(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’)
The issues of violence in history and in the strategies of writing are at the heart of Genealogy II, with regard to the discussion of promises, the main theme of that essay. The capacity of a human to bear promises is the suggested outcome of history in Genealogy Essay II, but that may be an equivocal suggestion since it is portrayed as the outcome of cruelty and violence, which disciplines us to keep promises rather than as the consequence of keeping to a promise for reasons of virtue. The promise keeping capacity looks like it might be a product of the process which also gives us the slave morality of good and evil, and a distraction from Nietzsche’s real positive values. However, we should bring Daybreak 350 into play with the Genealogy here.
How Best to Promise. — When a promise is made, it is not the words [das Wort] that are said which constitute the promise but what remains unspoken behind the words that are said. Indeed, the words even weaken the promise, in as much as they discharge and use up a strength which is a part of the strength
which makes the promise. Therefore extend your hand and lay your finger on your lips — thus you will take the surest v
Genealogy II 1: To breed an animal with the right to make promises [ein Thier heranzüchtendasversprechen darf] —is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? is it not the real problem regarding man?
To ordain the future in advance in this way, man must first have learned to distinguish necessary events from chance ones, to think causally, to see and anticipate distant eventualities as if they belonged to the present, to decide with certainty what is the goal and what the means to it, and in general be able to calculate and compute. Man himself must first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself [seine eigne Vorstellung, um endlich dergestalt], if he is able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does!
The paragraph from Daybreak combines with Genealogy II 1-5 to convey a full Nietzschean view of promising. What the passage in Daybreak suggest is that the promise should be more than the external promises of contract, and of the violent reminders to obey promises from the history of penal violence. The promise contains both the possibility of the contract and the inner unity of body and consciousness. It contains the wish to command the future, not necessarily a complete sovereignty over the world, but a wish to approach the world with a purposeful will.
Taken together we can see that promising requires a deep history, in which the suffering of the body has adjusted human consciousness to the nature of the promise (the Genealogy perspective); and that the body’s part of the promise is weakened by the verbalisation. Nietzsche incorporates the body, history, relation to the future, command, obligation, and self-discipline, into his account of the ‘promise’, suggestive both of reinforcement and conflict, along with uncertainty about how far promises bearing represents a part of the flourishing of life. Nietzsche’s writing strategies themselves show the multiplicity and competition of forces within, and bearing on, promise making. The style and rhetoric appear in an interplay, which itself has an affect on the body that is both stimulating and tiring, and that goes beyond the obvious categories of rhetoric and style. In that respect Nietzsche builds on the decline of Aristotelian (and similar subsequent) requirements in these matters.
Agonism in the Ancient Greek world is an issue in Nietzsche’s early work and conditions all of his philosophical development, and has been widely explored recent years. Agonism is at issue in his first book The Birth of Tragedy and in two contemporaneous essays which where only published posthumously: ‘The Greek State’ and ‘Homer on Competition’. It is the essay on ‘Homer and Competition’ which is most explicitly concerned with Ancient Greek Agonism and it is therefore the most appropriate starting point, for determining the kind of writing that Nietzsche produced, and the role of violence.
In ‘Homer and Competition’, Nietzsche suggests that we think of competition as the essential element of Ancient Greek culture and that we think of this as an essential part of Homer’s conditioning of the Ancient Greek world, presuming a rupture between the Homeric and pre-Homeric worlds. His view of Greek Antiquity is one which both follows the idealising tendencies of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century classicism: Greek Antiquity as a model of harmony and undermines those idealising tendencies by finding the evil, cruelty, conflict, barbarism and Orientalism in a harmony which is only a product of extreme tension.