Sunday, May 27, 2007

the (anti)material imagination



One has to admit that modernism in art is, for the most part, a pain in the arse. It's too often not the dissolution of the imaginary border between art and life, but rather a series of put on weirdo gestures: a contrived wounded bird act that only serves to stress by contrast the elevated actressy qualities of its producers.

This apparent division: between primary qualities and secondary qualities; the ideal and the real, that art sometimes promises to abolish but really cannot, for political reasons: this apparent division follows so closely the style and rhetoric of advertising as hardly justifying enquiry into its other possible sources.

The rules of advertising are of necessity simple. The pure colours of advertising surely indicate the divinity of the commodity, (necessarily material but) somehow free from the depredations of time that afflict all thing material.

(the influence of these ideas could be tracked alongside technological advances in printing)

But this same metaphysical system is (naturally) applicable universally, and one can imagine the consequences: a wonderfully pure sphere of interpersonal communication (inevitably) undercut by an ugly insistant materiality.

(something Lyotard gets very well: the interplay of the concept ordering matter and the materiality, so to speak, of matter: the grain of the voice etc, like all problems a political problem)

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, exiled in Switzerland, writes of the first Cubist painters:

"In the words of Locke, these painters distinguish between primary and secondary qualities. They endeavor to represent the primary, or most important qualities, as exactly as possible. In painting these are: the object's form, and its position in space. They merely suggest the secondary characteristics such as color and tactile quality leaving their incorporation into the object to the mind of the spectator"

In my opinion Kahnwelier has the right terminology but applies it inexactly. The point, surely, is as much to stress the real richness of materiality against its induced reflexive evasion.

1908: Picasso is going to attempt to undermine this upstart Primary. Marie Laurencin is looking at things from a different angle.

30 comments:

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves."

this is one of badiou's 15 theses on contemporary art:

http://www.lacan.com/frameXXIII7.htm

catmint said...

thanks Chabert,

If I recall you were initially going to respond to this manifesto point by point but decided against it. The first part's really concise and written in everyday (ish) language but it's a concise expression of some consequences of Badiou's Theory of the Subject, it seems to me, though I haven't read his books and only have a sketchy idea of what he means. So he's really prompting either an informed discussion of his (ideosyncratic) ideas, or a rash discussion, or no discussion. I suppose this may have given you second thoughts as to whether or not you should play.

I think there's very good reasons for supporting naïve discussions of art, and anyway thesis 14 doesn't really depend on Badiou's earlier theses, so:

"since it is sure of its" is a kind of mock-naïve hegelianism, sort of signposting its disengagement from conventional market thinking as if there were obvious reasons for this

the observation about censorship is right: there isn't too much overt censorship

this strategy from governments would follow from some of Karl Marx's ideas being confirmed by practice, or Frederic the second "my people and I have an understanding; they say what they want and I do what I want"

from a different perspective, with the terminology of Empire, if one is going to try to apply an extreme sort of monism one to explain why communications aren't just white noise

with reference to the last sentance, I don't believe the economy is coextensive with the ruling class so I can't really accept this idea, it reminds me of some kind of religious thinking, but I can't really say what

catmint said...

...it's almost like something from the era of Blanqui:

"14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Moloch no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves."

[alteration mine]

catmint said...

if one is going to try to apply an extreme sort of monism one OUGHT to explain why communications aren't just white noise

Le Colonel Chabert said...

yeah...i never got around to them. The first 12 are a bit mystical i think, and as you say naive...he displaces for example consumer consciousness product (abstraction) into qualities of art objects, thus avoiding all acknowledgement of ideology and institution - and seem based on B hallucinating a social group and practise of art that simply does not exist and for fairly easily identified reasons; but the final three which are prescriptive are intriguing, though perhaps they oughtn't be addressed to these imaginary practitioners of the truth procedures but to all intellectools instead....

I thought what he didn't say was more interesting than what he said; it's invariably the case with this genre...

And that's a great alteration! and confirms my suspishins.

on the other hand...this fidelity to the event of modernism is strangely touching. Better than the salesman sloganeering for all the 'post'-isms.

But it is religious indeed.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

this nostalgia (for beckett, genet, francis bacon etc) has to make a little confession ("aristocratic-proletarian") and what is prohibited ("particularity") is a declaration against the spectacle, a refusal to acknowledge the existing state of affairs (not to mention modernism's place in its development).

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Blanqui's a good choice...in the middle of the first art querelle in which l'art pour l'art achieves dominance, the status of last instance, but fought on the terrain of novels.

Badiou is interesting because it is his aesthetic perceptiveness I think which has necessitated his reliance on set theory in his philosophy product (it's the only escape route from the art function in prose), but then also inspires the limitation - why his philosophy isn't set theory (why he is not a mathematician). The status of set theory in the philosophy is defined by his intuitions about modernist art, and the texts have to be understood as high modernist interpreted in the criticism developed as suitable to high modernist works. The set theory is not a metaphor exactly, but it is nonetheless a kind of trope. A trope with a very strict relation to the prose, which is kind of pegging the prose to a "content", or trapping and evacuating the literariness of the prose. The empty set in the prose text works like a duchamp.

catmint said...

thanks

I'll maybe come back to Badiou's theses, I quite liked the idea of him resurecting the manifesto as a form of polemic.

"a refusal to acknowledge the existing state of affairs (not to mention modernism's place in its development)"

what's difficult actually is to talk about mainstream instances of ideology production/reproduction, including but not limited to mass-culture art, using the conceptual tools that apparently fit with it. Just in order to have something to discuss that can't be arbitrarily replaced I think it's worth looking at some of the 19th century stuff. And also so much advertising, for instance, derives from the innovations of this era (to 1930 say).

I think you're right that Badiou can't be seriously addressing certified artists like this (can he?) it's maybe intended in a slightly playful way

It might be post-maoist epicurian, something like that

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"I think you're right that Badiou can't be seriously addressing certified artists like this (can he?) it's maybe intended in a slightly playful way"

jah. I think it's only barely disguised instruction for how to read whatever appears. Happily any art can be read for this feature, because if it's not obvious, it must be implied as concealed. (one of the conveniences of art). abstraction guarantees that everything will be recognised in every work of art, one way or another.

catmint said...

this has been in the British newspapers of the past few days, as a general interest story (so it's meant to give the general reader a certain feeling). I think it fits quite closely to what Badiou is opposing in his prologue:

"I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It's the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art. "

so it sort of fits the disco skull, but I think for artistic reasons, or whatver, Badiou wants to pair the opposing concepts finite/infinite. Once he's done this his theses look very much how one would imagine modern philosophy if one didn't try to involve oneself with this field. It's now pitched somewhere between formal logic and persian poetry.

But I think the problematic of the disco skull is a real issue that Badiou's noticed, emblematic of other stategies, or whatever, in publicity/ideology.

What's evaded, I think, because it's a source of embarrassment, is the spectacle, as an imaginary repository of knowledge half way between the platonic ideal and the vulgar political. Which is what interested me in Kandinky's monograph, he's an educated man (an economist in fact) not anyone's fool, and yet he has this very precise about how "the spiritual life" is: it's neither spiritual nor material, but it's quite like a diagram showing fifty great painters you might find in a magazine.

catmint said...

"jah. I think it's only barely disguised instruction for how to read whatever appears. Happily any art can be read for this feature, because if it's not obvious, it must be implied as concealed. (one of the conveniences of art). abstraction guarantees that everything will be recognised in every work of art, one way or another"

yeah, well, he could have said "just opt out" and he doesn't for political reasons. But it's not straightforward to opt out of all of ideology (in the us/eu). It's normal now to not watch tv but it wasn't a couple of years ago when these theses were written. It was almost scandalous!

Le Colonel Chabert said...

See now For the love of God strikes me as simultaneously just what B is deploring (its simple art procedure matches forms, or rather, techniques, to body parts) and exactly what he is recommending! Or in anycase as close as possible (it's doubtful that anything really truly never acknowledged can be revealed), and thus showing/revealing a limit unrecognised by imperial philosophy, as a bonus. It also may champion/avow, and capitalise, the philistinism Bull described. It is a powerful abstraction generator; if there is a political objection to it, it would have to do precisely with its indifference to and contempt of a particular particularity.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

I think to play B's game one has to pretend, to time-travel, to play at this "savvy naïveté" about art, much as one does in a cinema. One has to pretend there is still "art", conceptually and socially, to regard it as if one knows nothing of what one really knows. There is a class of people, its very small, who remain sujects of art, but B is suggesting a kind of denial of the fact that they are alone, that they have been severed not only from the majority but from the ruling class, and this includes the ruling stratum of the "art world" and art market. This subject of art can function socially severed from the majority, but it cannot function severed from Saatchi. The class doesn't have the money per capita, for one thing, to make itself relevant. It's access to media and podia here in this sphere are marginalised (it has access only to serve, not to assert itself really). This is one of the truths of For the love of God.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

the fact that when you read an article about this piece, you have to check the date to make sure isn't April 1st; the fact that the price of the object is a fully integrated feature, and even in a sense its central concept....

Le Colonel Chabert said...

even the way it revises the relation between the fetish and the fetish-quality; the material object to its artness (the object recededs behind the spectacle it generates - nobody needs or desires to stand in front of it, to see it with the naked eye - and yet for all that it has to be made of ostentatiously precious materials, that there is an object - a jewel, a unique thing - at the end of the spectacular chain, determines everything).

catmint said...

"I think to play B's game one has to pretend, to time-travel, to play at this "savvy naïveté" about art, much as one does in a cinema. One has to pretend there is still "art", conceptually and socially, to regard it as if one knows nothing of what one really knows."

yeah, it's not all a realistic attitude - I think one could only defend it as a form of nostalgia.I sometimes entertain (equally unrealistic) ideas like this myself. At the sime time though the media is always supposing an (absent) cognoscenti class, which would relate these ideas to Badiou's professional anxeities (as an artist of sorts himself)

catmint said...

"the fact that when you read an article about this piece, you have to check the date to make sure isn't April 1st"

well, Hirst has a game too: see if you can criticise this work without appearing philistine, feel free to use the arguments from this newspaper

catmint said...

"This is one of the truths of For the love of God"

yes, this is the Truth of For the love of God

catmint said...

New Left Review seems to be subscriber only

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Malcolm Bull
The Ecstasy of Philistinism
Believing that philistinism was not mere vulgarity but ‘the antithesis par excellence of aesthetic behaviour’, Adorno expressed interest in studying the phenomenon as a via negativa to the aesthetic. [1] But the project remained unrealized, and although he frequently made dismissive or insulting remarks about philistines, Adorno never bothered to investigate what, if anything, philistinism might be. In this respect, his attitude was characteristic of the discourse against philistinism that had been in circulation since the nineteenth century. But in his unfulfilled desire to study the philistine, Adorno opened the way to a revaluation of that tradition, for upon closer examination the philistine proves to be a figure of greater historical and intellectual importance than Adorno imagined.

On the face of it, the type of study Adorno had in mind should be relatively straightforward. A glance at the newspapers suggests that we are surrounded by philistines. To cite just a few examples from recent British publications: when David Hockney returned from Los Angeles for the opening of his exhibition at the Royal Academy in November 1995, he complained that British mps are ‘Philistines who are not concerned with beauty’. The police’s involvement in the case of a news-reader whose partner had taken photographs of a naked child was, he suggested, a consequence of the ‘philistine law on pictures’ that the government had instituted. [2] But it is not only Conservatives who are branded as philistines. A few days later, the editor of Tribune was quoted as saying: ‘There’s a new philistinism in Labour. It’s not interested in debate. If you talk to people close to the Labour leadership, they say all the Party wants is ideas they can sell to the Sun, Mirror and Mail.’ [3] Yet philistinism is clearly perceived to extend beyond the realm of politics: in the following month, ten pages of the Literary Review were devoted to a ‘Cry Against the Philistines’, a litany of protests against what Tariq Ali, one of the contributors, called the ‘commercial philistinism which has swamped this country’s culture.’ [4] According to George Walden, another contributor, ‘Philistines. . .are no longer barbarians encamped outside the Citadel of the Arts: now they sit atop it, benevolent-eyed, directing the cultural traffic.’ [5]

Perhaps such protests should lead us to conclude that philistinism is something endemic to ruling classes. This was certainly the view of one contributor to the letters pages of Opera magazine in1992: Julian Budden (of Florence), concerned about the lack of funding for opera houses, concluded that: ‘If there is such a thing as “the English disease”, it is, I submit, Philistinism in high places.’ [6] But other readers of Opera were quick to point out that he had underestimated the extent of the problem. Ronald Crichton (of Eastbourne) responded that philistinism is an ‘affliction [that]is widespread, insidious and in outward appearance not always immediately recognizable’; philistinism is not confined to high places but is, he argued, an ‘infection [that]goes right down to the roots of English life.’ [7] Nevertheless, those with a less parochial perspective affirm that philistinism is not merely an English disease: England may be rooted in philistinism, but by all accounts its full flowering has taken place elsewhere, in what Terry Eagleton recently termed that ‘extravagantly philistine country’, the United States. [8]

Like Adorno, who believed that the philistine’s ‘antiartistic attitude verges on sickness’, [9] contemporary critics of philistinism treat the phenomenon as pathological. But what exactly is this disease whose symptomatology includes so many superficially unrelated problems? To answer this question it is helpful to employ a set of distinctions developed by Michael Thompson in Rubbish Theory. According to his analysis there are three types of object—those like antiques and works of art which are considered durable and whose value is expected to increase; those that are considered transient (that is, everyday objects whose values are highest when new and subsequently decrease) and those that have no value and are treated accordingly. [10] Thompson’s analysis allows us to define the philistine position more precisely. The philistine should argue not that existing objects are of temporary as opposed to durable aesthetic value, or that, although they may once have been or may yet become valuable, all existing objects are valueless, but that all objects are permanently aesthetically valueless. In consequence, any object whose value is derived solely from its classification as an art-object is fit only for recycling.

