Nietzsche on the "tyranny of the actual"

"What antiquated thoughts I harbour in my breast toward such a complex of mythology and virtue! But they must out for once, and may everyone have a good laugh. I would say the following: history always inculcates: "once upon a time," the moral: "you ought not" or "you ought not to have." So history becomes a compendium of actual immorality. How grievously he would err who would at the same time view history as the judge of this actual immorality! That a Raphael had to die at the age of thirty-six, for example, is offensive to morality: such a being ought never to die. If now you want to come to the aid of history, as apologists of the actual, you will say: he expressed all he had to say and given a longer life he would always only have produced beauty as the same beauty, not as new beauty, as things of this sort. Thus you are advocates of the devil, namely by making of success, of fact, your idol: while a fact is always stupid and has at all times resembled a calf more than a god." (From Nietzsche's On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, section 8. Translation by Peter Preuss.)

Life as allegory: a study of Walter Benjamin

Benjamin’s was a life of allegory in part because it was so often removed from so-called life: a world teeming with books and images and commodified things, the commodity being “the bias of the world,” as Shakespeare wrote well before the fiercest era of commodification. These things, literal and otherwise, are all of the order of “second life,” even if they were also a kind of life. And an intense one at that. Before he had read in 1924 Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (whose analysis of reification deeply impressed him), Benjamin already had a sense, via Novalis and the Romantics he read for his doctoral dissertation, that the object can eerily return our gaze. When Marx, in Capital, has commodities talk, it’s pretty darn funny. Benjamin lets Marx’s serious point kick in and re-orient some of his pre-Marxist but “romantic anticapitalist” leanings more concretely to the left. When Keats said of Shakespeare that he led “a life of allegory,” he meant partly that the great dramatist could do the voices of others, able to imagine, in negatively capable fashion, what it was to be in another’s head and skin and to speak just like them. There is something of this chameleon-like behavior in Benjamin, as he exposes himself differently to different friends, most famously to the not-so-compatible forces of Gershom Scholem, Asja Lacis, Brecht, and Adorno. So it is good to know, apropos of any project, with whom Benjamin is hanging around, corresponding, or reading. Not that Benjamin was incapable of drawing the line or bristling (or worse) at this or that suggestion or critique from another. He was a difficult friend to many friends. And mostly unsatisfactory as a lover, despite the fascination he could evoke. One woman who got close described him as “incorporeal.” According to his first and only wife, this historian of the historicity of perception was, around the time of their divorce, “all brains and sex.”