Praxis Filosófica Journal
New series, No. 39, July-dicembre, 2014
Nietzsche and the Interpretative Life
Luis Eduardo Gama
NIETZSCHE AND THE INTERPRETATIVE LIFE
Luis Eduardo Gama (UNAL)
Nietzsche, Life, Interpretation, Perspectivism, Knowledge
Greeks used two different words for what we tend to designate with the term life: zoé and bíos1. The first one refers to life as a natural and biological process which characterizes every organic being (tò zoon) and differentiate them from the rest of inorganic and lifeless beings of nature. The second one refers to life as a biographic and historical process inseparable to human existence. While zoé relates life with the natural body and its organic processes of growth, feeding and reproduction, bíos introduces the phenomenon in a constellation where life displays, beyond its natural determinations, in the creation of spirit and reason (the polis, culture, etc). As zoé, life represents, thus, the becoming of a merely natural process that philosophy has wanted to extrapolate, sometimes, to all the cosmos (vitalism), and some others, to reduce it to its minimum expression (mechanism). As bíos, life concerns, above all, to human life. The philosophical question that is relevant now, deals with the value of that life: what it means to have a good life? Or, to put it in Nietzschean terms, what it takes to have a superior life?
The distinction between these meanings of the term life does not come from a linguistic refinement exclusive to Greeks, but instead, it reflects a rupture that is immanent to the phenomenon itself, which is palpable in human experience. It is about the almost evident conviction that life is, in any sense, special, different and/or superior to other forms of organic life, that it always seems to be granted with an intrinsic value that does not seem to be found in other forms of life. This idea is not limited to the Greeks, but it passes through the entire western culture and determines a philosophical question that, as I want to show, is central to Nietzsche`s thought. By this I mean the question about the border, or boundary, which separates the mere life from the human life, the zoé from the bíos, or the natural life from what we call the life of the spirit.
Western philosophy has answered this question by pointing the membership of human being to a higher order of being that other living organisms would be excluded from or get involved only in a secondary way (the logos for the Greeks, the cogito for Descartes or the Geist for Hegel). The uniqueness of Nietzsche´s philosophy rests largely in the different way of approaching the problem. In fact, for Nietzsche It is not about assuring the membership of the human being to a metaphysical sphere greater than nature, which would guarantee the highest value of bíos over zoé; furthermore, this alleged superiority is questioned by him or understood purely in the sense of a greater complexity or depth [Tiefe] of the soul, which makes the human being 'the most interesting animal' (GM I, 6, KSA 5, 266)2. To that extent, man no longer 'comes from the spirit' but 'is placed between the animals' (AC 14, KSA 6,180), so that the root of the increased complexity that characterize him, does not reside in a superior reason or spirituality outside the sphere of life, but in a movement inside life itself, by which the reactions and impulses of the purely natural bodies are transformed into vital forces of a more deeply scope and meaning.
What is the meaning of this deep significance of human life? How works this transition in human beings, that leads from a basic level of the organic processes to a more complex life of 'spiritual' production? As I have already pointed out, this transition takes place within the becoming of life process, and what I want to argue here is that this becoming, or movement of life, is bounded, primarily, by the activity of interpretation. My purpose is to show, in what follows, the way in which this interpreting, inherent to the becoming of life, adopts different ways of realization that defines the various forms of existence, from the most basic forms of organic life, until its more complex and interesting expression in human being. With this, we also want to question certain readings of Nietzsche´s philosophy who take his constant reference to life, on the one hand, as a clear and unambiguous signal of biologism or naturalism (Leiter 2002, 2-3; Schacht 2012, 240) or, on the other hand, as a sort of 'vitalist apotheosis' (Meyer 1991, 120), or the use of a 'counterconcept' of the Being of western metaphysics (Borsche 1997, 260). The relation between the becoming of life with the process of interpretation pretends, thus, to note a strong hermeneutical aspect of Nietzschean philosophy3, and seeks to make serious objections to exegetical perspectives of metaphysical and naturalist sort.
