(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’)
For Nietzsche, The formation of the ancient Doric (Spartan) state is accounted for in terms of a triumph of the Apolline. The victory of the state as an entity abstracted from community is the denial of the Dionysian moment of absolute community. The absolutism of the Doric state is in conflict with the absolute community of the Dionysian, which is both ritualised and ecstatic. We should look this in comparison with Aristotle’s discussion of citizenship, friendship and tragedy. Nietzsche implicitly takes Aristotle as a point of departure and then develops the more agonistic aspects of Aristotle’s constitution of these questions.
The Dionysian-Titanism of tragedy in Nietzsche’s conception has an experience of death at the limits of law, where there is an aesthetic struggle. The aesthetic ideal is rooted in the tension between the formlessness of imagination and the forms it creates. Nietzsche suggests that the legislation of aesthetic form is a violent act, which does not derive from an idealised aesthetic law or ideal form, beyond observable nature or the empirical.
Nietzsche’s model of the tragic is also a model of the polity which has emerged from the communal gathering of the Dionysian rites. The human community contains a wisdom which separates humanity from nature, but this can only happen in a Dionysian-Titanic moment of crime against nature. For Nietzsche Oedipus is a form of such a figure, his crimes against nature and his rescuer of Thebes through solving the Sphinx’s riddle, shows that wisdom comes through a crime against nature and sacrifice of the wise man (The Birth of Tragedy Section 9). The Dionysian itself is an offence against nature, the same Dionysian rites that celebrate the communion of humanity with nature. The Dionysian rites dissolve selves in a communal way in a primal sense of community, while the Apolline transformation on stage refers to a royal hero.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche, 1966) engages with Aristotelian themes of friendship and the state, if in the most transformed way. The ‘friend’ is advocated in comparison with the ‘neighbour’ who is condemned and the warrior who is the opposite of the ‘neighbour’ and closer to the ‘friend’, though certainly not identical with the friend. The ‘neighbour’ refers to dependence and averaging out of differences, in the weakening of individuality. The ‘friend’ shows the best disguise to the ‘friend’ and maintains a hard exterior to the ‘friend’ in an elemental community of agonism, as the friend is the best enemy, a rather distinct view from the merger of souls associated with friendship by Aristotle and Montaigne, though if we think of friendship as a model for the interior self-relation, we may see something closer to Aristotle and Montaigne.
The ‘friend’ is not a tyrant or a slave, since such people are incapable of friendship; a passage which shows why we should not take the more provocative statements about slavery in ‘The Greek State’ and elsewhere as literal statements of political principle. The ‘warrior’ is loved by Zarathustra, because the warrior hates without despising, but Zarathustra urges him to remember that Man must be overcome in a struggle that produces the ‘friend’ as the ‘friend’ lacks human ressentiment, in that context.
Nietzsche makes rhetorical attacks on politics, the state and the limits of the human. In this he he opposes the classical celebration of the polity (a city state in origin but any political community with its institutions now). as the political end of humanity. Nietzsche points to antagonisms between the state and citizens, citizen and citizen as constitutive of the state. Nietzsche wrote in the context of the end of the city state as ideal polis, in the formation of nation states.
Modern political thought has dealt with the polarisation of civil society and state which has no place in Antique political thought. This is rooted in a study of contestation as already essential to the Ancient City state together with a metaphysical or anti-metaphysical commitment to constant becoming and struggle, and its biological exemplification in Nietzsche’s version of Darwinian evolution. This is a theory written in terms in which the physical bursting through of natural processes overwhelms previous categorisation, just as Nietzsche’s strategies of writing allow for a physical force emerging language activity.