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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Nietzsche's Metaphors

And so, apropos of almost nothing, here are my five favourite Friedrich Nietzsche metaphors:

1. When virtue has slept, she will get up more refreshed.
2. It is not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, that the lover of knowledge is reluctant to step into its waters.
3. One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one’s destiny to cling to.
4. Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?
5. Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier, and simpler. [1]

Nietzsche is making some serious points here of course, but for Nietzsche – and this is why he remains relevant not just to philosophers but to all writers, including copywriters – the substantive content and claims of a piece of writing were only ever one part of the story. What drove him as a philosopher was the idea that philosophy can change people’s attitudes, and what gives philosophy this power, he thought, are all the stylistic devices philosophers have at their disposal when they sit down to write. So when we read Nietzsche we get passages full of aphorisms, jokes, personal reflections – and vivid, intelligible metaphors nevertheless marked by that sort-of lateral quality which lets us understand something in a more immediate way [2]. As a copy-editor and writer, I deal with metaphors probably on a daily basis, and I still look to Nietzsche’s for inspiration. To me, they’re one of philosophy’s minor marvels.

[1] 1. is from Human All Too Human (1878), 2. and 3. are from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885), 4. is from Twilight of the Idols (1888), and 5. is from The Gay Science (1882).
[2] A good overview of Nietzsche and Nietzsche’s style is Brian Leiter’s chapter in The Oxford Handbook of German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (there is an “essentially final” version of the chapter available on Leiter’s Nietzsche blog); for some interesting reflections on metaphors (set to animation), see Jane Hirschfield’s talk ‘The Art of the Metaphor’.

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