The One Who Promises and The One Who Would Rather Not: On Nietzsche, Debt, and “The Dude” – Part I


Debt. We all have it. It’s overwhelming. And when we think of debt we, without a doubt, feel powerless. Countless films and TV shows have been and are casting characters who, in debt, become slackers or else criminals. There are two options: rebel against the system that creates debt – screw it over or destroy it – or just stop caring. For instance, the Dude, of the Big Lubowski, has decided to just stop caring. He is outside debt.   And he doesn’t look to make any promises. If we look at the Dude’s gestures and what “happens” to him, we can find something that speaks to being a little guy in a big system…of promises (any system: of language, society, culture, religion).   Since the Dude doesn’t really care about the past or the future, doesn’t want to make any promises, and, because he is chilling out and doesn’t invest too much in his will, he is a caricature of what Friedrich Nietzsche would call “active forgetfulness.”

To close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle of our underworld of utility organs working with and against one another; a little quietness, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness, to make room for new things, above all for nobler functionaries, for regulation, foresight, premeditation (for our organism is an oligarchy) – that is the purpose of active forgetfulness. (57, Genealogy)

Does the Dude, “close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time” so as to make room for better things? And is he interested in making room for new things such as “regulation, foresight, and premeditation”? The Dude doesn’t have such a will and, as we can see in the film, has no interest whatsoever in “regulation, foresight, and premeditation.”

Nietzsche sees this act of “closing the windows” as a part of “active forgetfulness.” It hinging on to a “memory of the will.” The memory is active and decisive.

Now this animal which needs to be forgetful, in which forgetting represents a force, a form of robust health, has bred in itself the opposing faculty, a memory…the memory of the will.

The purpose of this “memory of the will” is to will in such a way that “strange things” can possibly happen. Nietzsche spells  this out in the most prophetic and ecstatic manner:

So that between the original “I will”, “I shall do this” and the actual discharge of the will, its act, a world of strange new things, circumstances, even acts of will may be interposed without breaking this long chain of will. But how many things this presupposes!

This is the embrace of “strange new things” that are promised, that are “presupposed,” by “active forgetfulness” and “the memory of the will.” Nietzsche thrives in this moment of simultaneous forgetfulness and memory, which, discloses what is primary: the relation of the will to diverse and strange worlds and possibilities. Since it relates to the future, it is a prophetic moment:

To ordain the future in advance in this way, man must first have learned to distinguish necessary events from chance ones, to think causally, to see and anticipate distant eventualities as if they belonged to the present, to decide with certainty what is the goal and what the means to it, and in general be able to calculate and compute. (58)

In this prophetic kind of statement, Nietzsche is describing the will as “decisive” and “certain.” It is based on seeing and anticipating “distant eventualities as if they belonged to the present.” This, it seems, is the will of science which looks to “calculate and compute” the future. Nietzsche, in embracing this kind of will, is suggesting not just a discovery of “strange worlds” but also the act of anticipating of them. Nietzsche speaks of this as one would speak of a commandment. He uses the words of necessity:

Man himself must first of all become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself, if he is able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does! (58)

Nietzsche calls on the “one who promises,” the “individual” to stand up. The Dude doesn’t make any promises. And if he did, The Dude forgot he made them. And, whether he wills it or not, he lives in “strange worlds.” He is thrown into them. They aren’t an act of the will. Someone else’s promises landed him in one crazy situation after another. He is not the one who makes promises. He’s “The Dude.”

With the Dude, things happen.

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