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Nietzsche, Ethics & Sexual Difference

Nietzsche, Ethics
Sexual Difference
Rosa/yn Diprose

There are many women in Nietzsche’s texts. There is the old
woman, the sceptic and the enigmatic love object, or woman
as masquerade. There is The Woman, thejouissance of which
is Lacan’ s God – the Truth behind the veil. There is the other
as object of evaluation and there is the reactive, castrating
feminist. And there is the woman as mirror who, like the
scientist, is an instrument – a reflection of forms not her own.

Like the rest of Nietzsche’ s philosophy, his comments about
women are often offensive, always colourful and never black
and white.

The subject of this paper is Nietzsche’ s feminist, although
his other women will necessarily enter the scene. For it is
Nietzsche’s anti-feminism which has attracted the more black
and white responses from commentators. The following small
sample may indicate why:

Woman, the more she is a woman, resists rights hand
and foot: after all, the state of nature, the eternal war
between the sexes, gives her the first rank … Has my
answer been heard to the question of how one cures a
woman- ‘redeems’ her? One gives her a child. Woman
needs children, a man for her is only a means .. .’l
And so on. Offensive? Yes. Descriptive or prescriptive? It’s
hard to tell.

Kaufmann apologises for Nietzsche’ s lapse in decency
when addressing the subject of feminism,2 and Christine AlIen
blames Nietzsche’ s attitude on his failed seduction of Lou
Salome3 – a possibility I don’t discount. More recently, Kelly
Oliver has offered a psychoanalytic reading of Nietzsche’s
anti-feminism as symptomatic of his desire to possess woman
as mother. This is posited against Derrida’s claim (or, more
correctly, against Krell’s reading of Derrida’s claim) that
Nietzsche desires to be woman.4 In another recent critique,
Ellen Kennedy argues that Nietzsche opposes women’s emancipation because it serves to ‘destroy the will to power and to
encourage the herd mentality’.5 According to this reading,
Nietzsche’s woman is determined by her biology and, hence,
should remain in her subservient position as wife and mother.

Kennedy’s is a particularly curious reading despite its neat fit
with the quote given above. The will to power cannot be
destroyed and there is no essential biology for Nietzsche,
rather, a socially constructed arrangement of forces.

While Nietzsche’s feminist is my subject, I wish to distance myself from these readings. Not because I condone

Nietzsche’s mysogyny but, rather, because my objection to
his anti-feminism can only be raised via a different path. We
could, of course, ignore Nietzsche’ s wider philosophy and
thus reduce his comments on women to unconditional and
personal mysogyny. Yet there may be something of interest to
salvage, even beyond a ‘proper’ interpretation of a 19thcentury philosophy. The path I will take to Nietzsche’s antifeminism is one that attempts to salvage what is, ironically, of
use to feminism – his critique of the liberal subject and the
ethics of self-creation that this critique entails.

Contemporary feminists, for all their differences, seem to
share a discomfort with the assumed authenticity of the rational subject as he is positioned at the norm of ~ politics of
equality. Miche Le Doeuff, for example, claims that in order
to avoid the existential equation between oppression and
moral error, feminism ‘needs another problematic than that of
the subject, and another perspective than that of morality’ .6
Marion Tapper, in her paper ‘Can a Feminist be a Liberal’,
argues that liberalism’s abstract conception of the individual
obscures the way in which the evaluation of sexual difference
operates to disadvantage women in the public sphere.’ And
Catharine Mackinnon reaches a similar conclusion: the concept of equality reproduces the power imbalance between
men and women. She argues that, as the social norm of valued
subjectivity is the male body, then the evaluation of sexual
difference is an expression of power, in that difference means
dominance, and ‘equality’ as sameness is impossible.8
It might seem somewhat paradoxical to claim that
Nietzsche, while lacking this specific detail and hardly a
champion of women’s rights, does share these sentiments
about equality, difference and dominance. In Twilight of the
Idols and elsewhere, he condemns ‘equality’ as a ‘certain
actual rendering similar’ which, as an expression of the will to
power, ‘belongs to decline’.9 Against this he evokes a morality of ‘many coloured actions’ , a celebration of a ‘multiplicity
of types’ and the ‘will to be oneself’ .10 To support this distinction between equality and a celebration of differences,
Nietzsche provides a notion of the subject as a corporeal
entity – socially constructed in relation to the other’s difference. This notion, in turn, allows him to undermine the supposed autonomy, rationality and moral responsibility of the
liberal individual and to unmask the ethical mode of evaluation which sustains this subject as the norm in the democratic

