Untread and UntriedNietzsche Reads Derridemocracy
Exploiting puns that reveal suggestive conceptual connections, this article incorporates a reading of Derrida on literature and democracy in a Derridean reading of Nietzsche, that antidemocrat, who offers a link by which to explore some of Derrida's more concealed utterances on the related subjects of futurity, political formations, the will to fiction, and acts of promising. Focusing on Beyond Good and Evil, riding the motif of testing, the question is taken up of a new species of philosopher, “the coming philosophers,” and the problem of the feminine in Nietzsche, which should be grafted onto it, as an opening onto the “to come.”
A dozen false starts.—Vicki Hearne, Nervous Horses
This may be a long stretch. I am trying to figure the advent, the Derridean exhortation of a “to come,” together with the Nietzschean adventure—the turn or terminal by which Nietzsche scrambles essential democratic codes, gets a running start on political exigency, and then falters. Calling upon Nietzsche to stand with Derrida on democracy is no doubt perverse. Still, the perverse allure of a political front based on a Nietzsche-Derrida ticket is part of what makes the provisional pairing irresistible to me, especially if, in principle, democracy should let in all sorts of improbable combinations and classes of thought, socially dissident splices, politically aberrant complicities. Ever attempting to land the experiment of disjointed political moods or conflicting social attitudes, democracy invites the strange exuberance of implausible hubs. Nietzsche, in many ways democracy’s most innocent naysayer, offers his ever untimely word on the prospects for a future democracy. Though miles apart from what Derrida proposes or appears to advocate, he offers a link by which to explore some of Derrida’s more concealed utterances on the related subjects of futurity, political formations, the will to fiction, acts of promising, and, in particular, a way to monitor the call of technology, which includes transgendered mutations—or at least underscores the corrosive measures by which we consider sexuated bodies that are politically activated. As with any couple so fatefully at variance, there are, of course, differences to be accounted for. Nietzsche’s word, scattered as well as contradictory, climbs down the social ladder of abuses; disdainful of the democratic impulse and skeptical of its intention, he manages nonetheless to deliver a punch that probably finds its historical target range only today. The ability to absorb Nietzsche’s measured allotment of violence to democracy may have been given to us by Derrida’s works on and off the Nietzschean charts.
Thanks to Derrida’s revival of some of Nietzsche’s less-connoted statements, we can now consider a possibility that would allow for the accumulation of the “dangerous perhapses” to support the unavoidable fragility of democracy. When Nietzsche offers the thought of the “dangerous perhaps,” he disrupts the solidity of, among other things, any dogmatism, replacing it with the perpetual pursuit of rupture or endless hypothetical tryouts. To think or live the dangerous perhaps, the gefährliche Vielleicht, involves uprooting all sorts of metaphysical strongholds and achieving a tensional scansion that can at any moment blow up or mutate into unrecognizable life-forms. The premise of the “dangerous perhaps” leaves much open, indicating among other qualities that its embrace is wide enough to include relapse and regressive disorder. The “dangerous perhaps” comes with no guarantees, requiring, to keep it going, infinite adjustment, the flex of interpretive prowess and a taste for essential tentativeness. Strongly resistant to a definitive “yes” or “no,” this condition or projection or even promise—not sure which one to choose, and this may be part of its structure, in any case Nietzsche doesn’t make matters easy for us here—is energized by the pull of differences, ever more aggravating possibilities [End Page 158] and molting probabilities. Nietzsche makes it dangerous to live in the region and regime of the perhaps: it is always on the brink of collapse. In Derrida’s idiom, there are no “alibis” to catch the fall, every time inevitable and even warranted by Nietzsche’s thinking of this failure-prone zone of being. Religion isn’t there to justify and soothe, to smooth over life’s rude bruises with its own seal of future recompense—there is no sissy margin for posting an ultimate one-time-only “yes” or final “no” in Nietzsche. (This is why, in order to accord, Nietzsche sticks to the double affirmation clause, the “yes, yes” of which Derrida persistently writes.) In a sense, Nietzsche is building a home for a good democracy—I have switched on the transvaluating machine and opened the channels for a double registry of values—which is to say, he conjectures a shelter for political risk-taking in the light of Apollonian sobriety. Not all risk-taking, even in Mr. Nietzsche’s works, implies a fascisoid maneuver or instant nazification, though democracy, as we see today, is prey to such a turn.1
Scanning current American shutdowns of civil liberties and world-ranging programs for social justice, the considerable weakening of the left, one reaches for another scale of the “to come” to which Derrida points when imagining the democratic expanse. At this point, those rattled by any number of outrageous takeovers and social betrayals tend to back off from the open pursuit of intellectually frayed trails. I don’t think that Hannah or Rosa or Gramsci or even Marx would be published in The Nation today. Censorship is coming at us from all sides, including the insides. Brought on by internalized downscaling, new forms of censorship and control reflect the dumbing down that appears to be required of a nation in pumped-up crisis. Some exceptions sparkle on a dimming horizon, of course. Still, there is a sense in which only literature can be trusted to break through censorial barricades—not necessarily because it thematically assumes an openly “political” strategy, but because, as in the famous scorpion fable, it is in literature’s nature to sting and bite and kick its way through restrictive barriers, even if it depends for its license on systems of determined pressure, surveillance, or word counts. Literature may pay off the intrusive mafia of corporate or political bosses that punctually closes in on it; yet the nature of the literary usage of language is such that it distorts, disturbs, and defeats any referential pressure zone. When made to speak, it says that it is about its own survival against the odds, against most types of bullying or belittling. At the same time, there is always the threat that literature, like democracy, could be extinguished, incinerated. Or, their demise could come about less spectacularly. The brighter side of literary survival involves what literature can and does do, how it corroborates a democratic impulse when it spills and sears and sings. This is how Derrida puts it, according to another algorithm of encounter:
The institution of literature in the West, in its relatively modern form, is linked to an authorization to say everything, and doubtless too to the modern idea of democracy. Not that it depends on a democracy in place, but it seems inseparable to me from what calls forth a democracy, in the most open (and doubtless itself to come) sense of democracy.
