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Nietzche reception today

Nietz5che reception
today
Pauline Johnson

I want no ‘believers’. I think I am too malicious to
believe in myself; I never speak to masses. – I have
a terrible fear that one day I shall be pronounced

biological’ revolution was enticingly projected in
contrast to the ‘superficial’, ‘external’ social
revolution. 2

holy.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1885

In 1952 Georg Lukacs wrote one of the great denunciations of a major Western philosopher. The
Destruction of Reason introduces Nietzsche as a
vigorous campaigner in a bitter ideological war waged
by the bourgeoisie against the historical ambitions of
the European proletariat in the last decades of the nineteenth century.l Lukacs describes Nietzsche as an
astute witness to the cultural psyche and an uncanny
diviner of the particular mix of needs experienced by
the German intelligentsia throughout this turbulent
period. Hungry for cultural rebirth yet fearful of social
and political change, the nervous and confused
intelligentsia discovered in Nietzsche’ s philosophy just
the sort of mythologized images of a rebellious,
creative spirituality it craved. As a receptacle for the
malcontent consciousness and disappointed hopes of
the intelligentsia, Nietzsche’ s philosophy functioned
to drive this group further into a retreat from real
historical processes, snapping any potential ties with
the real bearers of cultural renewal – the European
proletariat.

Lukacs at this time refuses to be taken in by
Nietzsche’s explicit denials of the systematic character
of his thinking. By building up a portrait of those
elements which enabled this philosophy to perform a
vital ideological role in the class struggles of its age,
Lukacs discovers its real coherence and system. His
philosophy performed the social task of ‘rescuing’ and
‘redeeming’ the German intelligentsia. It offered:

a road which avoided the need for any break, or
indeed any serious conflict, with the bourgeoisie. It
was a road whereby the pleasant moral feeling of
being a rebel could be sustained and even
intensified, whilst a ‘more thorough’, ‘cosmic

24

Radical Philosophy 80 (NovlOec

1996)

For the later Lukacs, un systematic Nietzsche is simply
a disguise through which the organizing ideological
significance of his work must be discerned.

In the deluge of recent literature on Nietzsche,
Lukacs’s sweeping condemnation is generally passed
over in silence or used to illustrate the inadequacy of
a totalizing ideological reading of this supposedly
open-ended and anti-systematic philosophy. Although
it was written only some fifty years ago, the philosophy
of history and the political commitments which inspire
Lukacs’s Nietzsche critique speak to a contempo~ary
audience as from a dead epoch. This denunciation
posits a reader already convinced that the realization
of humanity’s telos is self-evidently identified with
the socialist cause. In the wake of the collapse of
Eastern-bloc socialism, and with the rise of new social
movements, such a reader has become virtually extinct.

To late-twentieth-century critics of modern society, the
very radicalness of Nietzsche’ s attack on the key
values of modernity is the essence of his appeal. In
particular, Nietzsche’s reflection on knowledge and
power, with its fundamental premiss that reason is
nothing more than a perverted and disguised will to
power, has been embraced by a generation discontented with the fruits of Enlightenment. In the face
of the intensified, multidimensional vision of
modernity’s ‘iron cage’, modern readers of Nietzsche
have found a seeming ally in their suspicions regarding
all humanist assertions of solidarity and all appeals to
humanity’s telos. Nietzsche’s attack on the levelling
image of equality harboured by the Christian bourgeois
tradition has seemed to some radical critics of late
modern society to voice their own crisis of faith.

Foucault, for example, has described his own critique
of the disciplinary society as ‘quite simply Nietzschean’ in motivation.

In Nietzsche’s repudiation of the principle of
equality and in his loathing of the ‘herd’, the

multifarious art of style that has ever been at the
disposal of one man.’ 5

committed communist Luk,lcs discovers a backwardlooking repudiation of the positive achievements of

These contemporary attempts to suggest the
essentially anti-systematic character of Nietzsche’s
thought seek further evidence by appealing to the
supposed extraordinarily diverse history of Nietzsche
reception. Ascheim’s study of the Nietzsche Legacy in
Germany 1880-90 chronicles the remarkable variegated history of Nietzsche’s reception in modern
Germany. According to Ascheim, the ideological and
political import of Nietzsche’ s works has flowed freely
from the texts in response to the various rival interests
and projects invested in them. Nietzsche’s writings
have been exploited in the name of an extraordinary
array of seemingly mutually antagonistic political and
ideological causes: anarchist, expressionist, futurist,
nationalist, Nazi, religious, sexual libertarian, Volkish
and Zionist. The congeniality of his writings to so
many contradictory tendencies and interests reflects,
as Ascheim sees it, a central property of Nietzsche’s
post-Hegelian thought and method: his rejection of
systematizers and systems. 6
The weight of direct textual evidence is supposed,
then, to favour a reading which stresses the radical
ideological openness of Nietzsche’s writings. Ascheim
concludes that, ‘There should be no set portrait of the
“authentic” Nietzsche, nor dogmatic certainty as to his
original intent. Only a Receptiongeschichte sensitive
to the open-ended, transformational nature of the
Nietzsche legacy will be able to appreciate its rich
complexity.’ 7 There can be no serious argument with
this suggestion that each historically significant reading
constructs its own essential Nietzsche through the
distinctive preoccupations, questions and interests it
brings to bear. Yet recognition of the creative dimension essential to the process of interpreting all
great philosophies needs to be grasped by each reading
as the assumption of a peculiar burden: as the
recognition of an obligation to seek clarification of the
character of its own particular motivations and
interests. The significance of the abandonment of the
search for an essential, systematic Nietzsche has been
understood in quite contrary terms in some of the
recent Nietzsche literature. In these cases, rejection of

modernity. By contrast, contemporary interpreters have
tended to seek in Nietzsche an advocate of their own
deep misgivings about the levelling suppression of the
different, the displaced, and those marginalized by the
abstract liberal conception of equality. More than this,
a number of contemporary interpreters have sought to
brush Nietzsche’s philosophy against the grain to discover in it the seeds of a new conception of social cooperation; one capable of sustaining, not suppressing,
a commitment to the expression of positive difference.