With this in mind, it is easy to see that certain positions that are sometimes described as philistine are not really philistine at all. For example, people who value popular culture in the same way as high culture, or who prefer popular culture to high culture, are just promoting the transient at the expense of the durable or revaluing the transient as durable. The position of anti-art movements like Dada is less clear. Dada certainly gave expression to the philistine impulse, but although its rhetoric was vigorously anti-aesthetic, what actually happened in the creation of a ready-made was that something that had the transient aesthetic value of a machine-produced object or was even an object of no value at all was then treated as though it were a durable of lasting aesthetic value. It is therefore misleading to suggest that the ready-made says: ‘art is junk’; [11] what it says is only that ‘junk is art’.

To demonstrate that art is junk, Dada would have had to work in the opposite direction. Duchamp certainly contemplated this: ‘At another time, wanting to expose the basic antinomy between art and “ready-mades”, I imagined a reciprocal ready-made: use a Rembrandt as an ironing board’. [12] However, neither he, nor the other Dadaists did so, and the museums of the world were never turned into laundry rooms. In consequence, although art galleries are now filled with objects that might have been taken from rubbish tips, rubbish tips remain barren of objects taken from art galleries. Treating junk as art differs from treating art as junk in just the same way that pantheism differs from atheism, or the current multiculturalist respect for all moralities differs from the nihilist disregard for any morality. One is an inclusive extrapolation of value, the other its direct negation.

If philistinism is the absolute negation of the aesthetic, and is differentiated from the promiscuous pan-aestheticism of Dada, and the temporalized aesthetics of popular culture, it becomes easier to see precisely what type of territory the philistines should occupy. Philistines are not just opposed to art for art’s sake but have no time for the arts whatsoever. They never distinguish between a good tune and an awful one; they pass through areas of outstanding natural beauty without noticing; they are indifferent to their furniture; they never spot a masterpiece in a junk shop, or complain about the ‘rubbish’ in modern art galleries. For them, it is all rubbish. Indeed, the idea that other people might discern aesthetic differences between objects and evaluate them accordingly would seem intrinsically absurd. They might therefore also flout the expectation that they should behave differently in the presence of these aesthetically valued objects. They would drop litter in beauty spots, lean nonchalantly against the paintings in the National Gallery, demolish their listed homes, talk loudly to their neighbours during concerts.

There are, of course, many people who occasionally exhibit philistine behaviour, but they are rarely ideologically motivated, and when one investigates the ideological position the philistines supposedly occupy it proves surprisingly empty. Philistinism, for all its supposed ubiquity, is frustratingly elusive. Dictionaries of theology contain entries on atheism, and dictionaries of politics provide information about anarchism, but dictionaries of aesthetics contain no information about philistinism. [13] There are no books on its principles, [14] no courses available at universities, and no Societies for the Promotion of Philistinism working with the public; there are not even any branches of Philistines Anonymous for those in recovery from the disease. If confronted, supposed philistines invariably argue that they are not actually philistines at all, just people opposed to the waste of public money, or to the abuse of children, or some other social evil. They are, they say, not opposed to art per se, but simply to art that is offensive, or wasteful, or unrepresentative of the general population. Even Gary Bushell, the television critic of the Sun, whose call to Sun readers to boycott the National Lottery because of its support for the arts prompted the Literary Review’s ‘Cry Against the Philistines’, is careful to specify that it is money ‘handed over to the unpopular arts’ that is a ‘slap in the face for Joe Public’. [15]

Is Philistinism Possible?
Any attempt to study philistinism must first take account of the curious fact that a constant stream of abuse is directed against philistinism without there being any self-identified philistines to whom these denunciations refer. How is this to be explained? The apparent absence of philistines from the cultural landscape might lead one to suppose that philistinism is not just a rare phenomenon but an imaginary one, and some would argue that if philistines are people who look upon all cultural products as valueless, they cannot exist. The argument for the imperative of value (used by Steven Connor), or the principle of generalized positivity (formulated by Barbara Herrnstein Smith), goes like this: to deny the value of everything is, if that denial is to carry any conviction, necessarily to value the denial itself. Therefore, as Smith argues in her critique of Bataille’s notion of absolute expenditure, ‘no valorization of anything, even of “loss” itself, can escape the idea of some sort of positivity—that is gain, benefit or advantage—in relation to some economy.’ [16] In which case, the total renunciation of value is impossible, for all that is happening is that one set of values is being exchanged for another. Applied to philistinism, this argument suggests that insofar as ‘challenges to the structures of artistic value and value in general will themselves constitute forms of value, they will be promptly restored to the fields of exchange and transaction which they had attempted to transcend.’ [17]

Smith and Connor conceive of the discourse of value on the model of Derridean différance, as an economy of ‘recurrent tautologies, circularities and infinite regresses’ in which the negative is always eventually transmuted into the positive, and the most that negation can effect is ‘the widening of the circuit which rounds negativity home to the positive eventualities of value’. [18] But although there are certainly instances in which what appears to be philistinism is not a renunciation of the aesthetic but an aesthetic of renunciation, there are also other possibilities. The aesthetic is only one amongst many forms of value, and philistinism only one of the ways of renunciation. It is quite conceivable that the denial of the aesthetic may be motivated not so much by an aesthetic of negation, as by some non-aesthetic value. The renunciation of the aesthetic may be a moral, religious, or political imperative, just as the negation of these other spheres may have an aesthetic motivation: one could be, on aesthetic grounds alone, a nihilist, an atheist, or an anarchist. Such transfers from one type of value to another may not transcend evaluation altogether, but nor are they necessarily part of an inescapable circle from which no values are ever lost. So, even if one accepts the logic of the argument, the principle of general positivity, as it is misleadingly termed, demonstrates not the ubiquity of value but only its ineradicability. As such, it amounts to no more than a ‘principle of general wetness’ which states that in order to be described as such even the driest environment must have spots that are relatively moist. The existence of traces of value in the wastes of the negative does not imply that positivity is either predominant or constant. Not only may the level of the positive fluctuate, but certain types of value may evaporate entirely, only to be replaced by others. Indeed, the difficulty of upholding more than one type of value simultaneously suggests that the positive is never likely to be more than a tiny oasis in the vast expanses of the negative.

Thus, although value may be ineradicable, it may also be fragile, and its existence in any one area a contingent historical fact dependent on local conditions. The imperative of value therefore signals not the omnipresence of value, but the capacity of value to adapt and reemerge at the very moment when it seemed to have disappeared. With this in mind, it is worth asking whether the fact that philistinism is a form of negation that is universally condemned but nowhere visible may be less a sign of its inescapable spectrality, than a historically significant indication of the nature and location of positive value in contemporary society.

A Short History of Negation
Once upon a time, before nihilists and anarchists had been invented andwhen philistines were just a tribe mentioned in the Old Testament, the only type of negation that anyone could imagine was the denial of the existence of God. Even so, ‘atheism’, although known to the ancient Greeks, is a word that enters modern European languages only in the sixteenth century. [19] Before that nobody seemed able to conceive of the possibility that such a direct negation of socially sanctioned values was possible. All deviants were classified as heretics—people whose negation of Christianity was itself a diabolical form of Christianity rather than people who negated the value of Christianity altogether. And even when atheism was isolated from heresy as a distinct category, it was not a word used by unbelievers to identify themselves, but by theologians to attack supposed unbelievers.

The position of atheism in early modern Europe has been extensively studied in recent years, and it is worth describing in some detail for it offers striking analogies to the position of philistinism today. Atheists were perceived to be so numerous as to plague entire countries. According to one recent historian, ‘To judge by. . .the learned literature of the age, “the atheist” was almost everywhere in early modern France’; [20] but not only France: Guy Patin complained that ‘Italy is a country of pox, poisoning and atheism;’ [21] Thomas Fuller echoed many other writers in believing that ‘Atheisme in England is more to be feared than Popery’. [22] As Francis Bacon recognized, such indiscriminate use of the term made atheists seem more numerous than they were, but even he had no doubt that atheism was real threat: ‘They that deny a God destroy man’s nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body; and if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature.’ [23]

Like philistinism, atheism was universally decried as a form of intellectual self-mutilation: according to Laurent Pollot, atheists must have ‘gouged out their own eyes expressly in order not to see God in his works nor in his word’. [24] Indeed, it was viewed as so perverse that many commentators insisted that it was logically inconceivable for anyone to hold the atheist position. So at the same time as atheism was everywhere denounced, its existence was held to be impossible. As Hume later remarked: ‘There is not a greater number of philosophical reasonings displayed upon any subject, than those, which prove the existence of a Deity, and refute the fallacies of Atheists; and yet most religious philosophers still dispute whether any man can be so blinded as to be a speculative atheist.’ [25]

Even if atheism was not—as Lucien Febvre claimed—conceptually impossible until the seventeenth century, there can be little doubt that at the time atheists were first denounced from the pulpits and burnt at the stake, there were hardly any atheists at all. The unfortunate people condemned as atheists were often those whose enthusiasm for denouncing this hypothetical crime was just insufficiently enthusiastic. [26] In the sixteenth century, therefore, atheism, like philistinism today, was everywhere condemned but nowhere to be found. Yet by denouncing atheism, theologians mapped out an intellectual position for their phantom adversaries that was eventually filled by people who actually espoused the arguments the theologians had given them. [27] Even so, it was a century after the word was originated that the first indisputable modern atheists appeared, and well into the eighteenth century before atheism became commonplace.

But at the same time that atheism became a reality, people began to find values not in religion but in human society itself, and a new form of negation became imaginatively possible—anarchism. Like atheism it emerges as the imaginary antithesis of the prevailing mode of value, except that in this case it is the antithesis of the state. Although first used as a term of abuse to describe religiously motivated libertarians in mid-seventeenth-century England, the meaning of ‘anarchist’ was not immediately differentiated from ‘atheist’, for atheism was, as Bacon put it, living ‘without having respect to the government of the world’. [28] As late as1678, Cudworth could dismiss the possibility that the Egyptians had been ‘Atheists and Anarchists, such as supposed no living understanding Deity’ in favour of the idea that they might have been ‘Polyarchists such as asserted a multitude of understanding deities’. [29] Nevertheless, the concepts of anarchism and atheism had already been prised apart. Irrespective of whether Hobbes was, as his critics invariably claimed, himself an atheist, he unquestionably gave priority to political rather than religious values, and in Leviathan (1651) subjected all religions, including Christianity, to the authority of the civil sovereign. [30] The negation against which he developed his argument in Leviathan was therefore anarchistic not atheistic, and in his account of ‘the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe’ he offers a description of anarchism—first defined in Thomas Blount’s Glossographia (1656) as ‘the Doctrine, Positions or art of those that teach Anarchy; also the being itself of the people without a Prince or Ruler’—which ascribes to it the same dehumanizing consequences that Bacon had attributed to atheism: the absence of morality, and a life that is brutish and short. [31]

By simultaneously providing ‘the main theoretical basis for Restoration atheism’, [32] and, in his account of ‘the state of Warre’, a new negation against which the values necessary for a full human life might be defined, Hobbes effected a momentous transposition of values. One negation was tacitly accepted, and its negative implications transferred to another as a new value assumed priority. But just as the invention of atheism had taken place without anyone actually advocating the position, so the invention and repudiation of anarchism occurred without the intervention of any anarchists. No one espoused an explicitly anarchist political theory until William Godwin, and no one used ‘anarchy’ in a positive sense until Proudhon. [33] However, that did not prevent anarchists being roundly abused, and the French Revolution in particular provided numerous occasions for the denunciation of anarchism as the epitome of negativity and criminality: in1791Bentham wrote: ‘Whatever is, is not—is the maxim of the anarchist, as often as anything comes across him in the shape of a law he happens not to like’; [34] four years later, the Directory put it more graphically: anarchists were ‘men covered with crimes, stained with blood, and fattened by rapine, enemies of laws they do not make and of all governments in which they do not govern’. [35] Nevertheless, events in France also inspired the development of a political theory which embodied the anarchistic principles its critics denounced. And when they finally emerged to occupy the position so long ascribed to them, anarchists defined their philosophy by separating the political from the ethical. Thus, Godwin anticipated with delight ‘the dissolution of political government. . .that brute engine which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind’, [36] but only because government so often proved to be ‘the treacherous foe of the domestic virtues’. [37] Morality, did not depend upon some form of social contract, but was ‘an irresistible deduction from the wants of one man, and the ability of another to relieve them’. [38]

Although early anarchist thinkers like Godwin and Proudhon attacked the state on ethical grounds, it seemed to many observers that the anarchist spirit of negation would encompass all forms of morality. The nihilist was born. First used in this sense in a French dictionary of neologisms in1801, a nihilist was defined as ‘One who does not believe in anything’. [39] Needless to say, at this stage there was no one claiming to be a nihilist, just a chorus of outraged moralists arguing that nihilism disregards ‘the highest motives and also the duties imposed by right and honour’ and so signalled the start of a Hobbesian ‘battle of all against all’. [40] However, self-proclaimed nihilists did eventually emerge in Russia. Although similar to anarchists, they saw themselves as reacting not so much ‘against political despotism, but against the moral despotism that weighs upon the private and inner life of the individual’. [41] Nevertheless, in the numerous anti-nihilist novels of the1860s, and even in Turgenev’s more equivocal Fathers and Sons, nihilists were presented as indiscriminately hostile to everything.

This was not a portrayal that nihilists welcomed. Even those who accepted the label objected to the idea that they negated all values, arguing that ‘when a person negates utterly everything he negates precisely nothing’. [42] And one charge they were particularly keen to deny was the idea that they were indifferent to the arts. Turgenev’s nihilist Bazarov had dismissed Raphael, and in Krestovsky’s anti-nihilist novel Panurge’s Head, the nihilists argue that ‘A normally developed and free people has no art and should have none. And if you produce art you should either be put in a mental hospital or a reformatory’. [43] But actual nihilists like Chernyshevsky refused to accept that they were philistines who ‘reject everything. . .paintings, statues, violin and bow, opera, theatre, feminine beauty’. [44]

In Nietzsche, who derived his conception of nihilism from these Russian sources, the differentiation of nihilism from philistinism was taken much further. At the same time as he welcomed the devaluation of all moral values, Nietzsche invested the aesthetic with heightened significance. He accepted ‘the absolute untenability of existence when it comes to the highest values one recognizes’, but argued that ‘it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified’. [45] As he later wrote in Ecce Homo, aesthetic values were ‘the only values the Birth of Tragedy recognizes’. [46] Yet again, the disappearance of value from one sphere was accompanied by its reappearance in another.

