Vered Engelhard | Nietzsche After Sexual Difference

“Do you prefer to spill over or to taste your depths? When you soar highest, where do you go?”

Marine Lover of Friederich Nietzsche

 

 

Allow us the gesture of reading Nietzsche after feminism, or else, of returning to Nietzsche in search for the spaces his writing opens up for feminist thinking in philosophy. Here we might begin, retrospectively, with feminism after sexual difference, namely, a feminism of the ‘multiple’ that begins with the ‘two’ sexes as parameters for conduct rather than positions of Being. And so our Nietzsche after feminism after sexual difference is a philosopher of the ‘multiple,’ not of timeless Being but of unfolding performativity.

Thus the power of writing, in our Nietzsche, is the self-affirmation as the world anew in a single act of performative justice. The difficulty then would be a performance that could reconcile an affirmation of the world along with a claim justice, that is, a claim of a different world. Such performance, in order to avoid contradiction, cannot grant itself the instantaneousness or timelessness of Being. Rather, in order to incorporate difference, it must assume duration. This reading will move around the issues regarding the necessary delay that such performativity demands from Nietzsche’s gesture of affirmation.

 

Reading Nietzsche through Luce Irigaray approximated us to the recurring multifaceted question of difference, this time, in the veil of sexual difference. It could be said that the problem of how to even approximate the thought of sexual difference has been altogether reassembled, undone, pulled apart, casted aside, reattached, and dissolved mostly relatively recently. In 1972, someone like Jacques Derrida would claim that it in fact haunts all history of thought –at least since Nietzsche[i]; almost a decade later, Irigaray will raise the status of the thought of sexual difference to a direct philosophical object while staring straight into Nietzsche’s eyes[ii].

Like two lovers in confrontation, each one has a different sense of life, where life is understood not as ontology but rather as conduct. Penelope Deutscher rightfully emphasized on this point when evoking the question that Irigaray asks after Nietzsche: “What is our conduct for critique?” And Irigaray, as a real lover, consumed by the life of her significant other, and in need to overcome it, would then pursue to re-appropriate the sense of such life’s origin as female. Not unlike a ‘Nietzschean’ overcoming, Irigaray’s gesture of courage would be the thought of sexual difference. It would become the all-destroying thought, a necessary re-appropriation of life through an overcoming of life. But does it?

The Nietzschean self-affirmative gesture, the all-destroying –art- is a that of a yes-sayer, “the greatest slayer.”[iii] His art never really assumes a form, perhaps not even a set of effects yet it can still be gathered as at least an ‘overcoming’ of life. That means that life has openings through which this ‘formless form’ can originate an overcoming[iv]. And in turn, the ‘formless form’ leaves the opening for another artist-philosopher to incarnate her own affirmative gesture, so it multiplies. For instance, Hannah Arendt will give it the form of the wave, in order to articulate the gesture’s terms of motion as those of the ‘will.’[v] Jacques Derrida will say it’s an umbrella in order to fold Nietzschean thought into itself and mark our structural limit as readers as being the very limit of the process of decoding itself, proving his work undecodable as a ‘totality.’[vi] Luce Irigaray allows herself to surf the wave and hence dwell in the fold, and so the ‘form’ of her gesture becomes a real physical gesture.[vii]

This new overcoming is aware of the very impossibility of carrying a whole on a gesture in the first place. And so her gesture is the caress, it assumes a shared space with an ‘other,’ such gesture is affirmative of the other as other and of the ecosystem that contains them both. The overcoming, then, is not structural but rather molecular: The caress is “an awakening of gestures of perceptions.” Such awakening is then also creative, it is a re-evaluation by virtue of it being a qualitative re-examination: “To caress is to be aware of the qualities veiled in communal life.”[viii] Such awareness is then not an unveiling, but an affirmation of this veil as a tool for sailing (there is no yes-slaying without a yes-saying). Irigaray reminds us that “a yes from both should precede every caress,” and so the yes-saying gesture is in fact stretched in time. How can we think of this delay?

An intuitive route would bring us to the realm of social contracts. This would point at a part of Irigaray that rejects Nietzsche’s slay: One instead would need to create the very conditions of possibility for the artist-philosopher to gesture. The caress in this way would demand a procedure, a warming up in form of a re-newed social contract. Yet it is important to cast that here Irigaray is thinking beyond the social, into the ecological. What she wills is a new ecology. Irigaray’s emphasis on consent then points towards a radical redefinition of our affective structures through often-invisible affective labor. Affective labor would here be the unmarkable term. Marked otherwise only durationally as ‘praxis.’

Irigaray’s call to think metaphor and figure together once again comes from an ethical field.[ix] And as Rüdiger Bittner stated the following day, on a Nietzschean ethics “we have nothing but prudence.” Perhaps what makes us a community of readers of Nietzsche is our shared desire to articulate terms of motion for the re-evaluation of all values. Yet so far ‘prudence’ leaves our community in a space unable to think other than moderate individualism, consequently all institutional frameworks remain untouched. Babette Babich reminded us on the Q&A of the following session that Nietzsche was a philologist, and that his call for an active philology back then was about how “the entire educational system doesn’t work, but why publish that?”