The following article investigates the efforts of a
range of recent interpretations concerned to establish
Nietzsche’s relevance to us. Against the totalizing
character of LublcS’ s reading, these interpretations
typically suppose themselves uninterested in the disclosure of the essential truth of Nietzsche’s texts: theirs
is an avowedly appropriative interest concerned to
harness aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy to the clarification and elucidation of contemporary concerns and
ideologies. Whilst recognition of an ongoing hermeneutical struggle between the texts and their modern
interpreters is signalled through the invariably strategic
character of these readings, many important lapses in
the realization of their manifestly anti-totalizing
intentions can be discovered in the work of this recent
generation of Nietzsche interpreters.

The redemptive paradigm
A significant number of contemporary interpreters,
including Steven Ascheim and Keith Ansell-Pearson,
have pointed to the apparent lack of any organizing
political and ideological agenda in Nietzsche’s
writings. 3 Such perspectives move to centre-stage
Nietzsche’s own well-known disavowal of all systembuilding aspirations. As he says in Twilight of the
Idols: ‘I mistrust all systematisers and avoid them.’

The will to a system’, Nietzsche adds, ‘is a lack of
integrity. ‘4 Again, for the current generation of his
interpreters, Nietzsche’s aphoristic style is seen as a
further manifestation of his antagonism to all systematic intentions. The temptation of modern philosophies
to offer themselves as a ‘home’ to the restless modern
spirit was the very last thing Nietzsche had in mind.

His work was rather to bear witness to this endless
quest. ‘Considering that the multiplicity of inward
states is exceptionally large in my case’, Nietzsche
wrote, ‘I have many stylistic possibilities – the most

the idea of ‘essential’ Nietzsche does not provoke a
sensitivity to the creative aspect of the hermeneutical
process but is, rather, understood in the light of a
discovery of the apparent anti-systematic, open-ended
character of his philosophy. Here the repudiation of
‘essential’ Nietzsche stumbles upon his ‘truth’: upon a
vantage point from which all alternative, merely ideological, readings might be dissolved.

25

Several of Nietzsche’s contemporary interpreters
thus celebrate the open-ended and avowedly antisystematic character of his texts as the discovery of
the dominant commitment in Nietzsche, and see this
as carrying an implicit radical pluralist potential. Paul
Patton, for example, supposes a strong congruence
between the anti-systematic character of Nietzsche’s
writings and the alleged radical pluralism of his
politics. Once this essential Nietzsche is recognized,
the contemporary reader can appreciate as mere
‘masks’ of an ill-judging ‘coarseness and brutality’

those formulations in his philosophy which might seem
to contradict this idea of a democratizing Nietzsche. 8
Again, Keith Ansell-Pearson chides as a misconstruction all ‘moralistic’ readings of Nietzsche’s
texts which overlook the contemporaneity of his supposed dominant commitment to the idea of human
plurality and diversity. Ansell-Pearson is able to draw
on a degree of textual support for his contention that,
‘The overriding aim of Nietzsche’s philosophy is to
promote autonomy in his readers.’9 These sorts of
motivations are, he claims, very evident in a range of
Nietzsche’s explicit exhortations to his readers.

Seduced by my kind and style,
you follow and travel after me?

Go after your own self faithfully and thus you follow me – slowly! slowly!IO
Rather than interpreting this and other such remarks
as an attempt to target a self-reflexive reader who
might be equal to the task set before them by his
philosophy, Ansell-Pearson finds in such statements
evidence of Nietzsche’s commitment to autonomy as
a universal political ideal. Again we find reassuring
confirmation of Nietzsche’s essential cultural and
political contemporaneity. This kind of redemptive
reading is particularly evident amongst the range of
contemporary feminist intepretations of Nietzsche.

Feminist readings
The current interest in Nietzsche’s writings displayed
by many feminist philosophers is not without historical
precedent. Motifs borrowed from Nietzsche’s works
played a definitive, galvanizing role in strands of that
avant-garde feminism which surfaced in fin de siecie
Europe. This early feminism sensed an apparent
sympathy between its own revolt against the ‘gilt cage’

of bourgeois domesticity and the dynamic countercultural project of perpetual self-revolution it discovered in Nietzsche. Conceiving themselves as
victims of a social world sanctioned by an early
Enlightenment commitment to order and to harmonious

26

propriety, these radical feminists embraced Nietzsche’ s
mocking critique of a deadening rationalism. Borne on
the wave of an avant-garde spirit of vigorous individualism, Nietzscheanism, for this component of
early-twentieth-century feminism, seemed to articulate
its own buoyant mood of counter-cultural dissent and
to join with it in exultant ‘battle against the soullessness, the deadness, laziness and meanness of the
philistine world’. 11
Contemporary feminism has made rather different
kinds of investments in Nietzsche. For the earlier
romantic generation, it was the individualistic temper
of Nietzsche’s call for spiritual renewal and the
symbolic, destructive character of his thrust against
rigid bourgeois conformity which struck a sympathetic
chord. More recent feminism has, by contrast, looked
to Nietzsche to augment and philosophically refine its
own struggles against a classical liberal conception of
the subject and as a potential ally in its quest to build
a new, non-exclusionary, image of social co-operation.

