The profound instinct for how one would have to live in order to feel oneself ‘in Heaven’, to feel oneself ‘eternal’, while in every other condition one by no means feels oneself ‘in Heaven’: this alone is the psychological reality of ‘redemption’. — A new way of living, not a new belief…
Nietzsche once observed that the rarest things, by definition, are the most fragile, the most precarious or fortuitous. The splendid velvet color of an orchid, or of crimson in a painting, cannot be traced back to causes, ends, or mere technique. They bedazzle because their sources can’t be traced; and we can’t tell how many things had to go right for them to occur. Thus rarity also inspires a sense of luckiness: an unprecedented bestowal, a superabundant surprise (like the gift of time itself…). Of course, what’s rare can also be something terrible, like Rilke’s angel, an anomaly, an accident. Perhaps we can never tell what’s good or bad when it comes to rarities: “noble” things outstrip moral measurements. What’s rare exists as if by chance, good or bad. If it goes on, it goes on in jeopardy, and at any moment its streak can be broken. Rare things are rare because rarely pursued, because the heights to which rare things rise inspires vertigo. Rarity also implies gambling, running a risk that can’t be accounted for, not even by the being being risked. Of course, humans pursue greater risks, up the ante on rarity and fragility, become somewhat conscious of it happening and so enter ever deeper into the mystery of their worlds. And the more we risk, the more fragile, the more world, the rarer. Perhaps that even defines us at our best, but nevertheless, all we can say about rare things (like us) is that they happen/ed, that we came to pass and keep passing. Beyond this, we are often struck dead mute. Even the rare person, or the rare achiever, is forced to acknowledge: “I have no idea how this happened, how everything fell into place; I am just thankful…”
Perhaps we could read Nietzsche’s attraction to Jesus and his rare instincts in this manner. Nietzsche wants to separate Jesus’ instinct or force from his “person,” and especially from his religious persona as it is framed in the churches. He knew that there could only be a Christian practice: an existing instinct, drive, or “light,” and not a belief-system or form of worship. (Nietzsche reckoned the “religion” surrounding the event of Jesus’ death a hangover of the Jewish priesthood: Paul’s fault.) To separate out Jesus’ “force” for Nietzsche meant isolating the “redeemer type.” But that meant weighing Jesus’ experience as such. He has to be understood as offering a form of life, a call to a different way of being, open to the uppermost limits of the possible. Of course, the question of “force” in Nietzsche’s thought is not limited to his consideration of Jesus; but it would seem that Jesus fits the mold of all his main motifs: amor fati, “powerless” will to power, concern with a community of free spirits (“we others”), dissolution or emptying as creation, rejection of moral authorities, eternal recurrence, the desire to take a great gamble with one’s life, to challenge us and change us forever, to live in service to the truth and to undergo everything for it, in a word: to pursue the rarest rarity…
Nietzsche is not shy about his goals: he wants to send a shock wave through humanity, “split humanity in two.” This desire cannot help but pass by a confrontation with Jesus– not only by refuting Christianity (which has little to do with Jesus), but by meeting him on the court of existence, by answering his challenge and striving to match up to him in stature, spirituality, earnestness, and symbolism. As his final signature “Dionysus the Crucified” shows, Nietzsche wanted to “hang” with Jesus.
Above all, with Jesus Nietzsche wants to say we: “we emancipated spirits”. Nietzsche wages war on Jesus the way only two spiritual brothers (friends-enemies) could: for place of rank, where questions of glory carry the day. Of course, this is the glory attributable to “everyone and no one,” far beyond any notion of “winning,” in fact lacking any return benefit. It is only measured by the degree of truth suffered, by the degree of kenosis undergone in the depths of one’s being. This rivalry prefigures what Nietzsche will call the age of “Great Politics,” where men will go to “war” with one another in a battle for the greatest, most life-affirming knowledge. This is no hand-to-hand combat, but a battle of wit and wisdom waged at a distance between spirits who know they help emancipate each other. On this battlefield, the question is: whose love will be the greatest? Who will give back the most? Who will be the most affirmative? (Didn’t Jesus say that some will come after him who will do greater things than he?)
