Nietzsche and Phenomenology: Power, Life, Subjectivity ed. by Élodie Boublil, Christine Daigle
The interconnections between Nietzsche and phenomenology constitute an area that is surprisingly underexplored. Besides Nietzsche’s well-known influence on Heidegger, and Heidegger’s Nietzsche sitting on the throne of metaphysics, there is very little written about the topic. This is a strange lacuna, one likely explanation for which is the difficulty of such comparative work. For, as the editors of Nietzsche and Phenomenology, Élodie Boublil and Christine Daigle, state in their introduction, “there is not one Nietzsche confronting one phenomenology” (3). The multifarious corpus of Nietzsche poses enough interpretive difficulties; however, the phenomenological movement to which Nietzsche is compared is itself reevaluated through each of its major figures. In the case of Husserl, phenomenology is reconceptualized almost at every juncture of his career. Thus Nietzsche and Phenomenology has a deceptively simple title and is a commendable undertaking in comparative philosophy.
The book consists of fifteen essays grouped in three main parts: “Life and Intentionality,” “Power and Expression,” and “Subjectivity in the World.” There are contributions from well-known Nietzsche scholars, such as Keith Ansell-Pearson, Babette Babich, and Lawrence J. Hatab; from well-known phenomenologists such as Rudolf Boehm, Françoise Dastur, and Galen A. Johnson; and also from exciting new voices including Élodie Boublil, Frank Chouraqui, and Saulius Geniusas. One minor criticism is that the groupings under the main headings are not particularly helpful here: some essays could belong to different parts, and some could fit in more than one simultaneously. Nevertheless, the essays are of great quality, with the book as a whole displaying significant unity via the ways it addresses the question “Could phenomenology actually qualify as a fröhliche Wissenschaft?” (2). Two subsidiary, interrelated questions generate this unity: whether Nietzsche can be considered a proto-phenomenologist or a phenomenologist avant la lettre; and whether subsequent varieties of phenomenology have more or less covert Nietzschean trends of thought.
As Boublil and Daigle introduce the collection, the essays provide interpretive suggestions, and since the book is merely the “opening of the inquiry” (5), the modesty is appropriate. However, there are discussions about such major concerns of philosophy as consciousness, intentionality, and the body. Therefore, the volume could be of interest not only to students and scholars of Nietzsche and of phenomenologists, but also to philosophers working in the continental tradition more generally. The majority of contributions are about either Nietzsche and Husserl or Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty. Heidegger is often mentioned, and one of the most interesting essays concerns Eugen Fink; but Sartre, for instance, is addressed only in passing. For those interested, one of the editors, Christine Daigle, has published on the connection of Nietzsche and Sartre, but in her contribution to the volume, there are only minor references.
Due to limitations in scope, it is not possible to give a comprehensive overview of each essay. Also, the unity of the book does not consist in a central argumentative line; rather, the essays comprise individual, often related suggestions regarding how to interpret various connected dots in the large net of interconnections between Nietzsche and phenomenology. Probably one of the most illuminating threads that could guide the reader is the tension between Nietzsche’s metaphysical thinking about the will to power and the insistence of various phenomenologists that there is no gap between appearance and reality. Husserl began to investigate how consciousness constitutes the world of medium-sized and observable objects, while Nietzsche had before uncovered the abyss of [End Page 356] will to power beneath such an anthropomorphic world, arguing that appearance is everything; so the tension is inherent in Nietzsche’s philosophy itself.
The majority of contributions to Nietzsche and Phenomenology are original. The works by Françoise Dastur and Françoise Bornadel were translated by Ron Ross from French. There are some essays that were published before but not in English: the two closing pieces by Didier Franck were translated by Bettina Bergo, one of the contributors (Franck’s essays first appeared in his volume Dramatique des phénomènes [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001]). The collection has a very appropriate starting point, a short piece by Rudolf Boehm, translated by the editors. Even though the original first appeared in French in 1962, the comparative work of Boehm was well ahead of its age and feels novel even today. Boehm contrasts Nietzsche’s critique of rationalism and Husserl’s renewal of it. The main issue explored is whether this opposition between Nietzsche and Husserl is insurmountable. On Boehm’s view, this might not be an opposition at all. One of the most often quoted passages of Nietzsche in Nietzsche and Phenomenology is the following: “The true world––we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one” (TI “True World” 6; trans. W. Kaufmann in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. W. Kaufmann [New York: Penguin, 1977]). As Boehm sees it, this is the main pillar of transvaluation; and, if it is, then transvaluation has affinities with Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. However, Boehm accepts Heidegger’s assertion that Nietzsche’s core conception of the will to power is metaphysical, and on the face of it, it seems incompatible with any rationalism. But characterizing Nietzsche as irrationalist and Husserl as rationalist is misleading and simplistic. Rather, what is needed is to point out “the possibility of interpreting Nietzsche’s ‘morphology of the will to power’ in terms of a phenomenological philosophy and Husserl’s phenomenological philosophy in terms of a philosophy of ‘irrational’ perspectives of a ‘certain kind of life’” (22–23). According to Boehm, these are points of view to be understood via the metaphysics of Lebnizian monadology, though his essay provides only a brief indication of how.