In the very teeth, then, of Nietzsche’s own tirades
against feminism (seen by him as a child of a loathed
liberal egalitarianism), 12 recent feminists have tried to
recruit Nietzsche to their efforts to allow the claims of
a marginalized feminine difference to be heard.

In Nietzsche’s repudiation of the idea that behind
all action there is to be found a constant, stable, fixed
ego, Rosalyn Diprose, for example, finds pointed
evidence of a ‘positive mode of resistance to social
domination and normalization’ which is ‘especially
pertinent to the concerns of feminists and their attempts
to struggle against essentialism’ .13 Here it is the relentlessness of his attack on a normative, liberal conception
of the self, coupled with the fact that this assault
appears to be conducted in the name of some more
disparate, more radical, conception of autonomy, which
appears attractive. The radicalness of Nietzsche’s condemnation of the concept of reason has, in particular,
appealed to those contemporary feminists who have
identified the appeal to reason itself with the domination and domestication of all alterior forms of
subjectivity.

For the most part, this redemptive feminist strategy
has sought to marginalize or absorb the importance of
Nietzsche’s tirades against women in general and
feminists in particular in the name of some supposedly
more fundamental sympathies. Luce Irigaray’s fulllength study is most interesting in this respect. 14 It is,
seemingly, precisely the frustrations encountered by a
redemptive feminist reading of his philosophy which

endless rapture awaits whoever trusts the
sea. For as she rises and falls, so one’s
rapture swells and sinks. Whether the sea is
rising or falling, nothing changes in the
enchantment of living – moving about
endlessly. And does it matter if the sea is
pouring over the beaches or sinking back
into its bed? Doesn’t the one will the other,
and the other the one? And isn’t it the
passage from one to the other that makes for
eternal good fortune?15

~–..!!!:!:.::——

—-

inspires the musings of Irigaray’s ‘marine lover’ of
Friedrich Nietzsche. Irigaray’s feminine self speaks as
one seeking to cut herself loose from all imposed,
normative conceptions of the self. And this new
femininity-in-process sees a powerful ally in
Nietzsche’s attack on the will-to-power covertly
expressed through the liberal humanist discourse on
‘Man’. This explosive critique of a normalizing
Christian conception of the self seemed to Irigaray to
promise the road to an ethics of difference: the path to
an intersubjectivity in which the circuit of ressentiment
between master and slave, partners in domination and
subordination, is replaced by mutual respect for
difference and for the principle of human plurality.

Irigaray initially welcomes the prospects of a union
between the insights of a contemporary feminism
already revelling in the newly discovered liberty of a
subjectivity released from any negative construction of
itself and the philosopher of unbound subjectivity Friedrich Nietzsche. As the marine lover sees it,

In the end Irigaray’s hopes are dashed.

She is finally persuaded that Nietzsche
cannot share her commitment to an ideal of
social co-operation based on the principle of
a reciprocity between asymmetrical others.

Irigaray adopts the persona of the aggrieved
lover chastising her suitor for his want of
resolve in partnering her quest for a new wayof-being-together. ‘And if your hour ends
when mine begins, that gives me no pleasure.

For I love to share whereas you want to keep
everything to yourself.’ 16 She eventually
recognizes that Nietzsche cannot follow her
in her desire for respectful communication
between particular concrete others. In the
end, Nietzsche’s subjects make themselves
autonomous agents through a process of selfassertion against the other. And. the idea of
eternal recurrence confers a quasimetaphysical character on this agonistic construction of difference. David Krell points
out that, according to Irigaray’s reading of
Nietzsche, ‘The sacrifice he makes to the Idea [of
eternal recurrence] is inscribed in this – that he preferred the Idea to an ever provisional openness to a female
other.’ 17 A mounting frustration at the anti-utopian
psychology which seemingly typifies Nietzsche’s socalled ‘free spirit’ becomes evident in the course of
Irigaray’s troubled, one-sided conversation with
Nietzsche. Yet this frustration does not provoke a
discussion of the particularity of her own feminist
concerns and their distinct motivations. On the one
hand, Irigaray unmistakably signals her hermeneutical
struggles with Nietzsche; a sensitivity both expressed
and defended by the ballad-epic character of her
address. This literary contrivance highlights the nonidentity between Irigaray’s own perceived interests and
the authorial persona, Nietzsche, that she constructs.

Yet, although Nietzsche is always addressed by
Irigaray as ‘other’, the genre norms of the balladromance typically tell a narrative, not of the movement
to a greater self-consciousness, but of longing for
release from painful estrangement from the loved

27

object. Irigaray gets swept up in this longing for
reconciliation; a longing expressed by her as a lament
for Nietzsche’ s estrangement from his own essential
possibilities. The desired union could have been
realized, had Nietzsche only proven himself adequate
to those essential potentialities discovered by his
marine lover.

