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  • Transgendering Nietzsche:Male Mothers and Phallic Women in Derrida's Spurs
  • Willow Verkerk

As Derrida himself notes, Nietzsche is a thinker who seems at once misogynistic and sympathetic (Derrida 1979, 57). Pursuing the sympathetic reading further, we may ask whether there is also an emancipatory character to Nietzsche's writings on woman. This is a contentious question; however, it is one that Derrida entertains by his proposal that Nietzsche's feminisms and anti-feminisms are connected or have a larger "congruence" (Derrida 1979, 57). Nietzsche's attack on feminism is done in defense of what he and Derrida conceive to be feminine power. In Spurs this is reflected in two threads: one in which woman as a position is opened up to those who are not cisgender women; the other in which cisgender women are disciplined into femininity as their ideal location for power.

Derrida draws mostly on The Gay Science, but he is also interested in the preface to Beyond Good and Evil, where Nietzsche declares, "supposing truth is a woman—what then?" Derrida turns to the preface of Beyond in order to show that there is a close relationship between woman and truth and that Nietzsche is utilizing the concept of woman in itself (Weib an sich) in order to question the coherence of "Truth" and the presumptions of the philosopher "who believes in the truth that is woman, who believes in truth just as he believes in woman" (Derrida 1979, 53). After reading transgender thinkers like Susan Stryker and Kate Bornstein, as well as the work of Judith Butler, we might rewrite Derrida's statement and replace the word "woman" with "gender." Then it would read [End Page 99] like this: "the presumption of the philosopher who believes in the truth that is a gender, who believes in truth just as he believes in gender."

In Spurs, Derrida, through Nietzsche, is demonstrating that truth is multiple and varied just as woman is so. He is pointing out that we, like the philosopher who fetishizes "Truth," fetishize "woman." Derrida's response, as is Nietzsche's, to the fetishization of woman is to both affirm and undermine it. In other words, neither philosopher entirely escapes from his own fetishizations of woman, but they do proliferate these fetishizations and thus lay the groundwork for others to exceed them.

Nietzsche is a thinker open to diverse receptions because, as Derrida notices, Nietzsche's writings purposively yield multiple interpretations. Derrida thinks that Nietzsche's writing is a kind of pharmakon because it produces both heterogeneity and parody of the norm and in doing so allows for difference. In addition to Derrida's reading, the rethinking of femininity through transgender theory attests to the relevance of opening up woman to multiple positions. Still, the political potential of Derrida's reading of Nietzsche's woman must be considered alongside earlier critique voiced soon after Derrida's Spurs was translated into English by a number of feminists who found Derrida's attempt to philosophize as a woman, while concurrently critiquing feminism, highly suspicious.

This essay will concentrate on three goals. First, I will discuss Derrida's reading of Nietzsche as a performative thinker and examine three feminist readings of the Nietzschean woman; next, I will speak about Derrida's analysis of Nietzsche's notion of woman and her relationship with power and truth; last, I will pursue a brief transgendered reception of the Nietzschean and Derridean woman by drawing on some of the interpretive tools found in transgender studies.

Nietzsche as Stylist: Abducting Woman?

In Spurs, Derrida states that while reading Nietzsche on woman "we shall bear witness to her abduction" (Derrida 1979, 41). This may mean that Derrida himself is abducting Nietzsche's concept of woman through rewriting her, more simply that Nietzsche is abducting woman through becoming feminine as a stylist and in doing so is rewriting woman. Then again, it may mean that we as readers are abducting woman: namely, during the reading of Spurs we inscribe more layers of meaning onto woman's form—veils upon the veils of Derrida on top of Nietzsche. This is one reason why Nietzsche writes that "woman is so...


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