Types And Roles Of Memory In Nietzsche
“Der Gedanke giebt uns den Begriff einer ganz neuen Form der Realität: er ist aus Empfindung und Gedächtniß zusammengesetzt.” NF–1872, 19 
I will first set out in §2.1.1 the difference between the concepts of ‘valorisation’ and ‘evaluation’ in Nietzsche, because this will be a main element of my typology of memory argument. I will outline arguments for the existence of multiple types of memory in §2.1.2. Passive and active aspects of Individual Memory are discussed in §2.2.1 and §2.2.2 respectively. Finally I will discuss Organic Memory in §2.3.
There is a distinction in Nietzsche between ‘valorisation’ and ‘evaluation’. This distinction is important to Nietzsche’s central ethical project, which is the revaluation of all values. An evaluation is the first order question as to what is the value of a behaviour, cultural practice, idea or morality. Asking about valorisation is the second order question as to what is the source of value for our values. Nietzsche’s first message is that this is a question which can be asked and indeed must be asked: it is not incoherent to ask what is the source of value for values, contra some who might object
14 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
that one can only establish value or make evaluations within a framework assuming values. Kaufmann discusses1 the distinction basing it on Nietzsche’s division between “philosophical labourers” and true “philosophers”.2 The former produce “some great fact of evaluation [or] assessments of value” while the latter – including Nietzsche – must “traverse the whole range of human values” and “create values”.3 Thus the “labourers” inquire as to evaluation in the currently valorised system of values while Nietzsche asks the more fundamental question as to what is the valorisation and is it the right one. Richardson neatly summarises4 when he writes that there are hypotheses that “varies” their values – that confirm or justify them.”
The difference between an evaluation and a valorisation may be elucidated with an analogy in the field of paper currency. In the past, it was agreed that gold was a store of value and paper bank notes were evaluated – their value was set – by how much gold could be exchanged for the note. Setting aside the point that gold too only has value by agreement, we might see the gold as being the valorisation of the system – being the ultimate source of value – while the notes are indirectly valuable. The notes are like our current values. It would be of no use to say that one note of one kind could be exchanged for two of another, which in turn were together worth four notes of a third kind, which in turn were backed by one note of the first kind. This sort of circular system would float free and unanchored; there would be no gold in it anywhere to be the valorisation. So Nietzsche wants us to ask where the gold is in our system of values; which first requires us to become aware that our system of values is not the only possible one just as our current morality is not the only possible one.
The primary source of value for values – the gold in Nietzsche’s system – is activity or action. Activity is a positive valorisation factor. Values which are valorised by action and its promotion are positively evaluated by Nietzsche. He admires “knightly aristocratic” values that are valorised in this way; they presuppose “over- flowing health” with what preserves it: “war, adventure, the hunt, dance, athletic contests and in general everything which includes strong, free cheerful-hearted activity”.5 This lengthy list of healthy pursuits is linked and expanded upon by the common thread of activity or action-promotion. Those possessing this health and this activity are “noble and powerful”,6 and are to be contrasted with the Slaves who are miserable creatures of passivity and ressentiment. With this background in hand, I will argue in this chapter that there is an active aspect of memory for Nietzsche which will mean that memory can be the vector of valorisation in a Nietzschean analysis of values. Thus memory can form the basis for a revaluation of values.
Kaufmann [7, p. 108].
Nietzsche BGE [8, §211].
Nietzsche BGE [8, §211].
Richardson [9, p. 99].
Nietzsche GM [2, I.7].
Nietzsche GM [2, I.7].
2.1. INTRODUCTION 15
One risk in attempting to draw categories, types and divisions in Nietzsche is that they are hard to pin down. They are especially hard to pin down when one means of delineating the divisions relies on valorisation, as here. We see in GM how the Slaves begin as weak and passive, and ‘bad’ in the terminology of the Masters, but they end as active and ‘good’ in their own terms. However, the ‘good’ of the Slaves is depreciated by Nietzsche as derivative from the Masters. Nietzsche’s message here – beyond the difficulty of tracking valorisation through various developments – is that categories may become mixed up with one another. This does not mean though that searching for categories is fruitless. They may evolve and become intermixed, but that entails they exist, and useful points may be made about them, perhaps at different stages of their evolution.
2.1.2 Multiple Roles Of Memory
I turn now to the arguments for there being multiple roles of memory. One argument relies on the fact that Nietzsche sees roles for memory with both positive and negative evaluations. A playful pair of alternate aphorisms shows the positive side; while one “must have a good memory to be able to keep a given promise”,7 it is also the case that “[t[he advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time”.8 Obviously there are many prosaic situations where memory is advantageous. It might be objected here that this is an advantage of forgetting rather than memory, but – as I will argue on p. 22 – forgetting is best seen as an aspect of memory in Nietzsche, and a positive aspect at that.
On the negative side, we have the following: “Good Memory. Many a man fails to become a thinker for the sole reason that his memory is too good”.9 This is a negatively evaluated inhibitory aspect; those who can remember much do not need to think much. Stifling memory – making it more passive and inhibitory than active – is also deleterious. The pejoratively named ‘employees’ of science have filled their memories in youth,10 to avoid remaining creative.
Memory is described as one of the “Dangerous Virtues”. This ‘dangerous’ epithet has both positive and negative evaluations, supporting the claims I will make below for a typology of memory initially based on value contrasts. We are told that memory plays a role in assigning social rank. A man with capacious memory “forgets nothing but forgives everything – wherefore he shall be doubly detested for he causes us double shame by his memory and his magnanimity.”11
The fact that there can be no society without memory brings both positive and
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘On the History of Moral Feelings’, §59].
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘Man Alone with Himself’, §580].
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘Miscellaneous Maxims and opinions’, §122].
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘The Wanderer and His Shadow’, §171].
Nietzsche D [10, IV, §393].
16 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
negative evaluations. Keeping the image of terrible punishments in mind results in making negative promises to permit social coexistence. With these, members of early society agree to suppress their naturally violent instincts: “[w]ith the help of such images and processes one finally retains in memory five, six “I will nots,” in connection with which one has given one’s promise within the advantages of society,– and truly! with the help of this kind of memory one finally came “to reason” […] mastery over the affects.”12 This last is to be read ironically, because Nietzsche does not really believe that mastery over the affects constitutes reason, and in any case would not recommend such mastery, since the affects will drive action, which as we noted above Nietzsche evaluates positively. The association between the affects and action is made clear when Nietzsche writes that the noble “did not know how to separate activity out from happiness,– for them being active is of necessity included in happiness”.13 Again this is contrasted with the “hostile and powerless” whose “happiness […] appears as […] relaxation […] in short, passively.”14 Here we see that Nietzsche has valorised through activity the happiness of the nobles and devalorised through the same route the happiness of the inactive. Note finally that the fact that there is this kind of memory means that there will be other kinds.
I will now consider the two aspects of Individual Memory in detail, and then look at the second type of memory.
2.2 Individual Memory
2.2.1 Passive/Reactive Aspects Of Individual Memory
There are two ways in which memory or its contents may be passive. It may be imposed externally in such a way that the individual is not part of the decision to have a particular memory. This is what happens to the Slaves who are required to observe the punishments of transgressors and remember those punishments. This is why the punishments are especially vivid and horrifying – Nietzsche gives a long list of public punishments including “stoning […] breaking on the wheel […] quartering […] flaying […] cutting flesh”.15 No one witnessing such activities would have much choice about whether they remembered them or not, which is of course the whole point. Alternatively, these passive memories may result in inhibiting action: the Slaves who see the punishments are inhibited from carrying out the action which the person punished had carried out. So the person who has the memory is thereby discouraged from a particular action or type of action under certain circumstances. In Nietzsche’s view, as I will show below, these will often go together, but they
Nietzsche GM [2, II.3].
