“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The secret messages of authors: Nietzsche again

How does one use the papers of an author?
Some authors, like GS Lichtenberg, are famous mainly for the notebooks that they left to posterity. Others, like Emerson and Nietzsche, are famous firstly for their books – even as those books are trailed by the vast haul of their Nachlass, their jounals, their scratch books. Both Emerson and Nietzsche, as well, worked in an essay form that centered on the phrase, or paragraph – or perhaps it would be better to say, using Nietzsche’s dynamite metaphor, that the essay or the number is a sort of photograph of the ruin caused by the explosion of these phrases, sentences, slogans at the center. The center, supremely, does not hold.
I’m thinking about this while reading and  gritting my teeth through, Geoff Waite’s book on Nietzsche. Waite, who positions himself as a true, Nietzsche-defying leftist (an authorial figuration that takes many turns – sometimes he casts himself as a man  heading Nietzsche off at the pass, as though FN wore a black hat and rustled cattle and GW was Wyatt Earp), still turns to Leo Strauss’ notion of esoteric and exoteric to find Nietzsche’s true message. This message is in the notes.
I must admit that I find a certain amount of humor in this. Nietzsche, as is well known, was a sick man with bad eyes, who for most of his life made little money from his books and had to depend on the pension he’d been granted when he quit the University of Basel. This pension was around 800 thaler. Which, in today’s terms, would be about 23 thousand per year. Waite, however, refers to him as a rentier – which is exactly what he wasn’t – and comments about certain illegible notes in Nietzsche’s papers: “Exactiy here Nietzsche's text stutters, becomes unintelligible.91 Whenever one's handwriting breaks down completely—becomes illegible to others or to oneself— this is not necessarily by chance, nor necessarily unconsciously motivated.” The ‘not necessarilys” here are supposed to look like arguments, and certainly they are indisputable – but they also indisputably get us nowhere. Was Nietzsche such a sneek that he couldn’t even write in his notebooks without looling over his shoulder to make sure that nobody read what he really wrote about Plato? I would say, not necessarily, and not even probably, given what we know about the material conditions of his production. In another place – this struck even sympathetic reviewers – Waite pushes towards an image of Nietzsche dreaming of concentration camps to come, when in a notebook entry from the time of the composition of Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes “Der Entschluss. Unzaehlige Opfer muss es geben.” Waite translates this as "There will have to be countless dead bodies [Opfer: offerings or sacrifices]."57  The parenthetical translation choices are there, apparently, to save his scholarly integrity – for of course “The decision: there must be countless sacrifices” could mean just what it seems to mean – that there will have to be countless sacrifices. Since Nietzsche’s public works often speak of Opfer, with the meaning being a sacrificed living thing, or a sacrificed desire, etc., it would seem more, well, hermeneutically just to compare uses and decide just what is going on here, if anything.

However, if one is armed with an esoteric reading kit, things become a lot clearer, forensically clearer in fact.

If Waite’s style of reading Nietzsche seems to go off the track at times, he still presents us with an interesting question, one that is particularly pertinent to Nietzsche. After all, famously, many of Nietzsche’s jottings were put into a book and the book was attributed to Nietzsche: “The Will to Power.” The history of that book is a sort of philological crime, and like so many crimes, it was committed by a family member of the victim – Nietzsche’s sister made the book, employing Nietzsche’s friend, Peter Gast, to read the notes.
Gast – guest – what a perfect name for the intruder in the notebooks! And yet, we, who read those jottings, soon make ourselves at home. After all, it is from these notebooks that the books were quarried, and so we are tempted to think of them as the raw material, or key to the mysteries.

Waite himself seems to move between thinking that the notebooks are where the exoteric reveals its esoteric content, and thinking that even the notebook jottings conceal some ultimately even more horrible fascoid thought. Myself, I think that the exoteric/esoteric dichotomy is disturbed, and made less ‘forensically’ useful,  by Nietzsche’s perspectivism.



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.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Water pistol juntas


Lately, I've been thinking of this post, which I wrote in 2011

When looking at the story of capitalism and the rise of the European powers, it is striking to see forms of organization appear on the periphery before they migrate to the center. For instance, the work discipline of the factory in 19th century England seems to replicate forms of work discipline created for the sugar 'factories' in the West Indies of the 17th century. In 19th century England, the work discipline was imposed on 'free labor', and in Jamaica, it was imposed on slaves. Yet, if we look away from the changes implied by this transformation of the working agent, we see a continuity of form, or at least the production of an organizational form that can be transposed.  And, unlike serf labor in Central Europe, for instance, this slave labor is relatively free of the codes that define its rights and hedge in the transmission of property and title by the owners.