I would surmise that literature has earned this place of honor not only because it dispenses with an identifiable “sender” or decidable “addressee” or fixable origin or any number of other departures that it routinely takes from canonic discursive formations or political tacts, but also because it has not said “no” or repelled what we call the unconscious—the posited turf that allows for no “no,” for no contradiction to rule out or tidy up the daily [End Page 159] acquisitions of athetic pile-ups or tracings. In order to make this point I am provisionally discounting the important critiques that have been made of this quasi-concept of the unconscious. The critiques notwithstanding—they offer comments on the metaphysical attributes of the Freudian discovery—the effects of the unconscious, whether its place or atopos is provable or not, are undeniable and continually renew crucial trajectories of thought. To limit the scope of unconscious complicities and democratic inroads supported by the literary authorization, I would say that literature is inextricably linked to principles of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of thought,”2 a freedom so radical that it is not buttoned up or bound by a discernible “no.” In this way it is parented to the promise of a democracy to come, which is intimately entwined with the experience of the yes, “the rebellious form of affirmation,” the “be free,” the “come.”3 The adventure of the advent—what Derrida calls l’á-venir—presupposes the capacious hospitality of affirmation, something primed for us still today by the thinking of the unconscious. There’s nothing like it. It even says “yes, yes” to the dangerous perhapses for which Nietzsche fronts.
Literature does not stand firm on its presumed innocence, even as it reflects a superior capacity for material detachment and offers, without blinking, the most reliably rebellious articulations of being. For, on another level, literature, as Bataille has repeatedly asserted, embraces evil, has set up its own autoimmune lab; it goes on creating artificial paradises out of evil flowers and sinister surfeit, watches over the spread of malevolence, of which it is sometimes an instigator or custodian. Literature can never stand for the simplifications that back up so many regimens of moral meaning. Heading for trouble, it endures with an excessive capacity for affirmation. Literature, a writing bloc in league with the democratic sweep, perpetually contaminates itself, defiles, signs off at whim, rolling over into unlikely accounts with little accountability. Unable to say “no,” even to manifestations of evil, literature, like democracy, remains severely exposed to the liquidation sales sponsored by leading partisans of the cognitive and discursive rule.
So maybe it started out in my unconscious. It should have been dropped at once, but I was imprinted. He himself breaches the name, watches it respell itself, cower, bloat, and assume a hint of meaning. In the Carte postale, his name at one point gets stamped as “J’accepte”—Jacques resignified as the affirmation of acceptance. Maybe a selective acceptance, or maybe there’s room enough now for my uncs. An instance of unconditional hospitality, total acceptance: like a package you sign for without knowing what it contains. Or maybe “J’accepte” refers to an inflection of destiny before which one surrenders— more passive, more giving than any act of affirmation. A lot can be said when a name proves able to switch semantic gears, absorbing a trace of readability. Still, if anyone teaches us to desist from tampering frivolously with the proper name, it is Jacques Derrida. Understanding why he put the brakes on name engineering, I was nonetheless powerless to stop a morph from entering my head or hands—I’m not sure which receptors where catch his meaning, or where to situate my uncs. Let me put it this way. The affirmation for which Jacques signs allows me to clear some abysses, run through discursive barriers to a place where Nietzsche encouraged the colloquy of science and art with the poetic word. If we did not have art to talk us down from the scientific ledge, he sort of says, we would all have committed suicide—this bit about suicide he says verbatim. Art prepares us for the traumatic detachment from truth on which science stands firm. Science receives its power pills and toxic spills from poetry and art. Let me back up to [End Page 160] explore these assertions in terms of Nietzsche’s unfinished business with Derrida and the affirmations that they share. Where to locate their points of entry today?
Nietzsche puts his mark on Derrida, but Derrida also makes it necessary to reconfigure Nietzsche, to shake up some of the old philological certitudes and shake out some of the unsaid that continues to hide out in the open spaces of an ever-unfinished oeuvre. The force of improvisation available to Derrida, and by which such acts as naming can be altered, belongs to a moment in the culture of experiment announced by Friedrich Nietzsche. His peculiar brand of scientificity encourages morphs and mutations: science, for Nietzsche, licenses probes that scour the rhetorical unconscious and rewrite the word on the street. Often the Nietzschean unsaid bears a feminine trace. The reading pact configured by Derrida and Nietzsche, by a Nietzsche read and shot through with Derrida, requires us to consider how Nietzsche called for Derrida, put a search on him as he formulated the roadmap for a future philosophy. On the one hand, Nietzsche’s flair for experiment conjugates well with Derrida’s sensibility for improvisation. Let us stay with this hand; it’s a good hand.
Nowadays the state is openly attacking science. Nietzsche saw it through his future-seeing night goggles: religion is a veto on science.
