Nietzsche's Discourses of Forgetting

Dissertation, Depaul University (1994)

This dissertation examines Friedrich Nietzsche's understanding of forgetting. Through a reading of his texts The Birth of Tragedy, "The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life," and On the Genealogy of Morals, I argue that he understands forgetting to be necessary, ambivalent, and transformative for existence as a whole. As necessary, ambivalent, and transformative, forgetting is always at work, for example, in the creation of tragic art, thinking and acting historically, and coming to grips with the dominance of ascetic ideals by way of genealogical diagnosis. In each of these examples, which correspond to the aforementioned texts, forgetting is involved in the creation of the knowledge needed for these actions. Specifically, forgetting makes all knowledge possible by displacing and repressing the human's immediate relationship with existence. This "first order" forgetting is in turn forgotten as soon as we begin to know or evaluate. The creation of values thus involves the forgetting that gives rise to the process in the first place. The highest values dupe forgetting into reacting against whatever does not serve them, and take themselves to be the repository of true reality. However, this dominance of reaction leads to the crisis of nihilism, and so generates the need to counter this withdrawal of meaning with a return to what Nietzsche calls an "active" forgetting. Active forgetting returns to the immediacy of existence for new value-creation, and new comportments toward existence. This new condition would be a knowing that knows the need for various types of forgetting, the ambivalence of forgetting in value-creation, and the transformative possibilities that lie within forgetting. It is a life whose relationship to values would render it utterly different from what either Nietzsche or we now experience. In sum, if we were to follow Nietzsche, forgetting could be understood not primarily as negative, but positive and enabling
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