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Nicholas Hamilton
Rhetoric 20
Amy J.
February 17, 2015
The Irony in Nietzsche Friedrich Nietzsche writes in his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” about the understandings of knowledge, truth, and morality. Interestingly the translation of the original title for Nietzsche’s work might have been “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense.” This is interesting because the translated version that is given for readers is “Nonmoral”; however another possible translation could have been “Extramoral” which shows that his writing may either be something not consistent with morality, but it may also be overly moral as well. Kenneth Burke writes in his work “Four Master Tropes”, about the tropes of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. He provides numerous definitions of irony as well as the three temptations of irony. Nietzsche’s writing and ideas about “truth and lies” are “ironic” based on the definition and examples Burke uses as well as the standard dictionary definition of irony. This irony accomplishes incongruity with what appears to be truth and lies and what it actually is; since there is no concrete truth, this is ironic in itself.
Individuals often confuse and misuse the term ironic, but Kenneth Burke gives his opinion of what irony is. He says, “Irony arises when one tries, by the interaction of terms upon one another, to produce a development which uses all the terms…they are all voices, personalities, or positions, integrally affecting one another” (432). He focuses on how terms are manipulated and changed around in order to produce a different result. This relates to how Nietzsche describes a liar as a person who misuses conventions in speech “by means of arbitrary substitutions or even reversals of names” (81). If the individual who is a liar does not purposely harm an individual with his/her substitution of language then it would be considered ironic, since the individual knows what the truth is. The standard dictionary defines irony as “the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” Based on these two definitions of irony from Burke and the dictionary, Nietzsche illustrates irony in his work. Burke states there are three temptations of irony and there is some relation of Nietzsche’s writing and these temptations.
Burke discusses three different types of temptations that come from irony and the first one he begins with is the temptation of relativism. He defines this temptation as, “Relativism is the constant temptation of either dialectic or drama” (433). In dialectic, the truth of opinions is discussed, and throughout Nietzsche he is in a constant discussion of what the truth is. The irony in what Nietzsche discusses is that he is trying to discover what is truth when there is no absolute truth in anything. Burke later says, “The dialectic of this participation produces a “resultant certainty” of a different quality, necessarily ironic, since it requires that all the sub certainties be considered as neither true nor false, but contributory” (433). Nietzsche goes back and forth about what is considered being honest and what is a lie. Particularly his example of who the liar is reflects the temptation of relativism. Nietzsche says, “The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real” (81). This relativism temptation of the liar provides a new certainty that is different from other perspectives, so it cannot be proven as true or false.
The objective is to find out what perspective is being discussed. For example, during the Holocaust, the genocide of Jewish people in Germany, the Nazis, supporters of dictator Adolf Hitler, may have viewed the killing of the Jewish population as a necessary cause because it would solve a problem affecting their people. On the other hand, the Jewish population and many onlookers from the rest of the world viewed the Holocaust as a brutal, cruel, maltreatment of the Jewish population resulting in millions of individuals murdered. Depending on the perspective of who is retelling the story essentially determines what is being told, so it doesn’t mean one person is telling the truth or lying but is relying on what their culture and beliefs have caused them to look at that event. All individuals have knowledge of from this event is other people’s interpretations and opinions, which is ironic according to Burke because in a dialectic we are trying to discover what is the truth of those opinions.
The second temptation is hypocritical superiority of irony that Burke describes is supposed to be a temptation of humility not superiority. As Burke states, “True Irony, however, irony that really does justify the attribute of “humility,” is not “superior” to the enemy” (434). First it is ironic that Burke uses the word “true” to emphasize what he really believes irony is, and this is not the only time he does this. This is interesting because the way Burke describes this irony it sounds like Nietzsche’s discussion of the liar who is ironic and the liar who is purposely harming another individual. A white lie can appear to be ironic because if someone asks, “Am I fat” and someone responds saying “No” in order to be nice, that is showing humility because they are putting the other person’s feeling first instead of their own. A question that arises from that scenario is if the question in itself “Am I fat?” is ironic based upon the fact the individual asking, actually believes he or she is fat. Like Nietzsche says, “The ‘thing in itself’ is likewise something incomprehensible to the creator of language and not in the least worth striving for” (82). This ironic scene that is set up is substantiated by both the quote from Nietzsche and Burke, highlights the irony in Nietzsche’s work does in fact accomplish the effect Burke proposes.