Nietzsche GM [2, I.10].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.1].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.3].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 17
need not. I might actively attain a memory which inhibits action. I will therefore identify two subtypes of the passive aspect of memory to reflect the two markers. Throughout this thesis, I will define Imposed Memory as any memory which is imposed externally; and I will define Inhibitory Memory as any memory which tends to suppress action. I will define Passive Memory as being composed of Inhibitory Memory and Imposed Memory.
The source for these views of Nietzsche is GM. The paradigm exemplars of those who possess Passive Memory will be the pre-revolt Slaves. They will initially have Passive Memory in both forms: Inhibitory and Imposed. This Passive Memory has its origins in pain and punishment. It is externally imposed, a store and reflection of ressentiment. Ressentiment is the empty vengefulness of the impotent, and it is the hallmark of the Slaves in the story of the origins of morality that Nietzsche gives in GM. For the man of ressentiment, “all experiences strike deep and memory is a festering wound”.16
This aspect of memory is basically an imperfect recording facility which passively reacts to perceptual data by storing some of it. The dominant type of memory will distinguish the type of individual. In general, possession of more Passive Memory will be an indication of a weaker type negatively evaluated to some extent by Nietzsche, while possession of more of an active type of memory will be associated by Nietzsche with stronger types who are more active. Passive types will be exemplified by the pre-revolt Slaves; there are several more active types to oppose to them. The Masters in GM are the obvious opposition to the Slaves, they are stronger, more active types of individual.
However, the situation is more complicated than this since GM is the story of how the Slaves become active. Initially, we have the Slaves having Passive Memory imposed on them. This is shown by the citations I gave in §1.1. To recapitulate, Nietzsche writes: “only what does not cease to give pain remains in one’s memory”.17 which means an imposed memory if we assume that the pain is inflicted by others. In regards to the second inhibitory aspect, Nietzsche discusses contract relationships where “[p]recisely here are promises made; precisely here it is a matter of making a memory for the one who promises”.18
In this case,we have an overlap because this is both imposed memory and inhibitory memory: both aspects of Passive Memory are present.
The post-revolt Slaves continue to have Passive Memory of the Imposed subtype. But now for the complexity: do the Slaves also have Passive Memory of the second subtype, Inhibitory Memory? The answer is yes before the Revolt and no – or less so – afterwards. The pre-Revolt Slaves have not ceased to be Slaves; they are prevented from acting by observation of the painful punishments of fellow slaves. But GM is
Nietzsche EH [11, I.6].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.3].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.5].
18 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
the story of how the Slaves become active – one might say, how they become us, since Nietzsche thinks we are all decadents and Slaves. The Slaves’ Revolt inverts the order of values and this inversion is the one we still have. Here we have the first indication that memory typology will be of importance to Nietzsche in connection to his central ethical project of the revaluation of all values.
Nietzsche evaluates Inhibitory Memory negatively, because action supplies his valorisation. We learn19 how an excess of historical sense is overwhelming and paralysing. I will argue later – see §4.3.1 – that historical sense is a type of memory. It is best seen as Inhibitory Memory since its primary characteristic is just that: it paralyses. One reason we know it is memory is that Nietzsche tells us that the health of a people depends on its ability to fix “limits to the memory of the past”, by which he means restrict the negative effects of historical sense. Luft remarks20 that memory makes us members of the “human herd”, which can scarcely be positive. She also notes that it is memory which keeps modern humans inhibited and passive under the weight of history. Also, Bertram has proposed21 that history is active image creation, rather than being a reproduction or preservation of the past. On this view, proper history for Nietzsche would be active and dynamic rather than passive and static – this is the same division and evaluation as the one that Nietzsche has for memory and for similar reasons.
A passive type of memory has been described by Deleuze22 as essentially reactive, meaning that all its operations are a response to the environment. This claim is supported by noting that it explains why we cannot know what memory is capable
Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’].
Luft [5, p. 135].
Bertram [12, p. 5]. I will cite Bertram a total of four times in this thesis. Since the work is somewhat controversial and dates from 1918, I will briefly defend its scholarly merits. The translator, Norton, regards it as a work which derives some of its importance from Kaufmann’s condemnation of it in . Kaufmann regards part of his rehabilitatory task, writing as he was soon after the second world war, as involving the need to repudiate Bertram’s reading of Nietzsche. As Norton outlines on p. xiii of his Translator’s Introduction, there are three charges levelled by Kaufmann at Bertram. These were that Bertram was “wilfully and deceptively equivocal”; he “distorted [. . . ] the coherent progression of Nietzsche’s thinking” and that he “violated the principles of [. . . ] scholarly integrity”. Despite this, Norton notes on p. xii Kaufmann’s agreement that Bertram’s work “had done more than any other work to shape [Nietzsche’s] image for almost an entire generation”. Norton also convincingly defends Bertram against these charges; see esp. p. xxii. I conclude for three main reasons that it is acceptable to cite Bertram’s work in this thesis. Firstly, it is agreed on all sides that the work is important and significant. Secondly, there are defences available to the charges of obfuscation, and we need not even follow Kaufmann in his insistence on the coherence of Nietzsche’s thought; modern ‘perspectivist’ readings of Nietzsche might indeed see that potential lack as a virtue. Thirdly, my citations from Bertram are in the nature of illuminating remarks rather than involving any commitment to the grand sweep of his vision. Finally, as Norton points out on p. xv, thinkers as disparate as Heidegger, Jaspers, Hess and Mann came to the same conclusion regarding the high merits of Bertram’s work.
Deleuze [13, p. 38].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 19
of, since we cannot fully specify current or future environments. This can only refer to Passive Memory since it is a mere recording facility; there is no active choice of elements in the environment to retain. We might say that it is ‘imposed’ by the environment. I show in §2.2.2 how this position has some difficulties which can be resolved by employing the multiple aspects and roles of memory for which I argue. Richardson notes23 that there is a type of memory which is “a retrospective drag on our activity that aligns it with the current of what’s generally done”. This neatly aligns passive memory which is both imposed and inhibitory with disvalue for Nietzsche: he everywhere deprecates herd morality and herd behaviour.
Passive Memory also results from the interaction between debt or obligation and early society. Indebtedness produces memory and requires it. Persisting personal identity is necessary to indebtedness; without that – and without remembering who I used to be – I will not repay my debts because I will not recognise the previous individual as myself. Nietzsche challenges persistence of identity of things – including persons. He does this in the course of his attack on logic, which he believes assumes persisting identity. Nietzsche writes: “[l]ogic, too, rests on assumptions that do not correspond to anything in the real world, e.g. […] the identity of the same thing at different points of time”24 in a section entitled “Language as an alleged science”. This means that logic also is an “alleged science” and one reason that this is so is that it falsely assumes the persistence of identity. There is a widespread illusion of persisting personal identity, so some mechanism is needed to supply that illusion. That mechanism is Passive Memory which stores pain associations and also provides the illusory self to be the one suffering pain. Thus through memory we create ourselves. In fact, Hales argues25 that Nietzsche sees indebtedness as being responsible for “instilling memory in humanity”; and that this also leads to the illusion of persisting identity. I will return to this point about Passive Memory being responsible for the illusion of a unified self in the context of a discussion of Dionysos versus Apollo in §3.1.
The Illusory Self
At this juncture, we need to resolve an apparent tension between Nietzsche’s denials of the reality of the self and his suggestions that we improve ourselves. If there is no self there can be nothing to improve. This is too quick however. Nietzsche has an oligarchic model of psychology in which we are all made up of competing sub-personal drives. These jockey for ascendancy and what we do at any given moment might be termed the vector sum of active drives. On this view, there is no inconsistency between the views expressed.
Nietzsche’s fictionalist view of the self has been noticed. Gardner observes that
Richardson [9, p. 93].
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘Of First and Last Things’, §11].
Hales [14, p. 832].