Irigaray’s study clearly seeks a reading strategy
capable of capturing the distinctiveness of her interpretati ve relation to Nietzsche’ s texts. By contrast,
several other redemptive readings refuse to recognize
their own hermeneutic activity in their identification
of an essential feminist Nietzsche. These interpretations acknowledge no real resistance to a feminist
reading determined to save an essentially ‘sympathetic’

Nietzsche from the misapprehensions provoked by his
apparently misogynistic utterances. The infamous
remarks in Thus Spake Zarathustra come in for particular attention. ‘Are you visiting women? Do not
forget your whip’, advises Zarathustra’s elderly female
companion. 18 According to Burgard, Tirrell and others,
such statements should not be read as expressions of
Nietzsche’s own unreasoned, passionate contempt for
women. For Tirrell, the whip is not a register of a
coercive relationship between men and women. 19 It
signals, rather, the ‘pathos of distance’ between the
sexes. 20 This register of a necessary distance appears,
she maintains, guided by a commitment to an
essentially pluralistic image of interaction between the
sexes. The whip is invoked as a rhetorical device
which demands recognition of an unbridgeable gulf
between the sexes. This affirmation of the hiatus
between gendered cultures promises to sever the
‘power of naming’ through which patriarchal constraints have operated in modern societies.

Such an attempt to establish the relevance of
Nietzsche’s philosophy to a contemporary feminist
agenda acknowledges only the terrain of Nietzsche’s
own presumed intentions as the appropriate grounds
upon which to prosecute its arguments. Convinced of
its own clairvoyant access to the essential motivations
of Nietzsche’ s philosophy, this totalizing interpretation
construes as mere rhetorical amplification those various formulations in his texts which might suggest an
alternative account of the import of his views on the
relations between the sexes. 21

asks us to recognize that there are textual evidences
for a ‘gentle’ and a ‘bloody’ Nietzsche. Warren’s
gentle, post-modern, Nietzsche is opposed to the
repressive consequences of liberalism’s reliance on a
merely abstract conception of the subject to underpin
its commitment to the principle of universal human
rights. 22 Warren is persuaded that a shared critique of
the repressive effect of this image of normative
subjectivity is an important bridge between Nietzsche
and post-modern interests. He formulates this shared
perspective in the following terms: ‘Because liberals
put a metaphysical placeholder in the space of the
individual, they failed to theorize this space. As a result
they justified liberal forms of the state in terms of an
historically conditioned effect mistaken for a universal
essence. ’23

The critique of liberalism

‘Bloody Nietzsche’, by contrast, is the engaged
political thinker, who gives to his doctrine of the willto-power a distinctly essentializing and anti-egalitarian
significance. The concept of will-to-power describes a
quintessential human drive to self-production through
mastery, exploitation and sUbjection of all otherness. 24
This trademark Nietzschean concept seems to be
sharply at odds with the preoccupations of the ‘gentle’,
‘post-modern’ Nietzsche who seeks to repudiate all
metaphysics in the name of a radical historicism. With
a view to resolving this tension, Warren argues that
the metaphysical overtones of the theory are to· be
jettisoned as belonging to Nietzsche’s supposed
inessential pre-modern political inclinations. The
theory of the will-to-power can, then, be redescribed
in historicizing terms as a rendering of that contingent,
culturally produced drive whereby each modern
individual feels called upon to produce a unique
destiny and personality as an ongoing creative act.

Nietzsche’s concept of the will-to-power can thus be
seen to provide the foundations upon which a positive
alternative to a repudiated liberal-humanist formulation
of the idea of universal rights might be built. 25
It is not, however, clear that this attempt to redeem
Nietzsche’s will-to-power for a contemporary critique
of liberalism finally succeeds in shaking off the
‘bloody’ aspects of a Nietzschean world-view identified by Warren. Its principled commitment to the idea
of universal human rights, underpinned by the idea of
a formal equality between abstractly conceived
subjects, equips liberalism with a seeming critical
standard against which appeals to the special priority

The argument developed in Mark Warren’s major
study, Nietzsche and Political Thought, illustrates
further the main motivations for – and difficulties confronting – a redemptive reading of Nietzsche. Warren

of any particular need claim might be contested. By
jettisoning the idea of formal equality between abstract
subjects, Warren’s construction of the principle of
rights has no basis on which to contest a hierarchical

28

ranking of need claims. If our humanity is recognized
by others as the achievement of the transformative
force of our will, then it would seem that a contestation
over conflicting need claims might appropriately
appeal to differential rights scaled in accordance with
our degree of ‘achieved’ humanity.

Up until now, we have looked at attempts to rescue
Nietzsche’s texts from a variety of political difficulties.

But what of the hermeneutical struggle being waged
by readings which stress the aesthetic as opposed to
the moral-ideological impulses of Nietzsche’s works?

A reception-aesthetic approach

‘t

I

Amongst the several recent attempts to give an account
of the aestheticist character of Nietzsche’ s texts, the
best known is probably Alexander Nehamas’s study
Life as Literature. 26 Nehamas discovers two related
dimensions to Nietzsche’s aestheticizing view: first,
the so-called pan-aesthetic world-view which insists
on the primacy of an aesthetic understanding of the
world on the model of the literary text; second,
Nietzsche’s insistence on an aesthetic rather than moral
attitude towards the task of individual selfdevelopment. It is this principled contest between art
and morality and its supposed consequences which
Nehamas wants to chart and to present as grounds for
an aesthetic reception of Nietzsche’s work. Nehamas
points out that, for Nietzsche, unlike his mentor
Schopenhauer, the death of God means only the end of
the self-justification of the world; it does not mean that
the world can no longer be justified. The quest for
justification and for self-justification is meat and drink
to the people who inhabit Nietzsche’s world. What
mode of justification will they choose: moral or
aesthetic? This, for Nietzsche, remains the vital
question. Underpinning Nietzsche’ s vigorous attacks
on the moral attitude, Nehamas discerns a determined
effort to repel the will-to-power of the modern masses.

