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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Leftist attacks on Nietzsche, or why I am a pseudo-leftist

Domenico Lusordo’s attack on Nietzsche is one that I am weirdly eager to read, or at least some of it – I don’t think I’m in it for 1300 pages. I haven’t yet read Geoffry Waite’s massive attack on Nietzsche, or, really, Nietzschian leftism – pseudo-leftism, Waite claims. Pseudo-leftism is a pretty good description of my own politics, and the fall of communism is not something I mourn (except when listening to Leonard Cohen’s The Future) so there is that.  Marx and Nietzsche were allied in at least this: they weren’t mourners.
However, from the reviews I have read of the Lusordo, and the bits I have read of Waite, my impression is that they are operating within the Nietzschian dance – a politics of the text, if you will. Interestingly, though, they seem to deny Nietzsche any humor or wit. Rather, his is a corpus to be driven through with a plow. If there is humor or wit, this is mere deception, mere encrypting. What it is not, what it can never be, is enjoyment.  For instance, Waite interprets Nietzsche’s subtitle of Zarathustra (a book for everyone and no one) as dividing neatly into a book for the masses and another for the elite. This division leaps over the fact that it is an odd elite, indeed, that is no one. No one, on the contrary, seems to be where the social breaks down, not where the social is ruled. Now, one could argue that rule is all the more efficient when it is incorporated by every one and enforced by no one – but this argument seems to go against Nietzsche’s own fierce anti-democratic bias, and make Nietzsche more like a liberal nudger, a la Cass Sunstein: we’ll just use clever prospective theory to make the masses make the right choices.
No one seems to me to be more hermeneutically approachable by way of a politics of (psychological) depression – the feeling that one’s loneliness has erased one’s social self entirely.
This isn’t the only interpretation of that Niemand – but it does, at least, treat with the letter of the word. Waite seems to have impatiently decided that the opposite of mass being elite, Nietzsche’s text will just have to be nailed here and we can discard as moping or disingenuousness any question about how we get from no one to elite.
This is what I mean by the bulldozing tendencies of Nietzsche’s new lefty critics. From what I have read in the review of Lusordo’s book, a similar impatience with Nietzsche’s playfulness gives us the truth about his “politics”. Lusordo shows that the rhetoric of anti-semitism – most of all, the notion of the rootless Jew – is heavily borrowed from in The Birth of Tragedy to contextualize Socrates. Voila, the book has a hidden anti-semitic subtext that is its key. Now, this is all very well – Nietzsche was prone to anti-Jewish bigotry (a nineteenth century malady that crops up in the correspondence of Marx and Engels as well), and he was very much in Wagner’s circle at the time he wrote his first book. But we seemed to have skipped over a rather crucial moment in the book – this anti-Jewish rhetoric is used to describe Socrates. Doesn’t this rather collapse, or at least damage, the idea around which the anti-Jewish rhetoric was built in the first place – the division between Christian Europe and the Jew? Doesn’t it even, retrospectively, cast into doubt Schopenhauer’s worship of Kant, who the anti-semitic Schopenhauer compared to… Socrates?
What I like about pseudo-leftism is that it deprograms the old lefty urge to conclude.  I don’t ever conclude … this is a principle in which life intersects with theory, for me.

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