Daniel W. Conway, Nietzsche & the Political
Routledge: Thinking the Political series, London, 1997. 163 pages
Reviewed by Herman Siemens
The question raised by this, as by all the recent studies of the subject, is: Why Nietzsche and politics? How is an apparently a-political philosopher, who eschews any direct or detailed analysis of political institutions, to be taken seriously as a political thinker? A skeptical answer might run: through a very thin concept of the political, what Conway calls a "micro-politics" of resistance, as against a "macro-politics" of transformation. The political dimension of Nietzsche's thought, he argues, is an inadvertent by-product of his private pursuit of self-overcoming: in this, the central thesis of this book, the political means no more than a semiotics of self-creation, Nietzsche's self-creation as a public mask or sign. When pressed, it seems, the author identifies any practice contributing to the enhancement of humankind "through the legislative deployment of the ethical resources of the community" as political in nature (48, 79). Neither concept is, to my mind, distinctively political, and it is unclear why we should speak of politics where Nietzsche himself preferred idioms likes "culture" and "values". For Conway, however, Nietzsche is a thinker of the political because he dares to ask the most neglected question, the founding question of politics: What ought humankind to become? A question posed in a genuinely radical and open way, without prepared answers or moral restraints (see Introduction), to which Nietzsche, in the final analysis, is unable to give a specific answer (see Ch. 6).
The major motivation for this book is to challenge and correct the political readings of Nietzsche that prevail. These are beautifully summarised and diagnosed in the closing chapter under "the standard reading"(121f.), which includes: the view of Nietzsche as a failed radical voluntarist, whose investment in redemptive übermenschliche figures contradicts his own critique of modernity; and the view of Nietzsche as a prophet of extremity, who underestimates the residual restorative powers of modernity in promoting the other of reason. Against such readings, Nietzsche's awareness of his implication in modern decadence and his operation within the dialectic of Enlightenment are both built into Conway's argumentation throughout.
The relation between Nietzsche's politics and his ethics forms the central concern of the book. Nietzsche's ethics are identified with the kind of perfectionism presented by Stanley Cavell in "Aversive Thinking", an essay on Emerson and Nietzsche: through untimely or aversive thinking, Nietzsche aims at the perfection (not transcendence) of humankind, at the completion (not the reversal) of the transition from natural into human animal. Nietzschean perfectionism is purged of any finality in a pre-determined telos of completion, designating instead an open-ended process of self-overcoming. Conway is not the first to identify an ethics of perfectionism in Nietzsche, but he wants to save it from the a-political, privatised readings of Kaufmann and Rorty. His main thesis is that ethical perfectionism always takes precedence for Nietzsche, as the "core" of his political perfectionism, which is never any more than a vehicle or instrument for his ethics. In distinguishing Nietzsche's ethical from his political perfectionism, Conway appeals to Cavell, who emphasises the ethical character of Emersonian-Nietzschean perfectionism, yet links it to politics, as the unique training needed for democratic life. Conway's distinction is, at the same time, tied up with a chronological thesis: the political perfectionism of Nietzsche's youth gives way to an ethical perfectionism dominating his writings post-Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Under the increasing pressure of a realistic assessment of decadent modernity—its depleted resources and corrupt institutions—, Nietzsche's "macropolitics" of transfiguration contracts into a "micropolitics", focused on ethical core of his political thought. A consideration of the complex and tangled notion of "die grosse Politik", identified by Ottmann with a return from apolitical Freigeisterei to a "Herrschaftslehre" in the third part of Z, would certainly have complicated this neat thesis.
While this study aspires to span Nietzsche's entire oeuvre, it has a distinctive textual bias. A sharp—perhaps too sharp—line is drawn with Z, and most of the texts cited and discussed are post-Z: Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist, Twilight of the Idols, Ecce Homo in particular, with little or no attention to the late Nachlass or the Will to Power. Scant attention is paid to pre-Z writings, including Schopenhauer as Educator, although the entire book is an indirect commentary on the latter text, which can be sensed on almost every page. This shows what is both bold and idiosyncratic in Conway's approach: to take as a guiding thread through Nietzsche's political thought one his most complex texts, a crisis-text where the failure to reconcile culture and politics seems to show in a mixture of privatism, untimeliness and utopia.