Reality and interpretation
How to link the problem of life with interpretation? Before addressing this question, is relevant to highlight the general place of interpretation in the framework of Nietzsche´s philosophy. The term 'interpretation' [Auslegung, Interpretation] only appears, repeatedly, in the late works of the philosopher, but this does not mean that it should be introduced as a theoretical novelty4. In its general features, interpretation refers to the human activity which gives and confers meaning to an event or phenomenon, initially muted and meaningless. In this broad use, the idea of interpretation is already involved in the attack against philosophical realism that Nietzsche deploys very early. In a work such as The gay science, he says:
“You call yourself realist and insinuate that the world really is the way it appears to you […] Your love of 'reality', for example, - oh, that is an old, ancient 'love' – in every experience, in every sense impression there is a piece of this old love […] That mountain over there! That cloud over there! What is 'real' about that? Subtracts just once the phantasm and the whole human contribution [Zutat] from it, you sober ones! Yes, if you could do that! […] There is no 'reality' for us – and not for you either, you sober ones” (GS 57, KSA 3.421), translation modified).
As one can clearly see, Nietzsche attacks in these lines the very core of realism: the belief in the existence of a subsistent reality in which the human being does not intervene in any way. Now Nietzsche talk of a human 'contribution' that comes into play in the constitution of what we call reality, and a contribution as something that is not simply attached to a reality that has been already formed, but a contribution that cannot be detached from reality without annihilating it. This contribution is nothing more but what has been provided, through human interpretation, to a mute becoming. Interpretation is not merely conceived as a human praxis secondary to the higher exercise of reason or understanding, by which one access the objective and final sense of reality. Rather, there is no reality without this human contribution of the interpretation: in this way, it achieves a fundamental ontological range. The alleged substantiality of the real is finally reduced to the interpretative assessments of human beings on the real thing; the essence of things is dissolved in appearances, that is to say, in the ever-changing forms as they 'appear' before the interpretative observation of humans. The existence and consistency in itself, the independence of things with regard to human knowledge, i.e., the basis of all realism, fades away when it is recognized the bond of things with the meanings that humans grant them, that is to say, the critical nexus between what is called the 'real' and the meaning that has been introduced by an interpretative conscience in the middle of a pure happening.
Nietzsche will never abandon, in its fundamental features, this conception of reality. Some later unpublished fragments confirm and develop this approach in formulations that are much more concise. In 1885 he says: "Appearance, as I understands it, is the true and only reality of things (...) I don´t opposed 'appearance' to 'reality' but, inversely, I took appearance as reality, which resists its conversion into an imaginary 'world of truth'” (FP 40 [ 53], KSA 11,655 ). Then, in a fragment of 1888, he writes: "The 'appearenciality' belongs itself to reality: it is a form of its being, that is to say, in a world in which there is no being, it has to be created first, by appearance, a kind of predictable and calculable world of identical cases (...) The 'appearenciality' is an arranged and simplified world in which our practical instincts have worked (...) the world making abstractions of our condition of living in it, the world that we have not reduced to our being, our logical and psychological bias does not exist as a world 'in itself'" (FP 14 [ 93], KSA 13,271 ). Thus, the idea stated in the passage from The Gay science according to which the essence of reality is configured with an ingredient provided by men; the idea that our assessments and names of things 'are more important than these latter are', has been developed in these fragments up to the point of stating that such an appearance, what we provide, coincides with the full reality as such. What in that work is presented as a critique to realism, in these later writings gain autonomy and explicitly appears as a new ontological position. According to this, appearance, that all the metaphysical western realism has always conceived as the kingdom of deceit and lies, as an imperfect imitation and a counterfeiter of true reality, is rather the essential feature of reality itself: everything that exists are not more but appearances, simplifications and arrangements made with a practical purpose from particular points of view, beyond which there is no world in itself. In other words, everything that exists is nothing more than the final result of an interpretation5.
Instincts and chaos
But what is the foundation of this ontology6 recently exposed? Where this particular ontology does come from, which refers the being of reality to the interpretative performance of human beings? This is not about, as one might think, a simple extension of a transcendental or idealist subjectivism that make of consciousness, and its categories, the focal point of reality. More than a cognitive performance of the understanding, the exercise of interpretation are linked in Nietzsche with the most elementary forms of life activity; this is, not only of human life but also of the whole organic life: not only of bíos but also of zoé. - This can be better understood, if we pursue the concept of instinct.
