Aimé Césaire’s Encounter with Nietzsche in the Struggle Against Colonialism

To open Nietzsche 6/13, the seminar segment focusing on the French poet, Bernard Harcourt states that “Aimé Césaire’s encounter with Nietzsche—in his own words, one of his essential reference points—nourished a vitality, an indignation, a passion for tragedy, for art, for knowledge and politics, in sum, a will to power that would enrich his poems and plays, but also propel his anti-colonialism and political struggles.” [1]

Aime+Cesaire-coexistencePoet. Playwright. Philosopher. Politician. Apostle of decolonization. Aime Césaire (1913-2008) was many things to many people. Born in Martinique, a French colony in the eastern Caribbean, Césaire was a popular and influential figure, a major surrealist poet and a politician, holding a deputy’s seat in the French Assembly for 37 years. Despite popularity and life in the public eye, he remained provocative and creative, a strong critic of colonialism and its attendant racism and inequality, and a proponent of (re)creating black identity that was not merely an attempt to conform to the French img007cultural norms or simply a reversal, but from within. Even as an intellectual on the world political and cultural scene, he remained “accessible to a constituency of underprivileged blacks.” [2]

Césaire started the magazine Tropiques with friends he met at university. In these pages, Césaire would publish poetry and theory that would begin to make his name in literary and philosophical circles. With Léon-Gontran Damas, Césaire formulated the notion of Négritude. [2]

The concept of Négritude emerged as the expression of a revolt against the historical situation of French colonialism and racism…Being colonial subjects meant that they all belonged to people considered uncivilized, naturally in need of education and guidance from Europe, namely France. In addition, the memory of slavery was very vivid in Guiana and Martinique. [3]

Négritude is “the self-affirmation of black peoples, or the affirmation of the values of civilization of something defined as “the black world” as an answer to the question “what are we in this white world?” is indeed “quite a problem”: it poses many questions.” Négritude is a perspective from which to critique several facets of social and political life, and functions as revolt, philosophy, identity, ontology, aesthetics, epistemology, politics, and beyond. [3]

However, in true Nietzschean fashion, Césaire says in a lecture delivered in 1987 at Florida International University in Miami:

Négritude, in my eyes, is not a philosophy. Négritude is not a metaphysics. Négritude is not a pretentious conception of the universe. It is a way of living history within history: the history of a community whose experience appears to be … unique, with its deportation of populations, its transfer of people from one continent to another, its distant memories of old beliefs, its fragments of murdered cultures. How can we not believe that all this, which has its own coherence, constitutes a heritage? (2004, 82) [4]

During this period, Césaire found inspiration in Nietzsche’s work, specifically The Birth of Tragedy. The concept of the “voluntary sacrifice of the Hero so that the collectivity may live” was especially resonant with Césaire. In the early issues of Tropiques, Césaire and collaborators examined Nietzsche’s ideas. His “theory of the will, as well as his ideas on the cycle of culture, were particularly attractive to Césaire, as they reinforced surrealist attacks on the constraints of reason and affirmed the possibility of a heroic rebirth of Négritude.” In the Fall 1943 issue, Césaire wrote of his admiration for what he saw as 51pk3saYTML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Nietzschean aspects of Paul Claudel’s work: “Claudel, never so fulgurating as when he ceases to be Catholic to become earth, planet, matter, sound, and fury, super ego, superman, whether he exalts the will to power or opens the homicidal floodgates of a humor à la Jarry.” (Tropiques, Fall 1943, p. 8). [2] Here Césaire recognizes in Claudel the exhibition of Nietzschean qualities found in Zarathustra’s preaching of the Übermensch, the philosophy of the earth, the disciplined creativity of overcoming resistance from outside as well as self-overcoming, persevering through inner resistance and fear, and to express one’s will to power in the world through acts of self-creation and rebirth in service of affirmation of one’s inner vision.

quote-culture-is-everything-culture-is-the-way-we-dress-the-way-we-carry-our-heads-the-way-aime-cesaire-125-40-29

Bernard Harcourt sums up:

It is in the poetic arts, in the Dionysian, that Césaire would draw much of the vitality and poetic knowledge necessary to resist colonial and Western domination. In this sense, Césaire’s writings demonstrate not only the influence of his early Nietzschean encounters, but rather how much more can be done—in a revolutionary way—with those early fragments and aphorisms. And so, it is to Césaire’s art form and creativity, his poetic knowledge and political practice, that we can turn to for our own inspiration and resistance in these dark times. [1]

