- Nietzsche’s Life Sentence: Coming to Terms with Eternal Recurrence
In his latest book, Lawrence Hatab brings together several threads from his previous writing into an elegant expression that examines a wide range of Nietzsche's thought through the single prism of his notoriously obscure conception of "Eternal Recurrence." The opening chapters establish the affirmation of becoming and the "tragic" view of the world (which Nietzsche had already articulated in his earliest book) as central to the entire spectrum of his writing. Chronological shifts in Nietzsche's expression away from this tragic outlook are not suggestive of stringently exclusive temporal periods in his thought but, in themselves, illustrate an "agonistic perspectivism" wherein certain thought postures perform a corrective or delimiting role meant to expand the dialectical character of Nietzsche's thought. Hatab believes that the cosmological presentation of the Eternal Recurrence found in Nietzsche's later notebooks should thus be received as one "perspectival participant" in the more encompassing question of the value-of-life affirmation within the ceaseless repetition of our tragic existence.
Hatab's detail of the Eternal Recurrence in chapters 4 and 5 is his richest philosophical presentation and his most original contribution to Nietzschean scholarship. Although rather conventional in his emphasis on the existential-force of the Eternal Recurrence (i.e., its meaning for the way we live our existence), Hatab is more creative in attempting to overcome the problem raised for such existentialist projects of self-instantiation. Even if a "factually true" cosmological conception of Eternal Recurrence is impossible, as has often been demonstrated, we readers of Nietzsche must listen seriously to his "call to affirm Eternal Recurrence." Hatab's move is to uphold Recurrence as not "factually" valid but as "literally" true. Readers should approach Eternal Recurrence with about the same degree of conceptual criticism as the Greeks would have done in listening to their dramatic performances: we ought to "suspend our disbelief" in a moment of "mimetic identification" with the "literal," if not "factual," truth of the drama. We readers should believe Eternal Recurrence as a "quasi-religious revelation," in the same manner Nietzsche himself claims to have been convinced.
The call to affirm the literal truth of Recurrence is not a mandate to "approve" the eternal repetition of every event, irrespective of how morally repugnant that event may be. Contrary to some interpreters, affirming the perpetual re-occurrence of the holocaust does not imply the desire for the holocaust to recur, for in affirming the recurrence of that event, we also affirm our attitude of moral repugnance to it. To affirm the tragic world of becoming, we must affirm agonistic (or competitive) tensionalities between opposing values without reducing those tensions to any one-sided resolution. So construed, Nietzsche's Will to Power appears not as a drive to destroy or invalidate alterity, but as a call to embrace otherness as the condition of this competitively-structured life itself. Hatab's Nietzsche does not oppose otherness, but only the effort to place it in a binary scheme of opposition with the intention of nullifying the value of alterity as a part—even if a terrible part—of life.
In chapter 6, there is a useful, if oversimplified, classification of the various articulations of Eternal Recurrence, ranging from the historical positions of Löwith and Heidegger to the contemporary presentations of Magnus and Soll. Hatab's assessment of the "Existentialist" reading here would have been helpful earlier in the book, as it only now demarcates the line between those readings and Hatab's own emphasis on the "existentialist call and test" of Eternal Recurrence. That line is drawn when conventional "existentialist" interpretations abandon the "literal" truth of Eternal Recurrence, which, in doing so, deflate the efficacy of Eternal Recurrence as a life-altering doctrine. Chapter 7 analyzes certain philosophical issues regarding the compatibility of Recurrence with Nietzsche's conceptions of creativity and the nature of truth. Particularly important, though, again—and this should at least have been mentioned earlier—is Hatab's illumination of Nietzsche...