20 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
Nietzsche describes the term ‘I’ as a “mnemonic token, an abbreviating formula”.26 A token stands for something else. A mnemonic token is a symbol in the memory. Nietzsche is saying that there is nothing to the term ‘I’ beyond its symbolisation in the memory of the self, which for him is not a single item even though it has one label. Gardner notes that the self is instead a “social structure of the drives and emotions”.27
Nietzsche’s conclusion on the self, that ‘one word does not mean one thing’, is equally true of memory. We rewrite our own history to create a fiction of a unified self acting rationally: “memory itself seems clouded by the consequences of the deed” so if an action brought ‘success’, that must have been what we were aiming for, and there must have been a self that had the aim. There can be something that Nietzsche refers to with the term ‘self’ without the word being security for the unity of the item referred to; there is only a collection of drives.
2.2.2 Active Aspects Of Individual Memory
I will first say what I mean by the term ‘Active Memory’. Then I will present six arguments in support of the claim that there is an active role for Individual memory in Nietzsche. These arguments are as follows.
1. It is a general rule that concepts in Nietzsche have active/positively evaluated and passive/negatively evaluated aspects.
2. Memory grants power over others and time; and power is active.
3. Bad conscience is founded on memory; there are positive and negative aspects to bad conscience and positivity correlates to activity.
4. Promise making involves a “memory of the will” and is only for the strong, who are active.
5. There are several roles in Nietzsche for contest and competition between memory and forgetting which requires active elements of both.
6. Use of Active Memory is one way to create an effective self, or self-image.
I will close this section with some brief illustrative remarks on the contrasts between Active Memory and Passive Memory.
Nietzsche Late Notebooks [15, p. 96]. Nachlaß.
Nietzsche BGE [8, p. 44].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 21 What Is Active Memory?
There are two dimensions of the question requiring more clarity before it can be answered. The meaning of a type of memory must be elucidated; also there is the question as to in what the activity consists. I will discuss these questions below, but first we need a definition. The starting point for finding that definition will be that Active Memory is in some way opposed to Passive Memory. We noted on p. 17 that Passive Memory is made up of two subtypes, Inhibitory Memory and Imposed Memory. One idea then would be simply to define Active Memory as the inverse of Passive Memory i.e. being memory which is not externally imposed nor inhibitory. This approach suffers though from two difficulties. The first is that it is a negative definition and we will want to know what something is rather than what it is not.
Secondly, something being the inverse of two other things makes it rather difficult to decide what it is the inverse of at any point. There is nevertheless something functionally useful about opposing Active Memory to Passive Memory, so I will retain this as a ‘framework idea’ if not a definition. Noting that the function of Active Memory is what distinguishes it suggests that a functional definition is the best approach. Throughout this thesis, I will define Active Memory any use of memory which is both selected by the rememberer and tends to promote activity. Since this is a definition that requires both markers to be present, Active Memory is not Inhibitory Memory and it is not Imposed Memory so it is not Passive Memory. In some sense, all memory is ‘externally imposed’ since we apparently cannot simply fabricate its input. What we can do though is select which elements are prominent and frequently recalled on the basis of what is useful to us. This will suffice on my view for Active Memory not to be externally imposed in the relevant sense.
I turn now to the two dimensions of the question ‘what is active memory?’ that require more clarity. On the former question – what is a memory type? – I do not claim that Nietzsche argued for physically separate brain areas where different memory types or aspects might be processed or different roles accommodated. Nietzsche’s distinctions are functional in nature. The purpose for which anything is used is the key to its value, so we may expect to see him making differential evaluations of different types of memory depending on their use. This is in fact what we find and the value distinction is a central aspect of my argument for multiple aspects.
On the latter question – what is the activity? – there are different stages at which activity could be exemplified. Memory involves what we think of as input, storage and output. In reality, these are poor terms because they assume a popular view we might term the ‘photograph’ model of memory. They are poor both because they assume this false model and because Nietzsche would disagree with them since he disagrees with that model. I discuss the processes involved on the modern model of
22 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
digital photography, though it could as well be film photography. I will also use the terms input, storage and output as well for the imperfect versions of those processes involved in memory, because those functions are at least what we take to be going on. On the photograph model, memory is like a photographic process with a high degree of accuracy in data transfer at each point. The input is like taking a photograph – a picture is supposedly stored which has a high degree of fidelity to the presented scene. Storage is supposedly like the retention of the data which constitutes the photograph – it is expected that the data stored on the computer remains unchanged over time. Finally, output is supposedly like the accessing of this data in order to display the photograph on the screen – this output does not add new data or cause any loss to the existing data. On this model, the photograph displayed will exhibit high fidelity to the scene originally presented.
While this may be a good account of digital photography, it is a poor account of memory because all three of these assumptions are wrong. Memory performs at all stages with a much lower degree of fidelity. The reason for this is that, contrary to the photograph model, all of these memory processes are more active and reconstructive than reproductive. Active input may be seen when someone makes a conscious effort to remember something, perhaps employing external items as an aide m ́emoire, or repeating a list several times in order to fix it. Active storage is making selected changes to already stored memories, which may include changing their emphasis, significance or frequency of recall all of which is selected to improve effectiveness. It thus bears little resemblance to maintenance which is the mere conservation of data.
On the view I will propose here, Active Forgetfulness is best understood as an aspect of Active Memory, with that faculty being used to select memories for retention, amendment and deletion. Active management of storage is important because it subsumes Active Forgetfulness, which we know is crucial for Nietzsche. Finally, output is an active process, more akin to construction than the mere retrieval of exactly unchanged stored data. Again, all of this is contrary to the photograph model. Rather than recall some picture of what we saw, we are much more likely to be reconstructing plausible answers to the question as to what we could have seen. As Marsden notes28 “for Nietzsche, the past is that which is actively “produced” in the present according to our current quests and investments”.
Many commentators confirm this reconstructive nature of memory. Clark notes29 that biological memory is not a passive encoder but a system involving constant integrative and reconstructive activity. Note that this view is consistent with some ‘good’ cases in which memory recall is accurate enough for the purpose in hand. Cases of complete fabrication do not feature in the description of the output stage;
Marsden [16, p. 31].
Clark [17, p. 6].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 23
deliberate falsehood is not a memory-related feature. Wollheim states30 that error can be a legitimate part of a memory state on the grounds that it is the correct causal connection between an event and a memory which makes the memory a memory of that particular event even if the memory is inaccurate. Sutton notes31 how what he terms autobiographical memory involves operations of summary, interpretation and construction on life experience. This is done in order to produce the fiction of a coherent self, on Nietzsche’s view, as described above on p. 19.
We also need to consider the sense in which memory can be active. We know that forgetfulness is active for Nietzsche, and the memory could then be disconnecting the Active Forgetfulness. This would be Passive Memory. Not all memory is disconnecting the Active Forgetfulness, since some of it is actively chosen; even if it were, that does not entail that the memory is passive or reactive. The results of a disconnection cannot really be reactive – a disconnection results in a blanket omission. We are really talking about a selection of items in relation to which there will be a disconnection, and that selection will be active. Bertram observes32 that Nietzsche values activity – in the form of selection – in forgetting as well as in memory. This is illustrated by noting that everything is forgotten in a revolution and therefore Nietzsche hates the revolutionary. What Nietzsche hates here cannot be the forgetting per se since we know he evaluates that positively elsewhere. His objection can only be the all-encompassing nature of the forgetting i.e. its passivity and lack of selectivity.
We know that Nietzsche is interested in all of these potentially active aspects – input, storage, output – because he uses the metaphor of a doorkeeper to describe Active Forgetfulness, which is the other side of the memory coin. Nietzsche writes that “active forgetfulness, a doorkeeper as it were” is “an upholder of psychic order, of rest, of etiquette”.33 Now doorkeepers certainly bar entry, but they also expel troublemakers, or make them behave. Wollheim sees34 a distinction in output between Passive and Active Memory. A distinction is drawn between an Active Memory where someone asks themselves what they did on a particular occasion, and a more passive ‘involuntary’ memory that appears unbidden, unwelcomely and is Inhibitory.
