To Place Oneself Within a 'We'
Like that of many of the other French thinkers who question the late modern principium individuationis, Foucault's thought has proven over the decades to be particularly prone to divergent interpretations of how it might be put to political use. Ranging, for instance, from the "post-Marxism" of Ernesto Laclau, to the "radical liberalism" of William Connolly, to the "post-anarchism" of Todd May, it has been repeatedly claimed as the basis for quite distinct ends. And yet, in classic Nietzschean fashion, he himself argued explicitly against the reduction of critical thought as such to the "we" of any exclusive, pre-formed ideologico-political orientation.i Instead, Foucault's more Dionysian, transversally-oriented disposition lead him to proclaim that "the [real] problem is, precisely, to decide if it is actually suitable to place oneself within a 'we' in order to assert the principles one recognizes and the values one accepts; or if it is not, rather, necessary to make the future formation of a 'we' possible by elaborating the question. Because it seems to me that the 'we' must not be previous to the question; it can only be the result - and the necessarily temporary result - of the question as it is posed in the new terms in which one formulates it".ii Like many of his post-Nietzschean contemporaries in the Francophone world who were also more interested in "self-overcoming" than in staticizing political identities, Foucault distrusted categorically-driven polemics because of the Manichean reifications and instrumentalizations of thought that they tended to inspire. By defining a constitutive outside he seemed to suggest, one often sets up an arbitrarily-defined political symptomatology, in which "symptoms are named, renamed and grouped in various ways",iii and which thereby tend to disenable an ethos of agonistic respect. And yet, if the purpose of critical political thinking today is, in the terms employed by Gilles Deleuze, "contributing to the invention of a people"iv (rather than "representing" one that already is) then instrumentalizations of a thinker's work are unavoidable, including those motivated by an anti-systemic sensibility.
Within the Anglophone milieu of critical political thought, Nietzsche's heterodox philosophico-aesthetic sensibility has contributed greatly to the many becomings of the political 'we' that Foucault invokes as emerging out of specific events. Nevertheless, while the modern period gave birth to a plethora of political ideologies that could be rendered amenable to his thought, anarchism remains the most quickly dismissed of them. Oddly, this obduracy is not only engaged by those who, in a particularly selective reading of Nietzsche's thought, seek to defend our own Faubourg Saint Germain, but also by many of those who seek to bring his anti-humanist legacy to bear on their own necessarily modern, humanist-indebted polemics. And yet, as it has with Marxism and liberalism, Nietzsche's anti-humanism has also been used to think "with and against" the polemics that gave birth to anarchism. While this should have greatly reduced the ideological rifts dividing these camps, or at least rendered their irreconcilable components resonant in the virtual sense, it is only recently that this has begun to occur. Indeed, over the past decade, the emergent political 'we' became as a somewhat altered composite, particularly through the works of Todd May', Saul Newman, and Lewis Call. Together, these authors developed a theoretical basis which allows for an alternate comprehension of the largely anarchist-inflected (but similarly heterodox) "antiglobalization movement," amongst other events. For this reason, many critical academics who have been moved by such developments have found themselves pulled in multiple interpretive directions, with sometimes confusing results. My argument here is that rather than acquiescing to the temptation to choose one or the other of them, it is the question itself that should be given primacy, so that the "we" can emerge as the specifics of the situation at hand require.
John Moore and Spencer Sunshine's collection I Am Not a Man, I Am Dynamite: Nietzsche and the Anarchist Tradition provides an interesting and useful introduction to the anarchist dimension of this new political composite. While the twelve essays which make up this volume all acknowledge and even find value in the specific critiques Nietzsche made of anarchism, they also retain what could be read as his socio-politically inflected stance of "philosophy with a hammer" and his goal of a "transvaluation of all values". Saul Newman's contribution exemplifies the approach, in which the epigraph notes Nietzsche's assertion that anarchism is the foremost socio-political loci within which ressentiment is raised to the level of an orientation. But rather than engaging that observation only as an excuse to avoid contemplating anarchism (as have other Nietzscheans), Newman follows the Marxist lead of his former advisor Ernesto Laclau, suggesting that "anarchism could become more relevant to contemporary political struggles if it were made aware of the ressentiment logic of its own discourse, particularly in the essentialist identities and structures that inhabit it."(107) Newman builds on the central point of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality: that contemporary Judeo-Christian values are reactive, such that the hierarchy of master and slave was reversed and redeployed as an essentialized celebration of meekness and piety. While agreeing with Nietzsche that anarchism, socialism and liberalism all grew out of this ressentiment-laden "slave revolt," Newman argues that rather than denying the life-affirming and the different through a constitutive outside, radical humanism as such (and of course, anarchism in particular) should circumvent this reactive logic and enter into a self-overcoming of its own.
