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mercredi, 11 octobre 2017

Wagner, Nietzsche and the Birth of Music – from the Spirit of Tragedy


Wagner, Nietzsche and the Birth of Music – from the Spirit of Tragedy

Alexander Jacob

Ex: https://manticorepress.net

One of the great misfortunes of modern aesthetic theory is the fact that, ever since Nietzsche introduced the concepts of ‘Dionysian’ music and ‘Apollonian’ art in his popular essay Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music) (1872), it has become customary among scholars and critics to consider these as quasi-normative elements of tragic drama. We may recall that Nietzsche, following Schopenhauer’s dictum that ideas are the universalia post rem;[1] music, however, gives the universalia ante rem,[2] and reality the universalia in re,[3] contended that the primordial music that is universal in expression is to be identified as ‘Dionysian’ while all artistic and dramatic representations of this universal music were merely ‘Apollonian’ forms of individuation, or of merely illusory phenomena:

through Dionysian music the individual phenomenon becomes richer and widens into a world-picture. It was a powerful victory of the non-Dionysian spirit when, in the development of the newer dithyramb, it alienated music from itself and forced it down to be the slave of appearances.[4]

But Nietzsche’s conclusion is in fact a false one, for it is only through Apollonian art that the universal can be appreciated. And the value of the latter for man is not through an insensate immersion into the realm of the Unconscious but rather through a Supra-Conscious apprehension of man’s first Fall from God and a desire to be reintegrated into the divine – as Schopenhauer himself had revealed in his discussion of tragedy in his masterwork Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Imagination) (1818/59). Indeed, Schopenhauer’s theory of tragedy is, of all the philosophical theories of tragedy that have been propounded since antiquity, the one perhaps closest to the truth – which is hardly surprising considering the ‘pessimistic’ cast of his entire philosophical system. Schopenhauer’s view of the phenomenal world as the expression of a conflict-ridden Will to Life led him to consider tragedy as

the summit of poetical art, both on account of the greatness of its effect and the difficulty of its achievement. It is very significant for our whole system, and well worthy of observation, that the end of this highest poetical achievement is the representation of the terrible side of life. The unspeakable pain, the wail of humanity, the triumph of evil, the scornful mastery of chance, and the irretrievable fall of the just and innocent, is here presented to us; and in this lies a significant hint of the nature of the world and of existence.[5]

Therefore he concluded that

The true sense of tragedy is the deeper insight that it is not his own individual sins that the hero atones for, but original sin, the crime of existence itself.

The fall that is evoked in every tragic representation is, thus, also not a fall into morality, as the Hebrew reference to the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ in Genesis 3, and Nietzsche’s entire moral philosophy following it, would have us believe, but rather the original Fall (or ‘castration’) of the primordial macroanthrophomorphic form of Ouranos called Purusha (among the Indians) or Adam Kadmon (among the Hebrews) that generated the physical cosmos.[6]

Nietzsche indeed does not  seem to be aware of the original significance of the Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo, nor of their relation to the representations of tragic drama. The essential cosmic role of Dionysus is that of the solar force of Ouranos/Helios that descends into the underworld to be revived in our universe as the sun, Apollo. This descent is among the ancient Indo-Europeans understood as a ‘castration’ of the phallus of Ouranos by Time/Chronos that is remedied by the force of Chronos’ representative in the nascent universe, Zeus, or Dionysus.[7] The solar force that Dionysus represents in the underworld is naturally rather uncontrolled in its enormous energy and is therefore represented in the Dionysian cult by the wild abandon typical of Bacchanalian rites. The aim of these rites however, as in all Indo-European religions, would have been a serious soteriological one rather than a frivolous, as in Nietzsche’s account. The followers of Dionysus were ‘enthusiasts’, ‘filled with the god’, and imitated in their ritual worship the cosmic progress of the god.

It is true that the Dionysian mysteries, much like the Indian Tantric ones, are not imbued with a sense of ‘sin’, but they are nevertheless focussed on the need to transfigure human passions into divine ones – even if it be through indulgence. The Dionysian satyr-plays are therefore a hedonistic, quasi-Tantric counterpart of the higher sacerdotal sacrifices among the Indo-Europeans, and especially of such sacrifices as the Agnicayana of the Indian brāhmans which seeks to restore the divine phallus of the castrated, or ‘fallen’ Purusha to its original cosmic force.[8]

However, it must be noted that these orgiastic celebrations of the energy that the solar force contains in the underworld did not in themselves constitute ‘tragedies’ in any form. Their ritual repesentations merely served, historically, as the source of dramatisations of tragic stories in Greece. For we know from Aristotle’s Poetics 1449ª that tragedy gradually evolved from the spoken prelude to the Dionysian dithyrambs. The  dithyramb is a choral hymn sung and danced to Dionysus in a particularly ecstatic manner. It was  comprised of male choruses (perhaps dressed as satyrs) that included men and boys.

Later, in the 6th c. B.C., when the dithyrambic prelude had developed in its scope, Thespis took the part of a character and Phrynicus introduced dialogues. Bacchylides’ surviving fragment of a dithyramb (from the 5th c. B.C.) is in the form of a dialogue between a solo singer and a chorus. Thus there arose responsorial dialogues between  solo singers and a choir. Aeschylus in the 5th c. B.C. introduced a second actor too into the play. The chorus in a dithyramb sang narrations of actions, unlike the direct speeches of actors in a drama.[9]

Tragedy emerged in this way as a distinct artistic form mainly in ancient Greece. We know that Sanskrit dramas in India did not include tragedies. According to the 10th century treatise on drama called Dasharūpa by Dhanika, Bk.III,  for instance, actions not suited for representation on the stage include murder, fights, revolts, eating, bathing, intercourse, etc. The death of a hero too can never be represented. If tragedy is not favoured by the ancient Indian drama, it is not attested in the ancient Near East either, though liturgical laments were composed at the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur (ca.2000 B.C.) marking the losses of the temples of the major Sumerian cities. In Egypt, from the 12th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (ca.1990 B.C.), there is evidence of dramatic representations of religious subjects in temples. Of these, the murder of Osiris by Seth, his dismemberment, and resuscitation may be considered the Egyptian counterpart of the Dionysian mysteries.

It is important to note that Greek tragic drama, which relied on solo speeches and choral commentaries on the action, did not include much action and certainly no violent action, which was considered too horrific to be enacted onstage and needed a Messenger to describe it to the actors. The dramatic action of a tragedy does not therefore rely on action itself, and often even shuns it. The drama unfolds only through the medium of the speeches of the various characters and choruses. That is why the power of Euripides’ monodic declamations detailing the actions as well as the reactions of the protagonists must be acknowledged as the acme of Greek tragedy rather than its nadir, as Nietzsche considered it. In Euripides (5th c. B.C.) the action was focussed on the feelings generated by the dramatic action, and even the choral commentaries receded in importance before the actor’s monody, a style of dramatic declamation that was perfected by the Roman Stoic philosopher and dramatist Seneca the Younger (1st c. A.D.), who relied mainly on Euripides’ example in the creation of his tragedies.

FNRW-li.jpgThe cause of this misunderstanding of Euripidean tragedy may be traced back to Richard Wagner’s analyses of Greek drama in his Oper und Drama (Opera and Drama)  (1851), Bk.III, Ch.3:[10]

In didactic uprightness, which was at the same time artistic dishonesty, lies the cause of the rapid decline of Greek tragedy, in which the people soon perceived that there was no intention of influencing their instinctive feeling, but merely their absolute understanding. Euripides had to suffer under the scourge of the taunts of Aristophanes for his outright disclosure of this falsehood. The fact that poetic art, by dint of adopting a more and more didactic aim, should first pass into political rhetoric, and at last become literary prose was, although an extreme consequence, the one to be naturally expected from the evolution of the intellectual out of the emotional; or, as applied to art, from the evolution of speech from melody.

Nietzsche too rails against Euripides in The Birth of Tragedy, which was in fact a paean to the music-drama of Richard Wagner. He considers Euripides a ‘democratic’ artist who propagated ‘middle-class mediocrity’ by representing tragic protagonists as ordinary rather than superheroic figures. But, as Schopenhauer had already clarified in his discussion of tragedy, it is the imperfection of human nature itself that informs the highest tragedies:

the [tragic] misfortune may be brought about by the mere position of the dramatis personæ with regard to each other, through their relations; so that there is no need either for a tremendous error or an unheard-of accident, nor yet for a character whose wickedness reaches the limits of human possibility; but characters of ordinary morality, under circumstances such as often occur, are so situated with regard to each other that their position compels them, knowingly and with their eyes open, to do each other the greatest injury, without any one of them being entirely in the wrong. This last kind of tragedy seems to me far to surpass the other two, for it shows us the greatest misfortune, not as an exception, not as something occasioned by rare circumstances or monstrous characters, but as arising easily and of itself out of the actions and characters of men, indeed almost as essential to them, and thus brings it terribly near to us. In the other two kinds we may look on the prodigious fate and the horrible wickedness as terrible powers which certainly threaten us, but only from afar, which we may very well escape without taking refuge in renunciation. But in the last kind of tragedy we see that those powers which destroy happiness and life are such that their path to us also is open at every moment; we see the greatest sufferings brought about by entanglements that our fate might also partake of, and through actions that perhaps we also are capable of performing, and so could not complain of injustice; then shuddering we feel ourselves already in the midst of hell.[11]

Although the tragic condition of man is common to every individual human being, Schopenhauer’s discussion suggests that it is only noble men whose lives are truly tragic:

Thus we see in tragedies the noblest men, after long conflict and suffering, at last renounce the ends they have so keenly followed, and all the pleasures of life for ever, or else freely and joyfully surrender life itself … they all die purified by suffering, i.e., after the will to live which was formerly in them is dead.

Nietzsche’s sustained attack on Euripidean tragedy also does not seem to have rightly understood Aristophanes’ criticism of Euripides in his play The Frogs, since Aristophanes’ denunciation of the ‘effeminate’ and ‘democratic’ style of Euripides was indeed directed at a Dionysian form of drama that contrasted with the stark ‘manly’ art of Aeschylus. The erotic aspects of Euripides’ drama were regarded by Aristophanes as a manifestation of the unbridled licentiousness of Dionysiac rituals, which exploited the androgynous character of Dionysus himself. In other words, Nietzsche’s criticism of Euripidean tragedy is in direct opposition to his admiration of what he believed to be the ‘Dionysian’ aspects of the earliest dramatic representations.

In his attack on Euripides for his ‘demotion’ of the Greek chorus below the individual speeches of the characters of the drama Nietzsche further identifies Dionysian music with the Unconscious, or the ‘dream-world’:

This demotion in the position of the chorus …. is the first step towards the destruction of the chorus, whose phases in Euripides, Agathon and the New Comedy followed with breakneck speed one after the other. Optimistic dialectic, with its syllogistic whip, drove music out of tragedy, that is, it destroyed the essence of tragedy, which can be interpreted only as a manifestation and imaginary presentation of Dionysian states, as a perceptible symbolising of music, as the dream-world of a Dionysian intoxication…

In fact there is no indication that drunken intoxication – representing Dionysian inspiration –  was the basis of tragic drama even though it may have formed part of the original ritual celebrations of the God from which dithyrambic drama arose.

Nietzsche considers Dionysian music as universal, and Apollonian art, pantomime, drama or opera, as individual, and expressive of the individual lives of the tragic personae:

In fact the relationship between music and drama is fundamentally the reverse [of the Apollonian] – the music is the essential idea of the word, and the drama is only a reflection of this idea, its isolated silhouette.

After this Apollonian presentation of the delusory ‘action’ of the drama, the Dionysian realm reasserts itself:

In the total action of the tragedy the Dionysian regains its superiority once more. Tragedy ends with a tone which never could resound from the realm of Apollonian art.

Nietzsche illustrates this section of his argument with the example of the music of Wagner’s Tristan, his fascination with which was clearly the ímpetus to the writing of The Birth of Tragedy.[12]

Primordial music is falsely interpreted by Nietzsche as being essentially rapturous, or ‘Dionysian’, and best expressed by instrumental, or ‘absolute’, music and then by choral song. Nietzsche is fundamentally averse to dramatic music – which is rather contradictory in one who claimed to be discussing the ‘birth of tragedy’. Indeed, tragedy did not arise from any Dionysian spirit of music, but rather tragic drama arose from the soteriological impulses of the Dionysiac mysteries. And tragic dramatic, or operatic, music itself arose from the sentiments incorporated within the texts of dramatic poems.


Nietzsche’s denunciation of critics too as being excessively intellectual and moralistic (‘Socratic’) and opposed to the authentically ‘aesthetic’ listener dodges the central issue of tragedy – that it is always a reminder of the imperfection of the tragic hero as well as of the viewer. This understanding is obtained through an ethical evaluation of the condition of human life in general, and not from an aesthetic judgement of the pleasure afforded to the ears or eyes by the spectacle on stage.


We should note here that Wagner’s conception of the genesis of the earliest forms of drama and music is rather more subtle than Nietzsche’s. We observe in Wagner’s writings that he identifies melody and music as the primal expression of what he calls ‘Feeling’, and words are said to have been later superimposed on these tunes in dramatic lyrics that gradually became increasingly intellectual and didactic in tone to the detriment of the expression of Feeling itself. In his Oper und Drama, Part III, Wagner detailed the manner in which the lyric developed from dance forms that impelled melodic creation:

We know, now, that the endless variety of Greek metre was produced by the inseparable and living co-operation of dance-gesture with articulate speech. (Ch.1)

And again,

The most remarkable feature of ancient lyric consists in its words and verse proceeding from tone and melody: like gestures of the body which became gradually shortened into the more measured and certain gestures of mimicry after having been, as movements of the dance, of merely general indication and only intelligible after many repetitions. (Ch.3)

Wagner understands the earliest representations of dramatic action too as those contained in folk-dances, as he declared in his essay, ‘La musique de l’avenir’ (1860):[13]

That ideal form of dance is in truth the dramatic action. It really bears precisely the same relation to the primitive dance as the symphony to the simple dance-tune. Even the primal folk-dance already expresses an action, for the most part the mutual wooing of a pair of lovers: this simple story – purely physical in its bearings – when ripened to an exposition of the inmost motives of the soul, becomes nothing other than the dramatic action.

However, the gradual intellectualisation of dramatic representation led to the decay of the emotional integrity of melodic invention:

The more the faculty of instinctive emotion became compressed into that of the arbitrary understanding and the more lyrical contents became accordingly changed from emotional to intellectual … the more evident became the removal from the literary poem of its original consistency with primitive articulate melody, which it now only continued to use, so to speak, as a mode of delivery and merely for the purpose of rendering its more callous, didactical contents as acceptable to the ancients habits of feeling as possible. (Ibid.)

While dance music was of principal importance in Greek drama, Wagner thinks that Christianity in particular sharply divorced soul from body and consequently killed the body of music (Oper und Drama, I, Ch.7). The Christian Church deprived music of its choreographic core so that music was forced to develop instead as harmony and counterpoint. In Italy, however, the Renaissance’s discovery of the operatic form of drama gave rise to an uncontrolled proliferation of melodic invention:

The downfall of this art in Italy and the contemporaneous rise of opera-melody among the Italians I can call nothing but a relapse into paganism.