Radical Philosophy 52, Summer 1989 27

I. Ethics, the Creation of the Self
and the Other
In order to fully appreciate Nietzsche’s ethics of self-creation
and the place of sexual difference within it, it is necessary to
look closely at his understanding of morality. Morality, he
claims, is ‘a system of evaluations that partially coincides
with the conditions of a creature’s life’.n It is also defined by
him as a ‘theory of relations of dominance under which the
phenomenon “life” arises’ (BGE 19). Thus Nietzsche foreshadows FoucaulCs nexus between knowledge, power and the
body by positing an intimate relation between ‘moral systems
of evaluation’, ‘relations of dominance’ and the ‘creation of

(i) Evaluation and the Creation of Life
For Nietzsche, the operation of systems of evaluation involves more than the attachment of the moral values ‘good’

and ‘bad’ to individual actions. The production of all knowledge involves interpretation (wp 481) whereby ‘our values
are interpreted into things’ (WP 590). Morality, as the evaluation of all sensations and activities is, it seems, at work

As soon as we see a new image, we immediately
construct it with the aid of all our previous experiences, depending on the degree of our honesty and
justice. All experiences are moral experiences, even in
the realm of sense perception (GS 114).

To say that ‘our values are interpreted into things’ suggests,
not only that moral evaluation is all-pervasive, but that it
produces more than a point of view. It creates life. At a most
general level this means that, for Nietzsche, neither the object
of interpretation nor its value and meaning exists in essence
prior to our evaluation of it. It is through the process of
interpretation, drawing upon a shared system of evaluation,
that we transform what is ‘in flux, incomprehensible and
elusive’ into apparently organized, enduring ‘things’:

The reputation, name and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing, what it counts for … all this
grows … until it gradually grows to be part of a thing
and turns into its very body (GS 58).

This applies to any ‘thing’ and any ‘body’.

The body of particular interest to feminism is the sexed
body. On this subject Nietzsche would appear to have little to
say. However, appearances can be deceiving. The space for
the creation of the sexed body can be located in more general
references to the creation of a particular part of life – the
phenomena we call ‘self’ and ‘other’. Nietzsche’s concern
with the way in which moral evaluation governs the creation
of, and relation between, self and other undermines what is
most sacred to a liberal empiricist tradition and what is most
frustrating to feminism – the notion of an autonomous, rational, morally responsible individual.

It follows from Nietzsche’s more general claims about the
relationship between systems of evaluation and the creation
of ‘life’ that it is through the process of interpretation that the
phenomenon ‘self’ arises, as well as the phenomenon ‘other’.

Let me first consider the constitution of the self as the subject,
although, in practice, this cannot be separated from his relation to the other. Nietzsche insists that the unity of Descartes’

subject, as the cause of mental and other acts, cannot be presupposed. The will, ego or ‘I’ is a unity ‘only in a word’. 12 Nor
is the body a pre-given unity, separate from the mind but,
rather, is a multiplicity of activities. The body, as we know it,
28 Radical Philosophy 52, Summer 1989

is a product of a relation between commanding and obeying
forces (BGE 19) and consciousness is a reflection of this
relation (wp 477 and GS 354).

While the ‘mind is an idea of the body’ it is an idea
mediated by those systems of evaluation which organise life
in general. A plurality of material sensations, a multiplicity of
forces of constraint, compulsion, resistance, pressure and
motion is organised by the introduction of social norms moral values and concepts like ’cause’ and ‘effect’ – and
through this imposition the unity of the ‘self’ is created. In On
the Genealogy of Morals, for example, Nietzsche describes
how the creation of a selective memory through the mnemotechnics of pain and punishment unifies the subject according to social convention (GM 11 1 and 2). Memory brings
unity to a selection of activities, effects and disparate events,
past, present and future, such that the subject can safely say ‘I
will have done’.n This creation of a subject ‘who makes
promises’ also involves a tradition of disproportionate evaluation of different parts of the body, used as a system of
guarantees against failure to fulfil a promise or repay a debt
(GM 11 5). And ‘forgetting’ is transformed into an active,
socially convenient, faculty of repression against the dangers
of social psychosis. Forgetting ensures that ‘chance’ sensations and unending, unmediated impressions do not disrupt
the uniformity of, and link between, discrete events now
belonging to the responsible subject (GM 11 1). Thus
Nietzsche can claim that ‘everything of which we become
conscious is [always already] arranged, simplified, schematized, interpreted through and through’ (WP 477). The ‘I’