 

Read Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism

513+NepPdvL._SX331_BO1204203200_

 

Below: Democracy Now! Césaire retrospective after his death in 2008

 

Nietzsche 6/13: Aimé Césaire

Panel of scholars read papers and discuss Nietzsche’s influence on Césaire: with Bachir Diagne, Romuald Fonkoua, Alex Gil, Daniele Lorenzini, and Françoise Vergès

Césaire, Nietzsche, and the Struggle Against Colonialism

 

 


Sources


[1] Bernard Harcourt, “Aimé Césaire: Poetic Knowledge, Vitality, Négritude, and Revolution”. Nietzsche 6/13 of the Nietzsche 13/13 seminar, 22 December 16.

[2] Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry. Trans., with Introduction and Notes by Clatyon Eshleman and Annette Smith. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983. pp 1-7.

[3] “Négritude”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/Négritude/

[4] Note 6 on “Négritude”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/negritude/notes.html#6

Advertisements

Nietzsche: Stylist, Poet, “Literary Philosopher”

dbccf1267edde1d1cb12708f90582beb--poet-man-cavePart of what makes Nietzsche Nietzsche is his style. Not the robust mustache so much as the way he wrote. Read some of his work, and it will come as no surprise that many have called Nietzsche a “literary philosopher.” This isn’t unfair, considering the fragmentary aphoristic style of several of his books, some of which included appended collections of poetry, and the fact that an entire book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is a hybrid animal showing aspects of novel, poetry, and philosophy. Some critics like Bertrand Russell meant “literary philosopher” in a dismissive way, suggesting that the power of Nietzsche’s ideas can be attributed more to his rhetoric and appeal to passion than the rigor and logic of his philosophical method. Maybe Nietzsche would defend himself, but it seems more likely that he would simply respond with an unconcerned, “And…?” Even the Enlightenment’s prized ideal of human reason did not escape Nietzsche’s critical gaze. According to Wolfgang Welsch, Nietzsche did not attack reason in itself, but the theories of reason.

Nietzsche’s criticism of the standard view of reason is well known. This view advocates the dogma of unsoiled knowledge, or “immaculate perception” (Zarathustra, 233). Reason, one says, does nothing to things, but wants only to cognize them. The activity of reason is apprehended as pure theory, as viewing, as contemplation of the being.

Against this Nietzsche objects, firstly, that reason in fact does something quite different: it does not simply render things, but schematizes them, knocks them into shape, reshapes them as lies. “`Reason’ is the cause of our falsification of the evidence of the senses” (`Reason in Philosophy’, § 2, Twilight, 75). Nietzsche continually points out the way in which we cover up the singularity and variability of phenomena by means of fictive generality and constancy.[1]

A great and uncannily prophetic thinker, Nietzsche was also a great writer. Health problems rendered him unable to work, sometimes for days or weeks on end. So, when he felt well enough to write, he never knew how long until the next headache or stomach pains would return him to bed. His time writing had to be productive, so he learned to compose in his head, distilling his thought to sharp and concise prose. This may help explain his writing in aphorisms as well as account for the wealth of lines and short passages that can be taken from his work as evocative stand-alone quotes. Sharp and memorable lines like these are ubiquitous in western culture:

 

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
Without music, life would be a mistake.
One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
There are no facts, only interpretations.
Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.
When one has not had a good father, one must create one.

Many passages and phrases from Nietzsche’s work have been appropriated by pop culture, often distorted, misquoted, and taken out of context. Variations of Nietzsche’s line, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” have been used in well over a dozen pop songs in the past decade alone.

Of course, movies and TV shows have also name dropped and/or quoted Nietzsche early and often, and it is unlikely to stop any time soon.


Sources

[1] “Nietzsche on Reason” by Wolfgang Welsch. http://www2.uni-jena.de/welsch/papers/W_Welsch_Nietzsche_on_Reason.html

Sarah Kofman’s Nietzsche and Metaphor

sarah kofmanOne thing I mentioned in the first post was highlighting a more diverse group of thinkers. That included philosophers and writers whom Nietzsche influenced, those rarely among the first names to be associated with Nietzsche’s thought. One finds the usual groups of philosophers like Bataille, Blanchot, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, etc. One finds the psychologists like Freud (who was hesitant and reluctant to admit Nietzsche’s influence on his work for some reason) and Jung. One finds, of course, the Nazis and other fascists, who plucked from its context what they found useful, twisting and misinterpreting to justify horrific acts. But several poets and philosophers whose contribution to Nietzsche studies as well as the transmission and criticism of Nietzsche’s thought are most often passed over.

