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American Literary History 15.3 (2003) 560-574
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The Experimental Disposition:
Nietzsche's Discovery of America (Or, Why the Present Administration Sees Everything inTerms of aTest)
Wasted a fair bit of patriotic young flesh in order to test some new technology.
William Gibson, Neuromancer
We do not always know how to calculate the importance of a work. In some cases, there is nothing even to guarantee that the work will arrive. Some works seem to set an ETA—there is a sense that it will take them years to make their arrangements, overcome the obstacles of an unprotected journey, get past the false reception desks blocking their paths. In the more assured and seductive version, these works follow the itinerary of Walter Benjamin's secret rendezvous—targeting the geheime Verabredung that a work has made with the singularity of a destination: in the form, perhaps, of a future reader. The reader or receptor from the future assumes the responsibility of being addressed, of signing for the work when it finally arrives, helping it originate. Yet, little tells us how many hits a work will have taken on its way or whether we will be there to receive it. Perhaps the work will be prevented from showing up at the appointed time, but some works barrel toward their destination, causing a lot of trouble for a lot of Daseins. Heidegger once said that it can take 200 years to undo the damage inflicted by certain works—I think he was evaluating Plato. For my part, I cannot tell whether The Gay Science has arrived or even, really, where it was [End Page 560] going when Nietzsche sent it on its way. Still, I am prepared to sign for it. That is to say, I have prepared myself for it. I am not reluctant to assess the damage for which it still may be responsible—assuming the work has arrived and I can find its points of entry—or whether (but this is not a contradiction) this work has fashioned essential trajectories that provide existence with ever new supplies of meaning. I am using work here in the widest possible sense because Nietzsche—well, Nietzsche was the absence of the work. 1 He continues to pose the dilemma of the most unauthorized of authors—so many signatures, styles, shredders. Nonetheless, something keeps arriving and returning under that name, something that addresses us with uncommon urgency. So. The Gay Science.
To the extent that science is meant to promote life, Nietzsche makes it his business to put demands on its self-understanding. For Nietzsche, science—or, more to the point, the scientific interpretation of life—owes us an account of itself, if only to give us access to its overwhelming use of force over diverse discursive populations. It would not be stretching things too far to say that in Nietzsche's estimation science needs to be audited at every turn, each year. The philosophical pressure is on for science to come clean, to declassify the language usage and rhetorical combinations that have supported the prodigal domination of science over other interpretive interventions and possible worlds. If Nietzsche wants to keep it clean, this in part is because he needs science in order to make some of his most radical claims. His relation to science is by no means driven by resentment but rests on appropriative affirmation. As with all appropriations, things can get rough at times. Yet it is from a place of exorbitant responsibility that Nietzsche wrote up his version of science and, against the many pronounced inclinations of science, made joyousness a new prerequisite of scientific endeavor. Not one to get tangled in obsolesced subjectivities, Nietzsche at times saw himself as a scientific object. Thus, in an effort to explain himself as a prophetic human being he writes: "I should have been at the electric exhibition in Paris" as an exhibit at the world's science fair (251n42). Elsewhere, as we know, Nietzsche comes out not so much...