Some of the exploits of Nietzsche’s risk taking are still on Derrida’s watch. The untread and untried in Nietzsche continue to agitate in a work that is set up with specific triggers for what Nietzsche saw as a scientific culture. Nietzsche installed his thought as a test site, a space where the “hardest tests” can be tried and where failure is part of the semantic and historical adventure to be undertaken. My temptation would be to put Derrida’s thought on aporia in there (about which he said, in conversation with a group of philosophers, that Heidegger most likely would have disapproved4) and set it up against Nietzsche’s abyssal proving grounds. One need only consider Nietzsche and Derrida on the elements of testing to see where functional features of their thought are crucially linked.
The philosophy of the future, Nietzsche projects, belongs to the testers and attempters, to those who are willing to risk themselves on the Versuch: “A new species of philosophers is coming up: I venture to baptize them with a name that is not free of danger. As I unriddle them, insofar as they allow themselves to be unriddled—for it belongs to their nature to want to remain riddles at some point—these philosophers of the future may have a right—it might also be a wrong—to be called attempters (Versucher: tempters, testers, experimenters). This name itself is in the end a mere attempt and, if you will, a temptation” . The very act of conjuring and naming the future philosopher belongs to the species of which Nietzsche speaks, for he has ventured to take the risk of positing, of outfitting futurity. Inviting danger, he tests the name and brings on the future by means of an experiment in positing, “a mere attempt” that, constructed as a test, is vulnerable to its own destruction. The future philosophers that Nietzsche calls forth in this passage have a right that “might also be wrong,” which is to say that, as he establishes them, giving them rights and existence, Nietzsche equally inserts the code authorizing their refutability. [End Page 161]
In Beyond Good and Evil, a book that was supposed to wrap it all up for him following the extravagance he had permitted himself with Zarathustra, Nietzsche spoke of physics as just another interpretation of the world: “It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds,” he calculates, “that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I may say so!) and not a world-explanation” [§14 21]. By no means intending to underwrite a mere dismissal, Nietzsche set physics close to religion, which he understands as another, if unquestionably neurotic, interpretation of the world. In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche in fact situates science close to conscience, effecting a linguistic parentage for which both German and English allow. Until now science has been the bad conscience of our era, winning out over other, often more decadent but possibly more replenishing interpretive behaviors.
Nietzsche once again returns to the essential qualities with which he identifies the philosophers of the future by means of what Michelet calls “cet esprit fataliste, ironique, méphistophélique” [qtd. in Nietzsche 133]. The philosophers of the future, Nietzsche asserts in the section “We Scholars,” “will be men of experiments” (Menschen der Experimente) . He repeats the presumptive daring involved in naming the experimenters: “With the name in which I dared baptize them I have already stressed expressly their attempts and delight in attempts: was this done because as critics in body and soul they like to employ experiments in a new, perhaps wider, perhaps more dangerous sense?” . The implications of the new epoch of experimentation squeezes one’s politically correct shoes, but that should not inhibit us: we need to go to where Nietzschean indecency takes us and makes us wince. Otherwise we might as well be in our slippers and not at the tryouts, stumbling and staggering, participating in the Olympiad of the Nietzschean stammer. Nietzsche asks, concerning the bold experimenters: “Does their passion for knowledge force them to go further with audacious and painful experiments than the softhearted and effeminate taste of a democratic century could approve?” .
There is something about the experimental cast of the future that threatens the democratic century with pain and disruption. According to this engagement with democracy, which has Nietzsche dissociating from the Greeks, there are many hiding places where one can exploit fragile political structures or duck and decay into one or another form of accepting complacency. It is worth our while to focus on the way democratic formations— despite the rants—belong to the experimental exigency of which Nietzsche writes, lending it an ethical stamp. In a text that bears the title “Nietzsche and the Machine,” Derrida addresses the hyperethical procedure of genealogy. He proposes a thought of political singularities that exceed the structure of the nation-state, observing that, for Nietzsche, “the trial of democracy is also a trial of . . . technicization” . Following the cartographies of political utterances drawn up by the last philosopher, Derrida, for his part, suggests that “the name of Nietzsche could serve as an ‘index’ to a series of questions that have become all the more pressing since the end of the Cold War” . Derrida is concerned with the stakes of a democracy to come, with the way, despite some dead moments and fallow poses, it will allow itself to unpack the future. Can democracy thrive, one wonders, without a recognizable state formation, or at least along the lines of a reconfigured notion of nation? Derrida offers: “Today the acceleration of technicization concerns the border of the nation-state.”5 This issue needs “to be completely reconsidered, not in order to sound the death-knell of democracy, but to rethink democracy from within these conditions” [“Nietzsche and the Machine” 251]. His tone, if not altogether apocalyptic, remains emphatic about the task at hand: “this rethinking . . . must not be postponed, it is immediate and urgent” . Answering this call, let us link what Derrida [End Page 162] calls the trial of democracy to the name of Nietzsche—another name for an indefinitely unsatisfied justice—and to the timing of the democracy for which he calls: “this democracy to come is marked in the movement that always carries the present beyond itself, makes it inadequate to itself” . For Nietzsche, or for one or two of the signatories in Nietzsche, that which exemplarily carries the present beyond itself is science. In short, Nietzsche makes us ask about the relationship between science and contemporary formations of power—more specifically, about the suspicious partnership of so-called advanced democracies and high technology. What makes these forces match up with each other? What allows these structures mutually to hold up?