represents only a conscious symptom of part of the body’s
possibilities – possibilities already organised and interpreted
according to social convention.

The more obvious implication ofNietzsche’s observations
on this unified, responsible subject is that it is a fiction. It is
only through convention and the ‘interpre~tion of surface
phenomena that accompany acts’ that we separate the doer
from the deed. We thereby assume a unified will that causes
the deed and a substantial ego as causal antecedent to thought
(TI p. 49). Both the authenticity and the unity of the rational
subject are consequently thrown into doubt. A further implication is that, while the subject is divided, this division is

between socially mediated consciousness and the repressed,
not between mind and body. The body is the seat of subjectivity, not in the sense of a pre-given causal biology, but as a
socially constructed arrangement of forces. Hence, sexual
difference cannot be located in either an essential causal
biology or in a purely mental state as the object and product of

social conditioning. Rather, Nietzsche’s model of subjectivity suggests that, just as the male subject is a product of
interpretation which draws upon a shared system of evaluation, so is the mark of sexual difference.

tation. To say that morality is a ‘theory of relations of dominance’ brings Nietzsche’ s notion of the will to power onto the
scene of interpretation and the creation of the subject.

(ii) Evaluation and Relations of Dominance
If the apparent unity of the subject is a product of interpretation then, as Nehamas suggests, the notion of an interpreter
behind the interpretation is also a fiction. 14 If this is the case
then who or what interprets? Our needs, manifest as drives,
interpret, answers Nietzsche, and ‘every drive is a lust to rule’

(WP 481). Or, to put this another way, as he does: ‘the will to
power interprets … it defines, limits, determines degrees’

(WP 643). This power is not so much something that the
subject ‘has’ but is the productive force of interpretation of
which the delimited subject is an effect. It is a relational entity
‘designated by the effect it produces and that which it resists’

(WP 634).

By equating interpretation with productive power in this
way, Nietzsche is claiming that ‘reality’ consists, not of fixed,
passive entities, but of material centres of force which seek to
extend their own effects and activities. Centres, including the
phenomenon ‘self’, which seek to grow stronger and resist
domination by others through the interpretation and evaluation of their own effects as separate from, and in relation to,
others. Hence:

As I have suggested, the mark of sexual difference can be
located in the distinction between subject and other. The
subject is fundamentally divided – not just between consciousness and the repressed, but between self and other. In
that, given the work involved in the ‘active forgetting’ necessary to maintain the subject’s unity, he must at times suffer an
identity crisis. It is to prevent the collapse of the assumed autonomy and unity of the subject that a certain construction of
the other is required. And allow me to introduce some of
Nietzsche’s more attractive women in this context:

When a man stands in the midst of his own noise, in the
midst of his own surf of plans and projects, then he is
apt also to see quiet, magical beings gliding past him
and long for their happiness and seclusion: women. He
almost thinks that his better self dwells there among
the women (GS 60).

A certain image of woman, operating at a distance, seems to
hold the key to the completion of the subject’s identity. His
better self appears to dwell there in an image that promises to
organise and silence the noise of the repressed. His desire,
then, is to possess this image. Or, as Nietzsche puts it: ‘Our
pleasure in ourselves tries to maintain itself by again and
again changing something new into ourselves: that is what
possession means’ (GS 14). To incorporate the other woman,
what he is not, would secure the presence of the subject’s
identity. But, Nietzsche warns: ‘The magic and most powerful effect of woman is, in philosophical language, action at a
distance … but this requires first of all- distance’ (GS 60).

