Tag Archives: Nietzsche

D.H. Lawrence – Women in love (1916, 1921)

In the Foreward (1919), Lawrence takes aim at those critics that attempted to censor Women in Love in the same way that The Rainbow was censored back in 1915. He accuses those of living in the form of the old, in which they will perish, much like Birkin will theorize throughout the novel. He also preempts critics that would take issue with the forms of repetition that Lawrence uses throughout. He says that the “pulsing, frictional to-and-fro” motion working up to some sort of “culmination” is what fiction is.

The plot: Ursula and Gudrun Bragwen are two sisters, thoroughly modern, that will eventually be paired with Birkin and Gerald, respectively. Birkin is a stand in for Lawrence, spouting off a bunch of theories about passion, life, convention, etc. Gerald is a passionate captain of industry that eventually dies for love of Gudrun in the French Alps.

Nietzsche: In short, a vulgarized Nietzsche. Compare with Hardy in Tess, where dangerous activity of equating a character with a vital ontology leads to tragedy, whereas in Lawrence, he just assumes that ontology as that which needs to be embraced. This leads to all sorts of ethical problems, ranging from violence towards women to the environmental effects of over-extracting coal from the earth. Also, worth comparing to Tarr…in the Preface to that novel, Lewis talks about the English obsession with Nietzsche, and will go on to critique that sort of unrestrained passion in the form of Kreisler. But he of course turns the screw again by hollowing out the more traditional, Eliotic notion of the artist in the figure of Tarr himself.

Description as Repetition: Lawrence describes his mode of fiction as “repetition with modification,” and this bears out in the use of a single word multiple times within a single paragraph. In order to describe Ursula’s reaction to the urban, he uses the words sordid, ugly, amorphous, and formless mutliple times in different combinations. Similarly, a water-party is described with booming, splashing , drowned, all repeated twice. The effect is one in which the language takes on a mimetic power–not that it necessarily mimes the things it is describing, but that it mimes the sort of sexualized repetition and friction that characterizes the act of writing itself.

The Wrestling Match: Work out Lawrence’s  gender fantasies. It seems to me to be a vulgarized version of Nietzsche imported into, first of all, the blond beast that goes by the name of Gerald (the chapter on the Industrial magnate is one lone discourse on the will to power as manifested through the extraction of coal). But it is also present in the way that Lawrence attempts to excise the woman from the passionate impulse. He wants to make desire immanent to the person desiring, rather than locating it in the object of desire. Thus two men can love without loving something or someone–it is the motion of repetition and struggle that is characteristic of desire.

The classroom: this chapter is the first time we get Birkin lecturing on his theory if passion, life, etc. Ironically, it is Ursula’s classroom. He is accusing her of only wanting knowledge of passion, consciousness, etc., while what has real value is passion itself. Ursula hardly responds to any of Birkin’s point, making Birkin into the didactic, thus subverting his own attempts to live out his theories.


Luc Ferry – Homo Aestheticus (1990)

Baltasar Graican, in the mid-seventeenth century, was the “first” person to use “taste” in a metaphoric sense to refer to the act of aesthetic judgment. It is a faculty able to distinguish between the beautiful and ugly (14). Modern aesthetic is born the moment that art is no longer about objective properties in the real world, but about our subjective relationship to those objects (19). Indeed, one could think about taste, its radical subjectivity and relative incommunicability, as the subjective correlate to the objective condition of the a-rationality of the aesthetic (22). The question of taste, then, becomes the reverse of most other contemporary philosophy: rather than devoting energy to showing how there are no absolute truths, the aesthetic is the realm in which one goes about trying to establish such objectivity on subjectivity, transcendence on immanence (25). It stands in radical distinction from history—in fact, the aesthetic only becomes regarded as such when it is able to break from history and tradition all together. Ferry’s “history” of aesthetics—a history that sets out to solve these problems—converges, as he very readily admits, with the history of subjectivity as such. It makes the book very useful both as an historical index—linking aesthetic development to the history ideas—and as an object of critique—he drinks the kool-aids served up by philosophers that wrench taste out of its corporeal nexus (and is even blind to those philosophers, like Nietzsche, that do the opposite). Nevertheless, the book progresses in five stages.
1. The prehistory of aesthetics—a debate between Descartes and Pascal over where the subject resides (thinking vs sensing) is correlated with whether the aesthetic is supposed to “paint the world” or provide delicacy and sentiment over and against such a world. But the terrain of the debate is the subject, the individual, as a monad, from whose world the divine has withdrawn. This is the pre-condition for the aesthetic.

