(This week we are pleased to present another in our series of interviews with the distinguished critic Stanley Herdman, late of Yale and Harvard and currently Professor Emeritus at Slippery Slope University, where his classic text Latent Symbolism: Sublimations and Subtleties in Romantic Poetry is required reading for all freshmen. Professor Herdman's interviewee this week is German philosopher and poet Freidrich Nietzsche, whose numerous works, such as: Human, All Too Human; Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Dawn; The Gay Science; The Antichrist; Twilight of the Idols; The Birth of Tragedy; Beyond Good and Evil; and, The Will to Power are the single most influential source in twentieth century European literature. Nietzsche is most commonly remembered for having proclaimed: "God is dead.")
Herdman: Well, Freidrich, it seems like you got the last laugh: You said, "God is Dead." God said, "Nietzsche is dead." Yet here you are alive and well, albeit, posthumously, and no mere compost either I hasten to add, if you'll pardon the pun. Ha, ha, ha.
Nietzsche: Truth is a hammer.
Herdman: Yes, well, as you know, Fred, I have just published my latest critical work, Philosophy for the Masses—
Nietzsche: (Under his breath) Or, how to be an anvil and like it.
Herdman: What was that, Fred? I didn't quite catch it?
Nietzsche: Nothing, Stan, just adding zeros.
Herdman: Oh, well . . . of course writing for me is an incredibly joyous experience. All I have to do is sit down and write, let the words flow. But not all writers have so easy a time putting words on paper. Perhaps you could tell our readers what it's like when writing gets tough, since physically you weren't in the best of health, were you, what with the blindness, the migraines, and the rotten stomach. So please tell our readers what made you keep writing despite the pain and torments that ravaged your body.
Nietzsche: You think I had a choice? You think I could quiet those voices screaming from within? Those eagles screaming from the snowy heights like clarion bells? Hah! What does your conscience say? You will become what you are. And when that happens there can be no thought of stopping. Your writing becomes propelled by some force that you have no control over; all you can do is ride on its back and let its wings carry you out into the stratosphere of your new existence, out into the stratosphere where every new thought, every new inkling, simply explodes with the clarity and divinity of the God you are trying to become. How could you even think about not giving expression to that voice?
Herdman: Yes, well, I know what writing can be like when it takes control of you, blocks everything else out. But, Fred, tell me, how do you keep writing despite the pain? What do you do when all there is, is pain?
Nietzsche: Look, pain is my food, pain is what I live for, pain is what gives me the energy to keep going when others stop. Do you think that anything can be written in comfort? Do you think your soul will speak to you when your life is easy? Do you think that anything can ever be done when there isn't a scream upon your lips? Do you think that you could possibly give voice to anything real if it hadn't first been through the forge and fired to a million degrees and then hammered at for interminable bitter moments? Oh, how candescent those moments are! No, we must wield a hammer, the hammer of our voice, and pound pound! POUND our pain into a new form of existence, an existence that only we can give shape to. Do you think that your existence can have any meaning if you unreflectively accept something that someone else has done before? Do you think that your existence can have any meaning if you merely accept a way of living that has been pre-planned for you by others? No, never! You must dive into the depths of your being and throw out everything but your pain, and then set to work on all those raw nerve cells, asking each one if it likes its pain, and what is its pain, and what would it like to do with its pain, and then you imbibe all that pain and you revel in that pain and you let that pain burn into your consciousness until the only thing you know is pain, and then you begin to write that pain, letting that pain be jetted from you like a white hot flame, and you let that pain sear the page so that others can feel your pain. No, we wouldn't want anyone to get off too easily and not feel any pain. We want to drive them to pain with our pain, we want to cause a new kind of pain in them, the pain of having to think, the pain of having to shape a new kind of existence for themselves, because without such an existence they are nothing, just a long line of zeros heading willfully to the madhouse where they add zeros to each other in blissful bouts of self-importance that make them seem to be something not only in their own eyes, but in the eyes of others, because it is only through the eyes of others that they can exist. Without the eyes of others to bring them into existence they remain just what they are, big, fat, corpulent, zeros. But what really do they become in the eyes of others? They become zeros to the tenth power, no, they become zeros to the twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, one hundredth power, they become what they are, an endless series of zeros rushing towards infinity—and they have the nerve to think that the infinite numbers of them makes them something more than the one zero they started out with! These people make me sick. My own illnesses are nothing compared to the sickness that the sight of all these hopelessly multiplying, self-breeding zeros brings upon me. This is the real reason I descend into my pain: because they would never do it! Writing through my pain allows me to purge the awful stench that these zeros bring into my world. Oh, but don't think I don't want them to exist—what would I do if they were not around to remind me of what I am not? I need them, need their bitter bile taste because that is what enables me to endure my other pain: the knowledge that I am a One, and that regardless of how many zeros they string, pile, stock up, I am more than them, more than all the zeroes combined, because I am an individual, an individual forged out of the very pain that this herd of zeros has brought to bear upon my existence. I need them because they remind me of everything I cannot ever be, because, once—and once was all it took, of that be certain—because once I dared to have an original thought, and that original thought made me a one, set me eternally free, spiraling up into an endless series of thoughts, questions, torments, without answers, yes, but oh, the exhilarating freedom that can be felt from such heights!
Herdman: Well, yes, Freidrich, thank you. I'm sure that will prove very useful to our readers when they sit down to do their own writing.
(Next week Professor Herdman will be interviewing Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel Lolita created quite a stir when it was first published. "Lust" will be the main topic of their interview. Look for it at your favorite newsstand or magazine seller.)