To come close to an experience “like unto God” means holding “God” beyond being and conceptuality, beyond any human construct, and so to go to the limits of language feeling the other within us. “God” hearkens an unexpected force that wells up and calls us, a light that lives and plays in the world like a child, however serious its duties might be. God names this inner drive to ever-exceed, to always want more (love, joy, eternity)– that is, names our exposure to strange others, unfamiliar lives and things. That contact and friction passes through us, pervades our being and exceeds it, pulls it outside of itself. We intuit it and, sometimes, call it God, or epiphanic experience: that which surprises us, changes us, and yet feels strangely most us, most our own. “Inner experience,” a relation unto us, a relation of our own, “written” on our hearts or our souls (and not on legal tablets or in moral theory). Nietzsche writes of Jesus:
If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that he took for realities, for ‘truths’, only inner realities– that he understood the rest, everything pertaining to nature, time, space, history, only as signs, as occasion for metaphor.
With Jesus, this inner reality always passes through another (God, neighbor), a feeling ever-greater than he is, which is still only his. He exhibits an extreme vulnerability to the Other, down beneath his own cognition and into his flesh and bones, his carnal sensitivity, to the point of being utterly “at the disposal of the Other’s” (1). This inner reality pours itself out, spreading across humanity, moving through all the “outsides”: world, language, fellow humans, things, the body itself (spirit is the embodied relation linking and unlinking all these). His force is always in relation to someone or something else, a differential force, first off to “God,” to pure excess, the eternity he feels and is. Jesus bears witness to this excess and this opening as an affirmation of life and of the time remaining. In always passing through another, he attests to being-in-relation as being’s “inner reality,” made up by its relationship to (all) Others, surpassing our ability to know. We are caught up in this relationship before we know it– it makes us who we are, we are it.
Force, pulse, excess, energy, inner reality, outside, relation, experience, vulnerability… These are all ways of untranslating something untranslatable, which Jesus attests to above and beyond all else: the blessedness of life and existence. “Kingdom of God” opens up not in another world but in this one, right in the middle of utmost difficulties. It opens up here. We come into relation with eternity only here. Jesus’ instinct is for the eternal in the instant, and in light of that no trial is too much. Just to be there is to feel gifted. Nietzsche interprets Jesus’ symbolism:
…in the word ‘Son’ is expressed the entry into the collective feeling of the transfiguration of all things (blessedness), in the word ‘Father’ this feeling itself, the feeling of perfection and eternity.
The redeemer type appears as though straddling these two extremes, one that comes in the form of a supreme call to life and practice (entry), the other in the form of an acceptance, a sense for the perfection of the instant, a willing of what is. A simple feeling, the freedom of existence. The paradox is that however much Nietzsche and Jesus point us to faith, practice, and transfiguration, they also point, and often with greater insistence, toward loving the instant, cherishing everything to the point of incandescence, beyond all human knowledge and planning, like a child. Chance is exceeded by loving it, falling in:
The ‘glad tidings’ are precisely that there are no more opposites; the kingdom of Heaven belongs to children; the faith which here finds utterance is not a faith which has been won by struggle — it is there, from the beginning, it is as it were a return to childishness in the spiritual domain.
Blessedness is not promised, it is not tied to any conditions: it is the only reality– the rest is signs for speaking of it…
The ‘glad tidings’ are that there is no “work” to be done. Our struggle is of absolute value in itself. Our struggle is to affirm what we live as our own. Life does not point to any beyond, no final day of consecration, and suffering is not the price we pay to get to heaven, nor is our time on earth just a sojourn on our way to the eternal home. No, the eternal home is here, in the suffering, in the time on earth that is gifted to us. As Jesus says, speaking in sign-language again, the Kingdom of God is among us, within us. Blessedness is reality, reality is blessed. God is “near,” presence itself approaching, coming, almost here, here, and still coming. Which also means: right there, out there, elsewhere, somewhere else.