2. Kant grants beauty more independence: it is allowed to exist in itself and not merely as a representation of the Good. With the withdraw of God, aesthetic is used to theorize a sensus communis. Further, the artist no longer “discovers,” but invents.

3. Hegel gets short shrift. He turns the artwork into the sensuous appearance of the divine (reversion to pre-Kantain aesthetic) and transforms the aesthetic in general into a philosophical pre-condition. Poetry turns into prose, etc. This is a reductive reading of Hegel.

4. Nietzsche contradicts Hegel by fusing the first two moments into one. He affirms the human viewpoint over the divine even while admitting that it is irrevocably flawed, fragmented. However, the real itself is fragmented, so art, and our relationship to it, has a truth revealing function after all.

5. The last stage take Nietzsche as the prophet of the avant-gardes. There is a double-movement: on the one hand toward hyperrelativism and on the other toward hyperrealism. But this is ending, and aesthetics of the 21st century are moving towards revival, cohesion, traditional narratives, etc. This final point reveals Ferry’s tendentious account, reducing both Modernist and contemporary art to clichés. Neverthless, a great book packed with good info, etc.

Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

The counterthrow to all of Nietzsche’s affirmation, published one year after Zarathustra. Taking off from his theory of affirmation, he claims that “truth” is not best defined according to good and evil, but to what extent a “judgment” is “life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding” (§4). This does not mean that we assimilate to nature (“live according to nature” like the Stoics), but rather participate in the aggressive, combative drives by which nature perpetuates itself (§9). For this reason, self-preservation is not primary, but a consequence of the animals desire to utilize (“vent”) its strength (§13). “Be aware of superfluous teleological principles.”

Style is defined as the byproduct of translation: “That which translates worst from one language to another is the tempo of its style,” which is linked to the “average tempo of [a race’s] metabolism” (§28)

He defines life as an organic process (and also the soul as a social composite-effect) coextensive with the will-to-power. He wonders whether that which is given–our desires and passions–might not suffice for an understanding of our material world: “as a kind of instinctual life in which all organic functions, together with self-regulation, assimilation, nourishment, excretion, metabolism, are still synthetically bound together” (§36).

Crucially, Nietzsche is not calling for laisser aller, but for a form of living that is concerted and artistic: “Every artist know how far from the feeling of letting himself go his ‘natural condition’ is, the free order, placing, disposing, forming in the moment of ‘inspiration'” (§188).

Everyday experience is a process of (artistic) invention, creation, deception. (§192). Herd instinct is the unfortunate outcome of “narrow” human evolution [Curious way of approaching pastoral] (§199). Connect this with History for Life, which talks about the need to turn away from becoming in order to create something eternal. This also connects with Jane Bennet’s ontology of resistance as the means by which the subject carves out a space for agency. 

Nietzsche does not believe in disinterestedness–the “aesthetics of disinterested contemplation through which the emasculation of art tries, seductively enough, to give itself a good consciensce” (§33)–but does not give a very good argument.: He who has sacrificed know he really wanted something in return, perhaps something of himself in exchange for himself…to feel himself more.” At the very least, he believes the aesthetic functions otherwise. Pursue this in relation to Kant and Hegel, and Deleuze. (§220)

For Nietzsche, historical sense resides in the palate, and is associated with mixing and inbreeding, etc. He condemns “tasting” as a sort of dilettantism,” a curiosity in everything that holds back from the investments of desire. Every once in a while, something infinite transcends the measuredness of good taste. (§224)

Man unites created and creator. (225)

Growth is the fundamental process by which humans, civilizations, and species progress….It is a frighteningly violent form of identity-thinking: “The power of the spirit to appropriate what is foreign to it is revealed in a strong inclination to assimilate the new to the old, to simplify the complex, to overlook or repel what is wholly contradictory.” (230)

Weird stuff about bad cooking being a root cause of cultural decline. Women take the hit, of course. (234)

Adaptation and Capital: N dreams of a supra-national nomad that slowly emerges above and beyond the mass of readily employable workers, praises such a dream-man, but also notes the necessary disparity between classes that would ensue. Interesting and important: flow of capital as growth, organic, etc. (242)

Nietzsche indulges in the stock stereotypes of Jews (greedy and smart, but deplorable) and English (stultifying but impressive).