For anyone interested in Nietzsche's ethics, this book is a must. Even if one disagrees with it, it is a great stimulant, a focuser of issues, and the product of a deep and personal engagement with Nietzsche's thought by a scholar with good judgement and independence. But this is also more than a study of Nietzsche; Conway is clearly committed to Nietzsche's ethics, which he tries hard to advocate as a viable option in modernity that is logically independent of the unpalatable aristocratic politics towards which Nietzsche leans. A subtle and differentiated line of argumentation is sustained throughout the book, containing a number of important and original ideas and arguments. Scope, accessibility and brevity, the strengths of the book, turn at times into a weakness, where problematic areas of Nietzsche's thought are not problematized and receive a superficial treatment. The presentation also lacks clarity and rigour at certain points: key terms (e.g. culture, type, political, community… ) are often not clearly defined or explained, and incredibly fine points regarding Nietzsche are made without any textual support at all (e.g. 17, 31). Anyone familiar with the rigour and precision of Conway's journal articles will be disappointed by these shortcomings.
Chapter 1 introduces Nietzsche's perfectionism, as his answer to the founding question of politics. Nietzsche's fascination with genius or great individuals, so often hypostasised by other commentators, is firmly subordinated to a fundamental and abiding concern with humankind, with the perfectibility "of the species as a whole, as evidenced by the pioneering accomplishments of its highest exemplars "(8). If Nietzsche legislates in favour of great individuals, it is on behalf of humankind; for only rare, exemplary individuals can expand the range of human powers and perfections, re-defining the horizon of human perfectibility. This chapter contains an interesting, 'relational' interpretation of the Übermensch (see below). Conway is surely right to situate Nietzsche's interest in great individuals within the broader interest in humankind, but he does not define, let alone interrogate the latter concept: as Visser has pointed out, the death of God also robs the human of its stability as a standard of evaluation; at the very least, it stands in need of reflection (see e.g. A, Preface).
In order to show the contemporary relevance of Nietzschean perfectionism, Chapter 2 undertakes to rescue the positive ethical core of his perfectionist project from his overwhelmingly negative attitude towards morality on one side, and his apparent longing for aristocratic political orders on the other. The central argument is two-fold: (i) against the moral universalism fostered by Christianity, Nietzsche advocates moral pluralism (not the same as amoral autarkic individualism, it includes a relation to the law in the context of particular—not universal—communities); and (ii) against a morality of taming that would level all types according to a single pre-determined ideal, Nietzsche advocates a morality of breeding—including brutal practices of exclusion—that fosters a plurality of types, communities and moralities. This chapter contains interesting discussions of Nietzsche's communitarian tendency (including his imaginary communities and the topic of deferral: see section III below), and the pathos distance: as an ethical sensitivity to rank needed for the perfection or "aristocracy of the soul", it is logically independent of aristocratic politics, and compatible with democracy.
Again, Conway fails to problematize a theme that he rightly emphasises. A closer study of Nietzsche's moral pluralism reveals serious difficulties. Van Tongeren, for example, has argued that Nietzsche's emphasis on pluralism and struggle leads him to advocate an impracticable ideal.
Chapter 3 introduces the distinction between the micro-political and the macro-political in order to distinguish Nietzsche's moral from his political perfectionism and to present Conway's chronological thesis. The enhancement of humankind and the production of great individuals to that end are constant goals of Nietzsche's political thought; yet his view of his own role in this process shifts around Zarathustra, from the political macrosphere to the microsphere. Whereas the early Nietzsche sought directly to produce redemptive exemplars, his task after Zarathustra is more modest: "to preserve the diminished pathos of distance that ensures the possibility of ethical life… in late modernity"; and "to convoke a gathering of those individuals who are best suited to survive the twilight of the idols, and to train these unlikely heroes in the experimental disciplines most likely to stave off the will to nothingness" (47). Because this diminished task is consistent with the diminished ethical resources of late modernity, it is, Conway argues, a viable position.
The political macrosphere refers to the relations between "a people's institutions and its representative exemplars"; the political microsphere, to relations between "a people and its representative exemplars that are not mediated by social institutions". Macropolitics thus concerns the "production of great individuals through the organisation of institutional resources", whereas micropolitics operates outside institutional frameworks, within the "network of ethical life" that is their source: "[a]utochthonous folkways, tribal rituals, ethnic customs, and memory traces, familial habits and mores, hieratic regimens of diet and hygiene" (48).
