Analysis of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals
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Published: Thu, 01 Mar 2018
When God died, what happened to the people?
Therefore neither can an animal move about in the closed as such, no more than it can comport itself toward the unconcealed. The animal is excluded from the essential domain of the conflict between unconcealedness and concealedness. The sign of such an exclusion is that no animal or plant “has the word.
The concealed in Heidegger is that which conceals from us it’s being. What emerges in Heidegger, in his pursuit of this clearing, is the slim line – the slippery border, between human and animal. The animal in Heidegger cannot see the sun as it rushes towards it: it can never dissocial the sun as a being. It is at once open and non-open, or rather, it operates in an ambiguity between the two fields.
Man in Heidegger becomes that which is produced precisely at this border: at the moment of caesura and articulation between human and animal: it is this that passes for man, and it is this than expresses well the relationship of man to language. Man is never outside language: language is always already expressed as a radical exclusion of that which is not which operates as a fundamental category of exclusion(Agamben: 2004a: 91)
The last century and a half have been full of attempts to move outside of language: to pass into new notions of subjectivity that move outside of what it is to be human. Nietzsche’s attempt to destroy traditional notions of subjectivity stands out as a crystallisation point in a process that sees Delouse, Foucault and Derrida, to name the three philosophers this dissertation will discuss, move outside notions of the human trapped within language and the creation of the subject.
In doing so they criticise a notion of the subject trapped within binary constructions and the hierarchical notions of the subject that one finds in Hegel; in doing so they echo the criticism of Christianity that Nietzsche made. This dissertation will analyse the reasons for which Nietzsche attempts to destroy the traditional notion of the subject and replace it with a particularism notion of the subject: forever in astute of becoming that escapes binary configurations.
We will evaluate to what extent he was successful in his enterprise, and what type of subjectivity was brought forth. In analysing the ways in which Deleuze,Foucault and Derrida take up his project, we will analyse a genealogy of thought that attempts to successively move beyond what we understands human. These three methods open up a series of liberating possibilities to philosophy and politics, and the configurations of these possibilities we be analysed.
However, in the radical indeterminacy of Derrida, in the pessimistic, frantic activism of Foucault, and in the schizo-analysis of Delouse we can detect the same problem that we find in Nietzsche: at work in him is that oblivion (or as Bataille would term it, that excess) “which lies at the foundation of the biologist of the nineteenth century and of psychoanalysis” and what produces “monstrous anthropomorphization of… the animal and a corresponding animalization of man” (Heidegger: 1992:152). Heidegger still believed, as none of the philosophers considered in the dissertation do, in the possibility of a good project of the polis; that there was still a good historical space in which one could find a historical destiny grounded in being.
He, later in life, realized his mistake. In this, he comes toe point where his criticism of Nietzsche becomes most pointed. Nietzsche’s eulogisation of man is that which pre-empts the emptying out of value we find a man at the end of history. Nietzsche is blind to what the caesura of naming man as such might mean: in doing so, and in asserting the gelatinisation of the truth of the polis, the ambiguous border between man and animal collapses.
It is precisely the “essential border between the mystery of the living being and the mystery of what is historical” (Heidegger: 1992:239) that is not dealt with by Nietzsche’s work and it is thus constantly exposed to the possibility of an “unlimited and groundless anthropomorphization of the animal” that places the animal above man and makes a ‘super-man’ (ibid:160) of it. Life becomes reified over and above the precise condition of its existence; that very condition which makes it always already in dependency on those very grounds of its existence.
We will find this same problem repeated in Foucault, who in his criticism of the construction of the subject in modernity illustrates the way in which modern notions of sovereignty act directly on the bios of modern man; this is where modernity begins to act on animal life(this time where equivalence has rendered the possibility of time null)and what is at stake in the construction of the subject is the possibility of his life.
Yet, Foucault, like Nietzsche, illustrates this genealogy of dependence without being able to elucidate its historical specificity, which is in its construction of a zone of exclusion at the basis of ontology itself (this can be seen in Foucault’s error in treating bio power as a modern phenomenon). This same problem is manifest in the differ and of Derrida, and in Deleuze’s notion of the organs without a body: each in turns finds itself the symptom of the radical historicism.
