Clouds, Twisting and Twining (1 of 5)

In David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, there’s a heady brew of post-Christian metaphysics, which is heavily influenced by Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power and eternal recurrence. Which in turn is heavily influenced by Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will to life. Of course, both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer labor in the long shadow of Kant. So by the transitive power invested in me by the golden state of California, I hereby pronounce that David Mitchell’s apple has fallen from Kant’s tree. Huh? Come, follow me. The basics of Kant’s metaphysics are tolerably clear. The world of appearance consists of things we can know and study through the arts and sciences. We can conceive of a reality independent of what we experience. This is Kant’s noumenal reality. Because there’s a categorial difference between appearance (which we can know) and noumenon (which we can’t), we can never know the intrinsic nature of reality. Schopenhauer adopts Kant’s appearance / thing-in-itself distinction but claims that we can know the intrinsic nature of noumenal reality. It’s will to life, a blind ceaseless striving for self-preservation. For Schopenhauer, everything consists of will, from stones and apples, to earwigs and beetles, to chimps and men and women. Everything, without exception. According to Nietzsche, however, Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will to life ignores a remarkable feature of the human condition. There’s something more important than self-preservation, and we’re often willing to risk life and limb for it. Power. The elite rock climber risks life to chart a daring new route. The artist forgoes warmth and comfort to create an innovative aesthetic vision. The politician defies public opinion to advance a set of narrow interests. Nietzsche has several different conceptions of the will to power. And while they don’t always jive well together, the basic idea is simple enough: The will to power is the ability to lead one’s life in a way that is maximally consistent with one’s conception of how it should be lived, come what, come may. Behind the twisting, twining world of appearance, then, there is something that remains the same — for Schopenhauer, it’s will; Nietzsche, power. Mitchell? Well, you’ll just have to await my eternal return…

2 Responses to Clouds, Twisting and Twining (1 of 5)

  1. Colleen says:

    Your post itself is a metaphysical puzzle – perfect for discussing Cloud Atlas!

  2. Kevin Neilson says:

    I even gabbed palindromically: first Nietsche, then Schop, and finally Kant, and then S and back to N again. Of course, such subltety appears to be entirely accidental. Anyhow, finished my re-read of CA and feel rather plucky for it. Hope your weekend was a good one. Cheers, K

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