 

A valuable source for names as well as in-depth discussion of some of those in the margins has been the Nietzsche 13/13 seminar. Several philosophers of the traditional Western canon are included, of course, but I was impressed and thankful for the shared focus on more marginalized thinkers. Some are well-known, but Nietzsche’s influence on many often goes unacknowledged. One of the philosophers in focus at Nietzsche 13/13 was French philosopher Sarah Kofman (1934-1994).pid_2825

 

Kofman wrote several books on Nietzsche. Her first book, Nietzsche and Metaphor, was her dissertation focused on deconstructing metaphor, specifically, of course, Nietzsche’s metaphors. This meant turning the deconstructive tools on Nietzsche himself. As often as Nietzsche scholars say and know that Nietzsche himself would, in theory, be against enshrining his thought as a new scripture, there is still the reality that, as Jared Brandon Sacks wrote, “thought gravitates towards reification.” And Nietzsche scholarship is no different in its tendency toward an ossification of accepted readings, interpretations, and criticisms. Jared Brandon Sacks writes:

Nietzsche and Metaphor is Sarah Kofman’s attempt at a “Nietzschean reading of Nietzsche” (Kofman 1993, p.xxii)⁠. Whereas a significant amount of work on his thought is concerned with his larger ideas (Übermensch, Eternal Return, etc), Kofman’s is a primarily textual analysis that deals with and deconstructs the metaphorical nature of Nietzsche’s thought and how it is put into practice in his writing. In her work, then, the metaphor is seen as having a “strategic status” (1993, p.xv)⁠, one that sees concepts as merely a collection of metaphors. If, however, we take Kofman’s thinking to its logical conclusion, then the idea of Nietzsche himself should be understood as a metaphor. This would then foreground the problem of the intellectual canon and how Nietzsche’s writings have become “petrified” to use Harcourt’s (2017)⁠ formulation, a form of rigid and jailed thought that discourages creativity and freedom. Breaking this is a necessary precursor to systematically challenging hierarchies of thought.

 

Visit Nietzsche 7/13 for video of the talks as well as further reading on Sarah Kofman’s Nietzsche and Metaphor from the conference. Presenters include Laure Adler, Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Mathieu Frackowiak, Geneviève Fraisse, Daniele Lorenzini, Mara Montanaro, and Monique Schneider.

niet-1-e1472139554522

Jiwon Hahn | On Nietzsche and Metaphor

 

Jared Brandon Sacks | Nietzsche as Metaphor: Thinking Against a Petrified Canon

 

Three Articles on Sarah Kofman by Professor Penelope Deutscher

neitsche-grid-hi-res

Bataille’s “RÉPARATION À NIETZSCHE”

Carte_d'identité_de_Bataille_1940At 17 years old, Georges Bataille converted to Catholicism and planned to enter the priesthood. But about nine years later, he left the faith, though he remained interested in mysticism and the idea of a spirituality without God for the rest of his life, a highly unfashionable preoccupation in European literary and philosophical circles, drawing sharp criticism from figures like Sartre. Bataille led a somewhat nomadic life, internally if not socially, moving among existentialists, communists, surrealists, and other -ists, always longing for community. Along the way, he founded or was involved with several journals, including Acéphale, from the Greek akephalos meaning “headless.” Acéphale was also a secret society:

Fascinated by human sacrifice, he founded a secret society, Acéphale, the symbol of which was a headless man. According to legend, Bataille and the other members of Acéphale each agreed to be the sacrificial victim as an inauguration; none of them would agree to be the executioner. An indemnity was offered for an executioner, but none was found before the dissolution of Acéphale shortly before the war. [1]

Bataille never lost his desire for community, the structure and intimacy of ritual, and a kind of material mysticism. While this may have caused some to dismiss his work as still clinging to forms of religious and superstitious belief, his work has seen renewed interest since the publication of a collection of his writings under the title Visions of Excess. Bataille’s work, especially the focus on intersections of the sacred, the ritual, sensuality, and the body, seems to have a lot in common with work currently being done in the area of what has been called “radical theology,” which grew out of what had previously been termed “death of God theology”. Petra Carlsson discusses the connection between her work on the “material understanding of sacramentality” and similar concerns in the work of Bataille and Artaud, among others.