Let us bring our focus to an aspect of science that Nietzsche more or less discovered, implemented, posited, and which he links to an affirmable democracy—that is to say, to the experimental culture from which his work takes off. Thus, even though Nietzsche can be seen as an anti-democrat, a largely unprobed dimension of his thought provides a rigorous grid for evaluating political formations and exigencies. The conduit for establishing a progressive political science in Nietzsche is circuited through his understanding of scientific structures and their material implications. Nietzsche sets up a lab in Beyond Good and Evil rather explicitly. A number of his other works pivot on the “experimental disposition” and treat themselves as experimental efforts. Nietzsche’s text incorporates the history of lab culture, which is linked to political innovation. As Derrida has elsewhere argued, there is a Nietzsche of the left and of the right, just as there is a Hegel—or Marx—of the left and of the right [see The Ear of the Other]. Democracy is itself viewed in terms of a trial, a perpetual test case, never off the hook of its purported levels of achievement. If democracy increasingly depends upon an understanding of incessant tryouts and continual self-testing, reactionary modernity, too, has made use of experimental practice and the tropes of testing. The rhetoric and practices of testing go far beyond what one was willing to see. Politically constellated atrocity is fastened onto the technological grid. Nietzsche, alone in his desert, was already picking up signals from a future pockmarked by Nazi experimentation, part of whose devastation consisted in setting up the camps as massively unrestricted laboratories—the most unregulated scientific sites in modern history. To this day, ethical questions arise concerning the usability of results stemming from these experiments. Nietzsche, with characteristic ambivalence, saw at least three sides of the coin and tried to navigate between the horror and the fascination that experimental culture provoked in him. Let us try to move on and travel along the edges of what Nietzsche massively designated as the experimental disposition. His first appointment is with the philosopher. It is scheduled for the future and is still coming at us.
Even though he announces in Beyond Good and Evil the coming of an unprecedented era of a grandiose politics, his aim here seeks out another target. He wants to separate out, among other things, the mere philosophical laborers, and scientific men generally, from the genuine philosophers. The coming philosophers will no longer lean on “Truth” or feelings of disinterested pleasure in order in the end to reconcile “Christian feelings” with “classical taste.” The coming philosophers, whom Nietzsche also calls “these severe spirits,” will demonstrate
a shrewd courage, the ability to stand alone and give an account of themselves. Indeed, they admit to a pleasure in saying No and in taking things apart, and to a certain levelheaded cruelty that knows how to handle a knife surely and subtly, even when the heart bleeds. They will be harder (and perhaps not always only against themselves) than humane people might wish; they will not dally with “truth” to be “pleased” or “elevated” or “inspired” by her. On the contrary, they will have little faith that truth of all things should be accompanied by such [End Page 163] amusements for our feelings.
In order to situate the genuine philosophers, linked to the future, and give them space, Nietzsche pulls them away from “those philosophical laborers after the noble model of Kant and Hegel” . The laborers, hardly denigrated but rather ennobled, have to determine “and press into formulas,” whether in the realm of logic or political thought or art, “some great data of valuations—that is, former positings of values, creations of value which have become dominant and are for a time called ‘truths’” . In the more contemporary terms of speech act theory, philosophical laborers are the heroes of the constative act and assertion. In this regard, according to Nietzsche, they are also managers of the intelligible—they make everything easy for us: “it is for these investigators to make everything that has happened and been esteemed so far easy to look over, easy to think over, intelligible and manageable, to abbreviate everything long, even ‘time,’ and to overcome the entire past—an enormous and wonderful task in whose service every subtle pride, every tough will can certainly find satisfaction” . The playoffs are subtle, for Nietzsche ascribes pride and will as well as satisfaction to the yields of the philosophical laborer, no matter how subject to Heideggerian scorn the laborer’s love of the technological abbreviation will one day become.
By contrast, the genuine philosopher is powered by the self-threatening wheelworks of performativity. Rather than describing and merely computing, the genuine philosopher tests the limits of intelligibility, making things happen with decisive positings that are by no means enslaved to what is. It is perhaps not inconsequential to point out that such a philosopher is not said by Nietzsche to exist presently; nonetheless the legislative powers of the philosophical action hero already raised a fascisoid hand in Plato. Contrasting them with philosophical laborers, Nietzsche writes, or rather screams: “Genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators: they say, ‘thus it shall be!’ They first determine the Whither and For What of man, and in so doing have at their disposal the preliminary labor of all philosophical laborers, all who have overcome the past. With a creative hand they reach for the future, and all that is and has been becomes a means for them, an instrument, a hammer. Their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is—will to power” . The split between the laborer and legislator, between the constative curator and performative commander, is a bit of a fiction that, while keeping spaces open for reciprocal contaminations, nonetheless fails to account for Aristotle, Spinoza, and others, or even for the internal fissures and critical takedowns of Kant and Hegel. The lapse that Nietzsche’s prescriptive typology incurs points among other things to the internal collapse of his experiment. Neither sufficiently descriptive nor demonstrably effective, the legislative demand for the disclosable becoming of that which he posits (“Must there not be such philosophers?—”) folds and fizzles into the scarring mark of a dash.