Nihilism was not, therefore, necessarily the end of all negativity. As the reactionary Spanish Catholic, Donoso Cortès remarked in1851, ‘The rejection of all authority is far from being the last of all possible negations; it is simply a preliminary negation which future nihilists will consign to their prolegomena’. [47] With the transfer of value from the moral to the aesthetic, a new form of negation did become possible—philistinism, the negation of the aesthetic, and it was at precisely the same period that nihilists emerged in Russia that the assault on philistinism began. The German word philister had been used in the eighteenth century to designate towns-people as opposed to students, but was subsequently applied to all those who were indifferent to the arts, first being used in this sense by Goethe. [48] In the1830s, attacks on German philistines became commonplace—Schumann even formed the Davidsbund whose members were enjoined to ‘kill the philistines, musical and otherwise’ [49]—and in1869the most famous polemic against philistinism appeared, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy.

This brief survey of the history of negation suggests that the contemporary position of philistinism as a negation that is everywhere condemned and nowhere advocated is both more interesting and less paradoxical than it first appears. Philistinism, it transpires, is simply the most recent in a series of negations. Atheism was identified and condemned from the sixteenth century onwards, but atheists appeared only in the seventeenth. Anarchists were abused from the seventeenth century and eventually materialized at the end of the eighteenth. But at the same time as anarchists emerged, a new bogeyman was born, the nihilist; and a generation later nihilists proclaimed their own existence. It is at exactly this moment that the philistine comes into being as the most recent but surely not the last negation.

The pattern that emerges from this series of negations is not circular but dialectical. Although each negation has eventually moved from spectrality to reality, it has not been incarnated in the form of its contrary. (Atheists did not set up a religion, anarchists did not form a government, and nihilists did not establish a morality.) Instead, the negation of one value allowed the differentiation and affirmation of another value that had been subsumed within it. At each new stage, ideological positions that had once appeared self-contradictory suddenly became available. The critics of atheism had assumed that there could be no political authority without God; the critics of anarchy argued that there could be no morality without the state; the critics of nihilism suggested that there could be no beauty without morality; and yet with each shift improbable new types appeared: the authoritarian atheist, the ethical anarchist, the aesthetic nihilist.

This dialectical differentiation of value cannot be construed as an expansion in an economy of value in which every negativity is equally a positivity that can be exchanged without loss for any other positivity, including that which was originally negated. On the contrary, the dialectic embodies a succession of negations and differentiations in which that which is differentiated and affirmed is always a fraction of that which was negated. Whereas theology carried within it implicit political, moral, and aesthetic values, no moral, political, or theological values have successfully been derived from pure aesthetics. This dialectic is not another way of talking about the circulation of value, for what it describes is a narrowing spiral of value.

Set within this historical context, the invisibility of the philistines seems predictable. Throughout the sequence of negations, the absent negative is defined as a sub-human inversion of the primary value in the prevailing system, and one reason that negative positions are so slow to be filled is that occupying them is dangerous, usually illegal, and always profoundly socially unacceptable. Today, of course, atheism, anarchism, and even nihilism are recognizable intellectual positions, and these terms have fallen out of favour as terms of abuse. But the very fact that people continue to call one another philistines, while refusing to accept the label themselves, is a clear sign that the aesthetic is assumed to be a shared social value and that being considered a philistine remains a real embarrassment. However, the historical pattern also suggests that the philistine position, having first been defined by its opponents, will eventually be occupied by its adherents. To find out what the philistine may be like, we must turn to its critics.

The Birth of Philistinism
Culture and Anarchy remains the classic statement of the opposition between culture and philistinism. But while Arnold declined to give a label to the adherents of culture, referring to them only as persons led ‘by a general humane spirit, by the love of human perfection’, [50] he differentiated between three groups in which the benefits of culture were imperfectly realized, absent, or rejected: the barbarians, the populace, and the philistines. The barbarians were those aristocrats who, instead of imbibing what Arnold termed the ‘sweetness and light’ of culture, had ‘a kind of image or shadow of sweetness’ formed from a superficial acquaintance with culture which left them with only ‘the exterior graces and accomplishments, and the more external of the inward virtues’. [51] The populace were what Arnold termed ‘that vast portion. . .of the working class which, raw and half-developed, has long lain half-hidden amidst its poverty and squalor’, [52] while the philistines were those who were ‘particularly stiff-necked and perverse in the resistance to light’. [53] They alone have no excuse. The populace are insensible to sweetness and light because they are deprived of it; the barbarians are seduced by ‘exterior goods’, but they are still goods, and to be seduced by them is natural. The philistines, however, cherish ‘some dismal and illiberal existence in preference to light’ and are, in Arnold’s view, simply perverse.

Arnold identified the philistines with the new middle class of industrialists: ‘The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich are just the very people whom we call Philistines’. [54] He therefore imagined the philistines to be resisting the sweetness of art as a result of their ‘bondage to machinery’. [55] The perverse resistance to the aesthetic is explained as an imprisonment in the technology of capitalism; the philistine may desire beauty, but has made himself unable to respond to it.

The philistine position of resistance to the aesthetic is accurately conceived by Arnold, but it is imagined only as a kind of strait-jacket in which those whose involvement with the aesthetic might damage their other interests are confined. If, however, we consider Arnold’s account of the philistine alongside another text defining the role of culture in the mid-nineteenth century, another possible conception of philistinism emerges. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche mistakenly congratulates himself on having established the word ‘culture-philistine’ (Bildungsphilister) in the German language. [56] He had used it frequently in the first of his Untimely Meditations, an attack on the theologian David Strauss. The philistine, Nietzsche wrote, is ‘the antithesis of a son of the muses, of the artist, of the man of genuine culture’, [57] while the culture-philistine is a philistine who denies that he is a philistine—a sort of nineteenth-century counterpart to all the believing atheists of the sixteenth century. According to Nietzsche: ‘An unhappy contortion must have taken place in the brain of the cultural philistine, he regards as culture precisely that which negates culture, and since he is accustomed to proceed with consistency he finally acquires a consistent collection of such negations, a system of unculture. . . .he denies, secretes, stops his ears, averts his eyes, he is a negative being even in his hatred and hostility. The philistine, Nietzsche continues, is ‘a hindrance to the strong and creative, a labyrinth for all who doubt and go astray, a swamp to the feet of the weary, a fetter to all who would pursue lofty goals, a poisonous mist to new buds’. [58]

In this intemperate attack on philistinism, Nietzsche rehearses many elements of his critique of Socrates in the Birth of Tragedy, published the previous year. The philistine has ‘a certain easy complacency, a self-contentment in one’s own limitations’ that echoes ‘Socratism’s complacent delight in existence’. [59] Socrates is also the prototype for Strauss’s ‘shameless philistine optimism’, [60] and just as Socrates has ‘art-destroying tendencies’, so the philistine ‘lodges in the works of our great poets and composers like a worm which lives by destroying’ [61] In the Birth of Tragedy, the test of whether someone is a ‘true aesthetic listener or belongs to the community of the Socratic-critical persons’ is the feeling ‘with which he accepts miracles represented on the stage’; in the essay on Strauss, the philistine ‘hates the genius: for the genius has the justified reputation of performing miracles’. [62]

Read in the light of Nietzsche’s subsequent attack on Strauss, The Birth of Tragedy emerges as an account not just of the birth of tragedy from the spirit of music, but also of the birth of philistinism from the spirit of rationality. It is, in other words, the unrecognized counterpart of Culture and Anarchy, published just three years earlier. For although they could hardly be more different in tone, the central concern of the two books is the same: both are attempts to define the relationship between culture and its alternatives, written by post-Christian Hellenists at the precise moment when the aesthetic began to succeed the ethical as the primary form of public value.

In both The Birth of Tragedy and Culture and Anarchy, the dichotomy between ordinary and higher experience is accompanied by the suggestion that the higher justifies and gives meaning to the ordinary. Without the elevated, harmonious, and perfected view of the world available through art and culture, the everyday reality experienced by the ordinary self is ‘multitudinous, turbulent, and blind’ according to Arnold; a nauseating world of pain and contradiction, according to Nietzsche. For Arnold, the only perfect freedom is ‘an elevation of our best self, and a harmonizing in subordination to this, and to a perfected humanity, all the. . .impulses of our ordinary selves’. [63] For Nietzsche, ‘it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that the existence and the world are eternally justified’ and it is ‘the perfection of these states in contrast to the incompletely intelligible everyday world. . .which make life possible and worth living.’ [64]

In The Birth of Tragedy, the contrast between ordinary and higher experience is articulated through two oppositions: that between Apollo and Silenus, and that between Dionysus and Socrates. According to Nietzsche, the former dichotomy was expressed in Raphael’s Transfiguration. In the upper half of the picture ‘the Apollonian world of beauty’, ‘a radiant floating in purest bliss, a serene contemplation from wide open eyes’; in the lower the terrible world of Silenus ‘the reflection of suffering primal and eternal’. [65] To illustrate what the world would be like without the redeeming power of the Apollonian, Nietzsche recounted a story told by Sophocles in Oedipus at Colonus. Silenus was hunted by Midas and asked ‘what is the best and most desirable of all things for man’. He replies: ‘What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon’. This terrible wisdom was, Nietzsche argued, ‘overcome by the Greeks with the aid of the Olympian middle world of art’. [66] Art ‘alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live’. [67]

Like the Apollonian, the Dionysian is a redemptive art, but one that offers redemption through participation rather than contemplation. According to Nietzsche, ‘we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art’ and when in Dionysian ‘song and in dance man expresses himself as a member of a higher community. . . .he has become a work and art’. [68] But in Socrates, in whose Cyclops eye ‘the fair frenzy of artistic enthusiasm had never glowed’, [69] Nietzsche recognized ‘the opponent of Dionysus’. Armed with the maxims ‘virtue is knowledge; man sins only from ignorance; he who is virtuous is happy’, Socrates rejected instinct, and with it the Dionysian element in art.

Taken together, the oppositions between Apollo and Silenus and Dionysus and Socrates take on the familiar form of a semiotic square. [70] For while the oppositions between Apollo and Silenus and Dionysus and Socrates are relations of contradictories, the famous Nietzschean distinction between Apollo and Dionysus, and the implied distinction between Silenus and Socrates, are both relations of contraries. Between Silenus and Socrates, the twin spokesmen of a world unredeemed by art, [71] the distinction is best expressed by their attitudes to death. According to Silenus, death is to be preferred to life because life is nothing but suffering; Socrates, having rejected the life-affirming redemption available in art, also prefers death, but only because ‘knowledge and reason have liberated [him] from the fear of death’. [72] Thus while Silenus expresses a pre-aesthetic nihilism, Socrates is the exponent of an philistine moralism. Just as Silenus is the anaesthetic expression of the Dionysian, so Socrates, in whom ‘the Apollonian tendency has withdrawn into the cocoon of logical schematism’, [73] is the anaesthetic counterpart of the redemptive art of Apollo.








The realization that The Birth of Tragedy offers a four-cornered mapping of art and its alternatives, allows us to perceive more clearly its affinities with Arnold’s categories in Culture and Anarchy. Although their evaluation of each alternative is by no means identical, [74] Arnold and Nietzsche articulate the range of positions in congruent terms. In both cases, the distinctions offered are between two forms of culture (the Dionysian and the Apollonian; the barbarian and the humanist) and two forms of nonculture (Silenus and Socrates; the populace and the philistine), and on the other axis between two forms of ethical life (the Apollonian and the Socratic; the humanist and the philistine) and two forms of the non-ethical (the Dionysian and the Silenian; the barbarian and the populace). On this classification, Silenus and the populace remain outside any recognizable culture; the barbarians taste the primitive sweetness of Dionysus; the humanists bathe in the glow of Apollonian light, and Socrates and the philistines perversely resist all the sweetness and light that culture offers. In the delineation of the spectre of philistinism there is therefore striking agreement. The philistine is not merely the spokesperson for one type of culture against another, nor someone for whom culture remains essentially alien, but someone who actively negates the very culture whose benefits they might be expected to share and appreciate. However, in ascribing a motivation to the philistine position, Nietzsche is able to conceive of a more alarming possibility than Arnold can contemplate. To clarify the distinction, it is useful to examine a text that reinterprets the Birth of Tragedy in Arnoldian terms—Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Odysseus or Socrates?
Despite Habermas’s analysis of the Nietzschean undertow in Dialectic of Enlightenment, [75] the echoes of the Birth of Tragedy in Adorno and Horkheimer’s discussion of Odysseus and the Sirens remain obscured. In the first section of the Birth, Nietzsche quotes Schopenhauer’s image of ‘the individual human being. . .supported by and trusting in the principium individuationis’ as being like a sailor sitting in his frail boat ‘in a stormy sea that, unbounded in all directions, raises and drops mountainous waves, howling’. [76] For Adorno and Horkheimer, that sailor is personified by Odysseus whose adventures have confirmed for him ‘the unity of his own life, the identity of the individual’, [77] while the Sirens represent one of the ‘powers of disintegration’ which lure the individual back to the ‘womb’ of ‘prehistoric myth’. Since, according to Nietzsche, ‘it is only through the spirit of music that we can understand the joy involved in the annihilation of the individual’, [78] it is easy to detect in the Sirens’ song the music of Dionysus which ‘does not heed the single unit, but even seeks to destroy the individual and redeem him in a mystic feeling of oneness’. [79] In their invitation to subject the self to nature, the Sirens rehearse what Nietzsche terms the Dionysian cry of nature: ‘Be as I am. Amid the ceaseless flux of phenomena I am the eternally creative primordial mother, eternally impelling to existence, eternally finding satisfaction in the change of phenomena.’ [80]

