On The Nietzschean Artist and Affirmation
Of all that is written, I love only that which a man hath written with his own blood. — Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche once famously declared in Ecce Homo, “I am no man. I am dynamite.” Perhaps there is no other metaphor that befits him better than this. A dynamite whose explosion consumed all the mendacity of illusory knowledge and universal truth, values of Christian Slave-morality that deny the artistic flights of the Higher Men, and a God that is “ a common war on all that is rare, strange, privileged, the higher man, the higher soul, the higher duty, the higher responsibility, and the abundance of creative power and masterfulness.” But what are we left with after this all-devouring explosion, this murder of God? Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science “the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an ‘open sea’ exist.” Before talking about what this “affirmation” is, it is necessary to specify what must be negated before as a compulsory step as Nietzsche writes “negating and destroying are conditions of saying Yes.” In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche dismisses all hopes for a perfect origin and universality of the Christian values by revealing how it is contingent on an ugly interplay of power relations, the ressentiment of the priestly class, relation between the creditor and the debtor and the suppressed will to power of the slaves. The Christian epistemic standing is contingent on what he called the “slaves’ revolt in morality” which took place when ressentiment, which is a response to suffering and impotency and an affect of internalized will to power, itself becomes creative and produces values. This revaluation, which Nietzsche declared as an imaginary revenge of weak against the puissant is intrinsically nihilistic as it is hostile against life, nature and paradoxically denies the fundamental drive which is responsible for all valuation for the sake of other-worldliness, namely the will to power which Nietzsche called the underlying essence of life. Nietzsche writes in The Genealogy of Morals, “What if a regressive trait lurked in “the good man,” … So that morality itself were to blame if man never attained the highest power and splendor possible for the type man?”. Slave-morality is not only harmful for the higher man and creativity but also a false façade covering what Nietzsche called “questionable and terrifying character of existence” in The Will to Power. Every lie, every value, is a papering over the chaotic and meaningless void of reality and seeks to further and preserve life. Grasping untruth as the condition of life is a way of going beyond good and evil Nietzsche states. “False coasts and assurances the good have taught you; in the lies of the good you were hatched and huddled. Everything has been made fraudulent and has been twisted through and through by the good”, Nietzsche writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Zarathustra preaches that the most harmful of all harms has been done to the earth by the good and “the good cannot create”, “they are the beginning of an end”. He calls the good the “Last Men”. “'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and he blinks”, Zarathustra announces famously. So after this great negation, this great annihilation of morality we are left with the emptiness of Nihilism, a condition where “all our higher values devalue themselves, the aim is lacking and there is no why”, Nietzsche writes in the Will to Power. There is no reality for us he declares and the only world we have is meaningless, seductive, treacherous, immoral and indifferent. In Ecce Homo he writes he is the first one to “discover the truth by experiencing lies as lies” and in the Will to Power he states “Every belief, every considering something true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world.” Nihilism calls for this degradation of all higher values, a confrontation with the fact that moment when the creature named ‘Man’ invented knowledge on Earth was the “most mendacious minute of world-history”, as Nietzsche argues in On Truth and Lie : An Extramoral sense, and a realization that all creation, will to truth is ultimately will to power. This nihilistic despair which Nietzsche often called “the courage of despair” is at the heart of an Artist’s project and it leads us from the second metamorphosis of the blonde beast of resistance and negation to the third metamorphosis of the birth of a child, which Nietzsche called “a sacred ‘Yes’”, an affirmation which calls for a “tragic disposition” which is the heart of all artistic creation. In the Will to Power, Nietzsche argues that the formula for this “Dionysian affirmation of life” is “Amor fati”, a tragic and artistic embracing of the meaningless and notorious void of existence which turns despair into the highest hope and sadness into gaiety. All artistic creation presupposes suffering and sufferers, Nietzsche argues. The tragic disposition of an artist is an affirmation in the face of passing way, a yes to destruction and opposition and a yes to Becoming with a rejection of Being. In the Will to Power, Nietzsche writes this artistic affirmation is an attempt to “to impose upon becoming the character of being” , “to master the chaos one is, to compel it to become form”. Zarathustra defined man as a bridge and not an end, a rope tied between “the Overman” and “the beast” above an abyss, “an arrow of longing for the other shore”, a “dangerous crossing over or going under”, a site of suffering and chaos that has the artistic potential to give “birth to a dancing star”. This artistic affirmation or stamping becoming with being is related to Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return. As Heidegger pointed out, the doctrine of the will to power is inseparable from the eternal return because the very performance of life is wedded with desire for eternity, whoever has said yes in the face of the sound and fury of life wants life to return to him eternally. Zarathustra poetically declares “Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe…if ever you said, "You please me, happiness! Abide, moment!" then you wanted everything to return…for all joy wants eternity.” As Deleuze pointed out, idea of the eternal return doesn’t mean or has nothing to do with the infinite repetition of the same, rather it is a coming together of being and becoming where being is nothing but ‘difference in itself’ and every repetition is a repetition of difference, a function of ‘differentiation’. It is clear now that Nietzsche’s philosophical project is at its culmination artistic (which also accounts for his problematic relation with Wagner) for it is the artist that has the capability to take the will to power at its greatest peak and affirms our existence in its most primordial, naked, brutal and treacherous totality. But, now I would like to put forth what Derrida grasped in his interpretation of Nietzsche, namely that the eternal return is not the highest affirmation of life, fostered by highest will to power, but something that betrays life, the living, the will to power for what returns is always death and never life. For life is always already divided from itself, it begins with this divorce which initiates it into the field of the Other, of language. Life begins (or gets its value) with a death sentence, with the irreducible split between name and the bearer of the name, the name which is not the name of someone living. Name is always the name of someone dead. The will to power which consists in the predicative part of life itself and the performative is betrayed by repetition or “iterability” (as Derrida calls it) as the impossibility of the structure which is caused by the non-presence of presence (trace) or absence marking and forming presence itself. Derrida writes “nothing that is alive can ever return to life”, what return is death. And Nietzsche to some extent is aware of this paradox when he wrote that in the “moment of the great noon”, it will be revealed that the “one is split into two”, shadows will not vanish but will be shortest as if things are not naked but exposed to be clothed in their own shadows, revealing that the Real is a fracture or split within representation itself, around which everything is structured, the gaze or “the stain of Real” within the scopic field. Therefore it turns out that project of the artist is not the affirmation of life but to reveal life as the economy of death and the very “impossibility of dying” itself, as Blanchot would have put it.