In Hegelian fashion (but also working from his theses concerning adaptation and accumulation), N defines life as fundamentally an act of appropriation, even if this is an ugly idea. (259)

Nietzsche foresees a moment outliving the “old morality” in which the “individual stands there, reduced to his own law0giving, to his own arts and stratagems for self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-redemption.” Modernity if ruled, then, by the power of the average–the lowest common denominator. Nietzsche is both awed and scared of mediocrity (§268). Connect this with Thomas Hardy’s concept of loving-kindness.

After-dinner nausea (282)

Friedrich Nietzsche – On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (1874)

The second of the four Untimely Meditations, which was published in the first part of Nietzsche’s roughly triadic career, beginning with the radical condemnation of “science” in Birth of Tragedy and Untimely, moving to the more “empirical” middle period of Human, All too Human, Dawn of Day and The Gay Science (which ends in the realization that such activity has killed God, tragically), and then to the final period that brings the two early movements together: Beyond Good and Evil, Zarathustra, Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols.

The fundamental question of the meditation is summarized in the final, tenth section:

Now, is life to rule over knowledge, over science, or is knowledge to rule over life? Which of these two authorities is the higher and decisive one? No one will doubt: life is the higher, the ruling authority, for any knowledge which destroys life would also have destroyed itself. Knowledge presupposes life and so has the same interest in the preservation of life which every being has in its own continuing existence. (62)

Nietzsche is here referring to historical knowledge in particular–that is,  a relationship to historical existence that is either overly scientific-empirical (antiquarian) or overly monumental (a worship of great deeds that obliterates the complex causal chains leading to these “effects in themselves”). Both of these kinds of history need to be paired with a critical history, that belongs to man “in so far as he suffers and is in need of liberation” (14). Critical history is “the strength…to shatter and dissolve something to enable him to live: this he achieves by draggin it to the bar of judgment, interrogating it meticulously and finally condemning it.” According to Nietzsche, “every past…is worth condemning” (21). Unlike the Hegelian tribunal of world-history, Nietzsche’s ultimate judge is life itself: “that dark, driving, insatiably self-desiring power” (22). This creates a “contradiction” between the chain of inherited values (first nature) and the attempt usurp or break this chain with a new vital  instinct (derived from life, after all) which Nietzsche calls “second nature.” A curious adumbration of both Lukcás and Adorno:

It is an attempt, as it were, a posteriori to give oneself a past from which one would like to have been descended in opposition to the past from which one is descended:–always a dangerous attempt because it is so difficult to find a limit in denying the past and because second natures are mostly feebler than the first. Too often we stop at knowing the good without doing it because we also know the better without being to do it. Yet here and there a victory is achieved nevertheless, and for fighters who use critical history for life there is even a remarkable consolation: namely, to know that this first nature also was, at some other time, a second nature and that every victorious second nature becomes a first. (22)

This critique of origins shows how Nietzsche is not simply involved in denial of the past, but is rather building a system through which the past can become legible in the present at all. It is precisely science, what he calls “historical education,” that blots out history by hypostasizing past events as knowable units of information. In Germany, for example, this manifests itself as a disjunction between inside and outside, or content and form, caused by an “excess of knowledge”: “indigestible knowledge stones” that cannot find any external form appropriate to their content. This explains the failure of the Germans to forge any national culture, supposedly. Opposed to this passive absorption of formless historical knowledge, Nietzsche puts forward an active history-making that is future oriented: The past always speaks as an oracle: only as master-builders of the future who know the present  will you understand it” (38). Creativity, the creative instinct, is primary.

This then turns into a critique of Hegelian history, primarily by questioning the concept of belatedness. Nietzsche eschews this “ironic” standpoint, which he points out, merely confirms the present as the pinnacle of history, and “all things after him are properly judged to be only a musical coda of the world-historical rondo” (47). On the contrary to this spirit-driven narrative, Nietzsche claims that history bears the “against history” within it–that is, those who “against the blind power of the actual” concerned themselves with the ought rather than the is. This is associated with the perpetual power of youth, which fights against “a certain excess of history” by trying deliberately to act “unhistorically” (57).