The moral attitude seeks legitimacy for a particular
will-to-power through the universalizing discourse of
.’the rights of man’. It seeks to represent the envious,
materialistic standpoint of the masses as the articulation
of quintessentially human values. Through moral selfjustification, the masses proclaim the tyranny of their
own suffocating, egalitarian values as the end of
tyranny, the end of prejudice:

the Herd man of Europe today gives himself the
appearance of being the only permissible kind of
man and glorifies his attributes which make him
tame, easy to get along with and useful to the herd,
as if they were truly human virtues, namely public
spirit, benevolence, industriousness, moderation
modesty, indulgence and pity.n

Against the moral attitude, intended only to support
the weak, Nietzsche, according to Nehamas, posits an
aesthetic relation to the world; an attitude which
enables the strong to live. In contrast to the response
of the intimidated masses, strong, free spirits react to
the news of the death of God as a welcome invitation
to fashion a world for themselves. 28 Free spirits encounter the world as a text in relation to which they
are paradoxically positioned as both reader/interpreter
and author/creator. Unlike the moral attitude, the
aesthetic attitude construes its interpretations not as
revelations of universal truths but as creations which
make the world livable for free spirits. The free spirit,
an artist who fashions a world for his or her own
purposes, does not express an aesthetic disdain for
life. This is an attitude conducive to the promotion of
a particular kind of life: the life of ‘higher men’ for
whom the existence which seeks justification in the
moral attitude holds no appeal. 29
The motivation for Nehamas’s interpretation is best
understood as a special case of those earlier discussed
redemptive investments in his texts. Both of these
types of reading are interested in salvaging an
alternative image of ideal social interaction from the
ruins of Nietzsche’ s attack on the levelling image of
social solidarity harboured by the moral perspective.

Nehamas insists, however, that in Nietzsche only the
amoralism of the aesthetic attitude seeks to supplant
the hegemony of a levelling morality. Nietzsche does
not, Nehamas points out, want to replace the Christian
morality with a positive code of moral conduct of his
own. It is, on this interpretation, pointless and misleading to seek in Nietzsche new substantive principles
capable of guiding social co-operation in the modern
world. Yet, whilst Nietzsche does not describe a
positive morality, ‘this does not mean that he remains
totally silent on the question of how to act and live.’30
Nietzsche’s main objection to morality is its
absolutism: the fact that it exhibits what he calls ‘the
worst of tastes the taste for the unconditional’. Against
the absolutism of morality, Nietzsche, in Nehamas’s
interpretation, uses the expressive, communicative
mode of the aesthetic to evoke the possibilities of a
different, a better, way of being in the world.

Nietzsche’s texts are, Nehamas claims, like works of
art themselves, ‘beyond good and evil’. Their literary
character upholds the aesthetic relation as the ground
upon which norms of human interaction that defy the
authoritarian solidarities of all moral codes can be
formulated.

Nietzsche’s works achieve, it seems, the perfect
reconciliation between the preoccuptions of a Platonic
aesthetic focused on the truth value of the art object

29

and the reception aesthetic continuation of an
Aristotelian concern with art as a way of promoting

merely literary character of Nietzsche’s world cannot
ultimately shield a modern audience from this burden.

emotions and forms of behaviour. The aesthetic
character of the reception seen to be appropriate to
Nietzsche’s texts invokes an imaginative compre-

Foucault’s Nietzsche:

the historicization of life

hension (not endorsement) of the world-disclosing acts
of others. The aesthetic mode of the reception sets up
a relationship between reader and the text which
complements and reinforces that central ‘truth’ of
Nietzsche’s philosophy that calls upon a range of
argumentative and rhetorical means to persuade us that
the quest for all consensus is injurious to the health of
the animal driven by the will-to-power.

Nehamas believes that, once seen through the prism
of its purely aesthetic status, the world evoked by
Nietzsche appears inspired by strongly pluralistic
motivations. Yet, it is not in the end entirely plausible
to posit the aesthetic status of Nietzsche’ s texts as the
bearer of their ideological significance. The ideological
significance attributed by Nehamas to the aesthetic
mode of reception appropriate to Nietzsche’s texts is
actually underpinned by his prior assessment of the
ideological content of the world represented by the
philosopher Nietzsche. According to the reception
aesthetic standpoint adopted by Nehamas, the unique

Nehamas insists that in Nietzsche the aesthetic attitude
is contrasted not with the principle of life but with a
moral perspective on the world. This understanding of
the world as a work of art appears as the ‘higher’

attitude: an attitude open only to free spirits able to
dispense with the security of the dogmatic code.

Nietzsche’s clear interest in using his texts to mobilize
a spiritually bifurcated humanity invests them with an
intentionality which robs them of the disinterest
essential to the aesthetic. For a number of ‘other
interpreters, however, the rivalry between the moral
code and the aesthetic attitude described by Nietzsche
remains the most fertile ground upon which we might
begin to perceive an alternative to those coercive
patterns of interaction which, they suppose, dominate
all forms of modern intercourse. The later Foucault
has, for example, sought to use a Nietzschean-style
construction of an opposition between the aesthetic
and the moral attitudes to outline not the shape of a

the poet Nietzsche establishes the literary character of

spiritually bifurcated humanity but the contours of two
distinct understandings of patterns of self-constitution
retrievable in modern society. 33

his work. This ‘otherness’ posited by Nehamas as
characteristic of the modern reader’s experience of the

morality acceptable to everybody, in the sense that

world evoked by Nietzsche is clearly meant, however,
as an ideological judgement. The modern public,

everybody should submit to it, strikes me as catastrophic.’ 34 In the second and third volumes of The

Nehamas supposes, encounters in Nietzsche a world

History of Sexuality, Foucault turns his attention to

organized according to imperatives and values which

‘technologies of the self’ and draws a distinction
between those processes of self-regulation geared to

otherness of the world self-consciously disclosed by

appear essentially alien. In spite of everything, it seems
that Nehamas finds a core of essential value commitments promoted in Nietzsche’ s philosophy.

