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Nietzsche: The Body and Culture.

Friedrich Nietzsche is generally received as a clever critic of metaphysics who nevertheless remained hopelessly entangled in the metaphysical tradition he sought to challenge. As a consequence perhaps of Heidegger's influential designation of Nietzsche as the "last metaphysician of the West," scholars have for the most part treated Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics as provocative and entertaining, but ultimately unsuccessful. In his important study of 1987, Eric Blondel attempts to recuperate and defend Nietzsche's immanent critique of metaphysics. The key to Blondel's interpretation is his attention to the body as the central focus of Nietzsche's philosophy. For Blondel as for Nietzsche, the body stands for the "other" of metaphysics: flux, appearance, becoming, excess, incontinence, and difference. Any attempt to fix or define or stabilize the body necessarily involves its relapse into the procrustean bed of metaphysics. The central question of Nietzsche's philosophy thus becomes, How can we speak of the body without thereby violating it? According to Blondel, Nietzsche realized that a discursive account of the body is both necessary--lest philosophy degenerate into an idle exercise--and yet impossible to articulate without recourse to the suffocating categories of metaphysics.

Blondel proposes an ingenious solution to this dilemma: Nietzsche deploys a metaphorical "para-discourse" that enables him to "unsay or retract what he says" (p. 248), thus allowing him to speak within metaphysics about the body. Blondel thus presents a Nietzsche who self-consciously labored within a metaphysical tradition he knew he could neither escape nor overcome. Nietzsche consequently limits his critique of metaphysics to a proliferating series of carefully executed experiments; he is content "merely" to orchestrate this immanent challenge rather than to pursue it to some dialectical conclusion. Blondel thus locates the affirmative moment of Nietzsche's philosophy in the text itself, which, via metaphor, both "produces and sub-verts its signifieds" (p. 29).

Blondel concentrates on the cluster of physiological metaphors whereby Nietzsche figures as texts both the body and, by extension, culture. Blondel thus presents Nietzschean genealogy as a symptomatological attempt to interpret culture as a "bodily economy," that is, in terms of its health or decay. Because Nietzsche relies so heavily on metaphor to convey his genealogies, he minimizes the risk that they might reify the body and culture as metaphysical entities. Of course, this metaphor-intensive "para-discourse" also compromises the validity and explanatory power of Nietzsche's genealogy of culture. But this is a price that Blondel believes Nietzsche was willing to pay in order to raise the question of the body.

Blondel's command of Nietzsche's writing is indeed impressive; he supplies a wealth of textual evidence in support of virtually every interpretative point he makes. At times, however, I found the excessive citation of texts a distraction from the argument of the book as a whole. For example, it is not unusual for Blondel to devote entire pages to the documentation of textual evidence; chapter 8 alone contains four hundred forty-six footnotes. While Blondel's book would have benefitted immensely from the guidance of a stronger editorial hand, it is nevertheless an important and insightful contribution to the growing secondary literature on Nietzsche's philosophical methods and styles.
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Author:Conway, Daniel W.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:514
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