Development of rhythmic melody upon the base of the other mediaeval Christian iinvention, harmony, occurred only in Germany, as notably in the works of Bach. The orchestra continued processes of polyphony that operatic song denied to the latter, for the orchestra in the opera was only a rhythmic harmonic accompaniment to song.

Wagner however does criticise even the chorales of the Reformation as lacking in rhythm, since they are dance music deprived of rhythm by ecclesiastical convention. Nietzsche, on the other hand, in his exaggerated Teutonism, confusedly identifies the choral music of the Reformation with the musical atmosphere of the Dionysiac rituals. He declares that the choral music of the Reformation recovered the

glorious, innerly healthy and age-old power which naturally only begins to stir into powerful motion at tremendous moments … Out of this abyss the German Reformation arose. In its choral music there rang out for the first time the future style of German music. Luther’s choral works sounded as profound, courageous, spiritual, as exuberantly good and tender as the first Dionysian call rising up out of the thickly growing bushes at the approach of spring.

But anyone familiar with German music of the Reformation will be aware of the musical naivety that marks the chorale hymns favoured by Luther. The rich choral writing of Bach was not derived from the melodies of the Lutheran chorales but from the general elaboration of harmony and counterpoint in the ‘Baroque’ musical forms encouraged by the Counter-Reformation.


The general preference of both Wagner and Nietzsche for polyphony as opposed to operatic monody and homophony reflects the particularly folkloric bent of German musical taste, since polyphony is originally a folk-musical tradition that grew out of communal round-songs. It was first introduced into serious church music in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the steadfast opposition of conservative popes like John XXII, who banished it from the liturgy in 1322 and lay bare its defects in his 1324 papal bull Docta sanctorum patrum (Teachings of the Holy Fathers):

Some [composers] break up their melodies with hockets or rob them of their virility with discant, three-voice music, and motets, with a dangerous element produced by certain parts sung on text in the vernacular; all these abuses have brought into disrepute the basic melodies of the Antiphonal and Gradual [the principal sections of Gregorian chant in the Mass]. These composers, knowing nothing of the true foundation upon which they must build, are ignorant of the church modes, incapable of distinguishing between them, and cause great confusion. The great number of notes in their compositions conceals from us the plainchant melody, with its simple well-regulated rises and falls that indicate the character of the church mode. These musicians run without pausing. They intoxicate the ear without satisfying it; they dramatize the text with gestures; and, instead of promoting devotion, they prevent it by creating a sensuous and indecent atmosphere. . . . Therefore, after consultation with these same brethren (the cardinals), we prohibit absolutely, for the future that anyone should do such things, or others of like nature, during the Divine Office or during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.[14]

The development of opera in Italy was due mainly to the rejection of polyphony and contrapuntal music in favor of a dramatic style of musical expression that declaimed  the  words of dramatic speeches and dialogues in recitatives that were almost sung but not fully melodic. What neither Wagner nor Nietzsche appreciated is the fact that this quasi-melodic recitative of the stile rapprensatitvo is in fact the dramatic foundation of the Italian opera of the Renaissance since it expresses all of the dramatic feelings directly, faithfully and forcefully. The ‘da capo’ arias that followed the recitatives for musical effect are not the bearers of the drama but merely the musical reflections and echoes of the dramatic recitatives.

In other words, the entire tragic action of drama rests on the narrations and emotional reactions of the characters to these narrations that are conveyed by the recitatives. The orchestra can always only be a vehicle of general feeling. While it can underscore what the verse depicts it cannot become a substitute for the latter. The first development of drama as mimetic dance and pantomime – such as the dithyramb in ancient Greece or folk-dance in most countries – is an improvement on solely orchestral music only insofar as it incorporates humans in its representations. Only theatrical plays with spoken dialogues and, more especially, operatic dramas with sung dialogues achieve the fullest expression of tragedy since they alone employ the incomparably expressive instrument of the human voice for the exposition of their tragic content. By contrast, a dramatic symphony can never approach the status of a tragic drama, even if it be interspersed, or concluded, with choral passages as, for example, in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette Symphony or Liszt’s Faust Symphony. For, the most sombre symphonic tone-poems cannot produce the full sympathy with the fate of a tragic human hero that alone leads to a recognition of the universal nature of the tragic condition of man and a subsequent desire for liberation from the phenomenal world. This recognition and this desire are indeed the essential constituents of tragedy, as they are of all true religion.


Since Italian church music was the basis of secular musical styles as well, we may briefly pause here to consider the nature of early Christian rituals. Among the Christians the sacraments themselves were considered to be ‘mysteries’, though the principal theological mysteries were those of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation (or Virgin Conception of Jesus), and the Resurrection of Christ. Of these the incarnation itself is viewed as a divine fall for the purpose of the redemption of mankind, while the resurrection is the Christian counterpart of the ascent of Apollo from the Dionysiac solar force in the underworld. We must bear in mind that even the normal ‘mass’ of the Catholic Church is a dramatic sacrifical ritual since its climax is reached in the Eucharist, when the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of the Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God.


This death and resurrection of Christ were naturally, from the earliest times, the subject of various forms of sacred music. The Gregorian chants that flourished in central and western Europe from the ninth century were monophonic songs that were used in the masses of the Roman Rite of the western Catholic Church. Gregorian chant was used also in the Passion music of the Holy Week services. Responsorial Passion settings in which the narration is chanted by a small group of the choir and refrains are sung by the whole choir were another form of passion music, as also was the Tenebrae music of the Holy Week. Alongside these Passions, oratorios involving narration and dialogues between characters in sacred dramas originated in the early 17th century in Italy. These oratorios were doubtless influenced by the ‘new music’ propagated by Giulio Caccini in his monodic and operatic works and led to the well-known Baroque oratorio-Passions of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.

One of the first musicians to discover the importance of adhering to the text of songs or dramatic poems rather than developing melodic permutations and combinations independent of the text as in polyphony was Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), who developed the first operas in Italy within the learned circle of the Florentine Academy founded by the Byzantine philosopher Gemistus Pletho (ca.1355-1454) and the Florentine banker and patron of the arts, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), under the supervision of the Neoplatonist philosopher, Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). Caccini made it clear in the Preface to his Le nuouve musiche (1602) that polyphony was totally unsuited to musical expression of poetry and that the Greek song was essentially a solo song such as was praised by Plato. He declared that he had learnt from the members of the Florentine Academy

not to value the kind of music that prevents the words from being well understood and thus spoils the sense and the form of the poetry. I refer to the kind of music that elongates a syllable here and shortens one there to accommodate the counterpoint, turning the poetry to shreds. Instead, they urged me to adhere to the manner [of composition] praised by Plato and the other philosophers who affirm that music is nothing but speech, rhythm, and harmony. According to them, the purpose of music is to penetrate the minds of others and create the marvelous effects that writers admire. In modern music, these effects could not be achieved through counterpoint. Particularly in solo singing accompanied by string instruments, not a word could be understood in the pervasive vocalises, whether on short or long syllables. Furthermore, in every type of music, the common people would applaud and shout for serious singers only [if they produced] such vocalises.[15]

Given the vulgar neglect of the words of the musical performances, Caccini declares that

In both madrigals and arias [all in monodic style] I have always tried to imitate the ideas of the words, seeking more or less expressive notes to follow the sentiments of the words. I concealed the art of counterpoint as much as I could, to make the words as graceful as possible.

Indeed, Wagner too understands the importance of poetic diction in lyrical composition:

It was only the musician’s yearning to gaze into the poet’s eye which even rendered posible this appearance of melody upon the surface of the harmonic waters. And it was only the poet’s verse which could sustain the melody upon the surface of those waters, for otherwise though giving forth a fugitive utterance, it would in default of sustenance have only fallen back again into ocean depths. (Oper und Drama, Part III, Ch.3).

Particularly significant is Wagner’s oblique commendation of what is best developed in Italian opera as the ‘stile rappresentativo’, or quasi-melodic recitatives:

There proceeds from the pure faculty of speech such a fulness of the most manifold rhythmic assertive power … that all these riches, together with that fructification of the purely musical power of man which springs from them and which is exemplified in every art-creation brought forth by the inner poetical impulse, can only be properly described as absolutely immeasurable. (Part III, Ch.2)

The orchestral accompaniments themselves are merely highlights of the verse-melody:

The vivifying central point of dramatic expression is the actor’s articulate verse-melody, towards which absolute orchestral melody is drawn as a warning preparation and away from which the ‘thought’ of the orchestral motive leads as a remembrance Part III, Ch.6)

The orchestra can also substitute for the ‘gestures’ which formed essential parts of the mimetic dance-forms of folk-dance as well as of drama:

That which is offered to sight in the constant presence and motion of that exponent of articulate verse-melody – the actor – is dramatic gesture, that which makes this clear to the sense of hearing being the orchestra, the original and necessary effectiveness of which is confined to its being the harmonic bearer of the verse-melody … from the orchestra therefore, as from music’s richly emotional and maternal bosom, the unifying bond of expression proceeds. (Ibid.)

Wagner believed that the ultimate aim of musical development was the invention of a true melodic form that would, now that it has been filtered through the understanding, revive the original Feeling at the basis of all music in a much more faithful and concentrated form:

In the course of proceeding from articulate to tonal speech we arrived at the horizontal upper surface of harmony, playing upon the mirror of which the word-phrase of the poet was reflected back again as musical melody. Now … to the means of sinking into the fullest depths of that maternal element – of sinking therein that poetic intention which is as the productive agency, besides doing this so that every atom contained in the awful chaos of those depths shall be determined into a conscious and individual announcement though in no narrowing but in an ever-widening compass. Now, in short, for the artistic progress consisting of broadening out a definite and conscious intention into an emotional faculty which, notwithstanding that it is immeasurable, shall be of certain and precise manifestation.

This advanced form of melody will be a return of feeling developed through the intellect back to the primordial font of Feeling:

Real melody … stands in relation to the original maternal articulate melody as an absolute contrast, and one which … we may refer to as a progress from understanding to feeling, or as one out of speech to melody. This is in contradistinction to the former change from feeling to understanding and melody to speech. (Part III, Ch.3)

The final aim of Wagner’s innovation is indeed melody – not by itself, as in Italian operatic arias, but as ‘symphonic melody’. While this symphonic dimension of his melodies may be considered to be merely an orchestral addition to the melodic content of Italian arias, we cannot deny the extaordinary affective power of Wagner’s melodies as a successful fulfilment of his own musical aims.

Tristan and Isolde Frederick Leighton.jpg

It is also worth noting that, unlike Nietzsche, Wagner attributes the decay of tragedy not only to the intellectualisation of dramatic prosody but also to the social circumstances in which the high taste of the nobility was replaced by the commercial impresario who only seeks profits by propagating the puerile taste of a vulgar public. He reminds his readers that earlier works of art were brought to life by the nobility who formed the public for refined forms of art:

the excellent and specially refined productions of our art already existing … the incentive to the creation of such work proceeded from the taste of those before whom it had to be performed. What we find is that this public of higher feeling and taste in its condition of most active and definite sympathy with art-production first greets our view in the period of the Renaissance … passing its life gaily in palaces or bravely in war it had exercised both eye and ear in perception of the graceful, the beautiful and even of the characteristic and energetic, and it was at its command that the works of art arose which distinguish that period as the most fortunate for art since the decay of that of Greece. (Ch.VII)

Nowadays, however,

it is the man who pays the artist for that in respect of which nobility formerly rewarded him who is the ruler of public art-taste – the man who orders the art-work for his money – the man who wants his own favorite tune varied anew for novelty – but no new theme. This ruler and orderer is the Philistine, and this Philistine is … the most dastardly outcome of our whole civilisation … It is his will to be dastardly and vulgar, and art must accommodate itself thereto. Let us hasten to get him out of our sight.

In his essay, ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik’ (Jewry in Music) (1850) Wagner points particularly to the role that the Jews have played in the commercialisation of music:

What the heroes of the arts, with untold strain consuming lief and life, have wrested from the art-fiend of two millennia of misery, to-day the Jew converts into an artbazaar.

Wagner, on the other hand, sought to restore  ‘a system in which the relation of art to public life such as once obtained in Athens should be re-established on an if possible still nobler and at any rate more durable footing’. This was the purpose underlying the treatise he published in 1849 called Kunst und Revolution (Art and Revolution).


If we turn back to Nietzsche now, we note that the Wagnerian focus on the maternal font of ‘Feeling’ is turned by Nietzsche into the realm of the ‘Dionysian’ spirit. Nietzsche follows Wagner in considering melody as the original element of musical expression:

The melody is thus the primary and universal fact, for which reason it can in itself undergo many objectifications, in several texts. It is also far more important and more essential in the naive evaluations of the people. Melody gives birth to poetry from itself, over and over again. (Die Geburt der Tragödie)

However, while Wagner sought to achieve a rearticulated melody that surpassed melodic verse, Nietzsche in Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner) (1888) finally shrank back in horror from beautiful melody:

let us slander melody! Nothing is more dangerous than a beautiful melody!

Nothing is more certain to ruin taste![16]

The reason for his fear of Wagner’s melodic achievement is that it might lead to the collapse of music under the burden of expressiveness – as indeed happened with the appearance of the atonal post-Romantic music of Schoenberg:

Richard Wagner wanted another kind of movement, — he overthrew the physiological first principle of all music before his time. It was no longer a matter of walking or dancing, — we must swim, we must hover. . . . This perhaps decides the whole matter. “Unending melody” really wants to break all the symmetry of time and strength; it actually scorns these things — Its wealth of invention resides precisely in what to an older ear sounds like rhythmic paradox and abuse. From the imitation or the prevalence of such a taste there would arise a danger for music — so great that we can imagine none greater — the complete degeneration of the feeling for rhythm, chaos in the place of rhythm. . . . The danger reaches its climax when such music cleaves ever more closely to naturalistic play-acting and pantomime, which governed by no laws of form, aim at effect and nothing more…. Expressiveness at all costs and music a servant, a slave to attitudes — this is the end. . . .

Nietzsche’s insistence on rhythm is related to his preference for dance music, which he understands in the spirit of Dionysian or Bacchanalian choreography. However, since he does not intuit the religious character of Dionysian ritual as well as of the original Greek tragedies, we  notice that Nietzsche’s understanding of the dance-forms of the Dionysiac mysteries is also rather deficient. While Wagner focussed on ‘gesture’ in early drama, and viewed the dance as the expression of simple dramatic actions, Nietzsche’s wild appeals to dance are more suggestive of modern ‘abstract’ dance. Thus it has been rightly maintained by Georges Liébert that Nietzsche spoke in his writings on tragedy and operatic music not about opera at all but about the ballet of composers like Ravel and Stravinsky.[17] In ‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’ (An Attempt at Self-Criticism) (1886) – quoting from his own Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-85) and comically identifying Dionysus with Zarathustra – Nietzsche even exhorts the reader to

Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And for my sake don’t forget your legs as well! Raise up your legs, you fine dancers, and better yet, stand on your heads!

Any writer who imagines the Iranian religious reformer Zoroaster as a ‘Dionysian’ priest proclaiming the above message to his listeners can hardly be considered an authority on either ancient religion or drama.


