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The Overcoming of Physiology

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 23, Spring 2002
pp. 39-50 | 10.1353/nie.2002.0007

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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 23 (2002) 39-50

Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power has provoked a large number of commentaries and still remains one of his most strange, provocative, and disturbing contributions to the ongoing attempt at the overcoming of metaphysical schemas of thought. The strangeness of will to power is in no way alleviated by its intimate proximity to Nietzsche's thoughts about physiology. In fact, one of the central assumptions this article will attempt to substantiate is that, in Nietzsche's oeuvre, will to power and physiology belong together as virtual synonyms for each other, and that any distinction between them is a matter of emphasis rather than due to a strong conceptual separation. Both the thought of will to power and its articulation in terms of physiology are here understood as strategies that permit the substitution of unitary phenomena, assumed to be pregiven in representational modes of thought, by complex economies of forces and values, or multiplicities.

One of the typical ways in which the thought of will to power is subsumed back into the order of representation—although that is what it most obviously seeks to undermine—is to render it as a unified subject or substance (will) that seeks to make good a lack or absence (power) by an exertion of its will. This putative subject is furthermore individualized, anthropomorphized, and taken as self-determining so that will to power ends up as something like the autonomous intentionality of a human being who seeks to extend his [sic] domination over others. But the chief import of will to power is precisely to steer thinking away from such macro-conceptions and to attune it to a more subtle world of flux and becoming, to a microcosm of impersonal forces that is incessantly at play in the interstices of the world of agents and their acts, of substance, subject and all the rest of an exhausted and finally unproductive metaphysical conceptuality.

Why then, we might ask, does Nietzsche permit himself the use of such heavily invested terms, will and power, when he precisely seeks to undermine their accepted, traditional philosophical usage, the common conceptual fields in which they appear? A more extended response to this question will be carried out in the course of the discussion that follows in the main part of this article. For the moment the following, preliminary remarks must suffice.

The Nietzschean critique of metaphysics hinges on the latter's nihilistic, life-denying invention of the dualistic division between a true and an apparent world (however these worlds are conceived in detail). On that model, the plenitude of "this" world is "relocated" in an ideal realm of originary truth (the forms, God, Spirit, subjectivity, etc.). Hence Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics cannot claim recourse to any form of "higher truth," nor can it straightforwardly oppose its "truths" to those of the tradition without relapsing into Platonistic modes of thought. But one of the strategies left open to it is to infiltrate the lexicon and grammar of metaphysics and to use them against themselves. A prominent example of this is Nietzsche's critique of the Kantian distinction between appearance and thing in itself, where he rethinks the former as semblance (Anschein ) or appearing (Schein ) without accepting a realm of the "in itself" "behind" appearances. In this way, the hierarchy of any two-world theory is leveled into a string of dissimulations, into a series of veils or masks, yet the removal of one mask never reveals a final truth, the Truth, but only another mask and more masks. Nietzschean thought frequently inhabits the dualistic structures of metaphysics in order to subvert them from within, but only strategically, given the logical cul-de-sac dualistic metaphysics presents to any kind of thought that seeks to free itself from its conceptual schemas by merely repeating its oppositional modes of thought. While this reading of Nietzsche's strategic inhabitation of metaphysics surely cannot be treated as a panacea for dealing with every instance of oppositional thought in his writings, it would broadly allow for an immanent "hermeneutics of suspicion" of them. In this vein, his remarks concerning oppositionally understood forces or types would...

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