In Active Memory, there may be active management of any or all of the data items that are input, retained or retrieved. This does not commit Nietzsche to such activity being conscious. Nietzsche will have a positive evaluation for those uses of Active Memory which foster the expression of power, as I will now argue. The use of memory for storing truths will not be its most useful application. Why prefer an impotent truth to a useful fiction? Nietzsche tells us that “truth emerge[d] as the
Wollheim [18, p. 119].
Sutton [19, §1.2].
Bertram [12, p. 13].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.1].
Wollheim [18, p. 117].
24 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
weakest form of knowledge”.35 Moreover, “the strength of knowledge lies not in its degree of truth, but in its age, its embeddedness, its character as a condition of life”. This means that the strong, healthy, Active Memory will select its items for storage based on their ability to serve the end of creating a strong, healthy, active character and in fact, possession of such a character consists in possessing such a memory. Memory items are evaluated for their ‘embeddedness’, which means the extent to which they play their role in strengthening the overall narrative of character and the chosen direction of that character.
The idea that Nietzsche thinks that memory is best used for storing facts is untenable. We can see this throughout his work but also by noting his inclusion of “Narrow memory” with “Brief self-awareness” in a list in the Nachlaß of eight items under the heading “The world of untruth”.36 The Nachlaß is the term for material from Nietzsche’s notebooks which was not published by him. I will use it freely throughout this thesis, noting that it is Nachlaß material. Each item in the list is a noun associated with a vaunted capacity of humans; each is qualified with a depreciating modifier. Nietzsche thinks we over-estimate our own abilities to know facts and to retain them. This leads to another error, which is that since we mistakenly believe that there are external facts and that our memory just records them, we do not have any control over the contents of our memory. This is exactly what Nietzsche might term ‘the error of Passive Memory’. The lack of a gold standard for memory contents means we can and should use Active Memory to promote activity.
The reason it is important to elucidate the active elements of Individual Memory for Nietzsche returns to the valorisation point made above in §2.1.1. The propensity to promote action is Nietzsche’s primary route of valorisation. Use of Active Memory is the way persons can access that valorisation. Once they have, so to speak, backed their values by gold, they may become strong in ways that Nietzsche values and acquire other values he accepts as valorised since they promote action. We will thus be able to achieve a successful analysis in relation to various questions of importance for analysis of Nietzsche’s works. These questions will include which of the characters described are positively evaluated by Nietzsche and why. Without knowing that, we cannot know what Nietzsche is really recommending we should do or seek to to become. The common factor to all of Nietzsche’s strong, active, positively evaluated characters is that they all valorise their values via the use of Active Memory. One way that characters are able to achieve a positive evaluation from Nietzsche will be by becoming more active; a positive self-image is one way of using Active Memory to achieve that.
I will now turn to the arguments supporting the claim that there is an active functional role for memory, or an active aspect of memory.
Nietzsche GS [20, §110].
Nietzsche Early Notebooks [21, p. 158]. Nachlaß.
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 25 Arguments For Active Memory
It is a general rule that we must always look for active, positively evaluated and reactive, negatively evaluated aspects of concepts in Nietzsche, because for Nietzsche, active and free expression of power is the source of all valorisation. Thus everything must be evaluated through the prism of activity and the promotion of action in order to determine its value. It has been correctly observed that there will often be active and passive sides to the same concept for Nietzsche depending on the use to which it is put, the activity which it supports. Derrida claims37 that there are never univocal answers as to ‘value’ in Nietzsche since all concepts must be evaluated for their active and passive sides. Kee notes38 that Nietzsche also makes a value distinction in the case of nihilism between a positive, active form and a negative, passive form. Sommer cites39 Kuhn as identifying six types of nihilism in Nietzsche of which active and passive are two. Memory is no exception to this rule. Sommer also observes40 that scepticism in Nietzsche has active, positively evaluated and passive, negatively evaluated sides. Richardson distinguishes41 creative and receptive aesthetic abilities, with the latter being “degrade[d] as thoroughly passive” “in comparison to the creative attitude”.
Active Memory can be developed by the noble and used to gain power over others and oneself. Nietzsche writes: “The binding memory. – Whoever has a high rank does well to make for himself a binding memory, that means, to mark as many good things possible about people and draw a line under it: it keeps them in a pleasant dependence. Thus can he also proceed with himself, so whether he has a binding memory or not determines in the end his own treatment of himself, the nobility, goodness, or the distrust in observing his own inclinations and intentions, and finally again on the nature of the inclinations and intentions themselves.”42 This is my translation, using ‘binding’ for verbindliche rather than ‘courteous’ or ‘gracious’, as other translators have rendered it. ‘Mandatory’ is also a possible translation for verbindliche, but then it would be unclear for whom Nietzsche thinks the memory is mandatory: for the person with the memory or the person being manipulated by it. It seems clear that Nietzsche intends this type of memory to be active and thus a ‘binding’ memory on the person manipulated: they are ‘bound’ to the person with the active memory who chooses to use it for their own advantage.
The general claim is that people like to use what they see as their good qualities and allowing them to do so can be a way of manipulating them. They will become dependent on the plaudits of the ‘noble’. Nietzsche will depreciate this as an example
Derrida [22, p. 53].
Kee [23, p. 53].
Sommer [16, p. 254].
Sommer [16, p. 263].
Richardson [9, p. 233].
Nietzsche D [10, IV, §278].
26 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
of passivity, of looking outside oneself for a valorisation. Moreover, such a man of high rank may also use Active Memory on himself. The strong are hard on themselves; they are viewed with distrust by the weak since the weak are soft on themselves and, perforce, in relation to others. Nietzsche is suggesting that Active Memory can be the source of power of both the self and others. This is Active Memory because the rememberer chooses that something is retained, what it is and why. It is significant that Nietzsche once again here emphasises that the strong or noble person makes the memory for himself. So the test we specified in the definition of Active Memory on p. 21 is passed; not only does the noble person choose the memory but he does so in order to promote activity.
There may be a problem here with the activity-promotion quality of Active Memory which we must consider. As said, Nietzsche also thinks that this binding memory can be applied to oneself. This will mean recording ‘good things’ also about oneself, and emphasising them. This will result in a positive self-image, supporting the final argument in this section about the creation of an enabling belief in a strong, effective self. The contents of the memory will be different in the case of use of Active Memory to record my own deeds, because I have access to them from the inside, as it were. This is why Nietzsche speaks of intentions and inclinations in connection with the noble person using Active Memory on themselves, while the more wide and vague term ‘good thing’ is used in connection with others. We may think we can divine the intentions of others but we can only observe their behaviour. The noble will use Active Memory to police their own intentions; their quality, intensity and the frequency with which they are put into effect. The potential problem here is that this could be seen as inhibitory. If there are inclinations that do not meet the test, then they presumably are to be inhibited. The clue to solving this conundrum is given by Nietzsche’s final sentence in the quotation: we are talking here finally about exactly which inclinations are present. The process will be to use Active Memory in such a way that eventually the noble person only has the ‘right’ inclinations and intentions. Once that has been achieved, then no further inhibition is required and all of the inclinations that occur can be acted upon.