The real aim of Nietzsche’s parody of Zoroastrianism, as well as of Dionysiac religion, is of course his urge to remove moralism and all discussion of ‘good and evil’ from public discourse. To this end Wagner’s rejection of intellectualism in Euripides is transformed by Nietzsche into a single-minded attack on ‘moralism’.and ‘morality’.itself. But tragedy, as we have noted above, is in the nature of things moral. And Sophocles, whom Nietzsche admires above Euripides, was not more mindless of the gods than the latter. Even a brief glance at the final Chorus in Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ will make this clear:

Of happiness the chiefest part Is a wise heart: And to defraud the gods in aught with peril’s fraught. Swelling words of high-flown might mightily the gods do smite. Chastisement for errors past Wisdom brings to age at last.[18]

The ulterior motive behind Nietzsche’s rejection of moralism is obviously his larger goal of eliminating Christianity from Europe,

Christianity as the most excessively thorough elaboration of a moralistic theme which humanity up to this point has had available to listen to. To tell the truth, there is nothing which stands in greater opposition to the purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world, as it is taught in this book, than Christian doctrine, which is and wishes to be merely moralistic and which, with its absolute standards, beginning, for example, with its truthfulness of God, relegates art, every art, to the realm of lies — in other words, which denies art, condemns it, and passes sentence on it.


Nietzsche indeed ignores the fact that it was the Church that created the first examples of modern tragic music, based on the ‘mysteries’ of the Christ story, in the West during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Florentine opera that flourished during the Renaissance was also closer to the original Greek drama that both Wagner and Nietzsche wished to emulate than the German music of the time insofar as the focus on the musical quality of poetic declamation was perfected only in Renaissance Italy and in the Italian operatic tradition that followed from it. The monodic music that was championed by the first Italian operatic composers meant the rejection of polyphonic distractions for a concentrated attention on the texts of the dramas. For the intellectual understanding of the essentially tragic condition of man the text of the play is indeed indispensable, since it is the text of a tragic drama that – through its redevelopment of archetypal myths and histories – serves to remind us of the essential distress of the human condition. And a dramatic focus on the tragic condition of the hero as expressed in the text can be achieved only through poetic declamation, or its heightened musical counterparts – quasi-melodic recitatives and monodies.

Thus, while the maintenance of a more general mood of mourning, and of longing for wholeness, can be accomplished by both instrumental and vocal means, the painful conflicts of the drama can be expressed fully only by vocal recitatives and, occasionally, also by choral refrains. Indeed, it may even be said that only the vocal declamations of actors in a tragedy have the capacity of recalling to the listener the universal dimension of tragedy whereas purely instrumental, or ‘absolute’, music can arouse in him a heightened consciousness of  only his own personal losses.


Tragedy, also, has not declined because of its moral content but through the democratic pandering to the vulgar tastes of the audiences. Opera seria, or tragic opera, which developed from the model of the Greek tragedies, did not decline through the Italian delight in melodious arias but through the lack of interest – among an increasingly vulgar public – in the intensely moving recititatives that constituted the declamatory core of these tragic music dramas. We see also from Nietzsche’s later criticisms of Wagner’s music that, despite the wondrous success of Wagner’s symphonic melodic elaboration of the Italian arias, the musical development that he represented was too easily capable of degeneration in the hands of lesser musicians than himself.

The tragic effects of opera seria are produced by reminders, necessarily ethical, and necessarily vocal, of the tragic condition of humanity in general. The latter is not located vaguely in a subconscious Dionysian spirit, as uncontrolled energy, but in the subjective perception of this condition by the individual viewer who sympathises with the tragic protagonists through what Aristotle called ‘pity and fear’.

The essential feeling of all tragic drama is indeed one of loss. This is not a sense of personal loss, but an awakening of the awareness of the first Fall of man, from God – as Schopenhauer had perceptively pointed out. And this fatal Fall can only be overcome through an intellectual as well as emotional apperception of it and a concomitant longing to regain the divine. These feelings are most effectively produced in the realm of art by tragic drama and opera. Whatever the course of Dionysiac or Bacchanalian rituals may have been, the tragic dramas and operas that evolved from them are thus necessarily infused with moral resonances. All tragedy – ancient Greek as well as modern – is in this sense fundamentally moral because it is fundamentally religious.

[1] universals after the fact

[2] universals before the fact

[3] universals in the fact

[4] The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, tr. Ian Johnston.

[5] Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818-59), III, 51, tr. K.B. Haldane and  J. Kemp..

[6] For a full discussion of the Purusha mythology, see A. Jacob, Ātman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2005 and Brahman: A Study of the Solar Rituals of the Indo-Europeans, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2012.

[7] Dionysus, according to Nonnos, is the ‘second Zeus’ (see Nonnos, Dionysiaca, 10, 298). The ‘first Zeus’ is Zeus Aitherios, who is identical to Chronos (see Cicero, De Natura Deorum, III,21).

[8] See A. Jacob, ‘Reviving Adam: The Sacrificial Rituals of the Indo-Āryans and the Early Christians’, Manticore Press.

[9] See Plato, Laws, III, 700b-e, Republic, III, 394b-c.

[10] All citations from Richard Wagner’s works are from Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, tr. W.A. Ellis.

[11] A. Schopenhauer, ibid.

[12] In fact, Nietzsche himself was later so embarrassed of this essay that he wrote an appendix to it called ‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’ (An Attempt at Self-Criticism) (1886).

[13] The German translation of this essay was published in 1861as Zukunftsmusik.

[14] See Corpus iuris canonici, 1879, Vol. I, pp. 1256–1257.

[15] ‘Extracts from Introduction to Le nuove musice (1602)’, tr. Zachariah Victor.

[16] ‘The Case of Wagner’, tr. A.M. Ludovici.

[17] See G. Liébert, Nietzsche and Music, (tr. D. Pellauer and G. Parkes), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,  p.82.

[18] Antigone, tr. F. Storr.

dimanche, 07 mai 2017

Réponses de l'écrivain Mike Kasprzak au questionnaire de la Nietzsche académie


Réponses de l'écrivain Mike Kasprzak au questionnaire de la Nietzsche académie

Mike Kasprzak est l'auteur du roman d'inspiration nietzschéenne "En guerre dès le matin" aux éditions 5 sens (https://catalogue.5senseditions.ch/fr/fiction-48/101-en-...

Ex: http://nietzscheacademie.over-blog.com

Nietzsche académie - Quelle importance a Nietzsche pour vous ?

Mike Kasprzak - Nietzsche a été un révélateur. J'ai découvert Nietzsche vers la vingtaine, et j'ai été alors plein d'interrogations. Il y avait en moi énormément de germes d'idées qui ne trouvaient pas de réponse dans le monde extérieur. Qui ne trouvaient pas d'écho. Qui étaient en dissonance complète avec ce que je pouvais observer. Et j'ai découvert Nietzsche. Il a alors été ce révélateur. Voire même plus, un confirmateur, pour ne pas dire un affirmateur. Il a été la confirmation, l'alibi à ces interrogations. Non je me trompais pas. J'étais simplement en dehors du monde, de ce monde, et je ne le savais pas. Lire Nietzsche m'a confirmé dans mes idées. Pour revenir à l'auteur en lui même, philosophiquement, Nietzsche a pour moi une importance fondamentale par le fait qu'il est un est des philosophes les plus pragmatiques. Et la philosophie se doit d'être pragmatique, elle doit apporter des réponses directes et concrètes à la vie, la condition humaine, et Nietzsche est sans aucun doute celui qui s'en approche le plus.

N.A. - Être nietzschéen qu'est-ce que cela veut dire ?

M.K. - Bien que le terme « nietzschéen » soit bien souvent décrié, on peut tout de même essayer de lui en donner une définition. Être nietzschéen signifie être en accord avec les préceptes nietzschéens, et, bien que l'on qualifie souvent Nietzsche d’anti-système, en analysant sa philosophie, on peut extraire quelque chose de systématique en elle. Ce système c'est avant tout la déconstruction des mythes, des idoles. La dispersion des mensonges et des illusions. La philosophie nietzschéenne agit avant tout comme un prisme, un prisme qui disperse la lumière blanche pour faire apparaître l'ensemble du spectre visible. Il en est de même avec les faits, les interprétations, les morales. Être nietzschéen c'est lire les faits, les actes, à travers un prisme. La lumière du réel n'est plus simplement blanche, opaque, confuse, elle nous apparaît distincte, discrète, sincère, identifiable et démystifiée. Être nietzschéen, signifie donc, en partie, savoir observer le réel dans tout sa crudité. C'est observer les entrailles du réel. Pour savoir ce que cela veut dire, pour savoir quels sont ces mensonges, ces illusions, il faut lire Nietzsche lui-même.


N.A. - Quel livre de Nietzsche recommanderiez-vous ?

M.K. - Pour une introduction à Nietzsche, je dirais « Crépuscule des idoles », qui est accessible, condensé, et fulgurant. Une bonne entrée en la matière. De la dynamite. Sinon pour une étude plus en profondeur, je pense que le duo « Généalogie de la morale » et « Par delà bien et mal » sont des lectures indispensables. Je garde « Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra » pour les lecteurs assidus, je ne pense pas qu'il soit recommandable à une personne qui souhaite découvrir Nietzsche. Certains livres pré-Zarathoustra peuvent aussi être une entrée en matière intéressante, comme Le Gai Savoir ou Aurore.

N.A. - Le nietzschéisme est-il de droite ou de gauche ?

M.K. - Si l'on considère la droite et la gauche actuelle française, ni l'un ni l'autre. Malgré tout, si l'on veut essayer de placer Nietzsche sur l'échiquier politique, ce qui est certain c'est que Nietzsche ne serait pas à gauche. Son refus de la démocratie, de l'égalité imposée à tous les hommes, entre autre, font qu'il ne peut pas être à gauche. Cela dit il n'est pas non plus fondamentalement à droite, en précisant en peu plus, Nietzsche serait plutôt du côté des anarchistes de droite, voir même des anarchistes individualistes. La question reste compliquée mais ce qui est sûr c'est qu'il n'est pas de gauche.

N.A. - Quels auteurs sont à vos yeux nietzschéens ?

M.K. - On retrouve du Nietzsche (pour tout un tas de raisons), chez : Hamsun, notamment avec Faim et Mystères, Strindberg, avec Au bord de la vaste mer, Dostoïevski par moments (voir le personnage de Raskolonikov), Calaferte, Hemingway par moment, Julius Evola, Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle, Fante et Bukowski également, et j'en oublie sûrement beaucoup.

N.A. - Pourriez-vous donner une définition du surhomme ?

M.K. - Question difficile tant cette notion a été peu abordée par Nietzsche, mais qui lui confère une espèce de mythe, de place centrale, alors que le surhomme n'est finalement que la pointe de l'iceberg de la philosophie nietzschéenne. Le surhomme c'est premièrement, comme l'indique son article défini « le », l'homme seul. Non pas forcément seul socialement, mais seul face à ses choix, face à ses actes, faces à ses responsabilités et face à son destin. Ensuite le surhomme, c'est l'homme qui affirme,l'homme qui dit oui. C'est un homme qui agit, qui recherche ce que Nietzsche nommait la Volonté de puissance, qui s'en abreuve et s'en épanouit. C'est aussi le sens de la Terre, et en cela le sens de la Vie, c'est l'homme qui accepte sa condition d'être mortel, son destin de mortel, et la souffrance l'accompagnant. C'est l'homme qui finalement accepte de se dire que tout lui est favorable. Le bon comme le mauvais. C'est finalement un homme qui aime et qui aime aimer.

N.A. - Votre citation favorite de Nietzsche ?

M.K. - « Plus nous nous élevons et plus nous paraissons petits à ceux qui ne savent pas voler. » Aurore.

jeudi, 23 février 2017

Zur Nietzsche-Rezeption Arthur Moeller van den Brucks


Armin Thomas Müller: Zur Nietzsche-Rezeption Arthur Moeller van den Brucks

Vortrag an der Universität Freiburg, Februar 2017

dimanche, 20 novembre 2016

Nietzsche et l’hyperphysique de la morale


Nietzsche et l’hyperphysique de la morale

L’interrogation sur la morale est au cœur de la pensée de Nietzsche. « Je descendis en profondeur, je taraudais la base… je commençais à saper la confiance en la morale » (Aurore). La démarche de Nietzsche est une démarche de soupçon sur le pourquoi des choses. En conséquence, Nietzsche annonce qu’il faut de méfier à la fois de la morale et des moralistes. « J’ai choisi le mot d’immoraliste comme signe distinctif ou comme distinction », écrit-il dans Ecce homo.

Le rapport à la morale de Nietzsche va toutefois bien au-delà de la dimension de provocation, d’où la nécessité d’une généalogie de Nietzsche quant à la question morale. Le propos du philosophe André  Stanguennec consiste d’abord en cela : retracer l’apparition et les remaniements du thème de la morale chez Nietzsche. Il vise ensuite à étudier son traitement dans la Généalogie de la morale, cette œuvre étant vue comme l’unification de la théorie du problème moral chez Nietzsche Enfin, la troisième partie du travail de Stanguennec est consacrée à des mises en perspectives critiques d’origines diverses (Kant, Fichte, une certaine philosophie matérialiste – celle d’Yvon Quiniou), critiques présentées sous une forme dialogique.

Il faut donc effectuer un retour sur l’approche que fait Nietzsche de la morale. Nietzsche s’oppose d’abord à Socrate et à ses trois idées : 1) le savoir est condition de la vertu, 2) on ne pêche que par ignorance, 3) il est possible de chasser le mal du réel. Comment Nietzsche voit-il la question de la morale ? Sous l’angle du perspectivisme, « condition fondamentale de toute vie » (Aurore), perspectivisme d’abord humain, puis supra-humain. Il s’agit en d’autres termes de mettre en perspective les actions de chacun par rapport à son itinéraire, à ses valeurs, et cela sans référence à une morale transcendante, ni à une origine commune de celle-ci quels que soient les hommes.

aurorefn.jpgRien n’est responsabilité et tout est innocence pour Nietzsche (Humain, trop humain). Il reste la probité c’est-à-dire la rigueur et l’exigence vis-à-vis de soi-même. Quand Nietzsche dit qu’il n’y a pas de responsabilité des actes humains, en quel sens peut-on le comprendre ? En ce sens que : c’est le motif le plus fort en nous qui décide pour nous. Nous sommes agis par ce qui s’impose à nous en dernière instance : soit une force qui nous dépasse (ainsi la force de la peur qui nous fait fuir), soit une force qui nous emporte (ainsi la force de faire face conformément à l’idée que nous avons de nous-mêmes). Mais dans les deux cas, il n’y a pas de responsabilité à proprement parler.

La notion de responsabilité de l’individu est rejetée par Nietzsche pour deux raisons. L’une est qu’il ne s’agit pas pour lui de se référer à l’individu en soi. La seconde raison est que la notion de responsabilité supposerait l’univocité du sens de nos actions – univocité à laquelle Nietzsche ne croit pas. Quand Nietzsche oppose le « divisé » à « l’indivisé » qu’est l’individu (Aurore), il plaide pour un individu acceptant la division même de son être. Et c’est pour cet être et pour lui seul que se pose la question de la morale. Cette question de la morale prend ainsi sens à partir de la mort du dieu moral, le dieu des apparences, le surplombant (le Père), à partir de la mort du dieu d’amour (le Fils), et à partir de la mort du dieu devenu homme (le dieu modeste et humanisé qu’est aussi le Fils).

