(From ‘Nietzsche Writing in Blood: Themes, Rhetoric, and Strategies of Violence, a paper presented on 13th October 2014 at the 20 International Conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society ‘Nietzsche, Love and War’ at the University of Birmingham’)
Nietzsche suggests in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that he only loves that which is written in blood. This is a statement inviting investigation of blood as an object of discussion and as a matter of style. A study of the thematic role of violence, rhetorical violence, and the violence of argumentative strategies is a therefore an appropriate response.
Going back to The Birth of Tragedy, the Apolline might appear to be more peaceful than the Dionysian, but is itself Homeric, and is itself based on a struggle with the Dionysian which finds one expression in the ‘Doric state’, that is hyper militarised Sparta. Comparing The Birth of Tragedy with On the Genealogy of Morals, the Homeric nobility at least superficially gets the exemplary role in that later text, so it is the ‘Apolline’ world of Achilles and the other Greek heroes, which appears to be exemplary.
Nietzsche disconnects tragedy from Athenian democracy, but in his reading of tragedy is against a hierarchical orderly world with the aristocracy on top. The value of aristocratic agon is itself disturbing to an aristocratic social order when pursued with sufficient rigour. The idea of contractual justice is questioned by Nietzsche when he famously suggests that the state was created by a nomadic ‘blonde beast’ attacking sedentary people. That could be taken as celebratory of aristocratic élan, but it also undermines normal understanding of the legitimation of the state, and of what might offer legitimacy to aristocratic domination in any context.
Nietzsche himself sometimes refers to the state as a parasitic entity at war with culture, which certainly puts any celebratory reading of the state as conquest passage under question. The uncertainties which arise in trying to harmonise remarks which suggest admiration for cultural aristocracy, or Homeric heroes, or war, into a clear system of values, should lead us to be sceptical of any straight forwardly noble warrior readings. Zarathustra loves the warrior, he does not want to be the warrior.
The Nietzsche virtue of writing in blood is itself the violence of the hierarchy of value, and violence on the violence imposed by that hierarchy. The violent rhetoric with which Nietzsche sometimes apparently endorses aristocratic violence and extreme privilege is intertwined with these thematic issues, which can only be understood through a rhetorical or stylistic examination of these passages and their context, which is the examination of writing in blood.
References: Birth of Tragedy (I, 4); Thus Spoke Zarathustra (I, 8), (I, 10); On the Genealogy of Morality (II, 17).
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
On Reading and Writing
Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood and you will understand that blood is spirit.
The Birth of Tragedy
And as far as the origin of the tragic chorus is concerned — did perhaps endemic fits exist during those centuries exist during those centuries when the Greek body was in its prime and the Greek soul brimmed over with life?
On the Genealogy of Morality
the oldest ‘state’ emerged as a terrible tyranny, as a repressive and ruthless machinery, and continued working until until the raw material of people and semi-animals had finally not just been kneaded and made compliant, but shaped.
The quotations above orientate a discussion of violence on the body, social violence, and the violence of strategies of writing in Nietzsche. The particularly famous quotation from Thus Spoke Zarathustra suggests that Nietzsche’s writing constantly tries to disrupt rhetorical norms and distance. This is rhetoric for a period in which antique ideas of correct argumentation and linguistic registers have been undermined by the growth of the novel as the dominant form of literature as opposed to poetic forms of a regimented kind, with themes of high seriousness. Literature looks more concerned with the communication of subjectivity than the structure of a metaphysically organised nature. Some related comments apply to philosophy, and to the state.
The quotation from The Birth of Tragedy IV, refers to the physical excess of the tragic chorus, which is both overflowing abundance of bodily strength and a sign of sickness, organic or psychic. The ambiguity of an extreme vigour, which is the sign of human growth in the growth of physical exertion, or the sign of human decadence as the effort required exceeds the strength and unifying power within individuals and is suggestive of a lack of self-control.
The quotation above from Genealogy II.7 builds up to some particularly famous lines on the blonde beast and the foundations of the state in conquest. The reference to the blonde beast is associated with speculation about a racial conquest of an earlier European race in the formation of the earliest European states, which is open to criticism for a number of reasons, but does provide a powerful alternative to contract theory, as Nietzsche suggests and attempts at utilitarian-consequentialist or natural rights deductions or explanations of of the state, as is not quite so explicit at this point. It is also a point about writing strategy, since the confrontation of ‘blonde beast’ and previous inhabitants of a territory tells us something about the role of confrontation and subsumption.
Historical speculation is give communicative force in a manner that picks up on racial-national thinking of the time. and suggests that it is at the origins of European history, followed up a mixing of racial-national groups, which might undermines the assumptions behind that ‘racial-national’, though Nietzsche never completely abandoned the relevant assumptions. The writing seems to sweep down on the reader with physical force in a strategy of argument through accumulative shocks.