Ike Okonta, Nietzsche: The Politics of Power.
Julian Young, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art (Cambridge UP, 1992), 170 pp., $44.95 cloth.
These two critical approaches to two aspects of the thought of Nietzsche illustrate his own theory of "perspectival interpretation," the first in an uneven and often questionable way, the second in a more subtle, occasionally sympathetic, and internal way. Okonta has the difficult task of generating a political theory out of random bits and pieces of texts, as well as misreadings of texts, which are then ascribed to Nietzsche despite the author's recognition that Nietzsche is concerned with "deconstruction of politics." Following in the footsteps of others who have tried to indict the elusive German thinker for espousing a politics of domination, control, and the enforcement of a "will to power" over the majority, Okonta valiantly seeks evidence for such an interpretation of that elusive entity called "Nietzsche politics" and, like his predecessors, fails to find anything substantial. Only by manufacturing a soi-disant "political theory" does he manage to make even a weak case for his repeated conclusion that Nietzsche propounded a new political aristocracy that would be a "system of domination," slavery, and exploitation.
Against the claims of Kaufmann, Heidegger, and others that Nietzsche put forward an ideal of a personal "spiritual aristocracy" and not a political idea of an assertive will to power, the author misrepresents Nietzsche's depiction of an individual who endeavors to attain independence, spiritual strength, and self-mastery in an assertive self-existence. Although there is a reasonable attempt to be faithful to Nietzsche's texts in this compact work, the devil is in the inferential leaps.
In Nietzsche: The Politics of Power what is to be demonstrated is implied abinitio. Thus, a passage in Beyond Good and Evil is cited a number of times in order to illustrate that Nietzsche favors the "exploitation" of human beings. Others previously have appealed to this same passage, with the same intent. Obviously referring to the then-rising socialist/communist theorists, Nietzsche remarks that "everywhere people are now raving ... about coming conditions of society in which the exploitative aspect will be removed." He goes on to say that exploitation is essential to life, is an organic expression of the will to power [BGE p. 259]. The belief that exploitation as a central characteristic of living could be deleted is, Nietzsche points out, as if one held that "organic functions" could be dispensed with entirely. Here Okonta is mistaken in believing that Nietzsche is prescribing the literal exploitation of others insofar as he means that, in order for us to live, we ineluctably exploit other beings for our food, drink, clothing, etc. Nietzsche appeals to this natural reality in his sarcasm against the utopian dream of leftist writers.
Oddly enough, despite his digging for damning political texts to be used against Nietzsche, the author overlooks the fact that in passages in Human, All-Too-Human and Daybreak he attacks bourgeois economic greed and criticizes the "exploitation" of workers. In the former work he attacks the "merchant's morality" as a "piratical morality," and in the latter he lambastes the "legalized fraud" practiced by the upper classes.
To make the point that Nietzsche defends a right-wing, elitist, capitalistic politics, Okonta leans on the weak argument of the leftist literary critic and activist, Lukacs, to the effect that Nietzsche attacked socialism and communism in order to create a politically nihilistic vacuum into which fascism could rush (pp. 143-147). In "Schopenhauer as Educator" (a source not cited by Okonta) Nietzsche passionately criticizes the selfishness, egotism, greed, jingoism, and education-destroying behavior of what can only be called the military-industrial complex of the Germany of the 1870s. Lukacs's cited claim that Nietzsche always sided with "the capitalists" and was an apologist for them is factually false.
It is argued by Okonta that Nietzsche champions the full expression of the will to power and that this can be attained in political domination of others. Although the idea of the will to power is open to diverse interpretations, this exposition of it ignores passages in which Nietzsche is coolly describing the multiform workings of a will to power in history, society, and the individual. In these instances he is quite aware of the destructive, aggressive expression that this nisus towards power has taken and still takes. Our natural history reveals the ferocity of this unconscious drive towards power, and 'civilized' history frequently displays it. To say, then, as our author does, that the will to power can be a "lust for power" and domination of others (pp. 23ff.) is, for Nietzsche, descriptively the case. His uncovering of this often brutal "will to power" in man is not a joyous discovery for him. Rather, it is a pre-Freudian uncovering of a potentially dangerous drive that lies beneath the veneer of civilized existence. That this postulated dynamic striving for more and more can be expressed by way of direct domination is not Nietzsche's responsibility any more than Freud is responsible for the terrible acting-out by individuals of primitive, destructive, unconscious drives. Assuming a reduction of living beings (and hence all nature) to a single drive, will to power, a distinction has to be made between Nietzsche's descriptions of the manifestations of this drive and his prescriptions for autonomous, affirmative, enhanced self-mastery (discussed by the author in terms of the views of Kaufmann and Heidegger).