Each proclaims this symptom a cure, without realising that the cure they offer is precisely that which is the symptom. In all these theorists what this amounts to is misunderstanding of the nature of language. Thus, while Nietzsche manages to destroy stable notions of the subject, the unstable notion he replaces them with, while apparently liberating, exists within the same binaries he seeks to destroy, and moreover, allows for the exactly the same herd instinct that he seeks to overcome.
I. Why I needed to kill God
I.I We see ourselves in every mirror
What, in all strictness, has really conquered the Christian God? (…) Christian
morality itself, the concept of truthfulness taken more and more strictly, the
confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price. To view nature as if it were a proof of the goodness and providence of a God; to interpret history to the glory of divine reason, as the perpetual witness to a moral world order and moral intentions; to interpret one’s own experiences, as pious men long interpreted them, as if everything were preordained, everything a sign, everything sent for salvation of the soul – that now belongs to the past, that has conscience against it…. In this way, Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality….
Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals outlines the way in which Christianity formulates its notion of the subject. The Christian super-ego is posited as salvation, as the point towards which one works. Thus, the Christian subject exists as, first and foremost, alack: it is not what it wishes to be. Yet, as Nietzsche points out, this lack is a condition and construction of the subject within Christianity: one resembles oneself and yet in order to find deliverance must become more of oneself and in doing so one finds justification for the present order of things. The Christian superegos to be found in God, and then, surprise, surprise, the Christian ego can be found placed in the soul of the body. This parallels the analysis that Foucault makes of the subject (1999, 1975).
The law construct the subject as normal (and in doing so sets up an exclusion of the abnormal, or that which is not: that which has no voice – icon-human) and in this process creates a desiring-subject, who desires what the law has not given it. Yet these desires are what are created by the notion of the subject placed upon one: one is created absent, oars not that, not this, but always awaiting a day when one can be called by a proper name. It is this awaiting a proper name that Nietzsche attacks most strongly, and in this theory of language we shall see Nietzsche allows no place for such a proper name. A proper name relation, Nietzsche argues, is always a relationship between a creditor and a debtor; it is always typified by the dependence or lack, and as such prevents the possibility that of morality to be free and joyous.
Nietzsche though, and is not commented on very much, reserves some tender thoughts for Christianity. It is a primal Christianity, a Dionysian Christianity, that Nietzsche can endorse. As much can be seen in the quote that started this section: Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity should not be seen to be limited to Christianity. Rather, it extends to all relationships of debt and obligation to a structuring super-ego. It was not Nietzsche, he claims, that killed Christianity, it was Christianity itself, and Nietzsche loathes the nihilism that replaces it just as much. We can discern three criticisms of Christianity/nihilism in the quote that started this dissertation.
Nietzsche elaborates that one of the structures of Christianity is the idea of a puritanical truthfulness, which has been sublimated into scientific consciousness. Nietzsche’s primary criticism of this truthfulness is that is relies upon a correspondence theory of truth: it requires an external state that can be matched in some way to an internal state (which then requires a subject to have such an internal state). For Nietzsche, consciousness created in such a way in simply ashram, an intentional lie: consciousness lies free and unbounded – it has no centre around which it can orientate itself. Furthermore, the mapping between a real world of existent things (Kant’s ding an such)and a subjective world of language is not possible.
It is not possible because language only ever refers to itself. To use Saussure’s(1995:12) terminology, a sign can only have meaning within another setoff signs; it has no essential relationship to the world that is signified. A correspondence theory of truth attempts to hold up astatic a world that is in constant flux and in doing so negates the possibility of human freedom, which Nietzsche opposes to belief. The importance of this critique of the Christian subject will be returned to later in the dissertation when we consider Nietzsche’s theory of language.