Burke continues with his second temptation of irony and redefines what true irony is to him. He states, “True irony, humble irony, is based upon a sense of fundamental kinship with the enemy, as one needs him, is indebted to him, is not merely outside him as an observer but contains him within, being consubstantial with him” (435). In an example to better understand what Burke is saying is pretending that this enemy is knowledge. This need for knowledge from individuals is something that affects the individual personally. No matter how much knowledge the individual receives it is only what the person accepts as truth will be the knowledge they obtain and agree with. This temptation of irony is again linked to the concepts of Nietzsche as he says, “For this pride contains within itself the most flattering estimation of knowing. Deception is the most flattering effect of such pride…” (80). Relating to the liar Nietzsche discusses, who appears to be ironic, deception in the correct circumstances that results in happiness for others demonstrates the form of humility that Burke proposes. Whether or not an individual knows the truth, putting pride aside to better the life of someone else is the ultimate humility and the second temptation of irony.
The last temptation of irony is picking favorites or simplifying the irony in order to make it easy to understand. Burke states, “Irony is sacrificed to ‘the simplification of literalness’ when this duality of role is neglected” (437). Reducing the meaning of what is being said so the reader can easily make sense of it only harms the potential use of irony in that sentence. The difference in this temptation of irony, it does not seem like Nietzsche simplifies his language for his irony or metaphors to be easily interpreted. Burke compares two sentences to stress the difference of irony being used successfully and when it is overly simplified, causing it to lose its ironic affect. The example he gives is, “slavery is ‘bad,’ and is so treated in the rhetoric of proletarian emancipation” compared to “without the slavery of antiquity, no modern socialism” (437). The difference in Nietzsche’s writing is he maintains the abstract use of language where there is no straightforward, simplified interpretation. One example of this can be pulled from anywhere in his work, but this is a good example of how he does not rely of the simplification of literalness, “We know nothing whatsoever about the essential quality of ‘honesty’; but we do know of countless individualized and consequently unequal actions which we equate by omitting the aspects in which they are unequal and which we now designate as ‘honest’ actions” (87). If Nietzsche simplified this he possibly could have said, “Although we do not have definite knowledge of how to determine the quality of honesty, there are ways that we can try to distinguish certain actions to qualify them as being honest.” In Nietzsche’s writing it appeared that this temptation of irony was not demonstrated, and some of his major points and examples in his texts also resembled the effects of irony.
There are other examples of irony in Nietzsche’s writing that produces an effect on his overall argument that correlate with the temptations of irony or the definition of irony that Burke provides for the reader. Nietzsche says “We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things.” This is interesting because we say these things with no knowledge, only a preconceived notion of what something appears to be when the name is said. Why do individuals instantly think of a long log of wood with branches and leaves growing out of it when the word tree is used? Nietzsche goes on to say, “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force” (84). This sentence creates a sense of irony because of the sentence structure that Nietzsche uses to describe what truths are. Based on Burke’s definition he produces a development that uses all the terms in order to accomplish this meaning of truth.
Nietzsche and Burke really have something in common, which as stated earlier, how perspectives could really provide a difference in how things are viewed. Nietzsche really makes the reader think in this section of his essay that focuses on the impossibility of having multiple perspectives when he states, “If we could only perceive things now as a bird, now as a worm, now as a gnat, or if one of us saw a stimulus as red, another as blue, while a third even heard the same stimulus as a sound–then no one would speak of such regularity of nature, rather, nature would be grasped only as a creation which is subjective in the highest degree” (87). Individuals often imagine what life is like to be an animal they will more than likely have the perspective they have as a human because it is almost impossible to develop a new perspective on life like that. Even if it wasn’t an animal, people wonder what they look like in the eyes of others, but they can never truly experience that other perspective because they will continue to see themselves through the lens of their on eyes. Although individuals can watch videos of them or look in the mirror and try to guess how others perceive them, it still remains a nearly impossible task.
Throughout this essay it is discussed what is considered to be true, a lie, or a lie that is ironic. Kenneth Burke tries to determine what is true irony, and Nietzsche is in a constant debate of how people know what is truth and what is a lie. Ironically Nietzsche says there is no concrete truth; however Burke is able to give a definition to what true irony is. Based on the temptations Burke gives, his definition of irony, as well as the standard dictionary definition of irony, Nietzsche accomplishes irony in his work that is not purposeful. Not all irony is not always on purpose, and in Nietzsche writing, the intent was not to write an essay full of irony that is coherent to the effects of irony that Burke proposes.

Works Cited
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense." Philosophy and Truth (1870's):
79-91. Print.…...

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