Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nietzschean Patience Again

Here's a first draft of my efforts to say something about Nietzsche's various remarks about patience. I've yet to look at some sources others (thanks, j. and Rob Sica) have pointed out to me. The conclusion feels a bit weak, but I need to let it sit. In the mean time, perhaps others will have some thoughts and suggestions.


  1. I like this paper a lot and basically agree with the whole thing. The following are nit-picky points that occurred to me as I read it. I don't think they are really at odds with your overall position, but they might suggest some re-wording of a sentence or two.

    Nietzsche is concerned that patient forbearance can become a weakness and that universal forbearance is foolish

    You know the relevant texts better than I do, but this sounds questionable to me based on what you quote. It sounds more as though Nietzsche is concerned that weakness can be represented as patience (to oneself as well as to others). It's the self-deception that bothers him more than anything about patience as such, it seems to me.

    The value of patience is in the self-restraint it involves, enabling of calm and sustained attention.

    Yes, but there seems to be more too. Good taste, nobility, and spirituality, for instance. Plus being able to see, which has advantages beyond those suggested by the Simone Weil-ish "calm and sustained attention." Weil is quite thoroughly against egoism, but egoists want to be able to see.

    I don't know whether we disagree on this or not, but here's my take, for what it's worth, on the Twilight passage:

    A practical application of having learned to see: your learning process in general becomes slow, mistrustful, reluctant. You let foreign things, new things of every type, come towards you while assuming an initial air of calm hostility,—you pull your hand away from them. To keep all your doors wide open, to lie on your stomach, prone and servile before every little fact, to be constantly poised and ready to put yourself into—plunge yourself into—other things, in short, to espouse the famous modern ‘objectivity’—all this is in bad taste, it is ignobility par excellence.

    The hostility he mentions is only an air of hostility, an attitude, and it is only initial. True, he does refer to mistrust, but I think he means a kind of skepticism that goes with patience. One does not rush to believe but takes the time to make a considered judgment. And one is not in love with the new just because it is new--that would be a symptom of impatience. In contrast is the prone and servile person ready to plunge into other things. This readiness to plunge is impatient. It would help if I knew what the "famous modern objectivity" is, but the reference to "every little fact" suggests an obsession with data without waiting to see the big picture. Nietzsche suggests ("to keep all your doors wide open") that there is something whore-ish about this. And it's not hard to see why constantly seeking and reacting to stimuli could seem this way. The noble thing to do, on the other hand, is to take the new information in slowly, with apparent reluctance, and to react to it slowly and thoughtfully, on one's own (i.e. on educated) terms. This isn't an anti-fact position, but it's more conservative than the position of someone who excitedly jumps on every new bandwagon or editorializes about each new event as it happens.

    will all things reveal “a new and indescribable beauty” to us if we are patient with them?

    This is and is not an empirical question, I think. It is in the sense that no one has any business answering Yes unless their experience supports this answer. But it isn't in the sense that it expresses a kind of attitude toward the world. If I wonder at the existence of the world then every thing in it is wonderful. If I don't have this attitude then many things will just seem crap, no matter how long I stare at them. Grizzly bears are of course wonderful things, but you have the wrong kind of wonder (or not wonder at all but something else) if you think this suggests in any way that they won't hurt you.

    [continued below]

  2. I'm not sure that patience would be involved in postponing a duel that ought not to be postponed, as Nietzsche describes it. Doing so only prolongs torment. And I wouldn't call doing that patience. It would be waiting, but waiting pointlessly. Patience is only called for when waiting is a good idea, e.g. when waiting a day would prevent a suicide.

    why, then, is impatience a defect of character?

    Perhaps because even in the cases where impatience is a school of genius the impatient drive needs to be ameliorated a little. And it is only a school of genius in people who are both active and contemplative, and I imagine the contemplative part makes patience necessary and impatience a drawback (even if it can have good side-effects).

  3. Thanks for the feedback! The point about self-deception seems right on, and is something I should emphasize more. Along the lines of the beauty issue--it's occurred to me that I should look to make a connection to the GS passage and "yes-saying." (Rob Sica has put me onto a paper that discusses this that I am going to look at.) And perhaps I should consider the point about egoism, especially as a point of contrast between N and Gregory. (I'm trying to prepare this for a conference, so I'm working against space constraints, but I'll definitely see what I can do.)

  4. Making a connection with yes-saying sounds like a good idea. N and Gregory are surely different, but maybe not very much on this issue. I think N says somewhere that you should not be so small as to remember injuries done to you by others, and so resentment or revenge would be out of the question. This perhaps is not the same as bearing such injuries patiently, but the outward appearance might at least be the same. If anything the difference seems to be one of tone, the Christian view sounding more self-pitying or martyr-ish (not that it is meant that way) and N's view sounding more proud or even arrogant. But the real meaning in each case is, I think, similar.