The second crucial critique of Christianity made in the quote that begins this dissertation is of history as possessing meaning, as divine providence being read into history as if it were a series of signs. This resembles the structural properties of psychoanalysis that Delouse(1983a, 1983b, 1984) was so devastatingly to criticise. One can read one’s entire life as a history of redemption, as Benjamin (1986:112)comments. In this reading, every moment of one’s life in which one fails, feels regret of guilt because one is not conterminous with the notion of the subject given to you, can be read as a sign of messianic moment to come: it is to deny the contingent and necessary existence one has in favour of a reified notion of being that removes life from life. Nietzsche realises that such a realisation about life is scary, and he realises that people will cling onto a Christian notion of belief even if it has no rational foundation: that is why in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1969) he attempts to convince people through rhetoric rather than argument.
Several elements of Nietzsche’s thought here are important to note. While he attacks Christianity, in the long quote we started the section with he already observes that the technological-scientific paradigm replaces Christianity while adopting all of its tenants. As Nietzsche(1974:108) comments: “after Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. -And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” Science is this shadow: it refuses an engagement with the world in favour of a mystified detached observer who can sit back and observe the world rather than engage within its context. This DE contextualisation actually ends up relativizing the world. This is a radical historicism that believes the role of the pasties to come to the rescue of the future: temporality is shortened tallow only a present, an immediate process of desiring-lack and sustenance. It allows for the feigned equivalence of all men, as they are all equal as subjects, and as all in this equivalence all notions of importance and goals are emptied of meaning by an effectively moribund set of values that deny life in favour of a search for authentic experience.
This search for authentic experience is termed active nihilism in Nietzsche: it is an attempt to confront the emptiness of value categories with frenetic action: this is what Size (2001:48) calls the passion for the real: the passion for frenetic experience that ultimately culminates in its simulacrum. It culminates in its simulacrum because the passion for the real (as opposed to the empty appearance people inhabit) eventually becomes the passion for the real without risk – for one only risks if there is something one is willing to die for: for Nietzsche the chance and contingency of the eternal return – and thus we see the Nietzsche an concepts of passive and active nihilism end up, in late modern capitalism, becoming one. We can see that the co-existence of what we could term the correspondence theory of truth and the history as destiny theory (where everything is able tube reconciled to the present) inevitably end up in this structure of nihilism.
Both of these theories rely on several underlying structures of thought that Nietzsche was also quick to criticise in Christianity. Innis analysis of the origins of Christianity, he notes (1956:112):“Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life.” Christianity was always underlined by a series of binary logics: this is not the right life: this one is better; hate: love, God: Satan. It is this binary thinking that comes in for a huge amount of criticism from Nietzsche. It is these binaries that ignore that the world is in astute of becoming, that it is forever in a state of flux. Nietzsche notes (1966:12): “it may be doubted, firstly whether there exists any antithesis at all, and secondly whether these popular evaluations and value anti-thesis, on which the metaphysicians have set their seal, are not perhaps foreground valuations, merely provisional perspectives. “Therefore, Nietzsche’s criticism is not simply of our values, as we have seen in the previous paragraphs, but of the way in which our values are constructed.
Nietzsche’s theory of language illustrates that each of the terms in binary series is dependent on the other. Butler (1990,1993) undertakes similar enterprise inspired by Nietzsche when she investigates the dependency of the category women on the category man and vice versa. Power is exercised, Nietzsche understands, in the formation of the very categories themselves, not merely in the ascription of certain people to good and certain people to bad. It is a mistake to fight for the category of lack, because the detestable thing is the very category: by fighting against the lack (e.g. of women for rights) one is accepting the terms of the herd mentality; that one must accept the givens of the situation and its binary categories.