 

Acephale1Bataille’s work, both literary and philosophical, focused on consumption and excess in economic terms as seen through a Marxist lens. These notions of excess and waste expenditures were, for Bataille, bound up with the transgressive and the limit experience, often involving sexual taboos and violence that functioned as an avenue toward a kind of materialist transcendental experience, going beyond pain and horror into a kind of ecstatic state analogous to the ecstatic experiences described by many religious mystics. Foucault, in particular, was influenced and inspired by Bataille’s work, stating in “Preface to Transgression”: “The twentieth century will undoubtedly have discovered the related categories of exhaustion, excess, the limit, and transgression—the strange and unyielding form of these irrevocable movements which consume and consummate us.” [2]

It’s no surprise that Nietzsche’s work appealed to Bataille. The aspects of Nietzsche’s work that most concerned Bataille were the death of God and the concept of evil and the idea of going beyond evil. Below is an interview with Bataille about his book Literature and Evil, where he explores the necessary presence of evil to provide any literary work with its movement, the motivating force of its essential conflict.

Bataille’s “RÉPARATION À NIETZSCHE”

Leading up to WWII, thinkers in Europe saw how fascinated fascists had become with Nietzsche (actual fascists, not merely anyone with whom one disagreed). This was in no small part due to the efforts of Nietzsche’s own sister, Elisabeth, whom Hitler visited at the Nietzsche archive to give her a bouquet of roses, and who gave Hitler her brother’s favorite walking stick. [3] The first issues of Acéphale were dedicated to reclaiming and rehabilitating Nietzsche’s thought and reputation from appropriation and perversion by the Nazis and other fascists.

The volume is dedicated to recuperating Nietzsche from the fascists. The lead article—“Nietzsche et les Fascistes”—is a violent diatribe against Elisabeth Föerster-Nietzsche, somewhat curiously renamed “Elisabeth Judas-Föerster,” as well as thinkers who, according to Bataille, had distorted and abused Nietzsche’s words—including Georg Lukacs on the left, but mostly Alfred Rosenberg, Alfred Baeumler, and other contemporary fascist thinkers who had misappropriated Nietzsche’s work, pilfered quotations out of context, betrayed his thought. The volume could be retitled, in light of the untimely meditation, “The Uses and Abuses of Nietzsche.” [2]

Nietzsche’s influence and impact on Bataille was significant, intellectually and personally.

Most of Bataille’s collective projects—Acéphale, the Collège, Critique—can be interpreted in light of a fraternal yearning, one that (perhaps like Nietzsche’s, oddly) was somehow tied to deep loneliness, to the point of a certain fear of madness. According to Bataille’s personal journals during the war, Nietzsche was a lifeline. Reading Nietzsche kept Bataille sane—or insane, as Bataille would ambiguously suggest—and prodded him, painfully, anxiously, to experience life to its fullest, to the limit.

“With few exceptions,” Bataille wrote in 1944, “my company on earth is Nietzsche.” [2]

It’s no wonder that Bataille sought to wrest Nietzsche’s philosophy from vivisection, perversion, and abuse at the hands of the fascists—and to sever the association of his work with the Nazis so that that tainted necrotic reputation could be cut away for healing and new growth. “Bataille edited an important collection of essays on Nietzsche entitled, Acéphale: religion, sociologie, philosophie. This volume revived interest in Nietzsche’s thought on the Left in Europe during the war and post-war period, and lay the groundwork for readings of Nietzsche in the 1960s.” [2]

I highly recommend the video and paper from the Nietzsche 13/13 conference, featuring a lengthy and in-depth conversation among Bernard Harcourt, Denis Hollier, Rosalind Morris, and Anthony Vidler focusing on Bataille’s engagement with Nietzsche, from which I drew some of the information presented here.