What these passages reveal, in the first instance, is the position of woman in relation to the male subject – she is his
other and, as such, is crucial to the creation and maintenance
of his identity. Thus the autonomy of the subject is also
thrown into doubt in that the social systems of evaluation
which give rise to the subject only do so in a field of relations
with others. And, as Nietzsche’s definitions of morality suggest, this field is one of domination as well as one of interpre-

every centre of force adopts a perspective toward the
entire remainder, i.e. its own particular valuation,
mode of action and mode of resistance… Reality consists precisely in this particular action and reaction of
every individual part toward the whole (WP 567).

Translating this general claim into the specific question of the
human Being Nietzsche proposes that ‘the only “Being”
vouchsafed for us is changing, not identical with itself, it is
involved in relationships … ‘IS: relationships of power and
dominance which are established and reinforced by the interpretation of the subject’s own activities as distinct from others.

We can perhaps begin to see how the corporeal image of
the other woman is, at least partially, an effect of the subject’s
will to power. Woman, like the male subject, is not born of an
essence but of an interpretation. What defines the subject as
unified and separate from her is the selective interpretation of
his activities and of his relations with, and differences from,
other collections of effects. Just as ‘the thing is the sum of its
effects’ (WP 551), ‘I am an effect’ (BGE 19) and so is woman.

The division between inner and outer world, the subject and
object, the subject and other is an arbitrary (although enduring) product of interpretation wherein we assume some effects belong together. This process of production generates a
hierarchy of identity in that, given woman’s role in constituting and maintaining the subject’s boundaries, her corporeal
image is constructed in deference to his and is, therefore, less

Woman is socially inscribed as the ambiguous point
against which the subject identifies himself. At a distance the
corporeal image of woman thus created operates to re-affrrm
the subject’s unity and autonomy; as a possible source of increased power for the subject, in the sense of a proliferation of
his effects, she is the object to be possessed. A contradictory
double image of virtue and shame is essential to the selfcertainty of the subject – a self-certainty maintained at
woman’s expense. This precarious, ambivalent relation between subject and other is the essence of sexual difference
and the creation of the subject relies on such an interpretation
of difference: ‘it is man who creates for himself an image of
Radical Phllo8ophy 52, Summer 1989 29

woman, and woman forms herself according to this image’

(GS 68).

The apparent willingness with which women act out the
subject’s fantasy is a bit of wishful thinking on Nietzsche’s
part. Women are not merely ‘reactive’ – they have their own
modes of action and valuation beyond the needs of the subject. Nietzsche at least admits to the impossibility of maintaining simultaneously both virtue and shame and suggests
that women’s scepticism and silence ‘casts anchor at that
point’ (GS 71). But silence and retreat are not the only
avenues of resistance women have to the power of interpretation. Any active expression of subjectivity beyond the needs
of the· subject would have its material effects upon the subject’s identity. Nietzsche acknowledges this when claiming
that woman would be unable to hold men if ‘we did not
consider it quite possible under certain circumstances she
could wield a dagger (any kind of dagger) against us. Or
against herself – which in certain cases would be a crueler
revenge’ (GS 69).

Finally, sexual difference is not just a symptom of interpretation which organises materiality and establishes and
maintains relations of dominance. But, as I have suggested,
interpretation implies the designation of value. The only fundamental ontological differences that Nietzsche seems to
admit, including presumably those between the sexes, are
‘variations in power’ – differences in quantity arising from
the ‘desire to be more’ (WP 564). While there is no quality or
value-in-itself, differences in quantity are felt and interpreted
as differences in quality (WP 563). The quantitative reckoning, weighing and measuring of the self as distinct from the
other involves the construction of a hierarchy of qualitative
differences between self and other. Neither exists in essence
apart from their relational effects and the interpretation of
those relations as differences in quality. Hence it is no accident that women are evaluated differently from men against a
male norm – the norm itself is maintained in its dominant
position by such evaluation.