Attesting to the ambiguity inherent in any political claim, Newman none the less posits another potentially territorializing identity, asserting that "anarchism would be greatly enhanced as a political and ethical philosophy if it eschewed essentialist categories, leaving itself open to different and contingent identities - a post-anarchism." (122) Newman thus christens a new "ism" to which he continues to refer, thereby making the work resemble a tradition-founding manifesto, such that when speaking of Marxism, he represents it as necessarily reducing political power to economic power. At the same time, he presumes the greater complexity of anarchism since it agrees with Nietzsche's assertion that the State is the "coldest of all cold monsters," that its "abstract machine of domination," (111) (whether expressed in economic or any other form), thrives only in Zarathustra's fabulation "I, the state, am the people." In this manner, Newman conjoins Nietzsche and anarchism in a critique of the liberal "social contract" and Marxist "economism" at once. He also marshals Dionysian anti-identitarianism against humanist essentialism, in order to unfreeze anarchism's reification of the subject, which, Newman argues, became consolidated primarily through "a struggle between natural authority and artificial authority." (112) As such, he reveals the supposedly "organic" tendency towards a Kropotkinesque "natural law" of mutual aid as merely the other side of the same Manichean coin, the "political law" posited by the statists that were opposed. As Foucault held, what this ultimately means is that while classical anarchism might, in the best possible scenario, succeed in "liberating the individual from the state," its Manichean logic will ensure that it will not "liberate the individual from the types of individualization which are linked to the state".v Newman's Nietzschean point is that this dialectic is an expression of the logic of ressentiment, the weak position of what "slaves without masters" rather than the strong one of what Raoul Vaneigem called "masters without slaves." However, while Newman subjects anarchism to considerable critique, Bakunin is nevertheless granted the honor of exposing the hidden contradiction of the anarchist discourse within which he looms so large: "namely that, while anarchism bases itself upon a notion of an essential human subjectivity uncontaminated by power, this subjectivity is ultimately impossible." (117)
Like many of the other contributors to I Am Not a Man I Am Dynamite, Newman assembles an alternate deployment of anarchism, a post-anarchism that does not deny but instead affirms the reality of the will to power. This deployment assumes the full implications of Bakunin's famous maxim (as summarized by Lord Acton) that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and counters the tradition's Manichean foundation with a more complex ethos of opposition, not simply to "power as such" but to domination in particular (that is, domination understood as the "assemblage of different power relations that have become congealed" ). In unblocking the flow of such forces, Newman holds, the will to power that informs all relations thereby circumvents the logic of domination, affirming instead the self-overcoming of rigidly-defined, essentialist political identities. If it didn't proceed to produce yet another "ism", perhaps it might thereby enable the emergence of a political resonance machine more capable of countering that which is so often thrown into motion by the Right.vi This is the power of Leigh Starcross' contribution, which also affirms the will to power, while positing an alternate anarchism by mining Emma Goldman's writings on Nietzsche. Goldman, Starcross notes, heralded the withering away of not only political "old values" but also cultural ones, in the "new literature" spearheaded by those whom she held to be "the most daring of the young iconoclasts."(30) Starcross emphasizes in particular the significance of an encounter with the music critic James Huneker, who mirrored the dominant reading of the thinker by insisting that Nietzsche was simply an aristocrat whose writings bear no political consequence. Goldman's pithy reply to the contrary, vindicated the politics of his aesthetics: "Nietzsche was not a social theorist but a poet, a rebel and an innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was of the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats." (31)