Odysseus, in ‘dread of losing the self’, [81] plugs the ears of his sailors with wax and has them bind him with ropes to the mast of his ship. Although enraptured by the intoxicating sweetness of the Sirens’ song, he is unable to respond to it. Thus, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, the song of the Sirens ‘is neutralized and becomes a mere object of contemplation—becomes art’. [82] As the temptations of a participatory and self-annihilatory response are resisted, so the Dionysian music of the Sirens is transformed into an Apollonian object of individual appreciation, a harmless concert. In this way, as Adorno and Horkheimer put it, ‘Apollonian Homer’ forges a link between art and individuation. [83]

If Adorno and Horkheimer’s interpretation of the Sirens is read as a reworking of the Birth of Tragedy, it soon becomes clear that Odysseus’s resistance to the Sirens is the counterpart of Socrates’s rejection of the Dionysian. The oarsmen with wax in their ears are not deaf to the beauty of the Sirens’ music but deaf to the sound of music; Odysseus, however, remains sensible to the beauty of the Sirens’ song, yet can only act as though insensible to it. What he forces himself to resist is the aesthetic itself; he is literally tied to a philistine position. [84]

For Adorno and Horkheimer, Odysseus is the prototype of the capitalist who simultaneously deprives his employees of the promise of well-being that the aesthetic invariably offers while at the same time forcing himself to remain indifferent in order to maintain the efficiency of his enterprise. But the ropes that bind Odysseus to the mast and so allow him to dominate nature also imprison him within a purely mechanical world-view: according to Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘machinery disables men even as it nurtures them’. [85] This is a profoundly Arnoldian conception of the philistine. Just as Odysseus was bound to the mast of his ship, so Arnold’s Victorian philistines were in ‘bondage to machinery’, [86] tied to the belief that the generation of wealth was an end in itself; the humanists might ‘disentangle themselves from machinery’, but the philistines cannot escape their preoccupation with ‘industrial machinery, and power and pre-eminence’. [87]

By using the Arnoldian image of the philistine externally constrained by ties of his own making, Adorno and Horkheimer are able to remould the Nietzschean narrative of the Birth of Tragedy around the story of Odysseus. But in doing so, they lose one essential Nietzschean insight. For Nietzsche, external constraint is a consequence of philistinism and not its cause. In contrast to Odysseus, Socrates is a philistine whose power of resistance comes from within: ‘While in all productive men it is instinct that is the creative-affirmative force. . .in Socrates it is instinct that becomes the critic’. When his daimonion speaks, it always dissuades: ‘in this utterly abnormal nature, instinctive wisdom appears only in order to hinder conscious knowledge’. [88] Even if his followers eventually become ‘chained by the Socratic love of knowledge’, [89] Socrates himself is not tied to the machinery of domination, but someone through whom the spirit of negation speaks freely and spontaneously. He is not prevented from responding to music of Dionysus, but liberated from the impulse to do so.

Of course, Nietzsche no sooner creates this philistine monster than he seeks to tame it. Socrates may have rejected art, but Socratism’s insatiable quest for knowledge ‘speeds irresistibly toward its limits where its optimism, concealed in the essence of logic, suffers shipwreck’. [90] Hostility to art is thereby transformed into a ‘destitute need for art’, as the wisdom of Socrates leads inexorably back to that of his look-alike Silenus. Redemption is then to be glimpsed in the utopian figure of a Socrates who practises music, an Odysseus who can safely sing along with the Sirens. Yet for all his protests that philistinism will recreate the need for art, Nietzsche, unlike Adorno and Horkheimer, never confuses unfulfilled desire for art with the absence of desire for art. For Nietzsche, the lack of desire for art is a destructive force that eventually reproduces the conditions in which art first became necessary, and although he then hopes for another aesthetic redemption, there is no sense in which the destruction of art itself constitutes or even calls for that redemption. In Socrates, philistinism takes the form of direct and spontaneous negation; unlike Odysseus, he offers a model for what Nietzsche once sarcastically but perhaps prophetically termed ‘the philistine as the founder of the religion of the future’. [91]

The Ecstasy of Philistinism
Although philistinism may still be invisible, its historical position as the most recent in a sequence of spectral negations suggests that it is not so much unrealizable as temporarily disembodied. So where might it appear? The natural place to look is within the Marxist tradition which has frequently laid claim to a privileged and terminal position in the history of negation. Communism, Marx famously remarked in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, ‘represents the positive in the form of the negation of the negation’. [92] In economic terms this meant that capitalist private property was ‘the first negation of individual private property’, and communism’s negation of capitalist private property the negation of the negation. [93] Since atheism’s negation of religion was seen to be analogous to the communist negation of private property, [94] it too was the negation of a negation. And by this measure, not only atheism, but also anarchism, and nihilism, qualify as negations of a negation, with the result that communism can be seen to embody the sum of all the negations of the negation: ‘Religion, family, state, law, morality, science and art are only particular forms of production and fall under its general law. The positive abolition of private property and the appropriation of human life is therefore the positive abolition of all alienation, thus the return of man out of religion, family, state etc. into his human, i.e. social being.’ [95]

The implication that communism includes atheism, anarchism, nihilism, and every other negation of capitalism’s negation of man’s social being has usually been acknowledged: Marx recognized the importance of Feuerbach’s atheism and Proudhon’s anarchism, and Lenin a debt to Chernyshevsky’s nihilism; communism was more than just an atheism, an anarchism, or a nihilism, but it nevertheless incorporated these perspectives. However, the argument has never been extended to include philistinism, and in consequence the arts have long enjoyed a privileged position in Marxist theory. Marx and Engels envisaged that ‘with a communist organization of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness. . .and also the subordination of the artist to some definite art’, but not the dissolution of the artistic activity. Priest and politician may disappear, but the amateur creative artist remains, along with his counterpart, the after-dinner critic. [96]

The fact that Marxism has never straightforwardly identified with philistinism may well be a consequence of the spectral quality of philistinism itself. In the absence of any actual philistines, Marxists have never sought to create them, and so have assumed that whereas in other spheres the negation of the negation involved the disappearance of the first negation—private property, religion, the state—in the case of the arts, the negation of the negation somehow remained an internal matter, merely requiring the negation of one type of artistic activity by another. As a consequence, it has often been argued that art is an ineradicable part of the social being of humanity, and as such not a practice that is in its entirety subject to the dialectic but one through which the dialectic works. For Adorno, it is precisely this quality of the aesthetic that is its distinguishing quality. Using the implicitly Nietzschean opposition between (Dionysian) Greek tragedy and the (Apollonian) Greek pantheon to illustrate the point, Adorno argues that the dialectical contradictions within art are the defining characteristic of its utopian promise: ‘The unity of art history is captured by the dialectical notion of determinate negation. It is only in this way that art can fulfil its promise of reconciliation’. [97] In Adorno’s thought, art is, as Eagleton puts it, ‘contradiction incarnate’. [98]

Even those like Beech and Roberts who criticize Adorno for making his dialectic ‘not the dialectic of art and its other. . .merely the dialectic of art inscribed by its other’ imagine that it is possible to ‘assimilate the moment of art to philistinism’. For them, philistinism is ‘an empirical and discursive construction. . .which shifts and slides along the edges of what is established as proper aesthetic behaviour. Consequently, values, categories and forms of attention once described as philistine can become incorporated into artistic and aesthetic practices through intellectual and practical struggle. . .’ This, they argue ‘will not diminish philistinism, only redraw the lines of demarcation’ and so inaugurate the beneficial practice of art and the aesthetic, ‘perpetually rewriting their borders against the voluptuous and practical demands of the philistine’. [99]

Imagining philistinism as the deconstructive, rather than the destructive negation of the aesthetic bestows on philistinism a role that Adorno gave to art itself—negating the negation within the discourse of the aesthetic. So rather than offering an alternative to Adorno’s dialectic, Beech and Roberts are therefore taking up a position that is already implicit within it. For although Adorno conceived of the dialectical contradictions within art on the model of the opposition of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, he did not thereby exclude the philistine: in his reading of Odysseus and the Sirens, the moment of art is assimilated to philistinism and the lines of demarcation are redrawn as Odysseus’s resistance to the aesthetic transforms the Dionysian music of the Sirens into an Apollonian object of contemplation. Unlike the Sirens of post-Homeric legend, Adorno’s Sirens do not drown themselves in despair; they just rewrite their song to suit the individual. For Adorno, as for his critics, the dialectic of art and its other involves not the destruction of art but its continuation in other forms.

Because Beech and Roberts’s spectral philistine is the product of cultural exclusion, he is just as externally constrained as Odysseus himself: both are prevented from participation, but neither is actively opposed to the aesthetic, and so it only requires development within the arts for them to be incorporated as its appreciative audience. In contrast, Nietzsche’s Socrates is directly opposed to the Dionysian art of tragedy. He is ‘the murderous principle’ who seeks to destroy ‘the essence of tragedy’, [100] and although he inspired the Euripidean attempt to write an Apollonian drama, this did not lead to the renewal of tragedy. Dionysian art cannot be assimilated to Socratic philistinism: having abandoned Dionysus, Euripides is abandoned by Apollo, and tragedy dies ‘by suicide, in consequence of an irreconcilable conflict’. And when it is dead, there arises ‘the deep sense of an immense void’. [101]

Although Nietzsche imagines that the philistine destruction of art will eventually recreate the need for art, philistinism does not function as merely the negative expression of a new form of art. On the contrary, the Nietzschean figure of Socrates offers a clear picture of the nature and impact of philistinism as a negation that operates not from within the dialectic of art but from without. [102] On this model, even if art is viewed as ‘contradiction incarnate’, philistinism stands outside it as a form of ecstatic contradiction. Art is not then assimilated to philistinism but annihilated by it, and although the resulting void may yet contain some positive value, that value need not be aesthetic.

The point at which the narratives of Marx and Nietzsche converge is not, therefore, in the Dionysian imperative that art express the body and its pleasures, but in the Socratic negation of art. Nietzsche’s Socrates provides the missing model for a philistine negation of the aesthetic negation of humanity’s social being—a negation that does not perpetuate art’s interminable negation of itself but takes the dialectic beyond art altogether. As such, he offers to the Marxist tradition a way of seeing art that stands outside the discourse it negates and so promises not just an end to aesthetic ideology, but a liberation from art itself.



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[1] T. W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, London 1984, p. 342, p. 454.
[2] The Independent, 8 November 1995, p. 1.
[3] The Independent on Sunday, 12 November 1995, p. 8.
[4] T. Ali,‘The bbc Goes Tabloid’, Literary Review, December 1995, p. 17.
[5] G. Walden,‘Patronage is All’, ibid., p. 11.
[6] Opera, no. 43, 1992, p. 893.
[7] Ibid., p. 1152.
[8] T. Eagleton, Times Literary Supplement, 24 November 1995, p. 6.
[9] Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 454.
[10] M. Thompson, Rubbish Theory, Oxford 1972, pp. 103-30.
[11] H. Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art, London 1965, p. 90.
[12] Ibid., p. 89.
[13] See, for example, D. Cooper, ed., A Companion to Aesthetics, Oxford 1992.
[14] But see R. Taylor, Art, an Enemy of the People, Atlantic Highlands, nj 1978; J. Gimpel, Against Art and Artists, Edinburgh 1991; A. Gell,‘The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology’, in J. Coote and A. Shelton, eds, Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, Oxford 1992, pp. 40-63; M. Bull,‘Philistinism and Fetishism’, Art History, vol. 17, 1994, pp. 127-31; S. Home, Art Strike Handbook, London 1989.
[15] Quoted by A. Waugh, Literary Review, December 1995, p. 1 (emphasis added).
[16] B. Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory, Cambridge, Mass. 1988, p. 137.
[17] S. Connor, Theory and Cultural Value, Oxford 1992, p. 59.
[18] Ibid., p. 98.
[19] M. Hunter and D. Wootton,‘New Histories of Atheism’, in M. Hunter and D. Wootton, eds, Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, Oxford 1992, p. 25.
[20] A. C. Kors, Atheism in France, 1650-1729, Princeton 1990, vol. I, p. 17.
[21] Quoted in N. Davidson,‘Unbelief and Atheism in Italy, 1500-1700’, in Hunter and Wootton, Atheism, p. 56.
[22] M. Hunter,‘The Problem of “Atheism” in Early Modern England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, no. 35, 1985 p. 138.
[23] F. Bacon, Essays, London 1975, p. 50.
[24] Quoted in Kors, Atheism in France, p. 28.
[25] D. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford 1975, p 149.
[26] For example, Geoffroy VallÉe was burnt as an atheist in 1579 despite having argued in his offending pamphlet that‘man can never be an atheist and is created thus by God’. Kors, Atheism in France, p. 27.
[27] This is Kors’s position; for an alternative approach, see T. Gregory, Theophrastus Redivivus: Erudizione e ateismo nel Seicento, Naples 1979.
[28] Bacon, Essays, p. 50.
[29] R. Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, London 1845, vol. i, p. 540.
[30] See R. Tuck, ’The “Christian Atheism” of Thomas Hobbes’, in Hunter and Wootton, Atheism, pp. 111–30.
[31] T. Hobbes, Leviathan, Cambridge 1991, pp. 88–90.
[32] D. Berman, A History of Atheism in Britain, London 1988, p. 61.
[33] See P. Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, London 1992.
[34] J. Bentham, Works, London 1843, vol. ii, p. 498.
[35] Quoted in Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 432.
[36] Ibid., p. 488.
[37] W. Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Oxford 1971, p. 18.
[38] Ibid., p. 102.
[39] See M.A. Gillespie, Nihilism before Nietzsche, Chicago 1995, pp. 275-6, n. 5.
[40] J. Radowitz, quoted in J. Goudsblom, Nihilism and Culture, Oxford, 1980, p. 5.
[41] S. Kravchinsky, quoted in Gillespie, Nihilism, p. 140.
[42] D. Pisarev, quoted in C. Moser, Anti-Nihilism in the Russian Novel of the 1860s, The Hague 1964, p. 24.
[43] Quoted in ibid., p. 163.
[44] Quoted in ibid., p. 111.
[45] F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, New York 1967, p. 52.
[46] Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, Harmondsworth 1979, p. 79.
[47] Quoted in Goudsblom, Nihilism and Culture, p. 5.
[48] J. and W. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, Leipzig 1889, vol. vii, pp. 1826-7.
[49] G. Eismann, Robert Schumann, Leipzig 1956, vol. I, p. 87. See also D. Arendt, ’Das Philistertum des 19. Jahrhunderts,’ Der Monat, no. 21, May 1969, pp. 33-49.
[50] M. Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, New Haven 1994, p. 73.
[51] Ibid., p. 70.
[52] Ibid., p. 71.
[53] Ibid., p. 68.
[54] Ibid., p. 35.
[55] Ibid., p. 50.
[56] Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, p. 85.
[57] Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, Cambridge 1983, p. 7.
[58] Ibid., p. 8.
[59] Untimely Meditations, p. 10; Birth of Tragedy, p. 120.
[60] Birth of Tragedy, p. 97; Untimely Meditations, 27.
[61] Birth of Tragedy, p. 107; Untimely Meditations, p. 25.
[62] Birth of Tragedy, p. 135; Untimely Meditations p. 33.
[63] Arnold, Culture, p. 121.
[64] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p. 35.
[65] Ibid., p. 45.
[66] Ibid., p. 42.
[67] Ibid., p. 60.
[68] Ibid., p. 53, p. 37.
[69] Ibid., p. 89.
[70] See A. J. Greimas, ’The Interaction of Semiotic Constraints’, in On Meaning, London 1987, pp. 48-62. (See Figure.)
[71] The similarity between Socrates and Silenus (first noted by Plato, Symposium, 215) was a commonplace in the classical tradition of which Nietzsche was unquestionably aware, although he does not draw attention to it in the Birth of Tragedy.
[72] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p. 96.
[73] Ibid., p. 91.
[74] Nietzsche valued the aristocratic virtues of the barbarians rather than the scholarly virtues of the humanists admired by Arnold, and would, one suspects, have considered Arnold an archetypal culture-philistine.
[75] J. Habermas, ’The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment’, New German Critique, vol. 26, 1982,pp. 13-30.
[76] Ibid., p. 36.
[77] T. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Verso, London 1973, p. 32.
[78] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p. 104.
[79] Ibid., p. 38.
[80] Ibid., p. 104; see also Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 32.
[81] Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 33.
[82] Ibid., p. 34.
[83] Ibid., p. 46.
[84] Fredric Jameson’s reading points to this conclusion without ever reaching it, see Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic, Verso, London 1990, pp. 151-4.
[85] Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 37.
[86] Arnold, Culture, p. 50.
[87] Ibid., p. 71.
[88] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p. 88.
[89] Ibid., p. 109.
[90] Ibid., p. 97.
[91] Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, p. 16.
[92] K. Marx, Early Texts, Oxford 1971, p. 157.
[93] Marx, Capital Volume I, New York 1906, p. 837.
[94] Marx, Early Texts, p. 157.
[95] Ibid., p. 149.
[96] K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, London 1976, p. 394. For an extended critique of the Marxist position, see Taylor, Art, an Enemy of the People, pp. 55-87.
[97] Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 52.
[98] T. Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford 1990, p. 352.
[99] Dave Beech and John Roberts, ’Spectres of the Aesthetic’, nlr 218, pp. 125,126, 127.
[100] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p. 86, p. 92.
[101] Ibid., p. 76.
[102] In this form, philistinism can be seen as what Foucault, referring to atheism and nihilism, once described as a thought from the outside: ’A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence; and that at the same time stands at the threshold of all positivity, not in order to grasp its foundation or justification but in order to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed.’ M. Foucault and M. Blanchot, Foucault/Blanchot, New York 1987, pp. 15-16.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

