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  • Nietzsche at the Altar: Situating the Devotee
  • Daniel R. White and Gert Hellerich

Not only is there no kingdom of différance, but différance instigates the subversion of every kingdom — Jacques Derrida, “Différance


NARRATOR (in peripatetic mode, a little paranoid about the possibility of being hit by a cabbage flying from the Pit):

To do something so peculiar as to place the greatest critic of Christianity at the altar, especially in the electronic age, may require some explanation. To write about a philosopher who rejected traditional philosophical style — argumentative exposition in expository prose — and the epistemology that goes with it in favor of a more aphoristic and staccato mode requires special considerations. How to “understand” a thinker who pointed out that “to understand” means, “to stand under” and so to become a “subject,” a stance which this very “author” rejected? To write about an author who rejected “authority” as a species of “subjectivity” and so of slavery, or mastery, in a hierarchy of underlings and overlords, and in trying to “understand” “him” become “authors” ourselves, borders on the ludicrous — amusingly absurd, comical — requiring the power of play. We have decided, therefore, to be serious only when necessary to keep our textual “play” centered enough to be “understood” by the sane: a questionable act in itself, given the fact that Nietzsche’s preferred persona seemed to be that of a Madman whose language was not particularly ego or otherwise “centric.” “Our” rhetorical strategies (“we” are becoming a little schizoid in honor of our mad teacher) thus include both traditional “exposition” (“laying out” as when one reveals one’s “hand” in poker, a metonym for the five cards one masks from others) and “play.” Our play includes Nietzsche, of course, and some of his recent friends, including ourselves, all chatting about some of the more irksome qualities of Western civilization, epitomized by Christianity and its devotees. Because “we” are part of our own play, the ensuing drama is inevitably recursive — rewriting itself like those M.C. Escher hands — but so is that Nietzschean historical milieu in which we currently live: the postmodern-ecological condition. So, please bear with us.

Traditional academic discourse requires a “subject” in more ways than one. The Latin roots sub plus iectum (past participle of iacere), hence subicere — literally “cast under” — suggest the subject’s function. Initially, it seems the discourse must be “about” something, have a theme, which presumably is the underlying substance or substratum, for Aristotle hupokeimenon (literally “an underlying thing”) which serves as the logical “basis” upon which or the “center” around which various other ideas may be predicated. Nietzsche, whose writings on religion are the principal “subject” of this text, was a critical traditionalist, a classicist, who well understood Aristotle’s need to write in terms of clear subjects which were ultimately grounded in “substances” (things) or the metaphysical referents of substantival terms which possess qualities just as linguistic subjects possess predicates:

The origin of “things” is wholly the work of that which imagines, thinks, wills, feels.

The concept of “thing” itself just as much as all its qualities. — Even “the subject” is such created entity, a “thing” like all others: a simplification with the object of defining the force which posits, invents, thinks, as distinct from all individual positing, inventing, thinking as such.

(Will to Power sec. 556)

He also resisted a discourse so grounded, preferring to reject a univocal style grounded in a unitary subject in favor of a polyvocal one with constantly shifting subject “matter” as well as a constantly shifting authorial subject. He apparently wrote in this way because he thought that style implied a metaphysic and an epistemology — a theory of reality and of knowledge — and he didn’t like the Western episteme (picture a bust of Aristotle) or its underpinnings (its pedestal). So, to the best of his ability he shattered it, writing in an unorthodox style to which academics typically have to attribute a subject, not to mention an author, in order to “understand” it — subject it to their own modes of discourse.

This appropriation of Nietzsche’s writings to traditional Western style, however, ends up making Nietzsche a “subject” of the King of...

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