Nietzsche understands the Kingdom in a similar way, as an experience of the heart, an experience of existence as “untimely,” out of this world. But however much effort one contributes (and the effort seems immense), this experience is not won by struggle, but rather by the exposure in the instant to the other, to what exceeds the struggle from within it. “Redemption,” if there is any, is of the instant, is instant: eternity in the blink of an eyelid. As Nietzsche writes of Jesus’ faith and mode of existence: “it is every moment its own miracle, its own reward, its own proof, its own ‘kingdom of God’. Neither does this faith formulate itself — it lives, it resists formulas.”
To deal with the dual impression we’ve gathered– that we are asked to enter blessedness through practice, and that the blessedness of reality does not depend on our efforts– we might turn to Nietzsche’s thought of amor fati. In an early rendition, he writes that amor fati means, “learning to see as beautiful what is necessary in things,” so as to “make things beautiful.” Already we see the similarities with what he later calls the redeemer type, who is able to enter into what is necessary, even death, and discover what is beautiful– so as to introduce something unprecedented into it, to maximize its highest instinct, to make room for the surprising event, or even to ally all beings together in spirit and in love. Amor fati indicates a way of suffering life patiently, suffering/loving others, doubling everything that happens with an affirmation of the fact that it happened– while also pursuing one’s highest “creative” potential within this “event” of God’s coming to us, in us, with us. Perhaps this is not unlike Kierkegaard’s notion of “suffering everything for the good,” mixed with the single-mindedness of the honest and patient (above all, Nietzsche valued probity).
To make necessary things beautiful would be to enter into an ever greater relationship to things themselves, so as to relate them together and them to us. This is no different than what a curious child does, free of time itself. Compositely, amor fati would name a practice of the instant as the opening of eternity right here, in the absolute singular, everywhere-nowhere. This eternity, which is the redeemer type’s instinct and experience, is likened to the Kingdom of God that we each are:
The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is a condition of the heart– not something that comes ‘upon the earth’ or ‘after death’. The entire concept of natural death is lacking in the Gospel: death is not a bridge, not a transition, it is lacking because it belongs quite to another world, a merely apparent world useful only for the purpose of the symbolism. The ‘hour of death’ is not a Christian concept– the ‘hour’, time, physical life and its crises, simply do not exist for the teacher of the ‘glad tidings’…. The ‘kingdom of God’ is not something one waits for; it has no yesterday or tomorrow, it does not come ‘in a thousand years’ — it is an experience within a heart; it is everywhere, it is nowhere…
Approaching things this way, we can see how Jesus was no different from you and me, even if his life reveals certain inner potentials that we’ve forgotten or neglected. At any rate, the redeemer is human. Nietzsche emphasizes the fact: “The ‘Evangel’ died on his cross.” Love of fate also means love unto fatality. As much as it “rises above” all that dies, it rises above as something that dies, or at least as something that is in relation to death. For the redeemer type, Nietzsche suggests, death does not exist. Paradoxically, he only appears to die, even as he really does die. He is not so much saved from death as alive within it; not safe from death, but safe in it. Safe, therefore, in his word, in his name.
The redeemer type dies rising, infinity alive and well in his finitude, the other crossing him instantly and crossing him out, abandoning him to the fragile/rare relationship he is and enacts. But Jesus’ prerogative on earth is not special:
…he denied any chasm between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man as his ‘glad tidings’…. And not as a special prerogative!”
We share his instinct. It is rooted in our own relationship to our own (un)timeliness and death, and that in relation to our world. For that is where the whole saga takes place: in each fragile absolute abandoned to itself, abandoned to death without any saving grace or assurance, without “afterlife” and without God. Jesus presents a humanity that is both fragile, surrendered to itself, subject to corrupt political orders, to the messiness of daily life, sin, and death; and yet also the coming of another life, an infinite life in that same “worldly” life: a différant life characterized by love, by bonds less social than spiritual, bound to eternity. A way of relating to existence that elevates it automatically, that exists by instinct in a kind of natural, sublime elevation.