yeah hirst's game covers all the angles, because he needs someone to react badly (to say oh gross yuk) in order to establish that there was someone left to scandalise with art product, but he kind of corners the consumer with a very narrow menu of possible reactions and guarantees there will be a little group of comments from each position on the menu, which together are actually the official seal, the operation which accompanies "art" as a social procedure.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

one more, a kind of companion:

MALCOLM BULL
WHERE IS THE ANTI-NIETZSCHE?
Opposed to everyone, Nietzsche has met with remarkably little opposition. In fact, his reputation has suffered only one apparent reverse—his enthusiastic adoption by the Nazis. But, save in Germany, Nietzsche’s association with the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust has served chiefly to stimulate further curiosity. Of course, the monster has had to be tamed, and Nietzsche’s thought has been cleverly reconstructed so as perpetually to evade the evils perpetrated in his name. Even those philosophies for which he consistently reserved his most biting contempt—socialism, feminism and Christianity—have sought to appropriate their tormentor. Almost everybody now claims Nietzsche as one of their own; he has become what he most wanted to be—irresistible.

This situation gives added significance to a number of recent publications in which the authors reverse the standard practice and straightforwardly report what Nietzsche wrote in order to distance themselves from it. Ishay Landa’s article, in which he persuasively argues against the idea that Nietzsche was anything other than dismissive of workers’ rights, is one example. [1] But it is only the latest in a small flurry of books and articles that take a more critical view of Nietzsche’s thought. The anti-Nietzschean turn began in France, where Luc Ferry and Alain Renant’s collection, Pourquoi nous ne sommes pas nietzschéens (1991), responded to the Nietzsche/Marx/Freud syntheses of the preceding decades with the demand that ‘We have to stop interpreting Nietzsche and start taking him at his word.’ [2] The contributors emphasized Nietzsche’s opposition to truth and rational argument, the disturbing consequences of his inegalitarianism and immoralism, and his influence on reactionary thought. Ferry and Renant were seeking to renew a traditional humanism, but anti-Nietzscheanism can take very different forms. Geoff Waite’s cornucopian Nietzsche’s Corps/e (1996) links the end of Communism and the triumph of Nietzscheanism, and approaches Nietzsche and his body of interpreters from an Althusserian perspective from which Nietzsche emerges as ‘the revolutionary programmer of late pseudo-leftist, fascoid-liberal culture and technoculture’. [3] Claiming that, in that it is now ‘blasphemy only to blaspheme Nietzsche—formerly the great blasphemer—and his community’, Waite proceeds to uncover Nietzsche’s ‘esoteric’ teachings which aim ‘to re/produce a viable form of willing human slavery appropriate to post/modern conditions, and with it a small number of (male) geniuses equal only among themselves.’ [4] Integral to this teaching is what Waite calls the ‘“hermeneutic” or “rhetoric of euthanasia”: the process of weeding out’. Those who cannot withstand the thought of Eternal Recurrence are, Nietzsche claims, unfit for life: ‘Whosoever will be destroyed with the sentence “there is no salvation” ought to die. I want wars, in which the vital and courageous drive out the others.’ [5]

Although Fredrick Appel’s succinctly argued Nietzsche Contra Democracy (1999) could hardly be more different from Nietzsche’s Corps/e in style, the argument is similar. Appel complains that as ‘efforts to draft Nietzsche’s thought into the service of radical democracy have multiplied . . . his patently inegalitarian political project [has been] ignored or summarily dismissed.’ Far from being a protean thinker whose thought is so multifaceted as to resist any single political interpretation, Nietzsche is committed to ‘an uncompromising repudiation of both the ethic of benevolence and the notion of the equality of persons in the name of a radically aristocratic commitment to human excellence.’ [6] Unlike Waite, who suggests that Nietzsche to some degree concealed his political agenda, Appel argues that it pervades every aspect of Nietzsche’s later thought. Nietzsche’s elitism is not only fundamental to his entire world-view, it is so profound that it leads naturally to the conclusion that ‘the great majority of men have no right to existence’. [7]

Appel draws attention to Nietzsche’s political programme not in order to exclude Nietzsche from the political debate but ‘to invite democracy’s friends to face the depth of his challenge head-on with a reasoned and effective defence of democratic ideals.’ [8] Appel himself gives no indication of what the appropriate defence might be. For Waite, who takes up Bataille’s suggestion that ‘Nietzsche’s position is the only one outside of communism’, the answer is clear: the only anti-Nietzschean position is a ‘communist’ one, vaguely defined as an assortment of social practices leading to total liberation. [9] However, Waite does not say how or why such a position should be considered preferable. Nietzsche’s arguments were explicitly formulated against the practices of social levelling and liberation found within Christianity, liberalism, socialism and feminism. Pointing out that Nietzsche’s thought is incompatible with such projects is, as Appel rightly emphasizes, only the beginning.

But from where should Nietzsche be opposed? Most of his recent critics seek to reaffirm political and philosophical positions that Nietzsche himself repudiated. For them, reestablishing that Nietzsche was an amoral, irrationalist, anti-egalitarian who had no respect for basic human rights suffices as a means of disposing of his arguments. Yet if opposition comes only from within the pre-existing traditions, it will do little to dislodge Nietzsche from the position that he chose for himself—the philosopher of the future who writes ‘for a species of man that does not yet exist’. [10] The self-styled Anti-Christ who placed himself on the last day of Christianity, and at the end of the secular European culture that it had fostered, would not be displeased if his ‘revaluation of all values’ were to be indefinitely rejected by those who continued to adhere to the values he despised. He would live forever as their eschatological nemesis, the limit-philosopher of a modernity that never ends, waiting to be born posthumously on the day after tomorrow. What seems to be missing is any critique of Nietzsche that takes the same retrospective position that Nietzsche adopted with regard to Christianity. Postmodernity has spawned plenty of post-Nietzscheans anxious to appropriate Nietzsche for their own agendas, but there appear to be no post-Nietzschean anti-Nietzscheans, no critics whose response is designed not to prevent us from getting to Nietzsche, but to enable us to get over him.

Reading Nietzsche
The chief impediment to the development of any form of anti-Nietzscheanism is, as Waite points out, that ‘most readers basically trust him’. [11] One reason for this is that Nietzsche gives readers strong incentives to do so. ‘This book belongs to the very few’, he announces in the foreword to The Anti-Christ. It belongs only to those who are ‘honest in intellectual matters to the point of harshness’; who have ‘Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden’:

These alone are my readers, my rightful readers, my predestined readers: what do the rest matter?—The rest are merely mankind.—One must be superior to mankind in force, in loftiness of soul—in contempt . . . [12]
Through the act of reading, Nietzsche flatteringly offers identification with the masters to anyone, but not to everyone. Identification with the masters means imaginative liberation from all the social, moral and economic constraints within which individuals are usually confined; identification with ‘the rest’ involves reading one’s way through many pages of abuse directed at people like oneself. Unsurprisingly, people of all political persuasions and social positions have more readily discovered themselves to belong to the former category. For who, in the privacy of a reading, can fail to find within themselves some of those qualities of honesty and courage and loftiness of soul that Nietzsche describes?

As Wyndham Lewis observed, there is an element of fairground trickery in this strategy: ‘Nietzsche, got up to represent a Polish nobleman, with a berserker wildness in his eye, advertised the secrets of the world, and sold little vials containing blue ink, which he represented as drops of authentic blue blood, to the delighted populace. They went away, swallowed his prescriptions, and felt very noble almost at once.’ [13] Put like this, it sounds as though Nietzsche’s readers are simply credulous. But there is more to it. Take Stanley Rosen’s account of the same phenomenon in Nietzsche-reception: ‘An appeal to the highest, most gifted human individuals to create a radically new society of artist-warriors was expressed with rhetorical power and a unique mixture of frankness and ambiguity in such a way as to allow the mediocre, the foolish, and the mad to regard themselves as the divine prototypes of the highest men of the future.’ [14] How many of those who read this statement regard themselves as these ‘divine prototypes’? Very few I suspect. For in uncovering Nietzsche’s rhetorical strategy Rosen reuses it. The juxtaposition of ‘the highest, most gifted human individuals’ to whom Nietzsche addressed himself, and ‘the mediocre, the foolish, and the mad’ who claimed what was not rightfully theirs, encourages readers to distance themselves from the former category and identify with the ‘gifted human individuals’ who, it is implied, passed up the opportunity that Nietzsche offered. Like Lewis, Rosen invites his readers to consider the possibility that Nietzsche is only for the little people, and that being a mere Superman may well be beneath them.

Nietzsche’s strategy is one from which it is difficult for readers wholly to disentangle themselves. And in Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game, Daniel Conway argues that it is just this strategy that is central to Nietzsche’s post-Zarathustra philosophy. Isolated, and seemingly ignored, the late Nietzsche desperately needs readers, for otherwise his grandiose claims about the epochal significance of his own philosophy cannot possibly be justified. But insofar as his readers passively accept his critique of earlier philosophy, they will hardly be the ‘monsters of courage and curiosity’ needed to transmit his philosophy to the future. However, if Nietzsche’s readers actually embody those adventurous qualities he idealizes, they will quickly detect ‘his own complicity in the decadence of modernity’. [15] Paradoxically, therefore, Nietzscheanism is best preserved through readings which expose Nietzsche’s decadence and so make him the first martyr to his own strategy. Indeed, Conway’s own practice of ‘reading Nietzsche against Nietzsche’ is, as he acknowledges, one example, and so, according to his own argument, ironically serves to perpetuate a Nietzscheanism without Nietzsche: ‘the apostasy of his children is never complete. They may turn on him, denounce him, even profane his teachings, but they do so only by implementing the insights and strategies he has bequeathed to them.’ [16] As a result, one aspect of Nietzsche’s programme, his suspicion, is forever enacted against another, his critique of decadence, for the suspicion that unmasks the decadence even of the ‘master of suspicion’ is itself a symptom of decadence waiting to be unmasked by future generations themselves schooled in suspicion by their own decadence.

Although Conway illustrates ways in which both Nietzsche and his ‘signature doctrines’ are potentially the victims of his own strategy, he does little to show how the reader can avoid participating in it. In fact, Conway appears to be deploying a more sophisticated version of the Nietzschean response used by Lewis and Rosen. Rather than simply inviting the reader to think of themselves as being superior to the foolish mediocrities who would be Supermen, Conway encourages the reader to join him in the higher task of unmasking the Supermen, and Nietzsche himself. But is there no way to reject Nietzsche without at the same time demonstrating one’s masterly superiority to the herd of slavish Nietzscheans from whom one is distinguishing oneself? Can the reader resist, or at least fail to follow, Nietzsche’s injunction: ‘one must be superior . . .’?

Reading for victory
The act of reading always engages the emotions of readers, and to a large degree the success of any text (or act of reading) depends upon a reader’s sympathetic involvement. A significant part of that involvement comes from the reader’s identification with individuals or types within the story. People routinely identify with the heroes of narratives, and with almost any character who is presented in an attractive light. This involves ‘adopting the goals of a protagonist’ to the extent that the success or failure of those goals occasions an emotional response in the reader similar to that which might be expected of the protagonist, irrespective of whether the protagonist is actually described as experiencing those emotions. [17] Hence, a story with a happy ending is one in which the reader feels happy because of the hero’s success, and a sad story is one in which the protagonist is unsuccessful.

Within this process, readers sometimes identify with the goals of characters who may be in many or all external respects (age, race, gender, class etc.) dissimilar to themselves. But the goals with which they identify—escaping death, finding a mate, achieving personal fulfilment—are almost always ones shared by the reader in that they reflect rational self-interest. The effect of identifying with the goals of protagonists on the basis of self-interest is that the act of reading becomes an attempt to succeed in the same objectives that the reader pursues in everyday life. Indeed, success in the act of reading may actually serve to compensate the reader for their relative inability to realize those same objectives in their own lives. Hence perhaps the apparent paradox generated by Nietzsche’s popularity amongst disadvantaged groups he went out of his way to denigrate. They, too, are reading for victory, struggling to wrest success from the text by making themselves the heroes of Nietzsche’s narrative.

Reading for victory is the way Nietzsche himself thought people ought to read. As he noted in Human, All Too Human:

Whoever wants really to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, or a book) does well to take up this new thing with all possible love, to avert his eye quickly from, even to forget, everything about it that he finds inimical, objectionable, or false. So, for example, we give the author of a book the greatest possible head start, and, as if in a race, virtually yearn with pounding heart for him to reach his goal. [18]
When he wrote this, Nietzsche considered that reading for victory was only a device and that reason might eventually catch up. But in his later writings, this possibility is dismissed. Knowledge ‘works as a tool of power’ and so ‘increases with every increase of power’. [19] The reader’s yearning for victory is now not a means to knowledge but an example of what knowledge is. Getting to know something is no more than the act of interpreting it to one’s own advantage: ‘The will to power interprets . . . In fact, interpretation is itself a means of becoming master of something.’ [20]

In this context, reading for victory without regard to the objections or consequences of that reading is more than reading the way we usually read: it is also our first intoxicating taste of the will to power. Not only does reading for victory exemplify the will to power, but in reading Nietzsche our exercise of the will to power is actually rewarded with the experience of power. It is possible to see this happen even in a single sentence. Take Nietzsche’s boast in Ecce Homo, ‘I am not a man I am dynamite.’ [21] Reading these words, who has not felt the sudden thrill of something explosive within themselves; or, at the very least, emboldened by Nietzsche’s daring, allowed themselves to feel a little more expansive than usual? This, after all, is the way we usually read. Even though Nietzsche is attributing the explosive power to himself, not to us, we instantly appropriate it for ourselves.

Here perhaps is the root of Nietzsche’s extraordinary bond with his readers. Reading Nietzsche successfully means reading for victory, reading so that we identify ourselves with the goals of the author. In so unscrupulously seeking for ourselves the rewards of the text we become exemplars of the uninhibited will to power. No wonder Nietzsche can so confidently identify his readers with the Supermen. It is not just flattery. If Nietzsche’s readers have mastered his text, they have demonstrated just those qualities of ruthlessness and ambition that qualify them to be ‘masters of the earth’. But they have done more than earn a status in Nietzsche’s fictional world. In arriving at an understanding of Nietzsche’s cardinal doctrine they have already proved it to themselves. Nietzsche persuades by appealing to experience—not to our experience of the world, but our experience as readers, in particular our experience as readers of his text.

Reading like a loser
There is an alternative to reading for victory: reading like a loser. Robert Burton described it and its consequences in the Anatomy of Melancholy:

Yea, but this meditation is that marres all, and mistaken makes many men farre worse, misconceaving all they reade or heare, to their owne overthrow, the more they search and reade Scriptures, or divine Treatises, the more they pussle themselves, as a bird in a net, the more they are intangled and precipitated into this preposterous gulfe. Many are called, but few are chosen, Mat. 20.16 and 22.14. With such like places of Scripture misinterpreted strike them with horror, they doubt presently whether they be of this number or no, gods eternall decree of predestination, absolute reprobation, & such fatall tables they forme to their owne ruine, and impinge upon this rocke of despaire. [22]
Reading to one’s own overthrow, to convict oneself from the text is an unusual strategy. It differs equally from the rejection of a text as mistaken or immoral and from the assimilation of a text as compatible with one’s own being. Reading like a loser means assimilating a text in such a way that it is incompatible with one’s self.

The interpretative challenge presented by the doctrine of predestination is in important respects similar to the one Nietzsche offers his readers. The underlying presupposition of both is that many are called, and few are chosen. One might suppose that the majority of those faced with the doctrine would deduce that they are more likely to be amongst the many than the few. But, just as almost all of Nietzsche’s readers identify themselves as being amongst the few who are honest, strong and courageous, so generations of Christians have discovered themselves to be amongst the few who are ‘called’. The alternative, although seemingly logical, was so rare as to be considered pathological. People were not expected to survive in this state. As Burton noted: ‘Never was any living creature in such torment . . . in such miserable estate, in such distresse of minde, no hope, no faith, past cure, reprobate, continually tempted to make away with themselves.’ [23]

Reading like losers, we respond very differently to the claims Nietzsche makes on behalf of himself and his readers. Rather than reading for victory with Nietzsche, or even reading for victory against Nietzsche by identifying with the slave morality, we read for victory against ourselves, making ourselves the victims of the text. Doing so does not involve treating the text with scepticism or suspicion. In order to read like a loser you have to accept the argument, but turn its consequences against yourself. So, rather than thinking of ourselves as dynamite, or questioning Nietzsche’s extravagant claim, we will immediately think (as we might if someone said this to us in real life) that there may be an explosion; that we might get hurt; that we are too close to someone who could harm us. Reading like losers will make us feel powerless and vulnerable.

The net result, of course, is that reading Nietzsche will become far less pleasurable. When we read that ‘Those who are from the outset victims, downtrodden, broken—they are the ones, the weakest are the ones who most undermine life’ [24] we will think primarily of ourselves. Rather than being an exhilarating vision of the limitless possibilities of human emancipation, Nietzsche’s texts will continually remind us of our own weakness and mediocrity, and our irremediable exclusion from the life of joy and careless laughter that is possible only for those who are healthier and more powerful. In consequence, we will never experience the mysterious alchemy of Nietzsche’s texts in which the reader reaps the benefits of Nietzsche’s doctrine in the act of apprehending it.

How then will we feel about Nietzsche? We might answer the way Nietzsche suggests no one has ever answered: ‘“I don’t like him.”—Why?—“I am not equal to him.”’ [25] In any case, we will not be able to look him in the face as he asks us to do. [26] His gaze is too piercing, his presence too powerful. We must lower our eyes and turn away.

The philistine
Reading Nietzsche like losers is likely to prove more difficult than we might suppose. It involves more than distancing ourselves from his more extravagant claims; it means that we will find it impossible to identify with any of his positive values. This may prove painful, for some of Nietzsche’s values are widely endorsed within contemporary culture, and accepting our inability to share them may count as an intellectual and social failing. This is perhaps most obviously true when it comes to art, the one thing to which Nietzsche consistently ascribed a positive value.

It was in The Birth of Tragedy that Nietzsche first articulated the view that life was meaningless and unbearable, and that ‘it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.’ [27] Although he subsequently distanced himself from this early work, Nietzsche never gave up the idea that art was the one redemptive value in the world, or that ‘we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art.’ [28] In his later writings, the role of art comes to be identified with the will to power. As Nietzsche wrote in a draft for the new preface to The Birth of Tragedy:

Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life.
Art as the only superior counterforce to all will to denial of life, as that which is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinihilist par excellence. [29]
Whereas other putative sources of value, such as religion and morality and philosophical truth, placed themselves in opposition to life, art was not something that stood over and against life, it was the affirmation of life, and so also life’s affirmation of itself.

Nietzsche’s later vision of art as the value that supersedes all others has two related elements: the role of the aesthetic as a source of value, and the artist as a creator and embodiment of that value. But if we are reading like losers, we are not going to be able to identify with either of these things. We will think of ourselves as philistines who are unable to appreciate what is supposedly the aesthetic dimension of experience; as people who have no taste or discrimination, no capacity to appreciate what are meant to be the finer things of life. This does not just involve distancing ourselves from the rarified discourse of traditional aesthetics; it means not being able to see the point of avant-gardist repudiations of tradition either.

According to Nietzsche, ‘the effect of works of art is to excite the state that creates art’. Being an aesthete is therefore indistinguishable from being an artist, for ‘All art . . . speaks only to artists.’ [30] Reading like losers places us outside this equation: unable to appreciate, we are also unable to create. We cannot think of ourselves as original or creative people, or as makers of things that add to the beauty or aesthetic variety of the world. When we read Nietzsche’s descriptions of the ‘inartistic state’ that subsists ‘among those who become impoverished, withdraw, grow pale, under whose eyes life suffers’, [31] we should not hurry to exclude ourselves. In Nietzsche’s opinion, ‘the aesthetic state . . . appears only in natures capable of that bestowing and overflowing fullness of bodily vigor . . . [But] The sober, the weary, the exhausted, the dried-up (e.g. scholars) can receive absolutely nothing from art, because they do not possess the primary artistic force.’ [32] ‘Yes,’ the loser responds, ‘that sounds like me.’

It may not appear to be a very attractive option, for Nietzsche deliberately makes it as unappealing as possible, but acknowledging a lack of ‘the primary artistic force’ must be the starting point for any anti-Nietzscheanism. Anyone who does not do so retains an important stake in Nietzsche’s vision of the future. Receptivity to the aesthetic is the ticket to privilege in Nietzsche’s world; the only people liable to suffer from his revaluation of values are those who lack it. Nietzsche may claim that only a select minority are likely to qualify, but in a culture where self-identified philistines are conspicuous by their absence, it is not surprising to discover that Nietzsche’s readers have consistently found themselves to be included rather than excluded from his vision of the future.

The subhuman
To find the Anti-Nietzsche it is necessary not only to locate oneself outside contemporary culture, but outside the human species altogether. Nietzsche’s model for the future of intra-specific relations is based on that of inter-specific relations in the natural world. The underlying analogy is that Superman is to man, as man is to animal. Zarathustra pictures man as ‘a rope stretched between animal and Superman—a rope over an abyss.’ [33] The philosopher of the future must walk the tightrope. Unlike those who would rather return to the animal state, the Supermen will establish the same distance between themselves and other humans, as humans have established between themselves and animals:

All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves, and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide and return to the animals rather than overcome man?
What is the ape to men? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman: a laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. [34]
Indeed, Nietzsche repeatedly refers to Supermen as being a different species: ‘I write for a species of man that does not yet exist: for the “masters of the earth”.’ [35] He was not speaking metaphorically, either. He hoped that the new species might be created through selective breeding, and noted the practical possibility of ‘international racial unions whose task will be to rear the master race, the future “masters of the earth”.’ [36]

According to Nietzsche, it follows from this that, relative to the Supermen, ordinary mortals will have no rights whatsoever. The Supermen have duties only to their equals, ‘towards the others one acts as one thinks best.’ [37] The argument here is also based on interspecific analogies. Nietzsche conceives the difference between man and Superman not only in terms of that between animal and man, but on the model of herd animal and predatory animal. He first introduced the idea in The Genealogy of Morals, in a discussion of lambs and birds of prey. Noting that it is hardly strange that lambs bear ill will towards large birds of prey, he argues this is ‘in itself no reason to blame large birds of prey for making off with little lambs.’ According to Nietzsche, to do so would be

To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a will to overcome, overthrow, dominate, a thirst for enemies and resistance and triumph, makes as little sense as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.
The argument hinges on the idea of carnivorousness as an expression of the amorality that is a natural and inescapable feature of interspecific relations. Nietzsche imagines his birds of prey saying ‘We bear them no ill will at all, these good lambs—indeed, we love them; there is nothing tastier than a tender lamb.’ [38] However it may appear to the lambs, for the carnivore eating them it is not a question of ethics, just a matter of taste. Nietzsche therefore argues that were a comparable divide to exist between two human species, the Supermen and the herd animals who sustain them, relations between the species would also be entirely governed by the tastes of the superior species. Nietzsche does not say whether the Supermen will feast upon their human subordinates, but it is inconceivable that he should have any objection to the practice, save perhaps gastronomic.

Why do not Nietzsche’s readers experience the visceral fear of the Superman that Nietzsche attributes to the lambs? The answer is surely that the reader immediately identifies with the human rather than the animal, and with the carnivore rather than the herbivore. Nietzsche’s argument relies on the assumption that the patterns of interspecific relations are unquestioned and that it will be easier for the reader to imagine eating other species than it is to imagine being eaten by them. The raptors’ response to the lamb is therefore also that of carnivorous readers, who also love lamb as much as they love lambs. Reading like losers, however, we may see things rather differently. We will not just identify with man rather than Superman, but also with the animal rather than man, and with the herd animal rather than the predator. The pattern of interspecific behaviour that Nietzsche describes will immediately strike us as terrifying—an all-out war against the defenceless explicable only in terms of the hatred of the predator for the prey.

Once again, the difficulty of reading like losers is extreme. First, rather than dismissing Nietzsche’s suggestion that intrahuman diversity could ever produce distinct species of men and Supermen, we have to accept the idea that interspecific analogues are relevant. Second, we have to relocate ourselves within those analogues in the position of the subhuman rather than the human, as ape to man, herbivore to carnivore. This means divesting ourselves of all our assumptions about species superiority and imagining our experience of the human species to be that of a subhuman species. Consistently thinking about the human from the perspective of the subhuman is difficult, but in reading like a loser we have to give up the idea of becoming more than man and think only of becoming something less.

Nietzsche himself identified becoming subhuman with the egalitarian projects of democracy and socialism:

The over-all degeneration of man down to what today appears to the socialist dolts and flatheads as their ‘man of the future’—as their ideal—this degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal (or, as they say, to the man of the ‘free society’), this animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims, is possible, there is no doubt of it.
The prospect strikes Nietzsche with horror: ‘Anyone who has once thought through this possibility to the end knows one kind of nausea that other men don’t know.’ [39] Even those who consider Nietzsche to have offered an absurd caricature of the socialist project would probably agree that the subhumanization of man was a repulsive goal. But if we are reading like losers we may think differently. Just as the superhumanization of man will fill us with terror, the dehumanization of man into a herd animal will strike us as offering a welcome respite from a cruel predator, and opening up new possibilities for subhuman sociality. And although the subhuman, like the philistine, may not seem like the most promising basis for a thoroughgoing anti-Nietzscheanism, it is more than just a hypothetical counter-Nietzschean position generated by a perverse strategy of reading: the subhuman and the philistine are not two forms of the Anti-Nietzsche but one.

Negative ecology of value
Nietzsche’s project is the revaluation of all values. There are two stages: the first nihilistic, the second ecological. Nietzsche acknowledged himself to be ‘a thorough-going nihilist’, and although he says he accepted this only in the late 1880s, the idea obviously appealed, for he then proclaimed himself to be ‘the first perfect nihilist of Europe who, however, has even now lived through the whole of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself.’ [40] What Nietzsche means is that he has accepted, more completely than anyone before him, the ‘absolute untenability of existence when it comes to the highest values one recognizes.’ [41] All the values of religion and morality which were supposed to make life worth living are unsustainable; scepticism has undermined the lot. The truthfulness enjoined by religion and morality has shown the values of religion and morality (including the value of truth itself) to be fictitious. In this way, the highest values of the past have devalued themselves. Nihilism is not something that has worked against religion and morality, it has worked through them. The advent of nihilism, the realization that everything that was thought to be of value is valueless, therefore represents both the triumph of Christian values and their annihilation. As Heidegger observed, ‘for Nietzsche, nihilism is not in any way simply a phenomenon of decay; rather nihilism is, as the fundamental event of Western history, simultaneously and above all the intrinsic law of that history.’ [42]

Although Nietzsche does not repudiate nihilism, he anticipates that in the future it will take another form. He argues that ‘the universe seems to have lost value, seems “meaningless”—but that is only a transitional stage.’ [43] What lies beyond it is ‘a movement that in some future will take the place of this perfect nihilism—but presupposes it, logically and psychologically’. [44] The movement is the one that Nietzsche describes as the revaluation of all values. The presupposition of this is that ‘we require, sometime, new values’, but not values of the old kind that measure the value of the world in terms of things outside it, for they ‘refer to a purely fictitious world’. [45] Nietzsche’s revaluation of values demands more than this, ‘an overturning of the nature and manner of valuing’. [46]

Nietzsche does not use the word, but the form of this revaluation of valuing is perhaps most accurately described as ecological, not because Nietzsche exhibited any particular concern for the natural environment, but on account of the unprecedented conjunction of two ideas: the recognition of the interdependence of values, and the evaluation of value in biological terms. As a pioneer in the study of the history of values, Nietzsche sought ‘knowledge of their growth, development, displacement’. [47] Values did not co-exist in an unchanging timeless harmony. Within history some values had displaced others because not all values can simultaneously be equally valuable. Some values negate and devalue others: Christianity had involved ‘a revaluation of all the values of antiquity’, for the ancient values, ‘pride . . . the deification of passion, of revenge, of cunning, of anger, of voluptuousness, of adventure, of knowledge’, could not prosper in the new moral climate. [48] And the same could happen again: ‘Moral values have hitherto been the highest values: would anybody call this in question?—If we remove these values from this position, we alter all values: the principle of their order of rank hitherto is thus overthrown.’ [49] In consequence, the revaluation of values involves not the invention of new values, but reinventing the relationships between the old ones: ‘The future task of the philosopher: this task being understood as the solution of the problem of value, [is] the determination of the hierarchy of values.’ [50]

If it was as a genealogist of values that Nietzsche discovered their precarious ecology, it was as a nihilist that he sought to exploit it. Nietzsche recognized that, just as asserting one value negated another, so the denial of value placed a positive valuation upon the negation itself. The one irreducible value was therefore the value of valuation. But since, for a nihilist, values are valueless in themselves, the value of valuation is not merely the last value but the only one. As Nietzsche states, nihilism ‘places the value of things precisely in the lack of any reality corresponding to these values and in their being merely a symptom of strength on the part of the value-positers.’ [51] The effect of this argument is heavily reductive, for if the only value is valuation, then all that is of value is the capacity to establish values, a capacity that Nietzsche equates with life itself: ‘When we speak of values we do so under the inspiration and from the perspective of life: life itself evaluates through us when we establish values.’ [52] However, life itself is contested, and so ‘There is nothing to life that has value except the degree of power—assuming that life itself is the will to power.’ [53]

As a historian, Nietzsche noted that ‘Values and their changes are related to increases in the power of those positing the values’, [54] but, according to his own reductive argument, changes in value are not merely related to changes in power, they are themselves those changes in power, for the only value is ‘the highest quantum of power that a man is able to incorporate.’ [55] So, because value resides in valuation, and valuation exists only where there is the power to establish values, the ecology of value within the realm of ideas becomes a literal biological ecology of living organisms. As Nietzsche puts it:

The standpoint of ‘value’ is the standpoint of conditions of preservation and enhancement for complex forms of relative life-duration within the flux of becoming. [56]
In short, value is ultimately ecological, in that what is of value is the conditions that allow valuation. And since, according to Nietzsche, ‘it is the intrinsic right of masters to create values’, [57] it follows that ‘“Value” is essentially the standpoint for the increase or decrease of these dominating centres.’ [58] The future task of the philosopher is therefore that of establishing not so much a hierarchy of value, or even a hierarchy of value-positers, as that of creating an ecology in which valuation is possible. Not being familiar with the twentieth-century concept of the ecologist, Nietzsche imagines a new type of physician whose concern is with the health of society as a whole:

I am still waiting for a philosophical physician in the exceptional sense of that word—one who has to pursue the problem of the total health of a people, time, race or of humanity—to muster the courage to push my suspicion to its limits and to risk the proposition: what was at stake in all philosophizing hitherto was not at all ‘truth’ but something else—let us say, health, future, growth, power, life. [59]
What this global ecologist of value would do is create conditions that foster the production of value-positors. And since the ‘higher type is possible only through the subjugation of the lower’, [60] this means breeding a master species capable of enslaving the rest of the world:

a new, tremendous artistocracy, based on the severest self-legislation, in which the will of philosophical men of power and artist-tyrants will be made to endure for millennia—a higher kind of man who . . . employ demo-
cratic Europe as their most pliant and supple instrument for getting hold of the destinies of the earth, so as to work as artists upon ‘man’ himself. [61]
In this ecology, the philistine and the subhuman are the same thing. Nietzsche equates receptivity to the aesthetic with being an artist, being an artist with the capacity for valuation, and the capacity for valuation with the exercise of power. Just as his artist-tyrants display their artistry through their tyranny and exercise their tyranny in their artistry, so philistinism is the mark of the subhuman, and subhumanization the fate of the philistine. Because they fail to participate in art, the ‘affirmation, blessing, deification, of existence’, [62] philistines lack will to power, and are enslaved. And because subhumans lack the power to create value, they can never appreciate it either. Within the ecology of value a certain number of subhuman-philistines are always necessary in order to act as slaves to the supermen-aesthetes, but since an ecology of value is one that fosters the production of supermen-aesthetes rather than subhuman-philistines it follows that any increase in the latter, beyond the minimum needed to serve the needs of their masters, will have a negative effect on that ecology. Nietzsche’s vision of the future naturally includes provision for the extermination of these vermin, for their proliferation will do more than have a negative effect on his ecology of value; since the ecology of value is the last remaining value in the history of nihilism, its negation is the ultimate negation of value itself.

It is worth considering the implications of this a little further. For a thorough-going nihilist the last value must be derived from the negation of value. Since valuation is unavoidable, it would seem to follow that valuation is that last value. And this is why Nietzsche thinks that the ecology of value will be the ultimate conclusion of his nihilism. But this is not so. Although value might ultimately be ecological, it does not follow that its ecology is valuable. Rather than a positive ecology of value, which creates the possibility for conditions of valuation, there might be a negative ecology. The nihilistic impulse might turn against this last redoubt of value, arguing that the last value must be the negation of the conditions of valuation, an ecology which minimizes the possibilities for the positing of value and so reduces the quantum of value still further. On this view, the last value would not be an ecology of value but a negative ecology of value. The full significance of the philistine and the subhuman now becomes clearer. Reading Nietzsche as a philistine-subhuman is not just a matter of finding a perspective from which Nietzsche’s ideas appear alien and threatening, it actually constitutes a countermove to Nietzsche’s strategy. Reading for victory exemplifies the will to power and promotes an ecology of value by increasing the numbers of those who are value-positors; reading like a loser has a direct negative impact on that ecology since it decreases the proportion of value-positors. Taking up the role of the philistine-subhuman therefore continues the nihilistic dynamic that Nietzsche thought he had ended, not by perpetuating the ressentiment of slave-morality—reading like a loser is not an affirmation of the values through which losers become winners—but by having a direct, negative impact on the ecology of value.

Total society
It might appear that a negative ecology of value could feature on only the most perverse of dystopian agendas. But that would be a hasty judgement. The negative ecology of value, which Nietzsche called ‘the kingdom of heaven of the poor in spirit’, had in his view already begun:

The French Revolution as the continuation of Christianity. Rousseau is the seducer: he again unfetters woman who is henceforth represented in an ever more interesting manner—as suffering. Then the slaves and Mrs. Beecher-Stowe. Then the poor and the workers. Then the vice addicts and the sick . . . We are well on the way: the kingdom of heaven of the poor in spirit has begun. [63]
The way in which this process served to negate value is spelt out most clearly with regard to slavery: ‘“Abolition of slavery”—supposedly a tribute to “human dignity”, in fact a destruction of a fundamentally different type (—the undermining of its values and happiness—).’ [64] Rather than accepting the rhetoric of liberation on its own terms, and seeing it as an extension of the ecology of value which attributes positive qualities to those who are liberated, Nietzsche sees it only as a negation of the values reposed within the masters. Thus, the liberation of women serves only to negate the special value of masculinity; the emancipation of slaves the value of whiteness, the liberation of the workers the value of capital, the liberation of the sick the seemingly unarguable value of health itself.

Those who seek to oppose Nietzsche typically reject his analysis of these changes and maintain that the long process of human emancipation has not only been motivated by the desire to promote values but has also contributed to their ecology. But, as has often been noted, this argument is difficult to sustain at a historical or sociological level. Whatever the intentions of those who have promoted these social reforms, their effect has not been to strengthen value, but rather to dilute it by widening its scope. Durkheim, writing shortly after Nietzsche, was perhaps the first to note the pattern. Laws against murder are now more inclusive than in former times, but

If all the individuals who . . . make up society are today protected to an equal extent, this greater mildness in morality is due, not to the emergence of a penal rule that is really new, but to the extension of the scope of an ancient rule. From the beginning there was a prohibition on attempts to take the life of any member of the group, but children and slaves were excluded from this category. Now that we no longer make such distinctions actions have become punishable that once were not criminal. But this is merely because there are more persons in society, and not because collective sentiments have increased in number. These have not grown, but the object to which they relate has done so. [65]
Indeed, as he argued in The Division of Labour in Society, the conscience collective, the set of values shared by a social group, is progressively weakened by increases in the size and complexity of the unit. Taken to its limits, the dynamic that Durkheim describes involves the totalization of society to its maximal inclusiveness and complexity, and the corresponding elimination of shared values. Already, he suggests, morality ‘is in the throes of an appalling crisis’. [66] If the totalization of society and the weakening of la conscience collective is not balanced by the development of organic solidarity through the division of labour, the change will result only in anomie.

Although they emphasize different aspects of the process, it is clear that Durkheim and Nietzsche are addressing the same issue. Both describe the origins of morality in the customs of communities bound together by what Durkheim called ‘mechanical solidarity’. But what is, for Durkheim, the expansion of the group and the weakening of la conscience collective, is, for Nietzsche, the slave revolt in morals and the beginnings of European nihilism:

Refraining mutually from injury, violence, and exploitation and placing one’s will on a par with someone else—this may become . . . good manners among individuals if the appropriate conditions are present (namely, if these men are actually similar in strength and value standards and belong together in one body). But as soon as this principle is extended, and possibly even accepted as the fundamental principle of society, it immediately proves to be what it really is—a will to the denial of life, a principle of disintegration and decay. [67]
Durkheim is nervously optimistic about the totalization of society. Observing that ‘there is tending to form, above European peoples, in a spontaneous fashion, a European society’, he argued that even if ‘the formation of one single human society is forever ruled out—and this has, however, not yet been demonstrated—at least the formation of larger societies will draw us continually closer to that goal.’ [68] In contrast, Nietzsche’s response is to demand a return to mechanical solidarity, not of course for everyone, but for the few strong men who can create value. Only if society is detotalized and redivided into the community of the strong and the undifferentiated mass of the weak can the conditions for value creation be sustained:

As a good man, one belongs to the ‘good’, a community that has a communal feeling, because all the individuals are entwined together by their feeling for requital. As a bad man, one belongs to the ‘bad’, to a mass of abject, powerless men who have no communal feeling. [69]
In this context, our reading of Nietzsche assumes additional importance. Identifying positively with any narrative (written or otherwise) means making its goals one’s own. And although we may not be trying to make common cause with other readers, reading for victory has a strong centripetal dynamic: the greater our success, the more closely our goals converge with those of others who are doing the same thing. Reading Nietzsche for victory is the route to his new mechanical solidarity. In contrast, reading like losers is centrifugal. Since we are not in any sense opposed to the text, we have no common cause even with those who are reading for victory against it, we just become part of that ‘mass of abject, powerless men who have no communal feeling’. Reading like a loser, in its consistent exclusion of the reader from shared value, is a willingness to exchange an exclusive communality for an inclusive and indiscriminate sociality.

Becoming part of a mass with no communal feeling may negate the ecology of value, but such a mass is not necessarily a negative ecology. Like Nietzsche, Durkheim thought of society in biological terms. His model of organic solidarity is an oak tree which can sustain ‘up to two hundred species of insects that have no contacts with one another save those of good neighbourliness.’ [70] Just as an environment can sustain a higher population the greater the diversity of the species within it, so society can accommodate more people if they have less in common and more diversified social roles. But whereas Durkheim’s ecology is acknowledged to be part of a negative ecology of value, Nietzsche’s ecology is a positive ecology of value designed to sustain species whose will to power is value positing:

society must not exist for society’s sake but only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being—comparable to those sun-seeking vines of Java . . . that so long and so often enclasp an oak tree with their tendrils until eventually, high above it but supported by it, they can unfold their crowns in the open light and display their happiness. [71]
It is Nietzsche’s commitment to an ecology of value that makes him an anti-social thinker. The boundaries of society must be constricted in order to sustain the flower of value. For the anti-Nietzschean, however, the argument will go the other way. The boundaries of society must be extended in order to decrease the possibility of value, for the negative ecology of value is total society.

A possibility
Nietzsche’s image of the vine climbing the oak neatly encapsulated his idea that the Supermen must exercise their will to power as parasites upon society. Translating the idea into historical terms supplied Nietzsche with an extraordinary vision: ‘I see in my mind’s eye a possibility of a quite unearthly fascination and splendour . . . a spectacle at once so meaningful and so strangely paradoxical it would have given all the gods of Olympus an opportunity for an immortal roar of laughter—Cesare Borgia as Pope.’ [72] Like the vine that strangles the tree as it reaches toward the sunlight, Cesare Borgia would have abolished Christianity by becoming its head.

The totalization of society does not require such fantasies, but it may involve changes for which many are unprepared. For example, one recent appeal for the ongoing totalization of society is ‘The Declaration on Great Apes’, which proclaims that

The notion of ‘us’ as opposed to ‘the other’, which like a more and more abstract silhouette, assumed in the course of centuries the contours of the boundaries of the tribe, of the nation, of the race, of the human species, and which for a time the species barrier had congealed and stiffened, has again become something alive, ready for further change.
The Declaration looks forward to ‘the moment when the dispersed members of the chimpanzee, gorilla and orang-utan species can be liberated and lead their different lives as equals in their own special territories in our countries.’ [73] However, neither the signatories of the Declaration, nor subsequent advocates of simian sovereignty have specified where these simian homelands should be located. It has been suggested that some heavily indebted equatorial nation might be induced to cede part of its territory in return for relief from its creditors. [74] But within a negative ecology of value there may be other, more appropriate solutions.

Even if not undertaken with this intention, extending the boundaries of society to include members of other species is liable to devalue specifically human values, notably those of culture. Not only does it run counter to the Nietzschean argument that (super)humans, as the sole value-creating species, should live in a world that maximizes their capacity to flourish at the expense of other non-value generating species, but by including within society so many unregenerate philistines, it undermines the capacity for human culture to function as a shared value within the expanded society. In such a philistine ecology, some redundant piece of the West’s cultural heritage might prove to be a suitable location for an autonomous simian group. Perhaps the Louvre, and its collections, could be put at the disposal of apes freed from zoos and research laboratories: the long galleries could be used for sleeping and recreation, the Jardin des Tuileries for foraging. Who but a Nietzschean could object?



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[1] Ishay Landa, ‘Nietzsche, the Chinese Worker’s Friend’, NLR I/236, July–August 1999, pp. 3–23.
[2] Alain Boyer, ‘Hierarchy and Truth’, in L. Ferry and A. Renaut, eds, Why We Are Not Nietzscheans, Chicago 1997, p. 2.
[3] Geoff Waite, Nietzsche’s Corps/e: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy, or, The Spectacular Technology of Everyday Life, Durham, NC 1996, p. xi.
[4] Nietzsche’s Corps/e, p. 67 and p. 232.
[5] F. Nietzsche quoted in Nietzsche’s Corps/e, pp. 315–6.
[6] Fredrick Appel, Nietzsche Contra Democracy, Ithaca 1999, p. 2.
[7] F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power (hereafter WP), tr., W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, New York 1967, 872 (unless otherwise indicated, references to Nietzsche’s works are to section numbers not page numbers).
[8] Contra Democracy, p. 167.
[9] Nietzsche’s Corps/e, p. 70.
[10] WP, 958.
[11] Nietzsche’s Corps/e, p. 24.
[12] F. Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth 1968, Foreword.
[13] Wyndham Lewis, The Art of Being Ruled, Santa Rosa, CA 1989, p. 113.
[14] Stanley Rosen, The Ancients and the Moderns, New Haven 1989, p. 190.
[15] Daniel Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game: Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols, Cambridge 1997, p. 152.
[16] Dangerous Game, p. 256.
[17] See Keith Oatley, ‘A taxonomy of the emotions in literary response and a theory of identification in fictional narrative’, Poetics, 23, 1994, pp. 53–74; D. W. Allbritton and R. J. Gerrig found that readers have positive preferences for the outcomes of narratives, and that having negative preferences (e.g. hoping that the protagonist misses a flight) is so unusual that when readers are manipulated into preferring a negative outcome (e.g. by being told that the plane will crash) they are less able to remember the actual outcome; see their ‘Participatory Responses in Text Understanding’, Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 1991, pp. 603–26.
[18] F. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, tr. M. Faber, Harmondsworth 1984, 621.
[19] WP, 480.
[20] WP, 643.
[21] F. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth 1979, p. 126.
[22] Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford 1989, vol. 3, p. 434.
[23] Anatomy, p. 422.
[24] F. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, tr. D. Smith, Oxford 1996, 3.14.
[25] F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, tr. W. Kaufmann, New York 1966, 185.
[26] Anti-Christ, 1.
[27] F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, tr. W. Kaufmann, New York 1967, 5; see also The Gay Science, tr. W. Kaufmann, New York 1974, 107.
[28] Birth of Tragedy, 5.
[29] WP, 853.
[30] WP, 809 and 821.
[31] WP, 812.
[32] WP, 801.
[33] F. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth 1969, p. 43.
[34] Zarathustra, p. 41.
[35] WP, 958.
[36] WP, 960.
[37] WP, 943.
[38] Genealogy, I. 13.
[39] Beyond Good and Evil, 203.
[40] WP, Prologue, 2.
[41] WP, 3.
[42] M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, New York 1977, p. 67.
[43] WP, 7.
[44] WP, Prologue, 2.
[45] WP, 12B.
[46] Concerning Tautology, p. 70.
[47] Genealogy, Preface, 6.
[48] WP, 221.
[49] WP, 1006.
[50] Genealogy, 1.17.
[51] WP, 13.
[52] F. Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols, tr, R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth 1968, V.5 (p. 45).
[53] WP, 55.
[54] WP, 14.
[55] WP, 714.
[56] WP, 715.
[57] BGE, 261.
[58] WP, 715.
[59] Gay Science, 35.
[60] WP, 660.
[61] WP, 960.
[62] WP, 821.
[63] WP, 94.
[64] WP, 315.
[65] E. Durkheim, The Division of Labour in Society, tr. W. D. Halls, London 1984, p. 117.
[66] Division of Labour, p. 339.
[67] BGE, 259.
[68] Division of Labour, p. 337.
[69] All Too Human, 45; see also, Genealogy, I.11.
[70] Division of Labour, p. 209.
[71] Good and Evil, 258.
[72] Anti-Christ, 61.
[73] P. Cavalieri and P. Singer, eds, The Great Ape Project, London 1993, p. 5 and p. 6.
[74] See R. E. Goodin, C. Pateman and R. Pateman, ‘Simian Sovereignty’, Political Theory, 25, 1997, pp. 821–49.

catmint said...

thanks Chabert!

I've read Malcolm Bull's first article, and I found it very interesting. His style honestly reminded my of Daniel Miller, only Bull has read more books. I'm assuming this is the same Malcolm Bull that Timothy Clark talks about here. I think Bull's quite sensibly taking it one day at a time with his de-Nietzschification programme.

To be honest I never read books outside school when I was a teenager (only occaisionally books about warfare!) I was genuinely convinced, for a long time, that Alfred Jarry was by common consent the greatest writer of the past hundred years. So I was never really set up to love Nietzsche, and I've never studied his work in school or university.

I did enjoy The Birth of Tragedy, which is brilliant in its own way, but I don't think it conforms to the highest standards of logic. It's a brilliant, deranged novel, like all of Nietzsche's other works. I don't believe the methodology Bull applies here really adds up to a proper analysis of it. I've only read through the essay once but it seems to uncritically paraphrase Nietzsche. I'll see if the other essay has anything to add to this. I was reminded that Lacan is very similar to the Nietzsche of Birth of Tragedy or a sort of pastiche of it.

"According to his analysis there are three types of object—those like antiques and works of art which are considered durable and whose value is expected to increase; those that are considered transient (that is, everyday objects whose values are highest when new and subsequently decrease) and those that have no value and are treated accordingly"

J M Keynes, before he made his name as an economist wrote sort of aristocratic-utilitarian tract based on G E Moore, arguing for a political system that allowed the multiplication of beautiful objects.

I wonder if the idea that people are taught important lessons by pieces of furniture is what's being satirised here:

"A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was. "

Le Colonel Chabert said...

i think bull is not after nietzsche so much as after aesthetic religiosity of which the last half century of the reception of nietzsche is an especially good example (turbulent velvet at ufobreakfast has done some side splittingly hilarious posts about this) but maybe not as good as the religion of the true-believers of high modernism in painting, poetry and architecture. I think Tafuri is actually more persuasive about these issues but Bull's bullishness charms me and makes me want to be a self-proclaimed Philistine myself.

About KM; there is a restaurant in London, in Soho, called Quo Vadis, which is vry popular for media business lunches. Upstairs is where Marx lived for a while, and the flat used to be a little museum; in the restaurant menu there used to be a little notice inviting you to go up and have a look. Now they've turned it into a catering hall sort of thing, but I went up a few years ago; they had some few little items on display. And they'd set up a writing table; it was a 19th century piece but had not actually been Marx'. The curator or whoever set it up had chosen a very sturdy piece of furniture, which now would be considered elegant in a country house, but in the middle of the 19th century would not have been a very impressive piece of work. I remember looking at it and immediatly thinking "that wasn't karl marx' table". There is surely something about the shabby English bourgeois interior of the mid 19th century which allowed for his insight and conditioned the dramaturgy of its revelation.

catmint said...

thanks, Quo Vadis is quite famous I think. I didn't know Marx lived above it though. There seems to be, not even a conspiracy, but almost a visceral need on the part of many people in power to will Marx into being the humourless architect of the labour camp system. A few months ago their was an editorial in The Economist about Marx that the editors, for no good reason, decided to illustrate with a photograph of a victorian era factory wall.

I'm still reading the second Bull article. The Clark article places Bull in a polemic against the iconographers (Panofsky, Gombrich) interpreters of art as language (apparently). There's an interesting piece of iconographising (?) here (I was trying to find what Foucault says about Bosch's Temptation of St Anthony)

If I recall you initially cited Bull with regard to the appeal of 300. I think the appeal of 300 absolutely is aesthetic, but I don't think the film is predicated on audience fascism. It struck me it was basically Legally Blonde with Nazi mise-en-scène.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Here's another interesting piece by Bull, his review of Clark on Modernism; I put it here:

http://augustemaquet.blogspot.com/2007/06/modernism.html

Yeah this idea of Marx' imagination as dour, austere and disciplined is bizarre. I would love one day to list the literary references (krapulinski, sancho, 'a kotzebuish drama') in Marx to outline his 'sensibility', which always struck me as closer to Offenbach and Dumas than to Savonarola, Cromwell, Mao or the like.

catmint said...

"his 'sensibility', which always struck me as closer to Offenbach and Dumas"

yes, I agree, especially his London period when he's less aggressively satirical. But his secretary, apparently, was something of a prototype higher man:

"Pieper grows more vapidly complacent every day. Such is his mopping and mowing that his face is more crisscrossed with lines than a map of both the Indies. Old Malvolio! Little Jenny always refers to him now as Prince Charming, the son of Wunderhorn. In my next I shall tell you some comical tales about ‘Prince Charming’ who, as his sister’s letters reveal, regards himself as Byron and Leibniz rolled into one."

(Marx to Engels 1854)

catmint said...

"Taken together, the oppositions between Apollo and Silenus and Dionysus and Socrates take on the familiar form of a semiotic square."

I think that I understand what you like about Bull - there is an impulsiveness that's unusual now, and Mirror of the Gods sounds very interesting. And I think being charmed is the right response. Malcolm Bull is a theorist of mannerism, and is, appropriately enough, something of a mannerist himself.

This undertaking: dividing humanity into separate species, the coherence of each identity derived from the dialects of desire induced in the interpellated spectator (I'm like Buffy/I'm not like Buffy)...

...this undertaking, it's substituting the logic of charlatanism for that of science. I hink Bull does this naïvely, as a sort of ornament (he's not a scientist after all), but you can find the same thing in Jung. This is how Jung's aesthetic works.

Are we meant to understand that there's a philistine sexuality opposed to humanist sexuality? Compare to Vygotsky's theories of development, for instance.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

isn't there philistine sexuality? ("sentimentality" I guess, in contrast to "eroticism")

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"This undertaking: dividing humanity into separate species, the coherence of each identity derived from the dialects of desire induced in the interpellated spectator (I'm like Buffy/I'm not like Buffy)...

...this undertaking, it's substituting the logic of charlatanism for that of science. I hink Bull does this naïvely, "

I'm sorry, I'm can't follow this! I'm confused. Could you rephrase it?