The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 24 (2002) 54-82
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Nietzsche's Transvaluation Of Jewish Parasitism*
Is living not valuating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? . . . . Différence engendre haine . . .
In his comments on Jews, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche responded forcefully to a preexisting discourse of parasitism in German modernity, wishing to transvalue this discourse for new, re-creative purposes. To what extent, however, is the otherwise so untimely Nietzsche actually timely (zeitgemäß)—in the sense of being symptomatic of the modern discourse of anti-Semitism, even as he reacts against it? As contemporary readers, we should bear in mind that Nietzsche's writings on Germans and Jews remain located within the verbal register of Imperial Germany, an age of social Darwinistic excess that confused methods of science with cultural transformation. Does the case of Jewish parasitism represent in the Nietzschean corpus the limit-case of this philosopher's desire to transvalue values—an instance of a dangerous transference of his creative agonistics onto a vivid actuality of race?
Nietzsche, as philologist and cultural diagnostician, understood the desire of any community to reify any new, different use of metaphor and to reincorporate it promptly within the fold of typological "truths" (BGE IX: 296). 1 Bearing in mind Nietzsche's insight into this all-too-human tendency of taking metaphors literally, this study undertakes to examine the tenability of Nietzsche's re-creation of Jewish parasitism, not only in its philosophical achievement but also in its social consequences, in order to highlight what is quite possibly the single most problematic moment in the Nietzschean corpus, and a non-mediatory dilemma for subsequent philosophical readings of [End Page 54] his text. Nietzsche's racial agonistics remains tangled up in the active generation of discourse and its reactive historical effect—a disruption in the Will to Power, a conundrum caught between creativity and ideology, between metaphorical potential and political action. With the image of the Jew-as-parasite, the case for Nietzsche's archetypally agonal style of "transvaluation of values" (Umwertung der Werte) is stretched to its extreme.
One preliminary caveat is called for: any intertextual discussion of Nietzsche and the "Jewish question" that circumvents the historically based, contextual dualisms of parasitism would miss the point. As Robert C. Holub demonstrates, a contextually informed balance is needed to counteract the anti-historical vein made popular by the now not-so-"New Nietzsche" criticism that rejuvenated the philologist-philosopher's philological component. 2 Yet, conversely, any reading of Nietzsche's relationship to Jews that denies an imaginative engagement with the philosopher's literary-philosophical rendering of this inflammatory topic would be equally lopsided—sorely missing in sensitivity to the adventures of the Nietzschean text, and hence also to most of its latent powers of seduction for the reader, then as now. This study goes, then, in search of the ethical limits, as well as the terminological blind-spots, that are present in Nietzsche's philosophy of difference regarding the Jews.
It is first worth considering how far the diagnosis and proposed cure for modern Germany and her Jews, offered by Nietzsche in the role of both infected patient and pharmacological "philosopher as cultural doctor" (KSA 7: 23), have been downplayed insofar as the topic apparently fails to complement late twentieth-century Derridean styles of genetically indeterminate Nietzsche-interpretation. One can trace this re-casting of Nietzsche's role concerning race back to Walter Kaufmann, who in 1950 effectively de-Aryanized him for American readers with the assertion that "Nietzsche did not interpret history racially." 3 Jacques Derrida, in "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1967), asserted an origin-free (and by implication race-free) affirmation of play in Nietzsche as a post-humanistic move, one that "surrenders itself to genetic indetermination, to the seminal adventure of the trace." 4 Derrida thus posits all emphasis on Nietzschean seminality as a trace of writing, and regards parasitism as occurring at the level of the text, 5 downplaying the fact that in the texts of...