Given that Nietzsche’s understanding of morality firmly
re-inserts politics, epistemology and ontology back into the
realm of ethics, it is not surprising that his philosophy continues to provoke some discomfort. The ethical problem for him
is that in order to delimit the subject as autonomous, authentic
and re-located at the centre of the universe we need to ‘invent
and fabricate the person with whom we associate – and immediately forget we have done so’ (BGE 138). This is not for him
a harmful or indifferent process. The system of evaluation
which gives rise to the liberal subject is inflected with the will
to domination. Yet we cannot simply unmask the essential
self or other behind the power of interpretation – for neither
exists. Rather, Nietzsche’ s genealogy of morals unmasks the
subject’s investments and the violation, appropriation and
domination involved in circumscribing and evaluating intersubjective differences. However, it remains to be seen
whether his concern can stretch to include the violation of
women – the subject’s other par excellence.

30 Radical Philosophy 52, Summer 1989

11. Towards an Ethics of Difference
That a particular kind of individual endures indicates,
Nietzsche suggests, that a particular species of interpretation
also endures (WP 678). The kind of individual that endures is
the subject that operates normatively in our democratic institutions. The species of interpretation which maintains this
creature is the mode of evaluation which we would call
‘dichotomous’ . It is within an excursion through dichotomous
systems of evaluation that Nietzsche’ s explicit critique of a
politics of equality can be found.

Through his gesture Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche
attacks the apparent indifference. of dichotomous systems of
evaluation. Contrary to appearances, he claims, nothing and
no one is good-in-itself: ‘It might even be possible,’ he suggests,
that what constitutes the value of those good and honoured things resides precisely in their being artfully
related, knotted and crocheted to those wicked, apparently antithetical things … (BGE 2).

The designation of value is not indifferent to difference, nor is
it without its material effects. We create valuable things
through the devaluation of difference. The thing is fetishized
– becomes a valuable thing-in-itself – by forgetting this process of production. ‘We put value into things and this value has
an effect on us long after we have forgotten that we were the

But what is the effect on us? In particular, what is the
effect on the subject of assigning value to the other’s difference? Nietzsche’s most systematic answer can be found in On
the Genealogy of Morals. In describing how ressentiment
creates values, he claims that: ‘slave morality from the outset
says No to what is “outside”, what is “not itself’, and this No
is its creative deed’ (GMI 10). The negation o(the.other’s difference is the subject’s denial of heterogeneity and this is
creative in an ontological sense. The man of the ‘herd’ reacts
against difference: he creates the other as evil, as an opposite,
and from this he, himself, evolves. The constitution, status
and identity of the subject is, therefore, an effect, more preciselyan after-effect, of evaluating the other’s difference.

As ‘translation is a form of conquest’ (GS 83), the other
does not emerge from this process unscathed. Creating and
maintaining the normative subject through a contempt for difference is merely a veiled expression of the will to power: the
subject’s will to extend his own activities, impose his own
values and ‘create the world in his own image’. As a result of
this reaction to difference, the other may be deemed socially
inferior and marginalized accordingly. Or the other’s difference, so determined, may be effaced through the process of
‘making equal’ or making the same. Either way, the creative
power of dichotomous evaluation lies in giving rise to a
certain kind of subject as an after-thought to creating, then
negating the other’s difference.

Putting aside the specific question of sexual difference
temporarily, I want to trace the general sentiment of
Nietzsche’s opposition to this mode of self-creation as it
operates in an ethico-politics of equality. Rather than being
measured and measuring others against a social norm of
value, Nietzsche proposes a ‘morality of many coloured actions’. ‘We want to become what we are,’ he says, ‘human
beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves’ (GS 335). Rather than
negating the other’s difference, we seek our honour, our value
through affirming ourselves (TI p. 46).

The problem with Nietzsche’s alternative ethics of af-

firmation for a liberal empiricist tradition is locating what is
affirmed and from where new values can emerge. The position from which we can create ourselves by affirming what is
new, different and incomparable is, it seems, the position of
‘other’ to reactive evaluation. Nietzsche’s wider definition of
the ‘other’ as the profound spirit, the enigmatic, the poet and
the artist allows the space for us to insert into this position
anyone who is interpreted as profoundly different to the social
norm (on the basis of sex, colour, ethnicity, sexuality etc.) by
a dichotomous mode of evaluation.

