Malcolm Christ, or the Anti-Nietzsche

Re­view: Mal­colm Bull,
Anti-Ni­et­z­sche (2011)

Im­age: Pho­to­graph of
Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche (1882)

On the Left’s re­cent anti-Ni­et­z­schean turn


[W]hat makes Ni­et­z­sche’s in­flu­ence so un/canny is that there has nev­er been ad­equate res­ist­ance from a real Left.

— Geoff Waite, Ni­et­z­sche’s Corps/e (1996)

Few thinkers have en­joyed such wide­spread ap­peal over the last forty years as Ni­et­z­sche.

— Peter Thomas, “Over­man and
the Com­mune” (2005)

Op­posed to every­one, Ni­et­z­sche has met with re­mark­ably little op­pos­i­tion.

— Mal­colm Bull, “Where is the
Anti-Ni­et­z­sche?” (2001)

If Ni­et­z­sche’s ar­gu­ments could be said to have gone un­chal­lenged dur­ing the second half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, as the above-cited au­thors sug­gest, the same can­not be said today. Be­gin­ning in the early 1990s, but then with in­creas­ing rapid­ity over the course of the last dec­ade, a dis­tinctly anti-Ni­et­z­schean con­sensus has formed — par­tic­u­larly on the Left. Re­cent years have wit­nessed a fresh spate of texts con­demning both Ni­et­z­sche and his thought as ir­re­deem­ably re­ac­tion­ary, and hence in­com­pat­ible with any sort of eman­cip­at­ory polit­ics. Nu­mer­ous au­thors have con­trib­uted to this shift in schol­arly opin­ion. To wit: Wil­li­am Alt­man, Fre­drick Ap­pel, Mal­colm Bull, Daniel Con­way, Bruce De­twiler, Don Dom­bow­sky, Ishay Landa, Domen­ico Los­urdo, Corey Robin, and Geoff Waite. The list goes on.

Even a curs­ory glance at these writ­ings, however, suf­fices to re­veal some of the deep fis­sures that run between them. A great meth­od­o­lo­gic­al het­ero­gen­eity in­forms their re­spect­ive ap­proaches. Bull, for ex­ample, in­sists that to over­come the se­duct­ive qual­ity of Ni­et­z­sche’s ideas it is vi­tal not to read like him (“read­ing for vic­tory”);1 Alt­man seems to be­lieve, in­versely, that in or­der to un­der­mine his per­vas­ive in­flu­ence, it is ne­ces­sary to write like him.2 The con­tent of their cri­ti­cisms is far from uni­vocal, either. One com­mon thread that unites them is Ni­et­z­sche’s no­tori­ous hos­til­ity to mod­ern demo­crat­ic ideals, but even then the points of em­phas­is are ex­tremely di­ver­gent. While some crit­ics of Ni­et­z­sche prefer to re­main with­in the realm of polit­ics prop­er, oth­ers re­gister his op­pos­i­tion to demo­cracy at the level of eth­ics or aes­thet­ics. Dom­bow­sky falls in­to the former of these camps, seek­ing to trace out — through a series of elab­or­ate and im­pres­sion­ist­ic in­fer­ences re­gard­ing the au­thor’s read­ing habits, a kind of bib­li­o­graph­ic­al “con­nect the dots” — the secret of “Ni­et­z­sche’s Ma­chiavel­lian dis­ciple­ship.”3 Us­ing a more eth­ic­al frame­work, writers like Con­way rather look “to il­lu­min­ate the…mor­al con­tent of his polit­ic­al teach­ings.”4 Con­versely, in his book Ni­et­z­sche Con­tra Demo­cracy, Ap­pel loc­ates Ni­et­z­sche’s anti-demo­crat­ic im­pulse as emer­ging out of his con­cern with artist­ic prac­tices, in the con­stru­al of “polit­ics as aes­thet­ic activ­ity.”5

But whatever dif­fer­ences may ex­ist in their in­ter­pret­a­tion of the man and his thought, one thing is cer­tain: the tide has turned de­cis­ively against Ni­et­z­sche on the Left of late. Not that this is an en­tirely un­wel­come de­vel­op­ment. The vogue of French Ni­et­z­schean­ism, from Ba­taille and Deleuze down through Der­rida and Fou­cault, has been every bit as tire­some as its vul­gar anti-Ni­et­z­schean coun­ter­part. In light of the re­cent re­valu­ation of Ni­et­z­sche’s philo­sophy, however, we find ourselves com­pelled to ask wheth­er the anti-Ni­et­z­schean turn of the last few years truly sig­nals an end to the sway his ideas have held over the Left. Are we to be fi­nally dis­ab­used of his “per­ni­cious” in­flu­ence? Is this per­haps the twi­light of the ido­lo­clast? Continue reading

Has the 20th century passed in vain?