Moore also emphasizes the politico-aesthetic dimension as a means with which to reinflect anarchism in a more Nietzschean tone. He argues that the anti-systemic sensibility common to Dionysian and anarchist approaches allows for multiple points of resonance and even interpenetration between them. Not only in Nietzsche's philosophy and politics, but even moreso in his aesthetics, "the reader finds few hermeneutic limits."(127) Thus, Moore proceeds to mine the archive for those elements that might help deform the existing anti-authoritarian discourse, beginning with Nietzsche's repeated use of the anarchist term attentat, to describe his works as the literary equivalent to the "propaganda by the deed" that became popular worldwide at the time of writing, which was just two years after the 1886 Haymarket Incident (The Birth of Tragedy was self-described, he notes, as "my attentat on two millennia of anti-nature and the violation of man"). (128) Moore's argument, that the greatest point of resonance is not at the level of the political but of style, is then developed further through a comparison of their respective critiques of "narcotic art": the later Nietzsche (of Human, All Too Human) held that it merely palliates suffering, whereas the kind of art he advocated would recognize artifice as the condition of existence par excellence, and thus would take up the more activist concern of "confronting the causes of misfortune and eliminating them." (132) The "Dionysian future of music", in this sense, portends not simply a different aesthetic sense, but one that is conjointly politico-aesethetic, "a higher community" in which "man is no longer an artist but has become a work of art" (133), and in which the world itself is revealed as open to creation. Thus, Moore emphasizes that, unlike in his earlier "Human All Too Human, Nietzsche does not reject aesthetics, but anaesthetics that is to say, the social anaesthetics provided by contemporary art". (135) What this suggests is that a truly "aesthetic art" for the later Nietzsche would be one in which one's capacity to feel would be heightened rather than blunted: "another kind of art - a mocking, light, fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art that, like a pure flame, licks into unclouded skies. Above all, an art for artists, for artists only!" (quoted 135) While such an art would still "intoxicate", it would not be "narcotic", it would not be some "romantic uproar", like that of the Wagnerian gessamtkunstwerk, but would effuse a more creative sensibility: in other words, it would be an art that, in turning ourselves and the world into aesthetic phenomena, would allow us to become the artists of our own lives. (136)
Other than these three standout contributions, the collection contains numerous other thoughtful, but sometimes unevenly-delivered meditations (some of which presumably do not carry across language barriers) that collectively undo the vast assemblage of psychic clichés surrounding Nietzsche and the political. Jonathan Purkis, for instance, opens the volume with a brief tribute to Moore, considering the import of his Nietzschean deformation of the tradition's historical moralism and rationalism - whilst ironically representing him as harboring a rather un-Nietzschean understanding of "power." The text of a 1907 incendiary pamphlet on Nietzsche by Guy Aldred contributes an equally diminutive ode to the egoism of "the being without God or master," which suggests that unlike Schopenhauer or Comte, his version drew no line between "the right of self-assertion" and "social self-realization." (10) Similarly, Daniel Colson marshals a Deleuzean reading of Nietzsche as a thinker of the transversal, to provocatively consider the manner in which "if the masses in thrall to politicians or fascinated by charismatic leaders (from Mussolini to Mao Zedong) indisputably belong to what Nietzsche called 'slaves', the worker's movement known as anarcho-syndicalism…undoubtedly belong to the kind of 'masters' and 'aristocrats' such as Nietzsche conceives them". (16) Allan Antliff makes the case that the Indian independence activist Ananda Coomaraswamy was a Nietzschean anarchist whose thought included "a 'will to power' [as] a will which sought not to govern others but only itself", while also connecting the Übermensch to the Jivan-mukta. (45) Andrew Koch astutely critiques Bruce Detwiler's reading of Nietzsche as seeking the literal resuscitation of aristocratic society, as well as Lawrence Hatab's rejoinder in defense of a Nietzschean version of representative democracy, arguing that it is in his epistemological (rather than explicitly political) meditations that the truly politically pregnant Nietzsche awaits parturition. Much like Moore, Koch emphasizes the import of Nietzsche's epistemological case for the primacy of the aesthetic, which he reads as suggesting that the only real truths are those that emerge in the tension between the Apollonian will-to-structure and the Dionysian will-to-power that renders the chaos upon which it is based perceptible.