Where the normative subject is created and maintained
through a comparative distaste for othemess, the ‘other’ will
always remain enigmatic. The corporeal image of the other is,
in part, an image for the subject. Such consideration of difference by the subject involves the selection of a few effects and
characteristics from a continuum of possibilities. And just as
the other’s possibilities can never be fully appreciated in this
way, the other’s difference can never be fully captured, silenced and effaced by an ethico-politics of equality. As
Nietzsche claims in Beyond Good and Evil:

Every profound spirit needs a mask, more around every
profound spirit a mask is continually growing thanks to
the constantly false, that is to say shallow interpretation of every word he speaks, every step he takes, every
sign of life he gives (BGE 40).

The process of reactive evaluation creates the mask that is the
other’s socially inscribed difference. But, unlike in Hegel’s
synthesis of the dialectic, a remainder of difference is always
deferred in the creation of this mask. This is particularly the
case if the other does not merely ‘react’ or conform to the
subject’s interpretation. This remainder, itself constantly
shifting, is the space that allows the possibility of affirming

oneself against the social norm of interpretation. What
Nietzsche affirms here is not unlike what Derrida describes
under the motif of differance – the infinite deferral and delaying of the presence of meaning and value. 16
It is clear from Nietzsche’ s descriptions of the operation of
morality that there is no essential corporeal value behind the
mask to be retrieved and affirmed. Rather, there is a ‘tempo of
one’s style’ which is lost in translation (BGE 28); a multiplic-

ity of possible permutations and combinations of effects
which resists simplification. Or, as Nietzsche would have it,
an excess feeling of power, abundance and plenitude which
seeks to create the self differently rather than subtract from
the other (TI p. 72). Hence, in Nietzsche’s ethics of selfcreation there is no end point of self-realization or authentic
subjectivity as Stem suggests17 – no unmasking or construction of an essential self. What Nietzsche describes is an
inevitable, yet positive mode of resistance to social domination and normalization; a process of re-interpreting one’s own
activities and effects; a will to ambiguity and self-affirmation
which draws upon what exceeds interpretation and which
finds its pleasure in thwarting and subverting a mode of
evaluation that seeks to simplify and efface differences.

Feminists, self-defined or not, are, of course, familiar with
this will to ambiguity. It is practised every day. Not in a
simple reversal of the values that re-inforce women’s oppression but in the way women oppose, re-interpret and weave
around the simplistic categories that evaluate their differences from men. And, given Nietzsche’s recognition of the
unique role that sexual difference plays in sustaining the
subject’s status and identity, one would expect that women
would be given a privileged place in his ethics of self-affirmation. However, just as the liberal subject which Nietzsche
attacks is male, so is the ‘we’ located at the creative site of

For Nietzsche, the ‘other’ placed most at risk by an ethics
of equality is not woman but the sometimes cruel, sometimes
enigmatic, always exceptional Noble spirit. The way
Nietzsche appears to single out a sole aristocratic victim is
somewhat surprising to a contemporary reader and has drawn
criticism from some commentators. However, that Nietzsche
appears to seek to save an elite and somewhat frightening
figure from the workings of the democratic state is, in part, a
product of historic necessity. It was the noble man, embellished by a memory of Greek nobility, wno, more than any
other, symbolized what was thrown into relief by the rise of
the liberal individual in the nineteenth century. But this is no
longer the case: a century of ‘equality’ has created its own
hierarchy of value and, hence, its own order of differences to
be marginalized and effaced. All the same, on the question of
Nietzsche’s explicit exclusion of women from this possibility
of self-creation, the excuses run out.

So, what about the masks behind woman’s mask of virtue
and shame? What of the dagger of other possibilities wielded
beyond the dance to man’s tune? At times Nietzsche comes
close to recognizing the power of women’s positive resistance
to the domination of social sameness. This is certainly implicit in his acknowledgement of the role of woman as the
subject’s other, as in comments that hint at feminine dissatisfaction as the necessary pre-condition to change (GS 24). On
the question of other possibilities for women he, at times,

All at once we believe that somewhere in the world
there could be women with lofty, heroic and royal
souls, capable of and ready for grandiose responses,
resolutions and sacrifices, capable of and ready for rule
over men because in them the best elements of man
apart from his sex have become an incarnate ideal (GS

However, he is quick to discount this possibility: ‘such voices
always retain some motherly and housewifely coloration.’

