The NEW Philosoflicks 1: Nietzsche Does Hollywood.


F. Nietzsche, How the “True World” Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error*

  1. The true world — attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.
Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, with Biblically Big Hair, carrying the eponymous items on “stone” tablet studio props. Nietzsche is saying (i) that classical philosophers believed in a fundamental distinction between (ia) the hidden “true world,” aka God aka REALITY, intuitable via reason, and (ib) manifest mere appearances, perceivable through the human senses, which inevitably cloak that “true world” and forever impede our cognitive access to it, and also (ii) that an elite cult of human animals (“the sage, the pious, the virtuous man”), amongst whom are the classical philosophers themselves, and the initiates of that cult alone, have direct cognitive access to that “true world.”
Plato’s conception of the “Forms” was the earliest Western philosophical conception of the “true world,” aka God aka REALITY. Here Sal Mineo, as John “Plato” Crawford, gazing at Plato’s Forms, is thinking “I, Plato, am the truth,” and James Dean, as Jim Stark, gazing in wonder at Mineo/Plato, is thinking “How in God’s name does he do that?,” in Rebel Without a Cause.
As I’ve pointed out, and as Nietzsche implies, God is just another name for the “true world,” aka Plato’s Forms, aka REALITY. Heston/Moses here is looking in wonder at God’s perceivable manifestation, the Burning Bush, in Stunning VistaVision no less. According to the incomparable and infallible Holy Wikipedia, in this scene Heston/Moses also provided “the voice of God as the Burning Bush in a low register.” Nietzsche is saying that the cult of those who are permitted cognitive access to the “true world”— the cult of “the sage, the pious, the virtuous man (‘for the sinner who repents’)” — is a highly exclusive club indeed, with special admission requirements. After suffering a bit, Heston/Moses now belongs to the club.
A mere appearance (studio poster) of a mere appearance (Sister Luke, aka Gabrielle “Gaby” Van Der Mal), of a mere appearance (Audrey Hepburn playing a role in a movie) of a real human being (Audrey herself). Nietzsche-wise, as Sister Luke, and especially in this poster, she embodies the “subtle, insidious, incomprehensible” idea of the “true world” as “it becomes female, Christian.”
But doesn’t she look infinitely more beautiful in the movie, at only two degrees of separation from the real human being Hepburn, than in the poster? Ultimately, Sister Luke/Gaby/Audrey rejects her nun-driven cult of the “true world,” aka God aka Plato’s Forms aka REALITY, in favor of “the enhancement of individual and cultural health, and … in life, creativity, power, and down-to-earth realities, rather than those situated in a world beyond.” You go!, Nietzsche-girl:
Ray Milland, as Dr James Xavier in “X”: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, makes a Faustian pact with the new God, post-atomic-bomb Natural Science, for a shot at cognitive access to the “unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable” so-called “true world,” aka God aka Plato’s Forms aka REALITY, by torturing the natural world with scientific experiments until it gives him x-ray vision. Alas, it turns him into a monster who can see the sub-atomic world, but can’t even see the mere appearances. And after he hallucinates about an “eye that sees us all” in the center of the universe, he plucks out both of his own.
“[E]lusive, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian”: this fits Immanuel Kant’s Critical metaphysics to a T. Kant’s name for the “true world,” aka God aka Plato’s Forms, aka REALITY, was Ding an sich: the “thing-in-itself.” Kant said in The Critique of Pure Reason that we’re inherently driven by our own rational human nature to try to know or grasp the thing-in-itself, but must always, tragically, fail. OK, misty and skeptical Mr K: but now what is to be done?
Another “elusive, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian” supplicant for admission to the cult of the “true world”: Marlon Brando as Christian Diestl in The Young Lions. It’s an ironic paradox that Nietzsche, one of the pioneers of Existentialism, was also a Nazi flavor favorite.
Brando/Diestl, neither consoled, redeemed, nor obligated, yawning with reason and cockcrowing with positivism in the grey morning, on his way to seeing directly into the Nazi Heart of Darkness.
Twenty-one years later Brando/Diestl, as Brando/Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, sees directly into another Heart of Darkness, this time in Vietnam — “the horror… the horror” — and dies yet again:
So, when Nietzsche says that the very idea of the so-called “true” world, aka God, aka Plato’s Forms, aka REALITY aka thing-in-itself, is “an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating — an idea which has become useless and superfluous — consequently, a refuted idea: let us abolish it!,” is he saying as per The Matrix, that our world of mere appearances is nothing but an illusion — whether created by God, by our own minds, or even computer-generated?
HELL NO! Mineo/Plato blushes with embarrassment as he suddenly realizes that we always needed, above all, to rebel against that very thought, and anticipates “[b]right day; breakfast; return of bon sens and cheerfulness” and “the pandemonium of free spirits.” Therefore Dean/Stark is the archetypal Nietzschean rebel WITHOUT a cause, whereas Mineo/Plato is the archetypal Nietzschean rebel WITH a cause.
“With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one”: Keir Dullea, as Dr David Bowman, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, learning the profound Nietzschean insight that when the “true world,” aka God aka Plato’s Forms aka REALITY aka the thing-in-itself, becomes a fable, then we ALSO thereby abolish the very idea of the world as nothing but “mere appearances.” The two ideas stand or fall together!
The four Marx Brothers — Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo — in the greatest political movie ever made, Duck Soup. Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly, der Führer of Freedonia, learns that political-authority-as-God, and the State-in-itself, are ALSO absurd shams, ALSO belonging to the now-abolished conception of the “true world.” You go!, Nietzsche-bros.
But now what is to be done? Here we are at “noon; moment of the briefest shadow;” our philosophical High Noon; the “high point of humanity;” INCIPIT GROUCHO. As our “human, all too human” story finally begins, Harpo, Groucho, and Chico perfectly illustrate the even more profound Nietzschean insight that the “true world,” aka God aka Plato’s Forms aka REALITY aka the thing-in-itself, is no more really real than their bare legs stuck through folding Hollywood chairs turned backwards. In other words, we must belly-laugh at the fable of the “true world” vs. mere appearances, Grow Up and Get Over “the longest error,” and learn to love the world, AS it’s presented to us in all its bare-legged glory, AS such.



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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.