This is why a genealogy of morals is necessary, to (Butler: 1990:ix)“investigate the political stakes in designating as an origin and cause those identity categories that are in fact the effects of institutions, practices, discourses with multiple and diffuse points of origin.” Such pursuit unseats the claim of a binary logic to an objective reality: they show them as temporal formations that constitute a world for the subject. However, such a world is always shot through with lack. One can illustrate this using Alcan’s (1981) theory of mirrors, which he derives from Nietzsche’s view of the subject. In Alcan’s view, one is never identical to the role one has been assigned in life. The social formation of life (which is an appearance) is full of inconsistency and incompleteness. As Christina Wolf (1980:151) comments in her novel:
Nelly couldn’t help it: the charred building made her sad. But she didn’t know
that she was feeling sad [my emphasis], because she wasn’t supposed to feel sad. She had long ago begun to cheat herself out of her true feelings….Gone, forever gone, is the beautiful, free correlation between emotions and events…. It wouldn’t have taken much for Nelly to have succumbed to an improper emotion: compassion. But healthy German common sense built barrier against it: anxiety.
The character Nelly feels the dissonance between the world she is in and the world she experiences: she experiences anxiety over it. Such anxiety is the mark of the problem of binary categorisation. This categorisation does not resemble the world, which is in flux, but it places over it a series of categories that are power relationships designed to constitute you as a subject. We can perhaps draw a parallel here between what Nietzsche analyses in his philosophy of language as the productive power of the grammar of an age and what Laplace(1989:130), following Alcan, calls the source-object of drives. These unconscious formations are
an encounter between an individual whose psycho-somatic structures are
situated predominantly at the level of need, and signifiers emanating from an
adult. Those signifiers pertain to the satisfaction of the child’s needs, but they also convey the purely interrogative potential of other messages—and those other messages are sexual. These enigmatic messages set the child the difficult, or even impossible, task of mastery and symbolization and the attempt to perform it inevitably leaves behind unconscious residues…. I refer to them as the source objects of the drives.
What one must be careful to do here is to distinguish between the early Nietzsche and his later work. In early work such as the Birth of Tragedy (1956), Nietzsche can still talk about an essential essence that the Christian or Apollonian reasoning hides. In his later work he fully endorses the view that consciousness is but surface: a radically anti-essentialist position that refuses the possibility of an outside of language or of consciousness. There is then, no real that one can break through the appearance to get to, as one might in psychoanalysis. However, that does not necessarily mean the psychoanalytic reading were doing here is incorrect. Laconia analysis departs from the Freudian analysis that Delouse criticizes in its conception of the subject. For Nelly, the character in Wolf’s novel, the state fore-anxiety might be referred to as true, but a sense of what it is would be to call it uninhibited: free from the strictures of power. In the later Nietzsche, the ability to escape the possibility of the subject is ambiguous. What Nelly asks for is not an absolute escape, as Laplace does not ask that the child can master the symbolization of his parents and escape the drives. Rather, what is inferred is continual tension and thrust against that which claims to be objective and masks desire, put in a Delusion idiom: it is the consistent schizoid refusal to stasis.
As such, it parallels the construction of the subject in Foucault. Like Nietzsche and Butler, Foucault performs a genealogy. Like the later Nietzsche, Foucault realizes the impossibility of breaking through language. One is always already constructed as a subject: any attempt to break out of this trap relies on an exterior moral framework that simply replicates the binaries of an existing power discourse. Foucault (1979:178) notes that “discourse creates the object of which it speaks.” Discourse gives rise to a subject, and an attempt to break out of the subject through a call to a value (such as revolutionary purity, truth) falls into the same power trap as existing political discourse. What Foucault and Nietzsche both call into question is the notion of valorisation itself: that which always assumes a dichotomousbinarisation. However, rather than placing their project within an appeal to the real outside of language, both claim the most one can does attack language through language. This task means to constantly reveal that which appears as objective as actually a temporally structured mask of power. Thus for Foucault (1984:217):
The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the working of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight them.
This task has no end or limit: indeed, an end or limit is part of the notion of the structure of power; that there is this goal that you must attain, that you are not this, though at a certain point you may indeed attain it. We can see such notions of end goal rely on the interpretation of history as divine providence (or in the secular historicist version, history being called to the rescue of the present)that Nietzsche was so quick to criticise as ignoring the contingency and chance of existence. Both of these parallel Deleuze’s criticism of hierarchical structure as that which inhibits desire and presses it into the service of power. What this entails is not simply the refutation of God at the centre of the world, defining the notion of our being. It is a refutation of a centre of the world. Secularism simply replaces God with man, and declares that the self-autonomous mains that which defines our values, when we do not act in a way accorded to by the hegemony, then it is us who are lacking. Thus, Nietzsche(1962:346) makes a comment much like Marx when he says “we now laugh when we find ‘Man and World’ placed beside one another, separated by the sublime presumption of the little world ‘and.’
