Insomnia | Essays

Nehamas: Sterilizing Nietzsche through Art

By William G. Plank


Nehamas' sanitizing of Nietzsche through art is the most unkindest critique of all:

"Nietzsche, I argue, looks at the world in general as if it were a sort of artwork; in particular, he looks at it as if it were a literary text. And he arrives at many of his views of the world and the things within it, including his views of human beings, by generalizing to them ideas and principles that apply almost intuitively to the literary situation, to the creation and interpretation of literary texts and characters. Many of his very strange ideas appear significantly more plausible in this light." (Nehamas, p. 3)

My goodness! The Will to Power is not such a strange idea (and it is not supposed to make professors happy), unless autocatalytic systems, the world as the interrelated play of desire, the reevaluation of values, the concept of moral perfectibility, the recombination of particles, DNA, the genealogy of morals, Freud's psyche as energetic dynamic, nonlinear causality, and the whole attack on classical mechanics and its logical basis by quantum theory are very strange. We live in a world where hundreds of millions of people do not flinch at believing in the Garden of Eden and the Redeemer, which are no more difficult to accept than the Overman. The sanitization of Nietzsche misses the point that his is a vast cosmic-moral vision which replaces all Socratic Judeo-Christianity with a godless integrated universe as closely knit as the universe of Teilhard de Chardin and his panpsychic law of complexity-consciousness, and whom no one has thought to promote to aesthetico-literary status. But by sanitizing his works we apparently engage with the "magnificent philosopher" who emerges through them and not with the "miserable little man" as Nehamas calls him (p. 234).

Within the structural integrity of the Nietzschean Quartet, the triage and sterilization of the fatum is the democratization and the embourgeoisification of the Übermensch. But the Overman is neither democrat nor bourgeois. The sanitized Overman is on his way to becoming a social Darwinist and a disciple of Ayn Rand. To throw the dice repeatedly, to sort out the elements of the fatum is the wissenschaftliche equivalent of a sociologist or a physicist who would manage his data so as to get the desired result. There can be no true science with managed data... there cannot even be, cannot especially be a science or genealogy of morals with managed data. It is one of Nietzsche's principal insights that a science of morals must be based on an entire acceptance of the "moral data" and than any managing and sifting falsifies the observations on which we must base a science of morals. Managing the data so as to exclude Ronald Reagan from your Amor Fati is unscientific and makes a true science or genealogy of morals impossible. Sifting out the trash from your fatum is to base a science of morality on data management: religions manage the data and even create the data in order to get the desired result. Sifting the data is a reactive process. The Overman is not reactive.

The censorship of the fatum and thus of the Eternal Recurrence deprives reality of its value. "One has deprived reality of its value, its meaning, its veracity, to precisely the extent to which an ideal world has been fabricated" (Ecce Homo, 2). Censoring the fatum or making it a work of art is the invention of an ideal world, a world which is only literature. Thus the sanitization of Nietzsche and the fatum deprives reality of its value, its moral and its scientific value. Hitler is a part of the Will to Power, of the desiring machines, the parasites and palimpsets and we would reject him because within the bosom of the Nietzschean trinity we are closer to such men than we would like to be. We are a product of the same universe, perhaps in some mystical eternally recurrent way, identical. Our rejection of the Eternal Recurrence because of an aestheticist proclivity is moral pusillanimity in the face of the human experience — and that is what Nietzsche understood:

"In the actual world, in which everything is bound to and conditioned by everything else, to condemn and think away anything means to condemn and think away everything. The expression "that should not be", "that should not have been", is farcical—" (The Will to Power, 584)

There are people who would refinish and buff up Michel Serres' palimpsets, kick the board on which the glass bead games are played, domesticate the autoproductive unconscious, and spray-paint the Amor Fati.


[Excerpt from William G. Plank, The Quantum Nietzsche: The Will to Power and the Nature of Dissipative Systems (1998).]