“’Transvaluating all Values’. Do you understand this phrase? … I asked myself what has been until now the most hated, feared, despised by humanity: and it is precisely that which I have made my ‘gold’.” Friederich Nietzsche, letter to Georg Brandes, 23 May 1888

Transvaluation is an act immanent to one’s own thinking and has a relationship to “humanity’s” (to which Nietzsche refers) that demands questioning, whether or not the enlightenment of humanity is to be grounded in one’s own thinking. I will look here at transvaluation without reference to its variable content, such as the ideas of the Enlightenment, but as the moment of opening to an active, questioning mode of thinking with regard to oneself. [From here on I will replace “one” or its substitutes “we” and “you” with what I call “the I.” This allows me, and hopefully you the reader, to recognize that what I am writing is not the anonymous other, nor the personal I (the experience of which I am the sole owner), but the I that could be the other.]

What I have disvalued as a “hated, feared, despised” way of thinking/feeling is what I have judged as immeasurably wrong and unjustified for me myself to think. My tendency to overrule and censor such wrongness might be so habitual and deep that I don’t even know I have such judgment against it. I violate it regularly such that it even yields the guilt of self-sabotage when I see my pattern of doing so. By the act of enlightenment, or transvaluation I invert this judgment, resulting in me asserting and validating it, at least complicating my earlier simple relation to it. What has caused me embarrassment and shame is unearthed and brought to the light of day. “What if I’ve been right all along” is a libidinous, joyful moment in which I can say “I am” with no residue of opposition. It is just possible that this not be an expression of triumph over an other, a simple turning of the tables, but a release from my self-captivity.

So long as my activity/mode/habit is embarrassment at my betrayal of right-thinking I can only elaborate and not modify my “correct” assumptions, without fully knowing them or why I hold them. And so long as I cannot imagine thinking other than how I feel obliged to think, I am stuck, and will myself to be stuck.

Internal argument aimed at emancipation frequently gets caught up in words that are defined in the very terms of what is problematic, and so can reinforce the repression and embarrassment rather than resolving it. There is a new “should” of the argument (“you’ve been wrong to think you’re wrong, for this and that reason”) balanced nicely by the prior “should” of censorship, and the two cancel each other out, yielding depressing stasis, a lengthy civil war. This war, intolerable in myself, I easily project onto others, and such projection then has much to do with my stance in relation to them. I want to be a unified being, consistent, able to stand behind my statements and actions as “right,” and so must locate the other that is wrong, who will stand in for what I suppress as scapegoat. If and when I become aware of this dilemma—which is none other than the search for the truth—a point is reached where inversion might appear as an option, not in an absolute form but as an act of the imagination, spontaneous and sudden. I can even imagine not being ashamed to be the enemy I fear. This short-circuits my lengthy argument against myself, and permits me to find new paths of reasoning. My normative thinking then appears the fiction, as I put on the new shoes and find what dance they want me to do.

This inverted, new-found “rightness” differs from the rightness of an assumed belief, does not have the same relation to “truth.” Enlightenment, as I’m using the term, is an act that brings assumptions into the caring, unthreatening fold of what I can think about. I don’t want to get rid of them but to cease my alienation from them, which is no different from my valuing of them. In the act of self-enlightenment, of transvaluation, I think my thoughts rather than argue or assume them. It is more about suggesting than challenging, for I will defend myself against challenge, no matter what its specific worth. Thinking is first of all imagining and suggesting. “What is true?” begins and continues to be rooted in “What if this is true?” In this case, imagining that my global sense of what should be right, into which I has been struggling to shape my recalcitrant self, has been an attempt to suppress a certain way of thinking that is a real possibility. What I now flip over and positively assert need not turn the old “right” into the same kind of wrong that I have been suppressing. There is at least a moment, which can be expanded, in which I might transcend the two and sympathizes with the self who resisted the possibility. Indeed, I want to be capable of rooting from the sidelines for all the right-wrong selves I have traversed in my lifetime. In that expanded moment truth dissolves into the universal; “my thought” into thinking, and my self into the multiple.