The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 103-105
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Caroline Joan S. Picart, Resentment and the "Feminine" in Nietzsche's Politico-Aesthetics. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. 206 + viii pp. ISBN 0-271-01889-5. Paperback, $19.95.
Picart's previous books include Eroticism, Death, Music, and Laughter in Thomas Mann and Friedrich Nietzsche, and The Rebirths of Frankenstein. The current title is a spirited, highly critical work devoted to "interpreting [Nietzsche's] peculiar misogyny via symptomatological criteria that he himself establishes" (2-3). Picart regards Nietzsche's "gendered mythology" as a key to the symptomatology of his "politics linked with aesthetics" (6). The author explains that Nietzsche's actual relationships with women are not of central concern to her, since her macroscopic focus, in concert with her genealogical approach, aims "to lay bare how Nietzsche's own gradually congealing politico-aesthetics eventfully harden into a misogyny seething with ressentiment against his own inability to birth the Übermensch" (16). For those who might wonder about Nietzsche's alleged ressentiment (he was, after all, the author of this particular theory of modernist criticism), Picart makes it clear that there are no sacred cows in her approach; not only is Nietzsche himself "irremediably diseased and decadent," but the fundamental dichotomy of his political philosophy, namely, the opposition between health and disease, is itself "rotten to the core" (19). Relying on Ricoeur and Irigaray, Picart sets out to show that although Nietzsche initially elevated the feminine as a valid symbol for vitality, he eventually attempts to "harness the feminine power of birthing unto an increasingly phallocentric mythology" (21). Thus Picart uses the notion of resentment much differently than Claudia Crawford, for whom "resentment criticism" is a male, un-Dionysian enterprise of which Nietzsche did not partake, and Picart also differs strikingly from the view of Lampert (and myself) that Nietzsche becomes more sympathetic toward and inclusive of the feminine as he matures—suffice it to say, the author has our attention early on.
Picart elaborates her thesis in five exquisitely titled chapters: "Genealogies of the 'Feminine' and 'Woman'"; "The Pre-Zarathustran Phase: Exca/Elevating the Mother"; "The Zarathustran Phase: The Phallic Mother"; "The Post-Zarathustran Phase: Emasculate Conception"; and "Looking Back, Looking Forward." Her approach is attentive to the swings and migrations of Nietzsche's thought, for example, where she describes the post-Zarathustran phase as moving "from resuscitating modernity to encouraging its suicide" (30). The pre-Zarathustran Nietzsche, still Faustian, hangs his "gendered politics" on the thread of Art; he abandons older dichotomies such as Apollo-Dionysus, Socrates-Euripides, but he introduces a "realignment of mythic figures" that continues to revolve around these polarities: to the free spirit belong Janus, Aphrodite, Achilles, the centaur, while to the fettered spirit belong Pandora and Homer (48). Though Nietzsche's attitude toward the feminine is undeniably complex in this phase, Picart claims that Nietzsche devoted his efforts to masculinizing woman and regarded this as a feasible political project, analogous to his boast that he had successfully treated himself in overcoming "that crippling and emasculating disease, Romanticism." The problem is, according to Picart, Nietzsche remained a masked Romantic, and his vehement attempts to free himself are nothing but attestations to his decadence, his inescapable Romanticism (78-79). On the question of whether Nietzsche remained a Romantic, the decisive issue appears to be that he resented his status as a Romantic and therefore adopted a mask; for in intellectual historical terms, if Nietzsche indeed never succeeded in overcoming Romanticism, would he not be particularly sympathetic toward and inclusive of the feminine, as is historically the case with Romantics? [End Page 103]
For the Zarathustra phase, Picart relies strongly, and I think wisely, on the writings of Karl Kerenyi, in order to explore the complexity of both Dionysus and Zarathustra. Nietzsche was clearly capable of mediating and interpreting the Greek myths, and in this phase he weaves into "a new tapestry a conglomerate of myths combining the figures of Dionysus, Zeus, and Apollo." More specifically his "appropriation of the mythic rebirths of Dionysus...