Learning necessities

It seems a strange thing to want to do, to learn the necessities. It makes me think of learning very different types of thing. On the one hand, it seems like a positive axiom that would benefit everyone in their day to day life – ‘learn the necessities’. Work out how to do the basic functions that enable one day to follow another, one meal to follow another, in order to be able to do anything else. The trouble perhaps is that almost immediately I begin to hear a parental tone, ‘learn the necessities before you go gallivanting’. As the parental tone comes into mind, the obvious axiom becomes less clearly one to be simply accepted. An axiom in the parental tone has very different connotations from one emanating from an internal rational harmony with the axiom, which is how it’s tone is first heard.

Part of the nature of the parental tone is that it inspires rejection – and rightly so. Unless the parental tone made the teenager feel like someone simply repeated the obvious endlessly the right tone hasn’t been achieved by the parent. Repetition of the obvious is the nature of parental advice, possibly the basis of much parental language as a whole if the truth be told. There’s no escaping the overwhelming presence of the role when in the role of being a parent. It’s not an open space of creativity. The parent is the drawdown on creativity in many, many ways and necessarily so. The parent who doesn’t fulfil the role of drawing down the dynamic of the creative teenager runs the risk of that abdication enabling failure at a catastrophic level. Isn’t this the lesson of Icarus?

It seems all the more curious then to find Nietzsche, seemingly, advocating a kind of extreme drawing down of the creative chaos we now mostly encounter within teenager lives. It’s not a teenage chaos, of course, it simply happens that it’s teenagers who currently present this chaos in my own parental space. The chaos that my teenagers let me encounter can be found in many many more spaces, by far and away most of them being adult spaces, adult chaos, adult spaces in which what we realise is that the chaos is there because it can be anywhere and everywhere, because it’s an amorphous chaos.  It’s this amorphous chaos that Nietzsche seems to be trying to draw down when he declares his desire to ‘learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things’ (GS 276). This amorphous chaos, which might manifest in western teenage sociality might elsewhere manifest as war, or bureaucracy, or management practice. It’s a chaos of differential drives and entwined tensions. Moreoever it seemed at some points, as we read through Nietzsche, that he declared a love for this amorphous chaos, a love that was filial and affirmative. ‘Chaos sive natura’, as Lawrence Hatab notes (Hatab 14). This affirmation seems at odds with the need to learn the necessities, necessities of life. It is a tension that comes out in that curous antithetical axiom that Nieztsche offers us, Amor Fati.  ‘I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things: then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.  Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth…’ (GS 276 in Hatab 20).

The tension, between affirming the chaos and affirming the learning of the necessities, resolves, for Hatab, through a reading of the Nietzsche that foregrounds his ideas about the Greek tragic centrality of the agon.  Hatab offers us an ‘existential naturalism’ in his Nietzsche, a meaningful compromise of meaning and science.  This is a naturalism that seems to accept science yet with the caveat that this type of naturalism is ‘not a reductive naturalism in terms of scientific categories, but an embrace of the finite limit conditions of world existence as the new measure of thought’ (Hatab 7).  This type of caveat, however, is highly problematic.

For Hatab the existential naturalism of Nietzsche will entail learning specific necessities, necessities that derive from an ontology of differential drives and entwined tensions that Nietzsche posits in his concept of the ‘will to power’.  At the heart of those entailments is a general axiom regarding infinity and the infinity of truth in particular. For Hatab’s Nietzsche appears to deny an atemporal essence of truth and in doing so also deny truth any temporal infinity.

Hatab’s sketches what he calls a chronophobia, a condition diagnosed by Nietzsche with regard to the nature of Western thought.


Lawrence Hatab, Nietzsche’s Life Sentence: Coming to Terms with Eternal Recurrence, Routledge, 2005

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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