Thursday, April 12, 2007

When Nietzsche Wept

Recently I read When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obssession by Irvin D. Yalom available from Amazon or Powell's Books. It's a fictional story of the German philosopher meeting with an Austrian physician, Joseph Breuer, who was Sigmund Freud's mentor and one of the founders of psychoanalysis. The book deals with depression and investigates how philosophy and conversation work to help us deal with despair. One paragraph struck me with its powerful expression of the need to use reason to evaluate life's turmoil and for its powerful rejection of religion:

[W]henever we abandon rationality and use lower faculties to influence men, we end up with a lower and cheaper man. When you say you want something that works [relieve your despair], you mean that you want something that can influence emotions. Well, there are experts in that! And who are they? The priests! They know the secrets of influence! They manipulate with inspiring music, they dwarf us with towering spires and soaring naves, they encourage the lust for submission, they proffer supernatural guidance, protection from death, even immortality. But look at the price they extract -- religious thralldom; reverence for the weak; statis; hatred of the body, of joy, of this world. No, we can't use these tranquilizing, antihuman methods! We must find better ways of honing our powers of reason.
The book gave a concrete context to Nietzsche's philosophy and was an interesting expression of his philosophy. But it also made me realize just how new psychology and psychiatry are as intellectual disciplines.

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