But this does not mean acting as if we were not bound by historical contingency. On the contrary, Acting ahistorically means precisely binding oneself to horizons that do not include the great chain of becoming that is “all of history”: “I demand that above all men must learn to live and use history only in the service of the life they have learned to live” (58). This means understanding life as “a craft which has to be learned from the beginning continuously practiced without stint if it is not to breed a crawling brood of botchers and babblers” (60)! Thus,

By the word ‘the unhistorical’ I denote the art and strength of being able to forget and enclose oneself in a limited horizon: ‘superhistorical; I call the powers which guide the eye away from becoming and toward that which gives existence an eternal and stable character, toward art and religion. (62)

Connect this quote with Deleuze’s claim from What is Philosophy?

Becoming does not belong to history. History still designates only the set of conditions, however recent they may be, from which one turns away in order to become, that is to say, in order to create something new.”[1]

[Need to map out the exact relationship between becoming and history for both Nietzsche and Deleuze.] Both claim for the human an ability to turn away from history, but for Nietzsche this entails a stabilization of the human as against history in the form of art. Deleuze locates becoming in that which transcends history. And we could add that this transcendence is precisely what perpetuates history itself (Marx). For Nietzsche, however, this rigorous self-limitation results in the “becoming human” and no longer “human aggregates” (64). This therefore is a “new and improved nature,” a second nature that has become a first.

[1] What is Philosophy?, 96.


On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans. Peter Prauss (Hackett: Indianapolis and Cambridge, 1980)

Terry Eagleton – The Meaning of Life (2007)

A shockingly disappointing collection of armchair impressions including commentary on current Isalm vs. The West conflicts , decontextualized poaching of Wittgenstein aphorisms, and cursory reading of all of Beckett in 9 pages. That each page only contains about 50 words makes this feet all the more impressive. Spends a long time “deconstructing” the word “meaning” before turning, very briefly, to the concept of life. Unfortunately, he fails to treat life as a biological necessity, but only as the source of meaning that he has spent so much time calling into question. For Eagleton, life isn’t about preserving the body, but only about meaning-giving processes that find their fullest expression in acts of altruism or love. So the final chapter claims life = love, which is a fitting conclusion to a book that aspires to so little (or so much, which is the same  thing when dealing with these large issues).

Eagleton does usefully summarize certain philosophers like Schopenhauer, in particular, showing how the Will, as completely self-determining, is based on the model of appetite. All consciousness is false consciousness. Thus the human enterprise is much like the mole’s:

To dig strenuously with its enormous shovel-paws is the business of its whole life; permanent night surrounds it…what does it attain by its course of life that is full of trouble and devoid of please? Nourishment and procreation, that is, only the menas for continuing and beginning again in the new individual the same melancholy course. (The World as Will and Representation, 353-4)

Eagleton draws a parallel between Schopenhauer’s Will and Freud’s Desire, showing how both depend on a fundamental lack for their perpetual dynamism.  For Nietzsche, the Will to Power “means the tendency of all things to realize, expand, and augment themselves; and it is reasonable to see this end in itself, just as Aristotle regards human flourishing as an end in itself. Spinoza viewed power in much the same way” (154). This sort of parallelism is what is most helpful about Eagleton’s book: it takes, for example, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Happiness = life, because it is self-grounded, i.e. we cannot reasonably ask why someone wants to be happy), and shows how it traces through a diverse range of thinkers. To add another to the list, Karl Marx’s master concept would be history, or the self-transcendence of the linguistic animal.

Eagleton uses Wittgenstein to both underwrite and subvert his entire project of finding life’s meaning. From the Tractatus:

We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, then problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer. The solution of the problem is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (6.5, 6.251)

Relate this to Witt’s essay on ethics, in which the final book on essays destroys all other books. How do these two images of extreme resolution fit together?

Finally, there is a curious debate stages between Heidegger and Lacan: whereas  Heidegger searches out the meaning of being, Lacan transforms the problem into meaning vs. being. For Lacan, the subject can either “mean” or “be,” but it cannot do both at the same time. In Eagleton’s words:

Once we enter into language, and thus into our humanity, what one might call the ‘truth of the subject,’ its being-as-such, is divided up into an unending chain of partial meanings,. We attain meaning only at the price of a loss of being. (91)