Loin d’être à l’origine des comportements « vertueux », la morale est pour Nietzsche une interprétation de ceux-ci a posteriori. Et une interprétation parmi d’autres. En ce sens, pour Nietzsche, cette interprétation est toujours fausse parce qu’incomplète. L’interprétation morale a posteriori nie ce qui s’est incarné dans l’acte – le flux de forces, l’énergie, la mise en perspective de soi (toujours le perspectivisme). La morale de l’intention ne dit jamais avec probité ce qui vraiment a fait advenir les actes. C’est pourquoi il y a selon Nietzsche un fondement « amoral » à une autre morale possible et souhaitable selon lui. Quelle est-elle ? Une morale en un sens plus restreint, une morale plus tranchante, avec laquelle on ne peut biaiser. « Ce qui fait le caractère essentiel et inappréciable de toute morale, répétera Nietzsche dans Par-delà bien et mal, c’est d’être une longue contrainte … c’est là que se trouve la “ nature ” et le “ naturel ” et non pas dans le laisser-aller » (paragraphe 188).

La morale est la théorie du déplacement des jouissances du monde. Qu’est-ce qui ordonne le passage d’une jouissance à une autre ? Quelle structure ? C’est là qu’est la morale selon Nietzsche, en un sens donc, à la fois étroit et ambitieux. Tout le reste est conséquence de ce questionnement ainsi formulé. Nietzsche peut être pacifiste ou belliciste en fonction de ce qui permet le mieux l’apparition d’un type humain supérieur. Il peut être pour un certain type de sélection si elle permet l’apparition d’un type d’homme supérieur, mais contre la forme actuelle du progrès donc de la sélection contemporaine : « Le progrès n’est qu’une idée moderne, donc une idée fausse », écrit Nietzsche (Antéchrist).

S’il y a une morale pour Nietzsche, elle consiste donc, exactement et strictement, à remonter aux origines des actes humains. Il faut comprendre que « le corps est une grande raison » (Zarathoustra). Il faut aussi enregistrer qu’il y a la vraie morale (c’est-à-dire l’éducation d’une contrainte par la contrainte) de ceux qui savent « digérer le réel » et la fausse morale-alibi des autres. « Un homme fort et réussi digère ses expériences vécues (faits, méfaits compris) comme il digère ses repas, même s’il doit avaler de durs morceaux » (in Généalogie de la morale). Le vouloir-lion ne se résume à aucune morale, aucun « tu dois ».

L’homme-lion ne refuse pas la douleur, à la manière de l’épicurien. Ce serait là vouloir un bouddhisme européen, une Chine européenne, une Europe devenue « Petite Chine ». L’homme-lion ne recherche pas non plus à tout prix le plaisir, à la manière du gourmand tel Calliclès (qui ne se réduit bien sûr pas à cette dimension et est notamment le fondateur de la généalogie de la morale et du droit).

L’homme-lion n’est ni masochiste (et donc certainement pas chrétien) ni hédoniste (d’où l’écart dans lequel se trouve Michel Onfray quand il défend Nietzsche au nom, à la fois, du matérialisme et de l’hédonisme). En d’autres termes, pour Nietzsche, tout « oui » à une joie est aussi un « oui » à une peine (cf. « Le chant du marcheur de nuit », in Zarathoustra, IV, paragraphe 10). « Toutes choses sont enchaînées, enchevêtrées, éprises. »

Lunatic Asylum Nietzsche by shamantrixx.jpg

La morale de Nietzsche ne consiste jamais à représenter quelque chose et surtout pas l’esthétique du sublime qu’il attribue à Kant et à Fichte. Elle consiste à présenter, à affirmer, à produire. Elle est métaphorique. André Stanguennec le montre bien : si l’anti-nihilisme de Nietzsche  est clair et net, son rapport au bouddhisme est ambivalent : sa conception du Moi comme illusion, et illusion à tenir à distance de soi-même plaît à Nietzsche. Et dans le même temps il perçoit fort bien comment un bouddhisme « épuré » psycho-physiologiquement (cf. A. Stanguennec, p. 277) pourrait rendre « vivable » le nihilisme – et même –, car Nietzsche mène toujours une analyse biface du réel – circonscrire ce nihilisme à un espace et à une population tels que d’autres horizons s’ouvrent au(x) surhomme(s). Le nihilisme servirait alors stratégiquement de bénéfique abcès de fixation à la médiocrité.

Cette nouvelle morale de Nietzsche est donc tout le contraire d’un « bouddhisme européen » (au sens de « européanisé ») consistant à « ne pas souffrir », et à « se garder » (en bonne santé). La grande santé n’est en effet pas la bonne santé. Elle est la santé toujours en conquête d’elle-même et en péril de n’être assez grande. Le bouddhisme européen est donc une fausse solution.

L’alternative n’est pas entre bouddhisme et hédonisme. La morale de Nietzsche n’est pas non plus le finalisme, qui postule qu’il faudrait se conformer à un sens déjà-là. C’est à l’homme, selon Nietzsche, de donner une valuation – une valeur dans une hiérarchie de valeurs – aux choses. Et ces valeurs sont conditionnées par leur utilité sociale. À quoi servent-elles ? Que légitiment-elles ? Voilà les questions que pose et se pose Nietzsche Ne le cachons pas : il existe un risque, au nom d’une vision « réalitaire », au nom d’une philosophie du soupçon, de croire et faire croire que l’homme n’a que des rapports d’instrumentalisation avec ce qu’il proclame comme « ayant de la valeur » pour lui. Des rapports purement stratégiques avec les valeurs : les valeurs de sa stratégie et non la stratégie de ses valeurs. « Nietzsche concède donc, écrit en ce sens André Stanguennec, qu’une part non négligeable de vérité a été découverte dans la perspective sociologique et utilitariste sur la morale » (p. 225).

Deux composantes forment la morale de Nietzsche : surmonter la compassion, surmonter le ressentiment. Il n’y a pour Nietzsche  jamais de fondement de la morale mais toujours une perspective. Cette perspective est ce qui permet au fort de rester fort. Il s’ensuit que ce qui met en perspective la morale de chacun se distribue selon Nietzsche en deux registres : morale des faibles et  morale des forts. Le terme « morale » n’est au demeurant pas le meilleur. Il s’agit – et le mot dit bien la brutalité dont il est question – d’un fonctionnement. Morale des faibles : elle se détermine par rapport à l’autre; le jugement (attendu et redouté en même temps) des autres précède l’action qui n’est qu’une réaction. Morale des forts : le sentiment de soi prévaut sur le sentiment de l’autre ou des autres; l’action s’en déduit, le jugement – qui est un diagnostic en tout état de cause sans repentir – intervient après l’action. Pour le fort, il ne saurait y avoir de faute puisqu’il ne saurait y avoir de dette vis-à-vis d’autrui. Il peut juste y avoir un déficit du surmontement de soi par soi, c’est-à-dire une mise en défaut de la volonté de puissance.

Ce qui est moral pour Nietzsche c’est de vouloir la multiplicité infinie des perspectives. Nietzsche s’oppose donc aux philosophes ascétiques, adeptes d’une volonté de puissance à l’envers, et dont le mot d’ordre est de « vouloir le rien » (attention : la volonté de néant des ascétiques ne se confond pas avec le bouddhisme, volonté du néant de la volonté – « ne rien vouloir »). Ensuite, contrairement à Kant, Nietzsche refuse la distinction entre l’apparence des choses et les choses en soi. Pour Nietzsche, la référence de la morale, c’est le monde comme totalité inconditionnée, totalité ni surplombante ni substantielle mais parcourue par les volontés de puissance qui sont comme les flux du vivant.

friedrich_nietzsche_by_gpr117.jpgNietzsche tente de dépasser la question du choix entre l’infinité ou la finitude du monde. Il tente de la dépasser par un pari sur la joie et sur la jubilation. C’est en quelque sorte la finitude du monde  corrigée par l’infinité des désirs et des volontés de puissance. La physique de Nietzsche est peut-être ainsi non pas une métaphysique – ce qui est l’hypothèse et la critique de Heidegger – mais une hyperphysique.

Cette hyperphysique nietzschéenne du monde consiste en l’impossibilité d’une morale du « moi ». Le « moi » renvoie à l’idée d’un dieu unique qui serait le créateur du « moi » comme sujet. Or, Nietzsche substitue au « moi » un « soi » comme « grande raison » du corps (Zarathoustra). Le dernier mot de la morale est alors la même chose que la vision de soi acceptée comme ultime. Nietzsche nous délivre sa vision : « Je ne veux pas être un saint … plutôt un pitre » (Ecce homo). Toutefois c’est une saillie marginale que cette remarque de Nietzsche. Ce qui est bien pour Nietzsche, c’est d’être soi, c’est d’approfondir non sa différence aux autres, mais son ipséité, c’est se référer non aux autres mais à soi. Nietzsche rejoint Fichte quand celui-ci précise : « Ce que l’on choisit comme philosophie dépend ainsi de l’homme que l’on est » (Première introduction à la doctrine de la science, 1797).

Ainsi, il n’y a pas pour Nietzsche de vrai choix possible d’une philosophie ou d’une morale : « Nos pensées jaillissent de nous-mêmes aussi nécessairement qu’un arbre porte ses fruits » (Généalogie de la morale, avant-propos). S’il n’y a pas de vrai choix, il n’y a pas pour autant de transparence. Nietzsche affirme : « Nous restons nécessairement étrangers à nous-mêmes, nous ne nous comprenons pas, nous ne pouvons faire autrement que de nous prendre pour autre chose que ce que nous sommes » (Généalogie de la morale). Étrange platonisme inversé que celui que développe Nietzsche. Car dans sa perspective, notre possibilité d’être, et notre force d’être elle-même, repose sur l’acceptation et même sur le pari de notre inauthenticité, de notre être-devenir « à côté de nous-mêmes ». Et c’est un autre problème, au-delà du travail de Stanguennec, que de savoir si cette position est tenable.

lundi, 23 mai 2016



Françoise Bonardel nous parle de Nietzsche en tant que disciple de Dionysos, évoque les similitudes de la philosophie de Nietzsche avec la démarche alchimique, et l'actualité de sa vision dionysiaque du monde. Je m'aventurerais à dire qu'on a aussi parlé, ici, en quelque sorte, de la possibilité d'une gnose dionysiaque.

Site de Françoise Bonardel : http://www.francoise-bonardel.com

Blog de Pierre Kerroc'h : http://www.vivezentransemutants.com

Facebook : Pierre Kerroc'h

samedi, 14 mai 2016

Nietzsche: The Physician of Culture


Gwendolyn Taunton

Ex: https://sidneytrads.com

Nietzsche: The Physician of Culture

Do not be afraid of the stream of things: this stream turns back on itself: it runs away from itself not only twice. Every ‘it was’ becomes again an ‘it is.’ The past bites everything future in the tail.
– Friedrich Nietzsche.

During March 1873, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a letter to Erwin Rohde, telling Rhode that he was thinking of naming a book The Philosopher as the Physician of Culture.1 In regard to this statement there can be little doubt that Nietzsche believed his work would heal some of the ailments afflicting Western culture. On the surface Nietzsche’s work is often deeply critical of both religion and politics, so the cultural impact of his philosophy is not always immediately perceptible. Nonetheless, Nietzsche intended to have an effect which would drastically alter the nature of civilization, and this is why he referred to the philosopher as being the ‘physician of culture’.

Culture provides a mechanism for common interests and objectives that can tie a civilization together. The historical methods of unifying the nation were different – people could easily be united through shared ethnicity, tradition, and religion. In the contemporary West however these techniques are no longer feasible. The ethnic composition of a modern democracy is divided into several nationalities, tradition has been replaced by legislative procedure, and religion abandoned almost entirely. Under such conditions, culture is the most viable tool with which to cultivate national sentiment and communal pride in a civilization.


The idea of culture as a defining characteristic of the nation is not unique to Nietzsche. It is also found in the ideas of Johann Gottfried von Herder who proposed that there was a “popular spirit” or Volksgeist at the core of nationalism.2 What neither Herder nor Nietzsche expected however, was that the creation of cultural works in the West would be severely impaired by a heavily production based ‘worker’ society. This production/worker society is a hybrid of both capitalism and socialism, and has its roots in the revolt of the bourgeoisie, as Nicholas Birns relates here: “The valorization of labor, originally upheld by the bourgeoisie as a reaction to the disinterested and therefore ‘unproductive’ nobility provided the first substitute for identity”.3 As a consequence of this modern democracies, by embracing capitalism and the ‘valorization of the worker’, have created a nation which is no longer capable of generating authentic culture. The necessity of full time employment for both men and women in a capitalist worker/production society, requires that in order to live at even a level of basic subsistence, the prospect of any pursuits capable of generating culture are instantly negated. Achievements in the arts, humanities, or any other academic area capable of creating cultural values, is likewise denigrated to such an extent that even the worker in factory is now held in higher esteem, and those who do attempt to make cultural achievements to further society receive nothing but lowly paid employment in the hospitality industry. The final culmination of this leaves all cultural efforts stillborn, the ramifications of which, though subtle, will one day become deadly as modern society fractures into several opposing groups, none of whom will profess loyalty to the community, nation, or civilization. By abandoning the cultural aspects of the nation, the heart of a civilization corrodes, and entropy spreads slowly to poison the entire political system.

This leaves the modern nation with a very real corundum – what constitutes national identity in a modern multicultural society where tradition and religion have been displaced? And furthermore, can it even be achieved without those who used to create culture, such as the artists and academics in the humanities?

Birns also raises this question when he states that, “Contemporary ‘nationalism’ might well be founded on a political ideal of State and citizenship, it would nevertheless be a mistake to believe that abstract political values are sufficient to create a common identity and, especially that they would suffice to convince their members to accept the sacrifices they sometimes require”.4 Even the very liberal John Stuart Mill, writes that democracy cannot function in a pluralistic society, saying that “Democratic power belongs to the people, but only if the people are united.”5

These questions surrounding culture, community, nation, and even civilization itself therefore have to be based on personal identity, which philosophers such as Heidegger have defined as “Being”. This includes self-awareness of identity as an individual expression of autonomy, as well as the state defined Being. Being is an individual expression of culture, and individual Being is a reflection of the values of the civilization. One cannot profess their loyalty to a government if it is alienated from the community, and as a consequence the community will not make any sacrifices on behalf of the nation, because they have become estranged from the government. A shared identity with the people therefore remains a fundamental factor in the process of ‘good government’ and is the most basic foundation for any genuine attempt to forge a national identity. It is the duty of a government to provide its citizens with a real sense of Being and identity within the community. Culture is not merely the byproduct of a successful nation; it is the mandatory requirement for building a great civilization, and it is equally as necessary for individual Being.

fn3h.jpgNietzsche also espouses this sentiment in The Birth of Tragedy where he describes culture as the “most basic foundation of the life of a people”.6 The modern nation however has become increasingly complex and the more it grows, the weaker the ties to the people and the concept of Being in the nation becomes. Familiarity is essential in creating communal bonds, but the very size of the nation renders this difficult, and micro-communities are therefore formed which ultimately serve to de-stabilize the larger power structure of the government. This is not only bad for the nation, but also for those who govern the nation, because it creates a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and this perceived disparity dissolves the foundation of collective identity within the nation. As such, the elected representatives of modern democracies immediately find themselves juxtaposed with a large group of disgruntled citizens who have no true loyalty to the nation, and are instead controlled by purely by legislative force alone. In the worst case scenario, this leads to both ressentiment and revolution.

