Written by Matthew Iakov Liberman
Some might reproach me for my facetiousness. I reproach “such ‘serious animals’” for their “prejudice against all ‘frohliche Wissenschaft’; let us show that this is prejudice!” To attack the Musician of the Future with such a dour creaking machine of the intellect in ‘ernst,’ would be a heinous blasphemy. (Nietzsche, ernst nehmen)
The Madman Shoots Lasers From his Eyes: Heliocentricism and the Marketplace
‘No, because Nietzsche wasn’t a time traveller…’
―Herr Doktor Doktor Polakoff, pers. comm.
Heliocentrism: clearly an important part of Brecht’s Life of Galileo as the model of “Copper Nickles,”1 it also plays a significant role in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science as the underlying structure of Western thought around the violent hierarchy of light and darkness. In this ‘light,’ I contend that the Madman of aphorism 125 shot lasers out of his eyes, but that Galileo did so better, by actually affecting the marketplace.
First, the anachronism: how could a 19th-century philosopher know of lasers? Here, I must ask you: what is the most telling characteristic of a time traveler? Is it not an accurate knowledge of the future? Indeed, what other explanation can be given for his knowing, decades in advance, that his “name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous” (Ecce Homo, “Why I am a Destiny” sect. 1)? Improbable as it seems, taken in the context of his Eternal Recurrence―that we are bound to relive our lives “once more and innumerable times more” (The Gay Science aph. 341)—we are left with no other possibilities. Galileo, likewise, makes similarly eerily accurate predictions that “astronomy will be discussed in the marketplace”―and just yesterday I heard someone talking about their signs in the supermarket!
Next: what is a laser? Our boring dictionary merely says “a device that produces a monochromatic beam of light,” but Nietzsche consistently uses light as a metaphor for knowledge (“laser”). The Madman is said to have “pierced [the people] with his eyes.” Eyes that do not fire lasers could not possibly pierce anyone (need I point out that these same lasers today are the basis of our networked communications?). Moreover, Nietzsche credits blindness, man’s “seeing himself incompletely,” as the first ‘error’ that leads to humanity and humanness (aph. 155). Thus, in shining a beam of the “[philosophical justification of … a way of thinking] that shines as a sun” (since light signifies epistemic basis for Nietzsche), the Madman can truly be said to have “pierced” those in the market (aph. 289). It is probable that the lantern he lights in the “bright morning hours” is an auxiliary to his firing of lasers (aph. 125). It quite naturally follows that, since those with mental illnesses are often “homeless,” this particular Madman is among those homeless “whose eyes―the suspicion in whose eyes is strong and subtle enough,” entirely the manner of person to tell us that it becomes “difficult to remain serious when we look at the worthiest hopes and dreams,” e.g. sober essays (aph. 343; Ecce Homo).
Galileo’s telescope seems entirely analogous to the Madman’s eyes, and Galileo himself is doubtless among those who “are endowed with a useful blindness of spirit … the skeptic inside them” (aph. 284), as evidenced by his remark that “I understand nothing,” leading him, like the Madman, to create sources of illumination in the “early morning of beginnings” (Brecht 19, 10).
Functionally, telescope and eyes accomplish much the same: “[God is] nowhere!”; “God is dead” (28; Nietzsche aph. 125). Likewise, their respective heliocentrisms of “we unchained the earth from the sun!,” “the earth is rolling cheerfully around the sun” would suggest that this Madman is the same who elsewhere says “the universe … has countless centers”―or was it, “the center is everywhere” (aph. 125; Brecht 8; Nietzsche Zarathustra 273)?
However, though the Madman throws down his lantern and Galileo recants, there is a marked difference between the two―their effect on the marketplace. The former admits defeat—“I have come too early”—but the latter’s doctrine explicitly “spreads among the common people” with both the support of the tradesman and the lauding of the minstrels (The Gay Science aph.125; Brecht 82). Perhaps this is because of reliance on the “gentle tyranny of reason over people” while the Madman seems likelier to scorn reason and gentleness altogether (29).
Thus, while both seek to convey a heliocentrism to the marketplace through what I refer to as lasers, Galileo’s belief in empiricism as an epistemic basis makes him more appealing to the marketplace, while the Madman―and through him, Nietzsche―relies primarily on the outcasts, the intelligentsia, those “poised on the mountains, in the contradiction between today and tomorrow” to carry his ideas―which, perhaps, is a better choice, looking at their respective popularity today (aph. 343).
Brecht, Bertolt. Life of Galileo. Trans. John Willett. Ed. Ralph Manheim. London: Methuen, 1980. Print.
“laser.” Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. 30 Jan 2016, n.p. Web. 31 Jan 2016.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Arnold Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974. Print.
—. “A Quotation From Ecce Homo.” Goodreads. N.p., 1888. Web.
Polakoff, Gregory Ivan. “The Centre Is Everywhere” : Nietzsche’s Overcoming of Modernity through Musical Dissonance. Diss. U of British Columbia, 2011. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
About the Author: Matthew Iakov Liberman is a dazed, shambling collection of emotive hiccups, long stares, and apparently signifying ink stains. They enjoy pretending to be a real person, writing 100-word “About the Author” statements, and peering at Montreal’s stairs, which have not ceased to amaze them in seven years. They are indebted to San Francisco for producing Doktor Polakoff.