The concept of the "microsphere" plays a crucial role in Conway's overall argument. First, it displaces solipsistic readings of Nietzsche's practice with an irreducibly communitarian impulse; secondly, it houses the residual resources needed to make perfectionism worthwhile in the context of late modernity; and thirdly, it allows for the affirmation of Nietzsche's perfectionism, as the elusive, positive incentive to his thinking, without having to advocate a politics of slavery. In many ways, Conway's "microsphere" corresponds to Nietzsche's conceptions of culture and morality (Sittlichkeit). But it does have the virtue of focusing our attention on Nietzsche's relation to social, cultural and political institutions. If Conway is right, Nietzsche's philosophical practice is for the most part a counter-institutional practice.
Chapter 4 explores the notions of self-overcoming and self-experimentation (Selbst-überwindung, Selbstaufhebung, Versuch) in order to demonstrate the viability of "micro-political" legislation in the absence of "macro-political" resources. Governed by a pathos of critical hostility or aversion, and a movement of withdrawal or internalisation, philosophy becomes exemplary self-legislation and —production through the practice of aversion. Conway's account of self-overcoming is dominated by three mechanisms: a productive form of self-hatred that attacks the attitude of conformism (consent to the values of the age), so as to escalate the conflict and the stakes within the philosopher's soul; a practice of incorporation, assimilation or synthesis that would expand the philosopher's affective and perspectival range, in the interests of immanent critique and self-transformation; and a reclamation of those areas branded as evil, that would restructure the soul around a "second" nature and produce a new innocence. These technes are then focused on Nietzsche himself, as a self-referential case of self-overcoming, in whom Conway reads a complex, exemplary relation to decadence: a solitary war against the decadence within, involving comprehension, resistance (not emancipation) and the acknowledgement of decadence as an involuntary, incorrigible affliction. Nietzsche overcomes decadence, not by reversing or extirpating it, but by opposing it even as it constitutes his identity (75).
This chapter contains some of the most important and original contributions of the book. The emphasis on the activity/performativity of the philosophical soul, rather than its actual "content" or outward expressions; the philosophical value of self-directed hatred, as a limited conflict or productive agon of the soul, and its distinction from destructive self-contempt (including attempts at extirpation or reversal); the importance of an immanent critical engagement with decadence (including strategies of assimilation): all of these are original philosophical discoveries of Nietzsche's in need of further research. Conway also exposes the conflict between cognitive models of self-discovery and voluntaristic models of self-creation as a false dichotomy in an excellent passage that includes incisive criticisms of the latter (71). There are, however, also problems with his account. First, there is a tension between destructive aspects of Nietzschean self-hatred and the dynamics of incorporation required for immanent critique; nowhere does Conway acknowledge this, and he underestimates the difficulty of distinguishing productive from destructive conflict. Secondly, the standard of evaluation needed for philosophical legislation in the interests of self-overcoming is not problematized, as if it emerged of its own from the practice of aversion. In the third place, it is unclear whether Nietzsche's solitary struggle with decadence is indeed exemplary, as Conway argues: Is it a strategy advocated by Nietzsche,—or a desperate survival-measure in his case, his circumstances, pointing to incompleteness of his project? Perhaps we should speak of a negative exemplarity, of a warning issued by Nietzsche's case: "unless you forge public agonal communities around the question of decadence and its overcoming, you will be condemned to a solitary struggle like mine".
In Chapter 5 Conway turns to the political dimension of Nietzsche's Versucherkunst of the soul with the question: How does the (private) regime of self-experimentation contribute to the (public) enhancement or perfectibility of humankind? The argument is, at the very least, ingenious. Nietzschean Experiment (Versuch) is transformed into Temptation (Versuchung), through the erotic attraction exerted by the ascesis of self-overcoming. The key to this process is the "performative" dimension of philosophical legislation and its significatory value: born of excess, the philosopher's "private" experiments leak uncontrollably into the public sphere, where they function as outward signs of healthy discord (80), as temptations. But if self-experimentation requires excess affect (a "swollen will"), where is this excess to be found in an age of decay and exhaustion? Here Conway points to the generative value of ressentiment, Nietzsche's (self—) hatred of the age: to "overcome his own aversion … against his time" (GS 380) means to accept and to manage, make use of, his ressentiment, which "like any prepotent, expendable affect, … can escalate and intensify a philosopher's self-overcomings, which may elicit from others an erotic response" (96). In order to explore this erotic fascination that draws readers into self-experimentation, Conway appeals to the triumvirate (from SE) of the philosopher, the artist and the saint: "as a philosopher, he legislates the production of those exemplary individuals who alone warrant the future of humankind; as an artist, he creates beauty, which transfigures his own suffering; and as a saint, he seduces others to crave the suffering endemic to self-overcoming" (94).
