What did Nietzsche mean by monsters and the abyss?

  • What do you think Nietzsche meant by "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." (Beyond Good and Evil, 146)? What kind of monster? What does it mean to look into an abyss?

    Rage is what fuels a monster. For example, Achilles' rage towards Agamemnon. He would have killed the latter had not Athena and Hera intervened. Staring into an abyss and seeing nothing but void (it appears black) would frighten me. I'm afraid that's the best I could do.

  • user9166

    user9166 Correct answer

    6 years ago

    This is one of the aspects of Nietzsche that is easily overlooked by people who want to see him as simply nihilistic and destructive.

    For Nietzsche, the construction of the self is not a religious act, an obligation, or an act of submission to nature, as variously seen by 'moralities' -- it is an art form. In The Gay Science he says something to the order of 'One must make of one's Self a work of art, carving away something here, growing something there, repurposing some mass of unavoidable ugliness elsewhere to present a more pleasant view from the distance...' (I do not have a copy here, and I cannot find it online, if someone can give me the words...)

    A monster is one whose 'self' lacks 'art'.

    Power may be the medium of morality, and its goal, but tasteless use of power is like tasteless use of any other medium. To see his aesthetic, you can look at his own artistic process, which he displayed over and over again by choosing mythological or poetic representations, or you can look at his critiques of other's work. Particularly, I think it is why he bothered to publish 'contra Wagner'.

    He accuses Wagner's music of being an assault on the audience, brandishing its scale in a way that shocks the senses and bruises the organs, and of having too little consistency and comprehensibility -- winding an endless melody, rather than a theme.

    In this context, I think the quote about monsters indicates there are aesthetic choices that we should restrain ourselves from making even though they would be effective. We should choose scale, elegance and consistency. If others' use of power lacks art, we should not simply confront them with more power, if that involves less art. We should restrain ourselves.

    In particular, I think 'an abyss' is a sort of monster, the monster of complete cynicism and true nihilism -- the completely empty man that early 'beatnik' post-modernism seems to favor. There is always power to be uncovered by renunciation of boundaries, but pursuing an utter lack of restraining form leaves one 'powerfully empty', and perhaps incapable of recovering one's artistic nature.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a well written account of what he meant; great Lord, I think I've turned into such a monster.

    I didn't mean to be scary, just to emphasize how prescient I think the notion was. Most of us have a lot of 'abyss' in us nowadays -- we tend to 'wind an endless melody with no theme'. Relative to personal aesthetics, Wagner won, classical notions of restraint have just become less prevalent. Even though Nietzsche was pushing in this direction with great force, he knew how many people were most likely to go too far. (His analysis of Christianity basically told him social forces tend to go too far well before the problem they are overreacting to abates, and then to continue going farther.)

    Nothingness and emptiness frightens me because the only knowledge I possess, that cannot be doubted, is one day I, and all others at some moment in time, shall cease to exist (i.e. die). Listen to what Hector said, "Unless it is my fate, I will not be slain, but no man (or woman), brave or cowardly, ever escapes death once he or she has been born." Death sounds like a dark place, but then we will not have a mind to experience anything. On the other hand, Epicurus noted death is meaningless to us, for while we are alive death is not.

    @MichaelLee: "The wheel of Fortune turns, I go down, demeaned; another is raised up; far too high up sits the king at the summit - let him fear ruin! For under the axis, is written 'Queen Hecuba.'.." - lyrics from the poem used for Orff's Carmina Burana. Hecuba was the mother of Hector, who had 19 children, all slain, and died in the madness and ruin of grief for her lost city of Troy and her family.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM