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The Philosophy Of Nietzsche Essay, Research Paper

“I fear we shall never be rid of God because we retain our faith in grammar” is the culminating sentence in Friedrich Nietzsche’s argument (in Twilight of the Idols) concerning the relationship between a belief in God and grammatical habit–our tendency to see things in terms of subject/object. This argument is itself a “working-through” (Verwindung) of one of the ramifications of Nietzsche’s famous dictum that “God is dead,” which is generally accepted as being far more than a comment on a supposed decline in religious observation in 19th Century Europe. The by-now traditional reading of Zarathustra’s announcement , rather, is to see Nietzsche as proclaiming the loss of absolutes against which phenomena, thought, and action could possibly be measured; if such absolutes are gone (or, to stay closer to Nietzsche’s argument, are discovered to have been always-already illusory in nature), then the ground is opened for a “revaluation of all values.” Many readers of poststructuralism take this as one starting point for the various projects grouped under the catch-all names of “modernism” and “postmodernism”–the sense of unrootedness, of anomie, so common in this century as to be a cliche’, takes this loss as a given.

Yet, Martin Heidegger suggested that Nietzsche himself was a “reversed Platonist”–that his announcement of this world-historical change, couched in world-historical terms, itself reproduced the idealist assumptions about the world that Nietzsche decried. In writing “How the ‘True World’ Became a Fable: The History of an Error,” Nietzsche narrates, historicizes– and thus falsifies–a “fall from grace,” the deterioration of a previously-higher state of awareness, with all the metaphysical baggageof the Eden story such a “legend of the Fall” implies.

However, if the very mechanism of Indo-European language, with its dependence on subject/object distinctions, inescapably reiterates and reinscribes what Jacques Derrida would describe as “logocentrism” (and Nietzsche, in typically more pugnacious prose, would call God, as a habit of thought), then how can we hope to write or think otherwise?

One possible answer might lie in the rethinking of the subject/object opposition; such a rethinking may be found in the work of certain contemporary feminists. Donna Haraway’s exploration of the metaphor of the “cyborg” as an alternative way of viewing woman’s subjectivity (an alternative that explicitly refuses the organicist metaphors that dominate other feminisms by rethinking the body in its relation to technology) and Rosi Bradiotti’s call for a feminist subject are but two of the many avenues of this endeavor, yet, to consider Nietzsche’s problem with the problem of history and the subject, I wish to consider another, older text on this “subject.”

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf called for women writers to “break the sentence”–to express their subjectivity in a fashion different from the established canons of prose, canons she described as implicitly masculine in nature. She argues, in fact, that the subject, the writing “I” (what Benveniste would later call the “subject of the enunciation,” as opposed to the “I” inscribed in the text itself, the “subject of the enonce’”, or “enounced”) is not only what we might call “passively” male, but acts to expressly deny woman’s existence. In this way, Woolf sees the “breaking of the sentence” as a direct intervention into what, after Foucault, we might call the operations of “power/knowledge.”

The breaking of the sentence as a method for thinking about Nietzsche’s problem with history cannot be taken to be identical with Woolf’s project to break the male sentence–the two problematics involved share much of the same ground, but differ in important ways. Although the polemic of “feminism” vs. “deconstruction” is too complex to be reduced to a manageable size here, one of the bones of contention (”But she has not a bone in her body, I thought”) between mainstream feminism and poststructuralism is precisely the status of the “subject” in contemporary thought. Some feminists have contended that the much-ballyhooed “death of the subject” is, in practice if not in theory, a tactical retreat by those who would seek to preserve patriarchy (or, more charitably, those whose pseudo-radical gestures serve to preserve patriarchy despite their best intentions): “Yes, Yes, we grant that women have an equal claim on the status of subject, but that status is itself a metaphysical construct and thus can be, must be deconstructed.” Such a view of poststructuralism seems to me to take the metaphor of “death” far too literally (in a movement eerily reminiscent of some readings of Nietzsche’s previous funeral announcement) and assumes that what is “dead” is therefore of no account; in fact, the entire field of cultural studies seems all too eager to proclaim the “death of deconstruction” in just such a dismissive fashion. To suggest that we can now safely and with assurance move on to other problems (or return to old unresolved issues) is to ignore the immense recuperative powers of the “closure of metaphysics”–that which cannot be escaped, yet demands to be escaped. Jacques Derrida’s recent Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International explores the “spectropoetics”–the call of the other from beyond the grave and the immeasurable indebtedness such a call occasions–in order to examine yet another recent listing in the obituary columns of intellectual history: the “death of Marxism.” This desire to be rid of vexing intellectual questions is perhaps a vestige we retain from belief in progress in the human sciences, yet such a faith itself is listed among the casualties of the fallout of Zarathustra’s explosive claim. How then write about Nietzsche without claiming to solve the problems of historicity and the re-inscription of patriarchy (problems I face with the fascination always concommitant with the insoluble)?

One small way in which such a contradictory demand might be faced is in the examination of just what a hypertextual breaking of Nietzsche’s sentence might entail. I believe that this appropriation of Woolf’s suggestion is not merely another male appropriation of the techniques and rhetoric of feminism for masculinist ends, but this is only because I see the feminist problematic as–not identical with or reducible to the poststructuralist set of problems, but–part of the larger questioning of (and culmination of) Enlightenment questions about the nature of the individual, society, and the possibility of knowledge. For this reason, I have chosen to “break” Nietzsche’s sentence at the start of this section, in order to consider the effects of hypertextual linkage upon this problematic. I make no grand claims for this experiment, for if anything is “dead” here, it is the era of “grand claims”–programmatic proclamations of totality.


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