Hypatia 17.1 (2002) 217-219
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Inside/Outside Nietzsche: Psychoanalytic Explorations. By EUGENE VICTOR WOLFENSTEIN. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000.
If there is one word that describes Eugene Victor Wolfenstein's book, it is ambitious. This work ranges across psychoanalysis, critical theory, political philosophy, and inevitably ethics, using mainly Nietzsche's works, but also drawing in insights (and language games) from Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, Julia Kristeva, G. W. F. Hegel, Gilles Deleuze, and Luce Irigaray. The examination of Nietzsche's writings in relation to Freudian psychoanalysis, postmodern critical theory and Marxian politics is hardly new, but Wolfenstein's method is unique in three respects. First, it attempts to weave together Nietzsche's biography with a genealogical sketch of the evolution of Nietzsche's thoughts on the notions of the eternal return, the will to power, and the overman, using Nietzsche's own psychological, genealogical, and symptomatological tools to critique him. Second, it painstakingly traces the relationship between these key concepts and Nietzsche's philosophical thoughts on the "Feminine" and women, as well as his actual relationships with women. Third, taking seriously Nietzsche's statement that every philosophy is "the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir" (76), the author engages in autoethnographic/autobiographical experiments to integrate his own personal experiences, citing in particular two clinical cases with women he renames as "Maya" and "Anna."
The first two strategies have been clearly unorthodox until recently. Nietzsche's status as a mere Nazi ideologue was redeemed from disrepute only through Walter Kaufmann's antiseptic treatment of Nietzsche's writings, and in particular, his statements regarding the embarrassing issues of das weib/weiblich. What resulted is a gentler Nietzsche who could then be appropriated as a poster boy for certain types of postmodernisms and feminisms. Such approaches have failed to come to terms with the complex imbrications binding Nietzsche's micro-politics (his biography) with his macro-politics (his philosophy). In addition, the general tendency, until recently, has been proverbially to sweep under a rug Nietzsche's less politically correct statements concerning gender and race. Wolfenstein's book continues these recent attempts to "overcome" these whitewashed facades. The third move is particularly bold, and, one could argue, in keeping with the Nietzschean desire to problematize the subject-object dichotomy and to wrestle with the epistemological and ethical aftermath of the death of god/author in intersecting clinical and political contexts. Yet the results of this third experiment are mixed. Wolfenstein's sojourns into autobiography and autoethnography are often so thickly overlaid with theory that clarity and concreteness are sacrificed. For example, he writes: "Thus . . . dialectical reason was unifying of the epistemological and practical extremes [End Page 217] of the psychoanalytic vocation. There was also guidance to be found at the substantive level, especially in the phenomenology of self-certainty (desire and the battle for recognition; lordship and bondage; Stoicism, skepticism, and the unhappy consciousness), and these concepts too proved to be of clinical value . . ." (89).
Yet how these concepts became useful in his clinical practice remains vague and only alluded to rather than concretely laid out. Wolfenstein's ability to weave across the variant and oftentimes esoteric language games of Freudian psychoanalysis and Nietzschean philosophy is many times illuminating but sometimes confusing, simply because he presumes, rather than shows, how he imaginatively knots these disparate threads. What is clear is that Wolfenstein possesses a rare gift: the ability to juxtapose, as Arthur Koestler would put it, frames that are normally kept disparate. If, in the process of conjoining not two, but often three or four frames, the vision gets a little blurry, that is understandable. Wolfenstein exacts a lot from his readers, but the dividends are worth the effort.
In my view, Wolfenstein is most effective at his second task: his reconstruction of how the "eternal return" makes sense less as a cosmological argument than a psychological one. Using Kristeva's notions of abjection and sublimity, Wolfenstein, using extensive biographical detail, paints a conflicted portrait of Nietzsche...