This is, in part, a denial of an essence behind the mask of
woman – a belief that motivates man’s desire for more – and
of the futility of simply reversing existing oppositions. But it
Radical Philosophy 52, Summer 1989 31

is also a sign that Nietzsche remains unsympathetic to feminist attempts, in any form, to improve woman’s lot. More than
unsympathetic – he seems positively hostile.

Nietzsche’s anti-feminism is not so much inconsistent but
symptomatic of his own ressentiment. His opposition to feminism of equality is in keeping with his opposition to the
material effects of reducing all differences to a social norm.

However, there is a small but significant difference between
feminism and democratic normalization in general. Feminists
of equality may implicitly seek to make women the same as
the male subject – at least for the purposes of evaluation
before the law. But, as Nietzsche himself implies, the norm is
male, making such a project partial, at best. More important,
for feminism to be a threat to Nietzsche ‘s male poet, artist and
enigmatic noble spirit, it would have to have the power to
make men the same as women. Such a power has not, to my
knowledge, ever been a reality.

So why this stubborn obsession? A hint of an answer can
be found, I think, in the comments prefacing Nietzsche’s
more vitriolic attacks on feminism. In Beyond Good and Evil.

for example, he claims that the comments to follow on
‘woman as such’ are spoken by an ‘unchangeable “this is r” .

They are, therefore, ‘my truths’ he claims, emphatically (BGE
231). Similarly, in Ecce Homo and in a manner reminiscent of
Lacan’s “love letters”,18, Nietzsche introduces an even more
notorous attack on female emancipation (which includes the
quote given at the beginning of this paper) with the following:

May I venture to say that I know women? That is part of
my Dionysian dowry. Who knows? Perhaps I am the
first psychologist of the eternally feminine. They all
love me – an old story – not counting abortive females,
the ’emancipated’ who lack the stuff for children (EG

If we can still speak of origins then I can venture to say
that Nietzsche sowed the seeds for an ethics of difference
based on a genealogy of the divided self. An anti-philosophy,
if you like, which can be mapped to the present through psychoanalysis, structuralism and semiotics. His philosophy is,
therefore, useful to feminism for its observations, rare in
Western philosophy, on the subject as a material construction
– the unity of which is dependent upon the domination and devaluation of an indiscrete and contradictory image of woman.

It is useful too for the space it thereby opens to women to
explore possibilities for change beyond the impasse of equality. However, just as with the philosophy of Nietzsche’ s contemporary male disciples, we need to tread carefully through
this new terrain. A celebration of differences runs the risk of
reproducing modes of subjectivity and power relations which
fall within familiar and esteemed boundaries. And it occasionally shows signs, explicit in Nietzsche’ s philosophy, of
what Spivak calls the ‘double displacement of woman’ – a
displacement of woman from the site of otherness – just when
this site has been acknowledged as both the condition of
possibility of the subject’s authenticity as well as the source
of his possible demise.




Bearing in mind the uncertainty of this ‘know’, Nietzsche
claims to know women – perhaps better than they do themselves. He is venturing his truths – not just in the sense of his
opinion, but in the sense of what his ‘this is I’ requires of
woman to ensure its unity. The ‘we’ who practice this ethics
of affirmative self-creation require, it seems, the same image
of the eternally feminine to guarantee its value. Nietzsche
insists that this ‘we’ should not be ‘deprived of the stimulus of
the enigmatic’ (WP 470). But the feminists wield the dagger
that threatens to take away this enigmatic image of the eternally feminine – the mirror that gives him back his own reflection. Nietzsche, on the question of ‘woman as such’ , lines up
with the liberal subject which he seeks to subvert – they are
both interpreting an image of themselves at woman’s expense. The difference is that Nietzsche admits it.