There is a connection between power and action. As Nietzsche writes43 “the optimum” for “every animal” is “its path to power, to action”. Those who act thereby express the power to act. But it is also possible to be powerful and yet inactive. An imprisoned political leader remains powerful in some senses. Thus, power is about the potential to act rather than just the act. It is key though that the choice to act or not to act is solely in the discretion of the person we are calling powerful. The imprisoned politician may choose to remain imprisoned because it is the source of power. The person with Nietzsche’s binding memory has the potential to act, or
Nietzsche GM [2, III.7].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 27
equally, to cause others to act. This is why they are powerful and why there is a connection between power and action. The mechanism is that the people who have been placed in ‘pleasant dependence’ will want to repeat whatever type of action it was that first pleased the person in possession of the binding memory. The possessor of the binding memory can cause repeated actions in others, possibly without even being present. On self-application of the binding memory, I argued that all of the inclinations which eventually occur must be acted upon if one is to be called powerful. But this just is power – an absence of ressentiment – because, as with the Masters, inclinations and intentions do not linger unfulfilled in Inhibitory Passive Memory. Active Memory is used to control which inclinations they are. Once the initial task of distrust of inclinations until they are properly selected is completed, Active Memory is freed from them.
Memory grants power over time in two ways, in a straightforward way and also more technically. Since Nietzsche values power via its valorising connection with activity, seeing that this is the case will provide further arguments for there being positive active aspects of memory. In the everyday way, memory provides the bridge between willing a particular action and seeing that action take place. The sense in which this represents power is that the strong at least can ordain a part of the future: that relating to their own actions. For Nietzsche, the ability to see that one acts as one has willed is a part of strength. This aspect of his thought is linked to his views on promise making, which I discuss next in this section. In the more technical way, this power over time may also be seen through the perspective of a parallel to the Doctrine Of Eternal Recurrence, to be discussed later – see §3.2.1.
We can see an active role for memory in the following remarks of Nietzsche on promise making. Only strong individuals, such as one of the Masters, need Active Memory for only they will be permitted to make promises: “this necessarily forgetful animal in whom forgetting represents a force, a form of strong health, has now bred in itself an opposite faculty, a memory, with whose help forgetfulness is disconnected for certain cases,–namely for those cases where a promise is to be made”.44 Deleuze,in the context of a discussion of ‘culture considered from the prehistoric point of view’, distinguishes45 the memory of ‘traces’ from that created for promise making, which is a ‘memory of the future’. A memory of traces is memory of the past, while the future memory is oriented towards the future, involving “commitment to the future” when the promise made will be acted upon. Only a man with a memory of the future is free, powerful and active. This is because only the powerful can in fact ensure that what they promise will come to pass; they will not be buffeted by circumstance. This is the distinction between Active and Passive Memory, of at least the Inhibitory sort. Luft
Nietzsche GM [2, II.1].
Deleuze [13, p. 125].
28 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
notes46 how memory permits promise-making which involves ordaining the future; again being strong enough to see that the promise is fulfilled. Acampora suggests47 that promise making relies on the power of memory to overpower the opposing force of forgetting. Here, the memory of the promise is actively retained, unlike reactive absorption or inscription upon the weak of adventitious events. This is Active Memory because it is chosen and promotes activity in that once the promise is made, it must be acted upon to be fulfilled.
Nietzsche uses the term “memory of the will”48 to describe a type of memory. This type must be active because the will is. This type of memory represents the bridge between the initial decision ‘I will’ and its discharge – its act, as Nietzsche describes it – so it could hardly fail to be active, at least in its input stage. Richardson proposes49 to locate the faculty of agency tout court in the memory. It is argued that the memory capacity is what induces the whole organism to abide by commitments. This is termed ‘effective memory’, which we may identify as our Active Memory. The capacity works by restraining some of the drives, so we may see Active Memory makes up the psyche by deciding which drives will be expressed.
This memory of the will is solely active and healthy, because it concerns itself only with promise-making, the prerogative of the strong, who are active and healthy. Staten notes50 the frequent opposition in Nietzsche of active vs. reactive, strong vs. weak, noble vs. slave – with the first and second terms correlated in each case. Nietzsche in every case evaluates the reactive negatively; as Conway writes51, Nietzsche has a “well-known antipathy to the operation of reactive forces”. By contrast, Nietzsche writes52 in terms we noted on p. 26 that “the optimum” for “every animal” lies in “the most powerful activity”.
There are several references to a contest between memory and forgetfulness which support the claim that there are active elements of both; only active forces can really engage in conflict. Passive resistance does not constitute engagement in a contest: we would not speak of a conflict arising between a man pulling on a rope tied to a heavy weight and the weight, while we could in the analogous situation of a tug of war. The contest between memory and forgetfulness provides the creative tension driving morality. Acampora sees53 the whole of GM II as the story of the emergence of morality from this conflict; elsewhere, she sees54 consciousness as “resulting from the struggle between forces of (active) forgetting and remembering.
Luft [5, p. 140].
Acampora [24, Ch. 9].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.1].
Richardson [25, p. 139].
Staten [26, p. 72].
Conway [16, p. 532].
Nietzsche GM [2, III.7].
Acampora [24, Ch. 9].
Acampora [16, p. 321].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 29
Some moral obligations force themselves into our memory while others do not; that leads to acts and omissions which have moral valency. This analysis again requires an active role for memory, because otherwise forgetting to do something could hardly incur moral blame. When we are blamed for such omissions, it means that we are in effect being blamed for in some way ‘choosing’ to forget. Nietzsche will see strength and value in those who actively control what they choose to forget and what they choose not to perform.
It has been observed that bad conscience is founded on memory, while Loeb goes further55 and identifies the two concepts. One support for this is to note Nietzsche’s EH remark on GM II that its topic of conscience must be understood by considering the instinct of cruelty. When modern society prevents the instinct of cruelty from being discharged outwards, it will be discharged inwards. This will create a memory because one does not remember or even experience the pain of another. So only the internalisation of cruelty results in memory; after all, externally discharged cruelty is discharged and therefore need not be figure in memory at all. Later, Loeb paraphrases56 Nietzsche as saying that human memory is an illness like pregnancy thus identifying the two and enabling the argument that the memory–illness needs to be intensified to pass the test of the Doctrine Of Eternal Recurrence. This need not mean that they are identical but that the latter is the foundation or ground of the former. We might say at least that memory is the substrate in which bad conscience exists.
We may form a view as to Nietzsche’s positive evaluation of this form of memory by further considering Nietzsche’s comment that bad conscience is an illness like pregnancy is an illness.57 The value of both pregnancy and illness depends on their issue: what is born or whether the individual is strengthened. Further evidence for equating this memory type with bad conscience may be obtained by noting that this memory has two functions. It permits the binding of the future self because it allows the future self to remember the commitment. But Poole observes58 that it will also punish the bound individual for failure to honour the commitment. Thus memory is conscience.
Ridley argues59 that we may see an active, positive aspect to both memory and bad conscience. We should again avoid accepting prima facie evaluations, deriving in this case from the term ‘bad’. That is unsurprising, since we have not completed the revaluation of all values. This pregnancy that is bad conscience is positively evaluated by Nietzsche, with the implication that he values what it bears: its active consequences and ability to affirm the Doctrine. In the case of the Masters, bad conscience bears
Loeb [27, p. 83].
Loeb [27, p. 91].
Nietzsche GM [2, II.19].
Poole [28, p. 270].
Ridley [29, p. 7].
30 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
law, society and action. Ridley further observes60 that the pregnancy that is bad conscience brings forth some of Nietzsche’s most laudatory words but also that the negative form of bad conscience issues in ressentiment. So we need both aspects of memory, positive and negative, to map on to these forms of bad conscience.
