Nietzsche Writing in Blood II

(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.

Nietzsche Writing in Blood I

(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
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.

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.