This grounding comment brings me to another unnamed historicity which my address also pertains, namely the French restitution of Nietzsche as a philosopher of difference which involves not just Irigaray and Derrida, but also Deleuze, Foucault and many others we’ve been reading Nietzsche with. Specifically for Derrida, a big haunting figure is Heidegger’s ‘Being.’ As Bruno Bosteels recalled a passage in Of Grammatology, where Derrida already says that Nietzsche “exceeds” Heidegger by pointing the question of “whether the thinking of Being precedes différance or whether the thinking of Being should be re-thought through différance.” On this regard Gayatri Spivak exemplifies what she means by “using difference” as it becomes “the absolute need of acknowledging epistemological contingency in subject positions.” This is our ever-recurring starting point.

Here, again, we can return to Irigaray’s awareness of the caress. And re-think the delay imposed on Nietzsche’s yes-saying as a necessary ‘undoing’ that puts to the fore all possibilities for affirmation that ceteris paribus would be unaccounted for[x]. So who are the restituted yes-sayers?

Although for Irigaray, the epistemologies humanly possible can boil down to the living conditions of sexual difference, as a psychoanalytic “with or without”: “And what is the nature of the work of someone who creates without water? Isn’t he depriving it of resources for multiple appearing?”[xi]. Yet the two, for Derrida, would lead to “homosexual effacement into infinity,”[xii] so the question would have to be an approach not even through the two into the multiple, but rather straight from the ‘one’ to the ‘many.’ In Spivak’s version of ‘using difference’ we would be evidently closer to Derrida’s Nietzsche in that there isn’t just ‘a woman’ but ‘many.’

Interestingly with Deleuze there is more room for Irigaray’s ‘two,’ with the idea of becoming-woman as the threshold for all becomings. Where ‘woman’ is less an ontology than a structural condition of living. This would confirm the position of restituting, in Irigaray’s words, the “nature of the work” with the “resources for multiple appearing” that were previously deprived by the “Phallic Dionysus” who creates “without water.”

Derrida identifies many women-as-standpoints in Nietzsche, yet for the sake of the caress, we will try to think the ‘many’ not from the ‘one’ but from the ‘two.’ The first woman is the female origin, woman as pregnancy in the creative act[xiii], a thought Spivak supplements with Nietzsche’s evoking of the figure of Baubo (in the dismissal of her worship). Baubo, the post-reproductive woman, would stand for a sexuation that is before propriation. The question of property opens up again in the second woman this time as truth, and so Nietzsche would declare our history as the history of error, and woman would be truth precisely because of its role as simulation and veil. And so Derrida finds, in parody, the becoming-woman of Nietzsche as well as the becoming-lost of Nietzsche. The place where he could no longer find himself again, like a spider lost in her spider web, in a “regular rhythmic blindness” in lieu of the “blink of an eye.”[xiv] Truth, then, also possesses its kind of delay, or else it’s indefinite duration. Analogously in White Mythology, Derrida will pick up Nietzsche’s metaphor for truth as a coin that effaces itself and relate it to the condition of metaphor, its “wear and tear.” Unable to possess meaning in its entirety, the ‘regime’ of Nietzsche, just as that of ‘truth,’ must be necessarily incomplete in order to give space for the multiple: “The question of the truth of Being is not capable of the question of property.”

Bruno Bosteels too juxtaposes three epigraphs, yet for the sake of the caress we will quote two. First his own altered translation from Spurs: “If the simulacrum is ever going to occur, one must write in the gap between several styles. If there is style, what the woman of Nietzsche or the woman Nietzsche insinuates, is that there must be more than one.” Contrasted with a translation of Carla Lonzi from Let’s Spit on Hegel: “We must insist in our own possession with ourselves because every time there is a gap opened, there is someone who will appropriate it for himself.” Between Derrida’s fluidity and Lonzi’s separatism, there is yet an urgency for a restitution of the feminine and the proper from the standpoint of the other kind of history of commodities that speak that Marx forgot about: The history of women’s labor. Needless to say the caress helps us approximate our starting point, as this work must be start in affective labor.[xv]

If a restitution, then one in the form of as insistence on a conduct of critique. The real call here, Spivak urgently reminds us, is for “performative justice.” But “what kind of performative justice?” I believe the conversation about contracts is central to any ethics of difference, for contracts cut across affective as well as economic structures. I echo others before me when I call for a sustainable ‘gesture’ that minds the ‘resources’ from which it was created, necessarily ‘warming up’ the arena for a ‘multiplicity’ of its iterations not as ‘series’ but rather ‘originals.’ After the caress, re-thinking gesture should also mean re-thinking all social, financial, and ecological contracts.

[i] Derrida, Jacques. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. T/rans, Barbara Harlow. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1979.

