Amor fati is now presented in the first person, and not as an ideal but as a realised state (‘my inmost nature’, ‘the bottom of my nature’). Nietzsche does not offer any reasons to try to convince us of the desirability of loving fate, but a reflective description of how things appear to someone who is in such a state.
This may be seen as an implicit acknowledgement of the motivational gap identified above; it also reflects his conviction that philosophy is a way of life rather than a theory about life: it has to be lived through to be genuinely understood.Very significantly, the passage which explicitly links amor fati to the eternal return is introduced as follows: ‘philosophy, as I have hitherto understood and lived it… (…). Such a philosophy as I live (…) wants to cross over to a Dionysian affirmation of the world (etc.)’. It follows from this that the meaning of amor fati is not reducible to a pure conceptual content: it is inseparable from the first person experiences that are both expressive of and governed by it. Correlatively, what may have looked like arguments or requirements for the erotic love of fate are in fact observations about the sort of experiences entailed by the state once it is achieved in its agapic form. In particular, the quotes previously given in support of the apparent requirement that each part of our life should be valued positively for its own sake are prefaced with ‘it is part of this state to perceive not merely the necessity of those sides of existence hitherto denied, but their desirability (…) for their own sake’.
That the agapic lover does not experience the negative as such anymore should be understood as a description of the consequences of loving as being in a specific state, not as reasons for us to enter that state (which we cannot do at will anyway). Furthermore, and importantly, any attempt to construe these observations as reasons would be self-defeating because the experiential worth of such states could only be fully understood retrospectively, from the value-bestowing perspective of amor fati itself.
The would-be erotic lover, who is in need of motivation, could not understand the ‘reasons’ that would make fate lovable; conversely, the agapic lover, who would be in a position to understand them, does not need them.
This, however, makes the issue of genesis more acute. If amor fati cannot be rationally motivated or willed into existence, how will it come into being? Note that by virtue both of its irreducibility to a conceptual content and of the lack of rational justification for it, there cannot be any de iure answer to these questions, only empirical accounts such as the autobiographical observations made by Nietzsche about his own experience of amor fati. I shall now explore two possible ways that emerge from his writings. The first one is the eternal return, construed this time not as a thought experiment but as an imaginative and emotionally charged scenario meant to generate amor fati in a performative manner.The second, paradoxically, consists in the experience of suffering itself, understood under certain conditions.
This agapic reading opens up a second and more fruitful way of understanding the function of the eternal return: not as a thought experiment meant to give us a standpoint from which we can rationally assess the value of our life and come to a decision, but as a poetic scenario that we are On such an interpretation, the eternal return has ‘disclosive force’: the internalisation of the scenario is per se an operator of existential change. In this respect, note that the possibility of a positive answer is introduced by a reference to the ‘experience of a tremendous moment’ .
In Ecce Homo Nietzsche describes the revelatory power of such moments as follows: ‘with indescribable certainty and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes one to the last depths and throws one down’. Notice also that the demon does not start by asking a bare-faced question such as ‘would you want to live your life all over again?’ (such as Clark’s question: ‘would you want to marry me all over again?’). On the contrary, he presents us with a metaphorical and powerful description of what it might feel like for us to have this particular moment, ‘even this spider and this moonlight between the trees’, recur. And significantly, the possible ‘answers’ outlined are neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’ but specific attitudes (‘gnashing our teeth’, being ‘crushed’ or on the contrary becoming ‘well disposed to oneself and one’s life’).meant to enact imaginatively, in a way that reveals to us how we feel about our life in a single, potentially life-changing moment.
This performative dimension of the eternal return is explicitly referred to by Nietzsche: ‘if this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are and perhaps crush you’. While these may be seen as expressive of a propositional content, they do not state it and it would be difficult to construe them as conclusions reached through hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Correlatively, the yes-saying mentioned by should not be construed as a constative speech act (in this case an assertion, but in a performative way: just as the ‘yes’ of the marriage vow both expresses our love and actualises our commitment, in the same way, saying ‘yes’ to the eternal return is not judging our life worth living again and again and assenting to what is entailed by that judgment, but committing ourselves to living in the light of that experience. Yet there is an important asymmetry between the ‘yes’ of the marriage vow and the ‘yes’ to the eternal return. While the first is fully up to us, the second comes to us (or not) at the peak of our imaginative internalisation of the eternal return. Nietzsche makes this clear in his description of his own experience: ‘one hears, one does not seek; one accepts, one does not ask who gives; like lightning, a thought flashes up, with necessity’.Once more, the mediopassive modality typical of agapic love is in force: we can decide to ‘play the game’ and take the scenario seriously (rather than inquire about its validity conditions), and how intensely we internalise it does matter, but we do not control the process and its outcome isn’t up to us.