The velocities of failure and the noncoincidence that Nietzsche continually reasserts between saying and doing belong to the particular kind of effort that he promotes in this work, one that is bound up in the destructive propensities of ironic positing. Yet the notion of failure is not so simple as that, is no longer necessarily limited to just one perspective of temporality, as if temporality were part of a game in which the fate of positing could be called once and for all. Or, as if one were not willed to crash against walls or succumb to more speculative points of resistance. The genuine philosopher scores failure time and again. The crash course is part of the deal struck with the game or contract for which the genuine philosopher has signed on. This figure “lives ‘unphilosophically’ and ‘unwisely,’ above all imprudently, and feels the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life—he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game—” . The hundred attempts and temptations—the tests and trials, the inescapable ordeals—are, [End Page 164] Nietzsche insists, a burden and duty felt by the philosopher who risks everything as s/he plays beyond good and evil (the German sich does not make a gender decision necessary at the moment Nietzsche designates the self-risking test driver). Since duty prescribes imprudence and unwise risk, the source of imprudence is not itself imprudent but comes from a higher place, pulsing from a greater responsibility, as Nietzsche suggests elsewhere in the text. The duty-bound imprudence comes up against a mute obstacle, namely ignorance and sheer stupidity. In fact, the genuine philosopher runs into the same figure that Flaubert conjures in his reflections on bêtise: the self-pulverizing granite foundation of ignorance.
Dedicated to the “Free Spirit,” Part Two of Beyond Good and Evil begins with the utterance, “O sancta simplicitas!” Holy simplicity! We tend to live by simplification and falsification, we have made “everything around us clear and free and easy and simple! . . . We have contrived to retain our ignorance. . . . And only on this now solid, granite foundation of ignorance could knowledge rise so far—the will to knowledge on the foundation of a far more powerful will: the will to ignorance” . And so on. The pervasive spread of stupidity, fueled by a perverted will to knowledge, is the hard rock against which Nietzsche launches his thought on testing. A critique of any foundationalism, the passage indicates the investment made in retaining ignorance and clearing the way only for simplicity, for the easy listening of lame but sanctioned forms of philosophizing. Without effecting simple oppositions or making rash claims for overcoming the rule of ignorance, Nietzsche proposes a counterphobic example—something that resumes our discussion of the “unphilosophical” genuine philosopher. The one who stands up against the ranks of stupidity is one who submits to the test. But, this being Nietzsche’s call, the test is never over or in some reliable sense passable: it needs to be taken and retaken, and finally judged without witnesses or administrators of easy intelligibilities. It depends, moreover, on the right timing: “One has to test oneself to see that one is destined for independence and command—and do it at the right time. One should not dodge one’s tests, though they may be the most dangerous game one could play and are tests that are taken in the end before no witness or judge but ourselves” [51–52]. Administering the great test, Nietzsche produces an inventory of what constitutes it. The inventory consists of ten items, all of which begin negatively, telling, in other words, what one must not do. These items do not merely comprise the double negative or flipside of the ten commandments but test the commanding force of the philosopher of the future differently, according to another register of being. Rhetorically the ten alternative commandments operate anacoluthically, for they disrupt the syntax of doing that they appear to establish and yet fail to yield another horizon. One is faced with an overall summons to withdraw—or maybe one senses the revving of an engine, the swinging movement of a pitcher’s arm as he prepares to throw the ball, but nothing takes off or arrives anywhere. There is no single moment wherein the one being tested is told, for instance, what to honor or aim for.
Not to remain stuck to a fatherland—not even if it suffers most and needs help most—it is less difficult to sever one’s heart from a victorious fatherland. Not to remain stuck to some pity—not even for higher men (höheren Menschen) into whose rare torture and helplessness some accident allowed us to look. Not to remain stuck to a science—even if it should lure us with the most precious finds that seem to have been saved up precisely for us. Not to remain stuck to one’s own detachment, to that voluptuous remoteness and strangeness of the bird who [End Page 165] flies ever higher to see ever more below him—the danger of the flies. Not to remain stuck to our own virtues and become as a whole the victim of some detail in us, such as our hospitality, which is the danger of dangers for superior and rich souls who spend themselves lavishly, almost indifferently, and exaggerate the virtue of generosity into a vice.
The inventory prescribes extreme forms of detachment, even to the extent of urging the detachment from detachment, so that independence and the ability to command are properly tested. The problem with testing one’s independence—the test for Nietzsche is bound up with the possibility of independence—is that it copies the word that tries to describe the freeing perspective for us: in-dependence, Un-abhängigkeit. In other words, independence depends on dependence, and can only come about by the negation of dependency. But dependence comes first and always squats in any declaration of independence; so-called independence can never shake loose its origin in dependent states. The un or in of what depends and hangs onto has to undo the core dependency and produce a nonaddictive prospect. This way of skating on the rim of negativity is typical enough of the Nietzschean maneuver that, keeping up its stamina, endeavors not to trigger a dialectical takeover. The test site circumscribed by this text occupies a zone between negation and projected reconciliation; it carves a hole in any possible synthesis. Independence can never be stabilized or depended upon, which is why it has to submit punctually to the test of its own intention and possibility. The “nots” that Nietzsche enters into the decathlon of testing are also a way of signing his own name by courting and swerving around the nihilistic threat: Nicht/Nietzsche. This is the text, remember, in which Nietzsche says that every philosophical work installs a biographical register; he makes it clear that he has strapped himself into this text and also that its articulation should not be limited to the disseminated indications of this or that biographeme. Nonetheless the test run that he proposes bears the weight of his history, including his never-ending break-up with Richard Wagner. Thus the first self-testing command says: “Not to remain stuck (hängenbleiben) to a person—not even the most loved—every person is a prison, also a nook” . Beginning with the necessity of wrenching oneself loose from a beloved person, whether a prison or shelter, the inventory goes on to name the urgency of breaking with one’s country, even in times of war or need, even when the patriotic introject wants and calls you. A superpower nation-state should be the easiest to sever with.