Sources

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Bataille

[2] Harcourt, Bernard. “Bataille’s On Nietzsche.” http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/nietzsche1313/2-13/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influence_and_reception_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche#Nietzsche_and_fascism

Nietzsche’s The Last Man

Quotefancy-9853-3840x2160

Cool quote, bro. But what does it mean? It’s not too tough to get that Nietzsche is talking about an inner struggle or turmoil. Maybe a desire that maybe desires something out of reach, for now or forever. But the chaos of that frustrated drive is there, willing to manifest itself, it’s uncomfortable, and we can choose what we will do with it. We can smother it, try to quit it, try to shut it up in whatever way suits us: smothered in drink or drug or food or shopping or keeping busy or doing what everyone else is doing, melting into the masses (I keep misreading that as melting into madness). Culture, society, capitalism will all sell us their flavor of snake oil for the attainment of inner peace and contentment at a low, low price. And it will work. Until it doesn’t. Until it runs out and we need more, and eventually the ugly truth of diminishing returns and habituation still manages to find us in those desperate lonely moments. Those moments of “how did I get here?” and “how is this my life?” and “what could I have done if only I…?” But the good news is that, if we still have those moments, we, as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra follows the quote above, “still have chaos in [ourselves].”

What’s wrong with wanting to be at peace with ourselves and enjoy some comfort in our lives? Nothing at all. But, Nietzsche says, if we’re honest with ourselves, pain and suffering are simply part of life. Trying to smother and numb it isn’t going to leave us with much more than a body that still feels gross about itself, even if we’ve lost our minds or let them atrophy. Suffering is not going away and it’s one of the great problems of being human.

As much as Nietzsche despised Utilitarianism for seeking the most pleasure and avoiding as much pain in life as possible, he still wrestled with what to do with the problem of suffering. He rejected his mentor Schopenhauer’s pessimistic view that life is just a lot of suffering and misery and then you die. Nietzsche wanted to turn suffering into something positive because it’s part of life and he wanted to say Yes to life in all of its joy and its pain. Nietzsche spoke of his own personal suffering in a letter to his friend Franz Overbeck, which captures his view rather succinctly: “Unless I discover the alchemical trick of turning this—muck into gold, I am lost. Here I have the most splendid chance to prove that for me “all experiences are useful, all days holy and all people divine”!!!” [2] It was during this time that Nietzsche did discover his alchemical trick, which was channeling his pain and suffering into his creative work. This particular work was Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche showcases several of his concepts in Zarathustra, including what he calls the “Last Man,” whom he sets opposite of the Superman. He says, “The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough.” [1] This last line is echoed later: “You still have chaos in yourselves.” But Zarathustra goes on to warn of what could be on the horizon for humanity: “But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it.” Then he gets to his vision of the Last Man.

Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star? thus asks the last man, and he blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest. [1]

This, for Nietzsche, is the beginning of the end, and the end will take a long, stupid, embarrassingly boring time. This herd of “last humans” will have lost all passion for anything great or creative. That doesn’t mean they’ve lost passion for everything, though. They may get excited over trivial and ridiculous things. Maybe that passion and energy gets invested and expended in fighting pointless and fruitless fights over yet more trivial things, or, you know, just for something to do. Regardless, they will be “happy” with living banal lives on autopilot, having no ambition to do anything beyond what they see everyone else doing. And maybe everyone seems to be fighting on Facebook and joining in Twitter drags?

Mostly, the Last Man is seen as the ultimate loafer, a lazy drooling belly-scratcher who is content with mediocrity in all aspects of life. He hasn’t “finally given up on life,” but he is excited and pleased to be this Last Man. Even the people Zarathustra tells about this “most despicable human being” beg for the Last Man, to be turned into last men, and they’ll even “sacrifice the Overman” if he’ll give them the Last Man, much like the crowd begging for Pilate to release Barabbas, a known criminal, to be released to them instead of Jesus of Nazareth. The last men knowingly advocate what’s against their own well-being and best interest: “A little poison now and then: that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death.”

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion…. One is clever and knows everything that has ever happened: so there is no end of derision. [1]

Unsurprisingly, many today see these traits in much of Western society. A piece in Apotheosis Magazine opens with this depressingly familiar description:

The Last Man is primarily characterized as the type of individual that is fat, lazy and falls asleep watching TV after over indulging in junk food. This clearly denotes the type of man that is content with living a life whose primary and only purpose is to exist in a perpetual state of comfort, security and pleasure. This is a value system that does not idealize or extol higher values, challenging circumstances or hard work.

And here, Bettany Hughes describes how Nietzsche’s Last Man may be becoming a reality.


Sources:

[1] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by Walter Kaufmann, Penguin 1978, p. 16-18

[2] Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche. Ed. & Trans. by Christopher Middleton. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1996, p. 199.

[3] “What is the Last Man? (Nietzsche). http://www.apotheosismagazine.com/home/2016/10/7/what-is-the-last-man-nietzsche

Nietzsche on ressentiment

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed.

