restricted access Chapter 2: Nietzsche Slain
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t w o Nietzsche Slain Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. — f r i e d r i c h n i e t z s c h e , Beyond Good and Evil Misunderstanding Nietzsche A misunderstanding . . . am I, and ever will be. — f r i e d r i c h n i e t z s c h e , Ecce Homo Only when ye have all denied me will I come back unto you. — f r i e d r i c h n i e t z s c h e , Thus Spake Zarathustra It was in 1923, at about the age of twenty-five, that Georges Bataille first read Friedrich Nietzsche. He cites this encounter as a decisive event in his life,1 one that infuses his philosophical inquiries with increased passion and fuels his explorations into the limits of human existence. In the years following his initial exposure to Nietzsche, Bataille never stops returning to him; Nietzsche haunts nearly all of Bataille’s writings. Indeed, Bataille’s fascination with his predecessor is so thorough that he founds an ‘‘essentially PAGE 36 36 ................. 16666$ $CH2 10-02-07 14:20:25 PS Nietzsche Slain 37 Nietzschean’’ religious secret society.2 Following the dissolution of this society , and confined to solitude in the French countryside by physical illness and emotional turmoil, Bataille seeks to establish a kind of community with Nietzsche. The expression of this communion is Sur Nietzsche, a book rife with citations from the German philosopher’s writings. It is in this book, written as the events of the Second World War are culminating, that Bataille claims that Nietzsche is, with but a few exceptions, his sole company on earth, that Nietzsche is a thinker with whom he feels intimacy. This intimacy resonates throughout Bataille’s writings. Not only do Bataille ’s obsessions with sovereignty, excess, laughter, affirmation, and power reflect Nietzsche’s perduring concerns; Bataille’s various modes and devices of writing—fragments and aphorisms, poems, the employment of multifarious authorial voices—also reflect the influence of his precursor. The resemblances between these two writers have inspired a host of critics to expound upon the Nietzschean roots of Bataille’s thoughts and to examine the presence or repetition of Nietzsche in Bataille’s writings.3 But Bataille, while repeatedly and explicitly averring to the power and importance of Nietzsche , even to the point of deifying him,4 nevertheless has a more complicated relationship with his forerunner than that of an intellectual offspring influenced by an authoritative predecessor. Indeed, though Bataille’s initial reading of Nietzsche in 1923 leaves him feeling ‘‘overcome,’’5 he goes on to produce a body of work that, if bearing the marks of Nietzsche, nonetheless diverges from Nietzsche in crucial respects. ‘‘The commentator,’’ Blanchot remarks, ‘‘is not being faithful when he faithfully reproduces.’’6 This chapter will argue that, far from representing a simple continuation of Nietzsche’s thought, Bataille’s writings dramatically enact a rupture with Nietzsche—a denial of Nietzsche that paradoxically deepens, rather than mitigates, Bataille’s intimacy with this man he calls friend.7 This binding break, at once faithful and renunciatory, is effected through Bataille’s strategic misreading and rewriting of Nietzsche.8 Taking up the concepts of recognition and identification formulated in the previous chapter, I want to show that Bataille’s misprision of Nietzsche amounts to a refusal of recognition9 of his friend, instead marking an act of extreme identification. Denis Hollier has suggested that Bataille engages in a misreading of Nietzsche through which he repeats Nietzsche’s experience of madness as a sacrifice of identity.10 The present chapter will show how Bataille ’s misprision proceeds as a kind of rewriting of Nietzsche, but a rewritPAGE 37 ................. 16666$ $CH2 10-02-07 14:20:25 PS 38 Ecce Monstrum ing that is specifically an inversion of him. Whereas Nietzsche provides a vitalistic, affirmative philosophy that takes as its central, motivating concept the valorization of life, Bataille writes a corpus of texts no less affirmative than Nietzsche’s that, while incessantly referring to his predecessor, focuses obsessively on what Nietzsche most disdained: excrement, decay, and death.11 In an attempt to affirm what the German philosopher could not, Bataille parodies Nietzsche; he masks himself as the morbid Nietzsche.12 Through this inversive parody, Bataille renders Nietzsche monstrous—an operation...