The Eternal Recurrence of the Slightly Different

Although highly influenced by Nietzsche, Meingast departed from Nietzsche on several key points. One crucial point of contention concerns Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence. Meingast’s fervent disagreement with Nietzsche on this topic is summarized nicely in the following representative passage:

“Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence remained long in my mind, from Silvester to Silvester over many, many years. For in it was contained the kernel of the most profound insight, yet that kernel’s development into a mature tree of knowledge was hindered — halted, really — because it was planted in the inhospitable soil of the 19th century. Nature is not (as most of that dark era unthinkingly held it to be) merely an interlocking system of modular and lackluster elements. Even Nietzsche, despite himself, failed to see that what recurs is not a succession of events, but rather the succession of the significance — the value — of the events (let no reader be misled: the value is neither “objective” nor “subjective,” but rather poised in between). Consequently, the eternal recurrence need not eventuate in tedium: there can be subtle variations, pleasing cycles of hue changes, slight yet unexpected changes of setting and character. This imbues the cycles of human life with a joie de vivre and allows man to endure the repetition with a kind of zest (I hesitate to call it childlike wonderment). A man misses an appointment due to a train delay; the following cycle, he may miss it due to a carriage malfunction. A friend shows up to a rendezvous hatless with a mole on the side of his cheek; when the hourglass turns, the friend may appear unblemished, wearing a top-hat. A man meets his wife for the first time sporting a monocle and a neatly trimmed mustache; when the cycle repeats, his mustache may be wild and unkempt, he may wear a pince-nez but no mustache, or it may be the wife who wears the mustache. By enforcing, despite himself, a procrustean standard, Nietzsche has violently marred his fundamental insight. But we can place that delightful little seed in good soil, and see it grow. Placed in its proper place, the idea emerges in its pure and right form. Properly so called, it is not the eternal recurrence of “the same”, but rather the eternal recurrence of the slightly different. Nietzsche claimed to have had this idea at Noon, maintaining that it will strike mankind forever at this hour; next time, it may occur to him at Ten o’clock.” (Preface, On The Eternal Recurrence of the Slightly Different)


  1. Can we reconcile what Meingast says here with his earlier essay, “The Moustache”? There he says, prefiguring Scheler and Plessner, that “…what sets Man apart from the other animals is that where all animals *are* their moustaches, only Man *has* his moustache too. Only for man is the moustache both object and condition. And yet the moustache is truly the most natural part of man, for he so often does not know what it is doing. This draws him back from his decentered position [exzentrische Position].”

    1. Interesting question! There does seem to be some tension here, though I’d like to be clearer on what it is. Of course, as we know, Meingast’s doctrine has continuously evolved throughout his life, and in many places there is not even an attempt to preserve a semblance of consistency. But it would still be interesting to pinpoint exactly what the tension is, and see whether the two aspects of his doctrine can be reconciled.

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