Repeatedly we are told that the aristocracy Nietzsche envisions is a political one in which the highest self-mastery is attained by those who "overpower" others, by practitioners of a "master morality," by "rulers" (pp. 54ff.). It is denied that a "spiritual aristocracy" is intended. Although aware of it, Okonta minimizes the stress in the writings of Nietzsche on self-overcoming, self-discipline, on the "sublimation" of primitive drives, the pressing of the potentially dangerous will to power into creative service. He minimizes references to self-mastery in the form of cultivating a radical independence, self-reliance, of striving to become what Emerson called a "sovereign individual." Moreover, if, as our author insists, Nietzsche championed powerful rulers, why does he criticize Hegel for a craven "worship of success" in his philosophy of history? Why does he say that when Nero and Caracalla were on the throne, the worst person in Roman society was better than the one who 'ruled'? (Werke im drei Banden, III, p. 427).
Given Okonta's endeavor to make Nietzsche say what the author wants him to say, he cites Nietzsche's accurate prediction that the coming century will be a period of "grand politics" and tries to convert it into a prescription. Unable to find Nietzsche directly prescribing a ruthless, dominating politics of power, the author continues to ascribe to Nietzsche political ideas he not only does not endorse, but which he often attacks.
At one point, Okonta reaches to an early unpublished essay, "The Greek State" (c. 1872), in order to show that there Nietzsche observes that the ancient Greeks built their amazing culture on the institution of "slavery." But then the author relates the approbation of slavery in relation to the high civilization built upon it by the Greeks to Nietzsche's later references to slavery, saying that the "new aristocracy" that Nietzsche proposes would also rest on "slavery." This would be a telling point against Nietzsche, if the author's equation were valid.
Even though the author is vaguely aware that Nietzsche may be thinking of the Marxist idea of "wage-slaves" when he refers to modem slavery, he apparently did not notice that Nietzsche uses the term 'slavery' in a very broad sense in regard to its most recent form. In Human, All-Too-Human (p. 283) he avers that whoever "does not have two-thirds of his day to himself is a slave, let him be ... statesman, businessman, official, scholar." In regard to this last class, one does not have to look very far in our democratic society to see academic institutions depending on the "slavery" of a growing army of part-time workers!
Although deeply critical of socialist ideals, Nietzsche was quite familiar with socialitarian theories such as those of Duhring and, through his writings, he was acquainted with the ideas of a then-obscure political economist, Karl Marx (Cf. "Marx and Nietzsche: A Point of Affinity," Modern Schoolman, 9 [May], pp. 23-29).
Despite his efforts, Okonta's stated goal is not attained. However, along the way there are interesting comments and observations about political theory and the problem of values. Chapter III, "The Genealogy of Politics," contains an interesting discussion of theories of the origin of civil society, including a sympathetic treatment of Nietzsche's. The claim that Nietzsche seeks to "deconstruct politics" clashes with the author's view that he also sought a hierarchical, dominating, elitist centralization of political power. Those who might consider their goal as the "deconstruction of politics" seem more concerned with undermining all hierarchies, fragmenting political power, and pluralizing political values. Finally, the lament that Nietzsche offers no objective, rational "justification" for man's choice of values is one that, unfortunately, is relevant to all value-creators. Though he cannot conclusively demonstrate that the value of values is life, Nietzsche uses all of the weapons in his armamentarium to persuade us of this. Despite his passionate, persuasive, and rational arguments in defense of his system of values, Nietzsche understood, as is mentioned in Zarathustra, that a "table of values" cannot be absolutely or objectively shown to be the best for all mankind at all times.
In Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art Young gives us a lively and thorough account, interpretation, and critique of Nietzsche's theory of art, one that focuses on his published works. In this regard, he follows Bernd Magnus's view that most of the materials found in the nonbook, The Will to Power, were not intended for publication. Although it is one thing to want to avoid Heidegger's questionable judgment that the essence of Nietzsche's philosophy is found in notes from the late 1880s, it is another to try to make the often revealing and less guarded writings in the Nachlass forbidden territory. Are we necessarily to assume that whatever Nietzsche says about art or aesthetic experience in his notes is to be ignored because he did not want them published? By adopting what we may call the Magnus-prohibition, Young criticizes Nehamas' postmodern interpretation of Nietzsche (pp. 160-161n) primarily on that basis alone. But Nehamas' analysis of Nietzsche's thought is subject to criticism apart from the citations he relies upon, and it should not be judged solely on the grounds of the textual sources he used. This observation on research method is not intended as undermining the otherwise sprightly and insightful work Young does within this parameter.
