Nietzsche on War (revised thoughts on themes, rhetoric and strategies of violence)

The Birth of Tragedy, ‘An Attempt at Self Criticism’ 4

And as far as the origin of the tragic chorus is concerned — did perhaps endemic fits exist during those centuries when the Greek body was in its prime and the Greek soul brimmed over with life?  (Nietzsche 1999, 7)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘On Reading and Writing’

Of all that is written I love only which is written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit. (Nietzsche 2006, 27)

On the Genealogy of Morality , II. 17

[…] 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. (Nietzsche 1994, 62-63)

In The Birth of Tragedy , Nietzsche suggests a liaison between the violent actions of the body, in the uncontrolled ways of illness, and the maximisation of life force, taking place in the tragic chorus. Here violence is at the origin of art in the sense that the highest form of art comes from a physical excess where the abundance of health becomes the collapse of the body in the growth of natural forces within it.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, writing —which we can take to be writing of philosophical or literary significance — where it has great value is a product of blood taken as spirit. There is a metaphorical move from writing to blood and then another metaphorical move from blood to spirit. The metaphors combine in the idea of physical violence in the philosophical-literary writing that we are reading. Not only is blood a product of the body, it is the aspect of the body which is most associated with attack on the body, with external violence in war or other conflictual situations. It is also suggestive of acts of violence on the self including suicide, so in this context of asceticism and sacrifice for communication, and for art, of the highest value.

In the Genealogy, the suggestion is of a purely external kind of violence in the formation of the state, that is external in that this must be the violence of an elite on the masses, thought of as half-animals, which is rather suggestive of antique aristocratic attitudes towards the ‘people’. It could be an even more external form of violence, in that other passages of the Genealogy refer to the state as the product of conquests, and to the formation of European nations in the first place through violent conquest imposed on the earliest inhabitants of Europe. It is apparently a  more political reference than the quotations from the two earlier books, and though this paper looks at how Nietzsche moves from the political to the cultural, it is not an argument for a complete displacement of the political by the cultural, but rather for the questioning of any priority for a military state in the creation of cultural value over a more generalised sense of force and conflict producing cultural excellence.

Going back to the beginning of this evolution, The Birth of Tragedy tends to allow political aspects of tragedy and its culture indirectly, while denying them directly.  Attic tragedy has highly political aspects, including the association of the ‘Doric state’ (presumably Sparta, but possibly the Greek states in general after invasions from the north) with the Apolline half of tragedy and the chaotic populist overtones of the Dionysian

The Birth of Tragedy 4

[W]herever the Dionysiac broke through, the Apolline was suspended and annulled. But it is equally certain that, wherever the first onslaught was resisted, the reputation and majesty of the Delphic god was expressed in more rigid and menacing forms than ever before; for the only explanation I can find for the Doric state and Doric art is that it was a permanent military encampment of the Apolline: only in a state of unremitting resistance to the Titanic-barbaric nature of the Dionysian could such a cruel and ruthless polity, such a war-like and austere form of education, such a defiantly aloof art, surrounded by battlements exists for long. (Nietzsche 1999, 27-28)

The political side of tragedy is then expressed with regard to the internally embattled nature of Greek state, so war is central to the existence of a relation between politics and culture. The ‘writing’ in Zarathustra  is that of someone above the ethical relationship with the neighbour and of ressentiment or political ambition with regard to the state. The metaphors and associations of war, conquest, the state, artistic creativity, sacrifice, the abundantly healthy body, the disintegrating sick body all flow into each other. It is not, however, a random set of associations, but an organised if never completely stable, set of judgements, which are guided by attempts to integrate an organising principle of hierarchy with a disruptive principle of conflict.

(To be continued)


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