Again, this is an important chapter that brings neglected aspects of Nietzsche's work to light: its performativity; the insight into ressentiment as a source of energy; the central, but underdeveloped role of eros in Nietzsche's thought. The most original observations concern Nietzsche's insight, after Zarathustra, into the pleasure of self-inflicted cruelty and the seductive power of ascetic regimes that promise to give it meaning (the saint). Whether Nietzsche's self-constitution as a sign, through the inadvertent public overflow of his private pursuit of self-perfection, constitutes a political dimension to his thought, remains doubtful. Nietzsche's relationship to his audience is, moreover, highly reflective, even calculated, not "inadvertent" or "unwitting".
Chapter 6 concentrates on Nietzsche's ambivalent relation to the ascetic ideal, in order to reconstruct the kind of affirmation and politics that are compatible with Nietzsche's diagnosis of the present: his "self-appointed task to safeguard the crippled human will in the twilight of the idols"(100). Although the critique of the ascetic ideal makes alternatives desirable, Nietzsche fails to disclose a counter-ideal: "resigned to both the destructive force and the unchallenged hegemony of the ascetic ideal, he … treats it as necessary evil for duration of modernity, and perhaps beyond"(101). Drawing on the remark in the GM III:27, that only "comedians of the ascetic ideal can harm it by arousing mistrust in it", Conway argues that Nietzsche's only option is to devise strategies of endogenous disruption that would challenge its hegemony without falling prey to it. At an energetic level, he seeks to unleash and turn the "generative powers" of the ascetic ideal against it, while trying to break the (contingent) linkage between self-denial (the ascetic ideal) and Christian anti-naturalism by "hijacking the ascetic ideal" for naturalistic ends. Our anti-affective second nature, cultivated by Christianity, is to be attacked through ascetic practices modeled on the slave revolt of morality.
This chapter contains a valuable discussion of genealogy as an ascetic discipline with practical and performative ends (to "discover ascetic practices able to deflect the will to nothingness", to "lend unity and structure to the Nietzschean 'we'"). The outline of Nietzsche's ascetic counter-ascetic strategy is convincing, but the details are either vague (appeals to "therapies of survival", being a "manly midwife") or unpersuasive (the proliferation of exotic selves through miniaturist dietary concerns). Conway also underestimates the difficulty of hijacking the ascetic ideal without being hijacked by it: Can the slave revolt of morality be separated from its "unnatural" content without having to be transformed? It is, I believe, possible to come up with a less resigned account of affirmation that would transform ressentiment by transforming the slave revolt into an alternative, agonal model of contestation, compatible with naturalism. That would, however, require arguing against Conway that the ascetic ideal is not as totalitarian as Nietzsche often depicts it.
Finally, Chapter 7 moves from Nietzsche himself to consider his political legacy. At first sight this looks like the mandatory Routledge roll-call of topical names and themes (Habermas, Foucault, Feminism, etc.). But this impression is dispelled by an interesting and worthwhile discussion, with sharp diagnoses of Nietzsche's political reception, and important clues to Conway's own reading.
Of the central themes of this book, two are of particular importance for Nietzsche studies: the concept of the Übermensch, and the sense of community informing Nietzsche's writing. Although Conway argues that a specific answer to the founding question of politics is ultimately deferred by Nietzsche to the "philosophers of the future" (Ch. 6), he tackles the Übermensch as Nietzsche's general answer to that question: the type of individual whom "we" ought to breed for the sake of humankind. As the apotheosis of Nietzsche's perfectionism, the Übermensch is not, however, the extramoral monster or the autarkic nomad estranged from all shared values. The caricatures that dominate popular imagination are contested by Conway through a confrontation of texts. Against Zarathustra's claim that there has never been an Übermensch (Z 2: "Priests" ), Conway appeals to the "higher type" in the A 4: he stands "in relation to humankind as a whole [Gesammt-Menschheit]" as "a kind of Übermensch", as a "lucky strike" who was "always possible and will perhaps always be possible". Accordingly, the Übermensch is construed by Conway as a ""thick" ethical concept"(22): the "historically instantiated, fully attainable, concrete embodiment of human perfectibility — an empirical type rather than a theoretical ideal &— around whom the ethical life of any thriving culture revolves" (25).