Two translated pieces from the original Italian are also included, the first initially published in the journal Mille Piani and the second in Anarchismo e Modernità. While compelling, some of the writing in these contributions is a bit meandering and unclear. The former, by Frank Riccio, considers Deleuze's writings on Nietzsche, arguing that the metaphor of the "death of God" is indicative of his emphasis on "style," the manner in which the primacy of the aesthetic allows for a more consistently anarchic thinking insofar as it eludes representation. The latter, by Salvo Vaccaro, also considers Deleuze's writings on Nietzsche, mapping the considerable distance between liberalism and anarchism's understandings of the term "freedom," with the former deploying the term through a transcendental ontology and the latter through one of pure immanence. Max Cafard then turns away from Deleuze and toward Derrida for insight on the anarchist Nietzsche, directing attention towards the "Anarchy of the Text", that is, the counter-totalizing aspect of writing that he says Derrida discovered in Spurs with Nietzsche's fragment "I have forgotten my umbrella", in order to question the broad swath of Western philosophy's epistemological divide between noumenon and phenomenon. Cafard points out that the "forgotten umbrella" is not simply a material reality, but is largely textual, a "forgotten text." (99) The collection closes with a short piece by Peter Lamborn Wilson (a.k.a. Hakim Bey), in which, counting himself amongst those "Left Nietzscheans" whom he says, "have always been" (147) he considers the oft-ridiculed post-insanity writings, as an attempt to reconcile Dionysus and Christ "by becoming them." Rather than the quick dismissal these late works usually receive however, Wilson instead affirms the value of this "Crazy Nietzsche," suggesting this as an attempt to break the Dionysian/Apollonian stalemate first inaugurated in The Birth of Tragedy through an entheogenic, non-secularist "proposal for a materialist religion with dynamic potential." (144) And, what is more intriguing, rather than reifying anarchism's typically modern secularist presuppositions, Wilson anoints the "Crazy Nietzsche" as the one who might yet point the way through the void left in the wake of the necessarily conjoint deaths of God and Man alike.
At what cost then, the reader might ask, does one "place oneself within a 'we'", in the contemporary moment? While Foucault's affirmational, non-reactive lightness with respect to the bewildering array of political ideologies with which he was routinely labeled is certainly admirable, there is less of a need for critical political theorists to necessarily claim particular ideologies today. The tendency to resist such Manichean impulses, by thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben for the would-be "post-anarchists", William Connolly for the would-be "radical liberals" or Jacques Ranciere for the would-be "post-Marxists" (for instance), all suggest the emergence of a more general shift towards a more potentially resonant, while still agonistic, disposition. And while it was probably necessary for anarchism - as it was for Marxism, feminism, anticolonialism, liberalism, etc. - to go through the kinds of deformational encounters the volume records, perhaps now one could affirmatively invoke Goldman and Marx, Stirner and Hume, etc., without necessarily feeling the need to "identify oneself" (which is to say, to docilely accept the authority of the political identity) once and for all. In choosing for the collection's title Nietzsche's famous attentat-referencing quote "I Am Not a Man I Am Dynamite", the editors attest to the anti-identitarian aspect of his thought. But in many of the selections, the desire to articulate a tradition-founding manifesto - and with it, a new identity - often trumps the affirmation of an anti-systemic ethos on a higher level. The most common thread of the contributors to this collection —that it is the aesthetic dimension that allows for a reinflection of anarchism —suggests that the next step lies in taking a step away from "anarchist" or "postanarchist" as such, so the principles themselves (rather their symptomatological representations), might begin to ignite within more flammable environments. As Nietzsche puts it early in The Birth of Tragedy, speaking of Schopenhauer's celebration of the emancipation from the subjective provoked by what he calls "an exception": "if we add to this terror the blissful ecstasy that wells from the innermost depths of man, indeed of nature, at this collapse of the principium individuationis, we steal a glimpse into the nature of the Dionysian".vii
Jason Adams is a PhD Candidate at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and is currently writing The Sense of Belonging, a genealogy of the modern citizen-subject as constructed through the postwar American sensory-memory schemata of sight, sound and smell. His writings have appeared in the journals Borderlands, New Political Science, CTheory and Philosophy and Scripture.
i. In his final interview with Paul Rabinow in May 1984. See M. Foucault, "Polemics, Politics and Problemetization" in P. Rabinow, ed. Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth (New York: The New Press, 1997) ,113 "I have in fact been situated in most of the squares on the political checkerboard, one after another and sometimes simultaneously: as anarchist, leftist, ostentatious or disguised Marxist, nihilist, explicit or secret anti-Marxist, technocrat in the service of Gaullism, new liberal and so on. An American professor complained that a crypto-Marxist like me was invited in the USA, and I was denounced by the press in Eastern European countries for being an accomplice of the dissidents. None of these descriptions is important by itself; taken together, on the other hand, they mean something. And I must admit that I rather like what they mean".
ii. M. Foucault, 114
iii. G. Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 15
iv. G. Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (New York: University of Minnesota Press,1989), 217
v. M. Foucault, "The Subject and Power" in H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 216
vi. W. Connolly, "The Evangelical-Capitalist Resonance Machine". Political Theory 33:6, 2005.
vii. F. Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy", in Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: Modern Library, 2000), 36