If the inventory is set up in terms of serial “nots” this is no doubt because Nietzsche needs to enact the complicity of the Versuch with its linguistic appointees: the tester or attempter must desist from adhering to the temptation that calls. The act, if such it is, of desistence is not as such a negative one, as Derrida has argued in his reading of Lacoue-Labarthe: “Without being negative, or being subject to a dialectic, it both organizes and disorganizes what it appears to determine” [“Desistance” 41]. Being tested, which brings together attempter with the tempting, does not fall purely into the zone of action or its purported other—passivity—but engages both at once. Already the locution “being tested,” always awkward and slightly wrenching, invites the intervention of the passive where action or at least some activity is indicated. The test takes one through the magnetizing sites to which one is spontaneously, nearly naturally, attracted. This could be a resting place, a shelter and solace overseen by the friendly protectors of the pleasure principle. But Nietzsche, like the other guy, takes the test beyond the pleasure principle. Elsewhere Nietzsche states that pity toppled the gods; pity, the most dangerous affect, counts for the one to which we are most prone. We are tempted and tested by pity, roped in by its grim allure, and even if we are not gods, pity can make us crumble and christianize. (This does not mean that Nietzsche advocates the vulgarity of some forms of indifference. Only that action and intervention should not eventuate from pity, as do “benevolent racism” [End Page 166] and the like. Liberal pity policies would be nauseating to Nietzsche; they are not radical, strong, or loving enough. Of course nowadays, I would even take liberal pity.) Science belongs to the list of the desisted—“resistance” would come off as too strong a term, too repressive and dependent on what presents itself. The inclusion of science in the subtle athletics of the “not” may reflect the way Nietzsche had to break away from his scientific niche of philology, but there is more to it. It is not just a matter of releasing oneself from a scientific commitment in order to pass the Nietzschean test. As the other term in the partnership, science itself stands to lose from too tight a grip and needs eventually to loosen the bond. A true temptress, science fascinates, perhaps seduces and lulls. It captivates and often enough gives one a high, an intoxicating sense of one’s own capacity for mastery. Yet science itself is implicated in the relation thus structured. For science not only curates the test from a place of superiority, but is itself subject to the rigors and renewals of testing. So even if it invites the blindness of fascination and the sum of addictive returns, science needs to be released if only to go under, to dissolve its substantial mask and be turned over to fresh scientific probes.
The movement of dislocation and disappropriation continues even to the point of disallowing sheer detachment. Increasing the dosage of desistance to the level of turning on itself, Nietzsche proposes that one should not remain dependent on one’s experience of voluptuous detachment. He keeps the tested being in the vehicle of the dis-, and rigorously refuses to issue a permit for sticking to any moment or structure of being that would seem welcoming or appropriate. (It is appropriate only to disappropriate, to trace one’s own expropriation from a site that persistently beguiles with the proper.) Thus one must desist even from becoming attached to one’s own virtues, such as hospitality. Virtue itself, no matter how generous or exemplary, can trip up the one being tested. Virtue can enlarge itself, take over; it is vulnerable to imperial acts of expansion. One can become enslaved to one’s virtue, attend to it immoderately, and turn oneself into a hospital for the vampirizing other. In this ward, as in other Nietzschean wings, strong and superior beings encounter the danger of infection, a weakening. They give too much and spend themselves as if they were infinitely capable of the offerings for which they are solicited. The offerings turn into sacrifice; the superior soul gives itself away, finding that it is spent, exhausted. Thus the virtue of generosity, coextensive with hospitality, is turned into a vice. Virtue tips into its other, and generosity soon becomes a depleting burden.
A t the end of the day, the hardest test concerns expenditure, the squandering of the self that gives itself away too readily, draining the will, exhausting the power. The effort of halting the effort—the principle of self-conservation, sich bewahren—is linked by Nietzsche to the hardest of all in this battery of tests. Why would conserving oneself constitute the most difficult test? It is as if expenditure were an instinct that needed to be inhibited: in this regard we are reminded of Nietzsche’s pronouncements on nonejaculatory practice, on the requisite resorption of semen. Nietzsche thwarted the spermatic economy, stopped the flow in order to ensure self-conservation, bringing together the withholding power of testing and testicles. In other words, moreover, one should not multiply—or, at least getting away from biblical commands, as Nietzsche does, one should not multiply indifferently, one should not be hospitable to those indiscriminate and parasitic demands that utterly destroy the one being tested.6 On another, possibly more allegorical register, [End Page 167] Nietzsche points to a tendency in the very structure of testing. In this passage on testing, culminating in the crescendo that actually takes itself back—the hardest test places one close to the refusal of test, asking that one conserve oneself on the hinge between extreme effort and effortlessness—one inescapably encounters the danger of dissolution. To evoke an old Nietzschean blockbuster, one can take a turn into a Dionysian danger zone. The battery of tests is watched over by the hardest test that, in a sense, calibrates the level of submission to the test. Extreme submission to the test—this is what the test requires—runs the risk of wearing down to the point of obliterating the one being tested. This peril advisory comes close to the current Nietzschean cliché, What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Yet—assuming this peculiar perspective to be viable—one needs to come close to the killing point before suddenly desisting. It is not clear to me how Nietzsche establishes the limit: when, for example, does generosity go overboard, at what point is hospitality over the top, or what event, act, or mark designates the point of no return? Can one know ahead of time when the expenditure will have been too great? If such knowledge is predictable or programmable, then we are no longer dealing with the ordeal that Nietzsche calls a test, unless Nietzsche’s intervention requires us to think the safety valve, the recourse where precisely none presents itself. Is there a test that could call itself off without renouncing itself? In a more lab-oriented sense, Nietzsche perhaps indicates here another logic of the test that manages to maintain the integrity of the object or material submitted for testing—something on a more philosophical level that reflects the way in which PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technically has changed the scene of DNA replication, which is to say, it resolves the problem of preserving evidence where the risk is run each time that evidence would be destroyed by the test that seeks to name it [see Rabinow].
