Psychotherapy is a conversation between two people who are both willing to become inarticulate. This can happen when trying to say something not yet thought, when experiencing ourselves in a new way, or as a new paradigm emerges. It can also be due to the limitations of language and grammar, or our grasp of them. Unless speaking in a second language seldom do we question the values of grammar as a reason for becoming inarticulate. In this blog I take Nietzsche’s titular quote to consider some of the values implicit in grammar, how it is possible to get beyond a limiting faith in it, and where that could take us.
Grammar is philosophically rich, it is a mistake to think it is value neutral. In using grammar we make fundamental philosophical commitments without having thought them through, or perhaps even realising what they are. This sentence, the previous one and all that follow demonstrate faith in grammar, what matters is the type of faith and whether we can see beyond it.
In the title quote Nietzsche uses a capital “G” to specifically refer to the Christian God. According to him, following the death of God Christian values get transferred to new and mostly secular gods, and in the process their theological nature goes undetected. Nietzsche could see how strong the human faith drive is and how integral it is to the use of grammar, but what is it about grammar particularly that makes it a likely surrogate for God?
The death of God is the death of all foundational thinking. When God died grammar died, and yet because of a firm faith (mostly not seen as faith) it was still there for us, and so unlike God, it did not desert us. We are like grief stricken widowed men and women in denial and on the rebound. Grammar has filled our God-shaped hole and while we still have faith in grammar we can not come to terms with the death of foundations.
Though he does not name them as such, Nietzsche indicates that grammar has a primary and secondary function. The primary function structures reality, the secondary function is a means of communication.
He uses Descartes’ statement, ‘I think therefore I am’ to illustrate the primary function. Nietzsche points out that even the first word of the statement requires faith. To say ‘I’ is to believe ‘I’ exists and is constant. ‘I think…’ requires the belief that ‘I’ is an agent of thought. It has seduced us into conceding the dualism of cause and effect that says there is a thinker doing the thinking. These are just some among many values inherent in grammar.
Even a silly, absurd or logically incorrect sentence has primary authority. Primary authority has nothing to do with the content of a sentence, it has to do with the way grammar situates words in relation to one another and what that means. In this sense grammar is like theology; a justification by faith.
Most people, most of the time use grammar to facilitate communication and so only think in terms of its secondary function: to convey meaning through the content of a sentence.
There are certain mental states or presentations where the values implicit in the grammar of ‘I think’ come into question, these include among others; PTSD, OCD, DID, dissociation, psychosis, suggestion, denial, addiction, self alienation, implanted memories, dreaming, intrusive thoughts and projection. As therapists we consider these carefully, and yet how often do we consider whether a person has a cognitive dissonance with the values of grammar?
To put faith in grammar is to give it authority. For Nietzsche a crisis of faith in grammar is key to taking back authority.
Authority and authorship go hand in hand. Whether it is authorship of life or of the written or spoken word, it calls upon us to establish and own our authority. If we do not find our voice we say nothing, and if we borrow someone else’s we might say less than nothing.
Anyone who has sat in front of an empty page or blank screen will recognise this. Looking at a blank screen can feel like snow blindness, a ‘white-out’ that asks everything of us as it reflects back our nothingness. In short, it confronts us with ourselves.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.Friedrich Nietzsche
The blank page or screen confronts us with having to make decisions. In this sense it is not a freedom from, it is a freedom for. The fear of freedom is often the fear of having to make decisions.
The word decide is related to the Latin cidium meaning ‘cut’ or ‘kill’ and so making decisions is linked to suicide, homocide and so on. Decisions require killing off possibilities. Indecision is often a lack of nerve, permission or killer instinct.
Deicide is the killing of gods, and killing a god necessarily involves killing off who and what you are in relation to god. For Nietzsche the death of God is also the death of the human. In this sense deicide is always a double murder.
Psychotherapy is able to reinvigorate an appetite and instinct for murder.
Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.Friedrich Nietzsche
Being human is precarious, it is to live suspended above a precipice of unfulfilled expectation. Humanity has been a difficult project, being human and human being have never quite lived up to their supposed promise. This is more about unrealistic expectation than it is about human failure. By any standards the failure of humanity is from another perspective its realisation. For Nietzsche humanity is not a failure, it is a link between what we were and what we could become.
Nietzsche’s concern was that we might forever remain tethered to the human in ourselves; that we would never become the overman. God tethers us to the human. As long as we seek gods we give away our authority and can never become who we are.
The previous quote points toward the challenge, ‘Are you capable of creating beyond yourself?’ To create beyond yourself is not about exceeding expectations (caterpillars do not learn to fly!) It is to create yourself beyond the human. For Nietzsche creation is not a human activity.
The fear of giving up God (or gods) is the fear of becoming a monster. (It is worth noting that it is not a fear of killing God, it is the fear of having already done so) The murder of God was a monstrous act. The monster is the other – our other – the other we already are. One part of us knows this and still wants freedom, another part fears it and wants to regress back to a life of faith.