Conway's interpretation provides a welcome correction to the autarkic individualism usually associated with the Übermensch. Difficulties are, however, raised by his own realist interpretation of the übermenschlich type as "those individuals who embody the "supreme achievements" of any culture or epoch" (22-23). This makes for a purely formal, relativist concept that is completely at odds with the kinds of restrictions and exemplifications found in Nietzsche, as Conway himself concedes (26). Then there is his curious insistence that "genius" for the late Nietzsche is "strictly an economic type" (23). Next to an excess of power, Nietzsche demands a maximal plurality of perspectives and the excess of will that could master them and stave off chaos (as in BGE 212, which Conway quotes). The difficulties of conjugating wholeness with the demand for multiplicity, discussed by several commentators (e.g. Müller-Lauter, van Tongeren), are passed over in silence.
A 'relational' reading like Conway's focuses attention on the relation between Übermenschen and humanity, bringing us to the second important theme of ethical communities in Nietzsche's thought. For his account, Conway draws on Emerson's notion of "representative men": their practice of "aversion" warns against complacency and the temptation to conform with the idols of the day, while their pursuits of self-reliance remind us of our unattained, but attainable selves. Here, and throughout the book, Conway emphasises the outstanding, exceptional character of those individuals around whom ethical communities can galvanise and grow (see esp. Ch. 1, 9ff.). This certainly captures the mood of SE and the abnormality of individual greatness stressed throughout Nietzsche's writing. Yet it neglects the other side of "representative men": their very representativeness. This forms the very core of Cavell's account, who introduces the notion of "representativeness" by way of the distance that separates Plato from the modern "democratic need for perfection": "the idea of there being one (call him Socrates) who represents for each of us the height of the [soul's] journey" divides Plato from Emerson's "idea of each of us being representative for each of us"—"a relation we bear at once to others and to ourselves". In these terms, Conway's Übermensch-centered reading situates Nietzsche closer to Plato than to Emerson—a questionable topography. In examining Conway's account of ethical community, I shall draw on Cavell's text in order to bring out the more pluralistic, agonal impulses in Nietzsche's thought.
Conway's approach is, in my view, right in two important respects. The first involves the direction he sets for pursuing Nietzsche's sense of community: in a relation to ethical laws that bind collectively, but only across limited number of people, particular communities (30). This formulation steers the only viable course between moral universalism (a relation to universal laws), and the "misarchism" of autarkic individualism (hatred of law: BGE 188; the GM 2:12), both vehemently criticised by Nietzsche. In the second place, Conway repeatedly directs attention to the performative dimension of Nietzsche's writing, thematized as significatory excess (the "public overflow of his private pursuit of self-perfection", 98), even at the expense of its thematic dimension (e.g. "the aim or topic of his genealogies may ultimately be irrelevant; it is his self-imposed askesis that piques their [readers] interest in him", 112). This is important as a way around the problem that Blondel has pointed out: although the social dimension is essential to Nietzsche's ethical thought, it is never thematized as such: "Nietzsche's set of problems is striking for its insistence on axiological forms and its recourse to a notion that does not come under the jurisdiction of a socio-economic perspective, or a strictly individual perspective, since it places itself more on the level of what the eighteenth century called 'mores'… [C]ultures, for Nietzsche, are not objects (in the sense that scientific sociology confers on this concept) or, as Durkheim would call them things: they are neither individual nor collective, but are collections of evaluations that are based on corporeity, as well as being, in the case of the Greeks or the tragic culture of the superhuman, normative models". It is only by following Conway's lead in making the performance of Nietzsche's writing central to our reflections, that we can avoid mistaking the absence of sociological categories for an individualist perspective.