Ressentiment is another key concept in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Ressentiment is a form of resentment, arising from envy, where a mass of those who believe themselves to be oppressed attempt to reform the social structure in their own interests, overthrowing those who are identified as the governing elite. As R. Jay Wallace explains, “Ressentiment becomes creative and gives birth to values when the tensions that attend it lead the powerless to adopt and internalize a wholly new evaluative framework.”7 Ressentiment is the mother of all revolutions, and all political powers should err on the side of caution when the chasm between the powerful and the powerless yawns dangerously wide. Therefore, far from endorsing oppressive regimes, Michael Ure informs us that Nietzsche “shares with the Hellenistic schools the belief that the central motivation for philosophizing is the urgency of human suffering and that the goal of philosophy is human flourishing, or eudaimonia”.8

Not only did Nietzsche draw inspiration from Hellenic philosophy, he was also heavily influenced by mythology. It may be difficult to reconcile Nietzsche’s vehement attacks on Christianity with this seemingly incongruous interest in the archaic religions of Greece, but nonetheless Friedrich Nietzsche was uncontestably influenced by Greek mythology. The key to understanding this contradiction in his philosophy can once again be explained by his use of the phrase the “philosopher as the physician of culture”. Nietzsche interprets mythology as a formula of symbols. These are not literal truths, and therefore are not a contradiction in his writing because the symbols found in mythology relate to insights into human behavior and culture. This is because it does not require religious belief. It is in this manner that Nietzsche makes use of Dionysus and Apollo. Tracy B. Strong reiterates this saying that, “Nietzsche’s appeal to the Dionysian does not refer to an attempt to go back to something that lies under Greek life or the origins of that which is Greek but, rather, to more new developments that might serve in the transformation of the older Apollonian world.”9 Dionysus therefore links the old traditions to a new culture envisioned by Nietzsche. Accordingly, myth becomes a powerful weapon for the preservation of culture, because unlike religion, belief in the literal truth of myth is not required, just a concession that it is part of a shared history and a testament to the enduring value of culture, which conveys its experiences from antiquity into modern times. As such, myths become a proclamation of the grandeur of one’s culture and “whatever their own particular political characteristics might have been, all nations have always resorted to national myths”, as Birns tells us.10

Nietzsche’s own use of myth is exceedingly complex and multi-layered, designed with the specific goal of reinvigorating the waning power of culture in the West, in a manner that is not dependent on the whims of political parties or organizations. This begins with his famous Apollonian/Dionysian dyad. The conception of this idea is not purely Nietzsche’s because traces of it can be found in earlier Germanic authors. Interest in these two gods was prolific before Nietzsche for as Max Baeumer remarks,

The tradition of Dionysus and the Dionysian in German literature from Hamann and Herder to Nietzsche — as it has been set forth for the first time from aesthetic manifestoes, from literary works, and from what today are obscure works of natural philosophy and mythology — bears eloquent witness to the natural-mystical and ecstatic stance of German Romanticists which reached its final culmination in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche.11

Other notable influences include J. J. Bachofen and Georg Friedrich Creuzer. Although interested in Creuzer, Nietzsche only mentioned him once in writing, “during his early Basel lectures (1870-71)”.12 Bachofen’s influence is more obvious and his contrast between Apollo and Demeter is an obvious analogy with Nietzsche’s own Apollo/Dionysus. Changing Demeter to Dionysus was a deliberate correction on Nietzsche’s part, because Hellenic myths and rituals from Delphi indicate that the two gods were often worshipped in tandem, with one as the mirror of the other. Thus, to Nietzsche and the Hellenes, Bachofen’s opposition of the Sun/Sky/Male to Lunar/Earth/Female was discounted as a false dichotomy – instead the interpretation was more complex – it occurred between two solar male gods connected with the creative process of higher cognition.

The most obvious figure to study in relation to this is Orpheus, who is related to both Dionysus and Apollo, and despite his tragic end, represents the balance of the two creative drives in Man. Kocku von Stuckrad tells us that, “Orpheus is truly a reconciler of opposites: he is the fusion of the radiant solar enlightenment of Apollo and the somber subterranean knowledge of Dionysus”.13 Nietzsche’s Dionysus is also a reconciler of opposites, who absorbs the characteristics of his counter-part Apollo into himself, in order to establish form from his own state of natural formlessness, becoming whole when the two creative drives merge into one. Von Stuckrad also makes it clear that Apollo does not disappear from Nietzsche’s work, but is instead merged with Dionysus: “Apollo, it is true, more and more loses his name to the other god, but by no means the power of his artistic creativeness, forever articulating but the Dionysian chaos in distinct shapes, sounds and images, which are Dionysian only because they are still aglow with the heat of the primeval fire”.14 Dionysus and Apollo are amalgamated into a mythical whole called “Dionysus” which is a synthesis of the two gods in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Thus when Nietzsche writes,

Indeed, my friends, believe with me in this Dionysiac life and in the rebirth of tragedy! Socratic man has run his course; crown your head with ivy, seize the thyrsus, and do not be surprised if tiger and panther lie down and caress your feet! Dare to lead the life of tragic man, and you will be redeemed. It has fallen to your lot to lead the Dionysiac procession out of India to Greece. Gird yourselves for a severe conflict, but have faith in the thaumaturgy of your god!15

Nietzsche does not proclaim the literal resurrection of a deity or religion, but instead the rebirth of the creative power inherent in Man. It is the rebirth of myth deployed to drive culture, announced by the artist/philosopher who operates as the ‘physician of culture’. Furthermore, the exemplification of the “tragic artist” is implicitly reliant on Dionysus and ancient Hellenic myth. Strong states that,

The process of the tragic chorus is the dramatic proto-phenomenon: to see oneself [as embodied in the chorus] transformed before one’s very eyes [as member of the audience] and to begin to act as if one had actually entered into another body, another character. It is thus, he argues, that tragedy effects a cultural transformation in the citizenry-spectators. A potential subtitle to BT [Birth of Tragedy] from fall 1870 reads “Considerations on the ethical-political significance of musical drama”.16

fn4.jpgIn regards to music and its effect on politics and culture, another figure connected to Nietzsche who cannot be ignored is the ever-present specter of Richard Wagner. Ultimately the friendship of the two was not based purely on passion for music, but also the use of mythology, something with Richard Wagner indisputably drew upon in his operas. Wagner wrote in Deutsche Kunst and Deutsche Politik on the social and political meaning of such aesthetic theories: “Modern life, Wagner wrote, [shall be] reorganized by the rebirth of art, and especially by a new theater whose life-giving function shall be equal to that of ancient Greek drama”.17 Although Nietzsche would eventually separate himself from Wagner due to the musician’s anti-Semitism, Nietzsche also explored the uses of myth during his period of friendship with Wagner. “The legend of Prometheus”, Nietzsche writes,

is indigenous to the entire community of Aryan races and attests to their prevailing talent for profound and tragic vision. In fact, it is not improbable that this myth has the same characteristic importance for the Aryan mind as the myth of the Fall has for the Semitic, and that the two myths are related as brother and sister.18

Ultimately this line of thought would end for Nietzsche once the National Socialist movement began to arise in Germany, terminating not only Nietzsche’s research in this area, but also his friendship with Wagner. Ultimately, Wagner’s manipulation of myth via music achieved a devastating impact over Germany, and the power he exerted over the country through his music was significant. Although Nietzsche passionately disagreed with Wagner’s anti-Semitism, he still believed culture would be the driving impetus behind any political change. Nietzsche simply could not accept the vision of culture that Wagner desired and opted to create his own instead.

Aside from revitalizing national spirit though mythology to create national identity, there is another option for generating culture which relates to Nietzsche – geophilosophy. According to Deleuze and Guattari, geophilosophy recognizes that thinking goes on not between subject and object but, rather, “takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth.”19 It therefore ties man to the ultimate national symbol – the landscape which surrounds them. Herman Siemens and Gary Shapiro argue that “Nietzsche’s thought undermines ideologically driven metanarratives of globalization, such as Eduard von Hartmann’s Weltprozess story, repeatedly ridiculed by Nietzsche, and also the more topical “end of history” story popularized by Fukuyama.”20 Haroon Sheikh expands on geophilosophy by  connecting geography directly to culture, stating that “the competitive advantage of a country is grounded in its traditional culture”.21 Nietzsche’s “Peoples and Fatherlands […] locates philosophy in a dynamic tension between deterritorialization (as in philosophy’s universalistic claims) and reterritorialization (as in the unavoidable, if largely unconscious reinscription of thought within spatial coordinates)”.22 Likewise, “Deleuze and Guattari see Nietzsche’s notion of the ‘untimely’ (unzeitmässig) — as in Untimely Meditations — to involve the opening of a geographic rather than a historical perspective”.23 This paves the way for a spatial developmental theory of philosophy instead of temporal one. The temporal aspect is manifest in the idea of Eternal Recurrence – everything repeats save that which is constant – as such they earth itself offers a ‘firm foundation’ for philosophy, compared to the fickle whims of history, which is one of the reasons they are “untimely”.

Leo Strauss and Francis Fukuyama take another view on culture in regards to Nietzsche’s concept of the Last Man, and seek to interpret Nietzsche in terms of the classical tradition of political theory, “which they oppose to modern political theory that sought to banish the concept of thymos from political thought”.24 Thymos is a part of the soul mentioned by Plato which deals with the human drive for recognition and honor. Fukuyama in particular interprets Nietzsche’s theories that culminate in the idea of the Last Man as a theory of the decline of thymos in the modern world.25 This highlights the connection between Nietzsche and Hellenic ideas yet again. Sheikh also believes that Fukuyama agrees with the “idea of the decline of thymos” saying that, “Due to the end of struggle and the pacification of man, the powerful and violent types like Caesar and Alexander but also the great creative types—artists and writers such as Homer, Michelangelo, or Pascal—can no longer come into existence”.26 However, links to the world of tradition still remain because,

The modern economy is driven by motives other than the purely material pursuit of comfort. In new forms, ancient authorities still command respect and motivate people, infusing the modern world with traditional thymos. Moreover, Fukuyama argues, these are not simple remnants of the past set to disappear in the future but, instead, critically underpin the modern world because they determine, for instance, the success societies have in terms of innovation and economies of scale.27

It is with this in mind that Nietzsche proposes Grosse Politik (Grand Politics) which is to be fought at an ideological and cultural level via a war he terms as the Geisterkrieg.

I bring the war. Not between people and people […] Not between classes […] I bring the war that goes through all absurd circumstance of people, class, race, occupation, upbringing, education: a war like that between rise and decline, between will to live and vengefulness against life.28

fn6.jpgThis is Nietzshe’s Geisterkrieg – a war of ideas that is to fought at the academic and intellectual level to control the flow of ideas, culture, and the politics that emerge from it. This is similar to the modern idea of “metapolitics”. The Geisterkrieg however, “cuts right through the absurd arbitrariness that are peoples, class, race, profession, education, culture,” a war instead “between ascending and declining, between will-to-live and the desire for revenge on life”.29 In the context of the Geisterkrieg and Grosse Politik, the artists and the philosophers become the creators of all future governments and orders – for as Nietzsche tells us, “The artist and philosopher […] strike only a few and should strike all”.30 This means that they have not yet realized their ability to create cultural changes. Only the artists and philosophers are capable of launching Nietzsche’s Geisterkrieg, the war of ideas. However, due to the current dominance of capitalism and production based society over democracy (across both the Left and Right) the influence of artists and philosophers are severely impaired. And because of this, their rule continues unchallenged because Nietzsche’s Geisterkrieg, if successful, would end all petty nationalism and party specific squabbles. Partisan based politics would no longer exist, replaced instead by leaders who embody thymos the most as is stated here,

Nietzsche concludes his “document of great politics” by declaring, “[I]f we are successful, we will have between our hands the government of the earth—and universal peace” (letter to Georg Brandes, beginning of December 1888).31

The Geisterkrieg Nietzsche desires to see is an intellectual and artistic contest, which leads individuals to overcome themselves and thus bring to light the Übermensch, but this is specifically within the rank ordering of the Party of Life (the replacement for the modern political system, which is more akin to a guild of experts).32 It is by no means a physical war. Nothing lasts forever, the rise and fall of empires is eternal – there is no man made legislation that can endure, and ours is no exception. But once an idea or concept successfully endures the ravages of history to become venerable, it passes into tradition and myth – thus making them not mere superstitions, but instead the enduring and strongest feature of any cultural or ancestral heritage.

Cristiano Grottanelli believes that “every culture that has lost myth has lost, by the same token, its natural, healthy creativity”.33 And when a culture loses its creative power, it begins to die. Myth is a link to a shared tradition and community, and it when it is present the nation is more vital, more healthy. According to Ure this is what Nietzsche means when he is, referring to himself as “the physician of culture” Nietzsche’s ambition is to prescribe for the state the medicine which he believes will cause culture to flourish and make the state healthy once again, by utilizing culture as the stimuli for what Heidegger will later call “Being”. In becoming a “physician of culture”, Nietzsche also reveals his own influences that served to create his “Being”, which are largely derivative of his own knowledge of Hellenic philosophy and culture, for,

Like all the Hellenistic philosophers, Nietzsche seems to have arrived at the view that the source of our misery is not to be found in things but in the value judgments that we bring to bear upon things and we can be cured of our ills only through a change in our value judgments.34

In the modern world metaphysical and religious elements are decreasing in popularity. Myth remains useful because it entails only a shared past, and not a shared belief. There is no compulsion or requirement for belief in any religion to accept the cultural significance of a common history. A society which has lost its myth, has lost both his past heritage and its present culture. Cristiano Grottanelli states that as the ‘physician of culture’ Nietzsche sought to create a “mythos of the future”,

In his reconsideration of Nietzsche’s attitude to myth that was published in 1979, Peter Putz (Der Mythos bei Nietzsche) stated that the German philosopher stopped discussing myth as such after Die Ursprung der Tragodie, only to “fashion a myth (the myth of Life).” More recently still, Alan Megill has stated that Nietzsche created “the mythos of the future, the myth destined to save us from the nihilism that he believes has cast its shadow on Western culture.”35

These future myths and possibilities are precisely what he wished to create in order to revive both culture and the nation. By supplying people with new myths (which maintain links with their ancient predecessors) it reinforces culture by unifying individuals in a shared sense of communal society. Citizens must be able to develop a sense of Being within the community, and they must as a primary mandate for this, perceive the government as an ally, not as an enemy. A civilization where the citizens are divided is one where loyalties are divided, for as Birns reminds us,

In medieval societies the prevalent virtue is loyalty. Therefore, the question is not “who am I?” but “to whom am I loyal,” i.e. “to whom do I pledge allegiance?” Identity is the direct result of that allegiance. Society is then divided in groups, which interlock but at the same time remain separate.36

In a society which is composed of many different ethnicities, religions, or cultural groups, such as Australia, a narrative is required to unite all the different components which are part of the nation. Cultural aspects such as national myths and the use of the landscape itself (via geophilosophy) are the only viable means to do so in socially diverse nation. For this Nietzsche prescribes a war of ideas (Geisterkrieg) which competes for intellectual dominance to create what he calls ‘Grand Politics’ (Grosse Politik) which is based not on parties, but on a new form of high nationalism that elevates the country by cultivating culture to set a “new agenda for innovation”. The physician of culture, whilst writing the prescription may not have supplied us with the medicine, but he did provide us with the formula to create our own cure.

