When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you

When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you (Friedrich Nietzsche). On Looking Into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society by Gertrude Himmelfarb argues  that the “abyss is the abyss of meaninglessness. The interpreter takes precedence over the thing interpreted, and any interpretation goes. The most obvious aim of such a creed is to weaken our hold on reality, chiefly by denying that there is any reality for us to get hold of; its most probable effect, if we were to take it seriously, would be to induce feelings of despair and dread.  This view invites the tyranny of the subjective—anything goes so long as it does not hurt anyone and it is believed sincerely.

Contemporary Americans are dedicated to the pleasure principle. They yearn to be considered creative and imaginative; casting off the chains of mere causal and chronological. They conceive of history as a form of fiction. Postmodernist fiction, to be sure: what one of them has called “a historiographic metafiction.”

Himmelfarb argues that contemporaries play the harlot with words like “freedom” and “liberty.” She makes a startling claim: Absolute liberty is itself a form of power—the power to destroy without having to face the consequences.

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