Young maintains that Nietzsche was at pains to avoid Schopenhauer's view that aesthetic perception is a will-suppressed state in which "interest" is put aside. It is accurately reported that, for Nietzsche, aesthetic experience is active, transfiguring, rooted in a physiological state: Rausch ("frenzy," "intoxication"). It is pointed out that, unlike the thesis of The Birth of Tragedy, in later works, such as Twilight of the Idols, Rausch is associated with both Apollonian and Dionysian models of artist expression and response to art-works (pp. 126-127). In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche flirts with the notion that "sexual intoxication" in a "spiritualized" expression and response is the ground of art. Throughout his study Young follows and cites the twists and turns of Nietzsche's generalizations about art and aesthetic experience carefully and with a sharp eye for detail.
At one point Young refers to Nietzsche's criticism of the naturalistic fiction of Zola. His writings are seen as expressing a pleasure in the ugly, even as a form of Schadenfreude. Young chides Nietzsche for not seeing that Zola represents the ugly in life and society out of outrage, out of a positivist concept of art as projecting new images of man. Plausibly, it is said that Nietzsche could not accommodate naturalism in art because he repudiated socialism and, hence, reformist, socialist art (pp. 131-133). In addition, Nietzsche viewed the ugly as depressing, as expressing truths that are demoralizing. "We possess art," he insisted, "lest we perish of the truth." These are apposite observations.
In his last works, Young tells us, Nietzsche "returns" to the Dionysian solution of pessimism (p. 137). One may wonder whether this is actually a return insofar as Nietzsche had already announced his transcendence of romantic pessimism and his affirmation of a tragic optimism or "Dionysian pessimism" in The Gay Science. In a number of ways Young sees a circular movement in Nietzsche's reflections on art. He claims that in his terminal observations about art Nietzsche proffers the redemptive power of the superficiality of Apollonian illusion and the redemptive powers of Dionysian transcendence in sublimity, thereby returning to the vision of the human condition, in the penumbra of Schopenhauerian pessimism, in The Birth of Tragedy (p. 139). It is argued that Nietzsche did not entirely overcome the power of negativity, the pessimism of Schopenhauer, in his theory of art.
Despite his insightful understanding of Nietzsche's aesthetic conceptions, Young turns against him in anomalous ad hominem arguments that, in an odd way, reveal an ambivalence towards his subject. Young's wrestling with Nietzsche is psychologically interesting because he offers many sympathetic interpretations of his aesthetic theory and then, inexplicably, attacks the man. That the Ubermensch is to attain a condition of ecstasy, that the highest expression of this (aesthetic) ecstasy is the willing of the recurrence of everything about the world and life, and that this ecstasy is what Nietzsche regards as the ideal relationship to reality (p. 114) are insights that erase the anomalous ad hominem he thrusts against Nietzsche the man.
In Ecce Homo Young discovers a "self-deifying megalomania." Furthermore, violating the Magnus-prohibition, he reaches into Nietzsche's unpublished materials to pull out a passage in which he dissociates himself from his mother and sister, writing that "to think of myself as related to such baseness would be a blasphemy against my godliness" (p. 151). Whether this is metaphorical exaggeration or, as Young puts it, "megalomaniacal delusion," it is culled from a period during which Nietzsche was probably already on the way to a mental illness. Since the author is surely aware of this, and since he has already presented a lively and valuable interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy of art, this citation is both unfair and superfluous. Ironically, there is a sentence intended for inclusion in Ecce Homo that expresses Nietzsche's bitterness to his mother and sister in a more typically sardonic way. The "deepest objection against the 'eternal recurrence,' my genuine abysmal thought, are my mother and sister" (Samtliche Werke, 6, 268).
There is no doubt that this interesting and lively study of Nietzsche's philosophy of art is a valuable contribution to a significant dimension of his thought that, until recently, has been relatively neglected in works in English. Anyone fascinated by this aspect of Nietzsche's writings might find in a slightly earlier, more historically oriented work, Del Caro's Nietzsche Conga Nietzsche, an illuminating treatment of this kaleidoscopic thinker's relation to and reaction to romanticism. Combining these two studies yields a more balanced and more penetrating presentation of a Nietzschean philosophy of art.
George J. Stack
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|Title Annotation:||Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art|
|Author:||Stack, George J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1994|
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