Friday, June 20, 2008

Eurozine - Two Articles on Nietzsche


I have been a Nietzsche fan since high school, when I first read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. When I was in college, The Birth of Tragedy was important in the writing of my master's thesis.

Eurozine posted two articles in the new issue on ideas in Nietzsche and their influence in the present. Both are quite good and quite interesting, whether one agrees with them or not.

The heaviest burden
by György Tatar

Nietzsche and the death of God

Nietzsche's response to having lost faith, but not being able to live without it, was to invent the figure of a new creator – someone who could bring together Man and World once again. In order to do this, man had to begin to think through his own existence: the heaviest burden of all.

The madman. – Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" – as many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. [...] The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers.
~ Nietzsche, The Gay Science

With the metaphor of the "Death of God", Nietzsche means that the highest principles of all hitherto accepted world conceptions have lost their values. The death of the biblical God does not just leave behind a world as it has always been. Rather, it leaves behind a world which has lost its meaning. Only the guffawing rabble surrounding the "Madman" believes that a world without God and a world with God is the same. But if by "world" we mean the human world, the one that concerns us, the one in which all our needs, desires, joys and hopes are rooted, it makes a difference to this world whether it was created, and whether its creator has, at the same time, revealed itself to its creations as their redeemer.

The Madman brings a message about that condition of the world which the rabble cannot yet perceive: namely, that the "personal" ties between God, the World and Man – the arch concepts of traditional European thought – have been loosened. We can see the beginning of this loosening in the emergence of the modern scientific worldview of the seventeenth century and its de-humanization of the world. The relentless dismantling of the relation between Man and World played a central role in this process. The emerging de-humanized world, one which no longer relates to man from within itself, henceforth became a dead world. The prelude to the death of God was the death of the World.

In Nietzsche's mind, the total collapse of hitherto existing goals and values – their general loss of reality – is formulated as the absence of world. According to him, unlike the ancients, modern man no longer inhabits an eternal world created for him. He is "moving, away from all suns, plunging continually, through an infinite nothing".[1] However, because the meaning of the news about the death of God are still distant and strange to him, he still lives as if he lived in a divinely created world, even if he does not believe in it. In Nietzsche's conception, the images man makes of the world and of himself are the externalizations of his goals, values, mistakes, truths and prejudices. More precisely, the ones emerging victorious from the battle over goals and values will be the ones giving shape to the world of posterity. It is they who become its "higher man". Regardless of greater or smaller differences across different customs, or of the historical evolution of beliefs, the essential nature of these goals and values – the fundamental structure of world they belong to – remains the same.
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* * * * *
Questioning authority
By Alan D. Schrift

Nietzsche's gift to Derrida

Be it the moral-theological tradition, God, or his own status as author, Nietzsche's refusal to legitimate authority remains constant. As Alan D. Schrift writes, Nietzsche's deconstruction of authoritarian subjectivity shares much with Jacques Derrida's post-modern critique of the subject as a privileged centre of discourse.

The question of authority and its legitimation is a central issue in Nietzsche's writings, and one to which insufficient attention has been paid. Whether he is dismantling the authority of the moral-theological tradition, deconstructing the authority of God, or excising the hidden metaphysical authority within language, Nietzsche's refusal to legitimate any figure of authority remains constant. This holds for his own authority as a writer, the authority of his "prophet" Zarathustra, and the authority of the Übermensch.[1] As he remarks apropos of moral authority, "in the presence of morality, as in the face of any authority, one is not allowed to think, far less to express an opinion: here one has to obey! As long as the world has existed no authority has yet been willing to let itself become the object of critique".[2] Because authority demands obedience, a philosophy of the future will necessitate a critique of authority. If values are to be transvalued, obedience to the previous values must be undermined. The whole Nietzschean project of genealogy directs itself toward deconstructing the foundations of the dominant values of modernity, which is to say that Nietzsche's project of a transvaluation of values presupposes a delegitimation of the existing (moral) authority.

While the question of authority may not have been sufficiently attended to in Nietzsche's writings, it has been a central question in the work of Jacques Derrida. Here, as elsewhere,[3] we can see, both in broad outline and with a certain degree of specificity, how Nietzsche's ideas are developed in Derrida's thought on literary authority and its relation to the deconstruction of the subject. While the critique of the subject in recent French thought is most closely identified with the work of Michel Foucault,[4] Derrida also addressed the question of the authoritarian domination that accompanies the modern concept of the subject. Derrida develops his deconstructive critique of the subject as a privileged centre of discourse in the context of his project of delegitimizing authority, whether that authority emerges in the form of the author's domination of the text[5] or the tradition's reading of the history of philosophy. In fact, as Derrida himself noted in an interview published in Positions, from his earliest published texts, his project of delegitimation was an attempt "to systematize a deconstructive critique precisely against the authority of meaning, as the transcendental signified or as telos..."[6]

In Derrida's reading of Nietzsche, the deconstruction of authority emerges alongside his logic of undecidability. Derrida often "uses" Nietzsche as a paradigm of undecidability to frustrate the logocentric longing to choose between one or the other alternative within a fixed binary opposition. A case in point is Derrida's 1968 lecture "The Ends of Man." At the conclusion of this lecture, Derrida brings this logic of undecidability to bear on the two strategies that have appeared in connection with the deconstruction of metaphysical humanism. The first strategy, which Derrida associates with Heidegger, proceeds by means of a return to the origins of the metaphysical tradition and uses the resources of this tradition against itself. In adopting this strategy, "one risks ceaselessly confirming, consolidating, relieving [reléve] at an always more certain depth that which one allegedly deconstructs".[7] The second deconstructive strategy, which Derrida identifies with French philosophy in the 1960s, affirms an absolute break with tradition, seeking to change ground in a discontinuous and irruptive fashion. However, such a strategy fails to recognize that one cannot break with the tradition while retaining its language. The inevitable consequence of this blindness to the powers of language is a naive reinstatement of a "new" ground on the very site one sought to displace.
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