hitchens has argued, is a load of crock.  Maybe, but it has certainly entered popular culture with a vengeance (one recalls it was promimently in A Fish Called Wanda).  But what are the odds of Kelly Clarkson's 'Stronger', Ed Sheeran's 'Drunk', and No. 2 new arrival, 'Rockstar' by Dappy each taking such grim cheer from this old saw?  Nietzsche must be rolling in his grave.  Or perhaps not.  For the second most famous German sentence is 'God is dead'.  And the same man wrote that.  Surely, FN is the Shakespeare of Germany, not Goethe.  His influence is vast and expanding, in direct exponential relationship to the shrinking of the enchanted, God-filled world.

For, in the absence of direct religious consolation available in song (many pop songs are about heaven, or angels, for instance, but usually as tropes that refer to their loved ones or love), what is more comforting than a nihilistic slogan that essentially justifies any level of self-harm or harmless mooning for pretty boys and girls - in short, a rule that means precisely nothing, but offers plenty.  Alain de Botton's attempt to construct a religion without God for atheists flounders here.  For we see that secular wisdom is immediately susceptible to corruption and idiotic cheapening, because it is not grounded on a belief in some sort of supernal higher power that (for all its many problems, such as potential absence or worse) at least presumably underwrites dogma.  But FN was a man, and a madman at that, so now, any popstar can borrow his words and spend them frivolously.  Imagine The Sermon On The Mount set to a pop song.

Would it become so stale, or would its words echo with constant challenge, promise and value? For, the problem, at core, with FN's famous sentence is that is is verifiably false, as Hitchens argues so well.  We are strong only until weak, and then strength is a miracle whose time has come and gone.  The enduring power of the Christian story, however, is that weakness and suffering are what is to expected, and thus embraced.  This stoic position - that pain will come, so deal with it - is far more potent than FN admitted.
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