Flows

"In the end, one loves one's desire and not what is desired."

Nietzsche wrote this, and it is always important to remember that Nietzsche, famous as he is now, lived quite tragically in pain, depression, and quite unsure whether his books would be read or would survive. It is all too easy to go back to the authors who are now famous and believe that they believed in themselves as much as we now believe in them.

But of course, this is a myth. The meaning of life is obvious to no one, and though the name "Nietzsche" now designates an entire body of thought that has been worked over by critics, academics, and students until a variety of meanings have been extracted rather cruelly and disseminated much more broadly than Nietzsche ever imagined and surely more broadly than he would have hoped, it is also possible to imagine Friedrich alone in his study at night scribbling onto paper not out of the pursuit of profound philosophical meaning but because he was lonely and had only his writing as a means of marking time, that steady stream of ideas perhaps no more meaningful to him than the winking and pale blue lights of the television screens that now stream constantly before our eyes.

I'm drifting. The point of this current stream, which has mustered not quite as much materiality as the words on the printed page of Beyond Good and Evil but is at least not restricted to the small screen of my mind's eye is this:

"In the end one loves one's desire and not what is desired."

Let me explain. It is tempting to read this aphorism as a statement about the intrinsic selfishness of human beings. We are unable to love the other: the best we can hope for is to love our own love for the other. But Nietzsche did not love himself enough to hold such a theory. And it seems to me that even the slightest bit of introspection shows that we rarely love ourselves--that more often we are tired of ourselves, indifferent to ourselves, even hateful to ourselves. This is why the golden rule is a cruel joke: we treat others much better than we treat ourselves--mainly because we don't have to live with them eternally.

No, the aphorism is not a statement about the limits of the self at all. It is a positive statement about nature of love. We do not love objects or things or ideas or even people. Being streams of thought and moving bodies, what we love is desiring itself: being lost in the flows of our projects. Love is the loss of the myth of individualized self, that naked and static "I" that according to Kant accompanies all perception. Love is the return to the true nature of the self, a self that is not individualized at all but is instead caught up in and expressed by a multiplicity of flows. We move with our spouses and partners. We move in our jobs. We move our eyes across the page. We are caught in flows of conversation. To live is to be a succession of dispersive streams, a wild and teeming and nexus of streams, each with their own volumes and speeds and directions.

You runners know this. Think of all the flows that the act of running catches you in. There is the individual run itself, the way it can carry you along down the street and up and down hills until there is no "you" to assign to the effort, only the effort which is one and the same as the movement and the rhythm of your feet touching the pavement. This is one flow, and it varies: a tempo run, an easy run, a solo run, a run with friends, a run on the track, a race. Then there is the other, broader and less intense flow: the flow of self-improvement. The idea of the goal that pulls you out the door. The project of getting faster or of running farther, whatever name we give to that inexorable tug that is what it means to be a runner. And we can look back over our running careers as a series of swift currents and stagnant pools, wild rushes, deep currents, drought and flood. What we love is the desiring, the flow. The object of that desire is imaginary and only serves the purpose of generating movement. We are living creatures, and for us all existence--what is Real--is movement until it stops.

Oh, yeah, for those who care: my running is going well.

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