In this transition to life– similar to drive, light, and, why not, truth– fragility becomes rarity, fortuity becomes preciousness— as if it were through this awareness of, or attunement to, preciousness and rarity that the fragile became aware of itself as absolute, as “holy.” The rare opportunity of living (qua dying, Jesus says) indicates the possibility in each of us to “elevate” humanity to its highest instance (there is the motif of will-power and overman); but it also indicates the “necessity” of cherishing what is in order to elevate it: amor fati. Jesus risked everything and demanded that we do so also, demanded that we change, adjust our instinct (metanoia). But this operation stems from the imperative to cherish, from the revelation that the faraway is near, that the good is opening up right here in the horrible, that the Kingdom has come about in the middle of the irreparable.
To cherish is to see things as beautiful without trying to repair or save them. Here, beauty butts up right against the abject. Such is why Jesus constantly reminds us to love what is there, to cherish what is, not for some purpose or reason or benefit, but because it is and because you are, because both are fortuitous, risked, worth loving. That simple, childish comportment is the “redeemer’s” instinct: that the ‘Kingdom’ is actual, is existence, and that the only proper response is to love it in all its misery, mystery, and glory. Against such light and love, death is powerless, without for all that saving us from it. Here, death remains far away, distant, while opening its distance from life in life itself. We are safe in that distance, in correspondence.
In existence, death is irreconcilable; but the spirit of God is that which, in humans, grabs hold of this fragility/rarity as its own, elevating it by loving it. In the end, it is not the spirit of God, but simply our spirit– our free, emancipated spirit, says Nietzsche. In this approach, we live/love from beyond the grave, to the extent that we open ourselves to the call from the other that, it would seem, first opens us. In this life is opened the possibility that we not-be, opening life down to its finest fragility, exposed to death; and in this possibility to not-be, we find the site of our eternity in the time that remains for us, the time we share before (both of our) deaths, as if outside them. It is our sense of opening as a call that excites us, this call beyond struggle in struggle that constitutes the good news. Of course, this “call” comes from everywhere: from within, from the face of the Other, from countless signals, in countless hearts. It would seem that only something so rare could be so common.
As Nietzsche would have it, the redeemer type presents to us a practice of acceptance (“passivity beyond passivity,” Levinas or Blanchot might say) mixed with supreme ambition (a sense of responsibility, a singular instinct or passion) that open up together an experience of a wholly other life in this life, of the Not-Known in this world, in this instant, an experience “within a heart,” perhaps even something natural: learning how to “feel oneself ‘eternal'”, as we began. Or it would be as Jean-Luc Nancy describes “adoration: holding to the presence of this opening,” of the outside of time in time, of an outside of the world in the world (“inner realities,” in Nietzsche’s symbolism), addressing ourselves to this wholly-other-outside. To hold to the “presence of the opening” in the present, as to what exceeds the present, as the coming-to-presence above and beyond the phenomenal now, is to adore, to think the gift of the world, its coming and its passing, and us along with it. This gift is nothing less than the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, now, among us, in the world opening it to infinity– in a world where we all await death and bear impossible witness to it. Such love, such thinking, is the practice that develops as a consequence of our condition: Godforsaken blessedness, thrown and exposed, living. Beyond that, everything is chance, glad tidings, life, thanksgiving…
1.Wyschogrd, Edith. Saints and Postmodernism. p.xxii. I follow Wyschogrod in letting the word “Other” here shift in connotation between an all-transcendent Other (God) and human Others. However, in the paragraph referenced, she is referring exclusively to the bodily needs of the Other, and so to corporeal Others. Of course, Levinas’ account of the face as both transcendent and yet absolutely ethically obliging allows, theoretically, this shifting.
All other quotes from Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, mostly sec. 32-35.
Cf. Nancy, Jean-Luc, “An Experience at Heart“