 – Gwendolyn Taunton was the recipient of the Ashton Wylie Award for Literary Excellence for her first book, Primordial Traditions, a selection of articles from the periodical of the same name which was in operation between 2006 to 2010. The award was presented by the New Zealand Society of Authors and the Mayor of Auckland. The proceeds of the award were used to establish further titles. Both becoming a full time publisher and author, Taunton has worked as the web and graphic designer for the National Centre for Research on Europe and the Delegation of the European Union. Presently she publishes other authors through Numen Books and Manticore Press.


  1. Tracy B. Strong, “Nietzsche and the Political – Tyranny, Tragedy, Cultural Revolution, and DemocracyThe Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 35/36 (Spring/Autumn 2008) p. 58.
  2. Nicholas Birns, Ressentiment and Counter-Ressentiment: Nietzsche, Scheler, and the Reaction Against Equality (The Nietzsche Circle, 2005) p. 15.
  3. Ibid., p.20.
  4. Ibid., p.22.
  5. Ibid., p.12.
  6. Tracy B. Strong, op. cit. p. 48.
  7. R. Jay Wallace, Ressentiment, Value, and Self-Vindication: Making Sense of Nietzsche’s Slave Revolt (University of California, Lecture Notes, undated) p.13. This document is available as part of the “A Priori – The Erskine Lectures in Philosophy” at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Volume 3.
  8. Michael Ure, “Nietzsche’s Free Spirit Trilogy and Stoic TherapyThe Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 38 (Autumn 2009) p. 62.
  9. Tracy B. Strong, op. cit. p. 57.
  10. Nicholas Birns, op. cit. p. 22.
  11. Kocku von Stuckrad, “Utopian Landscapes and Ecstatic Journeys: Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, and Mircea Eliade on the Terror of ModernityNumen 57 (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2010) p. 81.
  12. Robert A. Yelle, “The Rebirth of Myth? Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence and its Romantic AntecedentsNumen, No. 47 (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2000) p. 184.
  13. Kocku von Stuckrad, op. cit. p. 81.
  14. Ibid., p. 83.
  15. Cristiano Grottanelli, “Nietzsche and MythHistory of Religions, Vol. 37 No. 1 (August 1997) p. 3.
  16. Tracy B. Strong, op. cit. p. 57.
  17. Cristiano Grottanelli, op. cit. p. 3.
  18. Ibid., p. 1.
  19. Herman Siemens, “Nietzsche’s Critique of Democracy (1870–1886)The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 38 (Autumn 2009) p.11.
  20. Herman Siemens and Gary Shapiro, “What Does Nietzsche Mean for Contemporary Politics and Political Thought?The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 35/36 (Spring/Autumn 2008) p. 4.
  21. Haroon Sheikh, “Nietzsche and the Neoconservatives: Fukuyama’s Reply to the Last ManThe Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 35/36 (Spring/Autumn 2008) p. 41.
  22. Herman Siemens and Gary Shapiro (2008) op. cit. p. 4.
  23. Herman Siemens (2009) op. cit. p. 9.
  24. Haroon Sheikh, op. cit. p. 29.
  25. Ibid., p. 29.
  26. Ibid., p. 35.
  27. Ibid., p. 42.
  28. Ibid., p. 33.
  29. Hugo Halferty Drochon, “The Time Is Coming When We Will Relearn PoliticsThe Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 39 (Spring 2010) p.73.
  30. Tracy B. Strong, op. cit. p. 53.
  31. Hugo Halferty Drochon, op. cit. p. 74.
  32. Ibid., p. 79.
  33. Cristiano Grottanelli, op. cit. p. 2.
  34. Michael Ure, op. cit. p. 72.
  35. Cristiano Grottanelli, op. cit. p. 8.
  36. Nicholas Birns, op. cit. p. 15.

Citation Style:

This article is to be cited according to the following convention:

Gwendolyn Taunton, “Nietzsche: The Physician of Culture” SydneyTrads – Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum (30 April 2016) <sydneytrads.com/2016/04/30/2016-symposium-gwendolyn-taunton> (accessed [date]).

samedi, 14 novembre 2015

Dorian Astor: «Du point de vue de Nietzsche, nous n’en avons pas fini d’être modernes»


Dorian Astor: «Du point de vue de Nietzsche, nous n’en avons pas fini d’être modernes»

Dorian Astor est philosophe, ancien élève de l’École normale supérieure et agrégé d’allemand, il a publié chez Gallimard une biographie sur Nietzsche (2011). Dans Nietzsche, la détresse du présent (2014), il interroge le rapport qu’entretient l’auteur de Par-delà bien et mal avec la modernité politique et philosophique.

PHILITT : Vous considérez que la philosophie naît en temps de détresse. Quelle est cette détresse qui a fait naître la philosophie (si l’on date son apparition au Ve av. J.-C. avec Socrate) ?

Dorian Astor : Je ne dis pas exactement que la philosophie naît en temps de détresse, dans le sens où une époque historique particulièrement dramatique expliquerait son apparition. Je dis qu’il y a toujours, à l’origine d’une philosophie ou d’un problème philosophique, un motif qui peut être reconnu comme un motif de détresse. Deleuze disait qu’un concept est de l’ordre du cri, qu’il y a toujours un cri fondamental au fond d’un concept (Aristote : « Il faut bien s’arrêter ! » ; Leibniz : « Il faut bien que tout ait une raison ! », etc.). Dans le cas de Socrate, on sent bien que son motif de détresse, c’est une sorte de propension de ses concitoyens à dire tout et son contraire et à vouloir toujours avoir raison. Son cri serait quelque chose comme : « On ne peut pas dire n’importe quoi ! » C’est alors le règne des sophistes, mais aussi du caractère procédurier des Athéniens. C’est ce qui explique que Platon articule si fondamentalement la justice à la vérité. Or l’absence de justice et la toute-puissance de la seule persuasion ou de la simple image dans l’établissement de la vérité, voilà un vrai motif de détresse, que l’on retrouvera par exemple dans le jugement sévère que porte Platon sur la démocratie.

Je crois que chaque philosophe est mû par une détresse propre, qu’il s’agit de déceler pour comprendre le problème qu’il pose. Il est vrai que dans de nombreux cas, en effet, la détresse d’un philosophe rejoint celle d’une époque, c’est souvent une détresse de nature politique : Leibniz, par exemple, est obsédé par l’ordre : les luttes confessionnelles et le manque d’unité politique le rendent fou, c’est pourquoi il passe son temps à chercher des solutions à tout ce désordre, à réintroduire de l’harmonie. Pour Sartre, ce sera la question, à cause de la guerre et de la collaboration, de l’engagement et de la trahison. Il y aurait mille autres exemples.

Dans mon livre sur Nietzsche, j’essaie de montrer que l’un de ses motifs fondamentaux de détresse est le présent (un autre motif serait le non-sens de la souffrance, cri par excellence, mais c’est une autre affaire). Le présent, non seulement au sens de l’époque qui lui est contemporaine, mais en un sens absolu : le pur présent, coincé entre le poids du passé et l’incertitude de l’avenir, jusqu’à l’asphyxie. Des notions comme celles d’ « inactualité », de « philosophie de l’avenir » ou même d’« éternel retour » et de « grande politique », etc., sont autant de tentatives pour répondre à et de cette détresse du présent. L’un des grands cris de Nietzsche sera héraclitéen : « Il n’y a que du devenir ! » Heidegger a parfaitement senti cette dimension du cri dans la philosophie de Nietzsche. Or, c’est un cri parce que cette « vérité » est mortelle, on peut périr de cette « vérité ». Nietzsche s’efforce d’inventer des conditions nouvelles de pensée qui permettraient au contraire de vivre de cette « vérité » : ce sont les figures de l’« esprit libre », du « philosophe-médecin » et même du « surhumain ». Tous ces guillemets appartiennent de plein droit aux concepts de Nietzsche : c’est le moyen le plus simple qu’il ait trouvé pour continuer à écrire alors qu’il se méfiait radicalement du langage, de son irréductible tendance à l’hypostase, c’est-à-dire de son incapacité à saisir le devenir.

Selon vous, Nietzsche a quelque chose à nous dire aujourd’hui. Est-ce parce que nous traversons une crise généralisée ou bien parce que nous sommes les lecteurs de l’an 2000 qu’il espérait tant ?

Il y a eu un léger malentendu sur la démarche que j’adopte dans mon livre — et que l’on retrouve jusque sur sa quatrième de couverture, dans une petite phrase que je n’ai pu faire supprimer : « ses vrais lecteurs, c’est nous désormais ». Non, nous ne sommes pas aujourd’hui les lecteurs privilégiés de Nietzsche. Si c’était le cas, il n’y aurait d’ailleurs pas besoin de continuer à publier des livres sur lui pour essayer d’« encaisser » ce qu’il nous lance à la face. Lorsqu’on voit le portrait que dresse Nietzsche de son lecteur parfait, par exemple dans Ecce Homo[1], on se dit qu’on est vraiment loin du compte… Je fais simplement l’hypothèse que, sous certaines conditions, le diagnostic qu’établit Nietzsche à propos de la modernité, de l’homme moderne et des « idées modernes », comme il dit, nous concerne encore directement : je crois, pour paraphraser Habermas dans un autre contexte, que la modernité est un projet inachevé[2]. Nous sommes très loin d’en avoir fini avec les sollicitations de Nietzsche à exercer une critique profonde de nos manières de vivre et de penser. En ce sens, nous sommes toujours des « modernes » et la notion fourre-tout de « postmodernité » ne règle pas le problème. Sans doute est-on d’ailleurs autorisé à formuler cette hypothèse par la temporalité propre à la critique généalogique nietzschéenne, qui est celle du temps long. « Que sont donc quelques milliers d’années[3] ! » s’exclamait-il. Que sont 150 ans, après tout ? Bien évidemment, il ne s’agit pas de dire que rien n’a changé depuis l’époque de Nietzsche, ou même que rien ne change jamais, ce qui serait parfaitement ridicule ; mais de sentir que, du point de vue de Nietzsche, nous n’en avons pas fini d’être modernes : dans notre rapport à la science, à la morale, à la politique, etc. De toute façon, Nietzsche a un usage très extensif de la notion de moderne : on le voit, dans sa critique, remonter l’air de rien de siècles en siècles jusqu’à Socrate, voire jusqu’à l’apparition du langage ! — comme si le problème était en fait l’« homme » en tant que tel, ce qu’il répète d’ailleurs souvent.

Mais revenons à cette notion de « crise généralisée » de l’époque actuelle. Que la situation ne soit pas bonne, c’est évident. Mais je crois avec Nietzsche que nous n’avons pas non plus le privilège de la détresse. Permettez-moi de citer un peu longuement un fragment de 1880 : « Une époque de transition c’est ainsi que tout le monde appelle notre époque, et tout le monde a raison. Mais non dans le sens où ce terme conviendrait mieux à notre époque qu’à n’importe quelle autre. Où que nous prenions pied dans l’histoire, partout nous rencontrons la fermentation, les concepts anciens en lutte avec les nouveaux, et des hommes doués d’une intuition subtile que l’on appelait autrefois prophètes mais qui se contentaient de ressentir et de voir ce qui se passait en eux, le savaient et s’en effrayaient d’ordinaire beaucoup. Si cela continue ainsi, tout va tomber en morceaux, et le monde devra périr. Mais il n’a pas péri, dans la forêt les vieux fûts se sont brisés mais une nouvelle forêt a toujours repoussé : à chaque époque il y eut un monde en décomposition et un monde en devenir.[4] »

Ce seul texte, parmi beaucoup d’autres, permet d’affirmer que Nietzsche n’est pas un décadentiste, alors même qu’à partir de 1883, il fait un usage abondant du terme de « décadence » (en français, de surcroît). Par le simple fait que sa pensée est étrangère à toute téléologie historique, il ne peut souscrire au décadentisme ou à ce qu’on appelle plus volontiers aujourd’hui le « déclinisme ». C’est qu’en réalité, on voit ressurgir de manière récurrente les mêmes dangers à diverses époques : la « décadence » est avant tout, pour Nietzsche, un phénomène d’affaiblissement psychophysiologique, dont la détresse est l’un des signes ou symptômes. Or cela peut arriver n’importe quand et arrive à toutes les époques. Les variations de puissance, les alternances de santé et de morbidité, suivent des cycles, ou plus précisément des « mouvements inverses simultanés », plutôt qu’un vecteur unidirectionnel.

Alors on peut critiquer ou rejeter chez Nietzsche les couples de notions tels que santé et maladie, force et faiblesse, vie ascendante et vie déclinante ; mais si l’on décide par méthode de les appliquer à la situation actuelle, nous risquons d’en arriver à un diagnostic aussi édifiant qu’effrayant… En tout cas, il est fort probable que nous soyons en pleine détresse ou, pour le dire en termes nietzschéens, victimes de chaos pulsionnels que nous sommes incapables de hiérarchiser — autre définition de la « maladie ».


Pour Antoine Compagnon, les antimodernes sont les plus modernes des modernes. Nietzsche est-il, en ce sens, un antimoderne ?

Nietzsche écrit souvent « Nous autres, modernes », il sait parfaitement qu’il est un moderne, fût-ce sous la forme de l’antimodernisme, qui, en effet, comme dit Compagnon, a quelque chose de plus-que-moderne ; on pourrait jouer à dire « moderne, trop moderne », sur le modèle d’Humain, trop humain. Nietzsche est moderne en ce sens qu’il a le sentiment d’arriver à un moment décisif où il faudra préparer un autre avenir que celui auquel semblent nous condamner le poids du passé et la détresse du présent. Comme je le soulignais à l’instant, le présent est pour Nietzsche un problème très inquiétant, et chaque fois que cette inquiétude s’exprime, c’est une inquiétude de moderne. Je pense à la définition minimale que Martuccelli donne de la modernité : « L’interrogation sur le temps actuel et la société contemporaine est le plus petit dénominateur commun de la modernité. Elle est toujours un mode de relation, empli d’inquiétude, face à l’actualité ; c’est dire à quel point elle est indissociable d’un questionnement de nature historique[5] ». Ce qui est antimoderne, dans l’inquiétude moderne de Nietzsche, c’est sa lutte acharnée contre l’optimisme, le progressisme, l’eudémonisme, la Révolution, la démocratie, etc. Mais attention : sa position « anti-Lumières » – pour reprendre le titre de l’ouvrage de Sternhell[6], à mon sens plus important que celui de Compagnon – est très ambiguë. On ne comprend pas, par exemple, sa haine de Rousseau si on ne l’articule pas à sa critique impitoyable du romantisme, qui fut précisément un vaste mouvement anti-Lumières. Sa proximité avec les Lumières, certes très conflictuelle, quasiment sous la forme d’un double bind, ne se limite pas, comme on le répète souvent, à la période dite intermédiaire, celle d’Humain, trop humain. L’anti-romantisme de Nietzsche est un élément essentiel si l’on veut discuter équitablement de la dimension « réactionnaire » de son œuvre.