The philosophical, rather than merely literary, side
of Nietzsche’s writing is apparent in the receptive
relations set up by the texts. Nietzsche constantly
searches for an audience capable of assenting to his
central propositions. Zarathustra makes the point
explicit: ‘I do not speak to the masses. ’31 A disinterested participation in the world evoked by the
work of art is not what Nietzsche is after. Nietzsche,
as Nehamas admits, seeks a reader who might be
galvanized by the text. He looks forward to that time
‘when some select people will realize that they need
not be bound by the same rules that govern the rest of
the world. Perhaps these are the people for whom [he]
is writing … ’32 The value commitments outlined in the
texts demand our evaluation, and the evocation of the

30

As Foucault sees it: ‘The search for a form of

normalization and those ethical techniques aimed at
living a beautiful life. In particular, he perceives the
struggle between the aesthetic and the moral attitudes
as a contest between two conflicting images of social
interaction. In contrast to those technologies which
provoke the self to constitute itself in accordance with
a system of rules posited as universal, the aesthetic
attitude, which enjoins a commitment to the elaboration of the beautiful life, proposes a mode of communicative interaction which refuses all oppressive
solidarities. Foucault describes the aesthetic attitude
as one which permits the self to treat the harmonious
development of a unique personality as the telos of its
own individual existence. ‘Couldn’t everyone’s life
become a work of art?’, he asks. ‘Why should the
lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life? ..

From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think

that there is only one practical consequence: we have
to create ourselves as a work of art.’35
Foucault clearly endorses a kind of pan-aestheticism
which seeks not merely to articulate the specific
character of the aesthetic attitude but to promote the
aesthetic as an alternative to moral judgement: as the
principle through which forms of existence are understood and justified. This Nietzschean-inspired panaestheticism contrives a contestation between the
aesthetic judgement and the supposed repressive
normativity of moral codes. To critics of this revival
of a pan-aestheticism, it seems, however, that the universalization of the aesthetic principle, in which selfexpression and self-development appear as the telos of
all action, carries its own clear normativity. Richard
Wolin points out here that the pan-aesthetic attitude
finally confers normativity on all those instrumentalizing forms of interaction through which heroic
individuality is able constantly to extend its own
capacities and insist on its own uniqueness. 36
Foucault’s attempt to replace an old (moral)
Enlightenment with a new (aesthetic) Enlightenment
rationalization of the world seeks a democratization of
Nietzsche’s categories of the self. The aesthetic attitude is now posited as universally available to all those
rebellious selves who respond to Foucault’s call for a
repudiation of the normalizing impositions of the moral
code. This attempted appropriation of Nietzsche’s panaestheticism suggests an important lapse in hermeneutical suspicion. The aristocratism of Nietzsche’ s
distinction between the aesthetic and the moral attitudes
will not be checked by this attempt to open the aesthetic
to all with a distaste for the life regulated by the moral
code. After all, as Nietzsche plainly saw, once freed
from its specificity as a sphere, the aesthetic properly
describes a quite particular type of subjectivity whose
heroic self-assertion cannot, and (surely Foucault would
want to add) ought not, insist on its normative status.

Rorty’s Nietzsche:

the poeticization of culture
Whereas Richard W olin, Axel Honneth and others
object to the specifically aesthetic character of
Foucault’s Nietzschean-inspired attempt to uncover an
alternative to Enlightenment rationality,37 Richard
Rorty understands the problem of Nietzsche’s aestheticism in rather different terms.38 The challenge of
the Critical Theory tradition to a Nietzschean panaestheticism does not, in his opinion, go far enough.

For Rorty, the problem with Nietzschean panaestheticism is that it still clings to an old metaphysical

inclination to seek eternal justification for contingent
historio-cultural judgements about the desirability of
given social arrangements.

Rorty’s attempt to’ reclaim Nietzsche for contemporary political theory is in marked contrast to the
approaches outlined above. Both the redemptive and
the aestheticizing readings of Nietzsche seek, by
divergent means, to extract a substantive vision from
Nietzsche’s philosophy adequate to a contemporary
interest in evolving new images of social co-operation
in a pluralistic modernity. Rorty, by contrast, would
stress Nietzsche’s role as midwife to our own historicizing understanding of the role of philosophy.39
Nietzsche, the great nineteenth-century historicist, has
been an inspiration for all attempts to put an end to
the traditional but chimerical quest for absolute
knowledge, for pure objectivity and an external
perspective. Ironically enough, as Rorty sees it, for a
late-twentieth-century pUblic, the implications of this
radically historicizing consciousness has lent itself to
an expanded commitment to those precepts of classical
liberalism which Nietzsche himself so despised.