The test site that Nietzsche installs in this instance is, so to speak, a self-inflicted one. The ostensible issue in section 41 is how to test one’s independence. Thus, the test of independence, as the passage appears to demonstrate, is in the end the assumption itself of the test. All the aporias and paradoxes we indicated notwithstanding, independence depends on testing, on the willingness to submit oneself to the test. One must take it at the right time, time oneself, check the ambient conditions, monitor one’s resolve and submission without relying on witnesses or judges other than oneself. Nietzsche calls for an independent testing system—so independent, in fact, that it will never fully constitute a coherent protocol. Independence does not result from the test or get scored merely on its grid. The taking of the test in itself constitutes an act of independence. Yet it is not a matter solely of taking, or even administering, a test. One gives oneself the test: “Man muss sich selbst seine Proben geben” [§41]. In order to determine one’s capacity for being independent and taking command, one must give oneself one’s tests. The test comes as a kind of gift to oneself, it consists in something that one gives oneself. At the same time, however, a duty has been signaled, for one must give oneself this gift; one is duty-bound to offer oneself up to the gift of the test. Split into the one who must give and the one who takes the test, one is in sum commanded to test one’s own aptitude for assuming command. Taking command means giving oneself over to the test, just as independence implies submission to the test, even to the “hardest” test which Nietzsche associates with sich bewahren, self-conservation—the only flash of truth (wahr) that the testing ground will license. To the extent that one is commanded to hang onto this shred of truth and conserve oneself, given that one is driven to swerve from the absolute risk that the imperative [End Page 168] of testing appears to imply—desistence precisely does not allow one to plunge oneself into uncertainty—Nietzsche’s call for testing at this point appears to be what it says it is: conservative. At the very least, it embraces the experience of the impossible: as such the passage genuinely fulfills its destiny as test. It may well be that, in the last minute, he calls off the game. The hardest test may have been to stop the test, to sign and countersign a kind of test ban treaty with the sich that has staked everything on the passing of the test.
One last word. One last man. One last-minute retraction. Yes, we know, no more “one.” Part of Nietzsche’s legacy—to have sprung us from the tyranny of the one (one God, one nation, one yes, and so on). So now we get to lose the (male) metaphysical subject, lose Zarathustra: if not lose, then at least to loosen the chains that have kept us down historically, linking us metaphysically to the worst offenses. Destabilizing the one, Nietzsche also fears the many. So he multiplies the many into different and many manies. Into different valences of many. There is also a good many. It turns out to split off from the manly many and reverberates with future. Let us return to a moment in our elaboration. We skipped a beat. The passage announcing the advent of future philosophers—they come in the plural—permits another variable to be entered and engages yet another politicized register.
Nietzsche calls up a “neue Gattung von Philosophen,” which has been translated as a “new species of philosophers.” Gattung is more thought-provoking than “species” to the extent that it implies gender as well as genre—engendering further generational affiliations, some of which have been accounted for Derrida’s important essay “The Law of Genre.” Nietzsche does not decide here on the gender of the future philosopher, which motivates in part his pluralization of the philosopher. The pluralization of the coming philosopher destabilizes any number of philosophical customs and hierarchies, including those that honored the singular appointment of the function of philosopher-king. For all we know at this point, the future philosophers may be a band of women or they may already befigure, with the roughness of a preliminary sketch—an early scientific trial—the transhuman, which by no means effaces the feminine. The Übermensch is not an Übermann but is over man the way we say, “I’m over him.” But what a struggle! The text is adamant on this point; it offers a number of compelling reasons to retain the feminine as a trace of the future, though they complicate the Nietzschean legacy considerably. Still, they belong to the experimental labor that Nietzsche sets up, even as he supplants one type of feminine force with another. There are at least two feminine types contesting the scientific legacy that Nietzsche interrogates. One of these types, accusatory and fatiguing, Nietzsche tries to clear away. The other type, to which he opens the future as well as his name, has mastered and transvaluated ordeals such as exorbitant submission, which primes an other being for philosophical admissions. This new species, which could be called, in accordance with Nietzsche’s notion of the über (trans), transfeminists, will have updated the philosopher’s resumé. They have understood and withstood the trial period of going under, holding back—and even hiding. Transfeminists have something in common with the figure I am investigating. They in fact tie into the double bind of which Nietzsche writes as he prepares the test site: they appear to call off the game even as they play it, at once asserting its irrevocability and rescinding its ground. Veiled, withholding, the philosophers of the future may not “allow themselves to be unriddled” [“The Law of Genre” 202]. They communicate secretly with the figure that opens Beyond Good and Evil: “Supposing truth is a woman—what then?” Until now, insofar as they were dogmatists, philosophers “have been very inexpert about women” . There is a residue [End Page 169] that philosophy has not been able to read or account for. Nietzsche calls this residue, at times, when things get urgent or truth is on the line, a woman. The hypothesis of woman sends out a call, magnetizes the philosopher. Broadly interrogated, she also interrogates, throws off. Even as a mere hypothesis, she has the philosopher by the balls. But let us not get too personal here, or overly anthropomorphical, though—there is no doubt about this—Nietzsche started it. Woman as hypothesis belongs to the same thinking that skips the groove of metaphysics—the “dangerous perhaps” which Nietzsche establishes here to give the philosophers of the future a running start. Try to imagine a philosophy that subjects itself rigorously to the perhapses of life.7
