Nietzsche’s Question Mark

Here is the abstract of the presentation I’ll be giving at the “Chulalongkorn International Conference on Oriental Studies” a few days from now.

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Nietzsche’s Question Mark: A note on Section 346, Book Five of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science

Soraj Hongladarom
Department of Philosophy
Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

Section 346 of the Book Five of The Gay Science by Nietzsche contains some of the most interesting passages in all of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Here Nietzsche talks about the role of value in human life. Nietzsche talks about the total loss of value and disenchantment of the world, and not only that humans fine themselves in opposition to certain traditional values. The “Question Mark” is mentioned at the beginning of the Section as a kind of topic for the Section, and toward the end Nietzsche mentions the Question Mark again: Human beings seem to face a dilemma–either accept the values or face nihilism, but Nietzsche’s point is that the values themselves can be nihilistic too. And this is perhaps the real meaning of the Question Mark. He does not explicitly provides a way out of this very debilitating dilemma. Furthermore, he also mentions that the teaching of the Buddha is an expression of self denying, world renouncing values that we “have turned our backs on.”

It is the contention of this paper that even though Nietzsche does appear to be advocating nihilism, he in fact does affirm life in a very interesting way. Through denying the traditional values as well as any attempt to negotiate those values on their terms, Nietzsche opens up a new vista which hitherto has not been possible. One must not miss the irony in the tone of his writing here. Hence the Question Mark–whether we must go down the traditional route of revering invented values, or face nihilism, or whether everything is nihilistic–is answered in the affirmative, or better in the ironic form. It is through nihilism that nihilism is destroyed, so opening up new vistas of possibilities. The Overman blazes a trail for himself through brandishing the nihilistic fire.

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