Yesterday I attended the second day of an online Nietzsche conference. It was interesting and it also reminded me of the first time I was at one of these conferences in person. People that read my blog know that I am interested in philosophy in general and Nietzsche in specific but you also know that I work as a boat builder and carpenter and that I don’t live the life of a scholar. The thing that amazed me the first time, and what I remembered yesterday was that they talk about Nietzsche and his work like I do about nails and wood when I am around my work colleagues. Yesterday morning I was discussing the age of the beams we were replacing of an old train station and how we would proceed, later that day I listen to scholars presenting and discussing why this and that part of book x is in contradiction with such and such chapter in book Y. It’s just something I notice and amazes me that no matter what there will always be discussion at work, it makes me wonder if this interaction is more important than the content discussed.
When I was hanging around with fellow boat builders at conferences I was always amazed by the detailed knowledge some of them had and how their eyes lit up when they talked about certain old boats or famous boat builder. I saw that also yesterday when these Nietzsche experts discussed their papers and display their in-depth knowledge about Nietzsche’s work, it makes me humble.
Because of circumstances I never finished my path towards becoming a professor in Philosophy. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t spent the last 20 years learning how to become a good craftsman but instead focused all my attention on Philosophy. It is not that I cannot follow them when they discuss their papers but they have a deeper knowledge of philosophy while I barely touche the surface and maybe dive in a little deeper in some parts. But I know that the life of a professor is not all reading books and thinking about it, you are also a teacher and this is takes up most of their time. I still wouldn’t mind having colleagues for a while that discuss philosophy because it is part of the work and not because I religiously raise the topic with my fellow carpenter colleagues.
Another similarity between carpenters and professors is the way each individual approaches problems. You might say that there are two ways to tackle a problem, you can fall anywhere in between these two but for clarity I use the two extremes. I worked as a boat builder for most of my career and working with wood on a bout is different compared to for example a house, there are not many straight lines on a boat and most houses have plenty. You can imagine that cutting a plank the same length as a straight wall is not that difficult, cutting a plank that has to fit a wall with a radius, or a boat hull that is rounded is more of a challenge. After many years I can now measure a few lengths and look at the radius and different angels, imprint them, so to say, in my mind and copy them over to another piece of wood. Other carpenters that have mainly worked in houses with straight line would make elaborate measurements of these curves and try to use these measurements to make the new peace fit. There is not a good or bad way they are just different. The way I work now is more of a gamble based on experience and fine tuned senses, the other method can be more secure but it also assumes that you can measure everything, in effect also a gamble.
I will elaborate more using two kinds of scholars that also approach the Nietzsche study in these different ways. There are scholars that go from clearly defined opinions they read in Nietzsche’s books to a set of other clearly defined opinions in one of his other books and put a straight line in between and take that as a basis for their interpretation of Nietzsche in this or that specific subject. That is all fine but if someone introduces another opinion of Nietzsche just outside the straight line, the straight line is no longer feasible and you have to start over or adjust, measure more. The way other scholars (and I) read Nietzsche is more along the line of me looking at a bend or shape of a hull and trusting my feelings to put that bend on a new piece of wood. These scholars read Nietzsche more as someone (Nietzsche) that points in certain directions without showing where that point factually is, you have to trust your understanding and experience with Nietzsche and imagine the bend of his thought and bring that over to your own work. You have to trust your feelings and dare to take a step without knowing if there is solid ground ahead, very Nietzsche in my opinion…
Because we all like to defend our own methods off working, I prefer my method but to be honest, at the end it is all the same. If I would time and judge my work as a carpenter end compare the results with that of a colleague of mine that approaches work differently, we would probably end up with similar results in similar circumstances. The same goes for Nietzsche scholars I think, but Nietzsche would probably be turning in his grave any way if he knew how many thousands of times his books are dissected by now instead of understood. This is also his own fault, he should have built a solid house with straight walls and a sturdy foundation if he wanted to be assured that his massages is understood and where later philosophers can easily repair that what is rotten, but all he did was to make a beautiful boat out of a thousand little pieces of bend wood and set it adrift…. with no sure* in sight…
*I hope Nietzsche is not turning in his grave because I am so cheesy here, i know he likes a joke.)