The drive or will to faith can be conscious or unconscious. We tell ourselves, ‘I found God and discovered faith’. No, faith is object seeking; if it does not find a god it will make one up.
If you are not sure if you have a god, look to see where you put your faith. You do not need to believe in a god to have one, and often those with the strongest faith are those who do not believe in one.
Grammar makes pragmatists of us all, primarily used for communication, we give little or no thought to its underlying values. We know not what we believe in, and so we live in a world of our own creation without ever truly taking ownership of it, while also feeling at odds with it.
Any critique of grammar simultaneously affirms it. I use it to question it. We may not be able to give up grammar, but we can chose our type of faith.
We all have a grammatical homunculus residing in our mind. Good faith in grammar is when it has become internalised so much so that grammar dictates your reality. Bad faith is when you accommodate it, it engages in linguistic matters, but does not determine your reality.
Good faith is the same as blind faith, but with some awareness.
As a Nietzschean every sentence I have written here, including this one, has been written in bad faith.‘Me’
Grammar is a wonderful and necessary fiction. From when we are first taught to use grammar we began an uninterrupted program of autosuggestion reinforcing a reality dictated by grammar. For Nietzsche its value is its secondary function, the challenge while using it is to hold an awareness of, and ability to withstand the seductions of its primary function.
Grammar is an ecumenical phenomenon; it is universal, catholic. Whether of good, bad or blind faith we all sing from the same song sheet. Whether singing ‘Amazing Grace’ or chanting the most profane blasphemy we all unite around our faith in grammar.
Let us recognise that speaking, writing and reading are acts of faith. To speak is a declaration of faith, a prayer, a holy utterance, a hushed sacred word of knowledge.
All conversation is an act of worship; whether serious, trivial, comedic, lofty, mundane, puerile, esoteric, deferential, inspirational, despairing, apologetic, triumphant, confessional, irreverent, prayerful or playful.
A brief exchange about the weather is our daily liturgy.
Let us consider the divinity of the full stop.
Grammar is a preamble to the full stop: the full stop is the Alpha and Omega.
A full stop never comes at the end of a sentence; it is the end of a sentence.
The full stop does not offer salvation, it has no need. It grants each sentence eternal life even as it puts an end to it.
Though not all sentences are created equally, they are all equal in the eyes of a full stop.
The spoken full stop is clear as a bell, it reaches us in silence through its command of silence.
A full stop stands by its creation, it is the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’. Its divine love is its indifference to the taste of apples.
As the smallest and humblest of all marks on the page, the full stop carries its authority and power lightly.
The full stop is one and it is many. While there are over thirty-three million Hindu Gods, there are many, many more full stops. And there is only one.
When we struggle to write a sentence we cannot look to the full stop for help. Indifferent to our suffering, it shows no empathy and offers neither mercy nor punishment. It patiently awaits the words’ assembly in anticipation of its arrival. It does not judge, it wisely lets each sentence live life on its own merit.
The full stop is the breath of life. It appears on the page before us as an angel reminding us to breathe. It offers us pause for thought, a chance to reflect. It grounds us in our body as it shows us the way of life as death.
The full stop is the most common and best of all sentence endings. Unlike the exclamation mark that wants to excite and put the reader on edge, or the question mark that unsettles and asks for more, the full stop always knows when to stop.
Unlike other gods there is no arguing with a full stop; a full stop will happily move at a whim, however once in place, it is granite.
If a sentence is not working the way you want, how you expect or hope it might, if you do not fully understand, like or agree with it, or even know where it is going, you do not blame the full stop. It is above reproach; love for the full stop is unconditional.
Unlike other gods, the full stop makes no distinction between answered and unanswered prayers; it will always come through in the end.
A full stop builds community out of disparate words. They may look different, have different origins, and yet they come together finding a shared understanding, home and life.
The faith drive is most prominent in those who are unable to create. The full stop has faith in nothing allowing it to create anything.
The full stop has no use of your faith; it lives in the certain knowledge of always having the last word. The closest to faith you might experience with a full stop is the thought that the sentence you are reading will, in all likelihood, end with one.
The full stop will not ask for a tithe, nor will it ask you to supplicate yourself, confess, or bear the name sinner, and it will never ask you to bow down before it. In short, it does not want you to give over your authority. Its authority is unto itself.
Unlike Christianity and the world’s other major religious death cults, the full stop is unequivocal about life as death. Where others balk at it and then collapse into the compromise of redemption and salvation, the full stop stands firm. It is no mystery cult, nor is it mystical or esoteric; its secrets are open to all who will receive them.
At last I have found a deity I can celebrate, one worthy of the name God! The full stop requires no worship, no reverence. What joy! A God that has no need for the pretence of existence. A God beyond good and evil.
The full stop offers no afterlife, if a sentence is good enough it will live on in the mind of the reader.
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