Plotinus wrote: ‘But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.’ The Enneads I.6.9
Nietzsche wrote: ‘Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: the artistic power of the whole of nature reveals itself to the supreme gratification of the primal Oneness amidst the paroxysms of intoxication. The noblest clay, the most precious marble, man, is kneaded and hewn here, and to the chisel-blows of the Dionysiac world-artist there echoes the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries, ‘Do you bow low, multitudes? Do you sense the Creator, world?’ The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music
As Christ had John the Baptist, Dionysus and the ‘higher man’ had Nietzsche. This man of god who derivatively (of Lutheranism, of Hegel and of the egoist Max Stirner – ‘Saint Max’ to Marx and Engels) told us ‘God is dead’ – so that his god may enter centre stage – built his philosophy on a simile of Plotinus that recurred over and again in his, as a metaphor (as it has throughout our culture, prior to and post Nietzsche). This tortured lover of ‘life’ had as a goal that which he knew was impossible – a mystical perfection of self in this world. Given this, the direction of his life was inevitable.
From The Birth of Tragedy to the final so-called aphorism of The Will to Power – which contains a synopsis of The Enneads – the bond is unbroken between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Neoplatonism – particularly The Enneads.
The will to power of Nietzsche (as did the world as will of Schopenhauer) derives from The Enneads in which the Good wills itself and all else. It boils with willing. Its emanations are manifestations of its willing. Again, free will (and this before Augustine) carries the soul of the contemplator back to the Good, to itself. Ennead VI tractate 8 is on ‘Free Will and the Will of the One’.
Nietzsche’s perspectivism is based on what he called ‘the limits of reason’. As with the ‘limits of language’ of his fellow disingenuous mystic Wittgenstein (Heraclitus without the Heraclitus), Neoplatonism and particularly Plotinus are the source. The impossibility of facts for Nietzsche – this lover of ‘truth’ – is set against the impossibility of Absolute Truth and the ineffable, not a deepening relative truth by which it was once correctly held that the earth is flat.
Nietzsche subscribed to ‘free will’ no less than did Kant – but for Nietzsche it was the ‘free will’ of the ‘higher man’.
He subscribed to a connection between morality and imperative no less than did Kant, but for him it was the imperative of the ‘immoralist’.
Nietzsche’s at best contradictoriness, at worst – hypocrisy – was free-wheeling and through his rhetorical skill he demanded we submit and be swept along. Behind his lyricism, he was the ultimate bower bird, the ultimate used-car salesman.
The writing of Nietzsche, as with that of other German romantic philosophers, is steeped in Neoplatonism – where romanticism, there Neoplatonism. But this is only one brief period in Western culture. We could discuss the influence of Plotinus and apophaticism in the visual arts, in literature, in music and more, in this and other periods. Every university in this country at which philosophy is taught runs courses on Plato and Aristotle, but to my knowledge never one, once, on a figure of equal significance – Plotinus. Vanderbilt University is the one university I know of in the West where such courses have been run, for several years – by William Franke.
The suppression of this pervasive current in Western philosophy (which I refer to as the pornography of philosophy – assiduously studied by predominantly male philosophers, and its influence on their work dissembled about and denied) by academic philosophers is a disgrace and a profound failure of intellectual and social responsibility. A display of the most determined, ideologically motivated ignorance.
My questions are these:
Are we so ashamed of ourselves that we cannot look openly at who we are and at what has contributed so significantly to forming us – even as we draw on its creative power?
How much longer – particularly at a time of an immense global and cultural re-orientation – must we in the West cling to the myopic arrogance that we are the bearers of ‘reason’ while those in other cultures stare at their navels or are obsessed with filial piety?
Where are the barriers between ‘reason’ and emotions, ‘reason’ and intuition, ‘reason’ and what our brains do when we day-dream and when we are asleep, between ‘reason’ and all those other brain functions ‘below it’?
How else can these questions be addressed other than on a material basis?