The first important use of this term is obviously found in The Birth of Tragedy, where the conception of a metaphysical reality being divided between two competing principles is reflected under the image of a continuing struggle between the two 'natural' instincts, namely, the apollonian and the dionysian. There is, however, another sense of the term in Nietzsche that becomes more crucial: this is an almost naturalist meaning of instincts. In this new meaning the action of the instincts is sometimes explained in the framework of a question about knowledge. This knowledge seems to come from sensations. What we experience through the senses is clear to us in appearance: we have sensations and we are aware of them, even more, we can, to some extent, master them, avoid them or repeat them. However, that conscious knowledge that give us the senses, says Nietzsche, is not the fundamental knowledge, since the sensations are experienced always, and at the same time, such as pleasant or painful, and that already presuppose a trial, that is to say, another knowledge prior and unconscious: "Before there was sensation, there was, after a long time - that is to say, since always - knowledge: a knowledge which has the function to recognize and conclude. Knowledge is the property of all driving forces" (KSA 9, 438). Unconscious knowledge embedded in the driving forces is the knowledge that proceeds from an accumulated experience by the living organisms since immemorial times and that, before a new event, or in the presence of something unknown, comes to compare, recognize and conclude if this new event is harmful or helpful. In this way, the mere sensations do not give us, according to Nietzsche, an objective access to reality; far from being neutral they are already 'informed', charged of valuations and prejudices that come from some organic impulses acting on us before the conscious act of feeling7.
These unconscious and interpretative forces turn out to be the basis of what Nietzsche called the instinct. The driving forces of living beings are triggered before each stimulus in an active or reactive way, so that the response will ensure the preservation of the organism, enhancing its capacity to adjustment and its ability to solve the challenges that constantly introduces the environment. The constant repetition of some stimulus produces, thus, a given response that, little by little, turns into a habit. This habit becomes so strong that even the real presence of the stimulus is no longer needed: only by imagining it, the usual response can be spontaneously released. Such a force that has accumulated a wealth of experience and that, for that reason, has become accustomed to respond to certain stimuli in a certain direction, Nietzsche called instinct [Trieb; Instinkt]8: "I am talking about instinct [Instinkt] when any judgment (the taste in its lowest state) has been incorporated, so from now on it is spontaneously produced and need no more to wait for more sensations to provoked it" (KSA 9, 505). The instincts are, therefore, a bunch of organic forces that are pointed toward a particular purpose, in virtue of a process of domestication that took place by the fortuitous and contingent repetition of the same stimulus over the living organism. That is why the instincts multiply according to the number of stimuli that affect living organisms and the diverse range of actions they provoke, particularly in men. It is surprising the richness with which Nietzsche reproduces the instincts within his discourse. A quick review of his work reveals the countless composed expressions that are formed by linking the term instinct with an activity that gives meaning to it: metaphysical instinct [Metaphysischetrieb], artistic instinct [Kunsttrieb], knowledge instinct [Erkenntnistrieb], truth instinct [Wahrheitstrieb], logical instinct [Logischetrieb], ethical instinct [Ethischetrieb], etc9. Besides, not every instinct is located on the same level, but some are more powerful than others inasmuch as, at the fate of many similar excitations, they have been exercised more and, so to speak, become 'hardened'.
Of course, this doesn`t exhaust Nietzschean ontology frame given that, for itself, instincts don´t have any reality at all. In fact, they are only as they manifest, and they only manifest if they are being pushed by an external event. With this, we are not talking about something like an 'external world' as a 'reality in itself' that is outside men'. External estimuli don`t came from a world of established things, but from a shapeless happening that only attain its consistency and meaning in the interpretation that the instincts elaborate over it. Hence the active and creative character of the forces that constitute instincts. These are not reactive impulses that restrict themselves to passively pick up what happens, as the Kantian forms of intuition. Instincts are, above all, dominant forces that throw themselves over what happens, in order to put it at its service; to give it its own shape and find, in that way, its own satisfaction. Events not only lead instincts towards such a response but, reciprocally, they also interpret the happening in such a way that this ends up provoking the excitations they are get used to. That this events are malleable by instincts forces, means that the happening is not, so to speak, something finished and conclusive; is not the world of enduring objects or the reality, firmly in appearance, given to the common sense. This unpredictable and eventful happening is simply 'what happens', the happening that is imposed on us by the force of need and that Nietzsche calls, eventually, 'chaos' (KSA 12, 395)10.
To some interpretative instincts correspond a certain happening that allows it to be interpreted. These instinctual forces that are abandoned into this chaos of happenings in order to satisfy its vital impulse constitute what Nietzsche will call will to power11. The concepts of force and instinct provide the basis of a new conception of reality, anti-metaphysic and anti-idealist in its purposes: reality is not a substantial and permanent structure, nor the mere subjective representation of it; rather, it is a mobile structure that is generated and maintained in the reciprocal action of a random force of a pure happening and the interpretive force of the instincts; reality is change, transformation, dinamis, the force that is originated in the combined action of two others which are mutually dependent: the result, constantly generated, between randomness and power, between event and meaning, between chaos and instincts.
The deployment of interpretative life in levels
The foregoing analysis let us point out the fundamental link between the natural phenomenon of life (zoé) and the interpretative activity. From this perspective, life is instinctual and natural life, configurations of driving forces and organic impulses. But even at this basic level, life is not performed simply as a repetitive and structured process according to the natural mechanisms of growth or reproduction. Even in its lower forms, life takes place as a mobile, creative and dynamic activity, which responds to the changing conditions of a chaotic happening that imposes challenges, which are always different. For Nietzsche this activity is already a form of interpretation: it is the primary level of interpretation that takes place in every organic shape of the zoé. This interpretation, as it must be clear, not only provides an account of the adaptative functions of any organism to its environment; it is in fact, a highly creative exercise whose deep ontological sense is not captured if it is understood merely as an adjustment of any organism to its natural habitat12. The interpretative life as zoé, doesn’t adapt itself to a natural environment already given, but provides meaning to a chaotic flow of sensitive stimuli, this is, it shapes and creates, with the forces of chaos, what can only be called environment, habitat or natural reality. This provides the interpretative life with a deep ontological significance; it is more than the unity of biological or physico-chemical processes, it is the vector and the sense force that has control over a chaotic becoming in order to configure what is call reality. But, as it should be noted that life is more than just a natural process, it must be remembered that life is, for Nietzsche, much less than a metaphysical absolute instance. The interpretation of life is not an unconditioned act that has created the world and reality from nothing. Interpretative life is confronted by a chaos, a primary happening that life can`t dominates or predicts and which enters, instead, into a tense correlation from where it permanently springs, as a result of reality, i.e., the constant play of two vector forces13.
This first level of interpretation proper of every natural life is not the character of an intellectual activity and is not even performed as a conscious process. It is about a spontaneous exercise of life whose function is not cognitive or theoretical but practical; with this, it meant to establish a ground of stability where life itself can flourish. Therefore, for what at this level is called interpretation, has for Nietzsche the form of a simplification of chaos of what is happening in relatively constant frames of reference:
“Simplification is the foremost need of the organic; to perceive relations in a more concise way, to capture the cause and effect without the various intermediated links, to find similar many dissimilar things - this was needed. That is how an incomparable vaster search for food and assimilation took place, since the belief that it would be something to eat was often excited - with great advantage to the growth of the organic!" (KSA 9.563).
Nietzsche here descends to the level of the more primary relations of the organisms with its environment. At this level, the instincts that begin first to be released, are the basic instincts to survive. For example, the feeding instinct, presupposes the development of other instincts: the simplification instinct, by which unequal stimuli are taken as equal thus creating recognizable forms of what is edible or poisonous. In this way also emerged, and was gradually strengthened, the belief in the existence of things identical and substantial:
"The sensations and the object that provokes it are mixed up from the beginning! The equality of the excitements gave rise to the belief in 'equal things': the excitements of equal duration raised the belief in 'things', 'substances'. The principle of life conservation should be explored in the ways as the first organic formations experienced the excitements and judged what was external to them" (KSA 9, 544).
Here Nietzsche speculates about the vital forces of the primitive forms of life (the protoplasm) that, since then, and overexcited by the happenings of the environment, were strengthen to become instincts: similar stimuli provoked the belief in the existence of 'objects', of 'permanent things'; then this belief, many times repeated, becomes an instinctual force and then no longer expects new excitements, but rushes over what is happening and interprets it as populated with these 'identical objects'. The belief, common today, in a world of fixed objects and events that are interconnected through relations of cause and effect, arose only as a result of millennia of evolution during which these instincts of simplification, constancy, causality and identity, have become so powerful, that its interpretation of the stimuli that happens, appears to us as immediate and unquestionable14.