These two initiatives of Conway's are invaluable, and researchers into Nietzsche's ethics would do well to take their bearings from them. The details of his account are, however, problematic and betray a weak notion of community. It is not just that the dominance of the Übermensch as center at the expense of more egalitarian models stifles any genuine pluralism in Nietzsche's thought. The very notion of law, so well formulated by Conway is not developed. The anti-liberal exclusivity of Nietzschean community, its aesthetic character or shared sensibility, its agonal character and "signature morality"(24) are all rightly emphasised, but an account of the latter in terms of ethical law is not attempted. Indeed, he seems to reduce community to an accidental association of self-sufficient beings with a "similar capacity for affective engagement and expression" (93) that specifically excludes rational principles. But it is precisely in a community of taste (Geschmack), for Kant, that reason loses its moorings and the rift with sensibility is crossed or crossed out. The key notions of: genius (nature gives the law, originality as a new rule for art); aesthetic ideas (defying articulation and conceptualisation); reflective judgement (non-subsumptive thought); and especially lawfulness without a law (law-like behaviour without coercion, harmonisation both within and between subjects): all of these served Kant to exploit the traditional social characteristics of taste in order to shore up the fragmentation of reason. Nietzsche is by no means the only one to think with and against Kant's community of taste, and extend it beyond the (alienated) aesthetic where Kant sought to confine it. This engagement is clear to see in Nietzsche's life-long fascination with the agon, which begins with the question of aesthetic judgement and justice ("das rechte Publikum" 16, KSA 7), and moves into the questions of existential justification with Heraclitus' notion of immanent justice (Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, 5-6) as well as the production of value, a theme that returns with WP. A crucial text for Nietzsche's exploration of taste and sensuous reason is BGE where, for instance, the artist is said to obey "thousandfold laws which mock any conceptual formulation precisely because of their hardness and determinacy" BGE 188; cf. BGE 213 on freedom and necessity). In this light, Conway's insight into the status of law in Nietzsche's thought is short-changed by reducing aesthetic interaction to irrational affective bonds.
Nowhere is the notion of community weaker than in Conway's account of friendship. Appealing to Cavell and Aristotle, he offers a flat narcissistic account of friendship, a calculating, self-interested model in which relations to others (moral "obligations" only to those [equals] who can contribute to own quest for perfection) are strictly secondary and subordinate to self-relations (54, 57 footn). Not surprisingly, this account leads him to conclude that Nietzschean perfectionism is afflicted by the constant danger of solipsism, and the difficulty of honest self-evaluation (57): How to recognise one's perfections and failures, once existing tables of good and evil have been ruled out? The problem here, of the nature and provenance of one's standard of evaluation, looks insoluble on Conway's account of friendship, but it receives an eloquent response in Cavell: it is a matter of "being drawn by the standard of another" (59; Cf. 41) on being drawn, getting in the draw, or the draft, of thinking). But this, of course, requires an account of friendship that is sufficiently rich, reciprocal and egalitarian to allow for self-recognition in an other.
Such an account could be developed on the agonal model Nietzsche's presents in Homer's Contest (KSA 1, 789) in which each antagonist encounters the other as both a stimulant to deeds (a provocation, seduction: Reiz) and a resistance (or limit: Grenze des Maases) to its destructive potential. An agonal dynamic informs Cavell's account of friendship, and it is worth comparing the reciprocity of "recognition and negation" he develops with Conway's version. For Cavell, friendship is at the core of perfectionism. Emersonian "representativeness" serves not only to counteract the tyranny of "the one" who represents perfection for each of us (Socrates, Übermensch: the "exclusivity of genius" counteracted by the agon); it is also the seed of friendship, as "a relation we bear at once to others and to ourselves" governed by a complex reciprocity of difference: "Emerson's writing works out the conditions for my recognising my difference from others as function of my recognising my difference from myself.". For Nietzsche, he argues, love of great exemplars (e.g. Schopenhauer), causes a productive self-hatred that is the incentive to culture (collective and individual perfectionism). Yet Schopenhauer, as is well known, is virtually absent (at least: fast disappearing!) in Nietzsche's text, and the "great" is not another self (an exemplar in relation to the species), but your own unattained self (Schopenhauer unmasked as Nietzsche: "your true being lies… immeasurably high above you" SE 1, KSA 1, 340f.). The key relation is that between the exemplar and the "individual other—for example, myself"—for whom it is "representative" or "does the standing, for whom it is a sign, upon whom I delegate something" This relation is then analysed along the key axis of perfectionist self-transformation in Cavell's text: writing-reading. Here, he does appeal to Aristotle's friend as "another myself" like Conway, only it is couched in a "constraint by recognition and negation": Emerson's (Nietzsche's?) writing can only be "representative" for me if I recognise my own thoughts, my desires for a possible but unattained self, in his text. Yet this self is also feared and hated in its severity, and my desires are rejected or repressed in favour of a complacent acceptance of my present, attained self. The process of recognition can therefore only work through "negation", i.e. the authorial enmity (agonal provocation) that would contest my attainments, and my (agonal) resistance to self-recognition in the text.