Yet even if the commitment to amor fati did arise is us, there would seem to be an inherent fragility to it. It may be entirely sincere at the time it is made, and yet fade away once the rather dramatic conditions of its genesis have disappeared. The thought may ‘gain possession of us’ in the paradoxical instant of our performative commitment, but can it retain its hold on us durably? Perhaps, but perhaps not. However there is another, possibly more durable way: suffering itself.Nietzsche offers a very rich, first-person phenomenology of suffering, and his narratives are both the expression and the illustration of the transfiguration of the negative which is characteristic of agapic love. Consider the following passage:
Here it happened in a manner that I cannot admire sufficiently that, precisely at thright time, my father’s wicked heritage came to my aid ⎯ at bottom, predestination to an early death. Sickness detached me slowly: (…) It bestowed on me the necessity of lying still, of leisure, of waiting and being patient ⎯ but that meant, of thinking.
From an erotic standpoint, ‘predestination to an early death’ would probably be one of the strongest possible objections to loving fate, and so would having the sort of sickness that may cause our death. Yet in Nietzsche’s narrative both are perceived as blessings (‘in a manner that I cannot admire sufficiently’… it bestowed on me…’)How is this agapic reversal possible? Three things are worth noting from the outset: firstly, not any suffering will do. Only protracted and intense suffering, an ‘icing up in the middle of youth, that ‘long slow pain in which we are burned like green wood’may have a transfiguring effect. The reason is presumably that unless it is intense or long-lasting enough, the suffering will be discounted as an annoying but insignificant hindrance. And if it can be lessened, we are much more likely to seek any possible course of action (traditional or alternative medicines, surgery, etc.) that might bring about its decrease than to undergo an existential change. Our focus will be outward, not inward.
By contrast, the need to ‘patiently resist a terrible, long pressure ⎯ (…) patiently, without submitting, but also without hope’may open the possibility of loving fate for the sufferer. Secondly, should amor fati come to us, this would not mean the end of our pain: the sort of overcoming of suffering and of the self that Nietzsche describes does not involve moving to a painless state, an important point to which I shall come back. Finally, and importantly, note that just like that of agapic love, the modality of our relation to suffering is mediopassive: that we suffer is beyond our control, and there are limits to what we can do about it; yet crucially, we can to some extent influence the manner in which we exist our pain.
It is this ability to exist our pain in particular ways which opens up the possibility of fostering amor fati. This may sound paradoxical as it is by definition impossible to know in advance its shape or effects, and its advent is not within our control: so how can we prepare for it? Nietzsche’s autobiographical reflections suggest that in response to suffering we can develop three features which are propitious to amor fati because they thwart the alternative existential possibilities which constantly threaten the sufferer, namely self-pity, resignation and self-deception. The first two of these features are courage and moral strength. Amor fati is not the outcome of a quietist attitude to suffering: on the contrary, Nietzsche remarks on the ‘long war such as I then waged with myself against the pessimism of weariness with life’.Another passage refers the ‘ultimate, most joyous (…) yes to life’ of amor fati to ‘courage, and as a condition of that, an excess of strength’.
Along the same lines, an unpublished passage about amor fati mentions ‘courage, severity towards oneself, cleanliness towards oneself’.These qualities are needed to counteract the rise of self-pity or nihilistic resignation. To my knowledge, Nietzsche does not say much about the first (although he has a lot to say about pity for others, none of it positive),perhaps because he does not seem to have experienced its temptation himself. Yet self-pity would make amor fati impossible for three reasons: firstly, it implies that one feels ‘hard done by’ or treated in an unjust and undeserved manner.
This, in turn, entails assumptions about providence (in particular the idea that one should be treated in proportion to one’s perceived merits) which Nietzsche finds both unwarranted and undesirable. Secondly, self-pity tends to divert our attention to favoured alternative scenarios and thus to foster resentment towards the existing situation. Finally, it reveals deep existential limitations on the part of the sufferer, in particular the desire to protect oneself from pain at any cost without realising that the most valuable things in human life can only come to us if we open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt: ‘if you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall any possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you harbour (…) the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness’. Like the
Last Men in Zarathustra, the self-pitier seeks to ‘move south’ rather than risk hardship cultivating harsher lands. Yet it is only from such risks that higher human possibilities, including the ‘new kind of happiness’ brought by amor fati, can arise.