The act of interpretation means, in this primary level, the activity by which every organic being constitutes its own reality; the constitutive activity of life itself, given that, only from the stable ground that any interpretation creates in the middle of the random happenings, life can flourish. For this need of interpretation Nietzsche provides multiple formulations: the need for illusion, or more commonly, the 'will of appearance', but it is clearly not an appearance that hide a substantial reality, but a will to project, to make appear, from the interpretative instincts, a relatively solid field where the natural process of life can be achieved.
However, the life that unfolds in such a way, not always remains in this basic development of the constitution of an environment. In fact, regarding to human beings, this represents only a first stage of a becoming of life that will take place in subsequent developments due to a growing momentum of the interpretative activity. With this, we go from a merely animal life to a truly human life: the transition from zoé to bíos. For Nietzsche this transition does not happen as a leap to access another sphere of the being of life, qualitatively superior to the field of the natural organic life. On the contrary, is from the same field of interpretative instincts that this step is determined and life is pushed toward a different level of development. Nietzsche often bases this specific development of life in human life, in the exacerbated development of a communicative instinct proper of those particular organisms that are human beings. Human life is conscious life of itself, and this consciousness, according to Nietzsche:
"only has been developed under the pressure of the need for communication (Mittheilungs-Bedurfnisses ) […] While [the man] is the animal in greater danger, it required assistance, protection, of his peers, he had to express his penury, know he was making himself understand - and for all this, he needed first and foremost the 'consciousness', thus 'to know', by himself, his needs, 'to know' how he feels, 'to know' what he thinks" (GS 354; KSA 3,591).
In this way, the specific human fact of conscience of itself rests for Nietzsche in the particular instinctive settlement of the human species, which includes, within this network of forces and impulses, one that springs from an eminently natural and corporal need (Bedürfniss), to inform the physiological states of individuals. This is the force he calls here an instinct of communicability. And what is surprising is that this instinct - which, as any instinct arises from a natural need and acts in an unconscious way – ended up being, after a long process of growth and development, in the phenomenon of human communication, or language, and with this, in the exercise of conscious thought that we call rational. In a rather indiscernible way, in the human being, and only in him, can be verified a transition by which a natural instinct evolved until it opens a field of action for the instincts that goes beyond the scope of the organic nature. Thus, the step from zoé to bíos takes place, not as a sudden displacement of the field of animality up to the free kingdom of the spirit, nor is pull on by a pure reason in an instance beyond life. Instead, it arises from life within, as a continuous movement that springs from itself and raises from the simple processuality of the organic to another kind of praxis. Of course Nietzsche is unable to identify the device or event that triggered this transition. From the genealogical perspective that leads his analysis, it is only possible to interpretatively reconstruct, backwards, the type of previous needs that responds the emergence of a phenomenon. For this reason, that rational thought arise from a natural instinct, is only a genealogical interpretation – although based on good reasons – that does not posit any explanatory device that explains this transition, but in any case is most obvious and less fantastic than the metaphysic conjecture according to which reason is an unconditional fact or came from a divine provenance15.
But, what is the nature of this praxis bonded to bíos? What is the meaning of the 'superiority' of bíos over zoé, that makes humans the 'more interesting' animal (GM I, 6, KSA 5,266)? Conscious human life is such, because the symbolic language allows men to take distance from their own environment and then turns back upon themselves. The individual who invents signs breaks the immediacy that links, inextricably, the animal with its environment, and sets before him an objective field which can be characterized in different directions, while he apprehends its own activity and becomes conscious of himself. An instinctual need for communication takes men to develop a capacity for communication by language of signs, and these, at the same time, led them to the development of consciousness and rational thinking. – The real human life is, thus, the conscious life of the logical thinking, but logic is not meant to be here the correct process of a thinking that reflects – as metaphysics assumes – the very structure of being; the logical thinking is rather a symbolic thought that introduces fictitious schemes in the shapeless happening of the real in order to make it manageable (Cf. KSA, 11, 505). These schemes – for example, the cause-effect relationship, numbers, etc. – are developed and become more complex with new refinements of sign language and memory. With all this the bíos establishes a device of simplification whose function is to filter and shape chaotic events in ways that make them stable and manageable16. The chaos of stimuli and impressions, that in the basic instinctual forms of zoé has been subjected to a first simplification, experiments then, on the horizon of bios, a new reductive schematization that reduce its unpredictability and tame it in regular patterns that make possible the stability and growth of human life17.
This second simplification of chaos comes, in any case, from a quality quite different from the first one. From the simplification of zoé results the establishment of a habitat or environment that meets the demands of a purely animal or organic life. This environment is virtually unchangeable while the livings conditions of the organism remain substantially unaltered. The logification of chaos performed by the conscious life of the bíos is, instead, a fluid and changeable schematization, one that is not crystallized in a rather constant environment of repetitive stimuli and responses, but one that introduces a world of signs always open to new determinations of sense. This is what the interpretative activity of bíos is all about; trough it, chaos is not simply remade and structured in an animal environment, but this environment becomes significant, i.e., it becomes symbolic, therefore communicable, aware and changeable. In man:
“Due to the nature of animal consciousness, the world of which we can become conscious is merely a surface – and Sign-world, a world turned into generalities and thereby debased to its lowest common denominator” (GS, 354; KSA 3.593).
The praxis of bíos is the praxis of interpretation as well, but this interpretation is no longer the mere quietness of chaos in an environment, but in their significance in a world always open to the sense. In this lies the 'superiority' of human being, i.e., his 'problematic and interesting' character. The zoé – the instinctive life of every animal species, but also acting in the human being – is basic interpretation, that is to say, an interpretation whose performance consists, not only to be adapted, but first and foremost to make adaptable the unfathomable happening of reality. The bíos – the specifically human life – is interpretation in a more complex development: in it reality becomes a field of significant possibilities, a horizon changeable in multiple directions that makes it possible for countless developments of life. - To each form of realization of life belongs a different praxis of the interpretative exercise. To interpret turns out to be, firstly, that unconscious and quiet activity of the instincts by which living beings set out in the chaos of the happening, a firm structure that serves as their foundation for its vital deployment. But after that ontological constitution common to all vital species, the human being carries out its life in another direction since, unlike (other) animals whose instincts are settle down and become a routine in the world that they have formed, his instinctual configuration constitute and reconstitute, over and over again, a world of 'signs and surfaces' that is always incomplete, that keeps appearing as enigmatic, imprecise and re-signifying in new directions. In other words, the worlds of the different vital species are the result of an interpretation, but only for the human being the world – that is to say 'his/her' world – is being offered as a text and not as a solid structure, and like any text requires, always, of new interpretations18.
Perspectivism and knowledge
These two achievements of interpretation that we have identified here with the names of zoé and bíos, may not be clearly visible through Nietzsche´s motley and fragmentary writing19, but in my opinion this distinction is inherent to his thought and helps to clarify and refine many of his approaches. This is true, for example, for the concept of perspectivism. To indicate the interpretative nature that is essential to every form of life (without distinction between zoé and bíos) Nietzsche speaks of the "perspective character of existence" and the nonsense [Unsinn] that represents a form of existence devoided of interpretation (GS 374; KSA 3,626). In this general sense of the term, the perspective of interpretative existence makes reference, both to the different perspectives with which human beings interpret the world – that sort of interpretation of the text of the reality, or better, the interpretation of an interpretation –, as to the most primitive and primary with which each species organize and maintains what is, in each case, the basic furniture of their realities. However, it seems obvious that the perspectivism of zoé implies different consequences than what is proper to human bíos. On the first one it is stated:
"The whole organic world is a chain of beings, each one surrounded by small universes that they have created by projecting outward their force, their wishes, their common experiences, to build their outside world. The ability to create [Fähigkeit zum Schaffen] (to configure, to invent and to fantasize) is their basic capacity [...]. What about the creative [das Schöpferische] in each organic being? – That everything that is for each one their 'outside world', represents a set of value judgments; green, blue, red, hard, soft are inherited value judgments and its signals" (KSA 11,503).
The perspectivism of the zoé implies that each organism develops, in conjunction with the chaos of what is happening, their own living space. However, as human intellect is also confined within its own world and perspective, it is not possible to say a word about these other universes that belongs to different species that are equipped with different configurations of instincts. In this sense the philosopher can only launch the conjecture that the world could be infinite [unendlich], "insofar as we cannot reject the possibility that it includes infinite interpretations" (GS 374; KSA 3,626).
When on the contrary one refers, not yet to the animal perspectivism at the level of the zoé, but to the perspectivism of the bíos, Nietzsche no longer speaks in conjecture about the infinitude of interpretations that might arise from the possible infinite number of organism, many of whom we don't even know yet, but he refers to the plurality20 of meanings that may have a human existence, that it should not be stripped of. In this direction he points out the following fragment:
"Insofar as the word 'knowledge' has a meaning, the world is capable of been known; but it is interpretable [deutbar] in many ways and it does not have a meaning behind it, but countless of senses - 'perspectivism'. our needs to interpret the world: our instincts, its pros and cons" (KSA 12, 315).
