A Response to Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols
The First Pot
“The real world attainable for the wise man […] he lives in it, he is it […]” (IV 1)
The Potter was new to the village and didn’t yet have a water jar for his Daughter to carry to the well. So after he set up his shop and his wheel, he began to work. He could see the image of the jar he was making in his mind’s eye, and as he worked, his deft hands moulded the clay into the form he envisioned. It was a masterpiece, a thing of beauty, and he could see his Daughter proudly carrying it to the well, a gem amongst the rough made jars of the other girls.
The walls were as thin as parchment, sloping upward, narrowing for the neck, then flaring out, an open greeting to the outside world. He pressed shapes and designs into the clay, which would later be emphasized by the multi-coloured glaze he saw in his vision. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it his Daughter.
The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “The walls are too thin! It will never hold water without breaking!”
So the Potter took back his masterpiece, his magnus opus, and put it on a shelf in the backroom of his shop, where he would go to look at it from time-to-time, and sigh, remembering the image he had seen of his Daughter carrying it to the well.
“The real world unattainable for now, but promised to the wise man […]” (IV 2)
It started, once again, with a slab of formless clay. This time, the Potter was sure to make the walls thick enough to hold water. But he could not do away with the image he had seen, and this jar was also a thing of beauty. The walls were not so wide, the neck not so narrow, the spout did not flare out so wide, but its shape was still graceful, still elegant, as his Daughter would look as she carried it to the well.
The Potter once again pressed designs into the walls of the jar, images of the sun, and moon, and stars. And the beauty that had been lost in its new, sturdier shape was made up for with the deep colours he used in the glaze. It lacked the delicacy of his first jar, but not the beauty. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.
The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “I cannot use this jar either! The other girls will see it and laugh and say ‘she has brought a vase, fit only for decoration, and not a water jar’.”
So the Potter took his beautiful work, and placed it on the shelf next to the first one. And often he would go into his backroom and look longingly at his two creations and sigh.
“The real world unattainable […] but the mere thought of it a consolation […]” (IV 3)
This jar, the Potter decided, would be plain. There was no image in his mind to work from. He shaped it as he had shaped hundreds of water jars before, back when he was an apprentice. It was no work of great beauty, but respectable in its simplicity. His Daughter would not carry it with the pride she could have borne with the other jars, but she would not carry it with shame either. It was a humble jar.
The sides were impressed with a series of grooves that circled the jar from top to bottom, and the glaze was plain, a solid blue, like the water it would hold. Though it was no work of art, the Potter reminded himself of the two jars in his backroom, and smiled at the mere recollection of their beauty. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.
The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “Now this is a jar I can use!” And so she carried it to the well to fetch the household water.
But when the jar had been fired, a small crack had formed in the side, which neither the Potter nor his Daughter noticed. Thus, when the Daughter brought the water back from the well, the jar was only half full. The rest of the water had leaked out. So the Potter placed the jar on the shelf next to the other two, where it sat condemned, a broken jar next to the two works of beauty.
“The real world—unattainable? At any rate unattained. And since unattained also unknown. Hence no consolation […]” (IV 4)
The Potter gave no thought to his other jars. All had failed him, and he had been left with nothing but half a jar’s worth of water, brought back in a leaky pot. There was to be no design this time. The walls were thick and strong, so that the jar could withstand the heat of the kiln. No shapes, not even the simple grooves of the last jar, were pressed into the sides. The glaze was clear, only there to ensure that the porous clay would hold the water. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.
The Daughter looked at the jar and exclaimed, “This jar is too ugly! I cannot carry it to the well, for the other girls will mock me!”
And so the Potter took the jar and set it beside the three in his backroom, and when he looked at the ugly lump of clay sitting next to his three creations, he was disgusted, and swore he would make no more jars.
“The ‘real world’—an idea with no further use, no longer even an obligation […] let us do away with it!” (IV 5)
And so the Potter and his Daughter lived off of the half a jar’s worth of water that had been brought back from the well for a few days. Because the Potter had sworn to make no more jars, they drunk their water from their hands, shaped to make cups.
But soon they began to run out of water, and the Daughter said to the Potter, “Soon we will go thirsty. Give me the ugly jar and I will go get water from the well.”
But the Potter refused, and said “We have our hands. We do not need the jar.”
“The real world—we have done away with it: what world was left? the apparent one, perhaps?...But no! with the real world we have also done away with the apparent one!” (IV 6)
When the water was gone, the Potter went to his backroom and looked at the jars on the shelf. “We have our hands. We do not need the jar.” he repeated.
And so, he took his first jar, the great work of beauty, and smashed it on the floor. Then he took his second jar, with its dancing colours, and smashed it on the floor. Next he grasped the humble jar, the broken one with a leak, and it also he smashed on the floor. Finally, he took his arm and swept his last jar off the shelf, not even willing to look at its ugliness. And it too was smashed upon the floor.
Hearing the sounds of broken pottery, the Daughter came into the backroom, and when she saw what had happened, she exclaimed, “What have you done? Now we have no jars to carry water back from the well!”
“We have our hands. We do not need the jar.” the Potter said. And at these words, his Daughter wept, because she realized they had no jars, and no way to bring water back from the well.