Practice precedes theory

Practice precedes theory. Practice is wordlessly active. Theory is the verbal ensurfacing of practice.

Hermeneutics is the practice of performing the ensurfacing practice in reverse  (most obvious when performed in the intellectual realm). It is the reconsititution of wordless intellectual practice guided by the theoretical content, treated as artifact, but not as the essential content of the writing.


I read Nietzsche hermeneutically, but it took me nearly four years to explain how reading Nietzsche was unlike other kinds of reading. It took me all this time to find the descriptive language for a practice I’d already mastered, but mastered mutely.


Genuine philosophy is not factual: philosophy presents its factual content like a starry sky, by which the reader/listener can navigate his understanding. The navigating is the essential philosophical act. But most people look at the star-charts and confuse navigation with astronomy.

You cannot summarize philosophy. You cannot factually transfer it. Philosophy is not reflections, it is reflecting. Philosophy must be coperformed, or it degrades into mere fact.


What has made Nietzsche such a controversial and perpetually fascinating writer is this: much of his content is strictly artifact, often the opposite of his own private opinions. He leaves it to the reader to apply the intellectual practices he teaches; it is up to the reader to apply this practice to his own content and to reach his own conclusions. And he assumes his reader will need to reach his own conclusions because precisely the readers Nietzsche wants (of whom and to whom he wrote frequently) will find the content of Nietzsche’s apparent philosophy, his factual philosophy, completely unacceptable, offensive. But you have to stay with him, anyway, all the way to the ugly end. If you try to cut to the conclusions, you will miss everything.

Nietzsche’s ideal reader – out of the deep, intense urgency – will apply Nietzsche’s practical philosophy to the goal of escaping Nietzsche’s factual philosophy – to the refuge of his own conclusions. And just when you think you disagree with him, Nietzsche winks mischeviously and compassionately.

Remember: Nietzsche called himself the first Dionysian philosopher. Dionysus/Siva: the dancing god.


The consciousness of appearance. — How wonderful and new and yet how gruesome and ironic I find my position vis-a-vis the whole of existence in the light of my insight! I have discovered for myself that the human and animal past, indeed the whole primal age and past of all sentient being continues in me to invent, to love, to hate, and to infer, — I suddenly woke up in the midst of this dream, but only to the consciousness that I am dreaming and that I must go on dreaming lest I perish: as a sleepwalker must go on dreaming lest he fall. What is “appearance” for me now! Certainly not the opposite of some essence,–what could I say about any essence except to name the attributes of its appearance! Certainly not a dead mask that one could place on an unknown X or remove from it! Appearance is for me that which lives and is effective and goes so far in its self-mockery that it makes me feel that this is appearance and will-o’-the-wisp and a dance of spirits and nothing more, — that among all these dreamers, I, too, the “knower,” am dancing my dance, that the knower is a means for prolonging the earthly dance and thus belongs to the masters of ceremony of existence, and that the sublime consistency and interrelatedness of all knowledge perhaps is and will be the highest means to preserve — the universality of dreaming and the mutual comprehension of all dreamers and thus also the continuation of the dream.


I would only believe in a God who could dance.

And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity — through him all things fall.

Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we kill. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!

I learned to walk; since then have I let myself run. I learned to fly; since then I do not need to be pushed to move from a spot.

Now I am light, now I fly, now I see myself beneath myself, now a god dances through me. —

Thus spoke Zarathustra.


Spoiler: Dionysus is wordless practice, dance doing its dance. Apollo is theory and everything else that belongs to surface. Dionysian philosophy is doing, faithfully, what philosophical urgency (not curiosity or ambition) impels one to do. Only afterward – as  consummation – the accomplishment, which is known only in hindsight, is articulated. This is Nietzsche’s “overcoming“.


This might be a pretty good scholarly paper.

Leave a Reply