It is one of the peculiarities of this book that, while making Cavell's perfectionism fruitful for Nietzsche studies in certain respects (—the clear distinction between moral and political versions, the notion of productive hatred inter alia), it seems to marginalise, even neglect what is one of its richest seams: agonal friendship and its implications for the dynamics of reading. The same can be said of the very horizon of questions governing Cavell's defence of perfectionism. As Conway explains (52-55), Cavell is responding to Rawls' exclusion of perfectionism from his liberal theory of justice. He attempts to show that perfectionism is not just tolerable to democracy, but essential: the unique training needed for staying with democratic aspirations to justice, in the face of democracy's patent failures, "a preparation to withstand not its rigors but its failures, character to keep the democratic hope alive in the face of disappointment with it". Nietzsche's cultural ideal, he argues, is more than an elitist escape from mediocrity: exclusive, yes, but not therefore unjust. A commitment to democracy is, then, what motivates Cavell's account. The same cannot be said of Conway. He certainly discusses democracy at various points and makes illuminating remarks (e.g. in the context of Nietzschean friendship: "One may, of course, acknowledge various political obligations to one's "neighbors", but genuine ethical bonds to those outside one's "kind" are strictly ruled out", 57), but the question of democracy is tangential to his account of Nietzschean perfectionism; all the stranger, since this is a highly topical issue. Confronting Cavell and Nietzsche on the issue of perfectionism raises two questions with which I shall close. The first is a late modernist's question to Nietzsche: Does he sufficiently think through the capacity to survive, to live with the failure of our perfectionist aspirations? The other is a Nietzschean response to the initial conditions of Cavell's account: Does he sufficiently think through the difficulty of turning disappointment in "our" failed aspirations to justice from a destructive revenge against time into the productive hatred that would save those aspirations?
1.Stanley Cavell, "Aversive Thinking: Emersonian Representations in Heidegger and Nietzsche," in: Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism, (Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 33—63.
2.Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974), (4th ed.), 242—256.
3.Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), esp. Ch. 4.
4.H. Ottmann, Philosophie und Politik bei Nietzsche, (Berlin-NY: Walter de Gruyter MTNF 17, 1987), 239ff..
5.See H. Ottmann, Philosophie und Politik bei Nietzsche, 93f., 109f.. See also S. Barbera, "Ein Sinn und unzählige Hieroglyphen: Einige Motive von Nietzsches Auseinandersetzung mit Schopenhauer in der Basler Zeit," in Centauren-Geburten' Wissenschaft, Kunst und Philosophie beim jungen Nietzsche, (Berlin-NY: Walter de Gruyter MTNF 27, 1994), 217—233.
6.G. Visser, "Nietzsches Übermensch: De noodzak van een herbezinning op de vraag naar de mens," Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 54/4, 1992, 637—667.
7.Paul van Tongeren, Die Moral von Nietzsches Moralkritik, (Bonn: Bouvier, 1989).
8.See Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche. Seine Philosophie der Gegensätze und die Gegensätze seiner Philosophie, (Berlin-NY: Walter de Gruyter, 1971), 116ff..
9.See my forthcoming article, "Nietzsche's Agon with Ressentiment: Towards a Therapeutic Reading of Critical Transvaluation", to be published in Continental Philosophy Review.
10.See e.g. J. P. Stern, A Study of Nietzsche, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 117.
11.See e.g. Alastair MacIntyre, After Virtue, (Notre Dame, IN.: Notre Dame University Press, 1984), 21, 257—258. Arguments against the simple identification of Zarathustra's teachings with Nietzsche are developed at length in Conway's article "Solving the Problem of Socrates: Nietzsche's Zarathustra as Political Irony," in Political Theory, 16/2, 1988, 257—280.
12.Cavell, Conditions Handsome, 9.
13.Eric Blondel, Nietzsche: The Body and Culture, tr. Sean Hand, (London: The Athlone Press, 1991), 66.
14.See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, (Tübingen: Mohr, 1972), 31ff..
15.See J. M. Bernstein, The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alienation from Kant to Derrida and Adorno, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992).
16.See H. Böhringer, "Nietzsche als Etymologe. Zur Genealogie seiner Wertphilosophie," in Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 7, 1982, 55—56.
17.Cavell, Conditions Handsome, 53.
18.Cavell, Conditions Handsome, 51.
19.Cavell, Conditions Handsome, 56.
20.See e.g. Lawrence Hatab, A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy (Chicago: Open Court, 1995).