Rorty embraces what he describes as ‘the poeticization of culture’ which has flowed from the collapse
of metaphysics. The dominance of a historicizing
perspective has ushered in a cultural revolution in
twentieth-century life in which any attempt to disavow
the contingent, produced character of all. life orientations becomes increasingly difficult. 40 According to
Rorty, the poeticization of culture needs to be grasped
by each individual as an opportunity to create the telos
of their own existence. Yet, the late-twentieth-century
historicist must reject the Foucauldian option which
seeks in Nietzsche’s elaboration of the aesthetic
principle an heir to the lost certainties of metaphysical
‘truths’. The contemporary historicist looks, rather, to
those values and ideals which the real flesh-and-blood
men and women of modern democracies have conferred with an alleged normative essentiality. Coming
to terms with the Nietzschean historicist revolution in
philosophy means, then, a commitment to the role of
contemporary philosopher as interpreter and advocate
of that fragile primacy of the liberal values of universal
justice and equality which has taken shape in the
modern imaginary.

Rorty particularly insists here on the centrality of
the idea of differentiation of the spheres to the ideals
of liberalism. 41 He specifically affirms the primacy of a
differentiation between the public and the private
spheres. Rorty decisively rejects, then, Foucault’s
efforts to raise the norms of the aesthetic to the level of
a general principle with the supposed capacity of

31

replacing the oppressive solidarities of the moral code.

In his view, it is only by confining the aesthetic
principle to the private sphere (a domain in which
citizens can be as privatistic, ‘irrationalist’ and
aestheticist as they please) that we can ensure that this
attitude has a complementary, not competitive, relationship with a liberal democratic culture. 42
But Rorty further wants to show that an aesthetic
attitude can be recruited to extend and to radicalize an
interpretation of the universalistic value commitments
of a liberal democratic culture. Foucault rejects the
solidarities of a liberal democratic culture which he
supposes cluster around images of the normativity of
particular kinds of subjecti vities. Rorty, by contrast,
thinks that the inclusiveness of these universalistic
ideals can be constantly expanded by drawing upon
that capacity for an imaginative understanding of the
worlds inhabited by other selves which is fostered by
the aesthetic attitude. In my utopia, says Rorty, human
solidarity is to be achieved

cations at odds with other fundamental motivations in
Rorty’s reading of Nietzsche. For, if you always read
a work in the way that benefits you most, you can
hardly hope to recover that experience of solidarity
forged through ‘increasing sensitivity to unfamiliar
sorts of people’ which lies at the heart of Rorty’s own
idea of utopia.

In the early 1950s Lukacs came to Nietzsche’s philosophy ready armed with his own prized ideological
weapons. Far from approaching the texts as the terrain
of a known enemy, Nietzsche reception today typically
seeks to fashion reading strategies designed to yield a
Nietzsche relevant to the egalitarian/pluralistic persuasions of the modern reader. Yet it seems that Lukacs’s
Nietzsche, fierce opponent of the democratizing ambitions of the ‘herd’, will not finally allow himself to
be completely denied. The contrived character of the
range of strategies for reading Nietzsche available

not by inquiry but by imagination, the imaginative
ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers.

Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but
created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to
the particular details of the pain and humiliation of
other, unfamiliar sorts of people. Such increased
sensitivity makes it more difficult to marginalize
people different from ourselves by thinking ‘They
do not feel as we would,’ or ‘There must always
be suffering, so why not let them suffer. ’43
Rorty appears particularly conscious of the
hermeneutical processes at play in his relations with
Nietzsche. His project to defend and radicalize a
historically accrued liberal democratic culture always
remains explicitly Rorty’s own. This Nietzsche appropriation seeks to specify plausible terms on which the
ideas of this great philosophical opponent of a liberal
democratic culture can be conscripted into service;
serving to clarify and to radicalize our own formulations of this, as Rorty sees it, momentous political
and cultural achievement of modern times. By grasping
the contingent historicity of our own horizons, we can
appropriate sympathetic aspects of Nietzsche whilst
maintaining our hermeneutical distance. We choose
our Nietzsche in terms of our own projects and
interests. Rorty, Agnes HelIer points out, insists that
‘We liberals … should read Nietzsche as an author of
self-realization and not as a public philosopher. We
have to read Nietzsche from the standpoint of selfrealization because it is only then we can like him. ’44
Yet this strategy, which insists that we encounter only
the Nietzsche explicitly put there by us, has impli-

32

today is indicative not only of our particular hermeneutical difficulties (how can Nietzsche be understood
by us?) but also reflects continuing ideological
anxieties (how are we to counter the threat embedded
in Nietzsche’s texts?). We don’t play any longer with
the cast of Lukacs’s characters, but the ideological
significance of the problem which Nietzsche pre~ents
for us today is still, I suggest, evident in the strategic
character of our readings.

Symptomatic of a perceived threat in his philosophy
to currently valued ideas, the contrived strategies
elaborated by a new generation of his interpreters
typically seek to produce a Nietzsche we can live with.

These strategic readings recognize, at least implicitly,
that we cannot live with a Nietzsche untamed. How
much of Nietzsche’s world can be dissolved in the
solution of our own contemporary value-ideas? This
appears to be the criterion by which many of the
current round of interpreters want their achievements
assessed. I suggest, however, that we should ask rather
more of them. We need, that is, to understand why
Nietzsche manifestly still provokes ideological unease
in a modern readership. This sense of a ‘horizonal
clash’, typically disavowed by strategies designed to
‘deal’ with Nietzsche, presents itself to us as an
opportunity, not merely for that moment of imaginative
solidarity with worlds inhabited by others, described
by Rorty, but for that equally vital process of selfclarification which attends a knowing refusal of worlds
that extend such an invitation.

Notes
1. Georg Lulcics, The Destruction ofReason, trans. Peter Palmer,
Merlin Press, 1980 (first published by Luchterhand Verlag,
Berlin, 1962).