Staten notices61 that there is a ‘good’, active form of bad conscience in the Masters and a reactive form in the Slaves. Socialisation results in precedents which the Masters are bound by even though they have created them. The Slaves experience an economy of self-cruelty and ressentiment. Thus are born ‘good’ bad conscience in the former and the bad form in the latter, or in our terminology, Active and Passive Memory. This resolves a conflict between commentators as to whether bad conscience should be positively or negatively evaluated: both evaluations apply.62
A final argument for the existence of an active role for memory may be derived from the way that use of Active Memory creates an effective self. Nietzsche writes: “The creative force – replicating, forming, shaping, practicing – the type we represent is one of our options – we could be many more people – we have the material for it in us. – To see our kind of life and activity as a role – including the maxims and principles – we seek to present a type – instinctively – we select from our memory, we connect and combine the facts of memory.”63 This is a reference to active selection of what is useful from memory. This is a two-way relationship. Who I decide I am affects what I choose to be in my Active Memory and what is there and not deleted or blocked influences who I am. Sutton notes64 this two-way relation. The self concept influences memory while the memory influences the actions of the self. In particular, decision-making and attributions of significance are driven by memory. It is also noted how in some people there is stronger and more direct feedback from self-representation into behaviour, which is close to our conception of Active Memory. We can therefore see the process as a pair of ongoing feedback loops, reinforcing each other.
These processes, constantly modifying one another, could scarcely be more active and less like the photograph model of memory. A more appropriate modern term for Nietzsche’s view might be the ‘Wikipedia’ model of memory, in which there is constant flux, a myriad of motives and a constantly varying cast of drives or potential selves who compete for dominance. This mistaken metaphor has a long history. Sutton observes65 the persistence, arbitrariness and unhelpfulness of the ‘photographic memory’ tendency in philosophy. He notes that all external technologies for recording
60Ridley [29, p. 7].
61Staten [26, p. 73].
62Deleuze and Owen take opposite views on this question. Ridley [29, p. 8] proposes the resolution I suggest by finding both positive and negative aspects, so that both commentators are right.
Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1884, 25(362)]. Nachlaß, my translation.
64Sutton [19, §1.2].
65Sutton [19, §2.1].
2.2. INDIVIDUAL MEMORY 31
data through wax tablets, cameras and computers are arbitrarily wheeled in as an unsupported model for memory processes.
Goldie notes66 how the constructive active aspect of memory can be driven not by changing what is remembered but by changing how it is remembered. Semantic memories may take on a different significance even if their strict content – the exact events remembered – remain unchanged. These changes will be driven by my current self-conception, which we agree may well be different now than previously. Nietzsche will insist that the self-conception is likely to be different because it has no stable substrate. Nietzsche will see this type of change and its frequency in our lives as good memory-based evidence for the lack of a fixed uncreated self. As a further example of this process, and one which also goes against the common claim that there is a fixed stable self in which we believe, consider the situation of young persons obtaining many visible tattoos. This is often deprecated by others on the grounds that the others are certain that the young person will later regret having conducted an irrevocable change in appearance. This amounts to a denial of a stable self.
This post-event Active Memory modification can take place one level back and have evaluative as well as affective significance. Margalit observes67 that reevaluating emotions can take the Nietzschean form of valuing an emotion differently from the way it used to be valued. This is one further level back because not only have the events remembered not altered, but the immediate affects associated with them have also not altered. The value attached to those affects has changed. For example, I may decide that pity is a misguided emotion. I may then recall a previous occasion on which I acted with pity. I may maintain my account of events and continue to regard my actions as motivated by pity but now have revalued pity.
This account has consequences that will mean that Active Memory ramifies through my values as they change and as my idea of myself changes.
Successful people choose who they are by choosing what they remember. Or they may delete a memory that does not fit with their current self-image, which aids their effectiveness in the present. The key point is that all of the contents of Active Memory are selected. This phenomenon is more widespread in life than might be thought, given that people generally believe they have little influence over the contents of their memories. I will restrict myself to two examples.
Sheehan discusses68 a Vietnam-era Marine Lt-General, who was originally over- confident about US progress in that conflict. This General seemed to have genuinely forgotten the role he originally played, and this forgetfulness is described as being characteristic of the busy and powerful. This means not simply that busy people do not have time for reminiscence: it is the much more interesting and Nietzschean
Goldie [30, p. 202].
Margalit [31, p. 140].
Sheehan [32, p. 342].
32 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
claim that busy and effective people are so because they are not hobbled by unhelpful memories, especially those about themselves.
‘Moneyball’ is the story of how physically untalented baseball players can be more successful than much more physically gifted ones due to certain mental characteristics. The physically gifted failure speaks of the physically less gifted success as follows: ‘[h]e was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea where he was. And I was the opposite.”69 As I argued on p. 22, forgetting is just an operation of Active Memory. In the example, we see both factors at work. What is useful is retained and what is not useful is not retained.
Contrasts Between Active Memory And Passive Memory
The distinction between Active and Passive Memory is neatly summed up by Nietzsche, who writes: “there are acts of love and extravagant magnanimity after which nothing is more advisable than to take a stick and give the eyewitness a thrashing and so confuse his memory. Some know how to confuse and mistreat their own memory, so as to take revenge at least on this sole confidant”.70 In the first case, the Passive Memory – Imposed and Inhibitory – of the onlooker is affected by the beating administered by the protagonist who has his own aims to pursue. In the second case, the protagonist is active in relation to his memory and selects accordingly. It is interesting that Nietzsche also sees one’s own memory as potentially in the role of hostile witness to one’s own activity; that would be the case only in those dominated by Passive – Inhibitory – Memory. Nietzsche will assert the necessity of active use of memory to avoid shame and thereby to promote activity and avoid the deadening effects of extant morality.
Memory aspects mark the difference between creative and derivative artists. The latter can use memory – Passive Memory – to mimic talent. “But if the original ones are abandoned by themselves, memory renders them no assistance; they become empty.”71 Active Memory will mark the creative powers of original artists. In fact, elsewhere Nietzsche confirms that the purpose of art is to avoid the deadening effects of Passive Memory. He writes of several “great poets” that they are “often seeking with their exaggerations forgetfulness of an all too faithful memory”.72 This equates Passive Memory with a pedestrian recording capability that is of no value, creatively. The success of these great poets is contrasted with the failure of ‘psychologists’, who are described in the same section as being “afraid of […] memory”. Only someone dominated by Passive Memory will suffer thus, because only those people will be
Lewis [33, p. 46].
Nietzsche BGE [8, §40].
Nietzsche HA [6, ‘From the Soul of Artists and Writers’, §165].
Nietzsche BGE [8, §269].
2.3. ORGANIC MEMORY 33
failing to take active control of the contents and use of their memories. This failure is symptomatic of all of us, in Nietzsche’s diagnosis. He writes: “unpleasant memories suddenly assert themselves and we then make great efforts, through vehement noises and gestures, to banish them from our minds: but the noise and the gestures which are going on everywhere reveal that […] we live in fear of memory”.73
The distinction between Passive and Active Memory can be further illustrated with an example from literature. We know that Nietzsche regards Dostoyevsky as the only psychologist from whom he has something to learn; Lanvrin notes74 that he confirms this in TI. It is also observed that Nietzsche is familiar with Notes from the Underground. The protagonist of this work is what we might term a monster of Passive Memory, consumed by ressentiment. His entire being comes to revolve around seeking revenge against others, including prominently an officer who has jostled him in the street. His ressentiment is only increased when he takes a mild revenge and finds that the officer is indifferent – the officer is less of a creature of Passive Memory. We are even told by Dostoyevsky that the type of memory possessed by his monster is passive. He writes: “[t]he images of the previous day began of themselves, apart from my will, flitting through my memory in confusion.”75 This is not the only mention of memory in the book which emphasises how what it brings to conscious awareness is not under the control of the rememberer. In this case, the Passive Memory is imposed by the officer – albeit not intentionally.
2.3 Organic Memory
Nietzsche recognises a non-standard physiological memory. This is confirmed when Nietzsche writes: “[t]here is no separate organ of “memory”: all the nerves in, for example, the legs, remember past experiences. Every word, every number is the result of a physical process, and set somewhere in the nerves. All that was organised in the nerves, lives on in them.”76 We do not have memory confined to the human brain therefore; and we also have a claim that Organic Memory retains everything, in a further contrast to ordinary conceptions of memory wherein as we have seen Nietzsche sets great store on forgetting. The organic type of memory may even be the mark of the organic: Staten notes77 that “[e]verything organic possesses “memory […]”.