This way, the doctrine of perspectivism must be considered differently according to the interpretative realization we find ourselves. There is perspectivism in the zoé that refers to the infinite realities that the different – and probably infinite – types of organic life have formed in its simplifying interpretation of chaos. There is, then, a perspectivism of the bíos which assures that human beings configures in multiple ways, through their use of reason and its symbolic language of signs, the meaning of the world, and this plurality of sense does not amount to an infinity, because the possibilities of an opening of meanings are limited by the particular instinctive settlement which is proper to us. –The perspectivism in the zoé implies that as long as the interpretative experiences of other organisms are unknown to us, the universe of their environment is unknowable. The perspectivism of human thought, leaves open, on the contrary, the possibility to access other forms of sense installation that other human beings and other cultures, even at different times, have drawn to make significant their environment and their world. – Between perspectives of the zoé there is incommensurability; between perspectives designed by a symbolic and interpretative reason there is always the possibility of knowledge. But this knowledge of the perspectivism no longer takes place as the gradual discovery of the essential truths of being and of the real, but only as the inexhaustible effort to mobilize and to introduce other possible meanings to the world. This, says Nietzsche, is the only possible sense of the word knowledge: not the revelation of the being of things, but the active proliferation of interpretations of the bíos, the constant signification and re-signification of the text always open of the world21.
The human tension between zoé and bíos and the life of knowledge
We have glossed the transition that in human beings leads from the elemental sphere of zoé to the achievements of bíos, as a becoming that takes place inside the interpretative life. In the first case, it is the merely animal life, i.e., the simplifying interpretation which makes from chaos an environment of stability; in the second one, it is the human life itself, i.e., the interpretation in signs, reason and language, which gives meaning to the chaos and turn it into a world, this is, an horizon open to new meanings. The 'superiority' of bíos over zoé, the greater complexity and problematization of the first one lies here: in the richest creative deployment of its interpretative activity, in the always renewed possibility of opening new sides of chaos and turn it into a world.
With respect to these two achievements of interpretative life one must be aware against a reading that sees these two fields of action radically separated and heterogeneous. In fact, even when bios refers, more properly, to the actions of men, nor the human existence is purely rational and symbolic realization that had left behind the life of zoé, nor can we distinguish, in the human-animal, a field of purely animal instincts, and draw a limit with clarity from the field of interpretative forces proper of bíos. However, neither can we assure that in the particular case of that species, i.e. the human-animal, the impulses proper of zoé have been fully reabsorbed in the bíos, where they would acquire a higher significance. Such an approach could hardly be distinguished from the Hegelian dictum according to which 'the spirit is the truth of nature'. Of course Nietzsche would be willing to recognize that a good part of the actual animal needs of the human being have already lost the rudeness of the purely natural and have been reinterpreted and sophisticated in the horizon of the symbolic culture, but for him this does not give the bíos (the culture and the symbolic) an ontological status higher than that of zoé. Human life is not pure bíos that has eliminated zoé, or absorbed it into his field of meaning. More close to Nietzsche`s approach, it’s fair to think human life as a permanent tension and conflict between these two element that, in this way, turns out to be inseparable.
How to understand this conflict? First and foremost, we must beware of resolving it by making prevail one principle over the other. Neither the human life is bíos that has 'overcome' zoé (as in a Hegelian reading of Nietzsche), nor it prevails the instincts of the zoé even if they are now deployed (sublimated) in the symbolic constructions of bíos (such as a certain Freudian reading could suggest). What is peculiar to the human species is the coexistence of zoé and bíos, that is, the fact that, within her, the interpretativity of life is not only performed in a preconscious way or simply intuitive, but also through the creative exercise of a symbolic interpretative reason. This peculiarity derives in the instability and tension that mark steadily any form of human existence. It is the conflict that, on the one hand, holds back, with the stabilizing inertia of zoé, the impulses of the bíos, and at the same time, constantly undermines this gained stability with the restlessness of a symbolic pulse that does not run out. We say this never-resolved conflict defines the peculiarity of the human existence, as opposed to the stillness of other animal species. It is the conflict between an inertial tendency to crystallize and strengthen the horizons of symbolically configured human action, and an interpretative force that is always renewing and competing again and again to open new directions of sense in the framework of the established.