A similar movement from the periphery to the center seems to be happening in the counter-revolution that is now occuring in all developed countries. What happened to the LDCs in the 80s - the less developed countries - is now being served up to the Developed Countries. It is an interesting mix of fiction and terror.

The eighties are the 'lost decade' in Latin America because they are the decade in which the program of the Washington Consensus, as it came to be know, were imposed on Latin American counties. The weapon by which they were lashed into this madness was debt - combined of course with the military regimes that had been put in place in the sixties and seventies as part of the U.S.'s cold war strategy. And the result of the WC was a major drop in the living standards of the majority of the population, and an end, almost, to growth. While the 50s and the 60s saw tremendous growth in Latin America, and an uneven but perceptible distribution of more wealth to the wage and working class, in the 80s this stopped dead. What emerged in the nineties were 'good countries', like Mexico, that devoted the government to obeying the banks, notably IMF. The IMF model, however, suffered a severe blow when Argentina refused to go along with the usual medicine in 2000, and the U.S. grip on the region began to loosen.

Well, the Washington consensus has migrated, at last, to the developed world. The whole world is now being held up by bankers holding waterpistols to our head. And this threat without a real weapon - for no developed state really needs to obey the bankers, who after all have no police force to arrest it (unlike the Latin American states, where the U.S. could whip up a junta in a heartbeat) - is, to the general amazement of the non-numb among us, being obeyed to the last tittle and jot. 

In the 80s, the police were, in effect, the developed nations. However, beginning, perhaps, with Bush in 2000, the Developed Nations have given birth to the smokeless coup. This coup does not involved armed might - it involves merely taken unelected institutions, such as a court of a central bank, and making them the center of a completely undemocratic seizure of political power, on behalf of the wealthiest people on earth. There aren't, we should remind ourselves, too many wealthy people. And yet the police of every Developed country on earth have been toiling away for wealthy people and locking up demonstrators, cracking down on any demonstration of discontent, and raiding any leaks of information inconvenient to the establishment. The resistence to all of this has been tame beyond reckoning. The self-policing extends all the way up through the discourse - nobody who writes for a major paper or magazine, or who broadcasts, ever couches the new Washington Consensus junta society in terms that would offend your average civics class teacher. 

What would such terms be? Well, for instance, we would start saying: who is all this money owed to? And: can't we simply upset those bankers by taking away their money, one two three, without a by your leave. If sovereign debt is such a problem, we could easily raise the money to pay it by slapping, say, one hundred percent taxes on all bond transactions, and we can use that money to buy the bonds. And absurd solution to an absurd political situation - not an economic one. The question of debt is a question of class. The political class and the financial elite are one, united, and they drive our politics in ways that advantage the financial elite, who use money loaned them, by the governments, to loan money back to the governments. Oh, not directly - rather, by propping up the financial service sector's enterprises, we prop up the places where the bodn dealers work and trade.  

The debt issue is, then, one of those fictions that bear such weight because they serve the interest of a certain power. It isn't that the establishment doesn't believe in its fiction - much as the Aztec priest definitely believed that it was necessary to cut out the heart of a prisoner to appease the gods and continue the course of the world, the elite believe it is necessary to cut out the heart of the middle class to appease the abstract God of Debt, to whom we owe so much. My solution is the radical one of the Lord's prayer - in which we have prettified and made metaphoric the common sense suggestion that we forgive debt every day. Debt. Which is as material as the feeling of the edge of a coin. Forgiving debt is the heart of civilization. And - in this age of the internet, where all that is money has become bytes - it is divinely easy to do it. It is always the sovereign who actually enforces laws to force debters to pay creditors. When the power of the sovereign is calmly and cooly taken from the hands of the people and invested in the hands of ex employees of Goldman Sachs, they switch sides - from being the borrowers for the people, they become the creditors for the banks. 

This is, obviously, going to be a lost decade for the Developed countries. But I'm hopeful that the new Junta order will be, at best, short lived. The arithmatic that counts is not how much debt is owed, but the ratio of the creditor population to the debtor population. I'd keep my eye on the latter, for, given the logic of the counterrevolution we are seeing, the time is approaching when the the banker's water pistol will be jerked out of his hand and turned upon him. And, magically, in that moment it will become a real pistol, with a heft and insistance that will change the power relationship all, all at once.