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Notes and Fragments THUS SPOKE RORTY: THE PERILS OF NARRATIVE SELF-CREATION by Daniel W. Conway In his most recent book,1 Richard Rorty presents Nietzsche as a twoheaded monster. One head corresponds to Nietzsche's anti-essentialism and perspectivism, the other to his recidivistic reliance on the metaphysics of will to power (pp. 106—7). Enamored of Nietzsche's perspectivism but allergic to his residual metaphysics, Rorty recommends that we tame the monster by decapitating its vestigial metaphysical head. The result of this operation, Rorty believes, would be a "purified" version of perspectivism that would be fully compatible with the liberal pluralism he envisions. But the "Nietzschean" liberalism that Rorty outlines bears a strong resemblance to the advanced nihilism against which Nietzsche warns us. The narrative self-creation that Rorty recommends would oblige many (or most) of us to adopt the ascetic strategy of world-denial that is characteristic of slave morality. Once we purge Nietzsche's perspectivism ofits metaphysical taint, we are free of the essentialism that vitiates his thought (p. 107). As "postmetaphysical " perspectivists, we realize that no brute world residuum restricts our capacity for narrative redescription (pp. 73-74). The formative and reformative power of narrative extends even (or especially) to the self, which Rorty identifies as an historically contingent construct. No longer distracted by Nietzsche's cryptic allusions to a "spiritual/atom," "what is unteachable very 'deep down,' "2 and other possible impediments to self-creation, Rorty celebrates the capitulation of ontology to language . "Socialization," he claims, "goes all the way down" (p. 185). To create oneself anew, he explains, is simply to fashion for oneself an enabling narrative; a liberal pluralism would not only encourage such self-creation, but also foster a tolerance for the self-creation of Philosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 103-110 104Philosophy and Literature others. Borrowing an ostensibly Nietzschean image for his sketch of the ideal liberal ironist, Rorty maintains that "All any ironist can measure success against is the past—not by living up to it, but by redescribing it in his terms, thereby becoming able to say, 'Thus I willed it' " (p. 97). Rorty claims to have inherited this model ofself-creation from Nietzsche (p. 27), but he arrives at it by way of his domestication of the twoheaded monster. How much of Nietzsche actually survives the liberal appropriation of his thought? Narrative redescription does figure prominently in Toward a Genealogy of Morab, where Nietzsche describes it as the catalyst of self-creation. But Rorty neglects to mention that the mastery of narrative he prizes is attributed by Nietzsche to the ascetic priest, who engineers the "slave revolt in morality."3 Through the magic of narrative redescription, the ascetic priest disempowers the nobles and unites the slaves into a political unit that Nietzsche calls "the herd" (GM 111:15). By inscribing the (proslave ) opposition between "good" and "evil" into the authoritative context of evaluation, the ascetic priest transforms the slaves' weaknesses into virtues. If Rorty is right about the formative power of narrative self-redescription , then everyone manipulates the world (if at all) only via language . Rorty's account ofself-creation thus implicates everyone—Nietzsche included—in the slave revolt. Nietzsche is simply another in a long line of ascetic priests who have attempted to further their own interests by willfully challenging the authoritative description of the world. Nietzsche's peculiar cunning lies in appropriating the ascetic priest's linguistic triumph as his own. He cleverly exposes the narrative strategy of the ascetic priest and then (rhetorically) distances himself from the slave revolt by praising those (mythical) nobles whose personal integrity rendered them honorably vulnerable to the priest's machinations. Rorty 's interpretation effectively dismisses the rhetorical dimension of the Genealogy, in which Nietzsche promotes a hierarchy of values. "Noble" and "life-affirming" simply express Nietzsche's personal approbation, while "slavish" and "life-denying" express his disapprobation. The socalled nobles are noble in name only, and Nietzsche's sole objection to slave morality is that it has adapted and flourished. Unlike Nietzsche, Rorty does not bemoan the final "victory" of slave morality, and in fact welcomes the historical opportunity finally to render the priests harmless.4 The best...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 103-110
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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