It is important to insist that the conceptual couple here proposed of zoé and bíos, cannot be understand as a form of metaphysical dualism that postulate, in human nature, two principles equally essential, although opposites whit each other. With the conflict between zoé and bíos there is no reference to the traditional metaphysical opposition between body and soul, or instincts and reason. Firstly because we are not dealing here with two substantial and unconditioned principles that, either accidentally or externally, enters into a conflict correlation. On the contrary, none of these two elements lives outside of this relationship. For humans there is no pure animal impulses that have not been refracted already in the field of language and reason, and, at the same time, the symbolic reason is no never in a purely spiritual horizon, but is always incarnated or 'incorporated' into organic instinctive arrangements. At first is, then, the correlation and the conflict, so that, inside the human species, the zoé is no longer the mere immediate impetus of the animal and the bíos is not pure culture and rational configuration. In the middle of the more complex instincts of the conscious life, the impulses of zoé that tend to fix and crystallize the sense, 'rationalize' in more complex and 'spiritual' forms like the impetus for the truth that in its various forms of expression (metaphysics, science, religion, etc.) do not represent but the tendency to solidify a particular interpretation of reality; and, at the same time, the creative and symbolic powers of the bíos never get uprooted from the animal, instinctive or corporal background, that is rather the source that propel them, as is evident in the production of art itself.
But in addition to the foregoing, the essentially non-dualistic character of our distinction zoé-bíos is clear, in a second instance, if we remember that with these terms, we don’t designate absolute principles but forms of realization of the interpretative life. More than a self sufficient 'primary instincts', they point out possible process and paths of the movement of life, a movement to which Nietzsche will call by the technical term of will to power, but that in its essence coincides with the becoming of the basic interpretability of reality. Will to power is not, thus, but another name for life that is always interpretative, either in the most basic organic forms of animality, or in the praxis of the interpretative symbolic animal that is the man. And this practice, as we have seen, takes place in a way always conflictual, tensioned between zoé and bíos, between the keeping and the disrupting of the sense. Is to this conflict that the philosophy of Nietzsche, in its different production phases and conceptual records, does not get tired of thinking: as a fight between Apollo and Dionysus, as a tension between memory and oblivion, reactive and active, truth and art22.
With these clarifications I would like to draw up, with a quick outline and to conclude, what, in my opinion, is Nietzsche´s third way of interpretative realization and, at the same time, the highest realization of life. To counter the reactive impulse that wants to make of every open world a close environment and postulate, above all movement of interpretation, the absolute idea of an eternal truth, Nietzsche would have wanted to promote a higher life. This is a third station in the becoming of life. It is now the moment for the life of knowledge, above the mere immediate and instinctive interpretation of life that is only animal, above the exercise of meaning of the thought and the language proper to human life. The life of knowledge is the life that not only performs the symbolic display of bíos, but the one who makes it powerful up to its maximum gradient. The conflict between bíos and zoé means that interpretation, as the deployment of the symbolic, is always counterattacked by a soothed inertia. The higher life of knowledge knows about this opposition and is aware against the lethargic effect that seeks to suspend the interpretation and graze the life. That is why the kind of knowledge that here is looking for, consists in the multiplication of the incessant perspectives, in the constant opening of senses23. In the life of knowledge zoé is not extinguished and the search and formulation of the truth is not abandoned, but it is well-known that any fixation of truth is only a partial match of the becoming of life, only a reason to keep on renewing the unstoppable interpretative configuration of the world. The interpretation of zoé wants to simplify and profile the chaos; the interpretation of bíos wants to give sense and meaning and open a world; the interpretation of the life of knowledge is an interpretation that simply wants more interpretation and, therefore, more questions and enigmas, more unrest and unease, but also more playful and colorful, and more lighter and joyful24. - And these three realizations of the interpretation define three forms of life: the merely animal life that is satisfied with the configuration of its environment; the tense and troubled human life that do not know of this basic split that dominates his existence, that is hidden when interpretation becomes the truth and appearance the being; and finally, the life of the philosopher and the superior men of the future, the life of the knowledge that is first and foremost life in tension and upheaval, relentless renewal of its play with chaos, the recognition of the conflict between zoé and bíos and the willingness to keep it.
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