Organic Memory reaches back into the past beyond the individual. As Nietzsche writes: “Memory has nothing to do with nerves or brain. It is a primal quality. For man carries the memory of all previous generations with him. The memory image
Nietzsche UM III [1, ‘Schopenhauer as educator’, p. 159].
Lanvrin [34, p. 160].
Dostoyevsky [35, p. 62].
Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1880, 2(68)]. Nachlaß, my translation.
Staten [16, p. 567].
34 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
is something very artificial and rare.”78 The word translated as ‘primal quality’ is in Nietzsche’s text Ureigenschaft. An ‘Eigenschaft’ is straightforwardly a property or quality, and the ‘Ur–’ modifier makes it refer to something basic or original. For example, the term Urgermanisch means Proto-Germanic and refers to the prehistoric ancestor of Germanic languages. This emphasises how Nietzsche sees memory as basic and primordial in humans and other organisms; all organisms will carry around with them items from the Organic Memory of all their ancestors. In humans, it would go back to primordial humans and presumably further, to apes and the other animals that were on the evolutionary path to humanity.
Nietzsche also introduces here the idea of a Ged ̈achtnißbild or memory-picture, which is rare – that is consistent with his claim that an expanded type of memory is what makes humans special. Note also how this quotation shows that it is possible for organisms without brains or nerves to have a memory in Nietzsche’s terms. In fact, as we will see, memory is possible without consciousness and predates consciousness. It is plausible that this is what Nietzsche means by the term ‘original’ in the quotation above. Later – p. 36 – I discuss how he introduces the Mimosa plant, which can move, has memory in Nietzsche’s terms, but is not conscious, and does not have ‘memory with pictures’. This suggests that Nietzsche sees ‘consciousness’ as ‘memory with pictures’. We might even say that consciousness is ‘putting oneself in the picture’ on Nietzsche’s view. The ability to call to mind images from the past in which one figures certainly seems to require some awareness of one’s self, and that self-consciousness could be the origin of consciousness.
We have a problem though with this quotation in that there seems to be a contradiction between the two quotations as to whether memory is connected to nerves because the previous quotation says that it is not while the present one says it is. At first it might appear helpful that the term ‘memory’ appears in quotation marks in the first quotation but not in the second; we might be able to argue that in the first quotation Nietzsche is referring to something like memory, or the Organic type only. Unfortunately this way out does not seem to be available since it seems clear that Nietzsche means Organic Memory in both cases since both make reference to the atavism which is characteristic of Organic Memory only.
The only way to produce a consistent account is to distinguish between two types of nerves. The occurrence of ‘nerves’ is associated with the legs in the first quotation and the brain in the second. We may therefore assume that in the first case, Nietzsche means simple nerves which do nothing beyond carry impulses to the legs. In the second case, Nietzsche means the central nervous system and more complex controlling nerves which can perform basic regulatory functions and have some autonomy. The effect of this reading is to have Nietzsche associating Organic Memory with the non-brain
Nietzsche Early Notebooks [21, p. 140]. Nachlaß.
2.3. ORGANIC MEMORY 35
nerves and disassociating it from the brain. Nietzsche says the nerves ‘remember’ everything that they do. A concept of ‘muscle memory’ is known nowadays whereby it is possible, for example, for tennis players to practice strokes without moving, and Nietzsche may have in mind something similar but relating to the drives and their physiological instantiations.
This is a second type of memory which cannot be Individual Memory for three reasons. These are: that it is not restricted to humans but extends to animals and even plants; that it is physiologically based rather than a mental phenomenon; and that it reaches back to previous generations of humans. Throughout this thesis, I will define Organic Memory as any use of memory in which any of the following markers are present: i). it is physiologically based; or ii). it is stored via experiences of events that did not take place during the lifetime of the rememberer or iii). it is available to life beyond humanity. Note that on at least a physicalist picture of the mind, all memory is physiologically based. The distinction here is that Nietzsche has a wider view of ‘physiological’ in the physiological basis of memory than the brain.
The term Organic Memory is not used by Nietzsche, but is suggested by the following: “The origin of memory is the problem of the organic. How is memory possible? The emotions are symptoms of the formation of memory material.”79 This connects the emotions to the formation of memories, which suggests that we are speaking of a more physiological type of memory than the usual conception. It links memory directly to the organic. Another reason to employ the term Organic Memory is not only that this is the name for a theory linking memory and heredity which was popular in the nineteenth century, but also that it was espoused by Lamarck, with whose work Nietzsche was familiar. Pratt notes80 that Organic Memory was the Lamarckian idea that the experiences of one individual can be inherited by later generations. Since this theory is like the one that Nietzsche is describing and we know that he was familiar with Lamarck, it seems appropriate to adopt the term Organic Memory for the type that Nietzsche is using.
There is a coded reference to Organic Memory in a text published by Nietzsche which includes this reaching back to previous generations. Nietzsche writes: “[o]ne cannot erase out of the soul of a man what his ancestors have done most eagerly and most often …It is not at all possible that a man should not have in his body the qualities and preferences of his parents and ancestors – whatever appearances may say against this.”81 This tells us that there are two factors which will lead to an events leaving traces in Organic Memory. It will not just be the sources of pleasure of the ancestors which continue to be active – via the drives, we may infer – but
Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1884, 25(514)]. Nachlaß, my translation.
Pratt [36, p. 343], reviewing Otis.
Nietzsche BGE [8, §264].
36 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
also the frequency of an occurrence. The implication here is that there are events which happen many times despite the fact that they are not pleasurable. Here we may see the instinctive type of behaviour whereby someone today withdraws their hand from the flame before thinking about it. We are also told that the processes of Organic Memory may not be superficially obvious; we will need to look carefully for the re-emergence of the ancestors in atavistic behaviour.
Nietzsche means this Organic Memory type to extend also to plant life. Nietzsche sees memory as predating consciousness, which we will also need if we are to have memory for non-conscious life. Nietzsche writes: “The memory preserves the reflex movements that have taken place. Consciousness commences with the sensation of causality, i.e. memory is older than consciousness. E.g. in the Mimosa, we find memory but no consciousness. Memory of course involves no image in the plant.”82 One immediate question here is why Nietzsche chooses to discuss a Mimosa plant rather than any other. The answer to this is to note that the Mimosa has the unusual characteristic of moving in response to stimuli in the same way as the Venus fly trap. Gamble states83 that it is also known as the ‘sensitive plant’ for this reason.
That author also cites Lamarck for some original work and again, we know Nietzsche is familiar with Lamarckian ideas in biology. So the plant has an Organic Memory as humans do. Its ability to close its leaves when touched to make it hard for predators to eat its leaves derives from an Organic Memory resulting from events that happened to ancestors of the plant. Nietzsche’s point is that humans also have this type of memory – and naturally, more besides. One implication he can draw from this is to render less distinct the boundary between humans and other forms of life, which would serve his anti-religious and related objectives.
This Organic Memory space transcends individual humans. There is a specific type of memory at work in relation to evolution: “There are analogies; e.g., a memory analogous to our memory that reveals itself in heredity and evolution and forms.”84 So, Nietzsche thinks there is a memory space whose activity can be seen in heredity. Richardson notes85 that memory is burned into pre-civilised humans as we have discussed, but also that this memory is fixed not by selection of those with memory, but by the acquisition of inheritable associations with pain. We cannot remember events in prehistory, but we can withdraw our hands from the flame in a reflex reaction. This reaction is in some sense a memory of pain suffered by individuals in prehistory when they encountered flame. This must be Organic Memory because non-human animals share those sorts of reflex. Lampert sees86 this social selection as Nietzsche’s key advance on Darwinism. Social selection, on this view, is not genetic but proceeds
Nietzsche Early Notebooks [21, p. 138]. Nachlaß.
