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Nietzsche, immortality, singularity and eternal recurrence

By Bert Olivier


Joan Copjec has shown that modernity is privy to a notion of immortality all its own – one that differs fundamentally from any counterpart entertained in Greek antiquity or the Christian Middle Ages. She points to Blumenberg and Lefort as thinkers who have construed this concept in its modern guise in different ways, and ultimately opts for Lefort's paradoxical understanding of immortality as the ‘transcending of time, within time’ before elaborating on a corresponding notion in Lacan's work. It can be shown that Nietzsche, too, provides a distinctly modern conception of ‘immortality’, articulated in relation to his notions of affirmation, singularity and eternal recurrence. In brief, this amounts to his claim that, to affirm even one single part or event in one's life entails affirming it in its entirety, and, in so doing – given the interconnectedness of events – affirming all that has ever existed. Moreover, once anything has existed, it is in a certain sense, for Nietzsche, necessary despite its temporal singularity. Therefore, to be able to rise to the task of affirming certain actions or experiences in one's own life, bestows on it not merely this kind of necessary singularity, but what he thought of as ‘eternal recurrence’ – the (ethical) affirmation of the desire to embrace one's own, and together with it, all of existence ‘eternally’, over and over. This, it is argued, may be understood as Nietzsche's distinctive contribution to a specifically modern notion of immortality: the ability of an individual to live in such a way that his or her singular ‘place’ in society is ensured, necessarily there, even after his or her death

Topics: Postprints
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.4314/sajpem.v26i1.31463
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