NVC Reading notes #1

(Notes primarily for the use of my 3rd year undergrad students on the Nietzsche and Modern European Philosophy course, terms 2 and 3, in which we’re studying Klossowski’s ‘Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle’ and Deleuze’s ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’ and exploring the problematic of post-structuralism.  Page references to the Continuum impacts edition of NVC).

The intention here is to follow a ‘reading strategy’ in which we acknowledge that the style of thinking that occurs within NVC (and perhaps more widely within post-structuralist thinkers) is that of a weave or tapestry, in which words and concepts are introduced without explicit definition and these words are then employed (used) within a line of thought.  The meaning of the terms within the text is to be produced through the work of the text, such that the book will constitute its own context within which key terms can be thought through rather than simply argued about.  This is not to say that argument is irrelevant, not at all, but rather to emphasise something like a principle of ‘meaning is use’ that underlies much of NVC.  Structuralism itself made use of ‘binaries’ in order to begin its analysis with structures and not elements (employed/employer: man/woman: expert/amateur etc), for the simple methodological fact that a single term would be an element and if we are to begin with structures then this must mean, in terms of language and conceptualisation, beginning from relations between words or concepts (what for ease I will simply refer to as ‘terms’)Post-structuralism, then, will continue its emphasis on structures, and as such will continue to find much of interest in the technique of using binaries or pairings of terms although it will not want to presuppose a final and definite order that can be produced from such an analysis.  Our reading strategy, then, works on the basis of trying to identify interesting ‘key-words’ that we then try to understand conceptually by examining their oppositional terms.  Concretely this begins from finding something that we can identify as a claim and then working backwards and forwards within the immediate context in which the claim is made to try and clarify the relations at work in a particular space of the text.  These ‘partial analyses’ will then enable us to begin to reconstruct something like a ‘line of thought or argument’ that is made by the text (or perhaps, better, one of many lines of argument that will be made by the text).

Beginning at the bottom of page 8 and going onto page 9, we find some of the central questions within the first chapter, ‘The combat against culture’, sitting at the head of a short (3 paragraphs) line of argument.  Here, as part of that partial analysis just mentioned, I want to pick out four ‘key-words’: reciprocity, idiosyncracy, culture and objectivation.

‘Culture’ (and the use of citation marks is meant to do nothing other than indicate that this term is being taken in a relatively undetermined sense) presents us with a problematic formulated in a series of questions that interrogate our complicity in that culture.  “Does living in culture means (sic) that one wills slavery?”  This connection between culture and slavery, then, can become our initial entry to unpicking Klossowski and his Nietzsche.  The ‘slavery’ of the Genealogy may well be, we might suspect, the slavery Klossowski is referring to, and almost immediately this connection is confirmed with the explicit connection made in the claim that “culture is the product of the Slave; and having produced culture, he is now its conscious Master” (8).  Continuing to draw on the Genealogy therefore, we might want to cautiously wonder whether there is something like an opposing term to that of culture which would be aligned with the opposing term to the Slave and we should be able to immediately recognise that there is just such an oppositional term, that of the Noble.  The Noble is something opposed to culture, the one who carries out this ‘combat against culture’.

Returning to the text we find Klossowski rapidly drawing a connection between this concept of culture as product of the Slave and Hegelian thought.  The connection he makes is grounded in the work of Kojeve and the reading of Hegel offered within Alexander Kojeve’s Introduction to reading Hegel.  Kojeve, Bataille and Hyppolite form a crucial triumvirate of thinkers that play a vital role in the intellectual background of post-structuralism since they engage in a process of rethinking hegel in the 1930’s or thereabouts.  We will find Bataille (and his work Inner Experience) also cited by Klossowski, only a few lines after he referenced Kojeve, but there is no explicit mention of Hypollite (afaik).

What is Klossowski saying about Hegel and his connection to the Slave?  Here we find another crucial word, reciprocity.  Klossowski argues that the Nietzschean analysis of the slave morality (“Christian morality“) as producing culture is “what Hegel demonstrated“.  Such a demonstration is offered, the footnote reference suggests, by Kojeve.  Culture, in particular, is produced through reciprocity, through “certain forms of ‘communality’ (first in the form of ‘bourgeois culture’, and then in the socialising form of industrialisation“.  This reciprocity is grounded in the Master-Slave dialectic, the key structural formula that Hegel has produced for understanding the development of geist (mind, spirit, culture, thought).  Culture, then, is taken to be understood as a reciprocal structure, a kind of sociality.  Nietzsche’s interesting move, then, is posed as a thinking that does not begin with reciprocity, that is ‘ignorant’ of this crucial Hegelian structure.  “Nietzsche, out of his own ignorance, will attack the Hegelian dialectic at its roots“.  The resistance to the dialectic will come through a prioritisation of the singular – which is what, philosophically or abstractly, is meant by the idiosyncratic.  The idiosyncratic is singular, embodied and full of character, indeed we often simply say, almost tautologically, ‘they are an idiosyncratic character’.

Finally, the word ‘objectivation’.  Here I confess to my own limits and this is something I think important when reading Klossowski, not to be afraid of not understanding.  Nietzsche is supposed to have “led this objectivation of the servile consciousness in the cultural world back to its source” and objectivation is identified as something that ‘belongs’ to the slave.  Only a few lines earlier Klossowski says that “to the degree that he [the slave] does not renounce his idiosyncrasy, objectivation (the liberator of the emotion) is increased all the more in the one who does not seek an equivalent to his madness“.  There is no getting away form the fact, for me at least, that this is extremely opaque.  No other immediate reference to ‘objectivation’ occurs in the nearby pages and the word seems, in some ways, to simply appear, as though we all knew what was meant.  Of course, this might be different in the original French and there is always the problem of simply encountering a translation problem, though I doubt that it the case in this instance since Daniel Smith is a well known and well respected translator.  So what might we discern form the word and context?  Objectivation seems to mean something like ‘making an objective fact of’ or possibly, though less likely, ‘making an object of’.  If we take the first of these options we can rephrase the strange line of text as (1) ‘to the degree that the slave does not renounce his idiosyncrasy [to the extent that he maintains he is a distinct individual] AND (2) to the extent that he ‘does not seek an equivalent to his madness’ [what would it be to ‘seek an equivalent’ here?] then (3) ‘objectivation is increased all the more’ [we turn emotions, affects, forces – the will to power in particular – into something that is not mine but precisely something other than me, that is an objective fact].

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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