Here’s the video of my overly long presentation (practically a monologue) on Trotskii’s excellent 1906 reflection, Results and Prospects. Sadly, James was sick yesterday, and Lisa’s been out of town.  Plus Eugene has been really bogged down with schoolwork, and Sidd and Yoni weren’t around.  So the attendance was a bit light, but whatever:

[vodpod id=Video.16146691&w=425&h=350&fv=vid%3D20692187%26amp%3Bautoplay%3Dfalse]

Basically, the thrust of my interpretation of this text centers around Trotskii’s remark in the third chapter that “The 19th century has not passed in vain,” which I contend can be understood in a twofold sense:

1. First, at a purely objective level, in terms of the social and economic means of production, the 19th century has not passed in vain. Capitalism has developed and expanded in an irreversible manner, both extensively (as an increasingly global system) and intensively (with accelerating technological rapidity). The productive capacities of mankind are greater today than at any prior point in recorded history. Thus, we cannot go back to 1789, 1848, 1871, etc. The world is more prepared than ever to overcome capitalism on the basis of capitalism itself.

2. Moreover, at a subjective level, in terms of the development of an historical and political consciousness in a prospective revolutionary class, the 19th century has not passed in vain. After the great fissure within modern (civil) society burst into the open in June 1848, a radical and international working-class movement has gained more and more momentum, reaching its peak in the 1890s around the Second International and continuing into the first two decades of the twentieth. The potential political agency of a self-conscious social subject has risen to an unprecedented degree. Thus, we are in a better place, politically, than the revolutionary bourgeoisie in 1789, the nascent working-class movement in the Insurrection of 1848, or the communards of 1871.

Poster commemorating the 1905 sailors’ mutiny aboard the Battleship Potemkin, an important symbolic event in the Russian Revolution of 1905

In light of Trotskii’s assertion in 1906 that “History does not repeat itself…The 19th century has not passed in vain,” I thus asked an analogous question with respect to our present moment, wondering

Has the 20th century passed in vain? Continue reading

Ray Brassier on the speculative realist “movement”

Including his reaction to my satiric
Manifesto of speculative realist/
object-oriented ontological blogging

Image: Ray Brassier


I first came across Dr. Brassier’s brutal excoriation of the Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological blogging “movement” after my own lighthearted sendup of the phenomenon was met with such disapproval by Tim Morton, Levi Bryant, and (seemingly) Nick Srnicek, although Srnicek was perhaps justifiably upset that I counterposed his e-mail to me to Bryant’s. In any case, I felt some sense of vindication upon seeing Ray Brassier’s own scathing commentary on SR movement in his interview with the Polish magazine Kronos:

The “speculative realist movement” exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.

Now, Brassier’s unsparing invective against this trend within the theory blogosphere has already been widely circulated, and I must admit that I was something of a latecomer in discovering the sentiments he expressed. Most have probably been aware of these statements for much longer than me. Nevertheless, I’ve been slowly working through his recent book, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, and must admit that I’ve enjoyed it so far more than anything I’ve read from Harman or Latour. I especially appreciate his engagement with Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment; his interpretation is really quite good. So there’s a level of respect I had for him that preceded my stumbling upon this little snippet.

Anyway, following my recent publication of the satyric Manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological Blogging and subsequent discovery of Brassier’s somewhat similar (though no doubt deeper) position on the matter, I e-mailed him with a link to the satyric piece. With the largely mixed response to the post that I’d received from the rest of the theory blogosphere, I was curious as to what Brassier might make of it. He responded this morning, rather promptly. The correspondence ran as follows.

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

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Man and Nature, Parts I-IV (Complete)

For those who would like to read my series of articles on Man and Nature, here they are, presented as a continuous text.  Also, for a detailed response to the fourth installment of my series on Man and Nature, please visit the Oroborous Self-Sufficient Community.  Its founder, the scientist Allister Cucksey, is a Robert Owens of sorts, and his counter-critique is welcome.

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