2. Ibid., p. 317.

3. Steven E. Ascheim, The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany 18901990, University of California Press, Berkley, 1992; and Keith
Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political
Thinker, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994.

4. See Ascheim, The Nietzsche Legacy, p. 8.

5. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Why I Write Such Excellent Books’,
Ecce Homo, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1979, p. 74.

6. Ascheim, The Nietzsche Legacy, ch. 1. Of course, whether
this multitude of interpretations are derivable from Nietzsche’s
style is open to question. There exists a vast variety of
interpretations of systematic thinkers from Plato to Marx.

7. Ibid., p. 4.

8. Paul Patton, ‘Introduction’ to Nietzsche, Feminism and
Political Theory, Routledge, London, 1993.

9. Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche, p. 21.

10. Nietzsche, ‘loke Cunning and Revenge’, trans. WaIter
Kaufmann, in The Gay Science, Vintage Books, New York,
1974, p. 43.

11. Ernst Blass, ‘The Old Cafe des Westens’, in Paul Raabe, ed.,
The Era ofGerman Expressionism, Calder & Boyars, London,
1974, p. 29.

12. These sorts of views are explicit at many points in the texts.

See, for example, ‘Why I Write Such Excellent Books’.

13. Rosalyn Diprose, ‘Nietzsche Ethics and Sexual Difference’,
Radical Philosophy 52, 1989, pp. 27-33.

14. Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover ofFriedrich Nietzsche, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1991.

15. Ibid., p. 13.

16. Ibid., p. 19.

17. David Farrell Krell, ‘To The Orange Grove at the Edge of the
Sea: Remarks on Luce Irigaray’s Amante Marine’, in Peter 1.

Burgard, ed., Nietzsche and the Feminine, University Press of
Virginia, Charlottesville and London, 1994, pp. 158-85, 193.

18. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Penguin,
Harmondsworth, p. 93.

19. Peter 1. Bugard, ‘Introduction: Figures of Excess’ ,and Lynne
Tirrell ‘Sexual Dualism and Women’s Self-Creation: On the
Advantages and Disadvantages of Reading Nietzsche for
Feminists’, both in Burgard, ed., Nietzsche and the Feminine,
pp. 1-32 and pp. 135-58.

20. Tirrell ‘Sexual Dualism’, p. 172.

21. We need not look too far to find numerous remarks in
Nietzsche’s texts which this kind of redemptive feminist
reading finds necessary to ‘explain away’ as mere rhetorical
amplification. Remarks in Beyond Good and Evil telling us
that woman’s ‘great art is the lie, her highest concern is mere
appearance and beauty’, and, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, that
‘everything about a woman has one solution: that is
pregnancy’, add to the impression of the dogmatism of a
reading which stresses the feminist character of Nietzsche’s
essential intentions.

22. Mark Warren, Nietzsche and Political Thought, MIT Press,
Cambridge MA and London, 1988, p. 215.

23. Ibid., pp. 125ff.

24. Ibid., p. 74.

25. Ibid.

26. Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, Harvard
University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 1985.

27. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On the Natural History of Morals’, in
Beyond Good and Evil, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973, pp.

102-3.

28.

29.

30.

31.

32.

33.

34.

35.

36.

37.

38.

39.

40.

41.

42.

43.

44.

Nehamas, Nietzsche, p. 95.

Ibid., p. 71.

Ibid., p. 223.

Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, p. 258.

Nehamas, Nietzsche, p. 225.

See Michel Foucault, Care of the Self, Random House, New
York, 1986; and Michel Foucault ‘On the Genealogy of
Ethics’, in The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow,
Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1984.

Michel Foucault, ‘The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice
of Freedom’ (an interview translated by 1.D. Gauthier), in
lames Bernauer and David Rasmussen, eds, The Final
Foucault, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 1991, pp.

1-21.

Foucault, ‘On The Genealogy of Ethics’, pp. 348-51. See
also Andrew Thacker, ‘Foucault’s Aesthetics of Existence’,
Radical
Philosophy
63,
Spring
1993,
pp.

13-22.

Richard Wolin, ‘Foucault’s Aesthetic Decisionism’, Telos 67,
Spring 1986, pp. 71-87. See also Axel Honneth, The Critique
of Power: Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory, trans.

Kenneth Baynes, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London,
1991, part n.

Honneth The Critique of Power, 1991, part n.

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1989.

Ibid., pp. 2Off.

Ibid., ch. 3, ‘The Contingency of a Liberal Community’.

Ibid., p. xvi.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Agnes Heller, ‘The Ironies Beyond Philosophy’, Thesis
Eleven 28, 1991, pp. 105-13, 110.

An Introduction to Hegel”
The Stages of Modern Philosophy
Howard P. Kainz
”’What is the best introduction to Hegel?” This
question is asked not only by those who experience
some intrinsic interest in Hegel “for his own sake”
but also by those who sense that they should know
something about him simply because of the
widespread effects he has had-philosophically, on
Marxism, existentialism, phenomenology, and
deconstruction; politically, on communism, fascism
and even democratic theory. If one were searching
for the absolute best starting point for getting initial
access to Hegel’s system, then I would have to
respond that this would be Hegel’s Lectures on the
History of Philosophy, especially his History of
Modern Philosophy. The purpose of this short book
is to . . . provide a reada ble para phrase, with
explanatory notes, of Hegel’s treatment of some of the
better-known modern philosophers in his Lectures.’

-from the preface.

140 pages 0-8214-1142-X £14.95 paper

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33

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