Thus, in Nietzsche it is not simply Christianity but its zombie replacement rationality that needs to be criticised. Foucault continues this task in The Order of Things (1994), attacking the Human account of causality and truth than requires a one to one mapping between things and their referents. This criticism is possible because, as Nietzsche notes (1968:616) “the world with which we are concerned . . .is not a fact . . . it is ‘in flux,’ as something in a state of becoming, as a falsehood always changing but never getting near the truth: for—there is ‘no truth’.” This is the strongest statement of Nietzsche’s project. He wants to undermine the notion of truth and reveal it for a set of power constructions and particularities. With the notion of truth, the notion of the proper name (the proper place for the human subject) becomes impossible, and what opens up is decentred multitude of consciousness like that which Delouse (1980:332) outlines in Mille Plateaux. This project would have what is productive as that which is nomadic, which refuses all forms of hierarchy in favour of that which is additive. To carry out such project it is necessary to destroy the possibility of belief.
I.II Our beliefs are our weakness
If there is today still no lack of those who do not know how indecent it is to “believe”–or a sign of decadence, of a broken will to live–well, they will know it tomorrow.
For Nietzsche, belief requires something outside of oneself. Indeed, belief can be understood as the opposite to freedom in Nietzsche’s thought. To believe in something is to believe in what that thing has made you into: it is to believe that one has something internal (belief) that can be referred to the world. As Nietzsche notes (ibid:347):
Once a human being reaches the fundamental conviction that he must be commanded, he becomes ‘a believer.’ Conversely, one could conceive of such a pleasure and power of self-determination, such a freedom of the will that the spirit would take leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, being practiced in maintaining himself on insubstantial ropes and possibilities and dancing even near abysses.
As we have noted above, it is not enough to simply get rid of God. What happens to the people after we get rid of God? They run together, as a herd, scared, into other formations of command, such as nationalism. It is interesting to note here Foucault’s comment, that the challenge of nationalism (1994:228) was to “establish a system of signs in congruence with the transcendence of being.” It was to believe in a new grammar that replaced the old certainties of life with new certainties: the certainty of the glory of the death of the unknown soldier for the transcendent nation. That is why Nietzsche says,(1990:15): “we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar.” Nietzsche’s real challenge is almost a challenge against language: it is an attempt to consistently run up against the limit of language and refute its hegemonic possibilities (e.g. in the distribution of tenses) at every turn. A grammar forces one to give lie to a reality: the only such lies Nietzsche thinks are acceptable are innocent lies, those lies that enable communication in contingent fashion, that are not totalising and do not exceed the moment of their own expression.
What happens with the new certainties is that they still rely on a concept of will. They ask one to partake in a world in which one is necessarily excluded (you are not this, yet…). For Nietzsche (1924:14),to believe in the will is to believe “every individual action is isolate and indivisible .” Thus runs counter to the idea of flux Nietzsche takes from Heraclitus. Actions are not simply formed but are always already part of a social world that means individual isolatable action is impossible. As is thinking. Thinking (Nietzsche: 1968:477)“as epistemologists conceive it, simply does not occur, it is a quite arbitrary fiction, arrived at by selecting one element from the process and eliminating all the rest, an artificial arrangement for the purpose of intelligibility.” This process of intelligibility constructs a world in which one is dependent on the process of selection: thought, like and will, becomes a tool to be used: a means-end relationship that requires the a priori separation of subject and object, thought and world, that Nietzsche so convincingly refutes. He notes (1990:54) that “the man of faith, the ‘believer’ of every sort is necessarily dependent man–such as cannot out of himself posit ends at all. The ‘believer’ does not belong to himself, he can be only a means, he haste be used, he needs someone who will use him.” In the hands of God, or secularism, agency is always placed outside yourself in the objective world that you lack. The weak believer who does not think that he wills(which is already a mistake) at least (ibid: 18) “puts a meaning into them: that is, he believes there is a will in them already (principle of “belief”).”