We do not know who or what the future philosophers will be, but this nonsubstantial sketch is their substance. The new philosophers appear to take a graft from what stands as the paleonymic “woman,” a value that programs its own mutation. For woman, as Spurs has pointed out—concerning at least the woman in Nietzsche—does not believe in herself as a fixable identity, as substance or as that which would allow the clumsy dogmatist to pin her down to an essence. Until now, philosophy has targeted woman for truth, yet the feminine operation that Nietzsche engages places her as the untruth of truth, as that which blows a hole in the philosopher’s phantasm of truth. Until now, philosophers have been molesters rather than testers, they have not understood how to welcome the feminine within or without, how to probe beyond a given limit toward something—a splice, a movement, a laugh, a time zone, an internal tremor that cannot be restricted to what we think we know about woman or truth or, for that matter, God and philosophy. As that which bears the future or holds truth close to the vest, even if the holding braces the untruth of truth, woman establishes another relation for the philosopher, an innumerability of relation that requires an altogether different type of scientific encounter, what some have seen as multiplicity, others as folds, still others as a provocative multiplication of perspectives. The affirmative unfixity springs from the feminine in Nietzsche, disclosing one of the feminine types (the “effeminate”—which he necessarily associates with men, but he even correlates stale feminists with men—belongs to the other, more discredited type) that unsnaps from the philosophical lock-in. Drawn only to the Dis-tanz of an unstoppable withdrawal this type matches the desistence that Nietzsche comes to associate with the exemplary stance of the somewhat fused tested/tester. In any case, if you have practiced your binary scales and done your homework, you have already gathered that “beyond good and evil” also means beyond man and woman.
The bound beyond means, among other things, that Nietzsche is not simply proposing woman as the heir to and overcoming of the one who has lorded it over us for so long. Such a plan would not be radical enough for Nietzsche but rather constitutes a relapse. He is not throwing philosophy into reverse or reversal by means of a simple exchange of values—woman for man, one horizon for another. The horizon that would allow for the complacency of such a maneuver is being punctured by the Nietzschean stylus. When Nietzsche opens a space for the aggravation of gender here, he does not mean to introduce a stealth dialectics or an operation of salvation. In other words, he does not come to a full stop or turnaround to meet one of the options that have clumsily asserted themselves in the reigning house of metaphysics. In one of those peculiar conceptual alliances and collapses, only feminists and misogynists know for sure what a woman is. Nietzsche, for his part, performatively calls upon and creates a new species, which may have some recycled parts and evolved structures, but, frankly, we cannot know or say what this is. We cannot tell, as if this were not a matter of a radical and ongoing experiment, how the transfeminist pluricity reads, replicates, sectionizes, or equalizes “woman.” So, for instance, to move it along, Nietzsche would hesitate before allowing his thought to prefigure those [End Page 170] aspects of heir presumptive Richard Rorty’s projections, which have produced women as an answer to philosophy’s own existential crisis and, in terms of a more pragmatic measure, have gone so far as to make Catherine MacKinnon the smartest cookie in the bell jar. Woman is not purely and simply the answer (again: supposing we know what this is above and beyond the regimens of lack, appendage, extension, reflection, repetition, other). If at all, she is the exigency of the test, a way of naming that which is continually put on trial, disturbing the language of viability, without necessarily resolving or satisfying anything, any condition or ground or afterthought or primal memory. If woman appears as a hypothetical yet commanding being at the starting line of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche, having injected her corpus with hormones, is, near the putative end of the text, “a storm pregnant with new lightnings [welches mit neuen Blitzen schwanger geht]” [§292]. Nietzsche, once again—expecting.
Let us proceed.
Avital Ronell is completing a nine-event cycle at the Centre Pompidou, which began as a “rencontre” with Werner Herzog. Her book Fighting Theory is forthcoming.
1. Laurence Rickels’s astounding 1000-page work, Nazi Psychoanalysis, demonstrates how all the “good guys,” indeed the best of them, are irrevocably programmed for unremitting nazification. See especially volume 1, Only Psychoanalysis Won the War.
3. Consider in this light the argument in “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering.’”
4. Colloquium organized around Derrida’s work on the future of democracy at Cerisy-la-Salle, July 17, 2003.
5. This is also a theme of a colloquium in Cerisy-la-Salle (2002) organized around the political thought of Jacques Derrida under the title “The Coming of Democracy (regarding Jacques Derrida).”
6. This view diverges from some of Nietzsche’s earlier pronouncements on the nobility of overflow that marked, by means of a redescription of Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” the valorization of self-expenditure. For Nietzsche and for the Greeks, writes Babette E. Babich, “generosity and kindness are benedictions bestowed on others not in response to the imperatives of duty or as gifts in a structural economy of exchange. Rather, like a star’s shining exuberance, like the sun dripping gold, the gold of light, sparkling reflection, of unreal shining glory, the greatness of will or benevolence cannot be withheld. The noble, great-souled individual is compelled to and is capable of an excess that makes its own measure” . Whoa! Hold your horses! Something has happened to Nietzsche that makes him want to rein in the unfettered drive. At this point the other Greek value, moderation, sets the bar and disrupts the unregulated flow of a self-offering that too soon turns into sacrifice.