But he is doing more than ambiguously acknowledging
man’s debt to woman. He also claims to speak from experience – from the position of the eternally feminine (‘that is part
of my Dionysian dowry’). The problem that ‘woman as such’

presents for Nietzsche is that the corporeal image of woman is
already ambiguous, divided in-itself. Whilst the ‘other’ position women thus occupy is a result of a ‘shallow interpretation’ (to adopt Nietzsche’s phrase) and is not to be envied, nor
uncritically embraced, it does make women the obvious
source of other possibilities – for affirming the otherness of
the other. Yet Nietzsche would have us believe that, at the site
of affirmative subversion of dichotomous evaluation, he
would be a more effective ‘woman’ than women. As hard as
he tries, he cannot occupy that particular position and perhaps
that is where his scepticism and silence, on the question of the
dagger women wield against the normative subject, casts its


Radical Philosophy 52, Summer 1989









Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, p. 267 in On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, WaIter Kaufman (trans.),
Vintage, 1967. Hereafter referred to as OM (followed by
essay and section number) and EO (followed by page number for this edition.)
See, for example, Kaufmann’s introduction to The Gay Science, Walter Kaufmann (trans.), Vintage, 1974, p. 24. Hereafter referred to as OS followed by section numbers.

Christine AlIen, ‘Nietzsche’ s Ambivalence About Women’,
in Lorenne Clark and Lynda Lange (eds.)fThe Sexism of
Social and Political Theory, University of Toronto Press,
Toronto, 1979, p. 125.

Kelly Dliver, ‘Nietzsche’ Woman: the Poststructural Attempt to do Away with Women’, Radical Philosophy, No.

48, 1988. While I share Dliver’s concerns I have only
touched on the important debate about ‘writing as woman’

as Derrida presents it in SpurslEperons, Alan Bass (trans.),
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979. A more detailed critique is provided by Oayatri Spivak in ‘Displacement and the Discourse of Woman’, Mark Krupnick (ed.),
Displacement: Derrida and After, University of Indiana
Press, N.Y., 1982 and ‘Love Me, Love My Ombre, Elle’,
Diacritics, Vol. 14, No. 4, Winter 1984.

Ellen Kennedy, ‘Nietzsche: Woman as Untermensch’, in
Ellen Kennedy and Susan Mendus (eds.), Women in Western
Political Philosophy, Wheatsheaf, Sussex, 1987, p. 190.

Michele Le Doeuff, ‘Operative Philosophy’, Ideology and
Consciousness, No. 6, Autumn 1979, p. 57.

Marion Tapper, ‘Can a Feminist be a Liberal’ , Australasian
Journal of Philosophy, Supplement to Vol. 64, June 1986.

Catharine A. Mackinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1987, especially chapter 2.

Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, R. J. Hollingdale (trans.),
Penguin, 1968, p. 91. Hereafter referred to as TI followed by
page numbers for this edition.

Ibid. and Beyond Good and Evil, R. J. Hollingdale (trans.),
Penguin, 1972, p. 215. Hereafter referred to as BOE followed by section numbers.

Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Walter Kaufmann (ed. and



trans.) andR. J. Hollingdale (trans.), Vintage, N.Y., 1967, p.

256. Hereafter referred to as WP followed by section numbers.

For example, TI p. 37, BGE 19 and WP 485-561.

See also TI p.46 for the notion that the present individual is
also his past and future.

Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, 1985. I am partly indebted in
this section to Nehamas’ refreshing account of the relation
between interpretation and the will to power as described in
the chapter ‘The Thing is the Sum of its Effects’. While
Nehamas’ account relates to the ‘thing’ as product of interpretation, I seek to emphasise the effect of interpretation on
the subject of interpretation.

Nietzsche, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, G. Colli and
M. Montinari (eds.), Berlin, 1967, Vo1. V, section 2, p. 468,
quoted in J. P. Stem, Nietzsche, Fontana, London, 1978, p.





See, for example, Jacques Derrida, ‘Differ-anee’, Margins of
Philosophy, Alan Bass (trans.), University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1982. Such an understanding of Derrida’s descriptions of the operation of ‘differance’ is, in turn, essential to
his reading of Nietzsche as ‘writing as woman’ in Spurs.

Op. cit., pp. 76 and 77.

‘There is ajouissance proper to her, to this “her” which does
not exist and signifies nothing … and of which she herself
may know nothing’ (p. 145) and to ‘these mystical ejaculations … Add the Ecrits of Jacques Lacan which is of the same
order’ (p. 147) in Jacques Lacan, ‘God and the Jouissance of
The Woman’ and ‘A Love Letter’, Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (eds.), Feminine Sexuality, Macmillan, London, 1982.

‘Displacement and the Discourse of Woman’, op. cit.

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