To change this it is not enough to attack reason (as Adorn and Horkheimer do in The Dialectic of Enlightenment ) but to attack the notion of the instincts. Instinct, while normally associated with that which is most natural, is in Nietzsche a product of discourse and habit over centuries, it is an unthinking subjectivity masquerading as the natural order of things. It is given by the law, and (Nietzsche:1990:57) “the authority of the law is established by the thesis: God gave it, the ancestors lived it.” To free habit, as we noticed earlier, requires not an attack on reason but an attack on habit, on unreflexive action: we need to liberate man from cause and effect. This task requires that man be liberated from the notion of the name. As Nietzsche (1956:20) claims:
The lordly right of giving names extends so far that one should allow oneself to conceive the origin of language itself as an expression of power on the part of the rulers: they say ‘this is this and this,’ they seal everything and event with a sound, as it were, take possession of it
This feat requires a liberation from language. Here Nietzsche is at his most powerful, for he realises that it is in the very nature of language itself that the origin of power lays. Indeed, there is strong correlation between the attack on the sovereign in Nietzsche and Foucault and Saussaurian linguistics. In both the argument relies on the non-relation between signs and what they represent, and yet the continued claim of signs to be coterminous with what they represent, taking possession of it. Against this, Nietzsche wants to liberate us from names (1990:8).
That no one is any longer made accountable, that the kind of being manifested cannot be traced to a cause prima, that the world is a unity neither as sensorium nor as “spirit,” this alone is the great liberation.
This flux of things, clearly prevents the emergence of a subject: consciousness here, and for Nietzsche’s thought as a whole has, has no predetermined pattern. What we need to fight, for Nietzsche, is the giving of the pattern, the idea that the whole is no longer whole(1974:22).
What is the sign of every literary decadence? That life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole–the whole is no longer a whole.
I.III The Grammar of the Age, or how I learned to love the Word
Life (Nietzsche: 1990:11) is a “continuous, homogenous, undivided, indivisible flowing.” For it is not the world that is simple and exact(what one could call the assigning of the world to the word: or to its lieu proper), rather through words we “are still continually misled into imagining things as being simpler than they are, separate from one another, indivisible, each existing in and for itself.” When Nietzsche writes this, he has abandoned the distinction between the apparent and the real world. There is no ideal for (ibid: 6): “with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world.” Such a world allows no notions of predestination, and no correspondence theory of truth. Anyone who speaks of such things is a liar (ibid: 38):
One must know today that a theologian, a priest, a pope does not merely err in every sentence he speaks, he lies–that he is no longer free to lie ‘innocently,’ out of ‘ignorance.’ The priest knows as well as everyone that there is no longer any ‘God,’ any ‘sinner,’ any ‘redeemer’–that ‘free will,’ ‘moral world-order’ are lies–intellectual seriousness, the profound self-overcoming of the intellect, no longer permits anyone not to know about these things.
What do we replace this met discourse with? We cannot replace it with a singular subject: a new revolutionary ideal or perfect subject, for this would be to become but another priest. Nietzsche (1968:490)argues: “the assumption of one single subject is perhaps unnecessary; perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general? . . . My hypothesis: the subject as multiplicity. . . The continual transistorizes and fleetingness of the subject.” This is precisely what Delouse echoes half a century later when he claims (1983a: 5): “production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an imminent principle.” This multiplicity, one might ask: how does one get there, and what does one do when one is multiple, when one is the Dionysian figure who Nietzsche claims (1956:45) is in constant state of becoming, who is “the nominal “I” that is always becoming and his intoxicated state sounds out the depth of Being.”
In one sense for Nietzsche this is an idle question: one cannot assume multitude is something in itself, indeed (1968:560): “that things possess a constitution in themselves quite apart from interpretation and subject
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