In 1888, the year before he went insane, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote the following in Twilight of the Idols:
We have got rid of the real world: what world is left? The apparent world perhaps? … But no! Along with the real world we’ve done away with the apparent world as well.
So, if you feel you also may be going insane in the present climate of digital screen life, where real is unreal but realer than real, the apparent is cryptic, and up is down, true is false, and what you see you don’t, it has a history. One hundred and thirty-two years ago, Nietzsche added that “something extraordinarily nasty and evil is about to make its debut.” We know it did, and the bloody butcher’s bench known as the twentieth century was the result. Nihilism stepped onto center stage and has been the star of the show ever since, straight through to 2020. Roberto Calasso puts it this way in Literature and the Gods:
Here we are, announces Nietzsche, and it would be hard not to hear a mocking ring in his voice. We thought we were living in a world where the fog had lifted, a disenchanted, ascertainable, verifiable world. And instead everything has gone back to being a ‘fable’ again. How are we to get our bearings … This is the paralysis, the peculiar uncertainty of modern times, a paralysis that all since have experienced.
Obviously, we haven’t gotten our bearings. We are far more adrift today on a stormy electronic sea where the analogical circle of life has been replaced by the digital, and “truths” like numbers click into place continuously to lead us in wrong, algorithm-controlled directions. The trap is almost closed.
Of course, Nietzsche did not have the Internet, but he lived at the dawn of the electric era, when space-time transformations were occurring at a rapid pace. Inventions such as photography, the phonograph, the telephone, electricity, etc. were contracting space and time and a disembodied “reality” was being born. With today’s Internet and digital screen life, the baby is full-grown and completely disembodied. It does nothing but look at its image that is looking back into a lifeless void,