[ii] Irigaray, Luce. Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans, Gillian C. Gill. New York: Columbia University Press. 1991. The original French published in 1980. As Jesus Velasco said, this is a ‘philosophical poem’ yet in address like a love letter, the latter being perhaps the only thing that resists systems of valuation (think of finding a love letter as a message in the bottle on the shore).

[iii] Thus Spoke Zarathustra. From The Portable Nietzsche. Trans, Walter Kauffman. New York: Penguin Books. 3rd edition. 1982. p 278.

[iv] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans, Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2nd edition. 1986. From Figures, or the transformation of forms. p 178.

[v] This is Will and Wave, number 83 from The Gay Science as quoted in Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind The Life of the Mind. 3rd edition. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt, Inc. 2nd edition. 1978.

[vi] Spurs. p 133.

[vii] Maybe this gets us closer to Kelly Oliver’s claim about Irigaray’s  “double mirror.” In my reading, closer to a Derridean suspension of the contrapuntal status of mimesis and the real in a mise-en-abyme (cf: Double Session).

[viii] Irigaray, Luce. Luce Irigaray: Key Writings. London and New York: Continuum. 2004. From The Wedding Between the Body and Language. p 21.

[ix] I must accredit this point to Penelope Deutscher’s account on Nietzsche 10/13

[x] Nietzsche’s account of the philosopher as dancer might also be relevant in terms of the immediacy with which he wills the effect of every gesture. Nonetheless a dancer needs a floor to walk on, an arena that should be warmed up, a safety net to access the very heart of the gesture, material conditions from which to surge up. The access to dance, “ as Paul Virilio reminds us “whether it be perceptual or interpretative, is a direct access that surges up from the heart of matter, from the heart of emotion.” From Traces of Dance. p 1.

[xi] Marine Lover. p 136.

[xii] Spurs. Footnote 10.

[xiii] Nietzsche, Friederich. The Gay Science. Trans, Walter Kauffman. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). 1974. Section 70.

[xiv] Spurs. p 101.

[xv] Fred Moten’s critique of Marx’s speaking-for the commodities (“If commodities could speak, this is what would say.”) parts from the authorial position that deprives already speaking commodities from speech, namely a ‘forgetting’ of slaves as actual instantiations speaking commodities contemporary to him. This allows Moten a critique of Marx’s paradoxical standpoint / conduct of the writer of the ‘what if’ into a restitution of the debt with ‘what is,’ or should I say ‘who is.’

 

[1] Derrida, Jacques. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. T/rans, Barbara Harlow. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1979.

[1] Irigaray, Luce. Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans, Gillian C. Gill. New York: Columbia University Press. 1991. The original French published in 1980. As Jesus Velasco said, this is a ‘philosophical poem’ yet in address like a love letter, the latter being perhaps the only thing that resists systems of valuation (think of finding a love letter as a message in the bottle on the shore).

[1] Thus Spoke Zarathustra. From The Portable Nietzsche. Trans, Walter Kauffman. New York: Penguin Books. 3rd edition. 1982. p 278.

[1] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans, Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2nd edition. 1986. From Figures, or the transformation of forms. p 178.

[1] This is Will and Wave, number 83 from The Gay Science as quoted in Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind The Life of the Mind. 3rd edition. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt, Inc. 2nd edition. 1978.

[1] Spurs. p 133.

[1] Maybe this gets us closer to Kelly Oliver’s claim about Irigaray’s  “double mirror.” In my reading, closer to a Derridean suspension of the contrapuntal status of mimesis and the real in a mise-en-abyme (cf: Double Session).

[1] Irigaray, Luce. Luce Irigaray: Key Writings. London and New York: Continuum. 2004. From The Wedding Between the Body and Language. p 21.

[1] I must accredit this point to Penelope Deutscher’s account on Nietzsche 10/13

[1] Nietzsche’s account of the philosopher as dancer might also be relevant in terms of the immediacy with which he wills the effect of every gesture. Nonetheless a dancer needs a floor to walk on, an arena that should be warmed up, a safety net to access the very heart of the gesture, material conditions from which to surge up. The access to dance, “ as Paul Virilio reminds us “whether it be perceptual or interpretative, is a direct access that surges up from the heart of matter, from the heart of emotion.” From Traces of Dance. p 1.

[1] Marine Lover. p 136.

[1] Spurs. Footnote 10.

[1] Nietzsche, Friederich. The Gay Science. Trans, Walter Kauffman. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). 1974. Section 70.

[1] Spurs. p 101.

[1] Fred Moten’s critique of Marx’s speaking-for the commodities (“If commodities could speak, this is what would say.”) parts from the authorial position that deprives already speaking commodities from speech, namely a ‘forgetting’ of slaves as actual instantiations speaking commodities contemporary to him. This allows Moten a critique of Marx’s paradoxical standpoint / conduct of the writer of the ‘what if’ into a restitution of the debt with ‘what is,’ or should I say ‘who is.’

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