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 36, Kaufmann trans. Vintage, 1989

google ressentiment definition

In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche deals with the notion of ressentiment at great length. He sees it at the root of the moral decay that he diagnosed in the sick heart of society dominated and structured by a Christian value system that it no longer believes in or cares to live by. Nietzsche saw people wanting to live otherwise but finding themselves shackled by social mores and values that stifled their instinctual drives and passions, that limited their imaginations and locked away their aspirations for fear of consequences—socially, personally, and spiritually. Christian values, according to Nietzsche, had poisoned and stunted human agency and will to strive for and reach its highest potential.

Nietzsche’s application of the concept is more complex than it would first appear. At a glance, it seems as though resentment is all bad, mere bitterness and rationalization. Without a doubt, bitterness, rationalization, and self-delusion play a mighty role in pushing resentment into action through the creation of values. Nietzsche acknowledges the great cleverness, subtlety, and creativity involved in the “slave morality” working to overturn and overpower “master morality.” However, in the end, the will to power that is activated by resentment is a reactive move and cannot help but take on the qualities that it has deemed to be evil or bad or immoral, and these qualities manifest themselves once the power reversal has taken place.

This turning point for Christian morality, according to Nietzsche, was when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of Rome. The great overturning and reversal of power was consummated. Once in power, the same evils and moral corruption that had been attributed to the masters of old were now the exact behaviors being exhibited by many of the new dominant class. Could it have simply been “absolute power corrupts absolutely” in action? According to Nietzsche, it had more to do with resentment poisoning the essence of a value system born out of a lust for revenge and a fixation with cleansing the kingdom of the other, that which does not belong, which it continued to need even after it had gained power over the previous master, the previous other.

genealogy of morals cover

Although Nietzsche advocates creativity and finding creative ways to better oneself and express one’s will to power, he sees resentment’s “creative deed” as a reactive move. The impetus for change and creative expression is prompted from outside. The deed is carried out in reaction to something other than emerging spontaneously from one’s own desires and inclinations. Living in this reactive mode inevitably binds one’s identity to that which one opposes, in essence stalling and stagnating one’s process of “becoming who one is” and remaining chained to that which one wants desperately to negate, to destroy, to escape, only to have its entire life and goals for achievement become inextricably grafted with that from which it wants and needs to become free.

Carrying the seeds of its own destruction within itself—seeds of the old masters who were their own negation, destruction, erasure—the new masters’ slave morality eventually gives birth to its own destroyer. In this way, Christianity is seen to “secrete atheism” and produce the cultural conditions for the secularization of society.

Daniel Barber spoke with Josef Gustafsson on the Freestyle Christianity (now The Catacombic Machine) podcast and discussed this. Barber said that the secular in Europe and North America have gotten rid of God but they haven’t gotten rid of the grammar, that the secular still employs a grammar that does this “othering.” I recommend listening to the whole podcast, of course, but start at the 1:03:45 mark.

Josef also spoke with Jeffrey Robbins on The Catacombic Machine shortly after Trump was elected, and, among many other ideas, they also touched on the curious mirroring of moral and power structures between the religious/Christian and the secular order.

Looking at the current cultural tension in the U.S., especially between the secular and the “religious right” i.e. so-called Christians—it isn’t difficult to see another iteration of this reactive move in process. This time it is the secular revolting against the dominant Christian value structures in government and society. And now that postmodernism has done its work of deconstructing and dragging away the corpse of the “dead father,” any Christian claim to truth and moral absolutes, we have seen the secular take over. The irony (hypocrisy?) is that the secular order still wears the same cloak of moral superiority and claims to possess the one truth according to science. The corpse of the dead father is disposed of, yet the ghost remains: the shadow of God that Nietzsche said would hang around for centuries.

Clearly, we have reached a moment of fierce and unwavering division in American culture (along several lines), where two sides–conservative vs. liberal, Right vs. Left–seem to only be talking (frothing, screaming…) past each other, accusing and diagnosing each other with the exact same moral sickness. The articles and hot takes discussing Nietzschean ressentiment alone serves as a fitting example, and further proof that Nietzsche’s thought is as relevant as ever and worth getting to know.

Diagnosis: ressentiment

Diagnosis: ressentiment

Diagnosis: ressentiment

Diagnosis: ressentiment

ad nauseum

.

.

.


