Chapter 7: Nietzsche and the Postmodern
., 2010. Abstract
Nietzsche has often been recruited as a support for work in the humanities since 1970. But he serves very poorly as such a support. When one looks at his assessments of writers, musicians, and cultures, and at the criteria he offers for these assessments, his values have very little in common with those of recent academics. For a radical thinker, he endorses surprisingly many elements and themes of classicism: wholeness, form, beauty, “finish”, and the confident expression of capacities that have come to ripeness after a long period of discipline and training. In contrast, recent work in the humanities is very much under the sway of secular versions of the religion of the sublime. One favors a vague pointing to an ineffable difference. One celebrates a stark otherness that defeats any leftover traces of a metaphysics of identity or presence. One delights in what appears as radically undecidable, aporetic, and paradoxical. In fact, these efforts of rhetorical inflation are the sign of a decadent academic culture, just as Nietzsche found the romantic and Wagnerian sublime to be a sign of cultural decadence in the nineteenth century. The Hellenic-homoerotic constellation has little affinity for the various versions of the sublime (theological, Protestant, romantic, Kierkegaardian, textual, linguistic, postmodern). Nietzsche allows us to see that the idea of beauty and the aesthetic is not a matter of prettifying cultural conflict, but goes to the core of a grave and difficult project of self-formation.