TWO EXCERPTS FROM NIETZSCHE’S OVERMAN AS POSTHUMAN STAR CHILD IN 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BY JEROLD J. ABRAMS (THE PHILOSOPHY OF STANLEY KUBRICK, EDITED BY JEROLD J. ABRAMS)
1. This is the beginning of the age of nihilism, marked by three specific losses. First, we lose our normative account of the past, the view that God created us for a purpose. Instead, now everything appears contingent, evolutionary. Second, we also lose our sense of the normative groundwork in the present because there is no God-given “right” or “wrong” to guide our daily decisions. Finally, we lose our teleological end. Our future can no longer be said to lie in heaven, a messiah, or resurrection.
2. Yet ultimately, the higher men are doomed in both Nietzsche and Kubrick. They are doomed to become what Nietzsche calls the “last men.” As Gilles Deleuze puts it in Pure Immanence: “Following the higher men there arises the last man, the one who says: all is vain, better to fade away passively!” In other words, the once noble and brave higher men who fought and stood for humanistic values gradually settle into their new global, democratic, popular culture and eventually get tired and lazy. This is not to say that the higher man project did not work – certainly it did for a while, and it was essential in replacing religion with reason – but in the end, the higher man project was inadequate to replace the religious teleology of otherworldly bliss, immortality and near omniscience. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the higher men – really, the goal of the Enlightenment – was merely the liberation of humanity from the old noble lie and the establishment of secular society. But this goal is second rate at best, for once it has been achieved, according to Nietzsche, there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to hope for. And after enough time passes, one ends up with the finished product: Nietzsche’s “most contemptible” last man. He is a marketplace man without any higher ideal. He lives solely for his sensuous appetites, his “little pleasure for the day and [his] little pleasure for the night.” Basically, there is where we are now in secular culture with democratic capitalism – and as bad as it is, it is, in fact, going to get worse. According to Nietzsche, we have one more stage of descent to go before the philosophical vision of the overman can truly take hold of our minds. As Deleuze puts it, “Beyond the last man, then, there is still the man who wants to die. And at this moment the completion of nihilism (midnight), everything is ready – ready for a transmutation.