Nietzsche, Power, and Bible-readers on the Subway

Last evening, after a full day of work teaching Philosophy of Biology, a seminar on Nietzsche, and conducting a teaching observation of a graduate fellow, I left campus for my evening weightlifting session. I was feeling run down, and not a hundred percent. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, perhaps a nagging cluster of cold-sore throat related symptoms that were insidiously undermining my ability to face up to the world. As I rode the subway to the gym, I felt uninspired and sleepy; the book I had intended to read only had a few of its pages turned.

Thankfully, the lifting went well. I was scheduled to back squat (Crossfit South Brooklyn is following the Wendler Cycle for our strength programming), and after lifting 185×5, and 205×5, I did my maximum-repetitions set at 230 (for 12 reps). By the end of it, my legs were shaking, I was close to hyperventilating, and a clarity-inducing  surge of euphoria had seemingly cleansed me of the sluggishness of the afternoon.

I changed, and made my way to the 7th Avenue subway station to head home. As I waited for the train, I pulled out my copy of Karl Jasper‘s Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of his Philosophical Activity (JHU Press, 1997) , and, somehow emboldened, began to read:

The pyschology of the feeling to power: Nietzsche’s conception of the ‘will to power’ is by no means identical with his conception of the drives that aim to provide a feeling of power. The one relates to genuine being that has become extra-empirical; the other to observable psychological experience. The one involves an abstract will, intent upon determining the course of its own being; the other, the conscious pursuit of the enjoyment attending the feeling of power.

I stared back at the page. Really, was this where I had left off, and now, resumed reading?

As I sat on the bench, a lady on her way back home sat down next to me and opened up a book. It was the Bible. She opened it to Numbers 25, and began reading. I sat there for a few seconds, and then, unable to resist, spoke: “Excuse me, are you reading the Bible straight through or picking selections?” The lady smiled, and said, “I’m reading it straight through.” I then asked, “Have you read the Bible before?” She smiled again, and said, “No, I’ve read it many times before.  This time my reading has been a bit slower; I got bogged down in Leviticus for a bit.” I nodded; sometimes I too, get mired in parts of books I read.

A B train pulled in and discharged its passengers, who swarmed around us to head for the exits, as we sat there with our books open on our laps. I wondered if my new acquaintance would ask me about what I was reading, and how I would describe it if she hadn’t heard of Nietzsche. She then spoke again, “Are you a believer?” I replied, “No, but I’m always curious about people that appear to be serious readers.” Her reply was made inaudible by the arrival of the Q train. I bade her take care as I headed for a subway car.

I wonder what Nietzsche would have thought about it all: a hundred years after his death, philosophy professors, on their way home after weightlifting, reading books about his writings, sitting next to readers of the Bible, all the while ensconced in the bowels of a gigantic subterranean transportation system in an American city.

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