Christine Daigle’s contribution builds on Boehm’s work, sketching the connection between Nietzsche’s perspectivism and Husserl’s intentionality through examining Nietzsche’s critique of Kant in Human, All Too Human. According to Daigle, Nietzsche employs the notion of intentionality and the method of phenomenological reduction (though without labeling them in these terms). As she puts it, the “phenomenological turn” is in “full swing” in HH (30). This is shown by the fact that what matters both for Nietzsche and for Husserl’s phenomenology is the way consciousness relates to the world. They find common ground because, in this relation, the Kantian thing-in-itself is irrelevant. On Daigle’s view, for Nietzsche “the world as a phenomenon is nothing else but will to power” (39). One worry is that this is too quick. The world as it appears is not immediately will to power. The world that phenomenology is interested in is indeed very far from it. Furthermore, according to Daigle, Nietzsche accepts the existence of a noumenal world as a “perhaps unknowable, but felt text” (D 119; trans. R. J. Hollingdale [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997]), in opposition to the phenomenal world of will to power. However, equating the phenomenal world with will to power and noumenal world with the “felt text” in Daybreak may require more interpretive and argumentative work.
The investigation initiated by Boehm proves to be influential, and Françoise Dastur starts out with the apparent diametrical opposition between Husserl’s aim to go back to the things themselves and Nietzsche’s claims about the essentially interpretative character of all judgment. Relying on Eugen Fink, Dastur opens up a can of worms about object constitution and interpretation. Is there a thing-in-itself, an object to be interpreted, or does interpretation create the object? On Dastur’s view, Nietzsche and Husserl answer: neither and both. Interpretation gives meaning, but by giving meaning it also constitutes the object it gives meaning to. This issue is crucial regarding transvaluation, the abolishing of the apparent-real opposition. If the transvaluation is successful, Nietzsche succeeds in overcoming metaphysics. But in Heidegger’s famous assessment, Nietzsche (and Husserl) failed. [End Page 357] As Dastur demonstrates, though, Fink disagrees with Heidegger, arguing that when Nietzsche characterizes being and becoming as play, the overcoming is carried out successfully.
Frank Chouraqui’s essay is also concerned with metaphysics. It opens by saying that “[o]ne of the most prominent connections between Nietzsche’s thought and the entire phenomenological enterprise lies in Husserl’s founding postulate that the thing-in-itself is an invalid concept” (177). Chouraqui engages this issue by arguing that Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty share the view that there is a dehiscence in our relation to the world, a dehiscence that is not merely something we lack but something that essentially belongs to the beings we are. According to Chouraqui, while Husserl attempted to search for the origins of consciousness, both Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty affirm that there is no such origin. Nietzsche thus anticipated Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Husserl.
The contribution of Babette Babich continues to probe Nietzsche’s connection with Merleau-Ponty, and she focuses on what she terms the “performative phenomenology” of Nietzsche. Seeing phenomenology as a diverse movement throughout the history of philosophy, beginning with Parmenides and covering what philosophy properly is and should be, Babich describes Nietzsche’s philology and his investigation of Greek music and tragedy as phenomenological. Starting with the critique of cognition, of the possibility of knowledge, Babich interprets Nietzsche’s thoughts on Greek tragedy and music as developing a phenomenological attitude that leads to a “performative, embodied, physically phenomenological and archeological modality of Vergegenwärtigung [making present/realization]” (134). Thus, Nietzsche embodied phenomenological practice.
As Keith Ansell-Pearson emphasizes in his essay on Nietzsche’s Daybreak, this aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy also goes toward an experimental practice, a practice of and commitment to experimental philosophy, bringing Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty together in a different way. Ansell-Pearson sees Nietzsche as an existential phenomenologist, outlining an experimental philosophy, in which “we as human beings largely unknown to ourselves can become our own experiments” (228). So if there is an answer to the problem mentioned earlier, namely that Nietzsche’s will to power as a metaphysical conception is incompatible with abolishing the “true-apparent” opposition, then the answer is this: through the epoché and the phenomenological reduction, possibilities of playfulness, experimentation, and varying of perspectives open up. Through a future engagement with phenomenology, Nietzsche’s will to power might be reconceptualized not as a metaphysical view or as a fundamental reality behind appearances, but as something the world needs to be in order to allow for the opening up of the aforementioned possibilities.
In sum, Nietzsche and Phenomenology is a highly useful and intriguing volume for anyone interested in the connections between Nietzsche’s philosophy and various aspects of phenomenology. Besides the few minor points of criticism above, it should be mentioned that some essays do not emphasize the connection as much as they do one side of the conjunction. Lawrence Hatab’s contribution should be of interest for anyone working on Nietzsche’s ethics; however, he intentionally uses phenomenology in a general sense: “If we take phenomenology in a general sense to be concerned with ‘appearance,’ Nietzsche’s philosophy offers a wealth of pertinent material” (236). While to be concerned with appearance is definitely important for both Nietzsche and phenomenologists, Hatab does not explore the thought of appearance in phenomenology, and the only work of phenomenology he refers to is Heidegger’s Nietzsche. The last two pieces, by Didier Franck, err on the other side: they are only tangentially concerned with Nietzsche. In any case, the book remains a uniquely valuable contribution to both Nietzsche scholarship and phenomenological studies because it covers a previous lacuna that should have been under investigation a long time ago. [End Page 358]