When I remarked before that Nietzsche's doctrine of the Eternal Return is grounded in an experience, not a theory, I was not making things up. Although I do not, in fact, believe in Eternal Recurrence, I know very well what it is to so believe. Well before I read Nietzsche, I had lived through what Nietzsche describes in The Gay Science and in Zarathustra: the actual experience of "seeing" that Recurrence just is. (Just for the record, there were no drugs involved.) This is not, in any way, for me, a freeing or yea-saying experience; it is on the contrary extremely paralyzing. Maybe I am just a 'weak soul,' as he might put it, but I doubt very much that many readers of Nietzsche have actually drank as deeply from that well as I have.
[added later: I realize that this sounds like some kind of magic trump card, and an unverifiable one at that. OK. But I should clarify at least that what I'm claiming here is certainly not that I know my Nietzsche better than anyone else. I mean that when I read most people on Nietzsche, I rarely get the sense they've really felt the looming reality (even if that reality is phantasmal) of the Eternal Return -- seen it, grasped (or been grasped by) it, the way one occasionally really does see that you and all your loved ones are mortal and will die. This isn't a deduction from premises, it's a change of premises. I will add that I'm aware of a few exceptions to this generalization about Nietzsche readers, and would be very interested to learn of more. I'm sticking this paragraph in here near the top to forestall misunderstanding, but I say it in a little more detail in a comment below.]
I'm not concerned here to argue for the dispositive validity of "subjective" experiences, mine or anyone else's; or to explain them (whether "away" or not) either. I have reached provisional interpretations of these experiences and could doubtless reach others -- probably will, in fact. My Nietzscheanism is heterodox, (no doubt like, mutatis mutandis, my Christianity), and while I suspect there is "something to" the vision of Recurrence (as also to Reincarnation), it is not, in my onto-cosmology, precisely as Nietzsche says. And I might add, with great fervor, Thank God for that.
I'm not going to try to articulate this idiosyncratic vision here (the short version is: there may well be "closed time-like loops," but no one has to be stuck in them; compare Ousepnsky's Strange Life of Ivan Osokin), partly because it's too inchoate; but mainly because describing the experience -- a kind of Déjà vu to the nth power -- is a hopeless cause; if you don't immediately meet my eye and say "Oh my God, Yeah, I know!," the best you will be able to do is politely assume I'm not crazy. Maybe later.
My point here is far more modest. I want to contest an alternative vision of Nietzscheanism which claims that one doesn't need a truth-claim for the Return. All one needs is to treat it as a kind of useful fiction. This is Nietzscheanism "Als-ob" style: who cares if Eternal Recurrence is True? Just live as if it were true! This rationale runs thus: whether or not we can "believe" in Eternal Recurrence, it is at least starkly immanent; it refuses any recourse to a great beyond, which is (per argument) indisputably a good thing, since the allure of transcendence has made such mischief in its "world-denying" nay-saying. Whatever the merits of this critique of Transcendence, this argument will not do on hermeneutic grounds. It is not what Nietzsche means. Yes, I know that Nietzsche offers seems in some places to offer his doctrine as if it were a kind of litmus-test for Yea-Saying ("Have you said yes to a single joy?"), and downplays the question of its truth or falsity. But no "As If" will salvage the Nietzschean demon scenario as he recounts it in The Gay Science. I know this may seem beside-the-point (especially considering Nietzsche's well-known disdain, at least in some moods, for proof and refutation), but the issue is not merely exegetical. The demon is to be imagined as suggesting a true (i.e., a "literal") situation. The question is not, Can you live as though this were "figuratively" true? The question is, What would be your response if you saw that this was inescapably the way things are? One may adjust the terminology as one likes, but do not suppose that you can evade the "Eternal Return" by calling it a myth -- the only thing that gives it its ethical force is that it is accepted per hypothesis, and the hypothesis is that it is so, in the same way that, as the demon puts it this very night and this dog barking and "I myself" are so. What if you really had to live your life over and over, and every last detail remained unaltered, because that's Just How Things Are? Nietzsche's meta-ethical point only comes through if you take this question absolutely seriously. Otherwise one is like Zarathustra's dwarf, "making things too easy on yourself".
This argument is essentially that all as-if claims are conceptually dependent upon the possibility of unmodifiedly assertive claims. This is similar to, and perhaps an instance of, the Brandomian privileging of assertions:
Why privilege assertion? Because the other speech acts depend on it. For instance, ordering or commanding someone to do something is not just producing a performance that obliges them to do it. It is specifying what one is being commanded to do byBrandom's argument is broader than mine, and I don't necessarily wish to sign on to its every nuance, but I do believe he names a practical and pragmatic wrinkle that must be faced by every Wittgensteinian retreat to where "my spade is turned." Yes, explanations "come to an end somewhere," and one may name this "where" practice, but there are practices and practices, and the practice of giving reasons has a different grammar than that of other practices, for instance of command-and-response, or of "as if".
describing it, by saying what it is one is to do. So I take it that no-one who does not understand the claim “The door is shut,” can understand the order “Shut the door,” (although they could learn to respond appropriately to those noises).(Brandom, 1999 Interview)
Nonetheless, a Wittgensteinian of my stripe (by which I mean, the kind that foregrounds continuity rather than discontinuity between his early and late work) can counter that it is simply the grammar of giving reasons that sets this language-game apart, and this grammar is just a feature of this particular practice; so one may elaborate and spell out this grammar as much as one likes, but it remains a practice among practices, unless one is prepared to grant a kind of "unsayable" rationale ("rationale" is already far too said, too "explicit"), such as Wittgenstein hazarded in the Tractatus. This would be a sort of transcendental seeing of the structure of propositionality as such. For Wittgenstein (at this stage), "logic is transcendental" (Tractatus 6.13), but so too, "ethics is transcendental" (ibid. 6.421). Both are bound up with the idea of the world as a whole, or "contemplated...sub specie aeterni."
In Nietzsche, this contemplation has short-circuited. The horror of the Eternal Return, for me, is precisely that Nietzsche conflates eternity with sempiternality -- his return is a continuous stuck repeat button, and things "unfold"-- with nothing New ever. How this could have appealed to Deleuze, with his persistent pursuit of the Whiteheadian question "how can there be something new?", is an occasion for bafflement. The Return is mere serial recurrence, recurrence in Time. If Nietzsche had expressed (here) an inkling of actual Eternity, things might be different.
But then, in order to speak of Eternity, we must admit speaking of Transcendence -- or at least, with Wittgenstein, of admitting that Transcendence "shows itself".