Further reading and listening:

“Creative Force of Ressentiment” by Cuong Nguyen

Read: Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-Secularism and the Future of Immanence by Daniel Colucciello Barber (the Introduction is available free)

Listen: LeRon Shults talks with Josef Gustafsson on Freestyle Christianity/The Catacombic Machine about the Christianity’s “secretion of atheism” among other things.

Read: Iconoclastic Theology: Gilles Deleuze and the Secretion of Atheism by F. LeRon Shults.

Nietzsche’s Übermensch

quote-the-overman-who-has-organized-the-chaos-of-his-passions-given-style-to-his-character-and-become-friedrich-nietzsche-285254

Most of Nietzsche’s ideas have been misunderstood and/or perverted for ideological purposes, so why not the concept of the Übermensch, too? Although the Overman was discussed in several works, it first appeared as a concept in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

And Zarathustra spoke thus to the people:

            “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

            “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?”

            …

            “Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth!

            …

            “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping.” [1]

To create new values — that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred “No” even to duty — for that, my brothers, the lion is needed. To assume the right to new values — that is the most terrifying assumption for a reverent spirit that would bear much. Verily, to him it is preying, and a matter for a beast of prey. He once loved “thou shalt” as most sacred: now he must find illusion and caprice even in the most sacred, that freedom from his love may become his prey: the lion is needed for such prey.

     But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world. [2]

The concept of the Overman has been interpreted as a biological concept, a “superior race” created using eugenics or genetic engineering, often physically superior to average human beings. And it’s no surprise that the Nazis used this idea as the philosophical ground for their goal of creating a “superior race.” It has also been linked to the desire to create “super soldiers” for the purpose of military power and domination. While that is one way to interpret the concept, it seems to miss the mark of what Nietzsche had in mind when he used the term Übermensch. Several thinkers have set forth their vision of Nietzsche’s Overman.

In an excellent overview of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, Eva Cybulska says:

Nietzsche’s reluctance to spell out exactly what he meant has provoked numerous interpretations in the secondary literature. Hollingdale (in Nietzsche) saw in Übermensch a man who had organised the chaos within; Kaufmann (Nietzsche) a symbol of a man that created his own values, and Carl Jung (Zarathustra’s Seminars) a new ‘God’. For Heidegger it represented humanity that surpassed itself, whilst for the Nazis it became an emblem of the master race. [3]

Cybulska goes on to describe what the Übermensch is not: “The Übermensch is not a Nazi…Nietzsche had written that he “would have all anti-Semites shot”, not to mention his strong anti-nationalistic and pan-European tendencies.”

And the Übermensch is not an anarchist: “Nietzsche never advocated abolishment of the state or legislation in pursuit of selfish aims. Quite the opposite: he argued for a well-ordered soul and a well-ordered society.”

To sum up:

Übermensch is not a tyrant. If anything, he is someone capable of tyranny who manages to overcome and sublimate this urge. His magnanimity stems not from weakness and servitude, but from the strength of his passions. He is rather like “the Roman Caesar with Christ’s soul” (Will to Power; 983), a value-creating and value-destroying free spirit who disciplines himself to wholeness. It’s important to stress that there has never yet been an Übermensch; it remains an ideal. [3]

There is variety even among the positive interpretations. Most interpretations of what Nietzsche talked about when he talked about the Overman center on the person who is self-created and free to create their own values, new values, and live by them, regardless of the resistance from society. This inevitably leaves the great soul mostly alone because of this freedom, enduring pain and suffering, overcoming inner and outer resistance in order to affirm and embrace life as it is. The Übermensch is their own project, actively creating their own life, always embracing their own becoming who they are. Cybulska says:

The great hero (der Überheld) overcomes himself, sublimates his impulses and passions, and owes nothing to anyone, not even to God. In the process of ‘becoming what one is’, the Übermensch unites reason and passion, order and chaos, discipline and ecstasy. But to become ‘all one’, and be free, ultimately means to be alone, taking full responsibility for one’s life. There is no scapegoat to take the blame for one’s misfortunes… [3]

Peter Sjöstedt-H reads Nietzsche’s own words on the concept of the Overman/Superman (Übermensch).

Find Peter on Twitter. Peter talks with Josef Gustafsson on The Catacombic Machine.


Sources

[1] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Penguin, 1954), p. 12, 13, 14.

[2] ibid. “On the Three Metamorphoses” p. 27.

[3] Cybulska, Eva. “Nietzsche’s Übermensch: A Hero of Our Time?”. Philosophy Now. 2012.