Vous consacrez de nombreuses pages au rapport que les antimodernes entretiennent avec la modernité. Cependant, vous ne faites pas la distinction entre antimoderne et inactuel. Doit-on faire la différence ?

Si je ne la fais pas dans mon livre, alors c’est qu’elle y manque ! Parce que ce n’est effectivement pas la même chose. En réalité, je crois avoir essayé de faire cette distinction, sans doute pas assez explicitement. Mais je ne peux y avoir échappé pour la simple raison que Nietzsche est tiraillé entre ces deux positions, c’est ce que j’appelle la « bâtardise de l’inactuel ». D’un côté, la lutte (anti)moderne contre le temps présent : « agir contre le temps, donc sur le temps, et, espérons-le, au bénéfice d’un temps à venir[7] », écrit Nietzsche ; de l’autre une lutte contre le temps au sens absolu, c’est-à-dire au bénéfice d’une certaine forme d’éternité. Bien avant l’hypothèse de l’Éternel Retour, Nietzsche cherche à inscrire ou réinscrire de l’éternité dans le temps qui passe. En d’autres termes : s’arracher à l’Histoire pour s’élever au Devenir, ou y plonger. Parce que c’est le Devenir qui est éternel. L’Histoire ressortit au régime de la production et du développement, le Devenir à celui de la création et du hasard. C’est sans doute la part deleuzienne de ma lecture de Nietzsche : la distinction profonde entre l’Histoire et le Devenir, entre le fait et l’événement, entre le progrès et le nouveau…  Je crois que c’est l’antimodernité qui le fait polémiquer avec son époque, mais que c’est son inactualité qui l’élève à une intuition de l’éternité. Toutefois, ces deux démarches sont coextensives, c’est pourquoi il n’emploie qu’un seul terme : « unzeitgemäss » signifiant « qui n’est pas conforme à l’époque », mais aussi, en quelque sorte, « qui est incommensurable avec le temps ».

Peut-on dire, à l’inverse de l’impératif rimbaldien qui invite à être « résolument moderne », que la pensée de Nietzsche coïncide plutôt avec la phrase de Roland Barthes : « Tout d’un coup, il m’est devenu indifférent de ne pas être moderne » ?

L’alternative que vous formulez est une autre manière d’exprimer la différence entre l’antimodernité et l’inactualité dont nous venons de parler, et donc d’exprimer la tension prodigieuse, chez Nietzsche, entre la « résolution » et l’« indifférence ». On pourrait la formuler encore autrement : c’est la tension qu’il y a entre la vita activa et la vita contemplativa, entre la préparation de l’avenir et le désir d’éternité. Puisqu’on parlait d’inactualité, il faut dire que, si Nietzsche a beaucoup changé entre les Considérations inactuelles (1873-1876) et la partie de Crépuscule des idoles intitulée « Incursions d’un inactuel » (1888), la tension demeure toutefois entre la descente du lutteur dans l’arène de l’époque et le retrait du contemplatif dans la montagne. Zarathoustra lui aussi monte et descend plusieurs fois. Il y a un fragment posthume fascinant de l’époque du Gai Savoir où Nietzsche se propose de pratiquer, à titre expérimental, une « philosophie de l’indifférence[8] » (qui d’ailleurs doit préparer psychologiquement à la contemplation de l’Éternel Retour). Cette indifférence du sage, c’est ce qu’il admire chez les stoïciens et les épicuriens ; et lorsqu’il les accable au contraire, c’est en vertu de la nécessité de l’action et de la responsabilité du philosophe de l’avenir. Alors oui, il y a quelque chose de rimbaldien chez Nietzsche, surtout dans sa volonté de « se rendre voyant », d’« arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens » : c’est au fond un peu ce que prescrit le § 48 du Gai Savoir qui a inspiré le titre de mon ouvrage : le remède contre la détresse, c’est la détresse. Et sans doute y a-t-il aussi chez lui quelque chose de… barthésien : une aversion pour ce qui vous récupère et vous englue, pour le définitif et l’excès de sérieux ; un plaisir du provisoire, de l’aléatoire, de la nuance. En ce sens, Nietzsche comme Barthes sont baudelairiens — et modernes : ils ont bel et bien l’intuition qu’il y a de l’éternel dans l’éphémère.

astorhhhh.jpgEnfin, qu’est-ce qui différencie un « nietzschéen de gauche » et un « nietzschéen de droite » dans leur vision du monde moderne ?

Ah ! La question est un piège, et ce pour plusieurs raisons. D’abord, permettez-moi de m’arrêter un instant sur le terme de « nietzschéen », qui est en lui-même problématique. Si l’on veut seulement dire : spécialiste de Nietzsche, ça a le mérite du raccourci, mais ça ne va pas très loin, et on sent bien que l’adjectif est toujours surdéterminé. Être adepte, disciple, héritier de Nietzsche ? Vivre selon une éthique nietzschéenne ? Bien malin qui peut y prétendre – mais ceux qui font les malins ne manquent pas… Ce qui peut être nietzschéen, c’est, dans nos meilleurs moments, une certaine manière de poser certaines questions, une certaine affinité avec certains types de problèmes ; c’est emprunter une voie sur laquelle on pourra peut-être dire beaucoup de choses nouvelles, mais une voie qui reste ouverte par Nietzsche. C’est évidemment la même chose pour les platoniciens, les spinozistes, les hégéliens, etc. Je crois par ailleurs que le plus intéressant, c’est de savoir avec quelle famille de philosophes on a senti une parenté ou conclu des alliances. Mais ce sont certains aspects, certains réflexes ou instincts qui peuvent être nietzschéens en nous, non pas l’individu tout entier — et heureusement !  Pour mon propre compte, j’ai été assez clair sur ce que j’entends par mon affinité nietzschéenne : c’est simplement le fait que, malgré tout ce qui reste difficile, opaque, voire inaudible ou inacceptable à la lecture de Nietzsche, je continue inlassablement à le lire et à travailler patiemment, parce que j’en ai besoin — en deux sens : je m’en sers et j’aurais du mal à vivre sans. Ce besoin, qui est au fond une affaire strictement personnelle ou, disons, idiosyncrasique, n’est pas une conclusion de mon travail, c’est une prémisse que vient confirmer ou relancer chaque acquis de ce travail. Mais le but de mon travail en revanche, c’est de franchir (et de faire franchir) des seuils ; d’essayer de montrer qu’en un certain point de blocage ou d’intolérabilité, on peut trouver dans l’œuvre même de Nietzsche de quoi débloquer le passage et augmenter le seuil de tolérance ; expliquer et comprendre, pour le dire vite.

Une fois dit ce que j’entends par nietzschéen, il faudrait définir ce qu’on entend en général par la gauche ou la droite, dont les définitions elles-mêmes sont « en crise » aujourd’hui : vous imaginez bien que je ne me lancerai pas dans cet exercice redoutable ! Mais là encore, je ne crois pas qu’un individu tout entier soit de gauche ou de droite, mais que certains aspects, certains réflexes ou instincts peuvent l’être, et qu’ils s’expriment alternativement ou simultanément. Ce serait trop simple ! En tout cas, je crois que, plus on travaille sur Nietzsche, moins les expressions « nietzschéen de droite » et « nietzschéen de gauche » ont de sens. Toutefois, il y a une histoire de la réception de Nietzsche où elles deviennent historiquement pertinentes, bien qu’ambiguës. Je ne peux pas développer ici cette vaste question, qui obligerait à balayer trop grossièrement un siècle et demi de réception. Je n’indiquerai brièvement que deux pôles extrêmes : d’un côté la récupération bien connue et très rapide de Nietzsche par l’extrême-droite puis le fascisme ; de l’autre, l’émergence d’un Nietzsche « post-structuraliste », dans les années soixante-dix, marqué par ce qu’on appelle aujourd’hui, souvent avec un mépris odieux, la « pensée 68 ». Ce nietzschéisme « de gauche » est lui-même ambigu, lorsqu’on voit les critiques adressées à de prodigieux penseurs profondément influencés par Nietzsche, comme Deleuze et Foucault dont certains se demandent s’ils n’ont pas finalement ouvert la voie à un relativisme néo-conservateur – c’est par exemple la position d’Habermas –, à un ultralibéralisme débridé ou tout simplement à une dangereuse dépolitisation de la philosophie — et si vous me demandiez à présent de parler d’Onfray, je ne vous répondrais pas, cela me fatigue d’avance.

Mais revenons à mon idée que droite et gauche ne permettent pas d’aborder Nietzsche avec pertinence. Avant toute chose, il faut être honnête : il y a évidemment un noyau dur qui interdira toujours de rallier Nietzsche à une pensée de gauche — c’est son inégalitarisme profond et son concept fondamental de « hiérarchie ». Le problème n’en demeure pas moins que, si l’on décide de rallier Nietzsche à la droite ou à la gauche, on trouvera toujours de quoi prélever dans ses textes ce dont on a besoin, mais on sera tout aussi sûrement confronté à des éléments absolument inconciliables avec nos convictions ou inappropriables par elles. Ou, à un plus haut niveau d’exigence, on trouvera chez Nietzsche des éléments fondamentaux propres à critiquer très sérieusement certains présupposés idéologiques de la droite comme de la gauche.

Pourquoi nous heurtons-nous toujours à l’impossibilité de fixer Nietzsche d’un côté ou de l’autre ? Ce constat dépasse largement le seul domaine des idéologies politiques. J’essaie de montrer dans mon livre la manière dont Nietzsche ne cesse de renvoyer dos-à-dos, ou de faire jouer l’un contre l’autre, les pôles de systèmes binaires ou les termes de relations biunivoques — pratique très consciente et très maîtrisée que l’on appelle communément les « contradictions » de Nietzsche, et que je nommerais plutôt l’usage du paradoxe, en référence à la définition qu’en donne Deleuze[9]: un ébranlement multidirectionnel initié par un élément rebelle dans un ensemble pré-stabilisé d’identifications univoques — en d’autres termes, des attaques de l’intérieur contre l’alliance du bon sens et du sens commun. Ce caractère multidirectionnel signifie notamment la mobilité des points de vue, leur multiplication autour du phénomène considéré, la nécessité de saisir la multiplicité de ses faces et volte-face pour déjouer le « bon sens » à sens unique du jugement commun (doxa) et l’hypostasie congénitale du langage — C’est ce qu’on entend généralement par le perspectivisme de Nietzsche.

Prenons l’exemple de son rapport très complexe au libéralisme, en son sens classique, qui fait l’objet d’une assez longue analyse dans mon livre. Nietzsche écrit, que « les institutions libérales cessent d’être libérales dès qu’elles sont acquises […] Ces mêmes institutions produisent de tout autres effets aussi longtemps que l’on se bat pour les imposer; alors, elles font puissamment progresser la liberté[10]. » Vous avez là une proposition qui, à la limite, pourrait inspirer aussi bien la gauche révolutionnaire que la droite ultralibérale ! C’est que tout se joue dans la reconfiguration profonde des concepts de puissance et de liberté, de leur exercice et de leur articulation alors même qu’ils sont des processus en devenir et jamais une quantité stable ou une qualité inconditionnée. Alors, pour répondre à votre question : peut-être un « nietzschéen de gauche » insistera-t-il sur les puissances d’émancipation, c’est-à-dire sur la résistance ; et un « nietzschéen de droite », sur l’émancipation des puissances, c’est-à-dire sur l’affirmation. Cela sous-entendrait que l’affect fondamental de la gauche soit un refus des situations intolérables, et l’affect fondamental de la droite, un acquiescement aux choses comme elles vont. Je n’en sais rien, ce que je dis est peut-être idiot. De toute façon, cela ne nous mène pas très loin, car résistance et affirmation sont chez Nietzsche des processus indissociables, comme le sont la destruction des idoles et l’amor fati, ou même le surhumain comme idéal d’affranchissement et l’éternel retour comme loi d’airain. Voilà des injonctions paradoxales ! Mais les meilleurs lecteurs ne séparent jamais les deux, et travaillent au cœur du paradoxe. On parle beaucoup du grand acquiescement nietzschéen à l’existence, et avec raison. Mais il ne faut jamais oublier que le oui n’a aucun sens sans le non, toute une économie des oui et des non, des tenir-à-distance et des laisser-venir-à-soi, comme dit Nietzsche. Toute une micropolitique qui déjoue nos grandes convictions et oblige à des pratiques expérimentales de l’existence, y compris politiques. C’est que Nietzsche, comme tout grand philosophe, se méfie des opinions, et encore davantage des convictions, dans lesquelles il reconnaît toujours un fond de fanatisme. Lui-même rappelle quelque part qu’il n’est pas assez borné pour un système — pas même pour le sien.

[1]  « Pourquoi j’écris de si bons livres », § 3
[2]  Cf. Jürgen Habermas, « La Modernité : un projet inachevé », in Critique, 1981, t. XXXVII, n° 413, p. 958

[3]  Deuxième Considération inactuelle, § 8
[4]  FP 4 [212], été 1880
[5]  Sociologies de la modernité, Gallimard, 1999, p.9-10
[6] Zeev Sternhell, Les Anti-Lumières : Une tradition du XVIIIe siècle à la Guerre froide, Fayard, 2006 ; Gallimard (édition revue et augmentée), 2010.
[7] Deuxième Considération inactuelle, Préface
[8] FP 11 [141], printemps-automne 1881
[9] Différence et répétition, PUF, 1968, p.289 sq., et Logique du sens, Éditions de Minuit, 1969, p.92 sq.
[10] Crépuscule des idoles, « Incursions d’un inactuel », § 38

mercredi, 25 mars 2015

Heidegger on Nietzsche, Metaphysics, & Nihilism


Heidegger on Nietzsche, Metaphysics, & Nihilism

By Greg Johnson 

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

Heidegger’s central philosophical topic has a number of names: the sense (Sinn) or meaning of Being, the truth (Wahrheit) of Being, the clearing (Lichtung) of Being, the “It” that “gives” Being, and the “Ereignis” (“event” or “appropriation”) of Being, referring to the mutual belonging of man and Being.[1] All of these words refer to that-which-gives and that-which-takes-away different “epochs” in the history of Being, which are comprehensive, pervasive, and fundamental ways of interpreting the world and our place in it. 

Heidegger’s topic is shrouded in mystery, for that-which-gives each epoch in the history of Being is hidden by the very epoch that it makes possible. This mystery is built right into the dual meanings of Heidegger’s names for his topic.

