My Favourite Book: Damon Young

will to power

While I’m sorting through many photos for my next Israel post, I thought I’d share the next instalment of My Favourite Book by Australian philosopher and author, Damon Young. Actually, it’s more like I couldn’t wait to publish his contribution because I have only vague recollections of Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Will to Power when I studied it at uni, and Damon’s post here has given me a whole new appreciation of it. I also recommend Damon’s own book, Philosophy in the Garden, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Damon has published other books, including Distraction and a forthcoming book for Pan Macmillan’s School of Life series.

If you’re Australian, you’ve probably read his many articles for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Australian Literary Review, Herald-Sun and his columns for the ABC and Canberra Times. He’s also written poetry and fiction for Overland and Meanjin magazines, and we happen to be published in Meanjin together in the next June edition (a coincidence, I promise). On a personal level, Damon’s contribution is good timing for another reason: his reminder that a literary friend must contradict and confront (and not only comfort) is significant for me now as I prepare a new book proposal. So thanks Damon, for this great post, and timely reminder.

Bloody Friedrich Nietzsche. This philosopher; this invalid bachelor, awkward with women; this lonely, stateless German who hated beer; this enemy of pity who fainted at a whipped horse in Turin -- this dysfunctional loner is indispensable.

It’s embarrassing, really. Here I am, a philosopher, trained to think all the heretofore unthought things; to ‘overcome common sense’, as Heidegger put it. The vocation can encourage a very romantic portrait of dogged rationality.

But sometimes my mind is empty. Not utterly vacant, but empty of anything vital, vivid or even novel. The intellect slows (moronically, not meticulously).

To end the stupor, I often pick up a book by Nietzsche. And often the book is The Will to Power, Nietzsche’s notebooks from 1883 to 1888 (not long before he went mad).

Nietzsche was brimming with ideas, with what he called “sudden sparks and miracles of...loneliness”. “You, my old loved ones,” he wrote, “my wicked thoughts!” His notebooks, with their aphorisms and epigrams, are a cafe bench-top lined with a thousand espressos: each quick sip is a buzz.

For example, I pick up The Will to Power right now, on the couch, next to Ruth, my wife, and read a page at random:

I have to set up the most difficult ideal of the philosopher. Learning is not enough! The scholar is the herd animal in the realm of knowledge--who inquires because he is ordered to and because others have done so before him.--

See? All my plodding, lazy, dutiful research; my pedantry and punctuality. Nietzsche needles me to accept or reject my own mediocrity. He asks for a fight. I come away bloodied, but perhaps more brave. And if not brave, then foolhardy, which, as Aristotle pointed out, can be a good facsimile of courage. Job done.

Nietzsche once wrote that one’s best friend must be able to be an enemy; must be able to confront and contradict. The Will to Power is one of my literary best friends.

Image credit: Damon’s own copy of The Will to Power, which looks like it’s been through quite a fight.