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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Get thee behind me, Mr. N.

I said – or perhaps threatened – that I had two more posts on Nietzsche, having felt a fiery call to deliver my message to the unheeding heathen. He who has ears can get his hat – there is probably some raree blog controversy much more interesting elsewhere. So, without further ado, and taking up where we left off last time:

The influence of Nietzsche on the concepts or tactics of fascism is, I think, nill. Tactically, Nazism employed tactics that have spontaneously occured to your average ten year old bully for millenia, amplified by modern technology and enriched with all the bile and acids of ethnic hatred and the bodyslamming effect of the business cycle. Conceptually, even Nietzsche’s most ardent Nazi followers admitted that he was anti-antisemitic, anti-nationalist, and anti-state. These are constants in his work from the post Wagner period to the very end. Nietzsche's closest experience with fascist art and rhetoric -- in the Wagner circle -- made him very unhappy.

In attempting to annex Nietzsche, his fascist interpreters made three interrelated claims. They claimed that the will to power gives us a guide to the immutable social categories of the strong and the weak, no matter that they are, on the surface, contingent and changeable; that the will to power is the central concept that makes all of the rest of Nietzsche’s work intelligible; and that the systematic summa is to be found in the Will To Power.

We, on the other hand, claim that the idea of a central illuminating concept in Nietzsche’s work is a will of the wisp – except if you believe, as Nietzsche came to, that it is the Eternal Return of the Same; that Nietzsche alternates between treating the categories of the strong and the weak as immutable ahistorical concepts and as very mutable ones, in line with his criticism of any of the truth claims of immutable, transcendent categories deduced from philosophic principles; and that the Will to Power was brokered into existence by Elisabeth, Nietzsche’s sister, who took various jottings Nietzsche made about future masterworks (jottings that every writer makes) too seriously, and who created her Nietzsche book out of a basic and deep ignorance of Nietzsche’s principle of composition. Elizabeth’s idea, which is common today, is that Nietzsche scattered a bunch of insights – aphorisms – about in no particular order, responding to no particular textual strategy. If he contradicted himself, he contradicted himself, a la Whitman. Myself, I find Nietzsche’s notebooks always fascinating. But they do not make a book. However, Elisabeth and even poor Peter Gast, the friend of Nietzsche’s she suborned to do the project, mistook the episodic for the chaotic. This isn’t surprising. Elisabeth was looking for money and prestige; she was never known as a fine reader or critic. So here was the goal: get together a schoolboy version of a philosophy book by bundling together thoughts under different topic headings, and there you have it.

This won’t do. What Nietzsche got from Plato was a deep dialogical tact. What that means is that you have a sense for how a point a view can inspire a response, which then touches a spring in the original point of view that moves it in such a way that in explaining itself, it becomes something else again. Doxa are mercurial or they are dead. In the later case, they can be stuffed into almanachs, dictionaries, encyclopedias and tests. They retain a use value for memory; they lose, however, their real, discursive life.
At this point I am going to do something so extremely boring nobody will read the next bit – but such are the sacrifices I make for art. I’m going to apply a certain theory of reference, developed by Francis Jacques, to Nietzsche’s work – in particular, his notion of retro-reference. Jacques developed this in contrast to the prevailing Anglo school which constructed a theory of indexicals that responded to the demands of formal language – which, in Jacques’ opinion, distorts the role of indexicals by artificially bracketing their dialogic instances; or perhaps I should say his is a theory which operates as an adjunct to that school. I’ll write a little about this in my next Nietzsche post, drag in the Nietzschian “I,” expatiate on Nietzsche’s gogolian fascination with doubles, and finish up this series, to everybody’s relief.

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