The word “Lichtung” refers both to Being (that which lights up beings) and also to the clearing that makes it possible for the light to illuminate beings—and the light attracts our attention to itself while leaving the clearing that makes it possible in darkness. The “it” that gives Being is hidden behind Being, its gift. Ereignis is the mutual belonging of man and Being, in which man in enthralled by the world opened up by the event and thus oblivious to the event itself. Heidegger even hears the mystery of Being in the word “epoch,” which refers both to the historical spans of particular dominant ways of interpreting the world, and, when heard in the Greek as “epoche,” refers to the withholding of that which grants the epochs, the giver that hides behind its gift.

Now we are in the position to begin to think through the connection that Heidegger draws between metaphysics and nihilism. Heidegger’s thesis is that nihilism is the consummation of Western metaphysics. To this end, I wish to comment on one of my favorite texts by Heidegger, the two lectures entitled “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same and the Will to Power.” These lectures beautifully epitomize Heidegger’s vast two-volume work on Nietzsche, and they gather together and display the unity of themes discussed by Heidegger over a period of more than 50 years.

Heidegger’s thesis is that “Nietzsche’s philosophy is the consummation of Western metaphysics.”[1] For Heidegger, Nietzsche’s philosophy represents the epitome of modern nihilism, the ultimate manifestation of the nihilistic impulse built into Western metaphysics from the very beginning. Heidegger’s thesis that Nietzsche is the last metaphysician of the West is a stunning thesis, a thesis very difficult to defend, for Nietzsche is widely regarded as the first post-metaphysical thinker, not the last and ultimate metaphysical thinker.

Traditional metaphysics is constructed around the dualisms of permanence and change and of appearance and reality. The permanent is identified with Being, which is said to be a reality that lies beyond the world of appearances, the world of change, the realm of becoming. Nietzsche seems to overcome these dualisms by collapsing the distinctions between permanence and change, appearance and reality, Being and becoming. Therefore, Nietzsche seems to go beyond metaphysics.

How, then, does Heidegger establish Nietzsche as the last metaphysician of the West? Another way of putting this question is: How does Heidegger establish that Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome metaphysics is a failure? What does Heidegger think that a genuine overcoming of metaphysics requires?

Nietzsche’s Metaphysics

When Heidegger uses the word “metaphysics” pejoratively, he refers to the metaphysics of presence: “These positions take the Being of beings as having been determined in the sense of permanence of presence” (p. 162). Another word for the metaphysics of presence in the Heidegger lexicon is “Platonism.” Platonism is a view that cannot necessarily be identified with Plato’s own views. Platonism, rather, is the pervasive interpretation of Plato’s views in the tradition. Platonism identifies Being with permanence as opposed to change, presence as opposed to absence, identity as opposed to difference.

The latter terms of these pairs—change, absence, difference—are identified with non-being. In the world around us, rest and motion, presence and absence, identity and difference are all mixed together.

Thus the Platonist concludes that this world is not the true world; it is not the realm of Being, but the realm of becoming, which is a mere blurred image or decayed manifestation of Being. Becoming is merely a veil of appearances which cloaks and hides that which is real, namely Being.

The Platonic realm of Being is identified as the place of forms or essences. The world of becoming is the world in which we find individual men, individual dogs, individual chairs, individual tables. All of these individuals come into being, change, and pass out of existence. The world of Being contains not individual men, but the essence of man, or “manhood.” It does not contain individual dogs, but the essence of dog, “doghood.”

Forms or essences, unlike individuals, do not come into being; they do not change; and they do not pass away. While particulars that become exist in time, forms of essences exist outside of time in eternity. Because particulars in time are infected with change, absence and difference, we cannot have certain knowledge of them; at best, we can have only tentative opinions about things in the world around us. We can have certain knowledge only of the forms or essences that make up the realm of Being.


Heidegger holds that the metaphysics of presence—the interpretation of Being as presence—and also the Platonic distinction between the world of Being and the world of becoming is retained in Nietzsche’s allegedly post-metaphysical doctrines of the Will to Power and the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. What is the Will to Power? And what is the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?

Nietzsche called the ultimate constituent of the world Will to Power. This is a highly anthropomorphized name for something that is neither a will (for there is no agent behind it that wills); nor is it “to power” (for it is not directed toward the goal of power, or any other goal). Will to Power is Nietzsche’s name for chaos, which he conceived of as a virtual infinity of points of force charging and discharging entirely without pattern or purpose. Heidegger defines the “Will to Power” as “the essence of power itself. It consists in power’s overpowering, that is, its self-enhancement to the highest possible degree” (p. 163).

The Will to Power is the constant exercise of power as an end in itself.

The Will to Power makes possible the constant exercise of power by positing limits for itself and then exceeding them; Will to Power first freezes itself into particular forms and then overcomes and dissolves them.

The Will to Power is Nietzsche’s account of what the world is.

The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is a concept derived from the ancient Epicureans and Stoics. Both the Stoics and Epicureans believed that the cosmos is finite. The cosmos consists of matter and void, and there is only so much matter and so much void. Matter, however, is not fully inert. Matter has both inert and animate dimensions. Matter has the tendency to remain at rest or in motion, which the Epicureans represented by matter falling through the void. But matter also has a non-inert aspect that causes it to swerve from its fall or to move from rest to motion by its own power. The Epicureans represented this aspect of matter as the famous “clinamen” or “swerve” of the atoms. The Stoics represented this as divine logos, which following Heraclitus, they represented as fire. Matter, in short, is in some sense vital and animate; it is alive and ensouled. Matter’s vital principle allows order to form out of chaos. Matter’s inert dimension allows order to dissolve back into chaos.

Given a finite amount of matter and a finite void, given that matter has both a tendency to give rise to order and dissolve order, and given that time is infinite, the Epicureans and Stoics argued that the random play of chaos within a finite cosmos over an infinite amount of time not only gives rise to order, but gives rise to the same order an infinite number of times. Everything that is happening now has already happened an infinite number of times before and will happen an infinite number of times in the future. The Same events will Recur Eternally, hence the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. As Woody Allen once put it, “Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Does that mean I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again?” And the answer is: “Yes.” Not only will he have to sit through it again an infinite number of times, he already has sat through it an infinite number of times. It’s deja-vu all over again.

Nietzsche takes this argument over completely. The Will to Power corresponds precisely to the two aspects of matter discussed by the Epicureans and Stoics.

The animate aspect of matter that gives rise to form and organization corresponds to the Will to Power’s tendency to posit order.

The inert aspect of matter that causes form and organization to dissolve back into chaos corresponds to the Will to Power’s tendency to overpower and dissolve the very order that it posits.


Nietzsche holds that the Will to Power is finite and that time is infinite. Given the possibility of endlessly rearranging a finite Will to Power over an infinite amount of time, the same kinds of order will inevitably repeat themselves, and they will repeat themselves and infinite number of times: Eternal Recurrence of the Same.

Just as Will to Power is Nietzsche’s account of what the world is, The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is Nietzsche’s account of how the world is.

Nietzsche claims to have abolished metaphysics because he abolishes the dualism between appearance and reality, Being and becoming, presence and absence, identity and difference, etc. All of these pairs of opposites are found blended together in the Will to Power and the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. There is no realm of pure presence, pristine identity, total rest, and separate essences, lying behind the world that appears to us.

Heidegger’s critique of this claim is twofold. First, he argues that the basic elements of Platonism are still at work in Nietzsche. Second, he argues that Nietzsche really does not understand what it would take to overcome metaphysics.

How is Nietzsche a Metaphysician?

Heidegger argues that Nietzsche’s doctrines of Eternal Recurrence and Will to Power are metaphysical in two ways. First, the accounts of Eternal Recurrence and Will to Power still buy into the metaphysics of presence. As Heidegger puts it:

“Recurrence” thinks the permanentizing of what becomes, thinks it to the point where the becoming of what becomes is secured in the duration of its becoming. The “eternal” links the permanentizing of such constancy in the direction of its circling back into itself and forward toward itself. What becomes is not the unceasing otherness of an endlessly changing manifold. What becomes is the same itself, and that means the one and selfsame (the identical) that in each case is within the difference of the other. . . . Nietzsche’s thought thinks the constant permanentizing of the becoming of whatever becomes into the only kind of presence there is–the self-recapitulation of the identical. (pp. 164–65)

Elsewhere, Heidegger writes:

Will to Power may now be conceived of as the permanentizing of surpassment, that is of becoming; hence as a transformed determination of the guiding metaphysical projection. The Eternal Recurrence of the Same unfurls and displays its essence, so to speak, as the most constant permanentizing of the becoming of what is constant. (p. 167)

Will to Power and the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, in short, think Being in terms of presence too, by making becoming itself permanent, by making becoming recapitulate the identical, by making the motion of becoming circular, thus bringing a kind of eternity into time itself.

The second way in which Heidegger argues that Nietzsche is a metaphysician is somewhat more elusive and difficult. Heidegger writes on page 168:

From the outset, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same and Will to Power are grasped as fundamental determinations of beings as such and as a whole—Will to Power as the peculiar coinage of “what-being” . . . and Eternal Recurrence of the Same as the coinage of “that-being.”

Heidegger claims that this distinction is “co-extensive” with the basic distinction that defines and sustains metaphysics. “What-being” or “whatness” refers to the identity of beings. “What-being” or “thatness” refers to the existence of beings. To talk about the identity of a thing is to talk about what it is in contrast to the identity of different things, the things that it is not. When we talk about the existence of something, we are talking about the fact that it is, as opposed to the idea of its non-existence.

Now, in Platonism, the identity of a particular being is endowed by its form. A particular dog has its identity as a dog because it is related to the Form of dog, or “dogness.” A particular man has his identity as a man because he is related somehow to the essence of man, or “manhood.” A particular dog has his existence as a concrete individual dog because a bit of the material world has been informed by the essence of dog. So, for Platonism, the identity or whatness of a particular being is explained by its essence and its individual existence or thatness is explained by its materiality.

Heidegger holds that this Platonic distinction is present in the distinction between the Will to Power and the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Will to Power names the whatness or identity of all beings. Therefore, it corresponds to the Platonic form. Eternal Recurrence names the thatness or existence of beings. Therefore, it corresponds to the instantiation of the Platonic Form in a bit of the spatio-temporal world. Will to Power is the principle of identity. Eternal Recurrence is the principle of existence. This dualism, Heidegger claims, is not overcome by Nietzsche, so Nietzsche does not overcome metaphysics.

Indeed, Heidegger claims that Nietzsche represents the culmination of metaphysics. To understand this, we must understand how, precisely, Nietzsche fails to overcome metaphysics. And to understand this, we need to know what Heidegger thinks a genuine overcoming of metaphysics would require.

What Constitutes a True Overcoming of Metaphysics?

Heidegger thinks that a genuine overcoming of metaphysics requires that we think his distinctive topic, the distinctive matter of his thinking: that which gives and that which takes away the different epochs of the history of Being. It requires that we think the Truth of being, the Meaning of Being, the Clearing of Being, the Event of Being, etc. Heidegger mentions his distinctive topic in a number of places in these lectures:

It first appears on page 164 (second paragraph):

What this unleashing of power to its essence is [i.e., that which grants the interpretation of Being as Will to Power], Nietzsche is unable to think. Nor can any metaphysics think it, inasmuch as metaphysics cannot put the matter [die Sache, the topic] into question.

It also appears on page 165 (second paragraph):

This “selfsame” [Being interpreted as Eternal Recurrence] is separated as by an abyss from the singularity of the unrepeatable enjoining of all that coheres. Out of that enjoining alone does the difference commence.

Here Heidegger contrasts Nietzsche’s metaphysics of history (which encloses becoming in the circle of Being through the idea of the eternal recurrence of the same) with his own view of the history of Being as a sequence of unrepeatable contingent singularities in which new epochs in the history of Being displace one another.


One can ask, however, if Heidegger himself does not ultimately subscribe to a kind of cyclical history, since he seems to believe that (1) the pre-Socratic Greek sense of Being as the dynamic interplay of presence and absence is correct, even though it overlooked the conditions of its own emergence, and (2) that it is possible to return to this correct interpretation of Being, either (a) reflectively, with an appreciation of its importance in the light of the subsequent tradition, or (b) naively, though the liquidation of the present civilization and a return to barbarism, which may be the meaning of Heidegger’s famous claim that “only a god can save us now,” meaning a return to naive belief.

Heidegger’s topic shows up again in the very next paragraph:

Thought concerning truth, in the sense of the essence of aletheia, whose essential advent sustains Being and allows it to be sheltered in its belonging to the commencement, is more remote than ever in this last projection of beingness.

Here aletheia refers to that which both grants a new epoch in the history of Being and shelters its advent in mystery.

There is also an extensive discussion of the topic from the bottom of page 166 throughout the entirety of page 167.

Heidegger claims that Nietzsche does not overcome metaphysics because the overcoming of metaphysics requires that one think that which grants different epochs in the history of Being and Nietzsche does not think this topic. Heidegger adds, furthermore, that Nietzsche not only fails to overcome metaphysics, he actually make this overcoming more difficult because he fosters the illusion that metaphysics is already overcome, thereby enforcing our oblivion to that which grants metaphysics, thereby making us less likely to think this topic and thus to effect a genuine overcoming of metaphysics. As Heidegger writes on 166:

Inadequate interrogation of the meaning of Nietzsche’s doctrine of Return, when viewed in terms of the history of metaphysics, shunts aside the most intrinsic need that is exhibited in the history of Western thought [i.e., the need to think that which grant metaphysics]. It thus confirms, by assisting those machinations that are oblivious to Being, the utter abandonment of Being.

It is at this point that we can understand why Heidegger thinks that Nietzsche is not only a metaphysician, but the culmination of metaphysics. Metaphysics thinks the Being of beings, but does not think the meaning of Being, the clearing of Being, etc. Nietzsche is the culmination of metaphysics because Nietzsche’s metaphysics not only fails to think that which grants Being, but actually makes this altogether impossible because it fosters the illusion that metaphysics has been finally overcome.

A further reason for regarding Nietzsche as the culmination of metaphysics can be appreciated by examining Heidegger’s definition of nihilism. Heidegger defines the modern technological age, the age of nihilism as “the age of consummate meaninglessness” (p. 174). Consummate meaninglessness is equivalent to the interpretation of Being in terms of man’s own subjective needs: Being as certainty; Being as intelligibility; Being as availability and deployability for human purposes. The world is meaningless because wherever we look, we only encounter projections of our own overweening subjectivity and will to power. The essence of modernity is the idea that everything can be understood and controlled.

This view of the world is made possible by our failure to think about what grants it, what makes it possible, the source of this epoch in the history of Being. Heidegger claims that we cannot understand the origin of the idea that we can understand everything. We cannot control the emergence of the idea that we can control everything. Trying to understand the origins of nihilism forces us to recognize that there is a mystery that cannot be explained or controlled. And this encounter with mystery is alone sufficient to break the spell that everything can be understood and controlled. It is thus a real overcoming of metaphysics and of its culmination in the nihilism of technological modernity.


1. See my essay “Heidegger’s Question Beyond Being,” http://www.counter-currents.com/2014/10/heideggers-question-beyond-being/ [4]

2. Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, vol. III: The Will to Power as Knowledge and as Metaphysics, ed. David Farrell Krell, trans. Joan Stambaugh, David Farrell Krell, and Frank A. Capuzzi (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), p. 161.

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