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  • Nietzsche’s Revolution: Décadence, Politics, and Sexuality by C. Heike Schotten
  • Michael McNeal
C. Heike Schotten, Nietzsche’s Revolution: Décadence, Politics, and Sexuality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 284 pp. ISBN: 978-0-230-61358-4. Hardcover, $105.00.

In Schotten’s “unabashedly … Left Nietzschean project” she maps Nietzsche’s thought onto the topography of a contemporary American partisan political binary, pitting the “progressive” dimensions of his thought against the “reactionary and conservative” ones (8), arguing that “the essence of Nietzsche’s thought is contradiction” (9). The theme of contradiction pervades the book, and it is contradiction that trips Schotten’s own argument at key points, for instance where she does not adequately account for the rhetorical role of hyperbole in Nietzsche’s philosophical approach to the problems of modernity. Many will find her peculiar objective of “queering Nietzsche” jarring. Aiming to “queer” Nietzsche’s thought in order to conscript it in the service of the current sexual and gender liberation movement, she argues that “Nietzsche himself authorizes contemporary queer politics” (9). While significant features of his thought may be said to do so, the desire to appropriate Nietzsche’s thought to these ends, which he “would almost surely have rejected and even found contemptible” (9), seems to originate in a projection of contemporary insights on the social construction of gender (and of the politics to which they have given rise) back onto Nietzsche’s texts. This is especially strange as it was Nietzsche’s revolutionary thought that, via poststructuralist thinkers, conditioned the possibility of such critiques in the first place, aspects of which Schotten explicitly acknowledges but implications of which she misses. For instance, she suggests that “[f] [End Page 221] rightened by the ‘unnatural’ bodies his own revolution might make possible, he defensively calls for a return to a naturalized gender hierarchy to save a décadent modernity from nihilism and death” (8). However, the book argues that Nietzsche fails (at least consciously) to recognize this revolutionary potential arising from his thought (so how could he be “frightened” by it?), and it is incorrect that he calls for a return to a gender hierarchy whose deterioration he acknowledged and that he aims to “save” modernity. Rather, he seeks to provoke free spirits to conquer modernity—the inherently and irredeemably décadent (which she also acknowledges on p. 95) road to the passive nihilism of the last man—via the down-going and overcoming of “the species man.”

Schotten interrogates important themes in that literature (e.g., on the bad conscience [60], on will to truth [178], on racism [45, 54, 94]), but not all of them directly apply to the central arguments she challenges. Certain of her criticisms may therefore strike some as caviling. Nevertheless, the book offers some insights into the problems generated by Nietzsche’s self-referentiality, rehearsal of misogynistic prejudices, and his politics (at odds in important ways with his epistemological, psychological, and ontological insights), even if Schotten’s proposed resolutions, as such, are not as illuminating. The text is peppered with gratuitously provocative assertions. For instance, critical of his insistence that his declarations are his truths rather than universal ones or a “valuation standard on everybody else,” she suggests that “Nietzsche’s philosophy looks like one big paean to masturbation” (125). Reading Nietzsche’s texts narrowly, especially where one may interpret him as an earnest misogynist or reflexive racist or secret anti-Semite, Schotten––who is convinced he is all of these things and that these “failures” debilitate his revolutionary, political project––aims to read his advocacy of transformation via self-overcoming against his apparent promotion of tradition. However this is a false dichotomy based on an undue emphasis on individual becoming over his recognition that the traditions constitutive of a vital culture condition the possibility of such becomings (HH 96; D 9; BGE 260). The former (radical individualist) emphasis, ever popular with the countercultural left, follows from Schotten’s political reading: unfettered becoming (understood as “self-creation”) is positive, whereas “restrictive” traditions, social customs and mores are inhibiting and therefore to be opposed. However, this conflates Nietzsche’s famous exhortation to “become who you are” with the jejune notion...


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pp. 221-224
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