Gamble [37, p. 1].
Nietzsche WP [4, p. 343]. Nachlaß.
Richardson discusses [2, II] at [38, p. 541].
Lampert [39, p. 174], reviewing Richardson.
2.3. ORGANIC MEMORY 37
in a memory space involving language and consciousness.
Organic Memory operates over long timescales to lay down archetypal projections.
Parkes notes87 that for Nietzsche, memory operates over many generations resulting in collective structures of fantastic projection. This explains why even though we all to a large extent fabricate our own experience, we seem often to have similar experiences in similar circumstances. This form of memory must be Organic Memory since Individual Memory cannot operate over times longer than the lifetimes of individuals. These projections are arbitrary reflections of the drives. Nietzsche writes: “[o]ur waking life is an interpretation of the internal behaviour of drive processes made with the help of the memory of everything perceived and seen: an arbitrary visual language thereof, like dreaming of sensations while asleep.”88 Once again, we have a reference to memory as some form of picture, with the term ‘arbitrary visual language’ though it is clear that Nietzsche thinks the ‘picture-language’ which we wilfully associate with the operation of drives within us is no more tied to external reality than imagining sensations while dreaming. Memory is the location of this self-deception.
Nietzsche writes: “One must revise one’s ideas about memory: here lies the chief temptation to assume a “soul,” which, outside time, reproduces, recognises, etc. But that which is experienced lives on “in the memory”; I cannot help it if it “comes back”.89 Here the argument is that if there is to be a self in the usually understood manner, then it must be the site of the will. Since, however, memory seems to be as much outside of our conscious control as thoughts are – meaning that we can generally neither decide when or what to think or when or what to remember – then will is not part of the explanation of memory’s activity. Because it does function however to recall similar experiences, and this is an act, we falsely posit an actor, a self, to accompany the action. This illusory self was discussed on p. 19. Nietzsche places the term ‘comes’ in quotation marks to indicate that there is not really an arrival from one location to another here, or at least, that it is not the one we might think. The memory is the memory of the drives, and they may decide to bring it to ‘my’ attention. There is also a parallel here – with the way that the memory is not under the control of the rememberer – to the Dostoyevskian involuntary nature of memory mentioned on p. 33. Staten also suggests a parallel to the drives having memory when he notes90 that “units of force must retain a “memory” of previous interactions with other units.” Staten sees91 Nietzsche as applying the economy of drives view in which all life is a non-moral pattern of interacting forces, to human individuals as well as human society, because the Will to Power is operative within as well as between individuals.
Parkes [40, p. 17].
Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1880, 6(81)]. Nachlaß, my translation.
Nietzsche WP [4, p. 274]. Nachlaß.
Staten [16, p. 573].
Staten [26, p. 68].
38 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE
This may be made more plausible by comparing it to the physics claim that energy transactions take place both at the level of human cells and of stars. Nietzsche shares with Bergson the view that a form of memory is what distinguishes life from matter, as I will discuss further below. This is because life is the resultant of a conflict of forces – of different aspects of the Will to Power, in Nietzsche’s terms – and memory is where this conflict plays out. As Nietzsche writes: “[i]t’s necessary to reconsider everything one has learned about memory: it is the mass of all that has been lived by all organic life, which continues to live, is organised, is formed by a reciprocal action, is subject to inner struggles”.92 This must be Organic Memory because it extends beyond humans. Haar argues93 that the organic living body represents an “absolute memory” which is in some way the summation of the individual competing drives within an organism. Also, organic life is ‘incorporation’ for Nietzsche, and ‘incorporation’ is a Nietzsche code word for memory. Again, this cannot refer to Individual Memory since the sphere of organic life is much larger than that of humanity.
Organic Memory seems only to have a positive valuation for Nietzsche, further distinguishing it from Individual Memory. Since as I have argued above, activity is Nietzsche’s valorisation, for him to give Organic Memory a negative evaluation would involve him seeing it as inhibitory. There is no evidence for that. Bertram observes94 that Nietzsche allots to memory the important aristocratic task of preserving cultural heritage. Nietzsche also views those individuals possessing the most or the strongest memory as being rulers by necessity and derives this from his theory of ‘biological memory’. The mission of those castes that conserve a people is to maintain the possibility of the rare person who embodies the most distant biological memory. The rarest people are the people with the longest inner memory. The consequence of Nietzsche’s giving primacy to biological memory is that the most atavistic person is necessarily a ruler. We may equate biological memory to Organic Memory since it is not Individual Memory that is under discussion here and also it reaches back in time beyond the individual. An atavistic person is one who exhibits characteristics of previous generations; here Nietzsche is hoping that Organic Memory will still allow persons today to have some of the character he admired in ancient civilisations.
Consciousness possesses only the illusion of being in command of the drives and the body; only a momentarily successful drive will rise to consciousness. This may be responsible for what Nietzsche sees as the unfounded belief in free will of those who have not affirmed the Doctrine Of Eternal Recurrence: the ‘ruling class’ has identified itself with the successes of the state. So we can also distinguish Organic Memory from the other types of memory by noting that Organic Memory is what allows the drives to ‘remember’; which will be necessary if they are to continue to be
Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1884, 26(94)]. Nachlaß, my translation.
Haar [41, p. 78].
Bertram [12, p. 25].
2.3. ORGANIC MEMORY 39
François and Lapidus ask95 how both Nietzsche and Bergson were led to identify life with memory. This can only be a reference to a non-standard type of memory, because there is non-human life. Franc ̧ois and Lapidus hold96 that for both Nietzsche and Bergson, what distinguishes life from matter is that the former is memory. This tells us that Nietzsche is not alone among philosophers in ascribing a fundamental importance to memory.
As Nietzsche writes: “inorganic matter, despite the fact that in many cases it was once organic, has learned nothing, it is always without a past! If it were otherwise, there could never be repetition, for something would always be born from matter, with new qualities, with a new past.”97
Here we find that inorganic matter has learned nothing, so we know that it has no memory. This strongly suggests that organic matter – i.e. life – differs from inorganic matter in that it has indeed learned something; it does have a memory. Nevertheless, this is not a feature of the exact matter involved, because this new memory feature of organic matter emerges despite the fact that organic matter contains matter that until recently was often inorganic – this again is a reference to the physical incorporation of the external, which is for Nietzsche closely related to memory. The argument for this is that if it were otherwise, reconfiguration of inorganic matter could produce an item with a new past. This would eliminate ‘repetition’, by which Nietzsche means inorganic matter configured in the same way as on a previous occasion, since that reconfiguration would produce an item with a memory – in our wider sense – which would be different so that the item would differ even from other items configured from the same matter. This repetition argument is consistent with the argument discussed in §3.2.1 supporting the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence with the claims that matter – or energy – is finite while time is infinite.
Scott argues98 that Nietzsche recognises a memory type – ‘physiological memory’ – which we may identify with our Organic Memory. This kind of memory gives dominance to a past inscribed in our languages, values and bodies, and lived in feelings of significance. These feelings are generated in physiological memory, the place of a culture’s primary transmission. Nietzsche sees these powerful memories as fictions since they undercut what we traditionally expect truth to be. They are not a basis for believing in objective facts. So the Organic Memory may in fact be said to make the past ‘dominant’ in our current experience. To this extent, our experience is fabricated or falsified; we perceive as others did. Since the drives see what they want to see, as it were, the basis of objectivity is lost.
95François and Lapidus [42, p. 104].
96François and Lapidus [42, p. 103].
97Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1881,12(15)]. Nachlaß, François and Lapidus translation.
98Scott [43, p. 69].
40 CHAPTER 2. TYPES AND ROLES OF MEMORY IN NIETZSCHE