Neither Free nor Unfree

Emily: What are you saying, then, that we don’t have freedom?

Tyrone: It’s neither one.  I agree with Nietzsche when he said that we are as mistaken to speak about unfree will as we are to speak about free will.

Emily: Where did he say that?  I’ve tried to read some of Nietzsche’s work, but it seems that he has a penchant for saying things he doesn’t really mean, as if he’s taunting you.

Tyrone: I understand, and I think you’re right, that he is taunting us at times, as anyone has to do who’s lost–well, truth.  But I think we can trust him here, in Beyond Good and Evil; after all, he said it was the nay-saying, or the critical, part of the larger project we find in Zarathustra, which is the yea-saying part and the work he most cherished out of all the works of his career.

Emily: So what do you think it is, then, when you do something?  I mean, if you’re neither free nor unfree, if you don’t have a will, because–I remember Nietzsche saying this, and it had to be one of the most provocative things I ever heard him utter–will is a chimera, a stupid word we have placed rather bluntly on a host of subtle phenomena.

Tyrone: Well, not exactly in those words.  But yes, he was suspicious of will.  That’s because his greatest teacher and influence, Schopenhauer, made will into the fundament of all things.  Nietzsche felt that such a foundation, such a founding of the world on the basis of will, only inflames the sense of responsibility and guilt in the world, especially when it comes to pointing out others’ faults.  Nietzsche didn’t countenance those instances where a man or woman tries to attribute responsibility to another; he thought that responsibility is something we discover on our own, when we take responsibility for ourselves in strength, responsibility for what, at bottom–if we still want to use this metaphysical phrase–is the responsibility of no one, is caused by no one.

Emily: So what is it, then?  If you’re neither free nor unfree, what bids you do anything?

Tyrone: Play.

Emily: Did Nietzsche say that too, and where?

Tyrone: If he did ever say it, he never did so explicitly.  No, this is something of an intuition, or a conclusion after long pondering, or somehow both.  I came to feel that there is nothing more fitting than play when it comes to trying to speak of our actions, of what makes us what we are, of the character of things as we find them and as we find ourselves with them and within them.

            Why are you asking this, in the first place?  Is it because I did something last night that demands an account?  I have to admit to you, Emily, I don’t quite remember the entire course of the night.  I can piece together some moments before leaving the bar, but besides that the pieces fall apart.  We left with two friends, we invited them inside, but I can’t get more of a picture than that, even if I try in deadly earnest.

Emily: It’s okay.  It’s happened to me before.  It’s happened to everyone, I think we can say, who’s tried to have a little–perhaps a little too much–fun with friends as the night rolls on.  We came back to the house with Ryan and Chelsea, yes, just as you remember, but then you said something to all three of us that made us either want to shudder or run away, or do both at the same time if that was at all possible.

            And when we asked you, You can’t possibly mean that, Tyrone? you made it seem as if you’ve never meant nothing more than just this.  But we kept prying you to get more substance out of such a rash saying, and when finally Ryan interrupted our conversation and told you In all my life, I’ve never heard something so inconsistent, you at first stumbled back towards the front door, but in five or ten minutes you came back, obviously offended, and made it seem that you were willing to throw yourself into violence as a result of such a minor piece of misunderstanding.

Tyrone: What is it that I said?  As I told you, there’s a lot of the night that escapes me now.  That they came over: that I remember.  I can’t recall, though, any conversation, or ever getting angry because of it.  So what did I say?

Emily: Well, I don’t want to steer off on that course, and it didn’t seem worthy to even bring up again until this morning you muttered before going to the bathroom–in your gruff voice of the morning, as though it were sagging with weights–that you didn’t see any point, anyways, in such a dispute, that we’re all colliding together, or something like that.

Tyrone: Oh, yeah, I did say that this morning to you.  There is something disturbing about always wanting to find behind what we do some purpose, and I woke up, groggy and muddy-headed as I was, feeling that I was wronged or wronged someone last night, though I couldn’t say who, or when, or how, or why, though I tried when I first awoke and had your sleeping body quiet next to mine, when my eyes slit open in order to stare at the stucco on the ceiling.  Oh, the thought came to me then, Em: How meaningless it all is, trying to contain ourselves in schemes of freedom, trying to remain free, and at all costs!

            I did mean what I said to you this morning, and this is how things come down to play: There are forces, and what makes up you are some of them and what makes up me are some of them, and they play with one another most violently, crashing into one another and changing trajectories without warning.  Out of this mess we call our lives, we segment, or a part of our organism segments–it would be unbearable, living with the whole host of forces all the time, or even a good-sized chunk of them!–highlights a small, chopped off bit, of this arena in order to make a more manageable zone, where action and reaction make sense, where one thing follows another and then another, where there’s a nicely shaped area of cares and concerns, of intentions and feelings, of projects and the power to commence or renounce that project.

Emily: That’s what I wanted to get down to: what makes up our doing.  And you said it there: it’s a host of forces colliding into one another recklessly and without any responsibility.  I suppose, at least, that you are in full support of this peg of Nietzsche’s project, what we were discussing earlier?

Tyrone: Yes, but I still wish you would tell me what else I told you last night, you and Chelsea and Ryan.

Emily: Oh, we’ll get to that.  They are, after all, connected.  Now, I feel they are more intimately connected than I at first thought. 

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s